The creator of in vitro fertilization, British scientist Robert Edwards, recently received his long overdue recognition, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. IVF, once considered franken-science, originally feared as a sure path to “playing God,” has been responsible for 4 million births worldwide.
So many grateful families have been created since the birth of Edwards’ first success, Louise Joy Brown, in 1978. This miraculous procedure – combining egg and sperm outside the body and then implanting the embryos in the womb – has become source of hope for thousands of families once considered infertile. The once whispered term “test tube baby” has lost the sting of shame, and IVF has become an almost routine procedure in most reproductive clinics – it’s the gold standard of fertility treatments.
Yet for many women, the news that their best chance at conception lies in a test tube is not always received with whoops of joy. The realization that there may be a “cure” for their infertility is juxtaposed with a bitter reality that still carries shame. The stigma still persists that not being able to create a baby the old-fashioned way is somehow a weakness, a flaw that keeps you out of the “girls club.” I have had many women in my office who say with regret that having to do IVF seems unfair. It’s not “natural.” It’s not the way it was supposed to be. It’s not something they really want to tell people, as if something is wrong with them. Don’t get me wrong, more women than not are thrilled to hear about an option that will help them live out their dreams of motherhood.
But for some, there is a subtle underbelly to this beast – IVF has created a revolution in the way the medical world is able to help women with infertility. Yet the very act of creation that is supposed to take place in the privacy of our bedrooms with a loving partner, is suddenly feeling like a science experiment, illuminated by bright lights, clinical instruments and ethical quagmires. This loss of intimacy in the conception process is, for some women, just another reminder of loss in their quiet moments, and the thing that is least understood by their closest friends and society as a whole. This is why the stigma persists, and why women still hesitate to easily discuss their reproductive choices with others. It’s easy to share the joy at the end of the road, when a baby is finally born, but the quiet grieving that goes on as the journey progresses is like a ghost passenger, and it is this that keeps the silence alive.
So let us celebrate the miracle that is IVF – but also remember to offer understanding to those who struggle with the loss that created the need for IVF in the first place.
That’s what I think. What do you think?