I think it's safe to say that infertility and third party reproduction is in the public eye now more than ever. For instance, the reality show Guilana & Bill has followed the celebrity couple Guilana and Bill Rancic through 2 IVFs, one ending in miscarriage and another ending in a BFN. Numerous celebrities have announced the births of their children created through some form of third party reproduction. News reports, articles, and documentaries about the growing practice of international egg donation and surrogacy have been published and aired. It seems that when it comes to infertility treatment and third party reproduction, almost everyone has a strong, if perhaps not well-informed, opinion.
In her blog, Dawn Davenport at Creating a Family wrote a really wonderful post, found here, about the media coverage of and public response to Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban's daughter's birth via a gestational carrier. In it, she excerpts some of the many negative comments that can be found on the internet about their use of a gestational carrier. As you can imagine, some folks out there in cyberspace are not supportive of Kidman's and Urban's decision, suggesting that Kidman didn't want to ruin her figure with a pregnancy, or decrying the use of a gestational carrier/surrogate as dehumanizing or morally wrong.
As the spotlight shines on our little corner of the world, I find myself wondering about what all this attention, both positive and negative, means psychologically for individuals experiencing infertility in their own, less public lives. On the one hand, I think that increased public awareness of the issues involved in infertility could be beneficial to those currently experiencing it. Perhaps seeing a couple on television deal with a miscarriage and failed treatment cycle could help watchers become more empathic to their friends, family members, and neighbors who are in the same situation. Also, if the public increasingly understands infertility as a medical condition, there may be more public support for increased health insurance coverage.
However, I think that the negative commentary now floating around out there adds a new wrinkle of difficulty to the already complicated psychological terrain of infertility. The negative comments people feel compelled to make about the family building choices of celebrities seem to fall into two categories. The first is that somehow the celebrity him or herself is personally to blame for their situation, rather than having a medical condition. She waited too long, she is too selfish and vain, etc. The second category has to do with the idea that the celebrity is somehow circumventing God's will or fate--e.g., if it's meant to be it will happen, so using IVF, or a surrogate, or whatever, is therefore wrong.
Although I always suspected that some people felt this way about infertility treatment and the choices it involved, in my own personal and professional life I've never had anyone express these criticisms to my face. Perhaps they were thinking it, but I didn't have to deal with it explicitly. Not so anymore. Yesterday, I read an interview in which Guiliana Rancic repeatedly defends herself against public commentary (presumably from people she has never met) that she has caused her infertility by being too thin. This struck me--I mean, it's bad enough to figure out what to say to your insensitive Aunt Maisy who always suggests you just need to relax, or maybe it's just "not meant to be", but to have to start arguing with people you've never met? Although Ms. Rancic is the star of a reality television show and thus has opened up her life to public opinion, it is hard not to take the negative comments made about her situation, or those of other celebrities, and apply it to ourselves, however obliquely.
Of course, it is perhaps only a minority of people out there in the world who have such intense negative feelings about infertility treatment. But with the cloak of anonymity and the ability to publicly express themselves instantaneously at the touch of a button, they can make a big difference in the psychological climate surrounding infertility--and I would argue it's not a good difference. If people person are already inclined, albeit unfairly, to blame themselves for their infertility (and most infertile individuals struggle with this from time to time) negative comments such as these can be used to support this erroneous belief. Fodder for self-criticism is, after all, only a short internet search away.
Although it is possible to avoid reading negative opinions and comments about infertility, it does take effort. And I feel that even if we ourselves never read a word of this stuff, other people do--and this changes the emotional landscape in which we find ourselves.
I am very curious about others' experiences in this regard. I would love to hear your thoughts and stories about how the increase in news coverage around infertility has (or hasn't) affected you. Please leave a comment if you can! And as always, if you have any questions you think I can answer, or any topics you think it would be helpful for me to address in my blog, I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading, and have a great ICLW!