About the Author

Cheryl Miller

Former New Atlantis blogger Cheryl Miller is a writer living in Washington, D.C. A 2007 Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellow, she is also the editor of Doublethink magazine. She can be reached at cmiller [at] thenewatlantis [dot] com.
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Cheryl Millerís Latest New Atlantis Articles

 Donated Generation” (Summer 2008)

 Blogging Infertility” (Winter 2008)

 The Painless Peace of Twilight Sleep” (Fall 2007)

 

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From our Winter 2008 issue


Cheryl Miller discusses her new article about infertility patients who have turned to blogs for medical advice and emotional support.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Articles of Note 

More women over 40 are having babies, reports the Cape Cod Times:

Kim Cabral of Brewster thought she was in early menopause. Instead, she found out she was pregnant. In April 2006, Cabral gave birth to her third child, William, at age 45.

She marvels: "Each child is special, but when you're older, you cherish each little thing. My husband and I were at the playground the other day and he said, 'What would we be doing now without William?' I answered, 'We'd be home watching TV.'

An Australian man explains why he became a sperm donor:

“I chose to be a known donor – that can mean seeing the child only four times a year, or it can mean having more involvement if the mothers would like. Or, like in the case of a couple I helped, my interaction with the child will be through photos and via the webcam,” Mayger said.

“It’s not so much for my benefit, though I do greatly enjoy the contact I have with my gift children. It is for the child’s benefit, so they can know their biological heritage.

A family celebrates the 25th anniversary of Strong Fertility Center:

Despite low odds, the Kohls had a triple success on the first try, becoming the parents of the first triplets born through the Strong Fertility Center.

As the program, which is part of the University of Rochester Medical Center, celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, the Kohls reflect on their experience and fertility specialists review how much has changed.

Worldwide, IVF first led to a baby in 1978 in England. The first such baby in the United States was born in 1981.

"I do remember feeling like wow, if this doesn't work, then what?" Annette Kohl, now 51, recalls. "It was our last resort to having a biological child."

A baby mama's take on Baby Mama:

My favorite part would be the happy ending, with both women experiencing motherhood. With surrogacy, a bond develops between the surrogate mother and the intended parent. I am happy that the movie touched on the strength of this type of relationship.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 2:26 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization

Thursday, May 1, 2008

On Other Blogs 

Humanzees, Repro-Lit, and Sex-Selection

posted by Cheryl Miller | 9:14 am
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Two Cents on Baby Mama 

Beware: Spoilers galore!

  

I didn't write too much about the movie Baby Mama in my recent WSJ article as I didn't want to step on their film critic's toes. Now with no such worries, I thought I'd give my two cents on the film. If you haven't seen it yet, beware as there are spoilers galore below.

One thing I found interesting while researching the WSJ piece was that no one in the industry or the infertility and bioethics communities was excited about the movie. Surrogates worried it would perpetuate negative stereotypes of surrogates as "ignorant white trash" just in it for the money. Attorney Theresa Erickson, who handles surrogacy and egg donation cases, feared the movie with its surrogacy-scam subplot would make surrogacy seem unsafe even though the majority of cases pass without incident. Anne Adams of the American Fertility Association agreed: Most surrogate situations are "utterly uninteresting and banal.... Is this what happens most of the time? No. But you obviously wouldn’t make a movie about what happens most of the time."

On the other side, Jennifer Lahl, director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, was concerned that Baby Mama made surrogacy look too appealing, and left its dark underside unexplored: "In reality, it's not a light-hearted situation.... Americans will watch this movie, and go, 'How sweet!' But wait a minute, let's have a reality check here." Slate critic Dana Stevens had a similar take: The movie, she wrote,

could have been the springboard to investigating (or wickedly satirizing) some of the issues surrounding surrogacy, which, as this excellent Newsweek piece reported, can be a minefield for class, race, and gender tensions. But the conflict between Kate and Angie rarely rises above Odd Couple level: Organic pea soup or Tastykakes? Touchy-feely birthing videos or American Idol karaoke?

