Elizabeth Carr and Conceiving "Normally"

BlogHer Original Post
DENVER, CO - JUNE 6:  Sam Ostravich, 2, holds 6-year-old brother Zach's head as they gather with 30 other invitro fertilized, or 'test tube babies' for a group portrait at the Swedish Medical Center June 6, 2003 in Denver, Colorado. Both boys were conceived by test tube in 1986. Zach was born nine months later, while Sam's embryo was kept frozen for later implantation. The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine at Swedish Medical Center gathered the 32 children from each of its 16 years of work in the field. Guests included Payton Kline, 4 1/2 months, the 5000th invitro fertilized baby born at the center.  (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

I know that Elizabeth Carr (now Elizabeth Comeau), the first child conceived via IVF in America, is put off by the term "test tube baby" (rightfully so), but I take offense at the term "normal" from the headlines last week when she delivered her child. First IVF Baby Delivers a Normal Baby Boy. As if all children born via fertility treatments are abnormal. Alien. A freak show.

If he's not "normal," then he's natural. He was conceived naturally as opposed to unnaturally. Or as, NPR reports,

She answers the big question pretty quickly. Little Trevor was conceived the old-fashioned way — no test tubes or Petri dishes required.

The general public is curious whether someone created in a petri dish can produce an offspring unassisted, perhaps secretly (or not so secretly) believing that when you fiddle that much with Mother Nature, you create someone akin to a mule. But it's also the question echoing around in our hearts too: when we use fertility treatments to conceive, are we also risking passing along our infertility to our children?

There are other genes I'm not terribly eager to pass along to my kids -- a risk for diseases and conditions that frankly suck -- but my biggest fear, as a woman with high FSH, clotting factors, and a LPD, is that I will pass along these conditions to my daughter. And it is not because it is a pain-in-the-ass to engage in assisted conception --that is the smallest part of the matter -- but the emotions that accompany needing assisted conception. I know that for some, they are simply amazed and grateful that this science exists and they can utilize it. But I experienced a very different emotional landscape, and I'd rather my daughter never curl up on the bathroom floor and sob as her period begins.

As the first IVF generation comes of age and begins having children, I think we're all watching with our collective breath held. Will they need fertility treatments to conceive? Will they also experience infertility? Or is it simply a fluke of the individual, not something we necessarily pass along if we manage to circumvent the issue with treatments?

Elizabeth Comeau beat the media by releasing her own story via the Boston Globe. Which strangely enough, despite her feelings about the term, still used the headline: "First Test Tube Baby Gives Birth."

And just as we have fears that our children will also be infertile, repeat our horrible experiences, Comeau holds up her child as proof of her commonality with non-IVF children, taking the inverse of our moment when she states:

However, I had a normal conception and pregnancy despite my abnormal childhood. And early yesterday, my husband and I had a baby boy “the normal way,’’ proving (I hope) that I’m just like everyone else.

We want the same thing: to have our children be just like everyone else. And they, in turn, want to be just like everyone else. Our reasons may diverge -- the mother who doesn't want her daughter to experience the darkness she experienced in trying to conceive her vs. the daughter who simply wants to be viewed undifferentiated from a sea of children -- but in the end, we stand on exactly the same ground, which, to me, is a chasm apart from why the general public follows this story. It isn't about the freak show, the abnormal child, the unnatural.

It's about very real, very human emotions.

Do you ever wonder if your children will inherit your infertility, in the same way my children will probably get our terrible eye sight that we've circumvented with glasses? Did it ever give you pause if you did (or are doing) fertility treatments, not knowing if in having a child, you would pass along the reason for your infertility?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.


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