When Infertility Professionals Get it Wrong.

September 18, 2012 | By:

You know it’s not that often that I see glaringly offensive comments or information from professionals in the infertility world.  Most of us know to be very careful with the language we use so that we don’t inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings.  Today I was surfing Facebook and someone to whom I was connected (I am no longer “friends” with her) posted a comment about egg donation, adoption, and infertility.  I thought at first she was referring to a blog and was hoping she was quoting someone else.  Alas, I was very wrong and the link she posted was to an egg donation agency based outside of the United States (thank goodness for that — didn’t want to be running into her at any upcoming conferences lest I let her have it to her face) and the post was pretty much designed to bring attention to her agency.  I am not a big believer in the old adage that any attention is good attention or that negative publicity is still publicity.  In this industry, offending people is the kiss of death and well let’s just say I’ve been kissed.

I really don’t like the word “barren”.  It’s an ancient reference to women who were unable to conceive and it dates back to a time period when women had no rights and would sometimes be replaced by another woman if she was unable to conceive a child.  The Sixteenth Century this is not and I would have hoped that in the Twenty-First Century we would be a little bit more aware of appropriate terminology.  I guess not because this FB poster (who shall remain nameless even upon kiss of death) seemed to think that all women who are having difficulty conceiving should be considered BARREN.

I don’t think so.  Having difficulty conceiving does not mean we are barren.  The word barren actually has many definitions (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/barren ) including “lacking inspiration” or “lacking charm”.  For the record, I don’t consider any of my infertile clients, and certainly not my own bod, to be lacking in charm.  Some of my clients are downright amazingly gorgeous women with incredible resumes and great personalities.  In this case they are hardly barren are they?  They also usually go on to become mothers which would seem to indicate that they are in fact capable of producing offspring (please note Miriam-Webster dictionary says nothing about those offspring needing to be biological children — at least its editors “get it”).  But the word was used nonetheless in this FB post.  The fact that the post tried to be “neutral” and present all sides of debates as they pertain to third-party assisted reproduction was totally lost on me by virtue of the selection of this word to describe me.  Because that is who she is describing, me.  The last time I checked I am still considered to be infertile.

The other problem was that this poster and her choice of words — and barren was by far the least offensive of them — revealed her own underlying belief that women who have difficulty conceiving, women like me who are infertile, are somehow lacking, less than other women, and are desperate.  While she notes that “an element of respect” should be offered to these women, in and of itself that remark too is offensive.  I am only entitled to “an element of respect”.  7 IVF Cycles, 9+ miscarriages (I stopped counting but there were more), three adoptions, and I am only entitled to “an element of respect”.  Seriously?

Additional comments were made about whether decisions to use an egg donor were interfering with the “divine plan” for that woman’s life; and that what transpired to finally bring this barren woman to the point of actually considering using another’s genetic material could only be understood by the woman herself.  Here I do agree with the post.  However, I would prefer that she had not characterized the decision to choose egg donation as an act of finality, desperation, or somehow jumping off of the cliff of normalcy.  Families are built in countless ways and all of them are normal.  

Egg donors also were attacked for their decision to share themselves with other people.  Let’s be clear that egg donation does not involve any kind of “sharing”.  Egg donation agreements are clear that when a woman donates her eggs she relinquishes all rights to the resulting embryos and/or children.  Egg donors do not share in the day-to-day life of the intended parents’ pregnancy, or their life as they raise their child.  And let’s place the emphasis where it belongs, on “their” child, not the egg donor’s child.  If this woman is counseling egg donors — and I fear she may be — then she is sending the wrong message to these selfless and generous women who donate their genetic material, their ova, to an infertile couple.  They ain’t sharing those eggs or themselves with anyone.

Let’s not even discuss the offensive descriptions attributed to adoption.  I will have a stroke.

I understand that this woman was trying to raise a debate, trying to draw attention to her business and what she does.  But the choice of words she used as a professional in this industry was astonishingly rude and clearly revealed her own underlying biases.  She is entitled to those biases.  But as a professional she had a responsibility to keep them private and not mislead egg donors or intended parents.  I also think it was a poor decision to use such inflammatory language if she was trying to promote her business.  In all likelihood she sent potential clients running in the opposite direction.

I hope that the other people who read this post are wearing running shoes; they need to run as fast as possible.  Most likely the very charming, inspirational women who read this post pulled their flats or sneaks out of their gym bag and took off their Jimmy Choo’s, and headed in the direction of a more sensitive egg donation/surrogacy agency, a therapist (I may need a session), shopping (in which case maybe they should leave on the Jimmy Choo’s), or a glass of wine and some Oreos.  

