12-23-21 Sperm donation boomed during the pandemic. Is that a feminist victory?
Maybe estranged patriarchy is still just patriarchy. 2021 was full of surprises: The Capitol riot was a bit of a shock; COVID-19 variants sprung up left and right; and, perhaps strangest of all, sperm was all over the papers. That's because the pandemic caused a serious shortage in the market for sperm. Many people have put off having children while COVID runs its course. But among those with male infertility or no male partner, the luxury of working remotely, and the means to pay for some sperm, the pandemic offered a golden opportunity to make dreams of a family a reality. But just as demand skyrocketed, donations fell, and in the resulting shortage, women turned instead to unregulated Facebook groups with names like "Sperm Donation USA." The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Esquire all ran features on this growing underground world of sperm philanthropy. The picture that emerged should give the feminists among us a lot to mull. Artificial insemination by donors is part of a range of assisted reproduction tools that allow people to have children outside the bounds of a heterosexual relationship between two fertile people. It opens up procreative possibilities not only for couples struggling with infertility, but also for women who, for whatever reason, aren't in a committed relationship, as well as lesbian and gay couples. In other words, sperm donation is supposed to liberate people from traditional gender roles. But the recent spotlight on informal donation practices suggests it often does exactly the opposite. The informal market for sperm differs from its more clinical counterpart. Traditional sperm banks usually keep the personal information of the donor private, at least until the child turns 18. But in the world of Facebook sperm sharing, donors and donees seek each other out, first online, then in person. "Like online dating, the matchmaking kicks off with a direct message from either party expressing interest, before an offline get-to-know-you," wrote Tonya Russell in The Atlantic. And the vetting goes in both directions: Understandably, many donors want assurance that the person raising their biological child has the means and temperament to raise them well. This produces a variety of unconventional arrangements. Some donors, Russell reported, refuse to donate "artificially" and arrange meet-ups to donate the old-fashioned way. In many cases, donors maintain some sort of relationship with the children they sire, or at least hope their children will reach out to them in the future, establishing them as what researcher Nicole Bergen refers to as an "estranged patriarch." "I have this vision of me being in my 50s and 60s, and I have a large dinner table, and I'm inviting all my donor kids to join me for dinner to tell me their stories, their journeys," one popular 30-year-old donor told The New York Times. Arguably the most famous of these estranged-patriarchs-in-the-making is Ari Nagel, who has fathered nearly 100 children through word-of-mouth sperm donation. Nagel is a strange figure who stays in loose contact with many of the women he's impregnated, as well as with their children. Per Esquire's sweeping profile, the women are friendly with each other, referring to each other's children as nieces and nephews and to themselves as "Ari's baby mamas."
11-17-21 Donated embryo offers rare glimpse of development after implantation
We know little about human development just after implantation, but an embryo donated by one individual offers a rare look at the process. What happens in the first weeks after a human embryo implants in the uterus has been a black box. Now, biologists have had a chance to study this stage of development in detail for the first time. The first week of development can be investigated by growing spare IVF embryos, while embryos older than 12 weeks are often donated for research by people after abortions. But samples of the stages in-between are exceedingly rare because few people realise they are pregnant and choose a termination at such an early stage. Biologists have been particularly keen to study a process called gastrulation, which starts two weeks after a human egg is fertilised and a week after implantation. At this point, the embryo consists of a hollow ball made of a single layer of identical cells. It then folds to form a multilayered structure and the cells start to take on specialised roles. “This is the stage where some of the key [developmental] decisions are taken,” says Shankar Srinivas at the University of Oxford. Understanding this fundamental process could lead to better ways of turning stem cells into useful cells for treating diseases and injuries, he says. A donated embryo just 16 to 19 days old and in the process of gastrulating has now been studied by Srinivas’s team. The donor must have suspected they were pregnant as soon as their period was late, and done a test and gone to a clinic the same day, says Srinivas. At the clinic, they would have been offered a medical abortion. Most people choose to take the abortion-inducing drugs at home. In the UK, only those who decide to remain in a clinic are asked if they would like to donate material for research. The Human Developmental Biology Resource, a tissue bank backed by a number of academic institutions, the health research charity Wellcome and the UK Medical Research Council, then collects and prepares samples.
11-12-21 US women are being jailed for having miscarriages
When a 21-year-old Native American woman from Oklahoma was convicted of manslaughter after having a miscarriage, people were outraged. But she was not alone. Brittney Poolaw was just about four months pregnant when she lost her baby in the hospital in January 2020. This October, she was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for the first-degree manslaughter of her unborn son. How she went from suffering a miscarriage to being jailed for killing her foetus has become the subject of much discussion online and in the press. Some on social media noted that she was convicted during pregnancy loss awareness month in the US. Others compared the case to Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. When she arrived at hospital seeking treatment, Poolaw admitted to using illicit drugs while pregnant. Later, the medical examiner's report, obtained by the BBC, found traces of methamphetamine in her unborn son's liver and brain. The examiner did not determine a cause of death for the foetus, noting genetic anomaly, placenta abruption or maternal methamphetamine use could have been contributing factors. Poolaw's lawyers say they will appeal her conviction. The prosecutor who brought her case to court has declined to comment as proceedings continue. Yet Poolaw's story is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Dana Sussman, deputy executive director of the National Advocates of Pregnant Women (NAPW), a pro-choice advocacy group. "Britney's case really touched a nerve," Ms Sussman said. "It's not as uncommon as people assumed it was." The organisation is helping with Poolaw's appeal, and has been tracking arrests and cases of "forcible intervention" against pregnant women in the US. From 1973-2020, NAPW has recorded 1,600 such cases, with about 1,200 occurring in the last 15 years alone. Although some involved women who were arrested for things such as falling down, or giving birth at home, the vast majority involved drugs, and women of colour were overrepresented.
