Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fertility Semantics

Ok ok, confession contagious. While I PROMISE that this site will not become Girl with Pen: Bridging Feminism and Fertility, I've had an interesting week and without getting into the subtext (which you will no doubt figure out) I must throw this question out there to all you gals out there who I know have gone down the fertility road: Why do they refer to it as being treated for "infertility" when really it's just expediting one's fertility? I mean, doesn't "in-" means "un"? Words hold psychological and ontological power here, people, and methinks the medical establishment might consider redefining its terms. But then, I would think that, being an English major and all. Rant over. Back to being UNconfessional now.

...But I'm curious. What do others think? Rhetorical question perhaps, but is this why folks turn to midwives? Do they use different language over there?


Catherine said...

I think there's something about the whole process of reproduction that brings out the confessional. No doubt about it, the medical establishment is weirdly steeped in ideology, while trying to appear as un-ideological as possible. A while ago I wrote the following reflection on my experience with reproductive terminologies:

At our first prenatal medical appointment, my husband and I were swept up in what has become a rite de passage of expectant parents: the review of genetic disorders screens. The hospital literature listed their offering of screens grouped by ethnicity—for the most part. There was the Ashkenazi Jewish screen, the Asian American screen, the African American screen, and then in the midst of this festival of diversity, a seeming incongruity: the cystic fibrosis screen. The nurse put us down for this last screen without even asking us if we were at risk. It wasn’t until I read the fine print later that I realized why: Turns out cystic fibrosis happens mainly to white people, in much the same way as sickle cell anemia is supposed to happen mainly to African Americans (though apparently it’s very common in India). Why, then, was there no “White” screen? Or, better yet, why weren’t all the other screens identified by disease instead of ethnicity? I made a mental note to ask about this after I delivered, not wanting to be labeled a “problem” patient by those who might someday be slicing into me. Meanwhile I looked over the Ashkenazi Jewish screen. Depending on who’s keeping track and with what interests and criteria in mind, my son would be either one-quarter, completely, or not at all Jewish, but for the purposes at hand, only the one-quarter counted. The screen included testing for Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, and Canavan’s disease. Never having heard of Canavan’s, I asked what it was. The nurse paused for a minute and said, “I don’t know. I’d have to look it up.” I should add that I live in an overwhelmingly Protestant area of the country; one of my colleagues at her prenatal appointment was gingerly presented this screen as something “people like you who are Jewish-ish do.”

Anonymous said...

I can't remember what I was reading at the time but when my late husband and I were caught up in the whole "ttc" thing via "medical intervention" I recall seeing an article that basically addressed this question. Technically one is not "infertile" one is "sub-fertile". Frankly, it feels more like the former than the latter.

The doctors you work with are not "fertility or infertility" doctors either. They are reproductive endrocrinologists. (iffy on the spelling offhand). I think perhaps that is a media creation or cultural thing to refer to people as "infertile" and perhaps it came into being because it was considered a less harsh way of saving "barren" or "sterile" as back in the not so long ago days there was little that could be done to help couples (my own parents adopted. my late husband and I went IVF).

Interesting question.

Joyous Jewess said...

The language thing is definitely telling and NOT designed to make women feel good about their bodies -- my personal fave is the "incompetent cervix."

My experience with fertility treatment taught me that a sense of humor was necessary to get through it. Good luck!

Judith (mom to amazing twins conceived through IVF, and happy to share my experience/answer any questions if you'd like)

Deborah Siegel said...

Judith: I am SO calling you up. Catherine, my Jewish-ish friend, jeeeeesh! Reminds me of my experience an the elevator in Madison where a colleague asked me how I could be Jewish since I have blonde hair. Anniegirl, thank you for your take, and for sharing your experiences here! So, IVF ladies, I'm assuming, it worked?

Alison said...

Since I've had only limited encounters with the world of medicalized childbirth (and only second-hand encounters with the world of reproductive endocrinologists), I can't necessarily speak to the differences in discourse. I will say, though, that the homebirth midwife we're working with tends to be pretty careful and pretty affirming in her use of language.

Deborah Siegel said...

Alison, So great to hear from you!!! And good to know about the midwife situation. How far are you along now? SO EXCITING!!!

Just me said...

While my dx is technically "undiagnosed infertility" (for insurance purposes, I think) my doctor used the phrase "sub fertile". We're not as fertile as the average couple. But, unless it is determined that we CAN'T conceive, we're not INfertile either.

I'm so tired of all the fertility jargon. I hate that I understand what all that crap means. *sigh*

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