Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ooh, Ahh, Science! cycle 4, day 23


Big news: I’ve got a little ditty up on BlogHer today. Those guys – err, ladies – are the best. Go show them some love. And if you’re here from BlogHer, thanks for stopping by and please, read on for more snarky irreverence and name-calling story telling.

Just hours after the feeling of having a vice slowly tighten around my ovaries has subsided, and in the throes of mild lower back pain that surely means I’m pregnant about to get my period/suffering a slipped disc from aggressively shoving my feet into those IUI stirrups, here I am. And, enraptured though I know you are by my stimulating discussion of non-specific symptoms that likely exist in my head only, today I want to talk about science[1].

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about IVF. Because I’m a stubborn pessimist and misanthrope realist, I have slowly begun to open the door to that magical wonderland. So while tentatively lured by Baby Center IVF message boards – which are essentially just a series of unintelligible acronyms, falling stars and numbers in place of letters (“m4yBb4by”?[2]) – I ran for the hills settled on something more academic. Because let’s be honest, while I’m opening the door, I’m just opening it a crack.

First things first. Did you know that the first successful IVF procedure in the US was accomplished in 1981 by husband-wife team Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jr.[3] and Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones[4]? I did not know this. Bravo Drs Jones[5]. What’s more, Georgeanna’s research in the 1930s laid the foundation for the creation of at home pregnancy tests[6]. They were, it turns out, pretty badass – performing IVF in the early 80s, in the midst of right wing troglodytes with questionable moral imperatives. But the truth is that none of IVF would be possible without another woman: the now rather infamous, Henrietta Lacks.

If you haven’t read Rebecca Skloot’s gripping portrayal of the cells taken, without consent, from Lacks – a poor, black, tobacco farmer in Baltimore in 1951 – please consider this a ringing endorsement (of the book, not the ethically bankrupt cellular robbery, ahem). Lacks’ cells became known as HeLa and have been instrumental in vaccines, cancer medications, gene mapping, and *spoiler alert* IVF.

About HeLa and their namesake, there’s a lot to say – and Skloot is a far better writer than I am, so I’ll leave the good parts to her. I will say though that it pains me what Lacks’ family has endured – what Henrietta herself endured. The class, race and gender issues are obvious – as is the then (still!) underdeveloped field of biomedical ethics which allowed a woman dying of cervical cancer to turn into an unwitting science experiment for Hopkins doctors. I’m incredibly troubled too by the ongoing privacy violations of her family and the failure of legislators to develop policy that keeps pace with science.

But I read Skloot’s book before I was diagnosed with the big I. And now, because PELVISBABYCLOMID clouds my every thought, when I think about HeLa or read about the Lacks family, my mind drifts, as it does with most things, toward infertility. So, if you’re reading, thanks Henrietta.






[1] I blame Sadie. I mean honestly, how can I follow the Higgs Boson and this absolutely phenomenal quote:
Describing (not infertility) as, “a roller coaster of sleepless nights, bright promises, missed clues, false alarms, euphoria, depression, gritty calculation, cooperation and envy, all the tedium and vertiginous notions of (not infertility)”
Which wins the award for most-eloquent-accidental-description-of-infertility-EVER.
[2] Literally not a clue.
[3] This is a video of Howard describing the beginnings of IVF. It’s five whole minutes. So here’s the Cliffs Notes version: sweet, smart older doctor says things like “borrowing a uterus” and speaks truth to power with proclamations like “IVF is not an efficient process.” By the end, he’s mentioned “hyperstimulation.” At least I think so. I conveniently blacked out because OHDEARGODPLEASENO.
[4] <insert predictable outrage about how despite both being doctors, he got all the credit, except that I’m actually not sure that’s true because she was kind of a superstar.>
[5] In related news, every time I write “Dr. Jones” in this post, I can’t help but think of that quote from Clerks – see minute 2:30. (Or honestly, just watch the whole thing. That movie is classic.)
[6] And there are days where honestly, I don’t know whether to thank her or curse her for the early-morning-the-two-week-wait-is-almost-over tribute to our continued collective struggle. Just kidding. I wonder if she would have preferred Clear Blue or First Response? Discuss.

10 comments:

  1. Congrats on the BlogHer spot!

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    1. Thanks, Jimmy - Just taking your advice!

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  2. Thanks for the shout out! First time I've been footnoted in blogland, yay!

    I did know of the Joneses, and although I knew of Henrietta Lacks, had not come across Skloot's book or read up in depth. All I can say is, sheesh. And yeah, we're indebted.

    Congrats on the BlogHer feature!

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    1. Of course! I still can't get over how just absolutely perfect that quote is. Also glad to know someone is reading the (always-too-long) footnotes. And you should totally pick up Skloot's book - it's captivating.

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  3. Nice job with the BlogHer post! I bet it won't be your one and only.

    I've also started to think about an IVF timeline. All of my infertility-related providers seem so hopeful. None of them have even mentioned it yet. I figure SOMEONE has to do the dirty work and think of it as a realistic possibility. Let me know where you're getting your reading material as you continue to crack open that door, will ya?

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    1. So curious right? I've been having a very similar experience - my RE literally telling me that because I'm responding well, he doesn't think I'll need IVF. I mean, I appreciate the (reckless) optimism but let's get real here. Oh, and I barely know what IVF is yet, but as soon as I found out, I'll let you know. Ha. Let's definitely share reading materials!

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  4. When we thought we were on the road to IVF I actually felt rather liberated. It felt, for the first time in ages, that we had a shot at something that had a properly brilliant chance of actually working.

    Congrats on the BlogHer spot!

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    1. That's interesting - I've actually wondered if that's a feeling I'll have. Like Clomid and IUI were just required stops on the train where it was never gonna work and now, IVF is our ticket (or some or other terrible mixed metaphor). Glad to hear you felt that way - if we end up there, I hope to feel the same.

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  5. oh, and thanks for the congrats gals :)

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  6. Great BlogHer post AND "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is one of my FAVORITE books. Incredibly eye-opening. Everyone should read it.

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