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The Elusive Embryo

How Women and Men Approach New Reproductive Technologies

Gay Becker (Author)

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In the first book to examine the industry of reproductive technology from the perspective of the consumer, Gay Becker scrutinizes the staggering array of medical options available to women and men with fertility problems and assesses the toll—both financial and emotional—that the quest for a biological child often exacts from would-be parents. Becker interviewed hundreds of people over a period of years; their stories are presented here in their own words. Absorbing, informative, and in many cases moving, these stories address deep-seated notions about gender, self-worth, and the cultural ideal of biological parenthood. Becker moves beyond people's personal experiences to examine contemporary meanings of technology and the role of consumption in modern life. What emerges is a clear view of technology as culture, with technology the template on which issues such as gender, nature, and the body are being rewritten and continuously altered.

The Elusive Embryo chronicles the history and development of reproductive technology, and shows how global forces in consumer culture have contributed to the industry's growth. Becker examines how increasing use of reproductive technology has changed ideas about "natural" pregnancy and birth. Discussing topics such as in vitro fertilization, how men and women "naturalize" the use of a donor, and what happens when new reproductive technologies don't work, Becker shows how the experience of infertility has become increasingly politicized as potential parents confront the powerful forces that shape this industry. The Elusive Embryo is accessible, well written, and well documented. It will be an invaluable resource for people using or considering new reproductive technologies as well as for social scientists and health professionals.
Introduction: From Personal Experience to Research
1. Consuming Technologies
2. Confronting Notions of Normalcy
3. The Embattled Body
4. Genes and Generations
5. Experiencing Risks
6. Taking Action
7. Selling Hope
8. Decisions about Donors
9. Embodied Technology
10. Shifting Gears
11. Redefining Normalcy
12. Women Rethinking Parenthood
13. Rewriting the Family
14. Performing Gender
Gay Becker is Professor of Medical Anthropology and Social and Behavioral Sciences and an investigator at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of Disrupted Lives: How People Create Meaning in a Chaotic World (California, 1997), Healing the Infertile Family: Strengthening Your Relationship in the Search for Parenthood (California, 1997), and Growing Old in Silence (California, 1980).
"Gay Becker, the leading ethnographer of the infertility experience in the U.S., provides a powerful account of how American women and men think, feel, and talk about their utilization of new reproductive technologies. This book will be required reading for those embarking on the infertility treatment odyssey, as well as for scholars interested in the relationship of gender to technology." —Marcia Inhorn, author of Infertility and Patriarchy

"This is a very powerful book. It forces the reader to scrutinize his/her own relationships to biology, to parenthood and to normalcy. But Gay Becker's real tour de force goes beyond even this! The deeper accomplishment of her work is that when, in a decade or two, children born through these new reproductive technologies ask the parents why they were born in the first place, they will be able to turn to Becker's book. The answers will be cultural as well as personal, deeply anchored not only in their parents' desires and experiences but also in profound social and technological innovations." —Isabelle Bazanger, author of Inventing Pain Medicine from the Laboratory to the Clinic

"As a longtime facilitator of infertility support groups, I found The Elusive Embryo to be a fascinating and powerful examination of the cultural forces that shape the experience of being infertile as well as of the relationship between reproductive technologies and the consumers they serve. This is a book that makes you think; it is also one that offers recognition, perspective, and ultimately solace to those undergoing the transforming process of dealing with infertility."—Cecile T. Lampton, M.S.

"What distinguishes this book is its focus on the subjective experience of dealing with infertility and its treatment. The success of Becker's nuanced description of this difficult, emotionally-charged process may be explained by the way in which she brings to bear her own experience of infertility-a masterful exercise in involved detachment." —Simone Bateman, CNS-CERMES

Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology, American Anthrpology Association

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