How drugs and technology help attain motherhood

Some people want to be moms--really badly--but it's hard for them to get pregnant. Alison*, a San Francisco web designer, thinks about it every day. "My ambition in life is to be a mom," she says. "My career is secondary." But her body isn't geared towards pregnancy, and the list of things she has had to go through to try to get pregnant reads like a medical textbook--biopsies, birth control pills, blood tests, ovulation inducers, progesterone, temperature-taking, sperm-testing. "I feel like I'm waiting for someone I already know," she tells me. "I think about it every day." It's been 32 years since the first test tube baby was delivered in the UK. Today, fertility clinics offer a whole slew of technologies for getting pregnant (IVF, IUI, GIFT, ZIFT), but they're expensive and can be invasive. IVF--in-vitro fertilization, a common technique whereby doctors inseminate the egg in a lab and then transfer the embryo back to the woman's womb--is safe, but can cost up to $20,000. "If you could get pregnant naturally, you wouldn't need these technologies," says Dr. Masood Khatamee, who is the executive director of the Fertility Research Foundation in NYC. "But if you wait too long, then you might never get pregnant." My friends Lisa and Marcus went through a similar struggle as Alison. Here's Lisa, recounting their years-long efforts after finding out that Marcus had a low sperm count:
Several years ago, Marcus started taking HCG shots 3 times a week. It made a difference, but not enough to help us conceive. In September 2008, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and was prescribed Metformin and Clomid. Metformin is a sugar/carb blocker--if you eat certain things, you suffer from horrendous stomach cramps and diarrhea. The side effects of the drugs that are supposed to help you conceive make it very difficult to have sex. Timing is everything. We were using the monthly planning method--sex only when it was ovulation time. IVF was an option we struggled with, but as much as we wanted to have children, Marcus wanted his sperm to have a fighting chance (may the best swimmer win!) and I did not want to take the drugs that are known to have side effects for the woman and that child. We looked into doing intrauterine insemination first, but the timing was off for us because either Marcus or I were traveling during my ovulation. The whole journey put a lot of strain on our relationship. We were blaming ourselves, and then each other. More tears then I can ever remember shedding in my life thinking that I was never going to be able to have children with the man that I love. Hating my body because it felt alien-like with the side effects of the drugs. Feeling guilty for complaining when there are some people out there that only have the option to adopt. And here we are now-pregnant and due around December 5th! I cannot express in words what I am feeling. We were very blessed to be able to conceive naturally after being told by our fertility expert that we would not be able to do so. All the side effects of being pregnant? Bring them on!!! I want to experience them all because to be it's a reminder of the amazing human that is growing inside of me.
Lisa and Marcus lucked out--but many of us moms-to-be will have to resort to other means. The answer for some of us may even lie in cloning or stem cells, although that's still far out in the future. *name altered for privacy

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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28 Responses to How drugs and technology help attain motherhood

  1. zuzu says:

    While adoption is a noble act, I read somewhere that in terms of who children grow up to be, half is genetically determined (not your genes, if you adopt) and half is socially determined by their peer group (i.e. friends). So as an adoptive parent, you effectively have no lasting influence on the personality or identity of the child you’re sacrificing so much to raise and care for.

    Seems a bit like The Giving Tree.

  2. Joel Johnson says:

    @Gloria: I think the implication is that many unwanted teen pregnancies end up as children in the adoption system.

  3. Lisa Katayama says:

    I think it’s silly to criticize couples who want their own biological kids. What’s wrong with that? Most people do it, it’s just easier for some than others. I think it’s a beautiful thing for women to want to experience pregnancy and giving birth-as is adoption, of course. But it’s a fair choice.

