Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Line in the Sand

This week’s Reply All is about John R. Brinkley, American trickster who treated infertility using goat testicles.

I’m only halfway through, but I’m going to start it over this afternoon so the twins can listen to it, too.  There is a twist about twenty minutes into the episode where I internally said, “Oh… this is why you’re telling this story.  Clever.”  It has nothing to do with infertility.  I’m fairly certain you’ll arrive to the same thought at the same time (if not sooner).

Anyway, back to infertility: one of his first treatments was surgically opening the person and tossing in a goat testicle.  The person was sewn up and went on their way.  If they were successful in having a child, they considered their infertility “cured.”  Remember, the number of people who conceive after being diagnosed as infertile but continue trying to add to their family without intervention is about 8%.*  If they weren’t successful in having a child, they generally didn’t talk about it ever again due to the stigma of infertility.

Hence why you heard the success stories but never heard the opposite.  Sound familiar?

Anyway, I was listening to this episode and thinking to myself that I would never allow someone to throw a goat testicle into my body.  And then it occurred to me, as I made my way home, that goat testicle inclusion is EXACTLY what I was willing to do.

Okay, not literal goat testicles (though, to be fair, I have zero clue how one goes about making Follistim), but the equivalent to goat testicles.  The people treated by Brinkley (almost exactly 100 years ago in 1918), were last-century versions of myself; willing to do anything in order to build their family.  When I take a step back and think about where I would place my line in the sand, it was well beyond anything I would do to my body.  The line was only drawn around the child.  I wasn’t willing to harm the child — physically or emotionally — but if you had told me that tossing a goat testicle into my body would work… well… I would have probably opted for the goat testicle.

It is interesting to think about what stories the podcasts of the future will tell about us a hundred years from now (provided that we still have podcasts and are not, in fact, extinct).  Will humans 100 years into the future think we were bizarre?  Our doctors barbaric?  Will they understand that we operated within limitations of knowledge?  That we made the best decisions with the options presented to us?

The side note, of course, is to not judge others for their choices.  Until we have walked in their actual shoes (and spoiler alert: we can’t), understood the actual options at their disposal, we can’t know what sort of decision we would make except thinking we know where we’d draw our line in the sand.

* I covered this in Navigating the Land of If on page 95: “The number of those who conceive after adoption is the exact same as the number of those who are infertile and conceive without treatments after not adopting: around 8 percent.”  In other words, if you continue to have unprotected, well-timed sex, you have an 8% chance of getting pregnant.  Of course, some people will never get pregnant because they have no ovaries or uterus, and some people will get pregnant because their problem wasn’t really infertility (despite the diagnosis) but more poor timing.  But this percentage applies to children conceived after adoption, children conceived spontaneously after a person has stopped trying, and children conceived after a goat’s testicle has been tossed into their mother’s body.


1 Cristy { 01.25.17 at 8:41 am }

Yup, I also would have done the goat testicle inclusion. In a way, I did. I did medicated IUIs and 4 rounds of IVF. Granted I had an advantage of understanding the mechanics behind what I was doing to my body, but the line in the sand wasn’t drawn due to what I was physically putting myself through. In a way, it’s a bit scary. But it’s also part of the rabbit hole.

I do wonder what will be said about modern medicine in the future. Right now it’s very ailment focused, not holistic. But the other part is we really don’t understand a lot of what is happening with people. We’re just beginning to understand how our environment impacts us (the human microbiome ans linking our guts with mental health being great examples of this). So I too wonder. Will they look back on us and shake their heads about all the signs we were missing of an unhealthy society?

2 nicoleandmaggie { 01.25.17 at 9:26 am }

Yeah, I probably would have done it eventually as well. Hard to say. I sure did a lot of stuff I read on the internet, most of it harmless, in addition to whatever the reproductive endocrinologist office said to do. (Though I may have lost a tooth to apple cider vinegar.) It’s hard to say.

3 Beth { 01.25.17 at 4:36 pm }

I would have definitely done it. I know I would have done almost anything. The one factor that stopped us from pursuing IVF a second time was not the significant potential risks to my body and my health. I was ready to brush those away. It was the risk to my child that existed and the family we had built for her (which would certainly be blown up if something happened to me or her in utero siblings) combined with the significant risk to the potential children we would be conceiving. So basically the only thing that stopped me from trying absolutely everything was my children, not any risks to myself. I’m not proud of the fact that I was so willing to cast my own health aside but I’m relieved that it never came to any real danger. And now we have our second child through adoption and I can’t imagine it any other way.

4 em { 01.25.17 at 5:24 pm }

They will think we were terrible primitive, those future people. Assuming science is allowed to continue on its current trajectory. If something happens to sideline it, then we may be baffling complex to them, such as us trying to figure out how pyramids or stonehenge was built.

5 torthúil { 01.25.17 at 6:12 pm }

Interesting. I think I would have done the goat’s testicle before having the one/first child (during primary infertility). Now, I think maybe not, although we are trying to have a second child. I’m not entirely sure why not. I don’t fully understand myself what has changed.

6 Lisa { 01.25.17 at 11:00 pm }

Pro goat testicle. I think my line was more number of cycles than what the treatments actually involved. It was easier for me to get through anything if I had a limit on the number of times I’d have to face it.

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.26.17 at 5:02 pm }

When I tried to answer this, I found it so hard to take myself back to the time and sit with what I would or wouldn’t do. Ha. I thought I was over it.

8 katherinea12 { 01.26.17 at 9:59 pm }

There is zero doubt in my mind that if I had seen reasonable evidence that it might help, I would have done it (although thinking about it from a 2017 perspective, I’m wincing as I wonder how many of those patients got an infection – and in a time prior to the discovery/widespread use of antibiotics. Gah.). That being said, there were interventions being trumpeted as IVF/infertility/PCOS adjuncts in various quarters that I chose to disregard. I didn’t go gluten-free, for example (though I did alter my diet significantly and if we’d wound up going through one more round of IVF, I suspect I would have tried it in the name of ‘trying everything’).

Goat testicle and dietary changes aside, however, I did have a personal line in the sand regarding the maximum number of fresh IVF cycles I was willing to undergo. So I guess I did have some boundaries I was pretty firm on despite everything…

9 Amanda { 01.26.17 at 11:01 pm }

Goat Testicles. Amazing.
I just…huh. I don’t know if I would have then, but yeah at some point we do all have our own Goat Testicle story.

10 Stephanie (Travelcraft Journal) { 01.27.17 at 12:10 am }

Wow. I keep hearing about Reply All but haven’t quite gotten it into my regular podcast rotation yet. I’ll have to check that one out.

I definitely had a moment a few years back after what seemed like 100 BFNs (and an equal number of other people’s pregnancy announcements) that I suddenly got why ancient peoples had so many symbols and crazy rituals around fertility. When NOTHING you’re trying is working, throwing something into a volcano starts to seem like a good idea.

11 Kacey { 01.27.17 at 12:51 am }

I’d do it right now today. Sign me up. (I’m pretty sure The Dollop did this story too, btw, but they’re less kid friendly)

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author