Tag Archives: choice means all choices

no crisis?

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.

“just adopt”

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.



My life is so different now than it was a year ago. Two years ago. Three years ago. Four years ago.

Four years ago I was starting to wonder if there might be something wrong with me. Three years ago I was stuck. Unable to get pregnant, no diagnosis, and no idea what to do next. Two years ago my depression/anxiety was eating me alive. Last year we were grieving the third failed IUI and I was really coming to terms with the idea of IVF-or-never-have-a-baby.

And now? It’s like the magical Life Fairy has waved her little wand and made so many things better. I mean, obviously, Cayenne is almost freaking here (holy shit) and I am in a state of constant gratitude for that, but it goes beyond that as well, and a lot of it has to do with money.

I know I write about money a lot in this space and I probably seem a little obsessed with it, but it has really astonished me over the past year as I have watched how much of a difference it makes. People go on and on about how money doesn’t buy happiness, and they’re right to a certain degree, but on the other hand, yes it fucking does.

I would not be pregnant right now if I wasn’t able to borrow the money for the IVF cycle. It is so hard for me even to write that, but it’s true, and the sentence I’m about to write is so fucked up in so many ways that I almost can’t begin to parse it:

Cayenne would not exist if I hadn’t been able to pay for him.

Because my husband landed that magic tenure-track job (go husband!), and because I totally lucked into probably the only job in the world that actually uses my weird collection of skills, we are able to live in a way that wasn’t even thinkable for us in the first nine years of our marriage.

We have less debt every month now, not more. We are talking about buying a car that doesn’t come from Craigslist. When we needed to buy baby furniture, we just drove up to Ikea and bought it instead of spending weeks combing thrift stores. When I need new clothes, I go to the store and buy them. Sometimes I even pay full price. I like paying bills now because there is always enough money to pay all of them. I know I’m not supposed to care about stuff. I’m supposed to get all my happiness from intangibles and to meet life circumstances with equanimity. But really, there is a quality-of-life difference when I don’t have to live in fear of our 13-year-old car breaking down because how the hell will we get it fixed and then how will I get to work. Everything is easier now, and the only difference is money.

I make twice as much money as I used to; I’m not smarter, or harder-working, or more congenial, or more anything than I was then. They just pay me more. I’m also not smarter, or harder-working, or more congenial, than the similarly overqualified person who is now doing the job I used to do. So what, exactly, is different now that makes me deserving of this demonstrably better set of circumstances?* It feels like dumb luck.

And I keep circling back to Cayenne: am I somehow better, or more deserving, or more ready to be a parent than I was before, because this year I could come up with the necessary scratch for his conception?

I am going to love the living heck out of him (I already do), and I am going to teach him compassion and tolerance and how to make mashed potatoes, but I would have done all of that when I didn’t have any money too.

* And the ugly, sweat-drenched, 3-in-the-morning corollary: what makes me think it isn’t all going to vanish one day in an equally capricious way?

life and its beginning

This post is uncomfortable and you may not want to read it if you are in a bad place. It’s about the morality of IVF, whether embryos are people, and a super awkward conversation with my mother.

I called my mother yesterday to let her know that the beta result was good, and she was thrilled. Then, strangely, she asked me, “Do you believe life begins at conception?”

I gave her the most honest answer I could, which was that it depends on how you’re defining “life.” Fertilized eggs and embryos are not the same as babies, but they’re also not nothing. They’re not people yet, but they are most certainly alive. (What I didn’t add, of course, was that it also depends on how you define “conception.”)

This was insufficient, and she pressed me: “OK, now answer my question. Do you believe life begins at conception?”

I didn’t know what to do with this, so I said, “If you’re asking me if I think I killed three babies last week when those embryos stopped growing, the answer is no.”

She responded: “Well, I guess I’m just old-fashioned. I believe life begins at conception.”

WTF? Like, seriously, WTF?

Where was she going with this? I can’t even imagine. She has never breathed a word about being uncomfortable with IVF, but if she was implying what I think she was implying, what I just did that resulted in this (take a deep breath and say it) pregnancy was tragic at best and monstrous at worst: I created five PEOPLE, knowing they would not all survive, and presided over the deaths of four of them.*

I don’t think my mother really thinks I have killed four** children. I know she’s happy about this pregnancy. Which is why I just don’t know what to make of this conversation. In the moment, I changed the subject and we went on talking for a while, but I have been chewing on it ever since and I just can’t figure out what she was trying to get me to say. Has she just not thought this through to see the implications of the cardboard talking point she was repeating? Why would she ask something like this in the middle of the very conversation in which I am telling her the IVF cycle actually worked?

