WHY WE SHOULDN'T ASK CELEBRITIES ABOUT IVF
Elizabeth Davies challenges the findings of a recent study
‘Do you think you’ll have any more?’
This is a question put to me regularly and with an alarming casualness, as if the questioner is trying to gauge whether I might be tempted by a second helping of scrambled eggs at a hotel buffet. Alas, breakfast chat this is not. They want to know if I plan to have another baby. And the answer is: it’s none of their business. But the answer is also: I don’t know. I am trying to digest what I’ve already bitten off, so to speak, but I may get a second wind. The thing is, come my next birthday, I turn 35 and I shall officially be of Advanced Maternal Age. This means I probably need to make up my mind and get cracking, because fertility decreases with age. We all know that, don’t we?
‘Experts’ seem to think not. A team, from New York University School of Medicine and New York University Langone Medical Center, looked at whether 'popular media over-represents celebrity pregnancies at advanced reproductive ages and thus contributes to public misconceptions surrounding age-related fertility decline'. The authors write: 'Widely consumed popular media downplays the impact of age on fertility and glamorises pregnancy at advanced ages … with rare or no mention of Assisted Reproductive Technology, donor [eggs or sperm], or related health risks.' They added: 'This depiction perpetuates the general notion that fertility is flexible, and is highly damaging to young women.' Dr Richard Paulson, president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, said a 'reluctance to show the challenges that often go with trying to conceive at older ages is a form of misinformation'. Professor Tim Child, medical director of Oxford Fertility, said: ‘All these Hollywood magazines with these women in their 40s who are having twins. It’s completely unrealistic.’
I have a couple of problems with this.
First, I am not convinced that women do have a general notion that fertility is flexible. You have only to google the words ‘biological clock ticking’ to see how in-our-faces this issue is. There are a zillion popular media articles, helpfully advising us of the 4/9/10/29 signs (depending which article you click on) we can look out for to establish whether our biological clocks are ticking. One Daily Mail article warns that our fertility clocks actually start ticking at the age of 27. That article is from 2002 which, in case you’re in denial, was 15 years ago. Yup; we have been exposed to this stuff for quite some time.
Second, it is not clear to me whom the experts are criticising. Are they criticising the magazines? This seems a little unfair. Magazines surely cannot be required to quiz any celebrities aged north of 35 about their mode of conception before running a pregnancy or baby related article, or to issue a cautionary disclaimer with each report printed. Maybe the experts are criticising the celebrities themselves, for not being more open about their private lives, or for being selective about the parts of their private lives they are willing to be open about. But celebrity mothers are - despite their fame - just the same as ‘normal’ mothers, aren’t they? Perhaps they - like me when quizzed about whether I will ‘have any more’ - would rather not talk about such personal matters. Of course, it would be helpful if celebrities did feel open to discuss infertility: they have a platform and a reach which can educate, inform and chip away at stigma. But, ultimately, the notion that celebrities should be required to be transparent specifically in circumstances of age-related infertility makes me feel deeply uneasy. If we single out those women whose relationships, careers or other personal circumstances meant they did not pursue a first or subsequent pregnancy until they reach Advanced Maternal Age in the name of setting straight a supposed notion that fertility is flexible, I think we achieve very little other than to risk adding to the stigma that already surrounds fertility treatment.