  4. dculberson says:

    I think some of you are oversimplifying how difficult adoption is. My sister in law has been trying to adopt for years. She and her husband are approved to adopt already but have been unable to actually be matched with a child – the children keep being adopted by someone else first. The adoption agencies give strong preference to existing foster parents and beyond that it’s a very fast paced “first (approved) come first served” sort of setup. And they aren’t limiting their choices to healthy newborns, either; they’ve agreed to accept several children that even my psychologist wife discouraged them from accepting. (Ie, severe attachment disorder, which is rough and something the child and parents will be dealing with for life.)

    The truth is, it’s incredibly difficult to adopt. Even if you’re stable and your household is approved, you may still never get any kid, much less a healthy, mentally stable infant. Fertility treatments might actually be your last best hope.

  5. dculberson says:

    Oh, and I second Lisa’s sentiment. Criticizing someone for wanting to bear a child is one of the silliest things I can think of.

    Regarding which is more selfish: I don’t plan to have children, and I think it’s almost completely selfish of me. But I’m okay with that. ;-)

  6. Miss Cellania says:

    Far be it for me to pass judgment on other people’s reproductive decisions. When life throws obstacles in your way, you have to find your own path. For myself, I considered IVF and chose adoption for the simple reason that my odds of success were much better. Ten years and two children later, it doesn’t matter that I was never pregnant.

    Some may say adoption is noble. To me it is a means to an end, in which I got what I wanted. You can easily call that selfish.

  7. twofedoras says:

    I want to have the choice to fly, but it is not in the cards for me. You see, I was tragically born without wings and my bones are too dense. However, Science now has the technology to give me a jet-pack. Now I want the right to fly wherever I want, FAA should allow me the right to fly free as a bird since that is who I really fell that I am. and so what if my pack causes a significant increase in greenhouse gases. I am a bird and I should have the choice to fly.

    This “choice” word that everyone loves to throw around is just a synonym for “selfishness, damned the cost”. I am not saying it isn’t sad that a couple finds themselves infertile. I am saying that the perspective of everyone has a right to their cake AND to eat that cake is ridiculous. With adoption, however, you get to have your cake and eat another tasty, tasty, cake.

  8. Crashproof says:

    People who can’t conceive but want a child are not to blame for the world’s overpopulation problems. I don’t think someone who wants to bear a single child of their own should be automatically dismissed as a “breeder” or considered selfish.

    (The likes of Octomom, gigantic families who are only that way because they don’t believe in birth control, and those who actively oppose birth control and sex education, however…)

    My wife is one of those who wants to conceive but can’t — and it is a source of depression. She won’t consider any “extreme” means, and despairs about the difficulty of adoption. (However, thanks #16 for pointing out international adoption; we might look into that.)

    She and I both donate to charities, and we both make some minor personal sacrifices to reduce our environmental impact. Wanting to have a child doesn’t make us villains.

  9. sparklemotion says:

    @10 and @12:
    Lisa, I think the criticism is reserve for those people who are seeking sympathy for their difficulties in conceiving a child.

    Yes, it is the way that _most_ people do it, but if for whatever reason, you can’t have a child that way it is not the end of the world.

    Yes, adoption is a long, hard, road, so why aren’t these struggling parents to be starting off the adoption process at the same time as the fertility treatments? You’ll still have a child to share your life with either way.

    To stubbornly cling to the idea of having a “biological” child, these people are letting their selfish genes win.

  10. Gloria says:

    @9: Thanks for the clarification.

    @11: I think what galls some of us here — I guess I’m really only speaking for myself — is how other options, such as adoption, are often eliminated without real consideration. It’s the narrow focus, the idea that there is only one way that is acceptable, that really disappoints me.

    Your sister-in-law is trying, which is a truly commendable thing. I don’t disagree that adoption is difficult and not always successful for everyone. I just want more people to explore it seriously rather than dismissing it immediately. You make excellent points on the difficulty and expense of adoption, but my point is that it’s evident that a lot of people don’t adopt for reasons of ideology, not for those of finances or possibility of success.

    @10: I think supportive, loving moms (and dads) are really great too, and I think pregnancy is a brave and difficult thing to undertake.