I mean, yes, a life is beginning right now. It is a medical fucking miracle, is what it is, but it won’t be a baby for a good long while yet. I know that sounds callous and I sort of hate being in the position of having to articulate that the pregnancy I waited years for and moved heaven and earth to achieve is not actually the same, yet, as a born baby, but it’s the truth.

This is hard to put out there; I want to be all unicorns and rainbows because holy shit, I’m actually pregnant, but I was really taken aback by the whole life-at-conception thing yesterday. If anyone has gotten through this mess, I would like some honest feedback: did you think of your embryos as children? Did you face any problems from people who thought IVF was wrong? Am I totally off my rocker for thinking that I can love, and hope, and invest all my fucking maternal instinct (such as it is) in this embryo, and still not think it’s exactly the same as a baby yet?

* With a beta of 118, twins are unlikely.

** In case anyone is confused about the embryos: we had five. Two were transferred. A third never got beyond two cells. The remaining two stopped developing before they were mature enough to be frozen.

looking glass

So the Virginia legislature has decided there are no more pressing issues than may or may not be going on up in our ladybusiness.  Nothing else that might require their attention.

I’ll mention the now-infamous-and-probably-dead ultrasound bill just so I can link to this picture of a thousand people silently protesting.

But what I really want to talk about is the personhood bill.  RESOLVE, as you might expect, opposes it as they do all bullshit egg-person bills.

What’s interesting about this iteration of a terrible idea is the naked hypocrisy.  From the RESOLVE press release:

“The reason we’re here today is because Delegate Robert Marshall, the sponsor of this bill, contacted RESOLVE yesterday and he said that Section 7 of HB1 specifically exempts infertility treatment.  After thorough investigation we believe he is wrong and the public needs to know it,” said Barbara Collura, RESOLVE’s Executive Director.

Yes, you read that right.  This bill attempts to exempt infertility treatment.  According to these assholes wackaloons yahoos state legislators, a fertilized egg is a person with rights.  Except when that fertilized egg has been created specifically to have a chance to grow into a baby.  Those fertilized eggs are not people.  Makes perfect sense.

To review:

  • If I’m poor and I didn’t have my egg fertilized in a lab on purpose but instead inside my fallopian tube after a condom broke, well, that fertilized egg is just as good as a bouncing baby with all the rights and privileges of a citizen of these United States.
  • But if I’m rich, and had several eggs fertilized in a lab after years of agony at not being able to create a person, those fertilized eggs are not people.
The ones that are wanted, hoped for, and (not incidentally) paid for, are potential.  The ones that can be used as a stick to punish the wrong kinds of women for having sex, or being raped, or being poor, those are precious babies.*


RESOLVE notes that, unsurprisingly, the language of the bill has little or nothing to do with actual reproductive biology and as such, if the bill passes IVF will still be functionally impossible in Virginia, but the scientific illiteracy of the legislators is not the scariest part of this for me. What is terrifying is that they are showing their hand in a way I haven’t seen before:  by putting in this ridiculous exemption they are proving that they don’t actually believe fertilized eggs are people.  If they did, they would have to find IVF to be just as abhorrent as abortion.  And without the flimsy pretense of genuine belief in this nonscientific garbage, what you’re left with is a blatant attempt to use the power of the legislature to restrict choice.  To keep the Republican party inside the uterus of every woman in Virginia.
This is an unusually naked and cynical attempt to divide and conquer.  But I mean it when I say that choice means all choices.  Attacks on women who choose not to have children are attacks on infertile women.  As I’ve said before, we are two sides of the same coin.  Either we can make choices about our reproductive health or we can’t.
* After the precious babies are born, will the state still care? 
**OK, what is going on with my paragraph formatting today?  Remind me again why I can’t blog with a pencil and paper????

sister wives*

This show is incredibly boring.  The kids go to school, the parents go to work.  They cook breakfast, they cook dinner.  They go on vacation.  Most of the time there is just nothing going on that keeps me glued to the screen.  And I think that’s the point.

It’s pretty clear that the show, for the Brown family, is a vehicle for them to demonstrate how Very Normal** they are.  It’s part of their strategy for going public about polygamy.

They announced their status as polygamists on the Today show in conjunction with the airing of the first season of the show.  One way to interpret this is that once the show aired, the cat would be out of the bag anyway — but I think it’s more likely that it’s the other way around; rather than going public because of the show, I think they did the show to allow them to go public.  Polygamy is illegal, and by announcing their situation they were inviting an investigation.  But if they are able to convince the general public that they are a Normal, God-Fearing, American Family, then there is a possibility that any investigation would shy away from prosecution for fear of a public outcry.  I suspect they ultimately see this as a civil rights issue and are hoping to get the laws changed.

