To preface, I will not be quoting Church doctrine or Scripture to highlight my points in this post. This is, rather, a laywoman's perspective from the heart, not from the head, and as such does not warrant research back-up (though it is founded on beautiful logic).
I've been meaning to write this post for quite some time. I've been meaning to write it every time I hear someone say to me, "I can't believe the Catholic Church, as much as it claims to love children, would put such restrictions on infertile couples, on what kind of treatments they can pursue..."
And ever since I read this article, posted a while back by MatchingMoonheads, it got my blood boiling. I'm really not a fan of the "pickers-and-choosers'" mentality, as I refer to it - those who justify their decision to go against a very fundamental teaching of their group (this is not isolated to Catholics, it happens in all groups of people, everywhere), and yet still proclaim to others that they represent their group. It would be like my becoming an athiest, and telling others, "But I still believe in God." Not only would others then get the wrong impression about athieism, spreading the word that they know people who are athiest and who still believe in God, but the athiests themselves would be slightly perturbed, I imagine, when approached with the notion that, "Well, you can believe in God, too, because so-and-so is an athiest, and they believe in God."
And so it is with faithful Catholics who have not gone through, are not currently doing, and never will pursue in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
In my own Catholic Hospital where I work, while getting my pre-employment physical, the Dr saw my surgical history and immediately ascertained that I had infertility. Trying to "fix" the problem, she asked me, "Have you already tried IVF?"
"No," I proudly responded. "I'm a practicing Catholic." Bewildered, the Dr offered to speak with her good friend who worked in the hospital and was Catholic herself, because she was SURE that IVF was allowed... then her voice drifted off as she concluded, "But... you've been at this for a while, and I'm sure you've already done your research on it." She remained perplexed for the remainder of the physical exam, and I was convinced that I was the very first person to ever present that information to her. How sad is that? Working in a Catholic Hospital for years, and had no idea about this fundamental teaching.
But to get back to the heart of the post, I need to start by saying this:
I have never, EVER begrudged my religion its teachings on in-vitro fertilization. I have never felt that the Catholic Church's stance on life (in any form, from conception to natural death) was unfair, was holding me back from my dreams, or was outdated. In short - I have not followed the Church's teachings on infertility treatments solely because they are the rules of my Church. I have followed them because they are BEAUTIFUL, they are LIFE-GIVING, and they are the TRUTH.
My husband and I (just in case you've stumbled upon this blog for the first time) have been suffering through primary infertility (never having achieved pregnancy before) for 5 years this summer. In that time, God has given us many opportunities to glorify Him, to be witnesses to His love here on earth, and has blessed us with many gifts. The crosses have been heavy, no doubt, but no matter how bad things got, I can honestly say we were never tempted to do IVF.
Even when our insurance would have covered FOUR of them in full.
Even when our adoption agency denied us approval.
Even when faithful friends told me about people they knew who only fertilized two eggs in a petri dish, and transferred both, so that no extra lives were destroyed.
Because to me (and my husband), and I think I speak for many of my Catholic friends here on the blogs, too, the DEPLORABLE aspect of IVF is the destruction of so many extra lives, either immediate or after years of being frozen, but it is not the sole reason for our disapproval. Rather, we feel that life should be created by God and God alone, within a natural marital act of love between two spouses. Obviously in-vitro fertilization takes conception completely outside of that act, and a Dr becomes the creator of life by using biological material extracted from the woman and biological material collected from the man, even sometimes forcing the egg and sperm to fertilize with a process known as ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection).
IVF, with a wife's eggs and her husband's sperm, is morally questionable in and of itself. But it is also a slippery slope. Let's just say the Church approved IVF in the context of an infertile couple who has tried all other options and cannot conceive otherwise (and let's just ignore the fact that the "cannot" in that last statement is ALWAYS purely hypothetical). How would they be able to stop there? How could the Church then deny the same procedure to a woman whose ovaries were removed due to cancer, and whose sister has donated her eggs so that she may be able to become pregnant with IVF? And how could the Church turn down the woman whose husband is sterile and chooses to use donor sperm to conceive a child? And what about the woman who is at serious risk for miscarriage in pregnancy, who wants to enlist the help of a surrogate to carry a baby made with her eggs and her husband's sperm?
And the list goes on and on.
We have a beautiful gift, a gift of free will, which allows us to make these choices for ourselves. The Church does not force them upon us (hence, my confusion at why some believe I am being oppressed by my Church's teachings on infertility treatments), but rather gives them to us as guidelines. The very BEST is what the Church desires for us, and this includes how we come to be. How we are conceived is our very beginning. But WE do not choose how we are conceived. Sometimes, our parents (at least one of them) does not choose how we are conceived, either, such as in the instance of rape. Therefore, the CHOICES made by OTHERS hold no bearing on us and our worth as a human being. I've never been able to understand why so many who have conceived their children through IVF feel that the Church views their children as any less. I am here to tell you, we do not! We do not view YOU as PARENTS as any less, either! Every life is beautiful and worthy of respect. All we want is for those who have the choice to MAKE the choice to begin each and every new life the way God had intended.
And so, my husband and I have made the choice never to pursue IVF to bring life into the world.
I have no regrets. I have no pain over this decision.
Surely I still suffer from infertility. But I am able to see that God can work through suffering, if you let Him. I am so blessed to be able to help others work through their infertility, either in achieving a pregnancy or finding the call to adopt or in coming to a resolution and a joyful place of childless living. My job as a FertilityCare Practitioner, and as an Ultrasonographer, are both fruits of my infertility. Our marriage has had its ups and downs through these 5 years, but the foundation has always been strong, as we know that God made us a family already. Children would be an addition to our family, but not one that we can buy. We have been humbled in the most awesome ways, and have discovered strength in God that we never knew we had.
If we had pursued in-vitro fertilization, no matter what the outcome had been (a live baby or not), we would have a lot of unresolved issues, unanswered questions. We may be "happy," but we certainly wouldn't be peace-filled. Or we may be "depressed," (if it hadn't worked), but the suffering would be magnified knowing there was no beauty to be found within it. All we would be able to place our hope in would be God's unending forgiveness. We would not have discovered our own strength, and we would be no closer to finding everlasting joy.
There is so much more that can be said on this topic, but I am trying to keep it from the heart and as personal as possible. When we begin to argue the logistics of the Church's teachings, for example how children are not a "right" or a commodity, we leave too much room for dissension, and all the shades of gray begin to rear their heads. We can also have a discussion on the statistics of IVF, of premature labor and of the myriad of birth defects and health problems that can and do result. But again, this is more logic-based, and not the purpose of this particular post. Of course, deep down there is nothing but logic behind each and every part of the Church doctrines on infertility treatments, and I urge those of you looking for more information to consult them.
(Being the most recent)
But my hopes in addressing this issue are that more people will come to understand the beauty of these teachings from within. I am writing about IVF, and why I believe it to be morally unethical, as a 5-year infertile woman. I am in the trenches. I am not passing judgement. I feel every ounce of pain caused by my inability to procreate, and yet I still find life and love in God's plan. My undying hope is that more and more people will also find this same love as they navigate through infertility.