Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Miracle Babies (IVF)

We've just passed our de-paganized egg celebration and all sorts of cute and fuzzy Hollywood coverbabies are on display. That's J-Lo (38) and her $6 million dollar fraternal twins on the front of this month's People magazine.

And Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon (41) has posed with her fraternal twins for JET magazine.

Dennis Quaid and his wife Kimberly (36) were recently in the news when their fraternal twins were mistakenly overdosed in the hospital shortly after birth.

Lisa Marie Presley (40) has just announced on her MySpace page that she is expecting (rumored to be twins just like papa Elvis).

Previous seasons' lineups also featured a lot of multiples. Julia Roberts led the way with premature fraternal twins in 2004 at the age of 36. The stork brought fraternal twins for Beverly D'Angelo (49), Angela Bassett (47), Geena Davis (48), Holly Hunter (47), Jane Seymour (45), and Marcia Cross (44) as well.

Hmmm. Noticing a trend here? Older mothers? Twins anyone?

And then there's the current batch of singletons. Nicole Kidman (40) is 5 months pregnant and to make sure everyone knows, she donned a hideous see-through Prada dress back in February.

Minnie Driver (38) has announced her pregnancy, but the sperm donor is unannounced.

Cate Blanchett (38) is having her third child this April.

Gwen Stefani (38) is about to pop number two.

Julianna Margulies (41) just gave birth to a boy.

Helena Bonham Carter (41) delivered with Tim Burton just in time for the release of their other collaboration, Sweeny Todd.

Halle Berry (41) gave birth to her first, Nahla Ariela, last week. (Nahla is Arabic for 'drink of water,' Ariela is related to the Hebrew for 'lion of god.') Was it easy to conceive? "...[T]here was a lot of staying home and doing what you do. Like, all the time, around the clock," she said on Oprah. "Did you know that they call this a geriatric pregnancy? I cringe when I hear that. I'm like, 'Take that off my chart!' "

So how is it that these famous "elderly" mamas are defying the laws of nature? God loves them more? Well....maybe. In the old Testament, Jacob has two wives, Leah and Rachel, who dealt with menopausal infertility by giving him their respective hand maidens. Infertility specialists are the modern version.

Let's start with a few definitions to wipe that vaseline coating off the camera lens.
MIRACLE: something that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
ELDERLY PRIMIGRAVIDA: a woman older than 35 years who is pregnant for the first time.
FERTILE: pregnant within one year of non-protected intercourse.

Everyone has a story about someone's perimenopausal baby miracle - but scientifically that's pretty much what such a pregnancy is: a miracle.

Statistically, a sexually active 40-year-old woman has a 5% chance of conceiving in any given month. A 30-year-0ld has a 20% chance. At age 42, 90% of a woman's remaining eggs are abnormal. These eggs come with an expiration date.

These late-in-life Hollywood babies create false perceptions about fertility that can devastate women planning midlife pregnancies, particularly those of modest financial means.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is just part of the picture. In vitro is Latin for "in glass," ie, outside the living organism (or Hollywood womb if you prefer). IVF is the technique in which egg cells are fertilized by sperm in the petri dish. The fertilized egg (zygote) is then squirted into the uterus. To improve the odds, more than one zygote is transferred at one time, which leads to the rising incidence of multiple births.

The second piece of the picture is the egg itself. Egg quality is the primary barrier to pregnancy in older women. The live birthrate for IVF using a woman's own eggs is 25% for 30-year-olds, 16% at age 40, 9% at 42, 5% at 43, 2% thereafter. And retrieval of those eggs from hyperstimulated ovaries is no picnic either.

However, IVF pregnancy rates soar when the egg is donated by a younger woman and implanted into the hormonally-enhanced elderly uterus. It's safe to assume that the celebrity women pregnant in their mid-40s are using donor eggs. Some admit to it, most do not.

For a good primer on egg donation and gestational surrogacy (the borrowed uterus), Wikipedia is your friend.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Flesh Trade (Prostitution)

Rumor has it that Wall Street traders now believe in God.

Today we talk about the flesh trade practices of the rich and famous.

Well, perhaps $80,000 less rich over an unspecified period of time. Soon-to-be-former Governor Spitzer paid $4,300 for his pre-valentine's day date and there was a "credit" left over for future sessions. It's hard to imagine what came up.

We now know that the hourly rate for high-end prostitution beats most day jobs. The Emperors' top (and questionable) fee of $31,000 per day was more than even Britain's wealthiest man was willing to pop for: the "dull and demanding" Duke of Westminster topped out at the $1,000/hour services. Supposedly, the Emperors Club set its fees according to the “individual education, sophistication and and ambiance created by each of our models.” But maybe that's not what famous men want when they visit prostitutes.

Prostitution is defined as sexual activity in exchange for remuneration. On screen it's simulated but the transaction still takes place: it's sex for money. Off-screen at the Emperors Club VIP it's the real thing.

Just how many degrees of separation are there between the high priced hookers at the Emperors Club and the Hollywood actresses who use their sexuality to achieve a similarly exalted paycheck?

There are, of course, the stars who consent to play hookers on screen. So many, in fact, that prostitute roles (and all the euphemistic variations) are cliche. And then there are the hookers who service the stars out on the street (hello Hugh, hello Divine). And there are even the hookers turned screenwriters who win Oscars for their work (you didn't think she was born with the name Diablo Cody, did you?).

But the real money is in pandering to the movie-going John. It's the fans that buy the simulated sex on the screen. Showing bare breast in a Hollywood movie is de rigueur for actresses high and low. Why? Because it sells.

At it's most crass is Lindsay Lohan ripping off Marilyn Monroe with photographer Bert Stern's help. (Both the breasts and sun damaged skin are real.)

There are websites devoted to cataloguing every instance of "breasts, bush, buns" on film. Maintained by a crack cadre of skinterns, these movie reviewers are the unsung trainspotters of titillation. One celebrity nude database allows you to search on any actress's (or actor's) name and find out which pieces of flesh appeared in which film. For instance, Nicole Kidman has done her typical role, frosty and naked, in 15 mainstream films to date. Go ahead, try to find a prominent actress who hasn't flashed on-screen.

There are some striking gender differences. Despite films to the contrary (in The Wedding Date Debra Messing rents escort Dermot Mulroney for $6,000 plus first-class trans-Atlantic airfare), very few women are interested in paying thousands of dollars for hired sex. We pay in other ways.

Maybe that's why very, very few Hollywood films feature male genitalia on screen. Or even a naked rear end. In Somethings Gotta Give (2003) we get three opportunities for a leisurely study of Jack Nicholson's prosthetic buttocks, but it was was Diane Keaton who gave a full frontal. (Faithful readers, not one image could I find online.)

In Eastern Promises (2007), Viggo Mortensen sports nothing but his tattoos in probably the most violent four-minute screen fight to date. But it is one of the very rare instances in mainstream film where a major male character is shown fully nude.

Boyish actor Emile Hirsch floats naked Into the Wild (2007) as Chris McCandless. Briefly. In the distance.

None of the above film portrayals of male genital gee-whiz involve any sexual simulation stimulation. The closest we get may be Brokeback Mountain (2005). And you still had to use your imagination to visualize the naughty bits.

An explicit male nude scene is invariably hailed as evidence of an actor's "serious commitment to the role." When an actress takes her clothes off, everyone knows that line is a joke.

Women disrobe on-screen with a thousand-fold greater frequency because they're selling. They're selling to the movie industry to get the role and ultimately to the movie-going John. Men just don't have to put out to make it in Hollywood.