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Part eight: Baby Craze Redux


MANY SOCIAL SCIENTISTS say that 1990s America is in the grip of a national preoccupation with babies. Making babies is cool. Evidence is everywhere. Just look at the hipsters dressing their tots at Baby Gap stores, or considered the movies churned out by a baby-besotted Hollywood.

"Everyone is having babies," May says. "Married, not-married, man, woman, gay, not-gay, it doesn't matter. I mean, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a baby in a recent movie (Junior)."

Couples struggling with infertility today face a strong cultural imperative to make a family. Alex, a 36-year old telecommunications entrepreneur from Philadelphia, says the pressure comes from both society and within.

Drs. Georgianna and Howard Jones hold in 1981 Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first U.S. baby born by in vitro fertilization. [G. Jones and H. Jones]
"I was programmed like everyone else societally that you want to have offspring," Alex says. "It's probably genetic. It's survival of our species somewhere deep inside of us. It's something we're all driven to attempt." LISTEN

When Alex and his wife, Patti, discovered they had an infertility problem in the early 1990s, Alex says he realized just how family-centered America is. Alex began to feel alienated by mundane encounters -- making small talk with a stranger on an airplane inevitably turned to the subject of kids. That was painful.

"I mean, it's pretty all-consuming when you want to have and build a family and you can't. Because in our society that's what you do. It [is supposed to] happen when you want it to happen," he says.

Dr. Howard Jones delivered the first in vitro baby in the US. He describes how women patients, once meek and cooperative, have changed since the 1960s. LISTEN

Surveys show that having children is a prime goal for most Americans. In a national opinion survey by the University of Chicago, 81 percent responded that having children was an important personal value.

Some Americans still feel ashamed by their inability to conceive -- echoing the sensibilities of Colonial times. Karmin, a 32-year-old property manager from Chicago, is infertile because her uterus was removed to fight cancer. Her ovaries still produce eggs, so Karmin and her husband, Steve, are trying to have a baby using their sister-in-law as a "gestational carrier." Karmin says she sometimes feels that she is being punished for something she did wrong.

"I've been poked, prodded. I've had a couple surgeries. I just feel like somebody's out to get me," she says.

Part nine: Backlash