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Elizabeth Carr and Conceiving “Normally”

I know that Elizabeth Carr (now Elizabeth Comeau), the first child conceived via IVF in America, is put off by the term “test tube baby” (rightfully so), but I take offense at the term “normal” from the headlines last week when she delivered her childFirst IVF Baby Delivers a Normal Baby Boy.  As if all children born via fertility treatments are abnormal.  Alien. A freak show.

If he’s not “normal,” then he’s natural.  He was conceived naturally as opposed to unnaturally.  Or as, NPR reports,

She answers the big question pretty quickly. Little Trevor was conceived the old-fashioned way — no test tubes or Petri dishes required.

The general public is curious whether someone created in a petri dish can produce an offspring unassisted, perhaps secretly (or not so secretly) believing that when you fiddle that much with Mother Nature, you create someone akin to a mule.  But it’s also the question echoing around in our hearts too: when we use fertility treatments to conceive, are we also risking passing along our infertility to our children?

There are other genes I’m not terribly eager to pass along to my kids — a risk for diseases and conditions that frankly suck — but my biggest fear, as a woman with high FSH, clotting factors, and a LPD, is that I will pass along these conditions to my daughter.  And it is not because it is a pain-in-the-ass to engage in assisted conception –that is the smallest part of the matter — but the emotions that accompany needing assisted conception.  I know that for some, they are simply amazed and grateful that this science exists and they can utilize it.  But I experienced a very different emotional landscape, and I’d rather my daughter never curl up on the bathroom floor and sob as her period begins.

As the first IVF generation comes of age and begins having children, I think we’re all watching with our collective breath held.  Will they need fertility treatments to conceive?  Will they also experience infertility?  Or is it simply a fluke of the individual, not something we necessarily pass along if we manage to circumvent the issue with treatments?

Elizabeth Comeau beat the media by releasing her own story via the Boston Globe.  Which strangely enough, despite her feelings about the term, still used the headline: “First Test Tube Baby Gives Birth.”

And just as we have fears that our children will also be infertile, repeat our horrible experiences, Comeau holds up her child as proof of her commonality with non-IVF children, taking the inverse of our moment when she states:

However, I had a normal conception and pregnancy despite my abnormal childhood. And early yesterday, my husband and I had a baby boy “the normal way,’’ proving (I hope) that I’m just like everyone else.

We want the same thing: to have our children be just like everyone else.  And they, in turn, want to be just like everyone else.  Our reasons may diverge — the mother who doesn’t want her daughter to experience the darkness she experienced in trying to conceive her vs. the daughter who simply wants to be viewed undifferentiated from a sea of children — but in the end, we stand on exactly the same ground, which, to me, is a chasm apart from why the general public follows this story.  It isn’t about the freak show, the abnormal child, the unnatural.

It’s about very real, very human emotions.

Do you ever wonder if your children will inherit your infertility, in the same way my children will probably get our terrible eye sight that we’ve circumvented with glasses?  Did it ever give you pause if you did (or are doing) fertility treatments, not knowing if in having a child, you would pass along the reason for your infertility?


1 Heather { 08.18.10 at 3:20 pm }

Yes, absolutely. PCOS is something that you can pass down and I am terrified that Katherine will have difficulties conceiving. I feel like we need to have three savings accounts: education, wedding, money so we can be grandparents (whether she opts for adoption or treatments – also, assuming she wants to have kids)…

I’d rather she got my HORRIBLE eyesight. Lasik is way cheaper.

2 Carrie { 08.18.10 at 3:56 pm }

I think about this a lot. I carry fragile x. While my children (hopefully) are not atr risk for expressing this disorder, they can inherit it from me and at a worse mutation level. I can only cross my fingers and hope that by that point in time, fertility treatments and genetic screening is so far beyond what it is today that they will have an easy time dealing with this.

3 Melody { 08.18.10 at 4:10 pm }

I’m planning to have my daughters eggs frozen as a high school graduation present. 🙂 I figure by then the procedure will have been perfected, and she won’t have to fret through her 30s and early 40s wondering if she still has time to have a baby.

4 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.18.10 at 4:15 pm }

I’ve written about this several times. Not knowing why we (or the others who came before us in the family) were infertile, I don’t know what I’m passing along, but I know it’s something. Even so, there are so many good genes that we’re giving them that I think they still win in the end.

