Infertile Shouldn't Mean Replaceable
Washington is a panda-obsessed city. We have two of them at the National Zoo -- Mei Xiang and Tian Tian -- and they have a large and frequently-trafficked habitat. The twins and I always stop by to visit them while we're at the zoo and we have many photographs of panda bear bums since they are frequently sleeping with their faces turned away from the masses.
The Washington Post announced on Monday that they may replace Mei Xiang because she and her mate have only produced one child, Tai Shan (who was born when my twins were one).
Mei Xiang's a case of secondary infertility, meaning in this case, an inability to get pregnant after prior success with fertility treatments the first time around. Tai Shan was an Intrauterine insemination (IUI) baby. Since his birth, Mei Xiang has had five failed inseminations, and the zoo is currently waiting to see if this last one took. It was performed on Sunday when the two pandas were unable to have sex (read the live tweets from @NationalZoo on Storify here).
Photo by Marit and Toomas Hinnosaar. (Flickr)
I read the news this morning and it made me feel strangely sad; disproportionally sad, maybe because I anthropomorphized them and identified so clearly with their plight. I am an infertile woman who was successful with treatments the first time around. And I am an infertile woman who has not been able to get pregnant again since. I couldn't help but believe that I knew what Mei Xiang was feeling; we're two girls unable to get to implantation. And beyond that, I took on the message that was being inadvertently given by the researchers who want another cub: that Mei Xiang is worthless if she can't reproduce. She is replaceable in the largest sense of the word. They are considering sending her back to China and getting a new panda for the zoo.
The comments are exactly what you'd imagine for a story like this: suggestions of Barry White and wine and soft lights and porn. Maybe I can't take a joke; or maybe their situation hits a little too close to home for me; makes me wonder how the rest of the world views me as a woman since I too am unable to reproduce. I too am of little worth?
As one commenter states, "Critters that don't want to get freaky and make babies don't deserve to survive. No matter how cute they are." And it called forth all the times someone has cruelly pointed out that maybe there's a reason I can't reproduce; maybe it's nature's way of saying I shouldn't produce offspring.
National Zoo, save Mei Xiang. Please. I know that "Scientists there have been deeply disappointed because they have focused intense research on panda reproduction." And if that is the case, I know that Mei Xiang is not fulfilling your need. But on behalf of all the women in Washington experiencing secondary infertility, whether it comes after a successful round of prior treatments or after an easily conceived first child or children, I implore you to consider the message you are sending to the public in the name of research.
We are not as obvious as primary infertility or living child-free. We are, in fact, quite invisible, blending with the other mothers in the car pick-up lane at school. Unless you know our personal story, you would never guess that we are unable to reproduce without assistance. But we are just as infertile as women without children. Infertility is a condition that isn't cured with children; the disease remains whether you are family-building or not. All infertility is devastating, even if that woman has a prior child to hold.
And sometimes it makes us hear a completely innocent story about a panda at the zoo and identify deeply.