A Look at the Fertility Industry

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New York Medicaid wants women to have access to IUDs immediately after delivering a baby, to help with long-term family planning. (mr. toaster/flickr)

Miriam Zoll shares her experience undergoing fertility treatments, which she describes as a cold, sterile world of the laboratory, where she and her husband found themselves growing disconnected from nature, their values, and each other. In Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies, she writes about why she postponed having a family and looks at the growing fertility industry and the promises it makes.


Miriam Zoll

Comments [32]

Catherine from Manhattan

The statistics quoted by Miriam Zoll are incomplete in a way that is so misleading it creates falsehood. She stated that IVF has "only" a 77% success rate per cycle. That may be true. But women in the peak of their fertility, age 26, have only a 27 % chance each month of conceiving. Therefore, IVF is nearly identical to natural conception in terms of success rates. Same with frozen eggs. In fact, some studies indicate higher success rates with frozen eggs and embryos than fresh. I agree with Ms. Zoll's point about the business and finance of fertility clinics. But that exists in any helper industry. Fertility clinics have helped so many otherwise infertile couples conceive. One person's negative experience does not diminish the great benefit of the clinics and technologies.

It was mentioned that Miriam Zoll is now on the board of "Our Bodies, Our Selves," and that they are concerned about egg donation, egg freezing, and other assisted reproductive technologies as "commodification of women's bodies." As a feminist, this surprised me. Women helping other women have children by donating eggs is "commodification" because those women are paid? I find it disappointing that other "feminists" turn a great gift of science into a "misuse" or "repression." Even for eggs used to study infertility and other diseases, women are contributing to valuable research that will help so many people. The donors wish to donate, or sell, and it helps everyone. Why is this an issue?

Ms. Zoll also claimed that Our Bodies Ourselves is not supportive of technologies that will assist women over 35 to have children. Rather, they state that the workplace should be more friendly to mothers and their schedules during childbearing years as well as reintegration into the workforce for those mothers who chose to be stay at home moms. While I agree with these recommendations, I was dumbfounded to hear that feminists, those who promoted the "revolution" from home to workplace, do not support the technology required for those who choose to devote the first half of their lives to their career. Most poignantly, reproductive technologies that enable "older" women to have children are as profoundly equalizing of men and women as are equal salaries. For women to be free of age-related infertility in the same way that men are is a great liberty - why is Our Bodies Ourselves framing this negatively? I never would have predicted, based on the content of that book, a corresponding negative attitude toward technologies that are profoundly helping women, and bringing us closer to true equality with men.

Jul. 25 2013 10:35 PM
Lee from NYC

Do the fertility clinics encourage everyone to do IVF? They want your business, but they also want to report high rates of success. I've heard of more places being unwilling to let women do another IVF round if they think the women are "too old" or will make their rates of successful pregnancy lower.

Jul. 25 2013 12:08 AM
Alexa Birdsong from Harlem

Listening to the Fertility Story again tonight. My heart feels for that woman.
This is not that brief. We were a lesbian couple, aged 40. My partner did all natural foods & supplements
to prepare her body for pregnancy. We were living between Princeton & New Orleans
at the time. We did natural insemination at the donors hot Brooklyn
apartment. Went back to NOLA. She became pregnant. We got a Doula. She
worked diligently with us. Easy pregnancy, although I didn't carry the baby.
9 months later, my partner went into labor. The nurses at the NOLA hospital saw 2 black Lesbians
and basically threw the room at us. We called our Doula, she ill be there in a few hours.
The next morning, Doula was there, helped a deliver a 9lb little girl
who is now a 13 yr old serious soccer and piano player. She's entering high school a year early this Fall.

Jul. 24 2013 12:32 AM
Mary P from downtown

Most of people who so disparaged seeking medical help for infertility are men. Not your call, boys.
Nor is birth control or abortion.

Jul. 23 2013 10:34 PM

Now, how about a segment presenting a critical examantion of another dubious medical industry: which purports to be able to transform a person of a given sex into the opposite one?

