news item: are you represented?

I am an expert on one thing: my life. I know what my experiences have felt like because I have lived them. I know how infertility has shaped my personality, my tolerance for stress, my anxiety level, my grip on rational thinking, my fears… most of me. Infertility is not who I am, but it’s densely intertwined with my daily experience of being myself, which includes being a wife, mother, and a person desperately holding on to fragments of sanity (and sleep). I know my infertility, and because our overlapping experiences are just enough for us to form a community, I know a little bit about yours, too.

But infertility, like anything else, is subject to translation. We can write our own blogs about who we are and how we feel, but journalists and other writers who do not know our struggles might paint a different picture of our experiences (which, admittedly, are wildly varied).

I recently read JJiraffe‘s post Are You Infertile? The New York Times Thinks You Are Rich and Whimsical. It’s not a recent post, but it’s one of her best. She noticed the trend in the New York Times to write about the outlier experiences of infertility, like surrogacy, selective reduction, and other expensive elective procedures that do not reflect the far more common “IUI, IVF, FET, all when we can afford it and when our accrued vacation days allow for down time” experience of treatment and the “desperately saving up for either adoption or one more crack at IVF” financially risky decisions that most single women and couples have to agonize over.

Well, it happened again yesterday– this time in the Boston Globe, in an article called Pregnancy Between Friends: A Bond Formed in Childhood Leads to a Baby Born to a Gestational Carrier.

Now, this story in itself is actually very sweet– a woman offers to be a surrogate for her lifelong friend, who has a chronic illness that would make pregnancy dangerous and potentially fatal, and through all of the necessary procedures and a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, a healthy little boy was born to an overjoyed mom and her friend who considers herself something of an aunt. A family gets a child and everyone is happy, their friendship is stronger than ever, and a few sentences are thrown at the recognition that such events are still taboo and we should talk about them and accept them.

Stories like this don’t do much of a service to the infertility community, though. For one, the woman in question wasn’t typically infertile– certainly, she suffered like many of us do with the knowledge that her body was unable to safely support a pregnancy, but for the reader it’s not the same. The biggest issue with the article is that surrogacy is again, as JJiraffe pointed out, it’s an outlier. Every time a story about surrogacy is told, it’s likely that five more stories about couples shaking change from their sofas to pay for treatment aren’t being told. Those stories are incredibly common, and therefore less dramatic and newsworthy (though I would argue that there is plenty of drama to be found in even the most average infertility experience). Having not experienced any of the range of adoption experiences out there, I can’t speak to that, but I imagine adoptive parents might have some qualms, too, probably starting with Annie and moving on up.

As much as I say all of this– I’m a guilty consumer. I love the movie Baby Mama (about a single woman who failed to conceive with donor sperm via IVF and who hires a gestational carrier, hilarity ensues, etc) and I’m actually kind of excited about The Odd Life of Timothy Green, an upcoming movie that has a lot of people’s knickers in a bit of a twist over its fanciful Disney-ified lighthearted “safe” view of infertility. I also cry every time over the first few minutes of Up (this is a Youtube link and will play video) and will generally devour almost anything even referencing infertility because, well, I want to connect. So I may not be as discerning as necessary to boycott the things that don’t do our community a service.

It would be wonderful to see more of our stories in the media alongside stories like the above family’s, so that I could be pickier and less desperate to relate to infertility experience wherever I see them. So I ask you…

* * * * *

Do you feel represented in the media (news, TV & movie plots, books) when it comes to adoption and infertility stories?

What stories out there do you connect with?

Are you a “guilty consumer” like me?

What is important to you when you see the media weigh in on ALI issues?

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Comments

  1. I don’t mind these “outlier” stories, necessarily. My own brother and sister-in-law had twins by surrogate (due the same day as IVF triplets for a cousin-in-law), so these things seem very real to me. However, I do think it’s a problem that more “run of the mill” infertility isn’t discussed more. What bothers me more than outlier stories is the media’s treatment of infertility as being necessarily age related. Before I became pregnant for the first time, and after I’d been trying for almost a year, a very good friend once said to me, “I don’t really understand why you’re so worked up about this. You’re young, you still have time.” All I could muster in response was, “If my body doesn’t work now, when I’m young, when exactly do you think it will start working?” It bothers me that there’s such a distorted picture of what infertility is. I’d add “over the age of forty” to the “rich and whimsical” description. In reality, a huge number of couples suffer from infertility. Often, treatments aren’t covered by insurance. Where’s the outrage? JJiraffe makes a good point that perhaps we’re all complicit in not being more vocal.

    • Yeah, that’s basically what I was trying to get at. I think “outlier” stories are just as much as part of the IF world as our run-of-the-mill experiences, but if you used the media as your sole gauge on understanding IF experiences, you’d think they were far more common. I think our ordinary stories are overlooked, to our detriment.