Like Stevens, I found the movie rather tame in its approach to the politics of modern parenthood. Naturally, the "mommy wars" make an appearance with laid-back mom Caroline (Maura Tierney) explaining to her sister Kate (Tina Fey), a driven career woman, that motherhood is "not like opening one of your stores. It's not an executive decision." Later, Kate recalls an old flame who wanted to marry her, but she was too focused on her career. "Other women got pregnant. I got promotions," she says ruefully.

Yet the entire career vs. family debate is rendered moot by Kate's diagnosis: a "sucky" T-shaped uterus. Kate's "advanced maternal age" notwithstanding, her eggs are fine, and it's her mother's exposure to DES — not Kate's decision to put family on the backburner — that causes her fertility woes.

To judge from the script, the writers didn't think too hard about this incongruity. Kate's diagnosis is mostly a means of explaining her need for a surrogate (and a source of mostly lame jokes about her mother's liver spot medication). The career vs. family debate is there because...well, that's what movies about career women and infertility are about.

This wouldn't have been hard to work around — Kate could have used an egg donor as well as a sperm donor, for instance — but it's clear the writers wanted Kate to have her own biological child. The press materials for the movie talk of "two kinds of family: the one you're born to and the one you make," yet Baby Mama is very timid when it comes to alternative families.

The movie's conservatism reminded me of two other infertility-related films I recently watched: the truly awful sperm-donor comedy And Then Came Love and Hannah and Her Sisters (which features a DI subplot). In all three movies, the importance of blood ties is reaffirmed. Love might be an important ingredient, but it's biology that really makes a family in these films. In And Then Came Love, Vanessa Williams leaves her successful, long-time boyfriend for her son's donor dad. In Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen finds himself unable to bond with his wife Hannah or their children who are the product of donor insemination. They divorce, but he soon finds romantic bliss with his wife's sister, who despite his extremely low sperm count, becomes miraculously pregnant.

Baby Mama has a similar twist to Hannah and Her Sisters. After a series of plot turns in which Angie may be faking her pregnancy, Kate gets pregnant the old-fashioned way as does her surrogate Angie. Like Woody Allen's character, Kate's pregnancy only comes about after she finds her true love: Greg Kinnear, who plays a sweet single dad. There's an element of wish-fulfillment here, of course, as with all romantic comedies — which makes a strange ending for a movie that seemed to promise an edgy, provocative take on surrogacy and family.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 5:09 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Surrogacy, ART in popular culture, Older Mothers/Fathers, Single Mothers by Choice, Third-Party Reproduction

Sunday, April 27, 2008

ART in the News 

Extreme Preemies, Ticking Clocks, and GINA

posted by Cheryl Miller | 12:56 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization

Friday, April 25, 2008

Outsourcing Childbirth 

Baby MamaIf you can stand to read any more about surrogates, I have a piece today in the Wall Street Journal about the movie Baby Mama and the morality of renting wombs:

Surrogacy itself seems to have come out of the mommy closet, to judge from recent media coverage. The New York Times and the Boston Globe have both reported on the practice of outsourcing wombs to poor Indian women. On a recent cover of Newsweek, the abdomen of a pregnant woman appeared with the words "Womb for Rent" emblazoned upon it. The issue's lead story, "The Curious Lives of Surrogates," ignited a small media frenzy with its sensationalistic revelations about military wives cashing in as surrogates -- in part by bilking their government-provided health plans.