In the era of the Duggars and Nadja Suleman,*** it may be that people in the Browns’ community are starting to think that the time is right for broad social acceptance of a polygamist family, particularly when the family lives a middle-class lifestyle with lots of adorable, well-adjusted children.  I would also argue that the growing acceptance of gay marriage and parenting**** is another factor, as a nontraditional family structure that more and more people are realizing is just fine.  If tolerance is a big tent (and I think it has to be), then the acceptance of single moms, single dads, blended families, gay families, foster families, and other family structures should certainly include families with more than two adults who love each other.


The problems with polygamy aren’t about lots of loving adults and what they do or don’t do in the bedroom.  There are some truly dreadful things that go on, particularly in very isolated communities.  Coercion.  Child brides.  Welfare fraud.  Expulsion of some young men from communities.  Sexual abuse of underage girls.

The Browns are trying very hard to show that their family, and by extension lots of modern polygamist families, is not like the Warren Jeffs image most of us have in our minds.  And really, what they’re trying to say is that all of the problems are not a necessary result of polygamy as such.  Should we judge any community based on the behavior of its worst members?*****


Although the adult Browns all seem to have chosen their marriages freely, there is something about their dynamic that gets my feminist hackles up.  The wives defer to their husband in everything; they all acknowledge him as the “leader” of the family; they don’t really have a say when he decides to add a fourth wife to the family.  They all accept each other, and they make the best of the situation, but it’s clear that Kody is the one who makes the decisions.  And the fact is that polygamy goes only one way.  Kody says on camera that the idea of one of his wives with another man is sickening to him.  What’s good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander.

The wives’ choices aren’t getting them a life that I would call feminist.  They are not on equal footing with their husband.  But just because I’m a feminist, does that mean everyone has to be?  Women participate in their own oppression all the time, and just because the Browns’ family exists on a continuum that includes Warren Jeffs and others like him, does that mean their choices are any worse than anyone else’s?  The wives are making choices that work for them — and I would hope that if ever those choices stopped working for them, they would be free to choose to leave the family.  And the biggest choice they’re all making, to go public with their situation, may in fact be extremely liberating for an entire community if they are able to convince people that what they’re doing shouldn’t be a crime.  And, and and and, you don’t have to have sister wives to be expected to defer to your husband.

And that’s what it comes down to.  Four intelligent women deferring to a guy who comes off as a big kid makes me feel icky, but my personal ick factor is not and never should be a test for legality.

I am partway through season 2 of this series on Netflix, and I just don’t know what to think.  Obviously welfare fraud, statutory rape, underage marriage, etc., are already illegal and will continue to be investigated — so really all we’re talking about with specific laws against polygamy is the kind of polygamy that seems to be practiced by the Browns.  Consenting adults.

Tolerance should definitely extend to nontraditional family structures, and if a family chooses to compose itself in this way, they should have the right to do so; but can we legalize polygamy without endorsing inequality?

It seems to me that when I say “choice means all choices,” I need to be including the Browns’ reproductive choices in that statement.  Just as I have a right to try to found a family with my husband despite what barriers biology might throw up in front of us, don’t the Browns (all of them) have the right to found their family as they see fit?

What do you think?  I just can’t seem to figure this one out.

*I don’t actually spend all my time watching reality TV.  Honest. 

**In a white-bread, middle-America, standard-issue-soccer-mom-minivan kind of way, which of course doesn’t line up with anyone I know.  But as always we’re not talking about me.

***I will not call her the dehumanizing name that everyone calls her.  She is a person with a name.

****Yay for growing acceptance; now where’s the analogous reality show with the extremely sympathetic portrait of the gay family?

*****That was a rhetorical question.

That’s entirely too many footnotes.

planned parenthood blog carnival

Have I said it enough times?  Reproductive choice means all choices.  The GOP’s state-by-state assault on reproductive choice since the 2010 elections cannot be ignored.  Planned Parenthood has been specifically targeted in Kansas, Indiana, and other places.

On July 7, Melissa at Shakesville and Tami at What Tami Said are hosting “My Planned Parenthood,” a blog carnival inviting women to tell our stories about how Planned Parenthood has been there for us.

Here’s how to participate.

I plan to participate in the carnival and I hope you will too.  In my case, PP was my only source for women’s health care and oral contraceptives during my uninsured early 20s.  (The complete lack of necessity for the pill hadn’t yet become apparent.)

Here’s how to participate.

Oh, and did I mention, Here’s how to participate.