Monday, August 15, 2011

Making Babies

While we are waiting for Todd's yearly posting about raising girls, I am going to move forward with another post. After reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein, I rushed out to the library to pick up one of her earlier books. Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of two continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother.

The title alone makes you want to read the book. I zipped through it in just a few nights (leaving bedtime up to Todd because I just had to keep reading), its a quick read, which was good for my participation in bed time. The title tells you what its about, infertility of course. But even as some one who has not dealt personally with infertility it was still very revealing about the inside workings of the infertility world. But even more than that, the human desire to create life.

Peggy tells us a common story of a woman who is told by her culture, her community and family that she must be successful. She is on the cusp of "making it" as a writer in her late twenties and early thirties. By her mid-thirties, she has published a book (and getting calls from the likes of NPR) and is a regular writer for a major publication. While she and her husband had thought about having children, there was this push to get to a designated point in her career before allowing children to enter the picture, before letting them interrupt her momentum forward. In her world this is normal. In many worlds this is normal. In fact most of us today could say, "My mom had me 10 years earlier than when I had my kids." This is our current timeline for having children. However there is one big problem, evolution is not catching up with this career minded ideal. Check out Egg Banking here.

Here's how this works, every single female mammal on the planet is born with all of her "eggs". Its a number that is determined while this little female is still in the womb. Obviously there is some developing that must take place in the female body before these "eggs" start to travel in a direction of getting fertilized. You know how this works, I'm not going to explain the birds and the bees to you all. But the point is that women have a number of eggs that we are born with and around the age of 34 they start their gradual decline. The gradual decline turns steeper and steeper as we approach 40 years of age, and by 42 the majority of women have run out of "eggs" all together. So if our mothers had us when they were 24, and we begin having our babies at 34 we are already at risk for infertility.

Let me pause here and say, this is not a "scare" you blog post, its just some interesting stuff from a book I just read, and I'm trying to get to the point.

Let me also pause here and say, this is not just an "aging woman" story, while men make sperm their whole life and do not have a predetermined number of little swimmers, the older they get the lower the quality of them. Meaning you get a lot of broken heads and tails (but for men this happens closer to the 50's and 60's).

Okay where was I? Oh yeah, Peggy Orenstein, just like many other women, waited until her late thirties to start trying to have a baby. Thus begins her story. What happens is this: after trying for a few months on their own, because of her age, her OB told her to start taking Clomid, which she calls "the gateway drug". Once she began that each doctor she saw after made a great argument for why she should try then next treatment towards pregnancy. Each doctor made numbers like, "thirty percent" sound really high, while surrounding the patients with pictures of mom's holding babies. So of course it was going to work. And after a fifteen thousand dollar procedure that fails you are reminded, it was "only 30 percent". The ethics of this business get fuzzy as the science and research is always so new there are no "rules" established as of yet. And each step up the ladder of infertility treatments you make is one more chance of getting that baby in your arms, you hope. And what choice do couples have, if you tried one thing that didn't work, and the next might than if you say no, you will always wonder, "would that have worked?" Its a trap of some sorts, you want a baby, the vast majority of the women needing infertility treatments are around the same age--and feeling guilty for having waited so long (because fertility doctors like to point out that your eggs are old and hard to work with). They are told, "your body might just need to be jump started" and so what choice do you have?

Orenstein and her husband do try adoption, and actually have a baby in their arms for three days, but because of all the legal hoops they have to jump through that route also becomes very complicated, almost impossible for their situation.

I think outside of the interest I always have in the topics of, infertility, adoption, the process of making babies and how our bodies work, I was also struck by the desire she describes. The desire to have a baby. How does that work? I mean its how life works, reproduction. Bugs, lizards, goats, rabbits, bird and bees yes, all have this drive to reproduce. Humans have it too, and yet humans are probably the only one's who are conscious of wanting to have babies. All the rest of the animals out there make babies because their instincts to do so kick in at some point in their "youth" and they hop off and mate like rabbits. But out in the wild there is not this consciousness of "when do you choose to have babies". Or like one popular book says, "Taking Charge of Your Fertility", as though we set a date on the calendar and just make a baby human. This is actually how it does work for some people.

Here's the point, our culture is telling us one thing, "Success is the most important thing." Maybe even more than love, success comes first, but our instincts say something else, reproduce! But a marriage between the two does not always make since inside out heads, like, you have to find the right person to make a baby with, or like the author its not the right time in your career, or you don't feel ready to take on the responsibility, or you don't have enough money, there are lots of reasons people wait to have babies. Along with her career, Orenstein also grapples with the question, "do I even want to be a parent?" But what becomes clear in her story, and many other stories like her's, the mythological "biological clock" does exist and when it starts ticking loudly letting a woman know her time is almost up, the desire to reproduce is very real. Its mixed with a shift in hormones and possibly the climax of her career. I feel like we as humans are scared to think about our animal nature, we want to be in control of ever aspect of our lives, birth has turned from a natural event in our lives to scheduled around birthdays and holidays, death can be prolonged way past the time in which our bodies say "I'm done" and making babies can now happen in a glass dish-sex not included. I'm not against medical advancements, they do save a lot of lives. But what I think has happened is that we as mammal humans forget that we too are part of nature, that we are connected to a world that is much bigger than our jobs and press-board homes.

I think what a book like this does for us is makes us conscious of the non-natural parts of our lives. For example there are no studies on the long term affect of taking synthetic hormones for birth control, not that I am against birth control, but how does that pill affect our number of eggs for future fertilization? What about added estrogen in cows milk? Should little girls drink milk with so much estrogen in it? Are added hormones to our foods the reason girls start their periods at 9 and not 15? The person adding these synthetic hormones to our daughters lives are thinking about profit and production, not her future ability to hold a child in her arms. If I push my daughter to be successful, to fulfill some sort of an American dream does that dream become a nightmare when she tries to have babies later? Does female success equate with infertility? How do we come to make sense of these questions? How do we understand our bodies in a way that allows for us to have a career and children at the same time? How do we talk to our children about this topic?

There are so many questions that can come from a single story, but whatever your answers are for your life, for your family, I think it is important to understand and make peace with our animal selves and know that they do have limits, despite what medical science might tell us. And to acknowledge the desire to create life.

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