Having a baby is, biologically speaking, the most natural thing in the world. Perpetuating the species is what species do, no matter how hard we tried not to in college. So why, when I sit down to read the premiere issue of the new bimonthly magazine Conceive, did I feel a little squeamish?
Conceive's co-creator, Kim Hahn, is straightforward enough. "We want to bring infertility out of the closet, show that it's not something to be ashamed of, give it a mainstream look and feel," she says, adding that the magazine is geared toward any woman even thinking of starting a family, not just those who are already having trouble -- and certainly not those who aren't sure they want to breed in the first place. "This magazine is even going to support your decision to wait. We're not saying, 'Better have a baby in your 20s or you're doomed!'" she says.
Hahn herself, now 38 and a former CFO in the banking industry, had tried to get pregnant for three years -- undergoing several rounds of fertility treatments -- before deciding to adopt a child in 2000. During that time, she noticed that there was nothing at the magazine stand that covered fertility. "You had all the bridal magazines, and next to that you had all the parenting magazines, but nothing in between," she says. She founded
Conceive with business partner and fellow financial executive Rob Clarkson, whose own daughter was conceived naturally, but with some difficulty, after a miscarriage. The magazine launched in October.
Hahn predicts that the magazine's circulation -- triggered initially by direct mail, newsstand presence and placement in doctors' offices -- will be up to 150,000 by January. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 6 million women in the United States have fertility issues. Hahn and Clarkson say that 10 to 15 million American women attempt to conceive each year -- and that even with all the fertility resources on the Internet, they're craving, as Hahn puts it, "one-stop-shopping" information.
But will Conceive manage to make it to the terrible twos? After all, it's the kind of magazine that readers won't want to subscribe to for long. "Can they find people during their conception time -- and find new ones to replace them when they leave?" asks Abe Peck, chairman of the magazine department at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He does note that it's an easy sell to advertisers (say, the makers of pregnancy tests), and he sees a need for the magazine, a niche it can fill. "It should have a loyal readership as long as the information's good."
And actually, it's really not bad. Sure, there are the requisite "Celebrity Success Stories," which contain far too much information about Celine Dion's husband's sperm count. And there's a dippy article about "10 Ways to Keep the Romance Alive" during what one friend of mine has referred to as "the Bataan Sex March."
But the magazine's weightier service pieces are solid, packed with hard data and helpful info. "How to Choose ... the Best Obstetrician, Reproductive Endocrinologist, Egg Donor, Sperm Donor, and Adoption Agency," with a full, text-heavy page for each, is likely to help a woman feel in charge of, if not overwhelmed by, her medical options. A headline that could trigger baby panic -- "How Fresh Are Your Eggs?" -- goes on to explain that "Chronological age is a very poor indicator of reproductive aging." "Over 35? You're hosed!" is not the message you'll get in these pages.
Indeed, sound coverage of fertility issues is serious stuff about a serious urge to do a serious thing. So why the ick factor? Why did even I roll my eyes when I heard about Conceive -- even when, let's just say, I'm the bulls-eye on its demographic target?
"The fetishizing of babies is getting out of hand," says Douglas, professor of communications studies at the University of Michigan and co-author of The Mommy Myth. "It seems to me that -- especially with a title that sounds like an imperative -- it's elevating a kind of pressure and normative message that conception is and should be the center of women's lives."
Writing recently in the New York Observer, Miranda Purves sees Conceive as fertility porn -- and her friends as addicts. Citing "graphic conversations about recent sex acts, ovulation times and cervical mucous consistency," she asks, "Isn't this obsession with having one's own offspring just narcissism?"
Granted, no conversation about cervical mucous should ever occur unsolicited. But Purves' article -- and the attitude it represents -- helped me understand my urge to read Conceive under cover of the New York Times. I worried that people who see me reading it would think 1) something's wrong with me, or 2) I'm obsessed.
In other words, either I'm not a real woman, or I'm not a real sistah. Damned either way. It hasn't been that long since I chafed at a similar double standard for singles, at least those who lead zippy, independent, urban lives: If you're not married, something's wrong with you, but if you want to get married, something's wrong with you. Weirdo spinster, or retro turncoat: Those are your options. And, as you see, the expectations, snap judgments and stereotypes (Bridget Jones! Bridezilla!) don't go away when you're married (Biological Time Bomb!). Honestly, it can make a girl defensive, stressed out, pissed off and hardly in the mood for champagne and candles. No wonder it's hard to get pregnant. No wonder, that is, there's a market forConceive.
Lynn Harris is author of the satirical novel Miss Media and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. This article first appeared on Salon.com.