Inconceivable Conceptions: Psychological Aspects of Infertility and Reproductive Technology

By Jane Haynes; Juliet Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Gifts of life in absentia

Regenerative fertility and the puzzle of the 'missing genetrix'

Monica Konrad

Monica Konrad is a social anthropologist.


Bypassing: a side note on side routes

IVF practitioners and recipients of assisted reproduction will often refer to the new procreative technologies as pragmatic ways of bypassing childlessness rather than as effective treatments for the condition of infertility itself. Bypassing childlessness as technique is proffered in such contexts both as semantic guidance (the 'protocol' informing clinical instruction) and as a valid register of local explanation: here prospective parents and clinicians each appear to reinforce the other's interest through mutual engagement and agreement. And so it is that the standard storyline of assisted conception is itself conceived at the clinic as a potted account of human 'biology'. Should a couple be fortunate enough to achieve parenthood through the making of the euphemistic 'take-home' baby, this is generally attributable to an instrumental 'fix': to a view of one particular understanding of 'nature' working upon another such folk understanding of innate corporeal rhythms and bodily process. 1

What precisely is at work, the critical bio-ethnographer may infer, is the trickery of 'nature' and its dependence on a mainly mechanised conception of the 'natural' physiological constitution of each ('individual') person so treated. The temporal illusions of synchronisation between hormonally stimulated 'cycling' women-evident for instance as the sharing of fertility between ova donors and recipients in their relational capacity as procreative 'partners'-can never be understood to stand in for a real treatment or 'cure'. Techniques of assistance are in this sense more than simply substitutive: technology may give nature a 'helping hand' but, like nature, facilitation is prone to error and fallibility. 2 And yet the extent to which reproductive technology itself can be recognised in the popular imagination as the cultivation of new relations of interdependence has remained variously elusive. The persistence of such elision, I would suggest, is an ethnographic curiosity of considerable cultural interest. The interest is not simply one easily confined to the analytical preoccupations of social anthropologists, who, one might add, are more routinely concerned with understanding how conception theories-as the organisation of sexual reproduction in a given context-underlie forms of power and social organisation across different cultures. It is also necessarily an interest of direct relevance to many 'applied' problems and contexts of decision-making:

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Inconceivable Conceptions: Psychological Aspects of Infertility and Reproductive Technology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 3
  • Chapter 2 - Assisted Reproductive Technology and the Fertility Clinic 11
  • Experiencing Infertility 17
  • Chapter 3 - Clinical Waste 19
  • Chapter 4 - One Man's Story 27
  • Psychological Aspects 31
  • Chapter 5 - Eros and Art 33
  • Notes 45
  • Chapter 6 - Mourning the Never Born and the Loss of the Angel 47
  • Chapter 7 - The Battle with Mortality and the Urge to Procreate 60
  • Bibliography 72
  • Chapter 8 - Myths and Reality in Male Infertility 73
  • Bibliography 84
  • Chapter 9 - Love, Hate and the Generative Couple 86
  • Changing Patterns of Kinship 103
  • Chapter 10 - The Story of Seth's Egg 105
  • Chapter 11 - Seth 109
  • Chapter 12 - Gifts of Life in Absentia 120
  • Chapter 13 - Women's Work 143
  • Bibliography 165
  • Chapter 14 - Egg Donation 166
  • The Shadow 179
  • Chapter 15 - Dark Reflections 181
  • Afterword 205
  • Chapter 16 - Afterword 207
  • Appendix 217
  • Glossary of Terms Used in Art (Assisted Reproductive Technology) 219
  • Index 227
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