Great news, ladies! A Prominent Feminist Blogger has decided that there is no infertility crisis! So you can just pack up your eleventy billion babies that you had no trouble conceiving or carrying and chuff off to soccer practice. Or something.
Snark aside, the post itself isn’t that bad — she’s absolutely right that delaying family building is not a bad thing, and that women’s fertility does not actually fall off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote on our 35th birthdays.* However, conflating “There is no infertility crisis” with “There is no infertility crisis caused by women delaying family building” buys into the typical media framing: that infertility is a manufactured problem consisting entirely of upper-middle-class fortyish white women who spent the last 20 years building a career instead of popping out babies, and don’t they know they are too old and shriveled for baby-making, and anyway they can Just Adopt if they want a kid so bad.**
This framing does nothing to help us move forward on this social justice issue, which is something I would expect Prominent Feminist Bloggers to care about, which is why this piece got under my skin so much. (Well, that and the comments. When will I learn not to read the comments?)
So here’s my essay on why infertility, ART, and adoption are social justice issues.
Why does the standard media narrative of infertility center on upper-middle-class married hetero fortyish white women (UMCMHFWW)? I think there are two reasons. First, because infertility (like contraception) is widely understood to be a woman’s problem. Men are absolutely erased, even though MFI is just as common as problems with the female reproductive system. Second, because for the most part, UMCMHFWW are the ones with access to treatments. Infertility stories in the media tend to focus on ART, and it’s hard to write a story like that when the subject can’t afford the treatments.
I think the time is absolutely ripe for a discussion of why medical insurance doesn’t generally cover ART. It’s the flip side of the ludicrous resistance to the contraception mandate — not only do conservatives want to keep us from exercising our right not to build a family at any given moment, insurance companies prevent many, many people from trying for a medical solution to the medical problem of infertility. Access to the technology and treatments currently available is just as much part of bodily autonomy as access to contraception: there is no other anatomical system about which we tell people “Nope, sorry, you just don’t get to use that one!” Lack of access to treatment results in a have/have-not situation in which some people are able to build their families and others (those with lower socioeconomic status) are prevented from exercising their reproductive choices.
ART also represents a major family-building opportunity for the LGBT community. It’s a community with its own activist priorities, of course, and I don’t presume to speak for them, but improved access to ART would allow more LGBT families to grow. Access to ART for LGBT family building is a social justice issue and one that feminists should care about.
I know that adoptive mamas and potential adoptive mamas read this blog, and I sincerely hope I’m not being offensive here. Please let me know in comments if I’m missing something or misrepresenting. I will edit or make a new post to clarify.
I think adoption is a wonderful thing when it can be done with love and with informed consent from all involved adults. Unfortunately, with a foster care system that does a poor job both of returning children to their first parents and of matching children with potential adoptive parents; coercive tactics by “crisis pregnancy centers;” and the potential for coercion in international adoption — it is not always practiced with perfect love and consent.
This is an obvious social justice issue: even without coercion, telling UMCMHFWW to “just adopt” means assigning to women of lower socioeconomic status the role of producing surplus babies for the consumption of the upper classes. It also means propping up the current foster care system with its uncertainty on both ends (“will I get my kids back?” “will I get to adopt this kid I’ve been caring for?”) instead of taking real steps to ensure that (1) every child is a wanted child and (2) every wanted child can be cared for by the family that, well, wanted them.
postscript: the overpopulation thing
Predictably, in the comments to the Pandagon piece, people brought up overpopulation. The world has enough people, so why would people spend thousands (the access thing again!) just to selfishly make more? I’ve addressed this before.
Trying to curb overpopulation by telling infertile people to suck it up is like trying to fight obesity by telling some people to starve. Why not work instead on making sure every child is a wanted child? Access to contraception. Access to ART. Education for women and girls in the developing world. This is a feminist issue. This is a social justice issue. You can’t try to fix overpopulation by denying bodily autonomy to some part of the population. Either we have it or we don’t, full stop.
* I had mine last month. I’m pretty sure my remaining eggs didn’t all self-destruct.
** Yes, age-related infertility is A Thing, but as we know in this community, it’s far from the only reason people can’t conceive or carry to term. And it also completely erases men from the equation as well as LGBT family building.