Archive for the ‘Infertility on Television’ Category
March 16, 2015 | By: Liz
Sherri Shepherd. Who hasn’t heard her name recently? The former host of The View is in the midst of a major lawsuit with her ex-husband over her son. She claims she doesn’t have any responsibility for the child she helped bring into this world. REALLY?? Is she serious? Sadly, yes. And she’s leaving this issue — what could be a ground-breaking decision in the laws pertaining to third-party assisted reproduction — to a Judge to decide. She couldn’t work it out privately with her Ex. Nope, she had to go to Court.
I used to like Ms. Shepherd. She spoke on behalf of the infertile. She was our advocate. She was one of the very few public — celebrity voices — speaking about the pain of infertility. I am trying to have faith in our judicial system right now because Ms. Shepherd has destroyed my faith in the power of the infertile woman. What she is doing, is to me, disgraceful. Wow! I guess I am angry.
I went to a benefit a few years ago for RESOLVE. It was its annual Night of Hope and Ms. Shepherd was receiving an award for raising awareness about infertility. She gave a moving speech about the pain we go through when we cannot conceive without medical help — without help from third-parties. She moved me to tears talking about how much she wanted a baby and to be a mother and how sad she was every time her fertility treatment failed. It was very clear during that speech that she wanted nothing more than what every other infertile woman wants, a BABY. And now she’s trying to dump the responsibility for that baby — that longed-for, hoped-for, much-wanted baby — on someone else. And that someone else is her egg donor or surrogate, that third party without whom she and Mr. Sally would not have conceived, and realized what she said was her dream. Her dream of becoming a mother.
Many of us don’t realize that dream and that’s why I find her actions to be such a slap in the face. To go from being a proud infertile woman putting one foot in front of the other and thanking her fertility specialist (I can remember his name) for helping her, to dumping responsibility that is rightly hers on the people who helped her achieve that dream. That’s just wrong. It is morally wrong and it is legally wrong. I am going to stop discussing the moral component of it because I get the fact that there are people in this world for whom I hold little or no respect. But from a legal standpoint, what she’s doing is profoundly dangerous and could potentially turn reproductive law upside down, and erase years of progress helping women just like Ms. Shepherd become mothers.
I should comment that I don’t know many details about Ms. Shepherd’s egg donation arrangement or surrogacy arrangement. But if she’s litigating this issue in Pennsylvania then I am guessing her surrogate is a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and that the laws of that Commonwealth govern the surrogacy agreement. The thing is, there isn’t really any law in Pennsylvania when it comes to third-party assisted reproduction. There isn’t a statute governing third-party assisted reproduction and when there isn’t a statute governing the actions of intended parents like Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally, the laws of third-party assisted reproduction typically look to the intent of the intended parents (Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally) prior to the conception of the child. Typically those intentions are spelled out either in an egg donation agreement or gestational surrogacy agreement (or both), or in some cases through consent forms signed by an egg donor at the fertility clinic at the time she donated her eggs. But the bottom line is that there is some written statement that the egg donor does not want to have parental rights to any child conceived from her donation, and that the intended parents want to have parental rights and all the responsibilities that come with parenthood for any child conceived from the donation of eggs by the donor. Similarly, the intended parents (Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally) would — and in this case did — enter into a gestational surrogacy agreement which would clearly spell out that the intended parents (Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally) were going to be the parents of the child the surrogate carried, and the surrogate would not have any parental rights. A well-written agreement would address what would happen in the event the intended parents divorce prior to the birth of the child. Typically the intended parents are still the parents even if they divorce but maybe her agreement says something different, or is silent on the point. But the bottom line is that in order to have conceived this child, Ms. Shepherd’s egg donor waived all parental rights and Ms. Shepherd assumed them; and Ms. Shepherd stated her unequivocal desire and intent to be a parent of the child her surrogate was carrying and her surrogate expressed no desire or intention to ever be the child’s parent. I would be shocked if the legal documents at issue in her case don’t refer to the parties’ intent about who were going to be this child’s parents. Ms. Shepherd claims she was defrauded into entering into the agreement. I find that hard to believe given the years of infertility treatment she went through and the statements I heard her make that night at RESOLVE. I think she wanted this baby.