11-11-21 TNo, COVID-19 vaccines won’t make you infertile
Data show the vaccines do not cause infertility, but getting coronavirus can The World Health Organization has warned that the globe is dealing with two pandemics. One is the spread of the coronavirus, but the other, equally dangerous, is the spread of misinformation and disinformation. False or misleading information has sprung up about the virus, treatments, vaccines, masks and just about every other aspect of the pandemic (SN: 5/6/21). Some of these lies or half-truths are purposefully used by a few people to help sell vitamin supplements, books, and DVDs, or to boost their own influence. But the vast majority of people may have heard misinformation from a friend or relative, seen it on social media or heard it repeated by celebrities or politicians. In a survey of adults in the United States conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 8 in 10 people believe or aren’t sure about the truthfulness of at least one common falsehood about the pandemic. About 46 percent of people believe or are unsure about one to three falsehoods related to the pandemic, and 32 percent believe or are uncertain whether four or more erroneous statements are true or false. Only 22 percent of adults in the survey didn’t believe any of the false statements. One particularly pernicious rumor is that coronavirus vaccines cause infertility. In the survey, 8 percent of people said they believe that false statement. Another 23 percent of people surveyed weren’t sure whether studies had shown a link between the vaccines and infertility. And it doesn’t help people tell truth from fiction when celebrities spread incorrect information. Recently, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he lied about being vaccinated because of concerns that the COVID-19 vaccine may cause infertility, as People magazine reports. That follows rapper Nicki Minaj’s tweeting that her cousin’s friend in Trinidad had suffered swollen testicles after getting the vaccine. That claim was disputed by the health minister of Trinidad and Tobago, according to CNN.
11-9-21 California couple sue clinic for alleged IVF swap 'horror'
A California couple gave birth to a stranger's child after being given the wrong embryo by a fertility clinic during in vitro fertilisation (IVF), says a lawsuit. Daphna and Alexander Cardinale say they gave birth in September 2019 to a girl that looked nothing like them. After a DNA test, they found the couple that carried their daughter to term, and together decided to swap the girls. This is not the first alleged mix-up during an IVF procedure. IVF is a procedure during which a woman's eggs are fertilised by man's sperm in a laboratory before the embryos are implanted into a woman's uterus. The Cardinales are suing the Los Angeles-based fertility centre, the California Center for Reproductive Health (CCRH), as well as In VitroTech Labs, an embryology lab. The lawsuit alleges medical malpractice, negligence and fraudulent concealment. Neither company responded to a BBC News request for comment. In an emotional news conference on Monday, Mrs Cardinale said her family's "heartbreak and confusion can't be understated". "Our memories of childbirth will always be tainted by the sick reality that our biological child was given to someone else, and the baby that I fought to bring into this world was not mine to keep." Mrs Cardinale said she was "robbed of the ability to carry my own child". According to the lawsuit, the couple sought help from the fertility clinic in the summer of 2018. Mrs Cardinale gave birth the next year to a child they thought was theirs. In the delivery room, Mr Cardinale had expected "a fair child", like their firstborn, but he was surprised to see the baby girl "came out with much darker skin", says the lawsuit. "It was so jarring that Alexander actually took several steps away from the birthing table, backing up against the wall," reads the legal action. Nearly two months later the family decided to take at-home DNA tests, which ultimately determined they were not biologically related to the infant.
10-24-21 The controversy over trans teens
Should young people with gender dysphoria be prescribed puberty blockers and hormones?
- What is gender dysphoria? Gender dysphoria is the psychological distress people suffer when their biological sex doesn't match their gender identity, or "experienced gender." About 0.6 percent of American adults identify as transgender, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has estimated.
- How has treatment changed? There's been a wide shift from a noninterventionist "watchful waiting" approach to what's called "gender affirmative" care. Previously, many therapists, guided by (now contested) studies showing that the majority of gender dysphoria cases resolve over time, focused on encouraging young people to accept the bodies they were born with.
- What is the impact of treatment? Leaders in the trans community say it brings enormous relief to trans teens, who suffer high rates of suicide and depression. Medical intervention "is what is keeping my child alive, literally," said Heather Crawford, the mother of Cass, a nonbinary 14-year-old Texan who attempted suicide before hormone treatments eased the distress.
- Why is that? Some doctors warn that these treatments can cause lasting problems with fertility, bone mineral density, and the ability to experience sexual pleasure.
- Do people ever change their minds? There are no accepted hard statistics, but as the number of people who transition has risen, so has the number of people who say they regret it. A Reddit detransition support group has drawn about 22,000 members, and some with regrets say they felt rushed into their decision.
- Where is this field headed? In Europe, there are signs of a pendulum swing. After Bell's lawsuit, children under 16 in England were required to get court approval before taking puberty blockers.
- A forbidden topic: Some doctors and researchers say the conversation about transgender youth is stifled by a climate of fear, with those who question medical interventions risking their careers.
10-18-21 IVF embryos discarded as 'abnormal' can actually become healthy babies
Embryos that are often discarded by IVF clinics because they contain some seemingly abnormal cells are just as likely to develop into healthy babies as embryos with no chromosomal abnormalities, two new studies show. The finding means that many people trying to conceive with IVF will have more embryos to choose from and can worry less about using slightly abnormal ones. To select the most viable embryos for implantation, IVF clinics visually assess their shape and structure and often do genetic tests as well. This pre-implantation genetic testing is useful for identifying embryos with major chromosomal abnormalities that are unlikely to survive, but there is controversy over what to do with those that only contain a small portion of cells with chromosomal abnormalities – known as mosaic embryos. About 1 in 4 embryos made via IVF are found to be mosaic. These embryos are often discarded or used as last-ditch options because of the perceived risks that they will miscarry or develop into babies with chromosomal conditions. However, two studies that will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine on 20 October in Baltimore, Maryland, suggest these concerns are unfounded. In the first study, Andria Besser at New York University Langone Fertility Center and her colleagues monitored the pregnancies of 35 people who had been implanted with mosaic embryos. Testing at the end of the first trimester showed that none of their fetuses had chromosomal abnormalities. In the second study, Antonio Capalbo at Igenomix, a global reproductive genetic testing company, compared pregnancy outcomes for 484 chromosomally normal embryos, 282 low-level mosaic embryos and 131 moderate-level mosaic embryos made via IVF. Mosaicism was classified as low level if 20 to 30 per cent of cells in the embryo had abnormal numbers of chromosomes and moderate if this figure was 30 to 50 per cent.
