Some may find these interesting -- I know I want to read the first one....


Special to Newsday

April 9, 2006


THE BABY BUSINESS: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, by Debora L. Spar. Harvard Business School Press, 299 pp., $26.95.

'As people - as parents - we don't like to think of children as economic objects," writes Harvard Business School professor Debora L. Spar in "The Baby Business," her sweeping investigation of the assisted reproduction and adoption industries. "They are products, we insist, of love, not money; of an intimate creation that exists far beyond the reach of any market impulse." Still, Spar argues, making babies is big business and as such, is a market that needs monitoring.

Pointing out that there are 16 ways to have a baby, that more than 1 million Americans participated in the fertility industry in 2004, and that this $3-billion market is not regulated, Spar worries that we are headed for a train wreck.

To make her case, Spar painstakingly chronicles "the baby trade." Referring to an assisted reproductive technology industry that has grown at a dizzying rate, she notes: "Fertility customers care about price, and they purchase more services when the price goes down. But frequently, people buy on hope rather than on performance, and they base their spending largely on their available resources. ... In this regard, the fertility industry looks somewhat like a luxury trade, with a handful of powerful suppliers (think of Tiffany's, Armani, or

DeBeers) catering to a well-heeled clientele." Contributing to this is that demand exceeds supply. Although the number of U.S. fertility clinics jumped from 100 in 1986 to 428 by 2002, the numbers remain limited by the scarceness of trained reproductive endocrinologists and the difficulties of economies of scale here.

Adoption, too, is a business where demand exceeds supply and drives pricing, Spar notes in a separate section. But race and age also set costs. Documenting a cruel pricing structure where black infants and older children come at discount prices compared to top-shelf white newborns, Spar's charts comparing adoption costs of children are a brutal indictment of American values. When it comes to the government stepping up to the plate and playing a role in this market, Spar sees the carefully regulated adoption industry as a success story.

Why can't the same be said of in vitro fertilization? Spar fears it suffers by association. "Since the advent of assisted reproduction, we have shied away from any interference in these choices, believing instead that privacy shields essentially all aspects of procreation from government intervention," she says, with a nod toward abortion rights, which were legally established based on a privacy precedent. This is different, Spar insists, and a laissez-faire market doesn't cut it. Bottom line: "Governments need to play a more active role in regulating the baby trade."

THE EARLY BIRDS: A Mother's Story for Our Times, by Jenny Minton. Knopf, 255 pp, $23.

'The Early Birds" is the deeply personal story of a 30-year-old New York-based book editor's struggle to conceive and her subsequent delivery of premature twins. Born at 31 weeks, the babies weighed only 3 1/2 pounds each and spent 64 days in intensive care, going on and off respirators and various medications in their battle for life.

Although the story Minton pens should be a compelling one with the built-in narrative drive of her twins' lives hanging in the balance, its telling is clunky, awkward and atonal. Further, Minton's compulsive drive and grasping sense of entitlement leave readers with a sour taste.

The "well-heeled" Minton wants a baby and she wants it now - a baby Einstein, if you please. When she isn't pregnant after one year, she immediately seeks out the clinic with "the best doctors and scientists and pregnancy statistics in the country." As her premature twins Sam and Gus struggle to survive in a Neonatal Intensive Care unit, she plans their careers. ("I should buy those make-believe plastic doctor's kits," she decides.) When it's time to wean the twins from their nighttime bottles and get them to sleep through the night, she hires two nannies to carry her through the transition. And finally, because her father works in publishing and because she worked in publishing, certainly she must be entitled to publish her own book about this experience, the memoir itself shouts.

All of which goes to show that her sense of entitlement is not entirely misplaced: Who you know does matter. That's reality. But it's not art.

Karen Houppert is the author of "Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military - For Better or Worse."

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