Monday, December 1, 2008

The power of images


I was elated to get an email forwarded to me about the recent New York Times Magazine article "Her Body, My Baby" by Alex Kuczynski. As I read through her very honest account of infertility and surrogacy, it was in many ways like reading my own story. A rush of satisfaction came over me as I thought about the power of the New York Times to inform and educate those who don't know the struggles of infertility and what it means to be an intended parent working with a gestational carrier. 

Unfortunately, I read this article in an email with no photos and no comments. I made the mistake of clicking on the link later on to see the photos of both the author and her surrogate and the 404 mostly nasty comments. Boy, I wish I had stuck to just the text. What was most striking to me was how different the article came across just as text. When I read it I only focused on the voice of this writer, her very familiar struggles with IVF failures, and her choice to move to surrogacy. Granted she was preaching to the choir when it comes to my views, but I felt it finally put that story out there for people to understand surrogacy as a real and wonderful option. But when I looked at the photos and the slew of violent reactions against this story, it made me remember- "Oh yeah, I live in this world, not the infertility world in my brain." I mean who am I kidding, even without the photos what was I expecting?

Countless times I read the words "disgusting," "spoiled," "consumer," "self-obsessed," "shallowness," "disturbing," among many others in the comment section. I didn't see the hard copy version of the magazine, but the two photos posted online are clearly the main culprit. Why choose photos juxtaposing a surrogate who is barefoot and pregnant and an intended mother posed in front of a beautiful home with a black nurse in uniform standing there waiting for orders? Was this some sort of bait to rile up nasty comments - a trap to bring out the worst in people? Or was this a very very ignorant editor who decided on these shots? Was this something the author overlooked or failed to keep watch of? I don't know, but I do know that as an intended parent it's frustrating to see a very honest article paired with photos that reek of classist and racial stereotypes. This was a chance to really give a more human perspective on the subject of surrogacy and perhaps break the countless assumptions people have about infertility and surrogacy, but instead the message got lost. It got lost in the images, lost in the money, lost in what people already want to believe.

So I am terribly disappointed. I had hoped that having a New York Times reporter bring her experience, my experience, and many other people's experiences to such a huge audience might broaden the world's perspective. Perhaps it did on some fronts, but it is still unbelievable the judgements and hatred that this subject brews up in people. I would have thought the author already knew this. I would have thought she'd take great pains to not give off the same old impression that women seeking fertility treatments (or worse choose surrogacy or egg donor) are selfish, rich, obsessed women that have no perspective on the world's struggles. I'd like to believe that she somehow didn't have a say on the photos, but she posed for them so how could she not know? How could she not see what was being created? It's pretty predictable at this point that the general public is happy to jump all over this issue. The fertiles just get self-righteous waving the flag of disgust over this unnecessary "consumption" or the "why not adopt" cries. People roll their eyes at a woman who feels "entitled" to a child. Even parents who adopt commented on the article taking offense to the idea that she wanted a genetic child of her own and therefore she's somehow looking down on adoption. You can't win.

It's strange to me. It will always be strange to me why people think that other people's reproductive decisions are fair game for everyone to judge. I'm not sure what kind of article will erase that ridiculous tendency. But I certainly don't give a shit what position people have sex to conceive. I don't give a shit if you decide to just have one or hundred children. I don't give a shit if you choose to give birth underwater or in the most prestigious hospital you can find. I don't give a shit if you are having kids with your first husband or your fortieth. I don't give a shit if you choose to have a child when you are 18 or 50. I don't give a shit what your church says. I don't give a shit. 

14 comments:

alicia said...

I'm a smart ones blog had this same article mentioned on it today. And I was just blown away by the photos. I really don't get why she would choose those photos?? It really does not make sense to me, same with all the comments. I do not understand ppl. I don't get how we no longer even try to put ourseleves in others shoes, and instead just rant and bitch and complain. grr it makes me so flippin angry.

Melanie said...

I thought of you when I read this article yesterday and wondered if you had seen it. And I hesitated today to read the comments about it online. They didn't disappoint in their familiarity...spoiled, why not adopt, etc. It's interesting how many people are passionate about others' reproductive lives and decisions. Passionate, of course, about subjects of which they know nothing. I would be fascinated to know how many people out there effortlessly move "to just adopt" when faced with their own infertility. As we know, it's much more complex than that.