10-11-21 New California law requires public schools to offer free period products
Soon, public school students in California won't have to worry about paying for menstrual products. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday signed into law the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, which makes period products available for free at public schools serving students in the 6th through 12th grades, as well as at community colleges and California state universities. The law takes effect at the beginning of the next school year. The bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D), who said in a statement that "having convenient and free access to these products means our period won't prevent us from being productive members of society, and would alleviate the anxiety of trying to find a product when out in public." Periods can come at any time, Garcia said, and it is "time we recognize and respond to the biology of half the population by prioritizing free access to menstrual products, and eliminating all barriers to them." Garcia decided to sponsor the bill last year after Scotland became the first country in the world to provide universal free menstrual products. The World Health Organization and UNICEF found in 2015 that globally, at least 500 million women and girls do not have access to menstrual products or clean bathroom facilities, potentially leading to urinary tract infections and reproductive issues.
10-11-21 Stealthing: California bans non-consensual condom removal
About 30 years ago, just months after starting work as a prostitute, Maxine Doogan became pregnant. She had been with a new client at a massage parlour in Anchorage, Alaska, when she realised he had removed his condom surreptitiously during intercourse. Shocked, she ran to the bathroom. When she returned the client was gone. Doogan, then in her mid-twenties, went to a nearby health clinic for a round of tests for sexually transmitted infections and later gave a silent thanks for each negative result. Six weeks later, Doogan sought an abortion. It cost her around $300 (about £220 at today's conversion rate) and after the procedure she couldn't work for a month. What the client did was wrong. But as far as she knew it wasn't illegal. "There's just no recourse for something like that," she said. Now, in one US state there is. Last Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bipartisan bill that outlaws non-consensual condom removal, known as "stealthing". The new legislation adds the act to the state's civil definition of sexual battery, making California the first US state to render stealthing illegal. The law gives victims a clear legal remedy for the assault that Doogan, who now lives in San Francisco, suffered decades ago. And advocates say it marks a sea change for other survivors who, unlike Doogan, might now have their day in court. "We wanted to make sure that it's not only immoral, but illegal," said California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia who introduced the bill. Garcia has been working on some version of this legislation for years. In 2017 and again in 2018, she introduced a bill that would have made stealthing a criminal offence, and allowed prosecutors to seek jail time for perpetrators. These bills either died on the floor or did not get a hearing. This new version, which amends just the civil code, passed in the California legislation with no opposition. Survivors can sue offenders for damages but no criminal charges can be brought forward. "I still think this should be in the penal code," Garcia told the BBC. "If consent was broken, isn't that the definition of rape, or sexual assault?" Legislative analysts have said that stealthing could be considered misdemeanour sexual battery, even though it is not explicitly named in the criminal code. But Garcia's new law removes any ambiguity for civil claims which, experts say, will make it easier for survivors to pursue their cases. "We can start to talk about it in a way where we have a common language," Garcia said.
9-21-21 Luis Miramontes helped enable the sexual revolution. Why isn’t he better known?
At 26, Miramontes synthesized an active ingredient in one of the first birth control pills. When Mexican scientist Luis Miramontes signed his lab notebook on October 15, 1951, he didn’t know he was documenting history. That day, he made a new molecule — norethindrone. Derived from the wild Mexican yam that locals call barbasco, norethindrone became one of the first active ingredients in birth control pills. “The pill” gave women control over when they had children and let men and women enjoy sex without the chance of reproduction, thus ushering in seismic social change. Miramontes’ notebook page has been immortalized in books and articles by his former supervisor, Carl Djerassi, as well as reporters. Yet compared with Djerassi and others who contributed to the pill, Miramontes attained little recognition, says Gabriela Soto Laveaga, a historian of science at Harvard University and author of Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill. “It isn’t until recently that Miramontes has even been spoken about.” Luis Ernesto Miramontes Cárdenas was born in 1925, in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. He grew up surrounded by strong female role models, including his aunt María Dolores Cárdenas Aréchiga, a onetime major in Pancho Villa’s army who later joined the army of teachers bringing education to the remotest corners of Mexico. Young Miramontes decided on a career in science. By the late 1940s, he was studying chemical engineering in Mexico City. It was a good time and place to be a skilled molecule maker. The Mexican company Syntex was blowing away global competition at producing low-cost hormones to treat diseases. The reason was the Mexican yam, Dioscorea mexicana, which contained large quantities of a precursor that could be used to make several hormones. In 1949, Miramontes became one of a group of researchers assigned to Syntex projects as part of an agreement with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM. Djerassi, an Austrian-born American chemist, “liked the way I worked,” Miramontes said in a 2004 interview. “If he wanted something to turn out well, or to be verified, he’d give me the job.”