    • I got a lot of the same “Why are you trying, you’re so young!” when we first started TTC when I was 24… and had the same thoughts of “But my body is already messed up!”. 3 years later, we’re pregnant… but ya, I wish there was more of a recognition of the younger, financially tight infertiles.

      • I was very obviously the youngest person in the waiting room every time at my RE’s clinic (I was 27 when we started). I wonder what they all thought of me.

  2. I don’t feel like I am represented in the media when they write about infertility or surrogacy. I avoided Baby Mama and will avoid NBC’s new show The New Normal because they don’t accurately represent surrogacy and will only lead to stereotypes being reinforced. I usually avoid books, movies and tv shows with IF plotlines because they almost never get it right. While I do think that these outlier stories can help raise awareness of infertility and surrogacy, I do wish that more of the “real” stories were highlighted. The media tends to focus on only the most sensational stories, and those do not reflect my experience. I like reading articles or stories that are about normal couples and their struggles, including the devastation felt by a diagnosis and inability to have children, the huge costs involved and the major decisions that must be made.

    • Is that what The New Normal is about? I didn’t get that from the commercials. I just saw something about a family with a quirky kid and a supposedly funny dad or something and went “Oh, another one of those. Well, if it’s not Modern Family, I’m not interested” 😉

      I wonder if the complete omission of “ordinary couples managing the high cost of treatments” is another part of the invisibility of financial realities in media? Like the friends from Friends all living in THE MOST ridiculously amazing apartments that no one could ever afford, with the term “rent controlled” thrown in there as a quick band-aid to patch up that particular technicality. Generally they want money to not be a factor so you can get down to the actual plot you want without being stuck. And maybe the story of a couple who had to skip a few cycles because they couldn’t afford to take their family vacation they’d been planning for years AND do treatments (because seriously, you can desperately want a baby and still need, want, and deserve a break sometimes!) doesn’t evoke the same 100% clear-cut sympathy from audiences (because if you REALLY wanted a baby, you wouldn’t be visiting your grandmother who you haven’t seen in five years if it was too expensive to do both, now, would you?). It’s easier to leave out the ugly realities and keep in the romantic ones– sighing as you hold your friend’s new baby, angrily throwing a baby shower invite into the trash and crying on the kitchen counter, walking wistfully past the room that should be a nursery. That’s the movie stuff.

  3. The thing that I personally struggle with in the media/medical community/my family is the lack of understanding regarding recurrent pregnancy loss (rpl) as a form of infertility. The prevailing attitude is “You’re not infertile. You CAN get pregnant.” My experience with it was actually minimal and easily corrected compared to some of the incredibly strong women I have come to know in this community. If talking about IF is taboo, then talking about RPL is 100% verboten.

    While it’s probably me being overly-sensitive, I hate how women who miscarry are portrayed in movies, tv shows and books as either mentally/emotionally deficient or as serial killers. It drives me nuts when I’m reading a book and I totally get side-swiped by a character having a miscarraige as a plot device.

    All that said, I think I am a guilty consumer too. I’m constantly looking for that accurate representation of my experience, of the experiences of my ALI friends. And honestly, I don’t think I will have a problem with the Timothy Green movie (It’s actually on my ‘to see’ list for this month)… I don’t expect Disney to give an accurate depiction of infertility any more than I expect them to give an accurate depiction of the life of princesses or how a pride of lions interacts with other animals on the African savannah. They specialize in fairy tales. Consider the source.

    And maybe that’s the issue… expectation. We expect that news media will actually provide a complete, accurate picture of the IF experience. We expect that our health struggles will be treated as sensitively and with as much support as other medical conditions. But instead we are portrayed as either frivilous, deluded, or worse.

    My question is, should we lower our expectations?

    • I’ve seen miscarriage written into shows as almost a side-plot– a plot device, but then it sort of happens and just… goes away. Like it was “that thing that happened in Season 2” but it’s not like you see the same woman tear up a bit in Season 4 over that lost baby. Even worse, it often shapes the plot in some sort of favorable way (i.e., they were supposed to get married but you knew it was going to be a mess, but then she was PREGNANT so it was kinda just going to happen, but oh, thank goodness, she lost the baby and now she’s with some other guy in the next season anyway). And it’s never as physically horrible as I’ve seen it described (have never been through it myself, thank G-d, and hope I never do). I don’t have the same visceral reaction to it because RPL and m/cs are not my experience. If they were, I don’t know how I’d feel, but rationally, I think it’s really poorly portrayed.

      I don’t think I’ll have a problem with Timothy Green either, for the record. I think it looks like a sweet movie, and yes, “consider the source” is very key here! Disney doesn’t dabble in making us face harsh realities– or at least, they do it in a very candy-coated way. But there are definitely people who are ambivalent about the movie, and that’s fair enough, because who really trusts the media at this point?

