Maybe there's nothing natural about motherhood
February 9, 2018 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Thank you for sharing this piece. After four miscarriages in just over two years of trying to conceive, my husband and I are hoping to start IVF this spring - for various reasons, this is the right next step for us.

Dealing with infertility and recurrent miscarriage really did a number on how I felt about my body. I can get pregnant, apparently, but not stay pregnant, and lots of testing has not revealed the reason why. There have been times that I’ve felt like there is just something wrong with me, that I am defective in some irrevocable way: why else would I be unable to ("naturally") complete this basic biological function that the majority of women have performed for thousands of years (though, as Zumas points out, often with deadly consequences)? That feeling has greatly diminished, thankfully, but never totally goes away. (And, as a side note, I've never felt this way about loved ones who have similarly faced infertility, but that hasn't stopped me from absurdly blaming my own body for failing in what I most want it to do.)

The other night I had dinner with a friend whose sister-in-law has also struggled with infertility, as have several of our mutual friends, and she said, “The more I hear about this, the more I think it’s amazing anyone can ever have children at all.” That every single person in the restaurant - in the city, in the world - was the product of someone actually getting pregnant and successfully giving birth — truly, it seemed almost unbelievable to both of us.

I still wish that our road to pregnancy and kids had been much easier; that things had smoothly unfolded how I fully and naively anticipated they would back before we had loss after loss. But I am very grateful that IVF exists now, and that we have the ability to pursue it (including financially, which we know is an incredible privilege). The kids we hope are in our future, no matter how they come to us, most likely will not join our family in the “natural” way. I cannot wait to meet them.
posted by Synesthesia at 2:31 PM on February 9, 2018 [26 favorites]

This essay is great. Zumas is right that supporting reproductive choice means supporting reproductive choice. Fuck what's "natural."

I think that our concepts of "natural" and "artificial" need to be critiqued and reconstructed more broadly. The idea that natural is automatically better is used to manipulate people. Zumas gets at this when she talks about the idea of what's natural being used to justify sexual harassment, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. But there are other aspects as well:
  • Theories of white racial superiority depend heavily on idiotic arguments about what is natural.
  • Disabled people are told they deserve to die because technology that supports their lives is unnatural.
  • The artificiality of clothing and makeup is used as a cudgel against women by misogynists.
  • People flock to unregulated supplements that are supposedly more natural than carefully regulated pharmaceuticals.
  • Genetically modified organisms are suspect because they are unnatural.
  • Backlashes against technology build on the idea that what is new is unnatural and therefore bad (see panics about windmills, trains, cars, novels, TV, computers, the web, video games, cell phones, ...).
At this point if someone uses the words "natural" or "artificial," 99% of the time they're up to no good*.

*Yes I know there are uses of natural and artificial as technical terms that aren't bigoted or manipulative. They are the 1%. Don't nitpick me.
posted by medusa at 3:52 PM on February 9, 2018 [43 favorites]

Thank you so so so so much medusa I heart your comment so much.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:37 PM on February 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had my kids young, and conceiving was as easy as walking past a pair of my husband's BVDs flapping on the clothesline, so I haven't a clue what women who do have fertilization problems go through. Looking at it from the outside seems incredibly fraught. I don't know if I would have wanted children enough to go through that emotional roller coaster. Women (and their husbands) that go this route have my respect.

"Having kids isn’t a birthright; if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen …"
This half of the quote is pretty stupid. Being able to bear a healthy child isn't a 'birthright' either, and yet society tries to help mothers produce healthy kids, whether it's with prenatal care, cesarean sections, premie care, or post-natal care. SO much can go wrong with a pregnancy, and there are things we can and often need to do to facilitate a good outcome.
(We're just barely doing what needs done--US maternal and infant care is piss-poor for a supposedly 'first world' country.)

"the rest of us should not have to foot the bill so someone can realize their ‘dream.’”
Unfortunately, I wish I didn't tend to agree with the second half. If society doesn't help people with fertilization issues, then only the well(enough)-to-do are going to be able to afford IVF, or even care during difficult pregnancies. In my ideal world, every woman who desires a child would have the chance to try for a pregnancy and delivery. And of course, every woman who DOESN'T want kids, or doesn't want them at that particular time, would have the chance to prevent or terminate a pregnancy. Choice for all. Hooray!

