Monday, August 1, 2016

Culling the litter...

Today's topic is bound to be controversial and may offend or upset some readers.  Discretion is advised.  I'm going to be writing about selective reductions in pregnancy.

Some time ago, I think maybe it was last year, I somehow got a private message from a woman who was married to an Army officer.  They were living in another town in Germany and they had a little daughter.  This woman and I had some things in common.  We'd both lived in South Carolina.  We both have master's degrees in public health.  We also had that military wife thing, though she was more able to use her education than I have been.  Her field is epidemiology and mine is administration.  She's also a blogger.

Anyway, this woman friended me on Facebook.  At first, I found her kind of forward.  She told me about how people gave her a lot of shit because she'd gotten pregnant by way of fertility treatments.  When she ended up pregnant with triplets, she opted to have two of the embryos she was carrying terminated.

Now, I happen to be a pretty staunchly pro-choice person.  I don't believe in forcing women to carry pregnancies they don't want to carry.  At the same time, I find the idea of abortion kind of sickening and doubt I would choose it for myself.  And, at this point in time, I doubt it will ever be a consideration for me.  I don't think I'll ever experience pregnancy.

When this woman was telling me about what she did, I didn't think too hard about it.  I figured it was her right to selectively reduce the embryos she was carrying.  I'm not sure she told me she'd been carrying three.  I thought maybe there were more.  

Recently, the woman moved back to the United States.  For some reason, she decided to unfriend me.  That's fine with me, since we don't actually know each other and her constant posts about her daughter were somewhat annoying.  She seemed to be very interested in promoting herself as a "brand" of some sort and I found that kind of off putting, like she was using Facebook friends for clout or something.

Then, for some reason, I decided to Google her name and, sure enough, found tons of links put out by her.  I also found a piece where she's mentioned in the New York Times, along with other women who decided to "selectively reduce" their multiple pregnancies.  She also gets a mention in a Catholic pro-life blog about the New York Times article.

Actually, I found the subject matter of the article kind of icky and macabre, but the part about this former Facebook friend was especially icky.  I don't think it was so much because she decided to terminate two embryos out of the three she was carrying.  It was more her attitude about it.  She had a very specific idea of what she wanted when she sought fertility treatment.  She wanted one baby, not twins or triplets.  So she sought medical assistance to eliminate the extraneous two embryos she didn't want.

I guess I couldn't help but wonder what she would have done if she'd conceived multiples naturally.  What if she'd gotten pregnant with twins or even triplets the old fashioned way?  It's certainly not unheard of.  Would she have still insisted on "only one"?  Would she have run to her doctor and said, "This is not an option for us!"  And which one of her naturally conceived fetuses would she have wanted waxed?

Before I "met" this lady on Facebook, I never knew anyone who'd had a selective reduction.  I can certainly understand why some prospective moms would want the option if they were carrying a whole litter of babies.  If you get IVF and end up pregnant with five or six embryos, there's a real risk to your health and those of the babies you're carrying.  I can see why a woman facing that situation would want to reduce the number of babies for the sake of health and safety.  But twins?  I think I have a harder time with that... although I still remain pro choice in that I think it should be a private decision up to the women involved and their health care providers.

I know people have all kinds of reasons to seeking out help for fertility issues.  I have several friends and a close relative who needed medical help getting pregnant.  I know at least one of my friends endured multiple miscarriages before she finally managed to carry a pregnancy to term with a single birth.  She went on to have twins a couple of years later.  She's a great mom.  I'm happy for her, her husband, and their three darling boys.  A fertility specialist gave them the family they wanted.

I've always found fertility treatments to be "too science project" for my tastes.  I never had any desire to seek them, even when it became clear Bill and I would not be able to conceive without help.  I guess I'm kind of a purist in that respect.  I don't think it's wrong for others to get fertility help, although that technology has definitely led to situations like this-- where a mother who has paid a medical professional for help getting pregnant is in the position of having a medical professional "cull the litter", so to speak.  It definitely complicates things from an ethical standpoint.

As for the woman who inspired this post, I have seen that she really dotes on the child she chose to have.  The child is very cute and seems sweet, but I can see that her mother spoils her a bit.  I kind of wonder if she dotes so much on her daughter because she knew there were two others that she chose to have killed.  Seriously, this kid is six years old and her mom treats her kind of like a bestie.  And while that may be fun for both of them, I think it can lead to trouble in the long run.  It's not a parent's job to be their child's friend.  But, even in saying this, I realize it's not my business.

Anyway, I wish her luck.  And I guess I'm kind of glad we're not "friends" anymore.



  1. Perhaps I'm out of line in saying this, but I don't think most of us are up to the task of raising only children and doing it well. Just from looking at the results among classmates, family members (there aren't many singletons among the members of MY family, but I do have a few cousins on my mom's side who seem to be deliberately heading in that direction), and my parents' friends, it's a whole lot harder to raise children who aren't overly entitled -- especially of adult attention but in other ways as well -- and who have age-appropriate social skills even as late as teens when you have only one child. I know it's been done well before, but based on my own sampling of acquaintances, it's about 3 to 1 against the parents with only one child. In addition to all the other reasons not to choose to have just one kid, I really think it's putting undue pressure on that child in many ways. There are, of course, people who didn't choose just one but had the number chosen for them in any one of a variety of ways. If that were to happen to me, I'd make the best of it. And having just one child is still better in most cases (in my opinion) than having a whole litter.

    If I ever need in vitro or other means of implantation to conceive, I'm probably less likely than average to be successful, because I'll choose a number of embryos that equals the number of babies I'm willing to try to carry to term. I'll have a greater chance of having none of them make it by doing it that way.

    The tough choice would be (and this is very infrequent in this day, though still possible; the Dionnes were around long before fertility drugs) if I were to conceive quints, sextuplets, or septuplets naturally. With the length of my midsection (I'm not all that short at 5'3", but I'm very long-legged with not much thorax and abdomen) there's probably no way even four babies would survive even to 22 weeks inside me. So what do you do, let them all die, or selectively reduce? I can control the likelihood of it ever happening by not taking fertility drugs or having a large number of implants. It's not a whole lot more common than Siamese twins once you eliminate those artificial factors.

    This is my own bias, and I shouldn't be so judgmental about it, but if I ever felt I had to make the choice of selective reduction, I would do it quietly. I wouldn't want to be the poster child for the technique. Going so public with it, in my opinion, anyway, is sort of an endorsement. It's never something I'd choose to endorse.

    And again I'm being judgmental, but it would seem to be one thing if one ended up (through drugs, I would hope, and not implantation) to selectively reduce when eight embryos were found in one's uterus versus three. I wonder, as you did, what would have happened had the woman conceived triplets naturally. And also, as you mentioned, how might she have chosen which embryos to terminate? That sort of thing could get very ugly very fast, especially as technology advances and more is known about unborn children at increasingly early gestational ages.

    1. Yeah... I really don't want to be judgmental, but I would be lying if I said this topic kind of turns my stomach. And I guess what turned me off about this former Facebook friend is that she was kind of like a cheerleader for the practice. I get that she's promoting choices for women, but it still seems really yucky to me.

      But I may just be old fashioned.


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