5 Geochick { 08.18.10 at 4:20 pm }

Ow my head. I couldn’t get past the NPR quote before it exploded. I suppose it depends on the diagnosis. Given that my diagnosis is unexplained and I’m the only woman in my family to have fertility issues; if I ever conceive a baby I wouldn’t expect the chance of he or she having problems to be any higher than mine.

6 Kristin { 08.18.10 at 4:22 pm }

I have wondered about it…but, given that my issue wasn’t getting pregnant but staying pregnant, hopefully it won’t be something my boys have to worry about. At least, if they do suffer through infertility, they will have family that understands.

7 Blanche { 08.18.10 at 4:26 pm }

My mother had difficulty conceiving but was finally able to non-medicated. I had difficulty conceiving but was finally able to medicated, and I sincerely hope that the cycle does not extend to the third generation. On the other hand, my maternal grandmother got pregnant almost by my grandfather looking at her, so it probably started thanks to some chemicals or something in New Jersey where my mom was conceived and grew up.

Re Heather’s comment: my mother felt bad enough about any part her genetics may have played in our troubles that she kicked in some much appreciated $ towards treatments, so even though your comment about the three accounts may have been tongue-in-cheek, it’s not all that bad an idea.

8 amanda { 08.18.10 at 4:30 pm }

I worry about this a lot too. I have PCOS and was somewhat relieved when I found out we were having a boy. But my relief didn’t last long because he has a large hydrocele that will require surgery in a few months. I doubt that it will affect his fertility, but who knows? And what if the surgeon makes a mistake and causes a problem for him? Most days I try to pretend that I don’t know it’s there but then I change his diaper and am reminded of the reality and just pray that his only personal experiences with IF are limited to the story of his conception.

9 Dora { 08.18.10 at 4:31 pm }

Well, since my daughter is donor conceived with a fertile 23 year old’s eggs, no worries about passing on infertility. Although, as far as I know my IF is age related, except for the uterine polyp that went undetected for who knows how many years, so I feel similar to Melody. But I think I’ll wait for a college graduation present. By then they should be very good at egg freezing.

And OMG! the wording in all those articles!

10 Heather { 08.18.10 at 4:33 pm }

The closer, and I mean closer, my daughter gets to puberty—the more I am freaking out. What if she’s like me? What IF? What If she feels like I did…runs to get married and have a baby only to have her uterus removed. I’m scared to death. BUT, there’s nothing I can do about it. Not a damn thing.

11 CC { 08.18.10 at 4:39 pm }

We have MFI and our RE wanted us to have DH’s sperm tested to see if it was a chromosomal issue that could potentially be passed down to our sons. (If we ever have any) We declined. He is the only person in his family dealing with IF and while a chromosomal issue is likely, since there is no other explanation for his lack of good sperm, I can’t have one more stress laid on me. I want to believe that is just our lot in life. That this is just our trial. And if our children do someday suffer from IF, God forbid, hopefully the medical technology will be so far advanced that it will not be such a big deal or so taboo.

12 JessPond { 08.18.10 at 4:56 pm }

It does not worry me. Well…that’s not strictly true. I do think there’s a solid chance that many types of IF are hereditary (and many ARE, just plain and simple, we just happen to be undx) but my parents passed it to me and I sure as heck would rather BE HERE than not, you know?

Being like everyone else is overrated.

13 Searching for Serenity { 08.18.10 at 5:00 pm }

I’m ashamed to admit that this hasn’t crossed my mind. Probably in part to the fact that we were able to concieve natually (with the help of acupuncture for me and Clomid for him. That’s pretty darn close to the old-fashioned way for an infertile). Probably also in part to that fact that we had a boy. If he had been a she, I’m sure this thought would have crossed my mind by now. Then again, maybe not. Now I’ll be thinking about it.

14 jill { 08.18.10 at 5:04 pm }

It doesn’t worry me (maybe because I see myself actually having a child less and less each day) but I definitely have thought about it. Only slightly related: have you seen the movie Idiocracy? Yeah, I see that scenario every day.

15 luna { 08.18.10 at 5:13 pm }

well I don’t have to worry about this one anymore. sometimes it’s a relief that we won’t pass on our fertility issues or other awful diseases that run in our family to our child. (though I still worry about what her bio family could pass on… either way, I’m powerless on this one.)