How is it that performing a /mutilating/, utterly Frankenstein-like procedure, and then perpetuating a /charade/ ever became accepted as a legitimate /medical treatment/? How is it not a violation of the Hippocratic Oath of "First, do no harm"?

Might the profit motive have played a role? The lucrative amounts of money that can be made from such quackery?

These are some of the questions that must be asked, should there ever be such a discussion.

Jul. 23 2013 04:04 PM

Bk from Hoboken wrote (12:31 PM),

"The moral compass is off a bit of you ask me."

The moral compass of the prevailing culture-at-large is off by a lot more than just a /bit/. And you don't-- or, at least, /shouldn't/-- need to ask /me/ to see that.

"Lets stick to the science here."

Well, regarding the Catholic Church scandal that you touched-upon in your post, very-much related to the issue at the core of it is some /science/ that we are barely allowed to /mention/, let alone "stick-to".

In this light, and with the caveat that I state below, I would like to refer you to an article that presents some of said science:

'Homosexuality and the Church Crisis' by Brian Clowes

I am not convinced by the author's arguments /absolving the Church/-- at least not to the extent that he does. But I am absolutely convinced that at least many of the Church's detractors and attackers have least as much to answer for as the Church does.

Jul. 23 2013 03:17 PM

"tom LI": excellent posts.

"West Villager": I absolutely agree about the tasteless photo.

But I find much of the content (or what passes for such) on WNYC to be a lot worse.

Jul. 23 2013 02:39 PM
West Villager

The photo accompanying this story is in terrible taste. I felt embarrassed for WNYC seeing it on the home page!

Jul. 23 2013 02:12 PM
tom LI

To KM from CT - what message? That the older a woman gets the harder it is to conceive? That the Medical Fertility Industry is just that, an industry?! And they are merely conducting research and willy nilly field testing on human subjects!?

That Americans are spoiled, whiners who have elevated parenthood to some lofty place of Life Fulfillment, and that having kids is part of the Design the Perfect Life mode of thinking, that usually fails! That Boomers, the successors of the Greatest Generation, are the WORST Generation!

That message?

Jul. 23 2013 01:10 PM

@ John A, 12:26 PM:

"Still have to point out the irony of people who spend tens* (from S.Fluke) of thousands avoiding babies for ten or more years only to turn around and have to spend potentially hundreds of thousands to get back the years they discarded."

Would that it would only be /years/ that were discarded! In all too many cases, /babies/ that didn't come at the right time were discarded as well. (Oh, excuse me, "fetuses". They were "only" fetuses...)

It's all about having everything they want, on demand, whenever they want it.

Self-indulgent, cannabilistic hedonism.

But what do I know, anyway? I'm just a mean old, hopelessly regressive "misogynist"; part of the "war on women"...


Meanwhile, with few possible exceptions, don't expect so much as a peep out of these valiant champions of women [sic] about the /real/ war on women-- and /girls/:
The increased pressure they have been facing-- at alarmingly younger and younger ages-- to subject themselves to various denigrating, demeaning and often dangerous and depraved sex acts-- acts that have always been instinctively repugnant to the vast majority of females. This has been reported for some years already and is no doubt closely linked to the explosion in the availability and ease of access-- even for children-- to all manner of smut that glorifies said acts.

But we wouldn't want to be "judgemental", or "sex-negative" [sic], now, /would we/? And, of course, there is at least /one/ act-- by far the most dangerous and brutal, and arguably the most gruesome as well-- that we must tread /very lightly/ when dealing with...Never mind that a considerable number-- perhaps as much as a majority-- of the members of the group that such politically correct tyranny is purported to honor and protect-- face similar pressures to those faced by /females/ that I cited above.

And this, of course, brings us to another real war that has been raging for some time: That against /men/, /boys/ and /masculinity/. But alas, I must end this post now, for I've already veered too far afield from the topic at hand.

Jul. 23 2013 01:08 PM
tom LI

The Boomers and their progeny have been doing nothing but whine about the decisions THEY made. Now its 40+ women and the difficult of bearing children in middle to old age. Who didn't, and/or doesn't know that the older a female gets the harder it will be to conceive? Who didn't know the medical field did NOT solve that problem in full, and that fertility therapy was nothing but field research and testing?

