Why Do We Look the Other Way On IVF Addiction?


My reaction to the picture distributed by the fertility clinic was shock. Plain and simple.

In fact, my stomach turned queasy while my mind tried to process just what exactly I was looking at. The first word that popped to mind: Addiction

The breathless articles, though, on what led to the now ‘viral’ photograph — on the TODAY Parents website and on other news and feature sites — never mentioned addiction and that’s troubling in and of itself.

Instead the TODAY article noted:

The photo features a baby girl asleep inside a heart formed by hundreds of syringes and dozens of drug vials — just a fraction of what she used while undergoing five in vitro fertilization treatments.

If a street drug pusher released a photograph showing that many needles following a Rave Party we’d be outraged and encourage the user into rehab. But a fertility clinic releases it on their Facebook page and, it’s not only okay, it’s celebratory?

This is SO wrong on so many levels. First, what was the fertility clinic thinking? The twisted marketing begs these questions:

  • Why are we ‘normalizing’ this extreme? Flooding the body with mega doses of hormones is not without risk (both physical and financial that’s heightened with repeated courses). Some 15 years after I gutted my way through two full IVF rounds and one cycle for a frozen embryo transfer and well on to my next IVF with a new clinic before I kicked the habit …. I worry — STILL — about the long-term toxic effects that those mega dose hormones coursing through my body might have had on my future health. I don’t know what the actual health hazards are because fertility clinics and pharmaceutical companies have still not done longitudinal studies to assess them for women like me or the woman behind the photograph.

    Like a good drug pusher, they focus on the ‘high’ that may be awaiting you …

  • What does it say about society that we passively accept an invasive, expensive and once narrowly prescribed, medically-indicated procedure as today’s one-size-fits-all fertility treatment?
  • Is the dollar value of those vials actually worth it if mothers-to-be are compromising their future health (or that of the egg ‘donor’)?
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I get it: the social approval of being pregnant or being lauded for a baby bump gets out-sized glamour. I will remember 2015 for being the year that a child posed amid syringe needles became just another social media sensation.  (Just an aside: am I alone in worrying about the kind of pressure facing the child photographed to be perfect and fulfill every other dream that her mother might conjure?)

More Than One Outcome

I’m reminded of a doctor at UCSF who dealt with high-risk pregnancies in a moment of bioethical reflection on a panel ask, ‘does the parent’s right to have a child trump the rights of the child who may be conceived?”

The woman behind the photograph who submitted to those needles and drugs said, “For a couple out there still trying and maybe are on their third or fourth try, just hang in there. It was such a struggle, but it’s worth it.”

I respectfully disagree. While she might still be buzzing from the dopamine effect, let me make clear that there are many others whose ‘trips’ aren’t so pleasant.  No instead, they’re nightmarish.

My counsel to couples or women considering turning themselves into protracted science experiments is this: Don’t take fertility clinic claims (or Facebook marketing) at face value. Of course, you will only hear about the success narratives, but keep in mind: not all who ‘just keep trying’ will achieve a pregnancy and delivery.  Beware of the many fertility clinics, fertility service providers and pharmaceutical companies who are only too happy to feed your addiction. Just check out all the companies that are excited to be at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) annual meeting next week:

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American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Annual Meeting Big Pharma Participants
Some of the ASRM Annual Meeting Big Pharma & Fertility Industry Participants

Look, I know that infertility sucks. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I know the pressure you feel to ‘keep at it’ but it’s okay to break the IVF addiction. The withdrawal will not be easy, but no withdrawal from a potent, powerful dream ever is.

I am far from alone here in my story or my caution. Lesley Joy Brown, the first human conceived using IVF, has her own worries about this.  Louise has gone on the record saying that treatments today have “gone too far,” adding, “I worry about IVF mums being pumped full of hormones.”

Louise’s mother, died in 2012 at 64 after an undisclosed illness. As I wrote earlier, it seems Louise and I and many others will learn together what the long-term effects of fertility medicine have in store for us.

I leave you with Jefferson Airplane’s lyrics:

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head