For over a week now, I’ve been reading responses to this post, both on my blog and on other blogs and online forums. I wrote that post to try to gain a better understanding of why some people want biological children so badly that they would put themselves through the expense (financial, physical, and emotional) of fertility treatments. As a child-free woman who wishes to remain that way, who doesn’t really care for children so much anyway, and who is very critical of anything society deems ‘normal’ or ‘natural,’ my own perspective was preventing me from really understanding, and in fact had made me quite cold-hearted about. I realize and acknowledge that how I felt about the whole subject was entirely skewed and insensitive, and furthermore that it was entirely hypocritical considering that I am very sensitive and open-minded most of the time and am a feminist, and I wanted to open a dialogue that might help me better understand and become more sensitive and sympathetic. (or is it empathetic? I can never remember the difference between those words…)
I have gotten a flood of responses to that post, many from people who are or have experienced infertility. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has commented constructively, either here or elsewhere. Some people have completely misinterpreted the point of the post, or my intentions. Some have just been hurt and angry. To both, I can only say that I’m sorry you have been hurt or offended. My intentions were exactly as I stated them, and in no way was I trying to defend the views I expressed in the post. Better, isn’t it, to try to understand than to continue to hold views that are so callous and insensitive? I’m certainly not perfect, and I want to become better.
A couple of commenters suggested I write a post about how the comments I’ve received has helped to change my mind on some of my previously held opinions. Great idea. Here’s what I’ve learned:
I should begin by saying that I still don’t understand why it is that some people want to have biological children, or really, why they want to have children at all. I may never understand this, and I think that’s okay. It isn’t a rational thing we’re talking about, it’s an emotional one, so trying to find a rational explanation for it is kind of beside the point. Emotional reasons for anything should absolutely not be given less credence than rational ones. It’s simply, I think, a cognitive divide. So it turns out that I was making the mistake of valuing rationality over emotionality. I don’t think it’s necessary to understand why people want to have children to respect that they do. Many people don’t understand why I don’t want children, so it’s really no different.
Several people have pointed out to me that while infertility treatments are physically invasive, adoption procedures are also invasive. When you want to adopt, your life must be made completely transparent so that you will be approved by authorities to be suitable to parent. So for many couples and families, adoption is not an option, because the authorities (whoever they may be) would not approve them for adoption. And thus, having a biological child is the only way to go.
Oh, and for the record, as I clarified very early on in the comments, I don’t believe (and never did) that ONLY infertile couples should consider adoption. I think adoption should be considered by everyone who wants to have a family.
Never mind the cost of adoption. Fertility treatments are often less expensive than adoption. And of course, adoption is a complex and dynamic thing, and some people just don’t feel like they would be able to do it in a way that is best for the child, or for themselves and their family.
The question of whether fertility treatments should be covered by health plans was the one that got me thinking about this in the first place. I have completely changed my mind on this point; I now absolutely believe that they should be paid for. (perhaps there should be a limit as to how many rounds of treatment should be covered? like, say 6?) I’ve learned that when couples are paying out of pocket for fertility treatments, they take greater risks to maximize their chances of success, and those risks can result in health problems for both pregnant women, mothers, fetuses, and infants. It’s also more costly to deal with these problems than to pay for fertility treatments. Also, the cost of fertility treatments, while less expensive than adoption, makes it impossible for some couples who do not have the financial means to pay for it themselves, making fertility treatment a class issue.
And, as many people have pointed out, health insurance (whether public or private) pays for lots of things that are not necessary for survival. Why not fertility treatments? Who cares if it is necessary for survival – infertility is a medical condition that deserves to have treatment funded. While I don’t think there is a “right to have children,” I think we do have a right to medical treatment for medical conditions. I cannot at all explain why I didn’t think so before.
AND, since infertility is a very emotionally difficult condition that can affect mental health, it makes sense to treat it as completely as possible AS WELL AS providing psychological therapy to infertile couples to help them deal emotionally with the ups and downs of their efforts to have a family.
AND, I’ve also come to believe very much that adoption should also be funded more fully. If people want to have a family, they should be able to do so in whatever way they feel is best, and if adoption is too expensive, it only means that more children will go without solid and stable and loving homes. So, funding for fertility treatments: yes. Funding for adoption: yes.
Finally, I’ve learned more about male infertility. While I believe women’s bodies are over-medicalized and many specialists are too quick to place the burden of treatment on women’s bodies when their bodies are not the (only) source of the fertility difficulties, now I know that male infertility treatments can be just as invasive and difficult as those for women, and I completely take back my comment about watching porn and jerking off into a cup. Especial thanks to (In)Fertile Frank!
Not an excuse, but maybe a reason: I think my initial insensitivity toward infertility was a kind of backlash against the attitude I encounter so frequently that I am somehow abnormal, heartless, cold, unfeeling, selfish, etc. for not wanting or even really liking children. I’m so sick of hearing it. Not wanting children doesn’t make me a bad person, or uncaring, or whatever. It just means I know myself well enough to know that I would not be particularly happy or fulfilled as a parent. We all know people who had lousy parents. I would never want to be one of them.
So, in conclusion, while I still don’t understand why people want to have children (and maybe I never will), it’s not necessary to understand in order to respect those choices and how people go about making them. Pretty simple, really.
Thank you, again, to all those who took the time to tell me their stories, their thoughts, their opinions, their hopes, and for doing so in a way that actually softened my heart. I am extremely grateful. Best wishes to you all, and your families, however you choose to have them.