      • As an aside, I think the only movie that I’ve seen that handled miscarraige in an honest way (albeit briefly) was Marley and Me. You had the joy at the bfp, the morning sickness, and then that first u/s with a big black screen. That was the real-est portrayal that I’ve come across so far. And it gutted me to watch it, but at least I was prepared for it because I had read the book long before.

        • I agree with the “Marley and Me” depiction.

          Thanks for calling this out. Faces of ALI is me trying to tell the less sensational, real stories of infertility adoption and loss, making the case for empathy and pointing out the extreme costs. I hope it works because I am so tired of the extreme cases dominating the discussion.

          Here’s the latest one.

          http://jjiraffe.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/faces-of-adoptionlossinfertility-the-den-mother/

          On my way to BlogHer to learn hopefully how to gain the biggest audience for this and publish a Faces of ALI book… 🙂

        • I didn’t know that was part of the story! I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, obviously. Thanks for the heads-up in case I ever do, wow…

        • Also, Jules, the dog…um… gets really, really old. And then, you know… I have the SAME dog and was so, so, so sad at the end. Don’t watch the movie!!!

        • Unfortunately after i read the book I was really disappointed in how the author treated infertility. I remember reading it and being disgusted especially since they suffered a m/c. I think I blogged about it at the time.

  4. I don’t think I was represented, in that we started TTC fairly young (24 – we had been married about 2 years at the point. What can I say, we met young!) and had infertility and serious financial limits and people would just have the attitude of “Well, if you can’t afford the treatments, you really can’t afford to be parents. Only rich people should have babies.” Or they would throw out the “You’re so young, you have plenty of time to have babies!” without realizing that infertility isn’t only related to age. And of then of course the folks that say “Why don’t you JUST adopt? There are MILLIONS of babies that need a home!” *ROLLS EYES AT ALL THE MISINFORMED PUBLIC*
    But I also have to admit I’m a sucker for the movies. I don’t tend to read things like “US Weekly”, so I don’t get into celebrity baby stuff, but I too really connected with “UP!”, and am intrigued to see the “Timothy Green” movie. I also was really impacted by the RPL character in “The Help”. And when we were pursuing surrogacy, my surrogate and I actually sat down and watched “Baby Mama” together! Oh, and let’s not forget watching “The Switch”… But I guess I don’t really expect these movies to show reality. There are no movies or sitcoms that give us life as it is really lived, you know? I’ve never walked out of a movie theater thinking “Wow, that was such an accurate representation of how a real wedding ceremony/real marriage/real childbirth/ etc really works!” (Unless it is something based on history or a documentary) So where it matters more to me is in news articles, and there I really with the media would pull their heads out of the sand!!!

    • That’s true about the movies– we don’t really hold them to much accountability anyways. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a little kid in a movie do or say something poignant and I scoff, “Real kids don’t talk like that. A real kid would be like, ‘Can I go play Nintendo DS now?'” lol)

      On adoption: there are a couple prospective adoptive parents on my reader, and it’s AMAZING to me how incredibly difficult, lengthy, and cost-prohibitive adoption is. It’s like they don’t WANT you to have the kid. Crazy. I always said “I’d love to adopt someday” (after having scores of my own children, of course) and now I feel kind of obnoxious for throwing it out there like a fun extra way to build a family. It’s just so intense, with so much possibility for heartbreak.

      I’m going to have to check out your blog now! I am really curious about you and your potential surrogate and how your journey to parenthood all fits together 🙂

      • The surrogate journey is written on a different blog. http://becominganip(dot)blogspot(dot)com/ Our surrogate ended up backing out after a really bad fall from her horse caused her to have a hairline fracture in her hip, although some people outside of the situation were also saying things to her about our financial history that made her nervous too… And then she ended up pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby, only to miscarry, and his family (unbeknownst to me!) was reading my blog and used it to hurt her… so I ended up starting my current blog, trying to keep everything anonymous so people wouldn’t get hurt.

        Yea, Hubster and I were/are both really open to adoption, we both have lots of people ion our lives who were adopted, and we thought it could be really amazing, but the process is so overwhelming, invasive, and completely too expensive for us, at least at our current place in life. Which is really sad, but I also know that they don’t want to be too casual about who is handed a baby.

        I’m thinking it’s all going to work out, just they way it was meant to. It’s just been a very winding road, we didn’t do just “one track” of infertility!

  5. Lately there seems to be lots of novels a d tv shows that are tackling infertility but for me having lived through it I always pick holes in the plot and think that doesnt happen that way! But I suppose it’s better than nothing and just blithely assuming that sitcom stars all lead a perfect fertile life.

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