16 Barely Sane { 08.18.10 at 5:49 pm }

Interestingly enough, Monkey Girl has been asking for a baby sister recently and seems so sure that despite the fact that mommy’s belly is broken, hers will hold a baby one day. While she is adopted, it still doesn’t mean she will escape the clutches of IF. And for me, it’s a HUGE fear that I hope never becomes her reality.

17 babyinterrupted { 08.18.10 at 5:52 pm }

I worry about so many other things that I haven’t even gotten to this yet. But, no, I suppose I won’t particularly obsess on this one. Endometriosis was my problem; hopefully by the time my child is ready to have kids (if this is a girl), there will be some better treatments.

Meanwhile, I’m just trying to focus on finishing up this pregnancy in healthy fashion! The next generation will have to wait…

18 Michele { 08.18.10 at 6:01 pm }

There have been ongoing studies about infertility being passed on, both by men with abnormal sperm counts passing on even-lower counts to their sons and by women with ovulatory disorders (among a slew of others) giving that legacy to their daughters. It is hard… You never know what batch of genes a child will have. My biological mother was VERY fertile; I am not. Will Maya be? I dont know… Some of Peter’s family struggled through IF; will Bobby? Who knows… But we wouldnt know regardless. It’s all a bag of what if’s…

19 Cathy { 08.18.10 at 6:10 pm }

I worry about it, for sure. Not so much with the chidren we have – boys can’t get endo. But if we were to have a girl someday. It’s less about the infertility aspect for me though, and more about how I have a particularly severe form of the disease and it compromises other organ systems. I’d not want to pass it along in any case, but if I did and the worst she ended up with was infertility, I’d probably count that as lucky.

20 Alex { 08.18.10 at 6:39 pm }

This is a given for us unfortunately. We are dealing with both male and female IF. DH has a microdeletion on his Y chromosome. His hormones are absolutely perfect but has severe MFI due to one stupid mistake on his chromosome.

This means our DS (who we miraculously conceived when we booked IF tests the first time around) and any other boys we may (hopefully_ have will be affected. I’m ever so glad we know about this since we can urge them not to wait to be treated.

My issues are mainly hormonal and my mother didn’t have any probs conceiving so I’m hopeful any daughters we may have wont have to worry about this but again we’ll urge then not to wait as long we did before getting treatment!

Interestingly both DH and his father were only children. It seems likely their fathers might have had this too!

21 Rach { 08.18.10 at 7:01 pm }

I have always said I would never go down the route of fertility assistance. If I can’t carry a baby to term, I do believe there is a reason for that [and in our case it’s a chromosome issue] and so it’s natures way of making sure we don’t produce a child with “issues” be it small or large. I don’t have an issue with people who DO choose to have fertility assistance but I know for our issues – for me it just wouldn’t seem right. We don’t have a problem getting knocked up it would seem [8 miscarriages so…] it’s just holding onto them.

Even if we were lucky/unlucky enough to get knocked up again and it turned out to be viable, I’d get every test under the sun to make sure everything was fine…..because who am I to take the law of nature into my hands and bring a child into this world who may have “issues” be it immediately or down the track?

As they say, having children is the most selfish thing you can do….

22 NotTheMama { 08.18.10 at 7:01 pm }

There’s a darn good chance that if we had a male bilogical child, he would have Klinefelter syndrome, too. It was something we thought about and mentioned, but wasn’t necessarily a deciding factor against treatment.

23 Nelly { 08.18.10 at 7:34 pm }

This is why I read your blog! I’ve never considered the implications of passing my fertility issues down to my (someday, fingers crossed) child. Interesting. I guess, I’m new at this whole thing so I better do my research!!

24 Aunt Misfit { 08.18.10 at 8:14 pm }

I am pretty sure that I inherited this from my parents and I will accept that my child will struggle, but will be armed with the knowledge that being 30 might be too late for “natural” babies. I do hate that term.

Ps. I read that your daughter would inherit LBT and I thought, wow, tattooing your kid, that some serious branding, or how can one be born with a lower back tattoo, anyhow? Thought you’d appreciate my misread.

