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Angelina Jolie and the Big What IF?

What if someone in the public eye stepped forward and wrote a brutally honest, calm, rational, no-apologies opinion article in the New York Times about infertility as Angelina Jolie just did for the BRCA1 gene?

What if they went through the statistics that play into decision-making so readers could see what the average person experiencing infertility needs to contend with when discussing options with their doctor?  Maybe they would see that it isn’t a problem with one-size-fits-all solutions that the average person can solve by throwing out a sentence that begins with “just” such as “just adopt!” or “just do IVF!”  Maybe readers would see that it’s a balancing act working with success rates, pain tolerance, schedules, and financial risks.

What if someone pointed out the discrepancies in society; how we’ve priced something life-saving or life-giving out of the range of the average person?

What if someone talked about the physical realities of treatments, neither exaggerating them nor diminishing them, but speaking them about them matter-of-factly because the physical side of treatments is a fact as real as the price tag.

Would it help people outside the experience understand it?

I think it would.

Jolie ends her piece with this: “Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”  She says this with a dose of realism, pointing out that while she still has a 5% breast cancer risk even with this surgery, it is less than what she had prior to this point, and she feels powerful for taking the control away from the statistic and doing something active to possibly change the course of her life.

Isn’t that what we all want?

Thank you, Ms. Jolie, for stepping forward and talking about the decision you made. It’s not the same one that everyone else will make, and those who reduce their comment to pointing out that they think you’re foolish or fantastic are missing the point.  Those, of course, are probably the same people who would leave a comment on a New York Times piece about infertility pointing out what they think the person should have done, as if the decision they would make is the best and only decision a person can make facing that situation.

Let’s ignore those people because they don’t seem to realize that personal decisions are personal — I’m glad you did what you needed to do to get through your challenge — but I’m grateful that even knowing how crappy the public can be, you didn’t hide it or pretend it didn’t happen. You used your challenge to educate. And there needs to be more people like you in the world who are willing to step forward and use their voice to speak out.


1 Katie { 05.14.13 at 9:44 am }

A-freakin-men, Mel.

2 Chickenpig { 05.14.13 at 10:12 am }

Didn’t Brooke Shields write a book about her struggle with IF and PPD? I know I saw her on TV talking openly about how long it took her to get pregnant. Not the same as writing an article for the NYT, though.

Cutting your boobs off because you might get cancer is a brave, although controversial choice. As you pointed out, it is a personal one.

3 Lollipop Goldstein { 05.14.13 at 10:14 am }

She did, though she wrote a book, meaning, people have to go seek it out and read it. She is preaching to the choir, not singing in the middle of an airplane where everyone is going to have to listen.

4 Pepper { 05.14.13 at 11:11 am }

Love this: “She is preaching to the choir, not singing in the middle of an airplane where everyone is going to have to listen.”

I feel like that’s the way I address IF in my life – preaching to the choir. I think we all need some more singing in the middle of an airplane.

5 a { 05.14.13 at 11:12 am }

I applaud Angelina Jolie for speaking out and making her choices very clear. It was a brave choice, if somewhat controversial.

I see where the difference lies between Jolie’s surgery and infertility – the success rate for her surgery sounds so much more appealing. Maybe when they improve the technology to an 82% success rate, IVF will no longer have such stigma…

6 Alexicographer { 05.14.13 at 11:54 am }


re: Shields, I believe her book has a 2006 copyright? I realize the internet had been invented (ditto the NYT), but assuming she wrote it a year or more before it was published, well, the internet then wasn’t the internet now …

7 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 05.14.13 at 12:21 pm }

I have seen that from several sources tonight.

The trouble I think is that people really view someone’s infertility as being more their (the onlooker’s) business. Whereas someone’s mastectomy is the patient’s business. You’ve heard the arguments and they don’t add up to me, either, but it does make it a different type of conversation. That said, any celebrity soul brave enough to go on record (Dixie Chicks anyone?) gets my approval, for all the reasons stated. It certainly does take more balls.