8-20-21 China NPC: Three-child policy formally passed into law
China has formally revised its laws to allow couples to have up to three children, to boost the birth rate. The regulation was one of several passed on Friday at a meeting of the country's top lawmakers, the National People's Congress (NPC). Details on a controversial anti-sanctions law for Hong Kong, which many businesses feared would put them in a difficult position, were also expected. But Hong Kong media reported on Friday that the decision had been delayed. What is the three-child policy? China had announced back in May that it would allow couples to have up to three children, in a major policy shift. That decision has now been formally passed into law, along with several resolutions aimed at boosting the birth rate and "reducing the burden" of raising a child, said Xinhua news agency. These include cancelling the "social maintenance fee" - a financial penalty couples pay for having children beyond the limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, increasing women's employment rights; and improving childcare infrastructure. Recent census data had shown a steep decline in the birth rate. In 2016, the country had scrapped its decades-old one-child policy to replace it with a two-child limit, but this failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births. The cost of raising children in cities has deterred many Chinese couples. What about the anti-sanctions law? This past week, global banks and financial institutions had been watching the NPC meeting closely for signs on how and when the controversial anti-sanctions law would affect Hong Kong. China had already passed the law in June, and was expected on Friday to put it into Hong Kong and Macau's mini-constitutions, spelling out how it would be applied. Reports on Friday however quoted a lawmaker as saying this was delayed. Under the law, companies in China are not allowed to implement foreign sanctions against Chinese individuals or entities. On top of that, they are required to help Beijing carry out retaliatory measures, and may face punishment if they refuse. It was tabled after the US government imposed several rounds of sanctions on Chinese officials - including Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam - over Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy protests. In response, China imposed its own sanctions on US officials.
8-1-21 The women fighting infertility stigma in Nigeria
Three Nigerian women discuss the the prejudice they have faced on their fertility journeys. Cassandra, Made and Omotade explain how they experienced pressure and stigma because of social taboos around infertility.
7-27-21 Brazil: Why are so many pregnant women dying from Covid?
Covid-19 has critically affected pregnant women in Brazil, with more than 1,000 deaths. One in five women that died from the virus didn't have access to an intensive care unit and one in three didn't have access to a ventilator. So far Brazil has recorded more than 530,000 coronavirus related deaths and only 45% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
7-11-21 'Indians don't talk about sex - so I help them'
Many Indian schools provide no sex education, leaving it to parents to talk to their children about sex and relationships. But often they are unsure what to say, sex coach Pallavi Barnwal tells the BBC's Megha Mohan. Looking back, my conservative Indian upbringing was actually the perfect grounding for someone who would end up as a sex coach. The earliest influence on me, although I didn't realise it at the time, was my parents' own relationship. There were rumours about my parents' marriage for years. When I was around eight years old, I started getting questions about it. At parties, if I was separated from my family, an infantry of breathless aunties would corner me for an interrogation. "Do your parents still share a room?" "Have you heard any arguments?" "Do you ever see a man visiting?" I would be standing by a dessert table, about to spoon a scoop of ice cream into a bowl, or wandering through a garden looking for other children to play with and before I knew it, I'd be surrounded by excited women I barely knew, asking questions to which I definitely did not know the answer. Years later, after my own divorce, my mother told me the full story. Early in my parents' marriage, before my brother and I were born, my mother felt a deep attraction to a man that turned into a physical affair. Within weeks guilt set in and she ended it. But in Indian communities, there are eyes and mouths everywhere. Over time, rumours reached my father. It took my father 10 years, and two children, to finally ask her about it. He promised her that any answer would not affect their relationship, but after years of murmurs he had to know. She told him everything. It was less about sex and more about intimacy, she said. It had happened at a time before they had started a family, when their marriage hadn't yet found its groove.
6-29-21 French lesbians and single women to get IVF rights
France is poised to pass a law allowing single women and lesbian couples to get fertility treatment, currently reserved for heterosexual couples. The National Assembly (lower house) vote follows two years of heated debate and demonstrations by groups opposed to this expansion of reproductive rights. Many French women have gone to Belgium and Spain for fertility treatment, which can be very expensive. The new law brings France into line with 10 other EU countries and the UK. Besides Belgium and Spain, the 10 are: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. Outside the EU, Iceland and Norway have similar legal provisions. A recent Ifop opinion poll found 67% of French respondents favour the new law. There was resistance to it in the French Senate (upper house), and the draft acquired more than 1,500 amendments, but the National Assembly has the final say. It is expected to pass, as President Emmanuel Macron's party - La République en Marche (LREM) - has a lower house majority with its allies. The law will provide access to various fertility procedures, notably in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and artificial insemination, for all women under 43, with costs covered by the French health service. Children conceived with donor sperm will also be able to learn the donor's identity when they become adults, removing the current French anonymity for donors. In 2018, there were 25,120 babies conceived through medically-assisted procreation (MAP) in France, after nearly 150,000 attempts, according to l'Assurance-maladie, the country's national health insurance body. That was 3.3% of births. The new law specifies that both the birth mother and her partner are to be named as the child's parents on the birth certificate. Magali Champetier, a lesbian mother quoted by La Dépêche newspaper, said "this law comes as a relief - we've been waiting a long time for it, and it's already too late for many women because of the biological clock".
6-7-21 Chinese birth-control policy could cut millions of Uyghur births, report finds
Chinese birth-control policies could reduce the ethnic minority population in southern Xinjiang by up to a third over the next 20 years, according to new analysis by a German researcher. The analysis concluded that regional policies could cut between 2.6 and 4.5 million minority births in that time. China has been accused by some Western nations of genocide in Xinjiang, partly through forced birth-control measures. China denies the allegations, saying birth-rate declines have other causes. The new study, by researcher Adrian Zenz, is the first such peer-reviewed academic paper on the long-term population impact of China's crackdown on the Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang. It found that under China's birth-control policies in the region, the population of ethnic minorities in southern Xinjiang would reach somewhere between 8.6 and 10.5 million by 2040, compared to 13.1 million projected by Chinese researchers before Beijing's crackdown. "This [research and analysis] really shows the intent behind the Chinese government's long-term plan for the Uyghur population," Mr Zenz told the Reuters news agency, which first reported the study. In his report, Mr Zenz writes that by 2019 Xinjiang authorities "planned to subject at least 80% of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to intrusive birth prevention surgeries, referring to IUDs or sterilisations". Experts believe that China has detained at least a million Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, and the government faces accusations of attempting to reduce and assimilate the minority Muslim population there. Reports also say authorities have intentionally moved people from the mainstream Han Chinese population into parts of Xinjiang previously dominated by ethnic minorities, and forcibly transferred Uyghurs out.
