Fertile Ground for Controversy

The Nadya Suleman Octo-mom” controversy has many of us wondering about the ethics of providing fertility treatment to a dubiously-financed woman who is already the mother of six. We’re wondering how robust a treatment would have to be provided in order to result in such a high order multiple birth. And, in the most practical sense, we’re also wondering when Nadya, her parents, or anyone else she knows will ever dig out from under 14 children worth of laundry.

In light of all those considerations, I was happy to hear yesterday’s Fresh Air broadcast featuring journalist Liza Mundy, whose 2007 book Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Our World covered the medical challenges, ethical dilemmas, and social issues related to the relatively recent boom in fertility treatment-generated multiple births. I haven’t read the book, but I did listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Mundy, and, to be honest, I had no idea about the behind-the-scenes of fertility treatment.

Not that it’s morally wrong per se; it’s just, well, complicated.

The cost of fertility treatment ($12,000 per course for artificial insemination, according to Mundy) was not news to me. But the wear and tear on a woman’s body, the mortality risk of often premature and low birth-weight multiple birth babies, the risk/benefit analysis involved in deciding how many embryos to implant and whether to selectively destroy some, and the possible developmental and long-term medical impact on the co-carried babies themselves—these are curves on the roller coaster of infertility that were not even on my radar.

Sure, I knew that some of these issues were out there, but I never really thought about a couple actually going through the decision-making process that asks hard questions like, is the possible benefit of having one healthy child worth the risk of finding ourselves with triplets (or quintuplets) 9 months down the road?

Talking about it with my husband last night, I found out that he’s more up-to-date on the infertility front than I am. Turns out that a former work colleague of his, along with his wife, adopted an embryo a couple of years ago; the embryo was implanted in the wife’s uterus and grew into the little person who is now—and I guess always has been—their daughter.

It’s controversial, I know. And, believe me, I don’t want to sound glib. But having had 2 children myself, and not having gone through any fertility problems, I’m curious. So I’d love for you to comment…

If you’ve gone through fertility treatment, what tough decisions did you have to make?

If you’ve had a multiple birth as a result of fertility treatment (especially one on the order of 4, 5, or more), how did you adjust to (what would be for me) the incredibly overwhelming prospect of that many babies going through infancy—and beyond—all at once?

If you’re having infertility problems now, would you ever consider embryo adoption? What pros and cons do you see in that approach compared to “conventional” adoption?

Drop me a line—I’m interested to see what you have to say.

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