The question is whether the Judge will uphold the terms of those documents or contracts. And that is where I get scared. What if the Judge decides that the agreement with the surrogate is unenforceable for some reason and that Ms. Shepherd isn’t legally responsible for this child, that she isn’t his mother? What then? Does any intended parent get to change their mind when they one day decide that they don’t want to be a parent anymore? Where does that leave the law of intent as it informs decisions related to third-party assisted reproduction? Is the intent of the parties what governs the determination of parentage or is a gestational surrogacy agreement or egg donation agreement just another contract that can be thrown out of court on technical or some other grounds? Decades of law pertaining to third-party assisted reproduction are at risk. All the hard work my colleagues have done to make it possible for Ms. Shepherd even to consider having a child through third-party assisted reproduction could be damaged, even worse, destroyed. Will Pennsylvania remain a surrogate-friendly state? I get sick thinking about it.
Ms. Shepherd has crossed over to the other side, that of becoming a parent after battling infertility. And apparently she doesn’t like the view so much. I get the fact that Ms. Shepherd is angry at her ex-husband. I get the fact that she doesn’t want to be in this child’s life. I may not agree with her moral positions but legally I am horrified at the way she is going about getting out of her obligations as a parent. What she is doing has the potential to set the law back in ways so significant as to preclude other infertile women and men from having a child through third-party assisted reproduction. I am at a loss to understand how someone who was such a staunch advocate for the infertility community and who so desperately wanted a baby could get to a place where she wanted to put the rights of so many others like her at risk. I cannot fathom why someone would risk establishing a legal precedent that could jeaopardize the rights of so many just like her.
This all begs one question: What would Ms. Shepherd have said three or four years ago about someone taking the position she is taking today? Probably nothing nice.
Filed under: Current Affairs, Egg Donation, Faith and Infertility, Gestational Carrier, In the News, In-House Egg Donation Programs, infertility in the media, Infertility on Television, IVF, Personal Musings, Surrogacy, Thinking Out Loud
October 24, 2014 | By: Liz
I’m back (after a blogging break) and I’m mad. Very mad. I am mad at doctors, mad at the media, mad at the reproductive community, mad, mad, mad! Why am I mad you ask?
It took me awhile to figure it out, which makes me even . . . madder! Okay I know that’s not a real word but you get my point . . . I think it’s been building up inside me for . . . oh about 15 years. Because 15 years ago (give or take a few years) I was officially LABELLED as INFERTILE. It is not a nice label. It is not a label anyone ever wants. And yet there it is. A LABEL in my medical chart.
It’s like having a huge tattoo on my forehead that screams to doctors and the world:
INFERTILE: WILL NEED HIGH-TECH EXPENSIVE MEDICAL TREATMENT TO EVER HAVE A CHANCE TO CONCEIVE AND CARRY A CHILD.
This is a label which makes your doctor look at you differently. A label which makes YOU look at YOU differently. A label which makes you look at your partner differently, and makes your partner look at you differently.
The LABEL stuck with me for over 15 years. And indeed, after years of IVF those labels became so convincing to everyone, and I mean everyone, that no one believed there was any hope for me. It was like getting put into a closed box which doctors didn’t even want to try to open.
I listened to doctors, and nurses, and even friends, as they recounted the statistical UNlikelihood that I would conceive and carry a baby, as the statistics of the likelihood of what I wanted more than anything, became smaller and smaller, and smaller. I let them convince me it was impossible.
The list of reasons they gave me was huge. Insurmountably huge. And so I believed them when they told me I wouldn’t conceive. I believed them when they gave me diagnosis after diagnosis. I didn’t question their opinions or their conclusions. I didn’t challenge my own belief in the power of my mind, the power of my body, the power of ME!
I BOUGHT IT ALL HOOK LINE AND SINKER!
And that’s why I am mad.
I let them compartmentalize me.
I let them put me in a box with a label and give up on me.
I let ME give up on ME.
Today there are countless ways to build a family. IUI, IVF, IVF with donor egg, IVF with donor sperm, IVF with egg and sperm donor, embryo donation, gestational surrogacy (with any of the aforementioned IVF combinations), traditional surrogacy, domestic newborn adoption, foster-care adoption, international adoption; and there are more options than what I have mentioned. It is a colorful and beautiful world filled with reproductive and family building options. I live and breathe it every day as I help others move toward their dream of building a family. But I couldn’t see any of it for myself. All I could see was that tattoo staring back at me in my bathroom mirror every morning.
I read when magazines and newspapers attributed the label to countless celebrities, the media’s whispered words of shame and failure . . . [insert celebrity name here] can’t get pregnant] . . . she’s INFERTILE. But I didn’t believe it for them. I believed they would (or will) prove the label was wrong. Prove the media was wrong. I believed that others could defy that label which defined me.