I do wish the photos had been different because it creates an us vs. them, a have vs. have not view of the whole issue, when it's not. It's all in the package, huh?

I don't believe I have to say this to you because I know you're intelligent and thoughtful, but I will anyway. Stay the course. Continue following your heart, your path. (Emphasis on "your" path). Ignore the idiots.

Kymberli said...

I had a similar reaction that you did. I read the online version first, but I didn't really examine the pictures the first time through. After I read the article I looked closely at the pictures and was nothing short of flabbergasted. I actually sat on my review for a couple of days so that I was sure I could write about it without focusing solely on the negativity in the photos.

And the comments - I could only read a handful at a time.

Duck said...

Second blog I read today commenting on this, brutal isn't it? Why is it that people feel that they get to be so self righteous, it's hurtful and ignorant, truth is, people are just ignorent some time, and we will simply have to ignore them. When I first read about it it really upset me too, then I got to thinking, they're people out there who are simply small minded, who don't understand any maybe it's not even their fault, they are lucky, they have never had to make difficult desicions and therefore have no idea what it feels like to be in our shoes.
But I'm with you, I just don't give a shit either.

peesticksandstones said...

Ooooh, I am so glad you wrote about this. I could not tear myself away from the comments yesterday after I read this story (and saw the photos). It all just made me crazy.

What gets me most is how, while your typical "liberal" NYTimes reader is all about, say, abortion rights -- when it comes to womens' choices with regard to ART -- it's like this whole other story. It makes me so livid. I've had to stop reading some of my favorite feminist blogs for similar reasons.

I do wish articles about infertility would be more economically realistic -- profile average people of average means, discuss the financial realities of adoption, etc. It's like that time Martha Stewart's daughter was on Oprah. IVF, surrogacy, etc = just another whim of the rich. I guess normal people aren't as juicy.

Hoping you got through Thanksgiving okay regardless! Been thinking of you.

N said...

I did the same thing - read the article without seeing the pictures, and related to it in many ways. I also read the 404 comments. They had me far more riled up than the article and I just wrote a long blog post in response to those comments. No matter how off putting the pictures were, the comments were far more off putting so I had to respond. :)

luna said...

I agree those images serve to reinforce ugly stereotypes regarding surrogacy, especially regarding class. a shame since I have to believe she provided those pix, even if an editor chose those two.

true it's no one else's business how we build our families. it pisses me off how once you remove the act from the bedroom, all of a sudden it's fair game...

Shinejil said...

I think the problem is that Kuczynski usually covers very silly and fluffy style topics, often ones that relate to the ultra-rich. So that photo, in the context of her past body of work, just cements everyone's misinformed impressions that surrogacy is about spoiled career bitches buying womb space because they are too craven to adopt all those kids just lying around out there, waiting for families. That, plus the whole racial and class overtones in the photos, really does women who require a surrogate a huge disservice.

NYT is haunted by idiots and trolls who comment about everything and anything, and really enjoy making themselves feel all self-righteous, regardless of their ignorance.

Caba said...

I did the same thing. Read it without seeing the pictures. I got so riled up when I started reading the comments that I had to stop. I had my transfer yesterday, as a surrogate for my sister. I think anonymous idiots on the internet just LOVE being judgemental about others.

Elizabeth said...

The article...argh. I have a few things to say about it myself. The photos were poorly chosen, but I don't understand how people can trot out the same comments over and over and never once empathize.

Rayven said...

I completely agree. I too read the article initially without the photos and I got the same thing out of it that you did. (Well, I did take a little offense at how she doubted the mental capacity of us surrogates, but, I passed that up to elitism on her part.)

But those comments! I just cannot believe them! They are horribly upsetting.

Sparkle Mommy said...

I think you would be a great person to help share with people the difficult and challenging road that leads to choosing surrogacy. Your writing has a sense of humor even in your darkest moments. Maybe you should write a book!

Duck said...

2009 here we come...

Lisa said...

Why, oh WHHYYYYY did the editor run those photos? You are so right that they change the tenor of the whole piece. Not useful.

Also, the NYT commenters seem to say vile things about everything. I can't read the comments sections without feeling ill.

-Lisa from infertileground