I want to dedicate this post to my father. Tonight he lies in a hospital bed suffering from complications as a result of a cancer surgery. My father had a long career as an intrepid, truth-seeking journalist, in a golden age of newspaper journalism. I flatter myself that he would like this post.
My dad, with his grandson.
Ah, the Grey Lady. Bastion of objectivity. Lately I have been wondering, though: what is UP with The New York Times and their coverage of infertility?
Let me start by saying that I respect most of the reporting that The New York Times does: we need their investigative journalism here and abroad and no one else can bring that to the table right now.
But The New York Times has consistently published articles that marginalize those who are going through infertility.
Bold statement, I know. Do I think The New York Times is intentionally doing this? I don’t know the answer to that. But here’s what I do know:
One in eight people suffer from infertility. Infertility effects people of all reproduction ages and incomes and those who are in their twenties are increasingly being afflicted. Those going through infertility suffer from similar levels of stress as those suffering from cancer. (For more facts about infertility, go to Resolve.) It is a devastating disease: that’s right, a disease. Yet to criticize and scoff at those who suffer from it is common.
All this most of us in the ALI (Adoption, Loss and Infertility) community know. Mel says we preach to each other and we need to turn the message outward. Keiko says we can only be heard if we keep talking, and talk loud enough in large numbers. I couldn’t agree with them more.
Back to The New York Times: the style/life section often runs stories about people undergoing infertility treatments. I have read hundreds of blogs about infertility. The vast majority of these are written by people who often have to postpone treatments because they can’t afford them, or who are unable to foot the incredible expense of adoption (for those who like to say, “Just Adopt”, know that adoptions often cost more than $30,000) and this is really, really sad.
If you read the articles about infertility in The New York Times, you would think that only the very wealthy (and whimsical, but we’ll get to that later) suffer from the disease. Patients profiled: a 46 year old woman using donor eggs who already has multiple children reducing twins, a woman with multiple homes, pictured with her baby and baby nurse (!), who pursues many treatments and finally settles on surrogacy, a woman has “twiblings” after using two different surrogates and donor eggs.
These are by no means the TYPICAL infertility patients who walk through the doors of hundreds of offices of reproductive endocrinologists each year. But you would not know this from reading The New York Times.
Other stories featured in The New York Times: the high cost of twin pregnancies (warning of the dangers of pre-maturity associated with twins!), multiples lead to dangerous pregnancies, how women should “lower stress” as a way to battle infertility (in other words, just relax!) and articles about “fertility tourism”.
When The New York Times covers infertility, there is almost always either an exotic angle featuring a wealthy person or, choice. Here’s where we get to the controversial issues like reducing twins, what to do with embryos. The subjects considering “choices” are treated as whimsical at best.
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. (From “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, 8/10/2011)
“It just never felt right,” Mr. Stansel said. “We prayed many nights. A lot of sleepless nights. Originally we thought we might do the reduction. We chose to carry all six and, we believe, let God do what he’s going to do.” (From “Painful Choices With Fertility Treatment That Leads to the Most Dangerous Pregnancies”, 10/12/2009)
Here’s the thing: The New York Times spends almost all of its considerable resources on the extreme edges of infertility, the boundaries of treatments. But for the vast majority of us suffering from the disease, we’re just in the weeds. Suffering from miscarriages. Taking Clomid. Saving for IUIs and IVFs or adoptions. Fighting with insurance companies. Advocating for a tax credit for fertility treatments. We are a significant percentage of the American public and we are not represented or accurately portrayed in The New York Times.
I don’t know how we can change this: maybe the hundreds/thousands of ALI bloggers could retweet this article and ask The New York Times to write an article about Family Act of 2011, S 965, which would offer a tax credit for the out-of-pocket expenses associated with infertility medical treatment? Instead of the next article featuring the wife of a billionaire hellbent on genetically engineering her children, could they focus on Bodega Bliss, who has suffered from her fourth miscarriage and has to seek answers beyond her family doctor? Or Keiko, diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at age 26, who is pondering difficult and expensive choices beyond her means? Or Dresden, who detailed her difficult voyage to become a mother while caregiving for her grandmother? Or Smart One, whose past history with infertility motivated her efforts to be a gestational surrogate? Or why not write about Broken Brown Egg, a group that is become a rising voice advocating for infertility awareness in the African American community. THESE are the heartbreaking and inspiring tales of infertility that are untold. And happen every day, to people you know.
What ideas do YOU have for telling the real story of infertility to the public? Are there other media outlets covering infertility more accurately? Are we doomed to being misunderstood?
I don’t have access to Lexis Nexis, but these are the articles I found about infertility in The New York Times in the last four years. The headlines are indicative enough of the intention of the articles in most cases, I believe.
Lowering Odds of Multiple Births (2/19/2008)
India Nutures Business of Surrogate Motherhood 3/10/2008
A positive article! After Years of Fertility Treatments, Facing Life Without Children 6/10/2008
Her Body, My Baby 11/28/2008
Birth of Octuplets Puts Focus on Fertility Clinics (2/11/2009)
Picture Emerging on Genetic Risks of IVF (2/17/2009)
The Trouble With Twin Births (10/11/2009)
Grievous Choice on Risky Path to Parenthood (10/11/2009)
Payment Offers to Egg Donors Prompts Scrutiny (5/11/2010)
Meet the Twiblings (12/29/2010)
An American Family: Mom, Sperm Donor, Lover, Child (6/19/2011)
The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy (8/10/2011)