The attention has rekindled the debate over the morality of renting wombs. While most people are reluctant to stand in the way of women who want to use modern medicine to help them conceive, others are more wary. Jennifer Lahl, the director of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture says "The surrogate isn't seen or treated as the patient. She's the cow, the womb."

posted by Cheryl Miller | 10:11 am
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Surrogacy, ART in popular culture

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ART in the News 

"Choice Moms," Hoaxes, and Still More on Surrogates

Note to self: Never doubt Yuval Levin (a TNA senior editor). Medical experts are weighing in on the Aliza Shvarts controversy, and are saying it's a hoax:

“The most likely scenario,” said Dr. Edward Funai, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and chief of obstetrics at Yale-New Haven Hospital, “is that all Shvarts was seeing every month was her own menstrual blood. Half of the Yale community sees art of similar quality when taking care of their monthly hygiene.”

Not having children is not an option for single moms by choice:

After using an anonymous sperm donor, Akin gave birth to son Matthew when she was 38 and daughter Claire when she was 40. To her surprise, everyone – from her family in Michigan to her friends to her patients – seemed to take her decision in stride.

Now, she sometimes likes to surprise strangers when they comment on her children, 7 and 5.

“I’ll be in a department store and some stranger will say something like, ‘Boy, your kids look just like you.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well good, because I don’t know what the father looks like,’ ” she says with a laugh.

The Harvard Courant reviews Baby Mama and finds that surrogacy is "fertile ground for fiction":

[T]hese aren't your made-for-TV, beleaguered surrogate mother stories. Fey's comedy aside, the new crop strips off the freakish veneer of yesteryear, examining with humor and sensitivity the realities, awkwardness, decisions and surrogate-parent bonding that goes into contracting out a woman's womb.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 12:13 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"The Invisible Part of Me" 

Human Future blogger Jennifer Lahl interviews Wendy Kramer, creator of the Donor Sibling Registry. I've just finished a piece on donor-conceived children, and I found this part especially moving:

Lahl: I've followed your story and founding of DonorSiblingRegistry.com for some time now. When you founded the registry it was a direct response to your own son wanting to find his biological father and siblings - right? What have you been most surprised by in running donorsiblingregistry for some 8 years now?

Kramer: My son always knew that the chances of knowing his donor were slim, so when he found out that he did indeed have half brothers and sisters out there, he wanted to know them. His thinking was that even if he didn't ever get to know his donor, that he could experience that "invisible" part of himself in these half siblings. The site was created as a place to be found.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 11:15 am
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Third-Party Reproduction

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eggs for Sale 

The Yale Daily News delves into the workings of the Yale Oocyte Donation and Surrogacy Program:

The women who donate their eggs are primarily motivated by a desire to help others to conceive a child, Dorothy Greenfeld, the Yale program’s social worker, said, though the sum is often what first piques their interest when they see an ad in a newspaper or the Yale Calendar.

“They think it’s better than giving blood but easier than giving a kidney,” Greenfeld said.

The Heartland Institute looks at the egg-selling trade, now a $3 billion business:

This new issue involves two major questions. First, what are the long-term effects on a woman who sells her eggs? Let's face it--donating sperm is, as a matter of physiology, a transient thing. Harvesting eggs is not.

Second, should a woman be able to sell her eggs in the same way other people sell their organs, such as kidneys, as a part of her body with which she's free to do as she chooses? Eggs are not kidneys--but neither are they sperm.

"We're not going to know all the effects of women selling their eggs for at least 10 years or more," noted Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. "We don't know the long-term consequences of the powerful drugs and surgery [necessary] to obtain the eggs. How many women are selling their chances of motherhood for a few thousand dollars?"

posted by Cheryl Miller | 7:21 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Egg Donation

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two New ART Developments 

A new fertility test may help women push back childbearing later still:

Pamela Barbasetti di Prun, 45, a mother of three grown children from her first marriage, wanted to try to have a baby with her second husband. When her FSH levels came back elevated, signaling her fertility was on the wane, her doctor suggested the Staten Island, N.Y., couple consider an egg donor. They balked and, in February, Ms. Barbasetti di Prun's AMH level came back normal. Hopeful that she could have a baby with her own eggs, the couple is moving ahead with in vitro fertilization. Two weeks ago, doctors retrieved 10 eggs -- a better-than-expected number for a woman her age.

