Thursday, December 04, 2008

Of course I read that article

In last Sunday's New York Times magazine, Alex Kuczynski writes about her efforts to have a baby (which included 12 rounds of IVF and finally a gestational surrogate (a woman who was pregnant with the fetus created by Alex's egg and her husband's sperm).

I so wanted to be right there every moment with this story, and for the most part I appreciated the author's candor about her struggles and doubts. A couple of things bugged me about the piece. Since I figure that at least a few of you might share my interest in the piece, I thought I'd write about it.

Several of the photographs in the essay really bugged me. For someone who describes herself as so much wanting to experience parenting, you'd think Kuczynski would have noticed that the picture of her with her child and "baby nurse" might undermine the reader's sense that she is in this whole hog. I admit that if I was rich enough to have a home in New York City, plus others in Southhampton and Idaho, I might have a little live in help too. But maybe including in the picture a uniformed woman standing at attention a few paces from mother and baby was not the wisest choice on the author's part.

This photograph especially disturbed me when I read the part of the article in which Kuczynski complains that people joked with her that by having a surrogate she was skipping out on the hard part of parenting. This leads Kuczynski to worry that she is somehow less of a mother, that she is missing some elemental experience. My first reaction was viceral - as challenging as it can be, labor is NOT the hard part of becoming a parent. Parenting is the hard part. But then the picture flashed before me, and I thought maybe it isn't the hard part if you are surrounded by help all the time.

And the cover photo? Even going into the article with a good faith effort to like the author, just looking at the picture creeped me a out a bit. Kuczynski writes about how wonderful her surrogate is, how warm and thoughtful (the surrogate brought Kuczynski a gift when the former went into labor!). But in the picture Kuczynski looks anything but connected to the woman. I could not help but wonder what the author was thinking when she okayed that cold and creepy picture. I suppose it is possible that she did not take part in this editorial decision, but given her stature in the profession, you'd think she'd get a little say about it.

I feel a little weird that my complaints about the article are actually complaints about the pictures that accompany it. Talking to my mother, her response was a little different. She didn't like the pictures either, but she also did not like the author. She was annoyed by how self-absorbed Kuczynski appeared. Somehow this bothered me less, maybe because as a blogger self-absorption is my bread and butter. But  blogging aside, I could relate to how all-consuming the desire to become a parent and the stress associated with being repeatedly thwarted.

I should cut Kuczynski a little slack, I suppose. I do appreciate how open she was about what she went through. I don't think she is a hero, but I am sympathetic to her five years of infertility hell. In any case, it is an interesting read for anyone interested in this small but growing corner of the assisted fertility world.

Updated: As Karen noted, a lot of people had a lot to say about this article. Check out the comments (404 as of Thursday afternoon) here.  

Also - interesting articles  on related topics:
Nobody Loves My $20,000 Baby by Daniel Nester
Commentary on the Kuczynski piece by Melissa Ford (on Blogher)


  1. Thanks to you, I just read the article. I couldn't see the cover photo, but the baby nurse at attention picture felt weird to me, too, even before I read your commentary.

    I don't know how I feel about the author. On the one hand, I imagine that not enough people are writing/talking about infertility, so kudos for her for going there. On the other hand, her incessant talking about how much money she and her husband had bugged me. Because really, if this path is so expensive, who can afford it? Such a tiny percentage of the population, that I wonder how necessary such a long, NYT article is about it. There was an aspect of it, then, that struck me as extremely self-serving: writing the article was more about making the author feel better than it was about doing a real public service.

  2. Yeah - the photo of her with the baby nurse, standing on the front lawn of their very posh Southampton house, was kind of stomach-turning.

    I think Gwen nails it - the whole piece feels self-serving. And it could backfire on surrogacy, in that it portrays an entitled rich woman as the mom who gets the baby. And that's too bad, because there is a place for surrogacy - and it shouldn't be seen as only the purview of the very wealthy.

  3. I think it is possible that she sees including the baby nurse in the photo is a demonstration of having more solidarity with her--showing that she is including the woman in her life.

    There is a certain "I'm not going to be embarrassed to hire someone to help me with my work as a mother, since she and I will be equal partners" attitude that I've seen some. Taking the potential criticism head on--don't let people snicker behind your back about how you rely on a nanny, have her right there in the picture since the arrangement isn't shameful, it is beneficial for all.

  4. Belinda - I could see that if the picture wasn't so weird. There is nothing in the picture that suggests equal partners. The woman (several feet behind the author, and off at an angle not looking at the camera) is clearly an employee, not a partner.

    I don't see a problem with having help (and clearly she can afford it). But a photograph of me and my daughter's nanny would be very different from that picture. It is POSSIBLE that they have a closer or warmer relationship than the picture suggests, but that would just make the picture even weirder.

  5. If you look at the comments on the NYT site, it's clear that those pictures rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and the text doesn't seem to have helped much. I suspect that the photo editor didn't like the article and had his or her revenge.

  6. I was fortunate enough to read the article online before seeing the pictures. So at least I did not have them clouding my opinion on the piece.

    Overall, I really liked the article...except the part where she described how excited she was that her surrogate had a computer....I wonder what she would say when I told her most of us could read and are potty trained too! I mean really.

    But I appreciate her struggles with infertility and have a lot of respect for her. I am so glad she finally has her son.

  7. Good points. Thanks for weighing in...

  8. I read it, saw a couple of the pictures. I think the hardest part is, for me, I simultaneously hate the biological mother and the writer/photographer for depicting the biological mother as evil.

    Julie on A Little Pregnant provided a good opinion on this. I tend to agree; NYT did all they could to vilify an easy target.