Here is the letter I sent to NPR. I actually had to break it into two for the emails, because of the 6,000 character limit, but I think that may have actually helped each topic to recieve proper focus. I don’t really expect anything to come of this, but there is this tiny hope that they’ll read a couple of lines of mine on air. Mine, instead of the thousands of other comments they get each week. I can dream, right?
Anyway, if you are wondering what I’m talking about, read the previous post and the links in it, and hopefully you’ll see why I thought I should say something. So after all the stalling, here it is…
Your back-to-back stories on unplanned pregnancy and in-vitro fertilization struck a chord with me. They really serve to point out how selfish we as a society have become. We think we have a right to sex with anyone, at any time, without the responsibility of raising the children which are the natural result of sex. Therefore we pump women’s bodies full of artificial hormones, which cause uncomfortable side effects and can often confuse the body so that child bearing becomes more difficult later on. So when a woman decides that now she actually wants children, her body doesn’t believe her and she turns to more invasive and expensive medical procedures to achieve the pregnancy she has spent so long trying to avoid. Our desperate need to control our fertility on our terms, rather than work with it on nature’s terms, has led so many people to the heartaches of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies on one hand, and empty wombs on the other.
It is also disturbing to me that you perpetuate the destructive idea that a woman’s fertility is merely a burden and an inconvenience. Media in general portrays the possibility of pregnancy as the danger all women must face, when, as those women who desperately try IVF know, it is a mystery and a blessing. In a loving, stable relationship, children are not a hazard, but a joy. Partially as a result of this overtly negative attitude toward childbearing, women’s fertility is treated not as the result of the way their bodies are designed to work, but as a series of inconvenient medical conditions which require fixing. A young woman with an irregular cycle is given birth-control pills to regularize her, but this does not solve the problem, it merely postpones her body’s work. Years later, when she finally goes off the medication, her body still has to find its own rhythm and cycle. Women use all sorts of methods, some more dangerous or invasive than others, to try and keep their fertility at bay during the years when it is at its peak. And then, often when their fertility is waning of its own accord, they require more intervention to attempt to force their bodies to become pregnant. Those who do bear children are forced to endure the medicalization and hospitalization of childbirth, which, despite what current practice might lead us to believe, is not a disease! Many of the interventions in this area are not only uncomfortable, but can actually increase the risk of complications for both mother and baby. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, it seems to me that this is all very good for the medical professionals who are kept in business in this way, but very, very bad for the women who spend their lives undergoing intervention after unnecessary intervention.
Beyond these larger issues, I have a couple of complaints about the Brenda Wilson’s report itself. I admire the courage of Joy Migala to tell her story so openly, but I fear that a couple of her comments could be very easily misinterpreted, and Brenda Wilson made no attempt, either on air or in the online article, to clarify these issues. My husband and I use Natural Family Planning (as do a number of our close friends) and have been very happy with its effectiveness as well as the communication it fosters in our relationship. The statement that “Migala tried to keep a chart of when she was fertile so she would know when to use a condom” includes two misconceptions about NFP. First of all, NFP, like other methods of family planning, does require consistency and understanding to be used effectively. I did not get the impression from the article that Ms. Migala had taken classes or similar measures to really know her fertility well enough to count on this method. On the other hand, using a condom during the peak fertile times is one of the best ways to have a “failure” with NFP, because it is no longer your own cycle you are depending on, but rather the efficacy of the condom. If the condom fails, and the woman’s body is working well, it is very likely that she will get pregnant. Anyone well trained in NFP would be aware of this risk.
Secondly, I found it interesting that the outcome of Ms. Migala’s pregnancy was omitted from the on-air story. I was curious about it when I heard the story, especially after Wilson goes to such trouble to help the listener understand and identify with Ms. Migala’s story. I am forced to wonder if it was left out purposely, in an attempt to divert those who would point out that contraception, because of the attitude which couples using it bring to sex (i.e., we do not want a baby), tends to lead to abortion? A couple who “owns up” to their sexuality by respecting the fact that it includes fertility and the possibility of pregnancy, and deal with this in a positive way (rather than the “I’ll avoid pregnancy using this device/pill” attitude of the user of contraception) is less likely to end up getting an abortion, because they come in with the attitude that a baby is a possibility, and a possibility that they accept responsibility for by taking the step of being sexually active.
Director Cullins’ statement about using different methods of birth control at different times of life struck me as strange. It has not been that long since I was in college, and it seems to me that it would be far easier to have an IUD as a freshman in college (when you are presumably not planning to have children until at least after graduation) than to take a pill every day at the same time of day. A college student’s schedule is one of the least regular I can imagine! Furthermore, as a twenty- or thirty-something career woman, if I were considering ever having children, I would be suspicious or using an IUD which would affect my fertility over such a long period of time. Otherwise, I would find myself in that group of women decide later in life that they want children, but I would have preempted my own chances at getting pregnant. This woman is not giving the sort of good, logical advice I would hope to get from someone at a fertility clinic!
In short, I felt that Wilson’s story left several things to be desired, namely, any challenge of the culture which essentially tells women their fertility is unhealthy to their bodies and their relationships and a lack of through research (which is further substantiated by the corrections which had to be made to her description of methods of birth control) which, to my mind, showed the bias seeping into her journalism.
I would love to hear a more critical story concerning the state of women’s reproductive health in the U.S. today. Wilson’s efforts did little to add to the common discussion, while only telling one side of a multi-faceted issue. It might be helpful to examine the way children have turned into another commodity to be sought (or avoided) at the appropriate moment of life. Trying to find “better” contraceptives will only lead women to continue to fight the same problems they have while using today’s contraceptives. It is a radical shift in thinking about the place of sexuality and fertility in our lives as well as a growth in respect for the procreative power of a woman’s body which are necessary if we are to both alleviate the fear of unwanted pregnancy and end the suffering of women who feel forced to turn to IVF in order to have the children they so deeply desire.