    But like I said, it’s that adoption seems to always be this “inferior” choice. I want it to be considered as “natural” as choosing biological birth, because the fact is that the families that result are just as healthy and real.

  11. Gloria says:

    @24: I think a lot of regular bio parents could tell that they have no lasting influence on their children either.

    @21: At least I’m a douchebag who signs their posts with a name.

  12. Anonymous says:

    There are many alternative routes to adoption – international, private, government-run agencies, foster care. Seriously, it’s worth looking into all of them.

    I too am unable to conceive, due to fallopian scarring, but can’t afford IVF, and am too broke to qualify for any adoption.

    This has been driving me crazy ever since the Octomom story started, though: she claims she had IVF 6 times, with 6 embryos transferred each time, and that 2 ‘split’ or maybe 1 ‘split’ into 3. Bullshit! Identical twins happen 1 in 300 births, triplets 1 in 4000. There has never been quadruplets of identical-twin pairs. The doctor is evasive about his procedures, and treated a woman with no money.

    So what really happened is he gave her Clomid, even though she didn’t need it. The MSM equates IVF (thousands of dollars, transferring of 1-3 embryos in the vast majority of cases) with indiscriminate use of Clomid ($60-$100, capable of 10+ fertilized eggs with no remedy but ‘selective reduction’) in order to further a bizarre narrative of ‘God’s will’ with regard to infertility.

    Sorry, /rant

  13. David Bruce Murray says:

    It’s true that the adoption process can be long and difficult, but many would be adopters only check with local agencies. International adoption is also an option, plus it’s where the need is the greatest. I have friends who have adopted children from Russia and China.

    I think it’s reasonable to question why some women exhaust every resource to have a biological child but consider adoption to be taboo…especially women who have health issues that make pregnancy a greater risk to themselves and the baby.

    Plus, there’s the wasteful expense, as this article indicates. The $20,000 spent for the test tube process (over and above the ordinary costs of birthing a child) could instead be used to pay for a year of college, a car, or a down payment on a home for an adopted child who might have starved to death in a third world country.

  14. naterxp says:

    or there are the thousands of kids who already exist and need a good home.

  15. Anonymous says:

    “Wanting to have a child doesn’t make us villains.”

    Sure it does – it is just that you are minor villians. Every time someone has a child, they do evil. Evil being defined as unjustified harm to another person. Every new baby born negatively impacts everyone else on the planet at this point – including the parent. Sure, you can make the case that the harm done is insignificant, at least individually, but it is still unjustified harm. And as the minor evils pile up we find ourselves in a huge evil mess.

    Having a child = problem.
    Adoption = trying to fix the mess.

  16. Anonymous says:


    You, king of citations, read it ‘somewhere’? Who children grow up to be (you are talking about personality and values, right, not skin color and height?) half genetics and half peer group?

    Wow, what powers these adoptees have to simultaneously be uninfluenceable, and yet influenced exclusively by a group they spend less than half their time with? How does that particular superpower come about?

    Never mind, I just remembered you don’t answer real challenges to your mindset.

    So what is your real issue with adoption?

  17. Gloria says:

    I was going to say what #1 posted. Adopt. There are lots of kids who really need a loving home, and you don’t have to worry about passing on any genetic diseases. Best of all, you’d help prove that real families are defined by love and loyalty, not blood.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I think those of you who push adoption or threaten ostracizing people who are having difficulty conceiving naturally are a bunch of goddamn fascists. You’re free to your own perspective but keep your goddamn morals out of running others lives. If you’re one of those folks, you’re nuttier then squirrel shit, and akin to the kind of folks who pass laws to take away others rights. You’re probably the same douche bags who don’t believe in gay marriage and don’t believe in pro-choice.

    That being said, last I checked, the right to procreation is a basic and fundamental human right. The octomom might tread the dirty side of the grey line, but ultimately she’s an extreme case of assisted pregnancy.