6-2-21 Colour-changing tampons could detect urinary tract infections
Tampons and sanitary pads that have been modified to change colour in the presence of some urinary tract infections (UTIs) could help to quickly diagnose such conditions in lower-income countries where access to healthcare is limited – though the current design turns pink, which may not be very useful. UTIs are incredibly common: worldwide, more than half of adult women have had at least one. The standard way to diagnose a UTI is to collect a urine sample and test it in a lab, but these facilities are often less available in lower-income countries. Now, Naresh Mani and his team at the Manipal Institute of Technology in India have created cotton fibres that can detect a yeast called Candida albicans, the most common form of fungal UTI. The researchers soaked the fibres in an amino acid that breaks down in the presence of an enzyme secreted by C. albicans. They placed the fibres inside tampons and pads and applied a simulated vaginal discharge made from blood serum, acids, urea and C. albicans. In both cases, the fibres turned a pinkish colour, signalling an infection. The team only tested the fibres in the lab and haven’t yet trialled them in people, but Mani says that menstrual blood could obscure the change in colour. The team hopes to find an alternative amino acid that reacts to C. albicans but produces a more visible colour. Mani says the final product should be cheap at around 20p per tampon or pad, but José Santos, a member of a missionary organisation called Casa Fiz do Mundo that tackles period poverty in São Tomé and Príncipe, says this may still be unaffordable.“Any item that could balance gender injustice would be helpful, but costs can be a concern,” he says, pointing out that the legal minimum wage in São Tomé and Príncipe is the equivalent of £39 a year. “Pads and tampons are already inaccessible to women there. This type of product is welcomed, but it has to be economically viable for communities.”
6-2-21 Covid worries India's pregnant and unprotected mothers-to-be
When Jagriti Eadala found out she was pregnant in February, she and her husband celebrated by going on a holiday. It coincided with their anniversary and Covid appeared to be on the wane in India. But within a month, the 29-year-old found herself cloistered in a room, scared to step out. The virus had returned with alarming ferocity. Her husband had to continue going to work, so she isolated herself from everyone in the house. By then, India had begun vaccination against Covid but that was not an option for Jagriti. It still isn't because the jab has not been approved for pregnant women in the country. The government recently cleared it for nursing mothers, but there is no word on what pregnant women should expect, leaving them anxious and scared. "I had Covid in November and I have good antibody levels, but my doctor said I need to be very careful. I am pretty paranoid," Jagriti says, adding that she knows of someone who was nine months pregnant when she tested positive for Covid. The baby was born by C-section but the mother had to go on a ventilator. She survived but, Jagriti says, stories like this frighten her. There are many such stories, too often with a heartbreaking end. A 35-year-old man in Delhi lost his wife to Covid, two weeks after she delivered a baby girl. He says he is still in shock, unable to fathom how he is going to parent his three children - he has two young daughters - without the "wonder woman" by his side. "Don't take corona lightly," a young Covid positive doctor said, struggling to speak in a video that was shared after she died of the infection. She was seven months pregnant but the baby had died in her womb the day before. Studies have shown that Covid positive pregnant women, compared to non-pregnant women, are at higher risk of dying from the virus. They are also more likely to be admitted to the ICU, hooked to an invasive ventilator, develop dangerous pregnancy complications or deliver prematurely.
5-31-21 China allows couples to have three children
China has announced that it will allow couples to have up to three children, after census data showed a steep decline in birth rates. China scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit which has failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births. The cost of raising children in cities has deterred many Chinese couples. The latest move was approved by President Xi Jinping at a meeting of top Communist Party officials. It will come with "supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country's population structure, fulfilling the country's strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources", according to Xinhua news agency. But human rights organisation Amnesty International said the policy, like its predecessors, was still a violation of sexual and reproductive rights. "Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than 'optimising' its birth policy, China should instead respect people's life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people's family planning decisions," said the group's China team head, Joshua Rosenzweig. Also, some experts were sceptical of the impact. "If relaxing the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have proven to be effective too," Hao Zhou, a senior economist at Commerzbank, told Reuters news agency. "But who wants to have three kids? Young people could have two kids at most. The fundamental issue is living costs are too high and life pressures are too huge." The census, released this month, showed that around 12 million babies were born last year - a significant decrease from the 18 million in 2016, and the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s. The census was conducted in late 2020 - some seven million census takers had gone door to door to collect information from households.
5-26-21 The Menopause Manifesto review: A guide to counteract medical misogyny
I AM only 37 and I have experienced the menopause multiple times. Drugs for IVF and endometriosis paused my hormonal cycles on five separate occasions, placing me in what doctors call “artificial menopause”. But there was nothing artificial about the symptoms – the hot flushes that burned deep inside my core at 2 am were a particular shock. So when I came across The Menopause Manifesto, written by gynaecologist Jen Gunter, I jumped at the chance to learn more about what was in store when the real thing hits. Despite the universal nature of menopause for half the planet’s population, few of us are fully informed about the symptoms, physical changes, medical concerns or treatment options. According to Gunter, this information vacuum is largely down to medical misogyny. Indeed, medicine’s long history of neglecting women means that menopause concerns are still too often dismissed as fabricated, unimportant or just “part of being a woman”. Gunter’s ambition is to change this conversation, which is worthy in all the right ways. Menopause shouldn’t be a fringe part of women’s healthcare: aside from quality of life issues, social impact and physical symptoms, there is its link to cardiovascular disease. This is responsible for 1 in 3 female deaths each year – more than die from breast cancer. So it turns out that my 2 am “hot blooms” (as I find they would have been called in the 18th century) are the least of it. Women can also expect abnormal bleeding, temporary cognitive changes, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, decreased libido and joint pain. Not to mention the increased risk of osteoporosis, dementia, metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity), type 2 diabetes and urinary tract infections. Sound like something you should know about? Gunter’s teaching of the history and biology around menopause is second to none. Her opinions on the societal lens through which we view the menopause are just as interesting. She highlights the fact that it is misogynistic to tie a description for a third of a woman’s life to the function of her uterus and ovaries. We don’t define men as they age by an obvious physical change in their reproductive function, she points out. Yes, the menopause is a marker for increased risk of heart disease for women, but so, too, she says, is erectile dysfunction for men. Imagine a world with men in what she calls the “erectopause”.