Now this woman, and I've heard this same complaint before - stalled pregnancy to pursue a career, because it fulfilled her, and had to be done...! But regrets it because it killed her ability to conceive. (Which of course could have always happened, even when she was younger)

Waah!! You put off having kids, now you can't - get over it!

And any couple, especially the male, that would put the female body thru what amounts to field testing of drug cocktails, risky instrument intrusions, and the extremes of the resulting emotions - are questionable parental material to begin with, are usually pretty selfish and clueless about themselves and their couple hood as they actually think they deserve to be parents, are gonna be the best of the best parents and will right all the wrongs of their parents and the ones around them they secretly are jealous of who didn't put off children, weren't looking to design the perfect Life...


This is the era of the Great American Whine. Boomers have become the great American Whiners, and that is their legacy that they handed down to the generation following and their direct offspring - when they can have them!

Jul. 23 2013 01:00 PM
Ella from NYC

This is a long, long awaited, overdue expose. As a patient I was involved in the beginning of this INDUSTRY 34 yrs. ago. I don't know whether it's still around but the "Resolve" organization was a tremendous help and support thru a very painful and quite frankly crazy period in my life. My "Resolve" group met once a week, to compare our treatments, talk about different things we'd learned and enventually to have lovely afternoon playdates with our beautiful children.

Jul. 23 2013 12:51 PM
KM from CT

What a perfect spokes person for this problem. She is extremely intelligent and has personal conviction. Our society needs her. Hope she will be even more successful spreading these messages.

Jul. 23 2013 12:49 PM
Ed from Larchmont

For a really woman-centered approach I would recommend NAPRO technology.

Jul. 23 2013 12:37 PM
Andrea from NYC

I am just stunned at the list of dangers: disease, birth defects, mental distress, PTSD, the relationship with your partner (with whom you expect to parent and grow old together) being in jeopardy...

To decide to go forward seems so ill-advised. And I know it's an old chestnut, but good grief, the number of children on this planet who need families...why, why, why wouldn't you choose to share the incredible resources you clearly have with a child, who is already here, who has none? I don't have children and never desired them so I have no notion of what that desire feels like but surely after 5 years it seems as though Mother Nature has spoken.

Jul. 23 2013 12:36 PM
Bk from Hoboken

Ed-any people could care less what te church says about morals. I have witnessed first hand how the church circled its wagons when one of its own was found to be immoral with a classmate.
Secondly, the church also doesn't want people to use contraception. Even where tere is very high risk for AIDS. The moral compass is off a bit of you ask me. Lets stick to the science here.

Jul. 23 2013 12:31 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Why go though this nightmare??
The IVF situation rushes people and complete exams aren't done.

Jul. 23 2013 12:29 PM

Lauran from West Side, 12:17 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights, 12:18 PM

Excellent posts!

Some of the most germane and cogent I've seen here to date.

Jul. 23 2013 12:28 PM
John A

Still have to point out the irony of people who spend tens* (from S.Fluke) of thousands avoiding babies for ten or more years only to turn around and have to spend potentially hundreds of thousands to get back the years they discarded.

Jul. 23 2013 12:26 PM
suzinne from bronx

Went through one single cycle of hormone induction therapy and interuterine insemination. Failed and reproductive endocrinologist told me only 5% effective rate, so why bother.

Was 42 and desperate like alot of other women, but with limited funds had to accept the inevitable. At the end of the day, I'm actually glad I never had kids, and have learned long ago that happiness was for OTHER people.

Jul. 23 2013 12:24 PM
Ed from Larchmont

You're not even mentioning the loss of many of the embryos.

Jul. 23 2013 12:24 PM
Ben from Ridgewood

Really "complications" were a surprise to your guest? Did she wake up yesterday? There is a reason why our bodies stop doing things.

