Hardcover, I tell you. Full price!
Dear Liza Mundy,
I am a fan. Let me tell you how big a fan I am: I bought your book in hardcover. I think it's fantastic — provocative but not gratuitously so, balanced, well researched, and humane. It's rare to find journalism that raises the essential questions of the ethics of ART without pissing me right off, but in Everything Conceivable you did it beautifully, nimbly avoiding sensationalism and finger-wagging and settling instead on a neutral-to-positive observational tone that recognizes what's at stake for those of us who face those questions on a very personal level.
I'm also a habitual reader of your columns, emitting a gusty sigh of relief every time I see that Slate, in its coverage of reproductive issues, has showcased your thoughtful approach rather than devoting precious, precious pixels to William Saletan (whose full name in this house is pronounced I Fucking Hate William Saletan).
So now that we have my iron-clad fangirl cred out of the way, can I just ask what the hell you were thinking?
I read with interest your column in Sunday's Washington Post magazine. That is a fancy way of saying "read while trying to keep my eyes from rolling back crazily in my head." See, I agree passionately with the central point you make, that insurance coverage for fertility treatment would reduce the incidence of high-order multiples. I just wish you hadn't pegged that argument to Jon and Kate goddamn Gosselin.
Maybe you know this, but maybe you don't, so I'll be blunt: Lots of infertile people loathe the Gosselins. Oh, sure, we can identify with them to a degree; most of us have had to let financial considerations affect our reproductive decisionmaking in one way or another. Plenty of us have had to decide whether to proceed with a cycle that could have resulted in a multiple pregnancy, and understand the dilemma they faced at the time. And although many of us can't relate to their decision to continue their HOM pregnancy, many can, and even applaud them for doing so.
It's everything after, Liza! The demands that the state of Pennsylvania extend Medicaid nursing care to their sextuplets — at the time a year old and healthy — because "society has a responsibility to help with the children, since modern medicine promotes the use of fertility drugs, which can lead to multiple births." The soliciting of donations and what some feel has been a marked lack of graciousness when given gifts. The acceptance of trips, a house, and cosmetic surgical procedures — Hair plugs? Awesome. — as if it were all no more than their due. And lest we forget, there's the little matter of the shameful and continuing exploitation of their children. (Oh, yes, I, mommyblogger, did go there.)
My point is that it made me cringe to see you hold the Gosselins up as an example, even as an example of ART gone awry. They're a lightning rod both within the ART community and outside it, and I would be sorry to see your cogent argument get lost amid people's feelings about them. You know — I know you know — that there are far, far more...well, normal people contending with the same basic question the Gosselins faced: What's to be done when the most medically appropriate treatment is out of our financial reach? And even though the family's travails serve as a useful and timely peg, I wish you hadn't hung your otherwise great reporting on it.
It is, as I know you appreciate, a big damn uphill battle, this insurance coverage thing. I witnessed that firsthand last week, as part of RESOLVE's Advocacy Day. I was a volunteer meeting with legislators — okay, fine, legislators' aides — asking them to support the Family Building Act, to require that any insurance plan that offers obstetrical benefits also offer infertility coverage. I did my very best "to make the long-term benefits clear: fewer high-order multiples, healthier children, less exhausted parents." Only I left out the part about less exhausted parents, because I think that part of the argument is way weak. And I added my own flourish about ending up with more pocket cash for my own set of hair plugs.
Kidding. Kidding! It's the tummy tuck I'm saving for.
Anyway, one of the most basic principles of persuasion is that you don't introduce a negative. If you are, for example, asking a polite but uninterested 22-year-old with a purple ball-point pen to convince her boss, a ranking member of the Senate Health and Education Committee, to support the Family Building Act, you don't mention Nadya Suleman unless she does. (If she does, you create a disturbance — "Look! Over yonder! I think I might see an anthrax spore!" — and run.) It clouds the issue and invites objections. And God and ART patients know there are already enough of those.
So I guess what I'm saying is that I hope, in future, you won't introduce your own negative, diluting your message, which is a powerful one, with trivia. I mean, come on: "Would better insurance have saved their marriage?" Does anyone really care?
Don't get me wrong. I still think you're pretty thoroughly excellent, and I appreciate your work more than I can say. I think it can stand on its own, and it deserves to, without the silly trappings.
And I am not being sarcastic,
P.S. Wait a minute. I am reconsidering. If invoking Jon and Kate gave you the leeway to be informal, using phrases like "doctors often stuffed lots of embryos into a woman's uterus," you know what? I approve. Carry on, Liza. Carry on.