IVF, the Cliff's Notes Version

I’m a HUGE Grey’s Anatomy fan. As a matter of course, we began watching the spinoff, Private Practice. It’s not nearly as good, but it’s pretty much the only thing on Wednesday nights, and it generally provides a few decent storylines. And who doesn’t want to watch all beautiful people pretend to be doctors?

Infertility seems to be a recurring theme. Addison, the show’s main character and the one who came over from Grey’s, discovers in the first episode that she likely will never have children. This storyline was a carryover from her time on Grey’s. As the OB/Gyn at the “Private Practice” her friend Naomi owns, she is often called to work with patients struggling with infertility, as infertility is Naomi’s specialty. So the first few times there were some inconsistencies in the course of an infertility storyline, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t even bothered. Anything that brings infertility to the forefront of people’s thinking isn’t totally a bad thing, even if they overuse the word “implant” incorrectly.

But last night. Last night was pretty miserable.The story went something like this: 35+ recently married couple unable to conceive for 2 months (!) and the wife “has a feeling” something is wrong. Addison agrees to run some blood tests, check her FSH, and run a sperm sample on the husband. Turns out, Mrs. is fine, and ovulating normally. Mr. has no viable sperm.

They toy with donor sperm. Then Mr. shows up with his brother while Mrs. is pouring over donor profiles. Mrs. reluctantly agrees to have brother bet the donor. Next scene: Mrs. has her legs in the stirrups, waiting for insemination. This is where all sorts of alarms are going off in my head. How utterly convenient Mrs. is ovulating RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE! Oh, and they must have taken Mr.’s brother’s word for it that he has no STDs and a viable sperm count? Has anyone bothered to draw up a known donor agreement? At this point, Mr. and Mrs. stop the doctors from inseminating, because they decide having brother as a donor is not right for them.

Addison and Naomi indicate there’s one other option: Testicular Sperm Extraction (you can go.ogle it, it’s real). It pretty much is what it sounds like. They decide it’s worth a shot. Next scene (PLEASE remember each episode, this one being no exception) takes place over the course of about 48 hours) is Mr. and Mrs. on gurneys and Addison and Naomi dealing with looking for sperm in Mr.Addison finds 1 viable sperm. Once she retrieves it, Naomi apparently does an egg retrieval on the very awake Mrs. Then Addison performs ICSI with the egg and sperm and then says, “I think we just made a baby.”

Final scene is Mr. and Mrs. getting into the elevator. Mrs. says, “Is it too soon to feel pregnant?”There are so many problems with this whole scenario I thought my head was going to explode last night.

H kept telling me, “It’s tv, relax.” but all I kept thinking is that people watching are going to think it’s this easy. Never mind letting an embryo grow for 2-5 days prior to transfer. Nope. Just find one single sperm, let the doctor inject it into the egg that’s so easily removed (through a needle through your vaginal wall under sedation by the way) and shove the whole thing back up in there all in the same day, and voila! Baby.

I realize it’s tv, and yes, there is some measure of misinformation on television dramas like this one, especially with an oft-misunderstood topic as infertility. But it’s not hard to get information on the internet, people. As prevalent as infertility is, I can’t believe NOT ONE of those writers didn’t have a friend or family member struggle with infertility (or go through it themselves). And doesn’t anyone have any respect for the viewers who’ve struggled with the idea that it actually isn’t that easy? That one sperm, one egg, and a transfer don’t always equal a baby?

If I were to do a presentation at work to a room of 10 people, I would be expected to have my facts straight. I would be expected to have done my research. And while I realize this is fiction, the impact television dramas have on the public is huge. People believe that the medical information on ER, Grey’s, and now Private Practice, has been researched and is accurate. People believe that the people in the white coats on tv are doing more than reciting lines. They are reciting lines researched for them by the writers. And research=truth. Right? Is this the fault of the viewers, for injecting reality into a show that promises none? Sure. But if you are going to put a storyline out there for MILLIONS of people to see, don’t you think at least the basics should be right?

I’ll forgive the details in some respect, but the basic course of IVF does not really change patient to patient. Even in a “natural” cycle, there’s a trigger shot, followed 24 hours (give or take) by retrieval under at least mild sedation, fertilization, waiting for embryo growth for anywhere from 2-5 days, and then transfer. And even then, there’s no promise of success. Especially when all you are dealing with is one embryo.

So Private Practice, you just insulted about 12.5% of your viewers (the percentage of people in this country affected by infertility), which as best I can tell, amounts to over 2,000,000 people (based on initial reports of over 21 million viewers).

I like this show enough that if their infertility storylines suddenly became more accurate, I’d continue to watch. But for now, I think they’ve lost a viewer.


2 thoughts on “IVF, the Cliff's Notes Version

  1. I don’t watch the show and I’m glad because that would have irritated the crap out of me.

    Another inaccuracy – after a bad sperm count most of the time the man is told to come back in three months for another test just to make sure the low count isn’t a fluke brought on by illness or exposure to radiation months earlier. Also… men tend to resist the information that they are shooting blanks and take a while to accept that treatment is needed.

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