Tag Archives: academics

Extreme Nerding: Academic Conference Edition

5 Mar

Long before we were trying to conceive and even longer before we knew we were having trouble, I had a curiosity about infertility. The science and the social construct have always fascinated me. Recently, one of the bloggers I have been following since her days of struggling with trying to conceive posted about her son’s sixth birthday, so it’s been awhile. As I have become more involved in historical research this inital curiosity has really blossomed into an area of academic interest.

Last semester I took a course on Disability History. The only major grade in the class was a research paper with the broad topic suggestion of “write about disability.” The professor elaborated by telling us that “anything was fair game as long as she approved.” I thought about my topic for awhile and began some basic research on a few things. I considered writing about autism and the vaccination debate or obesity and the emergence of a new class of weight-induced disabilities but decided that for this paper, I really wanted to follow my heart and my interests and write about infertility. Initally I intended to chronicle the history of infertility and the treatment of the involuntarily childless but as I discussed the paper topic with my professor the idea evolved and I decided to write an argument paper defending the position that infertility should be considered a disability.

The writing process was long and sometimes emotional. I learned so much and found so many more facets of interest that I had expected. I wanted to put everything into this paper and really make it special. Unfortunately, with a 30 page limit, this was not going to be possible and I had to spend a lot of time editing but I was very proud of the end product. I received a near perfect grade and gained a grad school mentor in my professor. This was mid-December.

Fast forward to a Sunday in February. I received an email from my mentor professor asking me to submit my research to an academic conference that she thought would offer a good audience for my work. The deadline for submissions was 5pm the following day, she apologized for the late notice, but the opportunity was a great one and she thougth I should apply. I freaked out a little when I saw that the conference required a 250 word abstract explaining my research. 250 words to tell them about the research I spent four months completing. 250 words to let them know I deserved to be there. 250 words in an abstract…something I had never written. I wrote like a mad woman well into the early morning, editing, making Randall read, trying to convey everything in a little package.

I met with my mentor the next morning. We edited some more, I made changes and I sent it off into the abyss of the online submission site with fingers crossed and low hopes for something put together from 8pm-midnight the night before the deadline on a topic I was sure was of no interest to anyone but me. I spent the next five weeks convincing myself it was a bad idea and preparing myself to get the “we regret to inform you…” form letter. The March 1st notificiation deadline came and went with no word. I was bummed.

On Friday I was standing in a wine shop in Grapevine when my phone alterted me to new school mail. Assuming it was my form letter, I figured a place with tons of wine was as good a place as any to get bad news, so I opened the message. The first line read “the field of applicants was very tough this year and we are...” then nothing. Stupid iPhone delaying the inevitable. I hit “download more” and waited. The rest of the message loaded. “…pleased to let you know that you have been accepted to the conference.” I nearly dropped my phone.

I am proud to announce that I will be presenting my research for the first (an definitely not last) time in my academic career. Later this month I will speak for 12 minutes about my work and respond to questions from the judges and audience for 5 minutes. I am dorkily over the moon and can not wait. In case you are interested, here is the late night abstract in it’s 250 word glory:

Reproductively Disabled: An Examination of Infertility as a Disability, 1990-2008

The ability to easily conceive a biological child is commonly considered an entitlement in the United States but for the ten to fifteen percent of all US citizens of reproductive age diagnosed with infertility this privilege cannot be assumed. Though infertility affects more Americans than breast and colorectal cancers combined, it lacks societal acknowledgement and little support is available for those diagnosed. While the inability to conceive a child has not historically fallen within the societal scope of what is considered a disability, infertility should be considered as such because it renders a person incapable of reproduction, notably classified as a major life function under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA.) This paper therefore explores social perceptions of the involuntarily childless, including morality debates of the use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies such as in-vitro fertilization and embryonic genetic screening; court cases and legislation that have inadvertently begun to define infertility and disability; and the ways in which the exclusion of infertility coverage from group health insurance can result in financial hardship for those diagnosed with infertility and the creation of unnecessary disability for both the mother and her offspring. Viewing infertility as a disability connects to historical scholars’ ongoing efforts to expand the definition of disability while highlighting the social construction of both gender and disability and creating an avenue of societal recognition and change for those diagnosed with infertility.