25 Allison { 08.18.10 at 9:00 pm }

Yes, I’ve thought about this numerous times. Will I pass along endometriosis is I have a girl? I would hate that for my daughter…the physical and mental anguish it causes. It sucks. But, I think the thought of never having children scares me even more.

Thanks for posting, I didn’t see this. And, I too, hate these terms they throw around!!!!

26 mrs spock { 08.18.10 at 9:01 pm }

My infertility is unexplained, but my ovulatory issues worsened signficantly after the development of my latest autoimmune issue (CIDP or MS- the jury is still out). I suspect an autoimmune ovarian issue, but these things just aren’t understood yet. I hope to God my kids don’t get my autoimmune issues, and I hope if I have a daughter, her ovaries aren’t beset by her own immune system.

27 V { 08.18.10 at 9:04 pm }

Seriously, I have to suppress the urge to smack someone who gets on their high horse about ART. They’re usually up there with little to no knowledge about the process, nor do they have any empathy for those who are thrust onto that path. As for worrying about passing on my IF, I don’t really think about it. I’m unexplained so I don’t even have a reason. I suppose like everything else we’ll discuss it at some point.

28 neeroc { 08.18.10 at 9:15 pm }

Hmm, thanks for that point to ponder. My inability to conceive is based on external factors, so while I’ve now been officially designated as having re-occurring miscarriages, the thought of passing issues with conceiving had never occurred to me and I somehow tied non-assisted conception up with lesser chances of losing pregnancy. Giving it a moment’s thought though, my mother and grandmother both had multiple miscarriages (my sister has not) so it is entirely possible…

29 gingerandlime { 08.18.10 at 9:19 pm }

Yes, I definitely wonder if I’m going to pass down some whacked-out infertility gene to my hypothetical daughters. My mom had fertility issues, though not the same as mine. I have to wonder if there’s something in our genes that’s making our hormones and anatomy function incorrectly. If so I don’t want to pass it on to the next generation; but on the other hand my mom’s issues are so different from mine, it could just be a coincidence.

30 Chloe { 08.18.10 at 9:35 pm }

As someone with PCOS and a genetic hearing loss — which I will probably pass on to any kids I do have — I can say without ambivalence that the thought of passing on infertility problems doesn’t bother me. There are plenty of worse problems, genetic and not, that could strike, not to mention the fact that all of us IFers are trying to bring more people into a world that’s hurling towards climate catastrophe and various other crises of conflict and deprivation. But we’re doing it anyway, because despite everything we like being alive, right? At least I like my life, hearing impairment and infertility and all, and I expect my kids would feel the same.

All this talk about “naturally” conceived babies makes me want to break out my favorite college gender studies text, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, which talks about how our ideas about our bodies and naturalness are, when you look closer, bogus.

31 a { 08.18.10 at 10:26 pm }

A couple of classes in genetics will make you worry about every little thing you pass down to your children. My issues are simply autoimmune – I could pass them on, or my daughter could develop them on her own. I can only hope that she has no problems (which is an equally possible scenario).

32 PaleMother { 08.18.10 at 10:41 pm }

I do wonder about that. I guess because my issues were very treatable (still some mystery left in it all, but it ended well enough), I didn’t pause over that particular issue when considering IVF and the interventions that preceeded it. But it did occur to me many times that Reproductive Endocrinology probably ensures the growth of it’s customer base by helping people with these issues pass them on. Has anyone ever studied that? A rising trend of infertility in the populations with access to treatment?

I am second generation myself … I am an only child because of subfertility. Whatever issues I have are pretty treatable now (it’s not clear if my issues were inherited from my mother — she thinks not — or from my dad’s side. Certainly my outcome was better than hers … according to my grandmother, she wanted a large family but it was not to be. And she started out as a maternity nurse and spent many years as a childbirth educator, too, so she was all around what she couldn’t have – ug). I lived with an uncomfortable awareness of the pain of infertility from the youngest age … even though it wasn’t spoken about very much, you could cut the tension and shame around the subject with a knife. I lived in fear of IF before I was even a teenager myself … I grew up fatalistic about my own ability to have kids if and when I wanted them. It’s a great shock to me that my story ended up being so different from my mother’s. To her, too, I think. I’ve caught her beating herself up about it … mea culpa-ing about what “God” didn’t give her vs. what I have. Ouch. Personally I don’t think of these things in terms of divine retribution, or whatever she meant. It’s not divine anything, except that our challenges and how we meet them tend to define us and spirituality can be a part of that growth, that journey.