5-12-21 The doom-loop of a falling fertility rate
Why America is powerless to reverse its plummeting fertility rate. Growth is good. On that, most of us agree. Sure, there are some agrarian localists on the right and antimodern environmentalists on the left who pine for a smaller, simpler world in which we make do with less as well as fewer — fewer cars, fewer smokestacks, fewer cities, fewer carbon dioxide molecules, and yes, even fewer people. But they are very much in the minority. Most of the rest of us consider growth — economic as well as demographic — incredibly important, if perhaps for somewhat different reasons. Nationalists believe in greatness for the political community, and they view growth of all kinds as a means to that end. Mainstream environmentalists understand that combatting climate change will have to involve advances in technology that are driven by a mixture of growth-fueled economic dynamism and public investments paid for, in part, with revenue generated by economic growth. And liberals recognize the crucially important role that economic growth plays in making possible a rising standard of living — and how giving people at all levels of the economic hierarchy hope for personal, familial, and community betterment diminishes the allure of antiliberal political movements on the far left and far right. That's why the recent news that declines in the U.S. fertility rate over the past decade and a half are continuing, and may even be accelerating, is so distressing. Replacement-level fertility — the number of babies each woman, on average, needs to have in order for the country's population to hold steady — is 2.1 births per woman. As recently as 15 years ago, the U.S. was bucking the trend of many peer nations in Europe and Asia in averaging about 2.1. But since 2007, the year before the start of the financial crisis and the extended recession that followed, we've fallen off a cliff. By 2019, the average number of births per woman had fallen to 1.71, and last week the CDC announced that the number dropped to 1.64 in 2020. That most recent downtick may be partly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's not divergent enough from recent trends to suggest there will be a reversal once the pandemic passes. For now, the American population continues to grow, in part because of our relatively high levels of immigration. But we're growing at the slowest rate since World War II, and even this anemic level of growth will soon come to an end if the fertility rate doesn't bounce back. And that could point toward an economically troubling future. In such a world, the median age of the population would rise over time, with fewer young people available to work relative to the increasing number of retirees. The shrinking workforce would act as a drag on productivity and economic growth, leading us at first to generate wealth at a slower rate than we've grown accustomed to, and eventually to grow poorer over time. Meanwhile, fewer people would be paying into social programs (Social Security and Medicare) struggling to support ever-greater numbers of the elderly, placing those programs under increasing strain and necessitating tax increases or additional deficit spending to cover costs, with both of those possibilities adding to the economic drag. And of course, those economic struggles could further discourage people from having children. That's the doom-loop of a falling fertility rate — and countries around the world, from Italy and Spain to China and Japan, are in danger of falling into it, along with the United States. The trend would be less alarming if there were obvious things we could do to reverse it. But there aren't.
5-7-21 Ancient hominins may have needed midwives to help deliver babies
It isn’t just modern humans that have found giving birth painful and dangerous. Growing evidence suggests birth was difficult for our hominin relatives millions of years ago. As a result, earlier hominins like Australopithecus may have needed help to deliver their babies. Birth is strikingly dangerous for modern humans (Homo sapiens) compared with other primates. Globally, for every 100,000 births in 2017, 211 mothers died. In the worst-affected countries, such as Sierra Leone, the maternal mortality rate is more than five times that. Many nations have much lower rates, but that is largely due to better medical intervention, including caesarean sections – which weren’t available for most of our species’ existence. The same isn’t true for other primates like monkeys and apes, our closest living relatives. “You’re not seeing these types of complications that you see in humans,” says Nicole Webb at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The long-standing explanation for the difficulty of human births is that it is caused by a combination of our large brains and the fact we walk upright on two legs. According to anthropologist Sherwood Washburn, writing in 1960, upright walking meant evolution favoured a narrower pelvis, but also a wider pelvic canal to accommodate the baby’s head – creating what he dubbed the “obstetrical dilemma”. Despite challenges and modifications to the idea, for many anthropologists, it still largely holds true. “In my view, the obstetrical dilemma hypothesis as Washburn framed it is still the most reasonable,” says Martin Haeusler at the University of Zurich. It was generally thought that the obstetrical dilemma was unique to humans, or at least to the Homo genus, but new evidence suggests birth difficulties go back much further.
