It’s rare that male readers weigh in on the topic of fertility health and society’s response to the marketing of ‘fertility’ treatments. Such an occurrence introduced an added jolt to my morning coffee. More refreshing still were the “ah-has” that accompanied the insight-laden comment (a blog post unto itself really). Let’s annotate his comment further.
Your blog reminds me of the importance of not letting hope replace reality.
Immediately the famous quote from Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, popped to mind: “In the factory, we make cosmetics, in the store, we sell hope.” Revson also said, “We don’t sell lipsticks. We sell dreams.”
Consider that when you walk into a mall or any retail establishment, you know you’re entering a spin zone of sorts. You anticipate slick marketing and seductive packaging. In turn, you activate your ‘buyer beware’ radar and off you go.
Contrast that with how you feel and behave when you approach a doctor’s office or hospital. I don’t know about you but when I visit well, let’s say an urgent care medical facility I don’t bring the same skepticism I do when approaching the counter of a department store selling wrinkle creams or beauty products. Both might be staffed with personnel wearing white coats but that’s where the similarities usually end.
In the case of a doctor’s office we’ve been socialized to expect the people in white coats to base their recommendations on solid science. They’re schooled after all in how to to dispense honest (hopefully compassionate) health expertise. Whereas an establishment that offers beauty products? There I expect some photo-shopped images of youthful skin and claims about how XX product will enrich my life. Those smiling individuals in white coats are peddlers looking to enrich their bottom lines.
Doctors, though, are supposed to be there to help us understand and make sense of health, biology and science.
HealthCARE vs. Health Business
Discerning fertility medicine claims is especially hard because as Brian goes on to make clear:
The truth is that we, on the receiving end of reproductive technology, are way ahead of the indifferent purveyors of pain masquerading as helpers. True 'fertility medicine helpers' don’t hide statistics and agendas. Click To Tweet
Indifferent purveyers of pain masquerading as helpers. That’s some bold language.
As I first mentioned in an op-ed and blog post two years ago — and often since — objective, independent advice from health professionals in the reproductive endocrinology field focused on the person’s well-being instead of the profit is, sadly, hard to find. On the healthcare continuum the fertility field has, with each passing year in the nearly 40 years since IVF was made commercially available, slid further from medically-indicated, evidence-based science to one of lifestyle marketing.
Unfortunately, today, when engaging with the fertility industry it’s not quite clear 1) who you can trust to tell you the truth and 2) when to, in so many words, stop buying the lipstick.
Complicating matters further most people don’t realize how much, yes, random luck, is involved in succeeding with any pregnancy and delivery. There is the illusion of control when we walk into a fertility clinic. Click To Tweet
But, as Brian notes:
Becoming pregnant is not always a matter of willpower. Sure, we can do all the “right” things to facilitate it happening but we don’t get to control the outcome. Science can transfer an embryo to the womb but it can’t implant it. Ultimately, nature calls the shots. This is a hard truth to accept.
Facing this hard truth that pregnancy may never succeed is made more difficult, still, when outside forces encourage more, More, MORE treatment. With an apt comparison to the lottery, Brian adds:
ART is, to a large extent, a lottery. There are a few lucky lottery winners out there. Basing an entire industry on a murky statistical probability is unethical and unprofessional. It exacts a cruel high human cost from the majority non-lottery winners to support the possibility of a magical, mysterious, miraculous (and let’s be serious, inexplicable) outcome.
The next spin of the wheel, the next Powerball lottery might pay off. How, then, do you walk away? I wish I had a good answer. As Sarah noted, “The space of ‘highly unlikely but not impossible’ that infertility and subsequent treatments catapults so many of us into is, unfortunately, highly romanticized.
Separating Romance from Reality
I don’t see the fertility business and its acolytes moving away from romanticizing any time soon. It’s just too lucrative. Instead we’ll have to hope that, like this blog readership, we see more open acknowledgement of this statement:
Each journey of fertility that didn’t work out is painful, lonely and very real and deserves to be acknowledged with kindness and respect. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Brian, for your wise counsel and fertility medicine cautions. Makes me wish I could travel back in time to share your observations with the me first embarking on this experience. Instead, I’m content to explore further the ideas you raised as it may help the next 20 or 30-something just embarking on their fertility journey.
I’ll close today with the quote Brian shared from The Road Less Traveled:
“Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”- M. Scott Peck p. 50 The Road Less Traveled.
Now, dear readers, the floor is yours…