what i really want

Posted in Uncategorized on August 28, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

A few months without fertility treatments had an effect beyond guilt-free coffee drinking. I stopped noticing every pregnant person on the street.  I started thinking about other life possibilities, like hiking the Anapurna circuit, which costs roughly the same as an IVF cycle but involves yaks.

For me, and I imagine many infertile people, the goal of pregnancy can subsume the goal of parenting.  Getting pregnant – and then getting to the next stage once you are pregnant – becomes the sole objective.  This is most true at crucial moments:  the day before an embryo transfer, for example, or when waiting for the results of a pregnancy test.  At those points the fate of the universe seems to hinge on my fertility status.

It took me a few treatment-free months to reflect on this.  I started to question if I wanted to be a parent as much as I wanted to get pregnant.  Is it the difficulty of achieving pregnancy that makes me want it so badly? If parenting were the real goal, wouldn’t I be more excited about other options?

I’m tempted to say that fertility treatment has tricked me into wanting something more than I really do.   We already live in a society that teaches that childbearing – at least in the gender normative, biological style – is a marker of adult success.  Ironically, regimes of hormones and follicle monitoring seem to have made me more emotionally vulnerable to this myth, even as my political critique has sharpened.

But then I wonder.  What’s the difference between thinking you want something and really wanting it? Desires come and go, but that doesn’t mean they’re less genuine in the moment you’re experiencing them.

Last week I saw Dr. Stein for the first time in months.  He was his usual self—harried and tired-looking, rushing from patient to patient in the morning monitoring flurry.

We’re now preparing for a frozen embryo transfer.  As always, I am expecting failure.  But this time I promise myself that I will spend more time Googling Nepalese mountain treks than early pregnancy symptoms.


Comments from Solidarity Summer School

Posted in Uncategorized on August 6, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

Below are notes from a talk I gave at the Solidarity summer school on July 27th. It was part of a workshop called Socialist Feminism: Theory and Practice.

Feminist activists working from an intersectional perspective — that is, feminists working simultaneously on issues of racism, gender oppression, ablism and other forms of domination — have shown the limitations of individual rights as a tool for advancing human liberation.

For example, women prisoners’ organizations have shown that abortion access doesn’t secure reproductive justice if women prisoners who choose to bear their children are still shackled during childbirth. Poor people’s organizations have shown that access to birth control means less if people don’t have the resources to care for the children they choose to bear.

To be clear, access to birth control and abortion are major social movement victories. Radicals and revolutionaries should support campaigns to defend and expand them.

But we should also think long-term. What kind of organizing will lead us towards a world in which people’s needs — not only the physical ones, but intellectual and emotional ones, too — are fulfilled? What sort of politics will help us imagine a world free of domination?

An intersectional feminist perspective can help us begin to answer these questions.

I want to give three examples of ways to apply this perspective. This is not intended to be an intellectual exercise as much as a practice of drawing connections between different sites of struggle, whether those struggles are potential or real. I don’t think we can even begin to answer the two gargantuan questions above without doing that.

The examples come from two personal experiences:

– When I was 19 my hearing went from bad to worse. I got a cochlear implant.

– More recently, as a result of fertility problems, I chose to enter into the world of assisted reproductive technology.

1) Most of us think of assisted reproductive technology (ART) as something that’s available only to rich and privileged people.  There is a lot of truth to that. In the United States, you need thousands of spare dollars, great health insurance, or a willingness to go into credit card debt to get in-vitro fertilization treatment.

For that reason, it’s easy to ignore ART when we think about reproductive justice. But we shouldn’t. That’s because like any other form of medical technology or reproductive treatment ART can be used to solidify or challenge existing power relations. Consider how governments and pharmaceutical companies have used Norplant and forced sterilization to subordinate certain communities. In-vitro fertilization can be used advance right-wing political agendas, too.

For example, Israel grants citizens unusually free access to IVF – all citizens get unlimited treatments until they get two babies or hit age 45. Jews living in the occupied Palestinian territories (but NOT Palestinians in those same territories) qualify for this.

On the other hand, abortion is much more limited. Women seeking low-cost or free abortions have to appear before a termination committee and show they’ve met certain criteria (economic hardship is not on this list).