For all those who read that post and felt in any way diminished as a human being because of their infertility, let’s get one thing straight:  anyone who can get through this stuff is one tough, rockin’ mama.  Emphasis on the word “mama” because that is what you will one day be called.

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  1. marilynn says:

    A born individual not raised by one of their bio parents will want to know why – what happened why was I not raised by my bio parent? It’s very black and white there is no time prior to their birth that they existed as an individual they don’t remember being gestated so it really does not matter who gestated them. The bottom line was that it was their bio mother’s decision to have them with their bio father and it was she that chose to have them gestated by their bio father’s wife. Nobody forced her to reproduce or forced her to allow someone else to give birth to them and nobody forced her to walk away from them. Their bio mother chose to have them and chose not to raise them. She can’t pretend that she had no control over the situation she did sign a contract where it says she specifically gives up her parental control over any children born of her donated gametes.

    There is no law compelling her to make or even keep that promise to give up her parental title, control, custody etc. The contracts even state clearly that she has not been paid for her eggs, embryos, parental rights or for custody and control of her children. The contracts state that her promises are completely voluntary and that the contract is unenforceable but that everyone agrees to be bound to the terms as if it were a legally binding contract.

    So the truth is that the woman who gave birth only gets to enjoy the title of mother so long as that bio mother feels like granting her that luxury. It’s a black market adoption which means that non bio parent does not actually have legal parental authority outside of the farce which anyone could bust open at any time by challenging her maternity with dna evidence. The child she’s raising could go to court and challenge it and demand to have her name removed as mother for the sheer fact it is not medically accurate. Many of my friends are doing this now in the US Australia and the UK even if they have to leave the line for mother or father blank because their parent was a gamete donor and they don’t know who they are. The estranged bio parent could surface and decide they want their kid’s birth record to be accurate and they could say they were party to a black market adoption and they understand their rights might be terminated for abandonment but they believe the step mother should go through the formal act of a step parent adoption in court. Or the estranged bio parent may decide she wants to pay child support and share custody and she just might refuse to grant acceptance to a step parent adoption.

    Acting in place of a parent that abandons a child may give a person the opportunity to hold them out as their own but it does not give them any legal right to the recorded position of biological parent.

    You chided the author of another post about referring to an egg donor’s offspring as her children. Why is that offensive? They are her offspring no matter who raises them correct? Is it really appropriate for another woman to imply their her children when the whole reason her husband had a child with an egg donor is that she could not have children of her own? She gave birth to them yes but once they were out she lost her biological relationship with them. Their lingering biological relationship is to their maternal and paternal relatives. So the woman is not wrong it’s actually kind of wrong to make it sound like a person can earn a kid being “theirs” through sweat equity. They’ll earn a parental bond for sure but the child still belongs to the bio parents and if there is no adoption in court the house of cards will stand only if she allows it to stand and I suppose you could look at that like sharing her kids with another woman I don’t know that it’s all that gracious really. She abandoned them. She or the rearing parties or anyone really could blow the lid off the contract to the court at any time.

    It may be uncommon for it to happen but you know all the clinics have withdraw consent forms and you know they can even request that embryos be destroyed. At best you can try to get them to sign that they waive their right to change their mind but come on you know that is not enforceable it is their body and their kid. They have to do this voluntarily otherwise it would be slavery.

    People always have the right to change their mind and back out of a contract without the law requiring specific performance but rather awarding damages where necessary. The law can’t compel a person to keep a promise that was optional like not a professional obligation or anything. And really harvesting of the gametes is the only part of the agreement that they have to comply with in order to receive compensation and its the only thing where if they don’t comply they’d be breaching the agreement because there is an object (the gametes) consideration (money) and a specific time frame and if the terms are not met then the donor might owe the commissioners some money. But everything after the harvest is a promise to be fullfilled yes at a certain time but not in exchange for consideration so the commissioners have no implied right to rely upon that promise being kept. Sure it might be poor form to break the promise but there are big ethical considerations. I mean breaking that promise would be very good for their child since it would mean not being abandoned by a bio parent. It would not prevent the other bio parent from raising his child so no harm there. It would also not prevent the spouse of the commissioning bio parent from being involved and help raising the kid, she’d still even get to experience pregnancy if the consent withdrawn was to parental rights only still allowing for the spouse to experience pregnancy.

    Your going to see more gamete donors breaking their promises because there will be a push by donor offspring to educate existing donors of their right to back out and take corrective action for their kid’s sake.