Elective IVF and Gender Selection: A Step Too Far

Flipping through the entertainment news in a moment of downtime this evening, I stumbled upon a story that had my infertility ire up before I was even finished.

 “Joe Francis’ Girlfriend Abbey Wilson Gives Birth to Twin Baby Girls!”

(Joe Francis, for those that don’t know, is the “Girls Gone Wild” guy.)

At this point you may be wondering why I even clicked on this article to begin with…I know I still am.  I think the answer is because at one time I was pregnant with twins, and though I lost them I was told that in all likelihood they were girls.  Consequently, if I see an article about twins, especially girl twins, I usually click on it. If you would like to take a wee gander yourself, I have linked the article here.

To be as forthcoming as possible, I honestly don’t know anything about this gentleman or his girlfriend.  I am not famous and I have never been a Girl Gone Wild.  I haven’t even been to Florida.  I freely admit that I do not personally care for his franchise or what he professionally represents, but he could be a heck of a nice guy for all I know.  It was the part in the article where the new mother is quoted, that hit me with a mega dose of WTF:

 “We both wanted girls and we wanted them to be healthy and free of genetic diseases so we chose to do IVF.”

What?  Whhaaatttt?  What in the cheese and crackers is happening here?  As someone who has traveled this road a time or two or four, I have some strong opinions.  And oh so many questions.  Firstly, why would someone subject themselves to IVF if they could become pregnant naturally?  It’s an altogether unpleasant experience, I assure you.  All kinds of needles in all kinds of places filled with all kinds of hormones designed to make you all kinds of categorically crazy.  For this privilege I paid $25,000.00.  A woman typically ovulates one egg per month-this process is designed to make you ovulate a whole bunch, like 30. Possibly less if you do not respond well, maybe considerably more if you hyperstimulate and produce follicles until your ovaries feel like they are going to burst.  If you are UNABLE to have children naturally, IVF is a godsend.  Every needle stuck in my stomach and each horrifying progesterone injection in the bum cheek was worth it because it gave me my son.  If not for IVF, I would not have the light of my life and I would not be a mother.  I am absolutely in favor of IVF.  I am also absolutely pissed off when someone uses it to make designer babies when they are capable of reproducing without it.

Secondly, it is wrong to choose the gender of your children. True, that is only my opinion, but I feel so strongly about it I will state it as fact.  It is legal, but that doesn’t make it ethical.  Many fertility clinics do not provide this service; others will enthusiastically promote it.  My husband and I were offered the option of doing Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD, to determine gender and rule out any questionably genetically imperfect embryos at one of the clinics where we had a consult. The only thing I could think of in response at the time was, Can we leave one damn thing to chance?  We had a zero percent shot of getting pregnant naturally, and had recently found out that this time around, we couldn’t even use my eggs.  In a reality where my future children will be conceived in a petri dish by injecting my husband’s sperm into another woman’s egg, I truly feel like I am at capacity regarding the level of scientific interference involved in my family planning.  The hubs and I aren’t going through all this to produce genetically cherry-picked super babies.  We are going through all this because more than anything else we have ever loved, we love our son.  We love being parents.  We want more children, and we want our little guy to have siblings.  When those are the goals, things like gender and impeccable health just really don’t matter that much.

Thirdly, PGD is available because for some couples, it is an invaluable life or death test. There are some serious genetic conditions that only occur in a specific gender.  Some couples know ahead of time that one or both partners carry a gene that, if passed on, would prove fatal to the infant.  These are necessary and justifiable uses of gender and genetic testing, and that is the reason the technology exists in the first place.   Some couples use PGD for “family balancing.”  In other words, they may have naturally conceived three sons but they really want that daughter.  For the right price, certain fertility clinics can make that happen.  It should not be offered or available to those of us who are simply infertile but do not have the additional burden of potentially passing along a scary genetic condition.  It is an insult to those who really need it.  Sort of like doing IVF when you don’t need that, either.

I suppose it’s possible that Abbey Wilson is a carrier for a genetic condition she doesn’t want to pass on.  It would be very unfair of me not to at least entertain that idea.  Based on her quote in the article, it doesn’t seem likely.  What does seem likely is that she and Girls Gone Wild Guy really wanted daughters, and they wanted them to be healthy. The truth is, I can’t blame them for wanting healthy children.  That would be crazy; every parent wants their child to be healthy.  I can’t even blame them for leaning towards one gender over another in preference.  Who hasn’t daydreamed during pregnancy about having that little girl/boy they always pictured when they envisioned themselves as a parent?  What I can blame people for is taking those wishes too far and crossing into the dangerous territory of eugenics.  

Does anyone remember the movie Gattaca?  It’s a movie about genetic engineering, and what the results look like a few decades after the concept was first implemented.  When I read this article tonight on Yahoo, I thought about this movie.  It gave me the heebie jeebies.  Science fiction movies set in the future are supposed to look incredibly cheesy when they actually reach that date.  They are not supposed to hold up and accurately resemble the society they portrayed twenty years before.