    If you don’t have a child, STFU your opinion doesn’t count. If you don’t have a child by your own consent, then feel free to voice your opinions but keep your goddamn morals out of legislation, and be prepared to own any stupidity you voice. And if you have a child, and you didn’t adopt, but are telling others they should adopt if they are having difficulty conceiving, go fuck yourself hypocrite.

  19. strider_mt2k says:

    There’s too many men.
    Too many people.
    Making too many problems.

    -and not enough love to go ’round…

  20. The Lizardman says:

    Obligatory anti-breeder message:

    Please take the difficulty in conceiving as a sign that we don’t need any more spawn running about and take the time, energy, and resources for something that will actually benefit those of us who are already here instead of the selfish and evil act of reproduction.

  21. Dani4a says:

    “Feeling guilty for complaining when there are some people out there that only have the option to adopt.”

    only have the option? Seriously? For many people, the decision to adopt isn’t a last resort. It’s a way to help a child who needs a home. It’s a way to avoid over-populating the earth. Children aren’t like purses that have to match your shoes. You can love a child who doesn’t look like you–it IS possible.

  22. twofedoras says:

    I completely agree with #1 and #2. I understand the desire for “something of your own” As I have a kid of “my own”, but the first thing you will find out as a parent is how moldable they are. My kid is my kid, not because of Genetics, but because I shaped him into my image both purposefully and just by being who I am. Sometimes I look at him like he is an alien, that is just trying to mimic my behavior. In other words, I can’t imagine seeing him any differently if he wasn’t form my own gene pool.

  23. Anonymous says:

    For those suggesting adoption, agreed that it’s a noble choice, but it can also be more difficult, expensive, and heartbreaking, especially when adopting a newborn (or not-yet-born).

    I’m still undecided as to which is more “selfish” – wanting to have kids or not wanting to have them; I’ve heard both sides. Wouldn’t responsible parents with desire to have kids and wherewithal to do so make better parents than teenagers that don’t want kids in the first place? (shrug)

  24. Anonymous says:

    In the US adoption costs about as much as one or two IVF transfers. But you don’t pay the adoption placement fee unless you actually get a kid. It’s possible to pay for the IVF and still not get pregnant.

  25. Anonymous says:

    If you want to reproduce, reproduce.
    If you want to adopt, adopt.
    If you want to do neither, do neither.

    But stop the bigotry and bullshit that makes you think you have any right to dictate to any autonomous human who has reached the age of majority what to about any of this.

  26. The Lizardman says:


    It is not necessarily bigotry or bullshit to dictate what others do – it is part and parcel of being part of a “civilized society”. We tell each other what to do and not to do all the time, it is generally called making and enforcing laws.

    Regardless of where you stand on reproduction by any means and/or adoption the idea that it doesn’t affect other people to a degree that warrants there being some general rules is, IMO, utterly ridiculous. One of my biggest complaints, given the affects on my life by others reproductive behaviours, is that we do not do more to dictate rules for these behaviours.

  27. Gloria says:

    The thing is adoption makes a really huge statement. It basically tells everyone that biology is not the primary factor when determining familial ties. It says that the traditional idea of the family — where everyone looks alike — has always been too simplistic and isn’t progressive anymore.

    It touches on issues faced not only by adoptive families, interracial families, extended families, and gay families — anyone who may not have children biologically, or whose children may not resemble them physically.

    I’ve always thought it would be instructive for perfectly fertile parents to go through the same processes as prospective adoptive parents. I understand why potential adoptees need to be scruntinized, but it always amazed me that sheer biological luck lets everyone else off the hook.

    From what I know, the screening process in adoption is rigorous and invasive, and makes you really think about what it means to be a parent and what motivates you to do it. If we did that, maybe then we’d be in a world where children aren’t abandoned so carelessly.

  28. Gloria says:

    @6: I’m wondering what you mean by that comparison. Teenagers?

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