"The AMH test was an extremely valuable tool in giving us an accurate number to guide us," Ms. Barbasetti di Prun says. "You're going to do what your heart tells you, but to have some medical substantiation really helps you."

Dr. Seifer, her physician, says that because of her healthy AMH levels, he was "willing to let her try" IVF with her own eggs.

The London Times science editor defends the use of artificial gametes:

Cells from an infertile man or woman would first be reprogrammed into an embryonic state, or used to make cloned embryonic stem cells. The resulting stem cells would then be turned into sperm or eggs, which would carry the patient's DNA. Many of those this technology would benefit have survived childhood cancers, diagnosed when they were too young to freeze sperm or eggs to preserve fertility. Others are women who have suffered the distress of early menopause. This is medical science at its compassionate best.

Not everybody, however, has seen it quite like that. Whenever new developments in this field are reported, they invariably prompt speculation that the technique might be used to allow lesbians to produce sperm, and gay men eggs. Homosexual couples might thus have a child with genetic material from both partners, in a way that is unthinkable in nature. Worried discussions about what this might mean for sexual politics often drown out dialogue on the benefits for infertile patients.

I have more to say about this article (when I'm not on deadline), but it's more than a little frustrating. I will say though that I predicted this line of argument in my review of Debora Spar's book, The Baby Business:

Spar warns that today’s widespread moral opposition to cloning may erode if the technique is adopted by ordinary couples seeking to fulfill the most ordinary human desires. Spar gives the example of a couple in which the male partner is incapable of producing sperm. Scientists could remove another cell from his body and inject its nucleus into his wife’s enucleated egg, thereby producing a child with only his DNA. In other words: the husband’s clone, their child, born of the wife’s nine-month labor.

Moreover, cloning is not the only radical technical possibility now looming. For example, a homosexual couple might one day conceive a child born of their united genomes by creating a cloned embryo of one partner, harvesting its stem cells, turning the stem cells into sperm or eggs, and combining these artificial gametes with the natural gametes of the other partner to produce an embryo for implantation.

By these various (still hypothetical) routes, the moral challenge may come from the “eminently respectable”—from the desperate would-be parents unable to have a child and the willing doctors working to make their dreams possible. As with the initial controversy over IVF, critics of cloning will be accused of being heartless. As one infertile woman tells Spar, “When you take away being able to have a child biologically, it is like having to face death—almost like having half of you die ... because having kids is the main way that people deal with the fact that they are mortal.” Another says, “I know [cloning is] not right for everyone. But ... if the only way for a person to have a child of their own is to do this, and if they are willing to take the chance, than they should be able to.” Once the first healthy-looking clone is born to loving parents, being anti-cloning will seem anti-child.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 1:50 pm

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

'The Talk' 

Forget "Heather has two mommies." What if Heather's mommy is her dad? The Washington Post has an interesting story about how ART and other trends have made the old "birds-and-bees" talk that much more complicated:

Changes in reproductive technology, a new openness about formerly closeted subjects and the flaunting of overtly sexual imagery in news and entertainment outlets have shifted the parameters of the traditional preteen birds-and-bees talk. (Remember? Mothers talked to daughters; dads talked to sons. End of discussion.)

Today, experts urge parents to welcome questions on sexuality by the time their kids can ask why the sky is blue. Recent research has shown that regular discussions of sexuality may improve parent-child relationships and even delay the onset of sexual activity by children. For some parents, that latter effect is taking on new importance in light of a recent study showing that at least one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease.

What a complex new world parents have to explain today. It's not just that some kids have two mommies, others two daddies or no daddy at all. Or that national debates on abortion and gay marriage, along with news stories on in vitro fertilization and sex changes, are generating a whole new set of questions.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 12:54 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies

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