God I hate that word. I hate the feelings it brings out in me. Feelings of failure, sadness, desperation, and now anger. But I am not angry that I am infertile. I am angry that I gave up on myself. But then something happened. Something that wasn’t supposed to happen . . . not to me, not to someone with all those LABELS. Something extraordinary happened that caused me to challenge my doctors’ assumptions, that caused me to look at the LABEL tattooed on my forehead and ask:
IS IT REALLY TRUE?
AM I REALLY INFERTILE?
And then I realized it isn’t impossible. Nothing is impossible. In fact everything is POSSIBLE. And with that realization my entire world changed. My longheld beliefs about myself and my infertility CHANGED. Everything I feel and believe about what I have lived through for well over 15 years, what I tell my clients, how I look at the community and industry in which I work, has shifted. I suffered for over 15 years for no reason. There was always hope. I just wouldn’t let myself see it. But I see it now. I see HOPE everywhere, for everyone, even for ME. No one really knows who is infertile. Not even your doctor. Nothing anyone tells you has to be true. Not unless you believe it’s true.
My point is this:
Do NOT let your doctor get you down.
Do NOT let your doctor dismiss you.
Do NOT buy into the label(s).
Do NOT believe statistics.
PLEASE DO NOT BELIEVE STATISTICS.
I have finally realized that everything and anything is possible. Because it is.
ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
It will happen to you in the perfect time, and in the perfect way. But you do not have to suffer while you wait. Do not do what I did. Do not buy into the labels. Do not give up or give in.
Instead of choosing the mindset of infertility, choose the mindset of belief. Choose the mindset of knowing that your time will come. Accept, believe, and KNOW that everything and anything . . . and I mean ANYTHING . . . is POSSIBLE.
Because it IS.
And I know this because after 15 years of living with the label, and living with the tattoo on my forehead, something happened which proved everyone wrong about everything. I now know that
I AM NOT INFERTILE
My body is
and so is
Filed under: adoption, Age and Infertility, Deadly Silence, Egg Donation, Faith and Infertility, Gestational Carrier, infertility in the media, Infertility In The Movies etc., Infertility on Television, IVF, Peace to Parenthood, Personal Musings, Recurrent Pregnancy Loss, Surrogacy, The Infertility Survival Handbook, The Journey to Parenthood, Thinking Out Loud, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction, Treatment, Uncategorized, visualization
April 17, 2013 | By: Liz
So Halle Berry is pregnant at age 46. She’s approximately my age. Jealous much? You betcha! You all know I want another baby. It’s hardly a secret; certainly not from my kids, my dear husband (DH), most of my friends, and Dr. C. I have become somewhat preoccupied with the notion of being pregnant at such an advanced age — my BFF from High School and my BFF from College both think I am absolutely, completely and utterly insane to want to bear a child at this age. [btw, I have a college reunion coming up, whadya wanna bet that many of my classmates have just started down the path toward parenthood and have little ones?! I am taking bets!]
But clearly, if judging from no other demographic than my client base, I am far from alone at wanting a baby in my mid-forties. I was somewhat surprised but quite happy when I heard that ASRM just increased the recommended age limit — cutoff — for women undergoing ART procedures to something like age 55. While I am not sure my own mojo is going to keep me going for another 10 years, I am delighted that ASRM is now recognizing and giving an opportunity to all those healthy women who are in a deadlock battle with the NOvary because they decided they wanted a seat on the New York Stock Exchange before they wanted a seat next to a breast pump. And these days those goals can and do become mutually exclusive. Sheryl Sandberg aside — who managed to pop out her babies in her mid-late 30’s, and no doubt did her research about declining fertility before making an educated decision to have her children while she still had a decent chance at doing so using her own eggs — most women who truly want and love their careers, or who truly want to find the right partner, wind up face to face with their biological clock, otherwise known as the NOvary.
The NOvary, to remind you, is the ovary that says NO! I am not going to give you a healthy egg. My days as a functional ovary have ended. Didn’t you read the memo I sent you (and Sheryl Sandberg) when you were 35 and I was starting to explore ads for condo’s in Miami? I am the NOvary, I am in control of your egg quality and egg quantity and good luck trying to have a baby without my cooperation!
But thanks to egg donation and now expanded age limits by ASRM, those of us with career aspirations or who haven’t quite found the perfect partner have been given a reprieve, a few more years in which to squeeze in our baby-making, and laugh at or otherwise stare the NOvary down.