5-6-21 US birth rate falls 4% to its lowest point ever
The American birth rate fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2020, with the lowest number of babies born since 1979, according to a new report. Some 3.6 million babies were born in the US in 2020 - marking a 4% decline from the year before, found the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. The slump was seen across all recorded ethnicities and origins, according to the findings. The national picture mirrors a decline in births seen worldwide, a trend some experts say has been accelerated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the CDC report, demographers examined the country's general fertility rate, which compares the number of live births with the number of women considered to be of childbearing age - between 15 and 44 years old. In 2020, the general fertility rate in the US was about 56 births per 1,000 women - the lowest rate on record and about half of what it was in the early 1960s. The decline in birth rates was seen across all measured racial and ethnic groups. Births dropped by 4% among white, black and Latina women, 9% for Asian women, 3% for Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and 7% for Native American and Alaska native women. The report also analysed the total US fertility rate, which estimates how many babies a hypothetical group of 1,000 women would have over their lifetime based on actual birth rates. For a generation to exactly replace itself, this number must be at or above 2.1. According to the CDC, this rate has generally been "below replacement" since 1971 and has consistently been below replacement since 2007. Today, the US total fertility rate sits at 1.6 - another record low. Experts say the country's tumbling birth rate is closely linked to the average age of American mothers. Women are becoming mothers later in life - a phenomenon tied to increases in educational attainment, growing labour force participation and delays in marriage, according to the Pew Research Center. The average age of mothers at first birth is 27, up from 23 in 2010, recent CDC data has found.
5-6-21 Blood test could predict when pregnant women will give birth
Many pregnant women are eager to know exactly when they will give birth, and one day a blood test might be able to tell them. At the moment, women are given a due date that is 40 weeks from the first day of their last period, but some give birth weeks before that, while others go beyond that date and may need to have labour induced. Ina Stelzer at Stanford University, California, and her colleagues are investigating a new approach that involves tracking how the body responds to signals from the fetus and prepares for labour. “The blood shows that birth is approaching,” she says. Stelzer’s team took blood samples from 53 pregnant women and tested them in multiple ways between one and three times over their expected last 100 days of pregnancy. The researchers looked at nearly 5000 biochemicals and carried out more than 2000 tests on immune cells in their blood. Two to four weeks before the birth, the team found that there was a change in the women’s hormone patterns and a fall in inflammatory immune cell activity, reflected by changes in the blood biomarkers. The researchers built a prediction model using 45 of the biomarkers and tested this on a further 10 women. It predicted a probable delivery date that for each of them was within 17 days of their actual date, either before or after. Stelzer believes that as results from more women are added to the model it will become more accurate. The researchers haven’t yet tested if the model would work for multiple pregnancies or pregnant trans men. If turned into a commercial test, it could be useful for knowing if pregnant women are likely to give birth prematurely, says Rachel Tribe at King’s College London (KCL). At the moment this requires taking a swab of their vaginal fluid and doing a scan to measure the position of their cervix.
5-2-21 Sweden's IVF programme for single women not 'as good as hoped'
Fertility campaigners in Sweden say healthcare officials have broken a promise to help more single women get pregnant. In April 2016, Swedish women without partners were given the same rights as couples to access state-funded fertility treatments including IVF. But waiting times are so long in one part of the country that women have been told it’s too late to join the list once they turn 37.
4-25-21 Menstrual leave: South Korea airline ex-CEO fined for refusing time off
A former airline CEO who refused to allow female staff to take menstrual leave protected by employment law has been fined almost $1,800 (£1,300; 2m won) by a court in South Korea. Kim Soo-cheon, the ex-head of Asiana Airlines, turned down 138 requests from 15 flight attendants in 2014 and 2015. Mr Kim claimed the employees did not provide proof of menstruation. Since 1953, women in South Korea have been allowed to take one day off a month if they have painful periods. What is menstrual leave? 1. It allows women to take one or two days off a month, sometimes unpaid, when they are having their period. 2. Exists in a number of jurisdictions, including Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan. 3. However, the take-up among women is often low. 4. Supporters say menstrual leave is as important for women as maternity leave, a recognition of a basic biological process. 5. But critics say it reinforces negative stereotypes of female workers and could even discourage employers from hiring women. A lower court first found against Mr Kim in 2017. He had argued there were "many suspicious cases" when employees requested leave around holidays or days off, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reports. However, the court said that asking employees to prove they were having their period could "infringe upon privacy and human rights". The ruling was upheld by a higher court.
4-9-21 Sexual health: 'I can't tell my mum I'm having sex'
When Singapore resident Nadia* visited a local clinic to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI) three years ago, she left the doctor's office feeling ashamed. The elderly woman doctor there had talked down to her and dumped a stack of pamphlets on her "as if I was stupid", the 24-year-old student recalled. "I felt judged the entire time too - as if it was my fault if I got an infection because I shouldn't have been having sex with my boyfriend in the first place," she said. But now, the country's internet-savvy are being offered alternative options, thanks to a bunch of telehealth start-ups which have popped up in the city-state in the last year - all with a focus on sexual health. They are allowing people "shame-free" access to sexual health products and advice - something which young people like Nadia say they need, given their attitudes to sex differ markedly to traditionally accepted views. Nadia says she used Ferne Health - a company that offers STI tests from the privacy of your own home. After consulting a doctor via video call on the website, she was mailed a vaginal swab kit in discreet packaging which allowed her to self-collect samples. A courier picked them up the next day, and she received her results within the week. "Nothing was written on the box so even the courier didn't know what was inside, which was great," said Nadia, who shares a flat with her parents and two siblings. It is common for young adults to live at home with their parents before marriage - due to both high property prices as well as cultural or religious attitudes. "My family is very traditional - I'm Singaporean and I'm also Malay Muslim, so there are certain things expected of you. I can't tell my mum I'm having sex," she said. While at-home STI tests may be common across Europe and the US, the concept is relatively new in Singapore. But while both experts and users agree that such services are long overdue, clinical sexologist Martha Lee has said there needs to be some considerations when signing up for them.
