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Learning the hard way that science has not outsmarted mother nature

My name is Miriam. I am one of those women who delayed motherhood until the age of 40. I was fit and healthy, ate well and practiced yoga. I had no idea that trying to become pregnant would be so difficult. Since I was a teenager I had been bombarded by cultural and media messages that said it was okay to postpone childbearing. I wasn’t aware that women’s fertility declined so rapidly after the age of 35, and dramatically more after the age of 40. Everywhere I looked in popular culture I saw images and news clips of older women having babies. I thought I could, too.

Shortly after my husband and I began trying to conceive, we learned that I had endometrial cysts on my ovaries. Those were removed surgically and after another year of trying to become pregnant we decided to sign up for fertility treatments. There was such an optimistic buzz about the promise of reproductive technologies, and everyone in our immediate circle – health care providers, colleagues, family and friends ­­– optimistically encouraged us on our journey.

Despite my age and our doctor’s suggestion that we immediately try donor eggs or adoption, my husband and I plunged forward with IVF treatments. The success stories were so compelling we truly believed they would work, regardless of the odds that seemed to be stacked against us.

Like millions of people facing a diagnosis of infertility, after the first two IVF cycles failed, we sunk into some kind of psychological denial and eagerly signed up for more treatments. When the fourth cycle failed, the doctor recommended we try donor eggs. That was an extremely painful decision to make because it meant I would never birth a child I was genetically related to. I suffered enormous depression at this time, and when I somewhat recovered, my husband and I chose a 21 year old donor from a reputable agency.

Believe it or not she turned out be infertile due to a genetic disease. We then selected a second donor who was also infertile. You can imagine our devastation. Not only were we coming to terms with the unavoidable diagnosis of age-related infertility, we were also realizing that the promise of the science was far less than we had been led to believe and that there were no consumer protections in place.

It was only after I completed treatments that I began to research aspects of the industry that are not reported in the media and began to write my book, Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies (May 2013). The fact is, in the United States, there is virtually no oversight of any aspect of the industry, and few if any long-term studies tracking the health of women undergoing treatments or the babies born from them. The only requirement is the Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act of 1992­­––a “law” that loosely mandates clinics to report their annual “success rates” to the Centers for Disease Control.

In the course of my research I discovered that the vast majority of assisted reproductive technologies fail. Around the globe in 2012, approximately 1.5 million ART cycles were performed, with an estimated 1.1 million failed cycles (76.7 percent). In 2010 in the United States, the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control reveals that of the estimated 150,000 ART cycles conducted, approximately 103,000 (68.6 percent) failed.

It is my hope that by speaking publicly about the six failed cycles I experienced––and the physical and psychological risks and traumas that accompanied them––others will begin to speak out, as well. Generating more balanced discussions about these technologies will hopefully help people avoid involuntary childlessness due to a lack of transparency from the industry, and misinformation disseminated in the popular culture.

Miriam Zoll is the author of the new memoir,“Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies” (Interlink Books-May 2013). She is the founding co-producer of the Ms. Foundation for Women’s original Take Our Daughters To Work Day and a member of the board of Our Bodies Ourselves.

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2 Responses to “Learning the hard way that science has not outsmarted mother nature”

  1. Florence Paquette says:

    Hi,

    While I haven’t read her book, I am surprised to note that here and virtually everywhere that fertility is discussed, the natural methods of conceiving are never mentioned.

    Many couples have found that Natural Family Planning has helped them to achieve pregnancy. The Billings Method is especially helpful in that it allows each individual woman to know when she is most fertile.

    I would encourage all women who are seeking to become pregnant to check this out first. It is natural, works with your body, almost free (there may be a cost associated with training with a Billings specialist) and quite empowering to take on your own fertility.

    I urge you all to try this little know method.

    SIncerely,

    Florence

  2. Beverly says:

    Married age 36 for first time. Pregnant within next 18 months. Miscarried at 13 weeks. Confused. Unable to get pregnant again until age 40, then miscarried at 10 weeks. Decided, okay, God just does not want us to get pregnant. Did foster care and ended up being hospitalized with pneumonia due to the stress of working with DCS and the social issues that the sweet little person had, for which we were not getting much support in the way of services at all. When he moved to greener pastures, I was 42. We broke down and went to see a fertility specialist. Because of my age and the condition of DH sperm profile, MD advised us, with a saturnine expression on his face, that donor eggs were the way to go. WTF! We just did not have those kinds of financial resources, at all. In my mathematical brain, I figured out that getting pregnant, was, after all, a number’s game. If DH ejaculated over 3 million sperm each time, and it only takes one sperm to create a baby, we decided to go at it, hot and heavy, every day around the time of ovulation. Lo and behold, it worked. We were so proud, and so smug. Who needed the medical profession to get pregnant? With our history of miscarriages we knew we were not out of the woods. I breathed a deep sigh of relief around 5 months and let myself believe that we might become parents after all. Long story short, the MD who we trusted with my life and the life of this third baby, let me go over the 40 week mark, at age 43. When I presented in the throes of labor and absolutely exhausted from not sleeping well for several months, I was advised to go to the local motel and get in a “hot tub.” I did just this. I was up laboring all night, in and out of the tub. When I presented the next morning after losing my brownish stained mucus plug, there was no heartbeat. The next 24 hours were a nightmare. After many years of searching and trying to figure things out on my own, because I certainly didn’t get much, if any help from the medical profession regarding my fertility issues, I think I have come to the conclusion that our sweet baby may have made it if I had not been directed to the hot tub. He may have also made it if the MD had any clue about the thyroid and its function. And that miscarriages and stillbirth can be a huge, glaring symptom of hypothyroidism. And that women with a history of miscarriages have a greater likelihood of having a stillbirth. No MD has ever, ever, ever asked me about the circumstances of my birth/gestation, and the drugs that the MD gave my mother when she was carrying me for her hypothyroidism. That is my story of infertility. I have so little respect for the medical profession. They have been such a red herring for misleading me in the areas of life, thriving, health and wholeness.

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