Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Tyra Banks Show

I was so excited a couple weeks ago when I heard that the Tyra Banks show was doing an episode on Infertility. Now, I don't think I've ever seen the Tyra Banks show but I know that she has a strong presence in pop culture and I was excited to see someone breaking the silence in the public arena.

Then I read the prompt for the show:

Do you know a woman who is obsessed with becoming a mom? Have you seen and heard her struggle for years, felt her unvoiced jealously and seen her desperation first hand? Have you watched silently for too long as she gets her hopes up only to be disappointed and heartbroken when she can’t conceive? Has she tried extreme methods and spent a lot of money to get pregnant with no luck? Do you want to finally tell her she needs to stop the emotional and physical stress on her body and seriously consider adoption or a surrogate alternative? If you know a woman who is obsessed with becoming a mom and getting pregnant, then SUBMIT BELOW.

Please do not submit unless you are willing to appear on “The Tyra Banks Show".

I was so disappointed. Even the name of the URL is offensive. Mom Wannabe. Wow.

I sent the following letter to the show:

To Whom it May Concern:

I am very disappointed with your calloused treatment of infertility, as evidenced by the above description. It communicates a lack of knowledge, understanding and empathy for the plight of the millions of couples in this country alone who struggle with infertility.

Did you know that the stress infertility places on a family is akin to the stress experienced by cancer patients and their families? Do you know that the emotional process is similar to the grief experienced when a spouse dies? I think that if you did know these things, you'd never host a show designed to tell infertile women to "get over it."

Infertile people often struggle to find where they fit in this world. It's perfectly acceptable to be childless by choice, but for those of us who long for children, everywhere we look there are reminders of what we can't have. Disneyworld recently banned young children from one of its 98 restaurants. There was a public outcry that such a move was violating the "family friendly" goal of Walt Disney. In their ignorance, these people were essentially communicating that a "family" is strictly defined by having children. Subtle prejudices like this are prevalent throughout society. The American Dream is to have a house, a job and 2.4 children, right? One of the griefs of infertile people is finding where to fit when we lose our dream.

A show presented like yours will do nothing but harm and ostracize the infertile women watching. It's evident from Ms. Banks' public activism about body image, eating disorders and self esteem that she is passionate about the global community of women so I can only think that this problem has been created out of ignorance, not malice.

The suggestion that infertile people should "just adopt" is one of the most common and hurtful quips offered by well meaning people who don't know what else to say. Please allow me to share with you 6 key areas of loss experienced by infertile people:

1. Loss of control
2. Loss of individual genetic continuity
3. Loss of a jointly conceived child
4. Loss of the pregnancy and birth experiences
5. Loss of emotional gratification surrounding pregnancy and birth
6. Loss of an opportunity to nurture and parent a new generation

Adoption only fulfills one of those losses. For many, many couples, adoption brings a wonderful dynamic to their family. But for many others, adoption and surrogacy are not an option (for any number of reasons) and no amount of our fertile friends "finally [telling me I] need to stop the emotional and physical stress on [my] body and seriously consider adoption or a surrogate alternative" will change that.

Additionally, your presentation as worded perpetuates the myth that adoption is only for the infertile. Millions of abandoned or orphaned children around the world are in need of loving homes and the ability to provide that home has nothing to do with a couple's biological status. In truth, I could ask any stable family unit, "Why don't YOU just adopt?" and the question would be equally awkward. The decision to adopt is a very personal one with many facets, few of which have anything to do with fertility. Yet oddly enough, no one would ever think of asking a family with a couple of biological children why they don't adopt. Perpetuating the myth that adoption is a "substitute" for natural childbearing only hurts the cause of adoption.

Infertility is something that cannot be understood by anyone who hasn't been there. And believe me when I tell you that none of the infertile couples I know would wish this grief on anyone, so in a way, we are glad you (the fertile) don't understand. But I guarantee you that the response to a bunch of fertile people sitting up on stage preaching to their infertile friends to get over it will NOT be well received, and it will serve to ostracize further a huge community of people in this country who feel at odds with society already.

The decisions on what procedures to pursue and when in the treatment of infertility have emotional, physical, ethical and financial considerations and these considerations and decisions can only be made by the infertile couple with perhaps the input of a physician and religious leader (when bioethical concerns are present). It is not at all constructive for anyone outside those parameters, especially fertile onlookers, to try to dictate those decisions. My husband and I have a strong network of close friends whose input we may solicit. None of those people would ever think of dragging us on to national TV to tell us to "get over it." My guess is that anyone who would respond positively to your prompt IS an onlooker to the their infertile "friend" and has been left out of this loop in the infertile couple's life for a reason. I can't imagine any scenario in which someone close enough to an IF person to have input in to their journey would respond to your prompt because anyone close to this kind of situation to have seen the depths of grief would never be so insensitive.

I do applaud you for addressing the topic at all! Infertility makes the fertile world uncomfortable and so the response is often silence. However, I urge you to reframe your show in to one that is more compassionate and more useful to both the infertile people watching and their friends who are often at a loss as to how to understand their friends' heartaches.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Jennifer *****
I thought I'd post both the prompt and my letter in case anyone else was interested in contacting the show. If the show prompt was indeed written out of ignorance, we can hardly fault the writers if we do not help shed light on the situation. If you are so inspired, I'd encourage you to share your thoughts with the producers. You can contact the show here.

ETA: The show has apparently already been filmed. So I guess rather than asking them not to do it, urge them not to air it.

Hat Tip: Trish