Why is Israel so generous with some reproductive services but not others? The main answer: This system was developed as part of a nationalist project in which Jewish women’s childbearing is deployed as a weapon, mostly against Palestinians.

To bring the issue home: Consider the coverage in the mainstream media of the US 2010 Census. There was a lot of hand wringing about the population of the US becoming less white, about the “majority” becoming the “minority.”

The Israeli state’s has similar anxiety about the high Palestinian birthrate, but magnified by a thousand.

We don’t have much time to discuss this in depth. Suffice it to say that a strong reproductive justice movement in that region would have to have a sharp analysis of the occupation of Palestine.

Another question we might discuss in this workshop is how do reproductive justice issues come up in the immigrants rights movement in the US?

2) As I mentioned earlier, cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that allow people with certain types of deafness to perceive sound.

Before the days of cochlear implants, and before mainstreaming became politically popular, hearing parents in the US would send their deaf children to deaf institutions.

These schools were often hostile to Deaf people. Hearing administrators usually viewed sign language as barbaric and understood themselves to be on a civilizing mission. In some ways, the institutions resembled those that sought to Europeanize Native American kids.

But still, those schools had benefits for Deaf people: they forced them into the same space and gave them the opportunity to build relationships with each other. Those institutions helped form the basis of Deaf communities that saw themselves more as a national minority than as a group of disabled people. That is why people who identify with these communities describe themselves as “Deaf” instead of “deaf.”

Cochlear implants and the rise of mainstreaming changed that.  These two things offered hearing parents the promise – which often goes unfulfilled — that deaf babies can grow into hearing kids, or at least approximations of them.
Why did I get a cochlear implant? I am not deaf with a capital D. I was born hearing and in most ways identify with the hearing world. This remained true even as my hearing deteriorated throughout my adolescense and even as I made some contacts with the Deaf community and learned some ASL.  I never fit perfectly into either the Deaf of hearing worlds. My cochlear implant has helped me survive in the world that I’m in.

Some discussion questions: how could we have excellent healthcare without imposing standards of physical normativity? Would cochlear implants exist in a socialist feminist world?

3) Feminists have long debated whether technology is a tool of oppression or liberation. One great example of technology as a tool of liberation is contained in Marge Piercy’s novel Woman on the Edge of Time.  One memorable aspect of this novel is her portrayal of “post revolutionary” human reproduction, where creation of children has been delinked from the human body. Instead, babies are made in test tubes and people of all genders can apply to “mother” in threesomes. One consequence of this is that gender binaries completely dissipate. Another is that there is no breast feeding and no unique mother-child bond, at least not in the way we think of it today.

Some questions we might discuss are: What are examples of reproductive technologies being used for liberatory purposes and for oppressive purposes? Can one technology be both in different contexts? Some ideas: surgeries used to assign conventional genitalia to sexually indeterminate infants, surgery/technology used to transform bodies to be in line with the person’s gender (sex reassignment surgey), sterilazation, etc.

more on cyborgs

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

In a previous post, I wrote about how, when I was 19, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto changed my life.

By that time, my ability to hear had been declining steadily for over a decade. Then, in the spring of my sophomore year of college, the hearing in my left ear took a final plunge. My right ear was little better.

With the exception of a sign language class and a couple of hard of hearing friends, I operated entirely in the hearing world. I survived with lip reading and, more often than I would like to admit, bullshitting. Both of these skills had improved in proportion to my physical decline. I was excellent at both.

But with one ear completely shot, even my most finely honed survival skills felt inadequate. I decided to get a cochlear implant.

This device consists of surgically implanted electrodes that send sound directly to the auditory nerve, bypassing the non-functioning cochlea hairs. The external component resembles a conventional hearing aid and communicates with the internal part via a magnet, which is implanted between the scalp and the skull.

I had hearing aids since age ten, but a cochlear implant was something new entirely. For one, it required surgery. The surgery involved the implantation of machines – magnets, electrodes and the like – in my head.

Until that point my body, as inadequate as it was, was, I thought, natural. Now I was going to have a prosthesis attached to my head. I would be metal and wires.