8 marwil { 05.14.13 at 12:33 pm }

This is powerful stuff. Very brave of her to share it with the public. My mother lost the battle to breast cancer, so it’s something I think about in different ways. Thanks for writing this and sharing the link to the article.

9 Tiara { 05.14.13 at 1:02 pm }

Well said!!

10 KeAnne { 05.14.13 at 1:14 pm }

I’m a fan of Angelina Jolie (Team Jolie here!), and her surgery and her op ed about it impress me so much. I think that that a similar piece about IF would be very helpful to the cause.

11 loribeth { 05.14.13 at 2:01 pm }

I’ve never been a big Angelina fan, but I am glad she has spoken out like this. And kudos to you, Mel, for making the IF connection. What if, indeed…??

12 Cristy { 05.14.13 at 2:25 pm }

I completely agree with you Mel. Unfortunately, talking about cancer and infertility are still treated very differently. I’ve been to ACS meetings where survivors are given standing ovations for sharing their stories. I’ve watched my husband stand in front of packed rooms, sharing his work with people who openly ask what exactly we need to do to over come this disease; to find a cure. It’s moving and it makes me appreciate how open and active the ACS is.

Unfortunately, though, we don’t see this with infertility. The few times we’ve openly talked about the link between infertility and cancer (chemotherapy reeks havoc on one’s ability to reproduce), the tone in the room changes. People get uncomfortable and are fast to change the subject. By no means does it mean that one topic is any more or less important than the other, but the conversation for one is easier because the stigma has been removed.

Though I commend Angelina Jolie for writing a clear and informative op-ed piece, I think her doing so was easier than if she had written about her IVF experience. And though I hope for a day when I’ll see such an article, I also know that we have one hell of an uphill battle before we’ll get there.

13 It Is What It Is { 05.14.13 at 3:06 pm }

I am not a fan of Angelina’s but commend her for her willingness to share her experience and decision making as I did find her piece balanced and informative and because she wrote it it will draw more readers than, say, at TIME piece on the same subject.

I used to be in the ‘why don’t more celebrities come forward with their infertility stories’ but because treatment involves other people (ones significant other and any children one may have), I now understand it is a more private matter for some. Children deserve to know their origins first before the general public when possible. Now, that doesn’t hold up with adoption and I suppose that can’t be avoided, but I always bristle at the way the media prefaces their references, “Tom Cruise’s adopted children”, “Sandra Bullock’s adopted son”. I mean, shouldn’t we also say, “So & So’s missionary position conceived daughter?” It’s just ludicrous it its differentiation.

I don’t know, as an adult adoptee married to an adult adoptee with both an OE son and now a donated embryo son, it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference how they came to be part of our family to us but it sure seems to to others and I’ve always wondered why that is.

And I think that’s is part of the stigma of infertility. Meaning, I don’t feel a stigma, I am open about my infertility, but I am also open about a lot of facets of my life. Other than for curiosity’s sake, I’m not sure why it matters to anyone. If it opens the door to a discussion about infertility or to a referral for treatment, that is great, but that just isn’t often the case.

Rambling, but bravo Angelina!

14 Kathy { 05.14.13 at 5:50 pm }

I was surprised to wake up to this story this morning, knowing today’s-this month’s Time Warp Tuesday topic is cancer. As others have said, I appreciate Angelina writing/sharing this Op-Ed and your point about how helpful it is when people are willing to use their challenges to educate, whether they are celebrities or regular women and men being open and honest about their journeys on their blogs, Facebook, etc.

15 Geochick { 05.14.13 at 10:21 pm }

Yup, yup yup. People do not understand personal decisions. I like to see celebrities putting themselves out there whether it’s infertility or cancer, or whatever. Granted, most of the time, they are manipulating the timing and maybe even the message, but at least they are coming forward.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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