But as ours is a far from ideal world, unfortunately many women who need basic health care aren't getting it, and apparently this society doesn't value our children enough to make sure all of them get decent health care, education, or even enough food after they're born. So, since we apparently can't even do the right thing and foot the bill for the living, maybe 'dream' children do need to be put on the back burner as least as far as society helping foot the bill?
posted by BlueHorse at 6:43 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think it depends where you live. Here in Canada we do have basic healthcare, and some provinces are now covering some fertility treatments. I also conceived easily, but having watched friends go through infertility, I do think it should be a possibility for everyone. I hope my province will cover it (and dental, pharmacare and eye exams. I dream big)

What always bothered me was how often I was asked when my twins were young whether they were "natural". What the hell does that even mean? And why would it be some stranger's business how I conceived?
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:58 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Historically, who has benefited most from appeals to what is “natural,” “normal,” “as God intended”? White people. Abled people. Rich people. Cishet men.

Eh, except IVF is also very much a rich, white-people thing to pursue, and even within the group of diverse women who pursue IVF, white women are still more likely to conceive.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:04 PM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe I shouldn't be posting a reply today, as I'm still raw from finding out yesterday that my most recent IVF transfer failed.

I'm a single woman. I thought conceiving a child without a man would be easy. Just have a few rounds of sperm donation, and bingo, baby.

Two years later, and I'm way out of pocket by tens of thousands of dollars. I've had two miscarriages, one chemical pregnancy, six stimulation cycles, four egg collections, four transfers, and countless medical tests.

It's heartbreaking. It's soul-destroying. It's incredibly stressful. It's been a huge burden on me physically, emotionally and financially.

Yes, I am lucky to be able to afford it (I basically decided to spend all the money I would have on a home deposit on baby making instead). Yes, I am lucky that single women can access all this treatment.

As for adoption. I would love to adopt. I would be first in line to adopt. But adoption in Australia is pretty much impossible, especially for a single woman. That includes international adoption.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:38 PM on February 9, 2018 [13 favorites]

I'm just at the point where my husband and I need to decide whether we want a child enough to try IVF. I'm most afraid that somewhere in the process we'll end up redefining the only "happy ending" as successfully giving birth to a healthy child, and--if we're not able to get there--losing pleasure in our current actually pretty satisfying childless life.

From the point of view of the arguments above, yeah, in many ways it would be more just for us to adopt a child who needs a family than to spend a lot of money (that many people don't have) on a treatment that may not work. I'm afraid of that too; that, given my current ambivalence about having a child at all, all the inconvenience and frustration of child-raising might outweigh the love for the child, if I kept remembering that he or she wasn't mine by blood. (Not casting aspersions on adoptive parents here, at all; this is my habit of picturing the worst case scenario.)

I don't buy the "natural/unnatural" idea at all. There's a line from some novel I know, be damned if I can remember what is, that runs something like "At various times, activities as disparate as standing upright and not dying of the Black Death have been unnatural," and, yeah. Not everything that's natural is desirable, and vice versa.
posted by huimangm at 10:45 PM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah the article was... heartbreaking. I say this as a single man who smokes two packs a day, probably has a drinking problem, works a sedentary job for 16 hours a day on beaches and sitting in hotel rooms when I'm not on an airplane, and whose primary leisure activity seems to be yelling on the internet. I'm pretty much a selfish bastard who's doing it all wrong and knows it:

I don't get lectured for my choices, so why do mothers? WTF!

And that's as much credence as I'm gonna give this spurious, value-judgey, oppressy crap. You have your babies however the hell you damn want, and I'll keep my damn mouth shut unless it's to tell someone else to keep theirs shut about babies that aren't theirs, and in the meantime I'll donate time and money to causes advocating for state violence (laws y'all) against people who try in any way, shape, or form to limit reproductive choice. Fuck that team. I'm on Squad Leave Mom Alone & Help Her Conceive a Healthy Child If and Only If That is a Thing She Wants But Absolutely Do That If She Wants That.

Why? It just feels natural.
posted by saysthis at 7:23 AM on February 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

The one thing I think these articles also don't talk about is that even if you do IVF, babies aren't a given. I'm on my second failed cycle, and when I told people we were doing it and the odds weren't fantastic, the response was almost universally "oh great, everyone I know who's done it has a baby." I'm wildly lucky that we can afford it now, but it would have been much easier if we could have done it 8 years ago, when I wasn't pushing 40. There's a whole ton of issues around the class barriers to fertility treatment, there's basically no winning in motherhood or attempts at it.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:18 AM on February 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

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