Haraway’s work is informed a lot by the theoreticians and activists who are sometimes known as US third world feminists.  One of this movement’s largest contributions is explaining the world through the perspectives of intersecting oppressions and identities – that is, through the perspectives of people who operate in two or more worlds at once. Gloria Andalzua, whose poetry I quoted in a previous post, is one example.

Haraway explains that just as gender is historically and culturally specific, so too are our understandings of the human body and human species.

Her path out of these neat categories – some examples of neat categories are man/woman, black/white, citizen/non citizen, human/machine — is through the cyborg: a creature that is part human and part machine, part fiction and part real. Seeing that I was about to become part machine, I embraced this wholeheartedly.

Now, a decade and a half later, I’ve want to see what this set of politics has to teach us about fertility medicine.

Much of the time I’m conscious of how reproductive endocrinology has functioned as a boutique specialty accessible to those that have cash or decent insurance. For obvious reasons, it’s important for all of this to question this. One way is by supporting campaigns for better health insurance policies and domestic partner benefits.

And for similar reasons, I think it’s important for infertility patients – especially those of us who consider ourselves feminists – to be extra critical of discourses that draw thick lines between natural and assisted reproduction, and between “test tube” babies and natural babies.

Cleaning month

Posted in Uncategorized on June 18, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

Last night at a restaurant I was seated next to a couple I’ve seen in Dr. Stein’s office. The woman is small and androgynous with short spiky hair. The man has a pointy goatee and glasses. They showed no signs of recognizing me.

For a few minutes I sat next to them in silence. I was waiting for a high school friend who I’d not seen in over two years. I was preparing to congratulate my friend on her pregnancy. I had no evidence that she was pregnant, but it seemed like a safe assumption.

While I was waiting, I tried to determine the nature of the couple’s conversation. But my deaf ear was facing them and I sat too close to attempt to read their lips unobtrusively. They seemed quiet and relaxed, and once they reached across the table to touch each others’ fingers.

My pregnancy hormone levels have finally decreased to 0. This means we can prepare for the frozen embryo transfer, but June is the clinic’s machine cleaning month, which requires further postponement.

To be sure, it’s pleasant to have time free of hormones, copays, and early morning ultrasounds. Distance from this process gives the semblance of normalcy, albeit one that’s easily shattered.

But this couple reminded of the clinic. Like any workplace, it’s got a particular routine that persists regardless of the patients who cycle in and out. The early morning monitoring, the IUIs, the consults and so on, continue.

I find this horribly disappointing. I want the nurses to inquire about my absence. I want Dr. Stein to be distracted at family dinners because he is contemplating my case. I want his family to grow frustrated with him as a result.

Soon after my friend arrived, the couple got up and left. I was surprised to learn that she was not pregnant, and wasn’t trying to be.

Everyone IS pregnant!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

Even Anthony Weiner’s wife has a bun in the oven.




CBS segment on fertility yoga

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

A few months back,  in the wake of the NY Times article on fertility yoga, I attended a class at NYU.

Lucky for me, it happened to be the day that a CBS camera crew was shooting for a lengthy Early Show segment on fertility and the “mind-body connection.”

I’d forgotten about it till I came across the clip online.

The first part of show implies,  infuriatingly but predictably, that yoga gets you preggers. Ugh.

If you skip forward, about 3 mins and 52 seconds into the clip, you can catch a glimpse of me in tree pose. I’m the one in the back row with white pants and  elephantine follicles.

everyone is pregnant

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2011 by infertilerevolutionary

Maybe it’s me, but everyone seems pregnant these days.

Since my last cycle – the one that ended with a miscarriage — a coworker, my boss’s girlfriend, and a friend from a past writing workshop have announced their pregnancies.

“Why doesn’t she just get a swastika tattooed across her chest?” a different friend said to me at the sight of woman sunning her big pregnant belly.

I laughed, but like all good jokes, it held a kernel of truth.

These days, every pregnant person on the street seems like an insult.

I know it’s possible that their pregnancies came only after eight IVF cycles, and their resultant credit card debt has forced them to move in with relatives.

Or maybe they are carrying conjoined twins with a 50 percent chance of survival.

Or their own beloved mothers are suffering a painful terminal illness, holding on until they can see their grandchildren.

In those cases – as in all cases of major personal suffering — being pregnant is ok. The problem is that I can’t know without asking, so where do I direct my venom?