The funny thing was, as I sat down to tackle today’s blog I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write about choosing an egg donor and some recent hullabaloo over ads for egg donors that were posted at MIT, or whether I was going to explore the whole notion of whether someone can or should be deemed too old to become pregnant. As I perused all my research on age and egg donation, and age and parenting, I stumbled across an article from TheBostonChannel.com which I had printed out in February of 2012. “How Old is Too Old To Have A Baby? Older Celebrity Moms Blurring the Biological Lines.” Half way through the first page of the article I read the following:
“Since 1980, the number of women giving birth after age 35 had tripled, and after 40, guadrupled, as more women climb the career ladder and take longer to find ‘Mr Right.’ In the media, we are bombarded by images of glamorous, 40-something celebrity moms like Halle Berry . . . who make it all look easy.”
BINGO, topic decided. Clearly Halle and I have something in common and something of which I wish to speak. But before I do, I want to be clear and say that I have no personal knowledge of whether Halle used any kind of assisted reproduction to conceive her baby (despite the myriad comments on facebook from my colleagues — all of whom stop just short of stating she used an egg donor to avoid risking a lawsuit), but I do find it interesting that an article and quote from a prominent fertility doctor written a little over a year ago would mention Halle Berry as an example of celebrities who are blurring the lines between what can be achieved the old fashioned way, without medical technology. You do the mental computations on this one. Coincidence, or did that doctor know something and Halle’s hiding something?
For what it’s worth, I do have more than one personal friend who conceived on their own in their mid-late 40’s such that I do believe it is possible that Halle could have conceived without assistance, coincidences raised by the aforementioned article aside. But Halle is my blog inspiration for today because she is blurring the lines and that pisses me off.
The reality is that for most of us mid-forty-aged women, we will need an egg donor to conceive a child. The NOvary has hit her stride by the time we have hit 40 — let alone 45 — and she ain’t gonna budge from her beautiful condo in Boca no matter how much we beg and plead. As I have been working on my egg donation book recently, it has taken on a new meaning as I often find I am writing not just to a group of women whom I typically represent in my legal practice, but I am writing to myself and for myself. I also am finding my new book enriched by my own efforts to justify my decision to bring another life into the world at this age, and gaining a better understanding of how and where to conceive this new life. For example, I recently was astonished to learn that by the time a woman reaches age 40, her chances of conceiving using her own egg in any given month declines another 2-5% per MONTH. The NOvary is powerful and while one day I am sure science will find a way to stop her, right now my age alone pretty much guarantees that I need an egg donor. And Halle and I are in the same age demographic whether or not she hit the genetic jackpot and managed to defeat the NOvary by some major miracle which did not involve donated eggs.
But that’s the point! Halle is blurring the lines especially for anyone who isn’t ready to face the reality of our rapidly declining fertility in our forties. I have reconciled myself to the fact that my peak fertility has long since passed and I acknowledge that I share the same spot in the waiting room at the fertility clinic — or should I say egg donation agency — as all the Sheryl Sandberg wanna-be’s and all the women who hold seats on the NYSE, or who have finally found their mate. I doubt that most of my contemporaries, however, even those who know and understand what I do for a living, truly understand just how high the odds are stacked against us. Indeed, at a recent dinner with a fertility doctor I sought to learn more about the advantages of egg banking — or more precisely the decision to freeze one’s eggs to be used later in life when a woman is ready, willing, and able to have a baby on her terms. The doctor explained to me that far too many women are coming to him to freeze their eggs in their late thirties or even early forties — an age at which he often won’t even discuss permitting them to freeze their eggs. What he was trying to tell me, and he is by far not the first fertility professional to tell me is this: women are thinking of using egg freezing to buy themselves more time but are coming to the fertility clinic when their eggs already have passed their expiration dates and when the NOvary has taken up residence in Boca. The women who wish to take time before becoming a parent and who should be freezing their eggs are at a minimum ten years younger than the ones seeking out this new “stop-the-NOvary” technology. And Halle’s miracle conception isn’t helping doctors explain to all the women asking to freeze their eggs at age 35, 39, and most especially at age 41 that it’s probably too late; its certainly too late to spend thousands of dollars freezing crappy quality eggs! Just because ASRM says we can continue to try getting pregnant using medical technology when we are 46, 49 or 51, does NOT mean that medical technology will involve the use of our own eggs. Just because Halle got pregnant at 46 (presuming she has used her own ova) does NOT mean that women can wait until whenever we damn well choose to have a baby.