I hope that my daughter doesn’t inherit my issues, but at least if she does … I will be able to empower her (I hope) with some foresight about the potential pitfalls. In the same way that a family history serves your being proactive about other medical issues like cardiac problems and cancer, this will serve as well. Maybe it will give her some perspective when she thinks about whether to start a family sooner or later. Although it’s kind of a toss up on that count … since I had issues, but ultimately I was able to go on to have two of my kids pretty late in the game. My history could give her either a false sense of security or false urgency, depending on how you look at it. When you come down to it, family history is a very imperfect crystal ball.

For my family, it’s the psychological side effects of sub/infertility that have had more (negative) impact than the actual medical conditions themselves.

33 Bea { 08.19.10 at 12:01 am }

I think most people think about it, even though, logically, 12.5% of the population is awfully common for a heritable condition which prevents you from having children… leading to the conclusion that for a high proportion of those patients, it’s just “one of those things”.

Yeah, we paused. But for us, the odds were that everything would be ok a generation down. And if not, it’s hardly the greatest worry we have where our genes are concerned. I always smirk a bit when I hear somebody similtaneously claim that a) infertility is not a real disease, but more like a lifestyle decision or cosmetic problem and also b) it’s SUCH AN IMPORTANT CONDITION that the slightest chance of heritability should place a moral obligation on you to ensure your genes are not passed to the next generation.

Anyway. It is good to see these children are “normal”.


34 B { 08.19.10 at 2:49 am }

If I manage to have a kid that can live I have a high chance of passing on the condition I have (balanced translocation) – which is fine for most of life but makes a bad road when it comes to making babies.
It’s selfish. But when I look around me I don’t see anyone deciding to have kids for non-selfish reasons. That’s how it is when you have some degree of control over your reproduction. If you have a kid, it;s mostly cause you wanted to. I hope technology is a bit further ahead such that someone born around now would have a better chance of dealing with this road with less pain then I have. But some people with my condition choose not to have biologically related kids for this reason. I love my husband and want to have a living child with him as well as our daughter who died.

But it sucks.

35 mash { 08.19.10 at 3:51 am }

Her abnormal childhood? Did being conceived in a petri dish destroy her childhood?

My sister once told me that she learned in a genetics class that up to 25% (if not more) of pregnancies are miscarried, but most of them in the first two weeks so we think it’s just a period. That means that each woman is miscarrying a quarter of her embryos due to extreme genetic malfunctioning in her lifetime without even knowing it.

My concern is more for the state of the planet. I worry if my as yet unconceived children will ever reach the age of conceiving their own children with the mess we are leaving them!

36 Bea { 08.19.10 at 4:21 am }

Mash – I suspect it was the media attention over being the first IVF baby in a particular country that gave her the abnormal childhood.


37 Erica { 08.19.10 at 7:53 am }

I don’t know if I will every have a biological child, but my parents are completely dumbfounded that I have as many fertility issues as I do. We also have no proof that our MFI is anything more than a fluke. I hope that our nieces and future nieces/nephews do not have to experience for the reasons you stated. I guess my husband and I have started a trend that people around us are a little more aware or nervous that their ability to have a family may not be like the majority of the population.

38 serenity { 08.19.10 at 8:01 am }

THANK YOU. I had such a visceral reaction when she said she conceived “normally after her abnormal childhood.” Even if it WAS the media attention that made it abnormal, I HATED that she needed to say “we had children the normal way, just like everyone else.”

Well, except for 1 out of 7 couples that experience infertility.

I am still really ANGRY about her article. I hate the idea that she’s painted herself as an “abnormal” person because she was conceived via IVF. I hate that she is promoting the idea that IVF is unnatural. I hate it ALL, actually.

I’ll stop, though, because it’s going to turn into a vent.

J has hormonal issues which contribute to our male factor, so we did consider whether O might also be infertile in the future, but it’s such a crap shoot that it didn’t stop us from trying.

39 Gail K. { 08.19.10 at 8:38 am }

I am the first one in my family (on either side) to have IF issues and, if I ever conceive, I would hope that the IF genes skip the next generation like they did for the many generations before me.