Jul. 23 2013 12:21 PM
kim from New York, NY

I have been going through fertility treatments for 2 years now and I am 38 years old. I randomly came across Ms. Zoll's book and her book is AMAZING. She captures the emotional rollercoaster that I call, 'my adventures in fertility'. More importantly, she addresses the truths of the business side, the taboos of speaking of fertility and the feelings of guilt that women undergo as they choose this journey.

Namely, that is something that I feel is rarely discussed. I have experienced a deep sense of guilt and mixed emotions regarding the money and time we've spent on pursuing fertility treatments..that uneasiness of acknowledging and being thankful for having the privilege of being able to try fertility treatments but also recognizing that this privilege is exorbitantly costly and is available only to a small portion of the population.

Lastly, thank you Ms. Zoll for bringing the truth of 'it only takes one good egg' to light. It's true, but it definitely should not be the focus or foundation of fertility treatments as it creates a false hope and false reality of some women's actual chances of conceiving..if i hear that statement one more time..ugghh!

Two thumbs up to Ms. Zoll!

Jul. 23 2013 12:18 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Besides all the technical issues -- the most recent technology that extends the ability of women to get pregnant at older ages, or on the other side, the potential health problems of the fetus/baby that still show up statistically, two related aspects of being older parents are rarely mentioned, one a bit more so than the other.

The one that is occasionally mentioned is that since the parents are older when the kids are born, statistically, they are more likely to have health issues or die when the children are still young enough to need their parents' assistance.

The one issue that is almost never mentioned is the simple truth that raising children requires a great amount of energy. Keeping up active youngsters is extremely tiring, not to mention the effects on sleep. Being older short-changes the children of parents who have the best chance to be actively involved with them. (Of course, wealthy parents who "outsource" the physical care of their children to others -- well, that's a different issue entirely.)

Both circumstances short-change the children of older parents. Just because technology allows us to do something doesn't mean that we OUGHT to do it.

Perhaps nature knows things that we in our arrogance refuse to accept?

Jul. 23 2013 12:18 PM
Amy from Manhattan

That doctor said women should preferably have all the children they're going to have by age 35? Until the Pill, women continuing to have babies after age 35 was the norm, just not usually their *first* baby.

Just really heard the subtitle for the 1st time--made me think of the French Revolutionary motto!

Jul. 23 2013 12:17 PM
Lauran from West Side

Shouldn't the conversation be why are women trying to have babies beyond 30 in the first place? Just because science can make it happen, does it make it ethically/morally ok?

Jul. 23 2013 12:17 PM
Serena from Jersey City

I'm sorry but this whole industry is based on convenience for the wealthy and entitled. Most people cannot afford this, it is for a very specific part of our society.

It's fascinating with all the movement for more natural birth and raising "organic" this business is booming. It's crazy!

Jul. 23 2013 12:14 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Many times endomitriosis isn't diagnosed and people to straight to IVF, more complete examinations would help people, and at low cost.

Jul. 23 2013 12:10 PM
Sherry from UES

Is it me or do these "late" pregnancies seem to be mostly white women?

Jul. 23 2013 12:10 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

By the middle or end of this century for certain, most babies will be produced in hatcheries anyway, and not by "families," as predicted in Aldous Huxley's classic 1932 sci-fi novel "Brave New World!" So this whole business of pregnancy will be done away with soon enough. The serious business of producing consumers, workers, taxpayers and soldiers cannot be left to the whims of women or "families" anymore. Those days are receding into ancient history. In the near future, people will order up "their" children the same way we order an automobile, with the options we can afford to have. Eventually the whole thing will be taken over by corporations and regulated by the government. See "Brave New World" for more details.

Jul. 23 2013 11:56 AM

Before I let my fantasy run wild, can someone explain what the picture accompanying this segment is about?

Jul. 23 2013 11:55 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The Church doesn't approve of in vitro fertilization - even if embryos weren't lost - because it places a third agent, technology and scientists - in between the two spouses. The child is the fruit of their loving embrace of each other, not a manufactured product - which is the experience of the cold and sterile world of in vitro fertilization.

Jul. 23 2013 08:03 AM

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