Some weeks ago, I mentioned here
that a nightly
news/magazine-style programme on one of our major TV channels was going to present
Fertility Week. I recorded each night, and have now finally got around to
watching them, to report back.
They introduced the series
one Friday evening. I did
however immediately email them, asking that they ensure they include examples
where people didn’t walk away from infertility with children.
Monday evening was information night. “Fertility, the “F”
word, a big effing deal.” The statistics were useful. One in four couples face
fertility issues, which is more than the population of the South Island. For
someone who grew up in the South Island (ie, me!), that comparison is huge. They
explained the issues of unexplained, male and female infertility, and when you
should seek help for under 35s and over 35s.
They interviewed a couple with a low sperm count and low
AMH. They were young, but had been dismissed by doctors, and they urged people
to get tested. They noted too, that they hadn’t told many people in their lives
– until now! And they talked about the invasive questions, and that people
don’t take the hint that they don’t want to give answers. “People don’t quit
when asking about babies,” they said, ruefully. Josh, the host who had suffered
infertility, agreed. I wondered if anyone watching this would really understand
what they were saying, would realise how painful these questions can be, and
would change their actions.
One of the co-hosts talked about his own
. Josh noted that his first baby is due soon, but that really it is
his fourth, but no-one accepts or recognises that. He talked about how
difficult it is to open up, and that he noted that when others on staff
announced pregnancies, he decided would ask if they had faced difficulties.
Almost all of them had, but none had spoken of it. He emphasised, “it was a
relief to know we weren’t alone.” And on reflection, he thinks it would have
helped if he could have talked about it as they were going through infertility
Tuesday evening they turned to science. They talked about
government funding, the requirements, and the cost for private patients (or
those 40 and over who don’t qualify). They interviewed three couples who
together had years of trying for children. But they didn’t include anyone who
was not successful with IVF. So even though they noted that, percentage-wise,
you’re more likely not to get pregnant than to get pregnant (under 35 about 45%
success rate, over 42, a 10% rate), there was no discussion of donor eggs or
sperm that might boost those rates. The visual of the happy interviewees with their
babies/children would be the lasting image many people would take from this
segment, giving a dishonest impression of the possible and probably outcomes.
Let my eye-rolling commence.
On Wednesday, they talked to the guys, which I was pleased to see.
They emphasised issues around male infertility. Of course, one man they
interviewed couldn’t resist going on about his “miracle.” Sure, after two
ectopics and seven miscarriages, he was understandably ecstatic. But he didn’t seem to
register that others might not be so successful. He stressed the “need to
address” the problems, “especially something like this that can be remedied.”
Queue further eye-rolling from me.
However, I had some hope. Because each night, the group of
three hosts is joined by a guest, and this night their guest was JJ, a well
known radio host and Dancing with the Stars contestant who has spoken up in
women’s magazines about her and her husband’s infertility. I knew she didn’t
have the “miracle baby” outcome to her infertility. And after the man who
waffled on not to give up, she spoke up.
JJ talked about her eight years of infertility, the multiple
unsuccessful IUIs and IVF cycles, and the fact they never got their baby. She
was in tears, but spoke through them, determined to explain why some people do
have to stop trying. She talked too about the emotional impact on her husband. It was important, I wanted to cheer for her, but I believe I was crying too.
You can watch her piece here.
Thursday night they turned to adoption. “When all options
are exhausted, some turn to adoption.” But thankfully, they almost immediately pointed out that adoption is “almost impossible” in New Zealand. Adoptions by non-relatives have plummeted by 98% over the last thirty years. This is one reason why I get annoyed at the
“just adopt” brigade, and why I get annoyed at the people who say that we chose
to resolve childfree. When I say that sometimes there are no options, you need
to believe me! They noted that adoptions in
New Zealand are almost always open, perhaps unusually. And they pointed out that adoption can be complicated, and that there are almost always issues of abandonment and
They didn’t really cover international adoption,
or the cost of that, and the difficulty of doing this from New Zealand, but I guess they had limited time.
I did appreciate the clip of a woman commenting that,
because she couldn’t adopt (domestically or internationally) due to health
issues, she struggled at times. She explained that yes, she might be happy for
others, but at the same time she felt sadness and grief for herself. Mother’s
Day, which is only a few weeks away here in NZ, is particularly hard. Apart from JJ, this was the only childless outcome openly discussed the entire week.
The final programme of their Fertility Week talked about the
stress of loss and infertility on relationships. They quoted women who had told their husbands
that they would understand if he left them for a woman who could give
them children. They talked about friendship
losses as well, about whilst you might be happy for your friends, sometimes it
was too hard to be with them and their families. Or finding that friends
weren’t always patient or understanding.
Of course, in interviewing people about this, they didn’t
edit the clip where another woman with a baby on her lap stressed
to keep trying, to keep going. The insensitivity frustrated me
– I'm not sure if she wanted to give hope, or was just so thrilled with her victory she wanted to shout it from the rooftops. She certainly didn't recognise the damage that this pressure to never give up could do to people at the end of their limits. A
knowledgeable producer might have been able to counter this, but it was all
done too quickly, with little time to elaborate.
During the week they had been running a hashtag to get
people to share their stories. The name of the hashtag was simple, catchy, but misdirected. #mybabystory
implies that there is a baby, when for many people
going through infertility, and needing the support of others, there is never a
baby. Even searching #mybabystory does nothing but bring up photographs of
babies, potentially very triggering for people looking for support, going
through infertility now, or trying to come to terms with their No Kidding lives
after infertility. I felt that this was a big fail, and I wonder who they
actually consulted for advice when putting the week together.
They finished the week with the stories people wrote in to
tell, and each of the hosts had read these out in a pre-recorded segment. It
was emotional, and you can see the final segment here
They couldn’t bloody resist, though, could they? It became dangerously close to
a “just adopt” segment, and they only included one quote from someone who never
became a parent.
Still, there was one sentence which I listened to with a
very different perspective. “I have unconditional love for a baby I didn’t birth,” wrote
one parent. I assumed that this comment was about adoption. But I
read it, and related to it, in another way. It could just as easily have been me talking about my unconditional love for babies
never born. I think all of us here can relate to that.
My conclusion is that this was a very successful week,
and they deserve the praise the programme received. Personally, each of the
hosts dealt with the issues with tact and sensitivity, and it was a welcome airing of issues too often kept hidden in the shadows.
But they could easily have
done much better, simply by changing some words, editing some clips and
scripts, and being a bit more balanced. Ultimately, their discomfort with the hardest part
of infertility – the fear that the outcome won’t be what is most sought after – led to the
fact that they pretty much ignored that outcome. And they certainly didn't point out that a No Kidding life isn't full of pain and regret and sadness and envy, but can be full of friendship and joy and adventure and fulfilment. Clearly, they should have called
me for advice!
Some other links:
Jesse Mulligan, the host of The Project, wrote this
summing up the week.