Breaking the Silence

Figuring It Out One Day At a Time

Pamela Tsigdinos

Pamela Tsigdinos
Bay Area, California,
June 12
I'm left-handed, six feet tall, and I like broccoli but not cauliflower. I'm Michigander by birth, Californian by choice. Oh, yeah, and I'm infertile. There. I said it. Now you'll understand how living in an era of designer babies and helicopter parents served up loads of material for my book, Silent Sorority ( When I'm not working with startups in Silicon Valley, I am exploring ideas and write about some of society's norms. At the keyboard is where I am most relaxed. So join me here as I try to be less type A and maybe figure a few things out....

MAY 31, 2010 3:10PM

"Junk Shot" Success for Celine and Kelly

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America's frustration, impatience and angst around the BP's attempt to cap the deep water oil spill felt remarkably familiar, an echo of a more personal demand for science and technology to step it up.

We live in an age of unprecedented knowledge, technological advancement.  There should be no problem we can't solve -- and fast, right? 

Oh, if that conviction were only true. A New York Time's piece, Our Fix-it Faith, got to the heart of the matter with this statement about our technology hubris: "The struggle to contain the oil spill in the gulf challenges an American belief that technology can solve any problem." 

 It is downright unsettling to have our beliefs challenged. The difficulty managing the disastrous Gulf oil spill or confronting an Icelandic volcano spewing ash into the atmosphere (where the reaction was, according to Pew Research's Andrew Kohut: "Fix this, Fix this. This is outrageous.")  offer teachable moments about the limits of science and the rarely acknowledged examples of technological impotence.

Just because we think something can be done doesn't mean it will always work. Our misplaced belief in the supreme power of technology doesn't serve us well and can lead us to a false complacency or the wrong assumption.

While the world has been perplexed by daily reports on the failed efforts to contain the oil spill, two well-known celebrities, Kelly Preston and Celine Dion announced pregnancies. (Wish you well, ladies.) Given the backdrop, it's not a stretch to see these pregnancies through the prism of today's news. Kelly and Celine's outcomes are "junk shots" of a different sort.

 At 47, Kelly joins a unique club of celebrities closing in on 50 and preparing a nursery.  Details surrounding the "surprise" pregnancy have been minimal. Celine, 42 and pregnant with twins, on the other hand, has been forthright about her struggles to conceive and her reliance on science and technology to achieve pregnancy.

Unlike the detailed reporting chronicling BP's failures, mainstream media takes a different approach where assisted reproductive technology (ART) is concerned.  The success stories more often than not disguise the larger truth that the ART "junk shots" for most couples will end up like BP.  70% of ART attempts fail, as was made clear by Ob-gyn Dr. Jennifer Ashton in a CBS News interview: "When you look at ... all cycles using non-frozen embryos, the success rate approaches about 30 percent," Ashton says. "Now, that is heavily dependent on age. The older you get, whether you're using your own egg or not, the success rate of a live birth goes down."

And to make sure her point got through, she reiterated, "Again, just because we're seeing it [pregnancy] in the 40s does not mean it's easy."

 Dr. Ashton's points are echoed and amplified by Judith Daniluk, a professor in counselling psychology at the University of British Columbia in a recent article in The Globe and Mail:

One in six couples experiences infertility, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society. Many end up at fertility clinics, but the chances of success plummet with age. For women aged 35 to 39 who undergo one cycle of IVF, the live birth rate is 26 per cent. For women 40 and over, the rate drops to 11 per cent.
In the age of fertility gone amok –from Octomom to Holly Hunter giving birth to twins at age 47, likely using donor eggs – Dr. Daniluk points out that there are no role models for couples who can’t have kids."
 Instead of hearing about infertile couples who create fulfilling lives, she adds, “we hear ‘keep going’ and ‘50 isn’t too late.’ ”

 Technological development on all fronts will continue -- and that's inherently a good thing -- but appreciating that technology is fallible can help us develop a better understanding of the challenges  and mysteries we face today whether in deep water or around conception and delivery.  

* * * 

Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos is the author of Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found. 

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Another thing the media doesn't point out, and should, is that a pregnancy at 47 usually means the couple purchased, at great expense, someone else's eggs. And lets stop this talk about "donation" -- it's a purchase.