Saturday, October 18, 2008

Socially infertile and very, very vulnerable

"Socially infertile".

That’s the latest phrase to call a growing number of women in our society. Single or gay, we are the ones that got missed in the tsunami of heterosexual coupling. While the term is still too contemporary to have it’s own wiki yet, some more enterprising Assisted Reproduction Technology companies have identified a lucrative niche market to exploit or offer hope to. Depending on how you read it.

According to today’s Age report, for $3,000 plus ongoing storage costs, a woman can have eggs harvested and stored til she finds “Mr Right”.

The piece is quick to point out that the procedure is experimental. Although young women undergoing cancer treatment have had access to the technology for some time with very limited success. The problem is due to the fragility of the ‘shell’ of the ova, 98% are unviable on thawing. This differs from current IVF statistics, which uses ova that have then been successfully fertilized and frozen after a few days of cell division.

But without “Mr Right” there is no semen to fertilize the eggs of the future dream child and this is the problem in the first place.

So, considering the odds of the eggs jumping the first hurdle let alone the next step of fertilization with “Mr Right’s” seed, are the two clinics in Australia offering these services to single women saviours or exploiters? The director of the Queensland clinic bandied more hopeful statistics for women up to 37, however there appears to be no peer reviewed published research to back this up. Overwhelmingly the current research negates the clinic’s optimistic statistics.

Perhaps this was what offered hope to the woman featured in the article to go through with “one of the more harrowing experiences of her life’, when she was 36. Some would find the ethics of that transaction highly questionable.

I found the article disturbing on so many levels. Beyond the exploitation of barren women for commercial means and the increasing medicalisation of fertility, the persistence of the myth of finding “Mr Right” troubles me.

Does the soulmate phenomena help our hinder our search for a partner? In a similar vein the Sunday Age last week ran a cover story on it’s colour supplement about single, financially independent women in their 40’s. The take home message is that after the rush of the late 30’s settling for “Mr He’ll Do”, at the biological cut off age for maternity, these women could afford to be fussy while they hung out for “the one” to appear. A contemporary take on the fairy tale of the tall, handsome man bounding up on his white charger to sweep us off our feet. A modern day Mr Darcy, oozing wet shirt sexiness, a sizable asset portfolio and stunning wit. Pre-made children an optional extra.

Once more women are portrayed as being incomplete without a man. We are left in some kind of holding pattern while we wait for our soulmate to recognize us in a crowded room one day and save us from our singleness.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the soulmate theory. Maybe that is just a symptom of middle aged cynicism. Perhaps we have many perfect partners, or none at all. There have been many ‘right’ people at the ‘wrong’ time in my life. I’m aware now that we can’t put them aside for a rainy day and access them at will later on, only accept the situation for what it is at the time and make a choice to stay or leave.

But I wonder if the mythology of “Mr Right” hobbles our search for a partner or liberates it. I salute women who choose being single over a relationship that doesn’t meet their needs but does perfection exist, especially when none of us are perfect in the first place?

And do we really need a relationship to feel complete. What’s more is a relationship the consolation prize for not having our own children?

But back to todays article with the beautiful, single woman pictured in the romantic cliché of walking on the beach. While frozen ova may be a possible fertility option for a meager handful of women who access the technology before their mid-30’s, her odds are extremely slim. ART could offer her an option in the here in now with donor sperm and fresh eggs, plus a lot of medical intervention. But waiting for the picket fence and perfect man to complete the picture changes the odds entirely.

1 comment:

Ken said...

There is no such thing as Mr. Right. Nor is there a Mr. Right Life.

It's all a gamble, so we might as well gamble consistent with our conscience, interests, and sense of humor.

I thought about freezing my head until I got this "life"-thing all figured out.

I thought twice about it, however, and decided to take my chances in the warm air.