An interview with Miriam Zoll, author of 'Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies'
While an estimated 5 million babies have been born with the help of ART since 1978, millions more couples have experienced the failure of this still fragile science. Miriam Zoll, an American human rights activist, found herself whirling around on the IVF merry-go-round at the age of 42. She chronicles this time in her recent book, Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies. MercatorNet interviewed her by email about her experiences.
MercatorNet: Can you tell us how you came to write this book?
Miriam Zoll: I wrote Cracked Open because I wanted to make the invisible visible. I wanted to document the challenges many women face as they try to negotiate their rightful place in the world with their desires to become mothers, and to illuminate the role that reproductive medicine can often play in their decisions. Very few people are aware of the myriad women’s health, bioethical and human rights concerns associated with assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and their ramifications on society at large.92
Cracked Open began as a journal when my husband and I first entered into ART treatments in the United States. By that time I was 42 and we had tried unsuccessfully for several years to become pregnant naturally. Like millions of couples around the world who turn to fertility science for last minute miracles, we were both initially very optimistic about the power of reproductive technology to reverse my age-related infertility.
During our first meeting with the endocrinologist, we were told that our chances of having a baby through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) were very low, but our doctor also reminded us that it “only took one good egg to make a baby.” He explained that there were new techniques and drug protocols constantly being developed and that you never knew what could happen. In essence, he invited us to roll the dice with him––to gamble on hope––and we accepted his invitation. Hope is a very potent emotion for people facing a diagnosis of infertility.
I had faith in medicine, in part, because modern science had saved three members of my immediate family members from cancer––my sister twice, my father three times, and my mother once. In addition, since I was a child, the cultural and media messages about reproductive technologies like IVF solving all sorts of fertility challenges were overwhelmingly positive. In the States for the last three decades, the media has frequently covered fertility treatment success stories, including sensationalized cases like 53 year-old women birthing their grandchildren. I remember thinking to myself, “If they can help a grandmother get pregnant they can certainly help a 38 or 42 year-old woman get pregnant!”
I believe that the current trend among mostly middle-class educated professional women to delay childbearing has evolved, in part, from that kind of sensationalized media coverage about the technologies.
My journal turned into the first drafts of Cracked Open after our fourth IVF cycle failed. The doctor had prescribed a potent egg stimulating drug protocol for me, and he was confident it would generate a larger number of eggs. That month, perhaps for the first time in my life since I began menstruating at the age of eleven, my body produced no eggs at all. As I sat in my car in the clinic parking lot, I realized that the limitations of this young and fragile science were far greater than most people realized, myself included. That’s when I knew I needed to write Cracked Open.
MercatorNet: In retrospect, what are the main ethical quandaries that you see in the process of IVF?