Eggs From a Different Perspective

Posted by Osagie Obasogie May 17, 2012
Biopolitical Times

The New York Times’ Sunday article on egg freezing brought the contentious issue of eggs and infertility back into the spotlight. The article reflects what has become a standard media narrative on reproductive choices using new technologies, where the conversation centers on the beliefs, emotions, and experiences of relatively well off professional white women. While this perspective is often held out as "normal" or "typical," women and families of diverse backgrounds might have different experiences and thoughts not reflected in these conventional accounts.

An example of this can be seen on the Steve Harvey Morning Show, a syndicated program featured on urban radio stations during the morning commute that caters to a distinctly Black audience. In a recent edition of “Strawberry Letters,” in which Harvey and his co-hosts respond to listeners’ questions with advice, the  discussion centered on the following letter with the subject line “Eggs – They’re Not Just For Breakfast Anymore.”

My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 happy years now. About 5 years ago, when I was still single, it was revealed to me that a very close girlfriend of mine was given news that she would not be able to have kids. In an effort to better console her, I wanted to learn about troubles with fertilization and other avenues for her to pursue.

I learned that locally there is a fertilization clinic that I am able to donate my eggs. Although this wouldn't help my friend directly, I thought it would be meaningful to offer my eggs to other women facing troubles conceiving. I went through many tests (genetic, physical, psychiatric, etc) in order to qualify as a donor. Once that was done, all I had to do is wait until the doctors matched me with a couple. They warned me that this could take years. Finally, I get the call that I have been matched with a couple. Given my diverse ethnic background, I assumed it was just not going to happen, but it did!

Here is my dilemma: In order for the doctors to harvest my eggs to give to the couple, I must take many different fertilization drugs, including daily injections and many other oral supplements beforehand. Also, the process of extracting the eggs is slightly invasive and there IS a possibility of this [a]ffecting MY fertilization in the future. Not only that, but there is not enough concrete scientific history behind the fertilization drugs (since they've only been around for 30 years) to ensure those won't also affect my own ability to conceive in the future.

Before meeting my current boyfriend, none of these things really mattered. All I knew was that I wanted to help and I wasn't even sure that I wanted to have kids. But now, being in this relationship, I am very torn as to what to do. My boyfriend and I are, what we call, "pre-engaged" and definitely want to have children in the future. He doesn't want me to go through with this procedure because of the risks involved. And although I'm concerned about those same risks, and although I'm not contractually bound to donate, by becoming a donor in this program 5 years ago, I have essentially given my word and I don't want to let this couple down.  . . . [W]hat do I do?

This letter stands out in contrast to most mainstream discussions regarding eggs and infertility for many reasons. What’s most striking is the extent to which the risks regarding egg extraction and the lack of scientific evidence are at the center of the conversation, both in terms of the letter and the response it received on-air and in online comments.

Black women are not the only folks concerned with egg extraction and the lack of data regarding its long-term effects. But perhaps the skepticism and hesitancy expressed by Harvey and his audience is related to Blacks’ general suspicion of medicine due to the long history of what Harriet Washington calls “Medical Apartheid.” As she documents, Blacks and other minorities have disproportionately endured brutal treatment by doctors and researchers in the name of science.

The scope and tenor of the exchange on the Steve Harvey Morning Show draws attention to the need for greater diversity in other conversations about new reproductive and genetic technologies. It is irresponsible to suggest, as the New York Times article does, that women of one racial or class background with the wealth – both personal and familial – to use reproductive technologies in pursuit of delayed fertility can stand in for the experiences of all women and families.