40 Journeywoman { 08.19.10 at 10:28 am }

Since we’ve moved onto adoption, I worry that the environmental concerns of her birth country will cause her infertility. Should we finally get to adopt, I will hope and pray that she doesn’t become like me in this.

41 Kitty { 08.19.10 at 10:50 am }

Absolutely I’m afraid. Endo can be hereditary – my aunt has it, and I’m fairly sure my grandmother does too. It sounds terrible, but I sort of secretly hope for a boy if we do have a child.

42 Cherish { 08.19.10 at 2:33 pm }

My mother was insanely fertile, but my uterine septum could be the product of her not having the right nutrients while pregnant, I guess. My endo is mild, and the septum not something that is hereditary, so I’m hopeful my kids will be just fine. Of course….not pregnant yet after the lap and septum removal, so there may be more issues.

I think it’s more likely that my body isn’t healthy because of chemicals in our environment and poor eating choices, and I think that will only worsen as time continues. My mother has always been sensitive to things put into her body, and I am as well (currently avoiding flour and sugar). I worry that my kids will suffer from infertility based on that sensitivity.

43 Chickenpig { 08.19.10 at 5:13 pm }

I would take my son inheriting my husband’s infertility in a heartbeat* if it meant I could pass on the autism. He will always stand out in a crowd with a sign over his head “Not Normal”. We managed to have kids with our personal brand of infertility, but there isn’t any cure for autism on the horizon.

*although it is unlikely that my children will inherit infertility from us. We have male factor, which is most likely due to injury or infection. However, with the way my first born acts, he may take out his testicles with his crazy antics.

44 Courtney { 08.19.10 at 9:48 pm }

I definitely think about the possibility of passing down endo to my daughter (if I ever have one). But if she does have it, she can count on her parents for financial and prayer support. I’m just hoping that by then that there will be much more research about the disease.

45 Tara { 08.20.10 at 12:02 am }

Our reason for doing IVF was male factor – due to an undescended testicle (and the botched surgery to repair it). Obviously I have no fears of passing this on to my daughter who was concived via IVF. I do however worry about my son experiencing this, and he was (surprisingly) concieved “naturally”.

It makes me sad to think that anyone would think of a child concieved via IVF differently than any other child. Everyone is different and anyone could inherit any number of issues from their parents – regardless of the manner in which they are concieved.

46 Reba { 08.20.10 at 6:48 am }

I think about that all the time, whether I will pass on my infertility to my daughter. I imagine that I will. And if we have any living sons down the line, that hubby will pass on his infertility to him. But we were somehow able to conceive our living daughter “naturally,” so maybe that could happen for our children someday down the line, too. That thought comforts me. And brings up the question…should we warn her? Should we just tell her what happened with us, in as much of a nutshell as possible, and hope that she takes away from it that she could potentially have troubles too?

47 Bionic Baby Mama { 08.20.10 at 9:08 am }

Yes, in fact, if a child of mine is a girl, it seems practically a forgone conclusion — endometriosis is very, very common in my family.

However, it doesn’t bother me *that* much, because I inherited my infertility from my mother. (Clomid baby, right here.) And I don’t feel mad at her or anything (though I know she’s sad about it). I like being alive very much, thank you, and those were the options as I see them: extant and endo-ridden, or not here at all.

48 niobe { 08.20.10 at 10:23 am }

I worry about lots of things. But, luckily for me, this isn’t one of them.

49 Kir { 08.20.10 at 10:52 am }

yep sometimes I do,, but because they are boys, I worry less. I remember thinking (Once we knew they were boys) that it was one less thing, that no daughters meant me not beating myself up that I passed on some horrible IF thing.

but I also worry, that we may pass on a low sperm count…I do.

I guess what I hope is that they are attracted to fertile women…that sounds so blase and so wrong, but as a mom I just hope they don’t suffer with this and that their wives or sig others don’t either. No stress, sadness, failure..just hope, happiness and success.

50 Jess { 08.21.10 at 11:45 am }

Ugh, I hate when stories make it seem like ART babies are not natural. I do worry sometimes that my future children will be infertile- but also my friends or loved ones too. I’d never wish this pain upon anyone.

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