Look, I don’t know Paris Hilton personally. So I can’t divine if she was telling the truth about deciding to have in vitro fertilization “so I can pick twins if I like," as the hotel heiress put it on “The Trend Reporter with Mara” podcast Tuesday. Maybe she really does just want to have a boy and a girl at the same time, as she said, or perhaps the 39-year-old is too embarrassed to admit that she needs fertility treatments for medical reasons.
I’m not going to join in the group pile-on surrounding her announcement, the chorus of voices saying that she shouldn’t use fertility technology for nonmedical needs.
As someone who did nine rounds of IVF over four years to have a baby, I know there’s still a lot of shame associated with needing medical help for child-bearing, with your body not working the way you always assumed it would. I understand why many of us who have undergone IVF feel like calling out Hilton because we didn’t go through this invasive, expensive and harrowing process just to select the gender and the number of our children.
Either way, I’m not going to join in the group pile-on surrounding her announcement, the chorus of voices saying that she shouldn’t use fertility technology for nonmedical needs, because I know how hard her road is going to be — no matter her motives. Fertility treatments can produce a lot of anxiety, discomfort and pain, and Hilton will learn that all too well as she undergoes the process.
Although some believe you can use IVF to get a mail-order baby with the traits and gender you desire, what I’ve learned from talking to gay people, straight people, single people and married couples — and I imagine it’s true even for celebs with the top doctors — is that you’re all the same once you get into the fertility system: It’s a roller coaster, it’s disappointing, it’s hard on your body and your emotions, no matter who you are or how much clout you have. (It’s obviously easier if you have money or insurance coverage for IVF, as I experienced firsthand when I moved to Israel for free treatment: When a cycle fails, it’s infinitely better if you’re not also out 20 grand and left wondering whether you can afford to try again. But failure hurts like hell.)
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I also can’t blame Hilton for wanting boy/girl twins because I wanted twins, too. Parents often hope for more than one child, and more than one gender, and those of us who do IVF would like to create that family via the shortest, least grueling route possible. I would have loved to have boy/girl twins — it’s like winning the IVF lottery, because you only have to put yourself through pregnancy once (though it may take many rounds of treatment to get there).
In fact, when I started IVF in 2012, I begged my doctor to put in two embryos.
Back then (not so long ago, but forever ago in the cutting-edge, burgeoning field of fertility treatment), multiples such as twins, triplets and even quadruplets were common in IVF because doctors would transfer several embryos into your uterus at once in the hopes that at least one would result in a healthy pregnancy. Also, starting at 41, I wasn’t sure I would be able to go through it all again for a second child.
But my doctor warned me against having twins. “You think they’re cute, but they’re risky,” he said, pointing out that multiples were both harder on a woman’s health and more likely to have adverse effects on the babies.
According to a 2004 Danish study, IVF twins are more likely to be born earlier than singletons, with a sevenfold risk for delivery before 32 weeks, eight weeks before the full term. Twins are also nearly twice as likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and the stillbirth rate is doubled in twins compared with singletons. Not to mention that mothers of twins have a 4.6 times higher risk for cesarean section (a surgery most mothers hope to avoid because of its risks and the longer recovery time than for nonsurgical births).
Today, many clinics recognize the risks of multiple births. Since new technology allows for testing embryos before transfer to see if they’re chromosomally normal (which also reveals the embryo’s gender), many clinics recommend only using one embryo at a time.
My heart goes out to the 1 in 8 couples in America who have trouble conceiving, and the stigma and shame still associated with medically assisted family-building even after 8 million babies have been born through IVF. And I get why people are upset about Hilton’s easy-breezy statement about using IVF for nonmedical reasons to have twins of specific genders.
If Hilton really needs IVF for medical reasons, I hope she will come out and say it. But, above all, I hope she gets to have a healthy baby — whatever gender, however she achieves it — soon.