4-7-21 Why Utah is making men pay women's pregnancy costs
Fathers in Utah are now legally obliged to pay half the cost of a mother's medical care related to pregnancy and delivery. Supporters of the law - which is thought to be the first of its kind in the US - say it will help alleviate the financial burden of motherhood for American women. The legislation passed with bipartisan support - but it raises questions about the cost of parenting in the US, as well as the state's growing roster of anti-abortion legislation. Utah's Shared Medical Costs law requires biological fathers to pay half of a mother's insurance premiums - her monthly health insurance costs - during pregnancy as well as all other related medical fees, including the birth of the child. For US women with insurance, giving birth costs an average of $4,500 (£3,254) out of pocket, according to a study in the Health Affairs journal that tracked costs from 2008 - 2015. For those without coverage, this figure could more than double: the not-for-profit Fair Health organisation reported the average as closer to $10,000. If paternity of the child is in question, fathers are able to delay payments until paternity is proven. The payment process is not automatic. Similar to child support, if a woman does not seek assistance, the father will not be notified. The same financial obligation does not apply if a woman wants to terminate the pregnancy. Biological fathers will not be required to contribute to the cost of an abortion if it is sought without their consent, except in the case of rape or if the mother's life is in danger. The cost of an abortion, without insurance, is roughly $1,000 (£722) according to Planned Parenthood. The law, which will take effect on 5 May, passed unanimously with bipartisan support in the state's Senate but faced Democratic opposition in the House of Representatives.
3-25-21 Miscarriages and stillbirths: New Zealand to allow bereavement leave
Couples in New Zealand who have a miscarriage or stillbirth will be eligible for paid bereavement leave under a new law approved by parliament. MP Ginny Andersen, who put forward the bill, said it would allow mothers and their partners to "come to terms with their loss" without taking sick leave. The bill also applies to those having a child though adoption or surrogacy. New Zealand is reportedly only the second country in the world to introduce the measure, after India. The legislation, which was unanimously passed in parliament, provides three days of bereavement leave. Ms Anderson said one in four women in New Zealand have had a miscarriage and she hoped the new provision would give them "time to come to terms with their loss without having to tap into sick leave". "Their grief is not a sickness, it is a loss. And loss takes time," she said, adding that New Zealand was "leading the way for progressive and compassionate legislation". A year ago, parliament passed a reform bill that decriminalised abortion and allowed women to choose a termination up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.
3-21-21 America's falling fertility rate
Women are having fewer children than at any time on record. What are the implications? Women are having fewer children than at any time on record. What are the implications? Here's everything you need to know:
- What is the current rate? The U.S.'s total fertility rate, or the number of babies each woman is expected to have during her lifetime, reached a record low of 1.705 births per woman in 2019, the latest year for which data is available. That year the number of babies born in the U.S. was 3.74 million — a 35-year low.
- Why the decline in births? A complex set of factors has driven down birth rates for almost all age groups of women — except for those in their late 30s and early 40s. As more women pursue college and advanced degrees and devote their 20s to career building, the mean age at which women have their first birth reached a record high of 26.9 in 2018.
- What role does housing play? A major one. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that the largest component of child-rearing costs is housing. And the cost of housing in America has skyrocketed.
- What about teenage births? The number of teen births has plunged, from 41.5 children per 1,000 women in 2007 to 17.4 per 1,000 women in 2018. Studies have attributed this rapid decline to improved access to birth control — especially highly effective means such as the pill, IUDs, and implants.
- Did the pandemic affect births? It is apparently causing a "baby bust." Researchers Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine estimate that the pandemic will result in 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies born in the U.S.
- Government childbirth programs: Nearly 30 percent of the world's countries have officially adopted pro-natalist policies to encourage their citizens to have kids.
1-24-21 JoJo Siwa: YouTube star 'never been this happy' after coming out
YouTube star JoJo Siwa has told fans she has never been so happy before after coming out on social media. In a post on Twitter, the teenager shared a photo of herself wearing a T-Shirt with the words 'Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever.' printed on it. She later told fans she was not ready to put a label on her sexuality, but that coming out felt "awesome". Celebrities including Paris Hilton and Ellen DeGeneres supported the 17-year-old on social media. Siwa first found fame on the reality show Dance Moms, which documented the tantrums and triumphs of a group of pre-teen dancers in Pennsylvania. The American dancer, singer and YouTuber - known for her massive colourful hair bows - now has millions of followers. Her tweet on Friday was liked more than one million times. On Saturday, she said in an Instagram Live post that she had "never ever been this happy". Responding to a fan who asked what "label" she was, she said: "I don't really know this answer. I think humans are awesome. I think humans are really incredible people." "Right now, I'm super duper happy and I want to share everything with the world, I really do, but I also want to keep things in my life private until they are ready to be public," she added.While acknowledging that everyone's experience is different, Siwa said that coming out "has this stigma around it - that it's a really, really, really scary thing, but it's not anymore". Siwa also said she had "always believed that my person was going to be my person and if that person happened to be a boy great and if that person happened to be a girl great."
1-17-21 Are women let down by period trackers?
When journalist Orla Barry received a notification from her iPhone informing her that her period was due "any day in the next three weeks", she shared it on social media with wry amusement. It wasn't the first time she'd received such an unspecific notification from the app, and it prompted others to share their stories. "I got one which said my period was 56 days late," wrote one. "My notification said 'the next nine days'," said another. One man said his smartwatch had a menstruation tracker activated by default when he got it, and it kept telling him his period was "due" - despite him never having had one. These apps do face a big challenge - periods are not always renowned for their punctuality. But are they up to the job? At their most simple, women input the dates when their periods begin and end, and an app calculates when their next is due to arrive based on this information. It can also use this data to estimate when they might ovulate: this is also when they are most likely to conceive. Some offer to track additional data including basal body temperature, sleep patterns, menstrual pain and sexual activity, which can provide further clues - although there have been concerns around what else this data can be used for by the developers of the app. However, women's cycles can change from month to month based on a large number of factors including stress, age, and hormone fluctuations. It is perhaps not all that surprising that a scientific study of nearly 1,000 women carried out in 2018 found that the apps they were using were only correctly identifying when they ovulated 21% of the time. But period trackers remain very popular. They are used for a number of reasons.