North Americans Seek Affordable IFV Abroad

Learn about the affordable option middle class can pursue to welcome a bundle of joy into their lives.

  • The Czech Republic has become a reproductive hub in Europe.
    Photo by Getty Images/ Mixmike
  • “Fertility Holidays,” by Amy Speier presents a critical analysis of white, working class North Americans’ motivations and experiences when traveling to Central Europe for donor egg IVF.
    Cover courtesy New York University Press

Fertility Holidays (New York University Press, 2016) by Amy Speier follows Americans traveling out of the country seeking low-cost in vitro fertilization. The Czech Republic has emerged as a central hub of fertility tourism and offers an empathic health care system with a plentitude of egg donors at a fraction of the price. The following excerpt is from chapter 1, “Couples Confront Infertility.”

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The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that infertility affects 6.1 million North American women; roughly one in eight couples of reproductive age experiences this inability to “make babies.” In narrating their infertility journeys, couples I met mentioned a point in their lives when their friends began having children, which can be understood as a social cue for the “normal” or right time to start a family. In the summer of 2011, I met Janice and Craig, who were in their early forties. Their tans from living in the Sunshine State gleamed under the streetlight when I first met them, sitting outside of the pension in Zlín across from Lauren and John. The two blonds, Janice and Craig, were both nurses and had met at work. They had been married for ten years, and they usually spent their summers in her home country, Canada, something I gleaned from Janice’s subtle accent. They were planning on building their own house on a piece of land they had already purchased in central Florida. Craig remembers, “[At] about thirty- five, maybe seven years ago, we had a large group of friends, all about the same age, you know, midthirties. We’re all teachers and nurses, and we all hung out. Then everybody started deciding to have children, and we just kept trying.” It took two years of trying, with one year of “timed” intercourse, before they realized something was wrong.

Since the advent of the birth control pill, North Americans have held onto the notion that they can prevent conception when they do not want it, but also can easily initiate it when they do. Unfortunately, contraception and conception are not the same things. Over breakfast I met a very chatty couple from Los Angeles, Maureen and Daniel. I had seen many of Maureen’s postings on a website for women thinking about traveling to the Czech Republic, so I had anticipated their arrival, always eager to meet more people. Daniel described how they met at a community college in San Diego, where they realized they shared many of the same interests in film and editing. They carried a newly purchased iPad with them everywhere, pulling up Czech phrases, maps, and pictures of their travels. I could tell they were technologically savvy. They had been together for fifteen years and married for six. Daniel commented dryly that once they started trying to have children, on the heels of many of their friends, “A strange perception from a guy is that you spend most of your life hoping you don’t get pregnant. I’m sure women are the same way, but the guys really worry about it. It’s a big worry. Then all of a sudden, it’s like, God, it’s so much harder than you’re taught in school.” When conception does not happen immediately, North American couples often grow impatient and frustrated, assuming it should happen easily, the “natural” way.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16, claims, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” The discourse of “rights” is prevalent when people speak of infertility, which is understood as hindering one’s right to have a child or start a family. Rothman links this discourse of rights to capitalism: “Women, like men, lay claim to their own bodies and to their own children and call on the basic values of capitalism to support those claims.” She mentions our notions of the body as something that is “viewed not as a resource for the community or the society, but as private property, a personal resource.” The discourse on one’s right to have a family becomes a talking point for those who suffer infertility.

Age-Related Infertility

Infertility interrupts normative ideas of one’s life stages. However, the point at which North Americans begin to think about having children has shifted over the past few decades, reflecting cultural trends of women in higher education and the workforce and in divorce rates. “The timing of parenthood has changed,” and the delay of childbearing has complex effects. In North America, there is a general trend of women seeking higher education and careers before getting married, and North Americans, on average, have children at twenty- four to twenty- six years of age. The decline in marriage rates, along with high divorce rates combined with remarriage, can be credited with a drop in heterosexual reproduction. After putting off marriage and childbearing, or marrying a second or third time, people are often shocked when they find that being older can hinder their ability to conceive. It “wreaks havoc on life plans.” In addition to age- related infertility, there are other causes of infertility: roughly 30 percent of cases are male factor infertility, where men may have a low sperm count or low sperm motility. Another 30 percent of cases are female factor, where a woman’s tubes may be blocked or scarred from endometriosis or prior pelvic infection. In the other 40 percent of cases, infertility remains unexplained. However, the ways in which North Americans confront this knowledge reflect cultural notions about health.

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