Fertility Clinics Draw New Scrutiny
Fertility clinics have operated with impunity for 40 years. New reporting, though, raises issues about their business motives and commitment to patient well-being.
If you’d asked me 12 years ago, will the headline “Fertility Clinics Under Fire” ever run on the cover of an international women’s magazine, my answer would likely have been: What, Why?
I was new, then, and actively grieving my IVF ‘alpha pregnancy’ losses. Wobbly, I didn’t know how exactly to let go of a long-held dream of creating a child with the man I loved most. I was hardly in a position to think about the motives of increasingly entrepreneurial fertility clinics.
My battered heart cried out for compassion and answers. Fertility clinics, I realized, wanted only obedient supplicants with ready access to cash. Abandoned and ignored, my once rose-colored view of fertility clinics changed. What they sold versus what they delivered took on new shades of gray.
Anyone Else Out There?
I took a fresh look at the trauma inflicted by fertility clinics eager to sell another cycle.
On my best days, I had the presence of mind to analyze the direct mail pieces fertility clinics sent to my mailbox. I clipped ads with seductive headlines: Are you ready to create your family? I looked with newfound curiosity on the billboards of swaddled babies surfacing along the highway.
My blog chronicled my move away from IVF. My posts reached around the world. As my readership grew, women came forward with their own tales of how fertility clinics prioritized profit and ‘throughput’ over patient care.
More time passed. My sorrowful fog began to lift.
Face to Face with Pharma Sales Rep
Eight years ago, in what ranks as one of the weirdest nights of my life, I came face to face with a pharmaceutical rep who sold mega amounts of powerful hormones to fertility clinics. He positively crowed with delight about how he beat his sales quotas each month as more and more women turned to fertility clinics.
This toad of a man sat next to my husband at an awards dinner. Aghast, my husband turned away in disgust when he heard the sales rep boast that his northeast region was full of affluent couples, which meant he could “sell lots of cycles.”
The rep soon learned I was there to receive an award for my book, Silent Sorority, about life in the wake of failed IVF. It was a ‘people’s choice’ selection. As I looked around at the mostly industry audience, I wondered if his customers or anyone on the sponsor-recruiting committee had actually read it.
So, what if you’d asked me in 2010 about that magazine headline? My jaded reaction would have been: Doubtful. Fertility clinics and fertility drug advertising budgets are too rich to risk alienating.
Then, five years ago, the tide turned. Miriam Zoll and I wrote a blistering op-ed published in The New York Times. It highlighted the questionable methods fertility clinics employ to recruit new customers. It was the first of several pieces to call attention to IVF failure rates. We also participated in a first-of-its-kind forum to discuss how fertility clinics and society at large stigmatized couples who don’t succeed with IVF.
The objective of our forum in New York City was to tackle and take down taboos, to demand better patient care, and to call attention to the lack of language, etiquette and support for those grieving IVF losses.
As a result, it seemed we might actually see more critical stories and less saccharine reporting on the industry. Those articles are few and far between. I know. I have hundreds of story pitches to magazine and newspaper editors that went unanswered or declined.
Fertility Clinics Under Fire
Nearly two years ago, a Marie Claire editor reached out to me. She once worked at FORTUNE and published a cautionary piece I wrote about how fertility clinics hawked egg freezing as empowerment.
She asked me to work with her team to research and report on women’s experiences with IVF. On and off for 22 months I interviewed former patients and experts in medicine, bioethics, cancer research and mental health. My original piece was more than 3,000 words and left little doubt that reproductive medicine is in need of significant reform. The piece overall, however, was deemed too heavy and too critical of the industry.
A much smaller version of my original reporting, “The Wild World of IVF, Explained,” ended up in a package of stories. It is now live on Marie Claire‘s website. I am grateful to Sarah Chamberlin for her willingness to stick with me these past 22 months. (She is a featured contributor in the latest ReproTechTruths post.)
In short, there’s been progress. However, there’s still a desire amid mainstream media (and the Marie Claire editorial team) to accentuate the positive. You can imagine my horror when I saw my piece contained in a package of stories with a wrapper called “How to Have a Baby.”
That said, if there’s reader interest, I’ll be happy to share the reporting that ended up on the cutting room floor. There were many brave women who, like Sarah, shared their stories with me. I believe they deserve to be heard. Thoughts?