What do you think?  Were IVF and PGD used inappropriately in this circumstance?  Did it irritate you the way it irritated me?  I’m looking forward to reading/responding to the comments!

P.S.  This may be my favorite part of the article: “I believe people will finally understand my love, respect, and admiration for women.  I love girls.” — Joe Francis

I hope so too, Mr. Francis.  I have a feeling the way you make a living is going to affect you profoundly once you start raising daughters.  Becoming a parent has a way of doing that to you.


P.P.S. The issue of how far is too far when it comes to assisted reproduction will be explored on CNN this Sunday night, October 16, on This is Life With Lisa Ling: The Genius Experiment.  Yours truly will be featured with my husband and son during the last ten minutes of the show, hopefully sounding reasonably articulate and educated about the topic.

Blowing the Lid Off Pandora’s Box to Discover the Hope Inside: CNN, Egg Donors, and the Science of Chance

On Sunday, October 12, my family and I will be part of an episode featuring the evolution of infertility on a new show on CNN. It is called This is Life with Lisa Ling and airs at 10:00 pm PST. The title of this particular episode is “The Genius Experiment.” The goal of our participation in the documentary is to begin chipping away at the wall of secrecy surrounding infertility, particularly donor IVF.

If you feel, as I do, that infertility needs to be a subject discussed often, and without shame, you can help by doing the following:

1) Reblog this post to get the word out about the upcoming episode. This is where the conversation begins.

2) Share this post on Facebook or Twitter to reach a broader community of infertile men and women, as well as their friends and families.

3) Send this post directly to anyone you know who suffers from infertity.

Please note: I do not, nor will I ever, benefit financially from my participation in the documentary. The same is true of my blog. There is one goal: encourage and educate my brothers and sisters in infertility as they have done for me time and time again.

On June 2, 2014 I learned that if I wanted to conceive again, I would need to use an egg donor. We had been lucky the first time; against all rational odds we were successful at our first IVF attempt in 2011, when I was 32. Our reproductive endocrinologist was amazed three years later, when he reviewed our first cycle in detail, hoping to understand why three subsequent attempts had failed. He concluded that statistically, all four attempts should have failed. Our son, a particularly stubborn embryo who didn’t give a damn about statistics, hung on anyway and grew into the baby we had dreamt of for so long.

Lightning was not going to strike twice. My crappy numbers had become even crappier in the three years that had passed. Immediately after being appraised of my diagnosis, I began mining the internet for the information and support I desperately needed to make heads or tails of my new reality. I very quickly found a tremendous website, www.parentsviaeggdonation.org, that was full of answers for every single question that I had bouncing around in my overwhelmed brain. PVED is one of the most comprehensive and well respected websites on the topic of egg donation/reception. If you have been told that an egg donor cycle is in your future, go check out this site.

While on the organization’s website, I saw a post inquiring if any donor egg recipient patients would be interested in speaking with a documentary team about their experience. Now, as an introvert who does not strive to be the center of attention, my expected behavior would have been to move right along to the next post. However, infertility journeys are hallmarked by the unexpected; true to that concept, I behaved uncharacteristically and emailed the producer. I simply stayed that that if my story could be of use to anyone, he could give me a call. And he did! In this struggle, this enemy-less fight, my husband and I felt emboldened to venture outside our comfort zones and reveal to this gentleman what six years of heartache and elation truly look like, from the perspective of a perfectly ordinary couple who has been there.

Who is there.

Who will be there as long as necessary.

Who may remain there indefinitely because we will never give up.

Because if even one couple who is ready to throw it in feels like they can press on after hearing what we have to say, then the intrusive high beams of the spotlight in my photosensitive eyes will be worth it. Figuratively and literally (production lights blaze with the luminosity of a thousand suns).

Much to my great surprise, the producer I had been speaking with for weeks informed me that the production company would like us to be a part of the documentary. Us? As in, on camera, in our home, discussing the most intimate details of our lives with Lisa Ling? It got real, real fast. It is a great credit to Nate, the producer, that I accepted this opportunity. Throughout our conversations it was clear that he genuinely cared about our story. He educated himself about the egg donor process, in between our conversations, and truly demonstrated his commitment to accuracy and integrity in his work. Consequently, that is how it came to be that at the end of July of this year, my husband and I welcomed a production crew into our home for two days, to learn about our story and to investigate how exactly a couple goes about selecting the woman who will provide the genetic material of their future offspring. That will be detailed on the show, as well as explored in depth in another post, coming in the next day or so.

There are many brave souls who have already taken up the mantle of infertlity awareness. Please join me by participating in their ranks and work together to put an end to the idea of infertility as being off limits.