I love Halle, I think she is beautiful and talented, and a great mother. And it’s none of my business how she conceived this child. Except that if she did use an egg donor, or any kind of medical assistance to conceive her baby, she has truly done every woman who looks to her as a roll model a huge disservice.
My other love, Jennifer Anniston, who I hope will be the next celebrity to announce her impending motherhood, has made remarks which lead me to believe that she recognizes biology is not on her side (and to be fair Halle did say she thought this phase of her life was over — but what phase of her life did she refer to? Getting pregnant the old fashioned way or changing diapers and breast feeding?).
I also get, as a reproductive lawyer, why Halle might not be able to say she used an egg donor. If she used an egg donor and entered into an anonymous egg donation agreement, she might be legally precluded from making any reference to egg donation when relating details of her conception story, lest she inadvertently reveal the identity of her egg donor. This is a discussion I have had with celebrities whom I have represented and who have used egg donors: Whether and to what extent they are willing to go public, as there are ways to go public while still protecting the anonymity of their egg donor. It can be done and I am hopeful that one of them will one day — when she and her family feel the time is right for their family — make some kind of public remark about how their family was conceived. I also understand, however, that to make that statement is to forever disclose very personal details involving their children. These are details that their children should have a right to agree to share with the public or request remain a private, family matter. But many of my colleagues feel that the minute Halle Berry accepted her status as a premiere celebrity that she lost that right to be private and even more, voluntarily gave up her right to privacy in the interest of promoting that status as a female celebrity roll model which she has so openly embraced. I think it’s worth exploring this aspect of egg donation in the celebrity community in a blog devoted more to legal and ethical issues that are discussed when drafting an anonymous egg donation agreement. But putting these dynamics and very delicate issues aside, there is no getting around the fact that Halle’s pregnancy is going to perpetuate the overwhelming misconception that women in their mid-forties can get pregnant with a healthy infant, carry to term, and live happily ever after. The percentage of women who actually achieve this, however, are less than 2% of the female population.
More and more young women are getting the message. But far too many women age 35 and older simply do not understand the ticking time bomb that is the NOvary and will look at Halle and think “see she did it! so can I!”
Sadly, the reality is that Halle is (again assuming this is an old-fashioned conception) one of an extremely small number of women who get pregnant in their mid-forties. She is incredibly lucky. The kind of lucky that wins the $110,000,000.00 lottery. Congratulations to Halle (and my thoughts and prayers are with you Jennifer and Justin), but to anyone who looks at these women and think they are representative of the general population, or that they indicate a realistic chance for conceiving a baby using your own eggs at the same age as has (presumably) Halle, please do your research. By the time we turn 30, 90% of our good, genetically normal eggs have joined forces with the NOvary, by the time we are 40, 95% of those eggs have moved into that plush condo in Boca. The older you are, the more risk you face of serious infertility issues related to egg quality and quantity, and high rates of miscarriage due to chromosomally abnormal eggs. Halle may have won the lottery. That she is healthy enough to carry a pregnancy I have no doubt, but that she had healthy enough eggs to easily conceive this baby, that was a real long shot and if she did get pregnant using her own eggs, she is one helluva a lucky lady. Because 99% of the rest of us aren’t going to be so lucky. Please don’t look at Halle as your inspiration or roll model, whatever it was that led to the conception of this child defies the laws of fertility. I want all of us to have babies regardless of whether we are 35, 45, or perhaps even 55. But using our own eggs at those ages is something we must face as increasing unlikely as we increase in age.
Donor egg, and even egg freezing, give us the chance to wait until we are 46 to have a baby. Whether or not Halle is one of the many, many women who chose donor egg to help them conceive is something we may never know. But a word to the wise: don’t assume she conceived that baby without the help of medical science and/or another woman’s healthy egg. As I said in the beginning of this blog, a little over a year ago Halle Berry was cited as an example of the women in Hollywood who are blurring the lines and confusing women into believing our fertility exists far longer than it realistically does. What an interesting coincidence that a year later, she is announcing that she is pregnant and that a wonderful miracle has taken place.
All babies are miracles, the question is whether and to what extent Halle’s pregnancy and her little miracle will continue to confuse, confound, and frustrate all of the women who look to her as a symbol of fertility, of a fertility that frankly does not exist for the vast, vast majority of 46 year-old women. The odds of someone like me conceiving using my own eggs? Let’s just say I don’t play the lottery. If I choose to have a baby at any point in the coming months or years, it will be from the miracle gift of egg donation. I’d rather bet on the odds of having a 75% chance of conceiving and carrying to term than the 95% odds against me being another Halle Berry.