Was I selfish to have fertility treatments?

As the mother of twins, I know people suspect I had help getting pregnant. But why am I so self-conscious about it?

By Jane Roper
Published January 30, 2012 11:55PM (EST)
        (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-88580p1.html'>Franz Pfluegl</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Franz Pfluegl via Shutterstock)

When I found out I was pregnant with twins, one of my first thoughts was, "Great. Now everyone’s going to wonder if I had fertility treatments."

And they do: People ask all kinds of probing questions -- from the sometimes innocent, “Do twins run in your family?" to the blatant, “Was it natural?”

And it wasn’t. Our twins were the result of ovulation stimulation drugs and an IUI (intrauterine insemination).

But the question I started asking myself was: Why should I care if people suspected or knew I needed “help” getting pregnant? Especially in an age in which so many women seek medical intervention when they have trouble conceiving. And especially at a time when twins are becoming the new normal: Recently, the CDC reported that 1 in every 30 babies born in the United States today is a twin.

Part of my self-consciousness came from the fact that infertility treatments are an intimate affair. Your private parts are prodded, your internal organs scrutinized, and your bodily fluids drawn. Nobody looks at one little baby and thinks, “Gee, wonder how that thing got made?” whereas multiples beg the question: How exactly did that happen? I wasn’t crazy about my reproductive process being speculated upon or, more to the point, given any thought at all.

But there was more to it than that.

Was I simply ashamed that I couldn’t get pregnant on my own? Did I feel inadequate or even “broken,” as a friend of mine who recently had IVF said she did? Not really. There were times when my husband and I felt frustrated and angry at our inability to conceive, but I never worried that other people would judge me for something beyond my control. Nor do I have any religious or ethical qualms about responsibly administered fertility treatments (i.e., the kind carefully monitored so as to avoid higher-order multiples). No one has ever scolded me for going against “God’s plan,” but if they did, I would politely tell them I disagree. To me, assisted fertility is no more “playing God” than administering CPR.

It is, however, a choice. And in the eyes of many people it’s a selfish one. Just read the comments thread under any story on this topic. And this, I realized, was at the heart of my reluctance to let people know how my twin daughters came to be. I worried they would think I’d acted selfishly. On some level, I wondered if they were right.

Having infertility treatments is selfish, the argument typically goes, because the world population is burgeoning. Meanwhile, there are thousands of children out there in need of good homes. So why don’t infertile couples (or “these women,” as it’s more typically put, as if their partners are merely being dragged along for the ride) just adopt?

Back when we were in our 20s, my husband and I always said we’d adopt if we weren’t able to get pregnant on our own. If it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be. But when I was just shy of 30, the desire to have a baby kicked in, and it kicked in hard. I wanted to experience pregnancy, and both of us wanted the experience of creating and nurturing a person who was genetically linked to us. It was a primal and surprisingly powerful urge.

By that time we’d learned that “just adopting” is anything but simple. Fees and expenses can run anywhere from $5K-$50K and whether you adopt domestically or internationally, the process can take years, and can be a roller coaster of anticipation, disappointment and complex legal issues. In addition, adopted children are more likely to have special healthcare needs, developmental delays and mental health issues.

So when making a baby on our own proved challenging, we didn’t say, “Guess we’ll just adopt.” We went to a fertility clinic, got tested, and talked over our options with the doctor. They were confident that they could help us, and we agreed to give it a shot. This was what we wanted.

Our insurance required that we try the least invasive approach first: ovulation stimulation drugs, with careful monitoring to try to prevent a multiple pregnancy. We were fortunate that our route to conception was a relatively simple one. On our third attempt, I was pregnant. And we were thrilled — in spite of being taken aback by the fact that there were two babies on the way.

Now, our daughters are 5 years old, and we can’t imagine life without them. These days, I don’t much care if people think I was selfish to have undergone treatment to help conceive them. I honestly don’t think my choice was any more selfish than anyone’s choice to have a child.

One woman I spoke to recently on this topic put it perfectly. Like many women who struggle with infertility, she was asked by friends if she considered adoption before getting infertility treatments. She said to me, “I always wanted to ask them, the ones who were parents, in particular: Did you consider adopting before you went and tried to have a baby on your own? And if you didn’t, why should I?’”

Why, indeed, should infertile couples be automatically expected to adopt? Why should the onus be on them to make this noble and unselfish choice, when the desire for a biological child is something shared equally by fertile and infertile couples?

Yes, my husband and I would probably have pursued adoption if we had exhausted the possibilities for having our own children, provided we could muster the financial and emotional resources to do so. Adoption is a wonderful avenue for building a family. But the technology was there for us to conceive a child — and, as it turned out, children — of our own. We had every right to use it.

Jane Roper

Jane Roper’s memoir of twin pregnancy, parenting and clinical depression, "Double Time," will be published in May by St. Martin’s Press. She blogs at Baby Squared on Babble, and lives in the Boston area.

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