Monday, June 6, 2011

The Beauty of the Church's Teachings

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.


Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

Beautiful, beautiful post TCIE. Perfectly stated. My husband and I were just discussing this very issue. We don't feel oppressed by the "rule" that we shouldn't do IVF-we feel free because we understand the truth of the Church's teachings and have NO DESIRE to go down that road!

I just wrote a similar post last night.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for your powerful witness.

Nicole C said...

Extremely well-stated. I was asked not too long ago if we had ever considered IVF because we were so "desperate" (their words). I could unhesitantly answer "no," we did not ever consider IVF. And not out of some fear of hell, but just like you said, because of the beauty of my Church's teaching. Great post!

A Martha trying to be Mary said...

so so beautiful! I have tears in my eyes! you have such a gift to get the message across. In particular I loved:

"But my hopes in addressing this issue are that more people will come to understand the beauty of these teachings from within."

you have achived this TCIE!

Karey said...

Very well said. This topic makes me SO sad. Why can't all Catholics know about and understand the teaching on this (and the same goes for contraception, abortion, all the biggies)? I know infertile women say all the time that they wish the Church would expand beyond "Why IVF is wrong" brochures in their handling of Catholic infertility because we already know it's wrong.. but the problem is most don't.

On a side-note, just last night I happened upon an old post I wrote on this very topic and you had a great comment. So it was funny when I saw this post title :)

Chasing said...

Well said!

Alive in HOPE! said...

You took the words right out of my heart. Thank you for this post.

Sarah said...

Wow, what a post. When I first learned about ICSI IVF this past month at EPI... watching them inject the egg... I was stunned. But even beyond the logic and facts, you speak from the heart in such a compelling way.

It's rare for a blog to cause me to burst into tears, but the line about you and your hubby being a family made me cry. It's so true. And those spouses who love each other and value each other in the face of whatever cross the face... even if they don't have certain dreams fulfilled... such a testament to true love (and you never have to wonder if that love is there in your marriage).

Just the other day I was getting panicky about our own journey and my dh got really upset and told me that even if none of those dreams came true, he was just happy we got married. I still blown away by that.

[email protected] said...

Oh, this is perfect. And you have the moral authority and credibility that will make people hear what they wouldn't be able to hear from a fertile woman. Thank you, thank you. This is a reference post that I will be using. And, I think we can use this (and your whole blog) during your beatification and canonization processes. ;)

Anonymous said...

from Andie - part 2
During my months of questioning, I suffered and prayed and asked God to help me want His will more than my own. If it was not His will for us to have children - then please take this desire from me, and show me what I truly do desire, what would be His will for us. And if this desire for children was from Him, that He would open the path to us and show us how to go. I was in this zone for months.

In the space of a week - (coming up to, and during, the Easter Triduum), I received several powerful signs that led me to pursue a lower level of treatment - but one which the church officially does not approve (IUI). I continued to pray for confirmation that these really were the signs I thought they were, and we did proceed with IUI.

A few years later I called the RE to make an apt for a consult, and dh and I went in and set up a plan, ready to start next month. This time, I had not done the praying and putting my desires in God's hands, etc. When CD1 rolled around, I just wasn't feeling right about it, but I told DH it was CD1 and I was going to call the clinic. He said that he felt we'd be better to put it off for awhile (we hadn't discussed it but we both felt it was not the right course of action). We never did end up resuming tx at the clinic.

I hope you don't mind this very long response to your post ... I can see that this issue of the church's teachings is very important to you, and it is also important to me, although we do have a different take on it. I hope you do not feel that I have been disrespectful of you in any way - I am really thankful to read your thoughts and have a chance to reflect on your perspective.

You are often in my thoughts and prayers are you walk the hard road you are on right now.

Anonymous said...

from Andie part 1

Thank you for this post. I am a practicing Catholic who went through years of IF, and spent alot of time praying and thinking about my own IF situation, the teachings of the church, and what paths to pursue. DH is not catholic, but he is supportive and encouraging (he grew up in another Christian religion and is often a great help to me when I am turning over questions in my mind.)

I am of the opinion that the church is not infallible, and I question many things - which makes it harder when faced with a dilemma such as IF in this medical age. After a consult with our RE, I took several months to pray and 'try on' different paths - ie. looking into adoption, childfree if that is what God had in mind for us, etc. I really felt that IVF would not be right for us - but at the same time, I hesitate to say it is wrong for everyone. I just know I had a lot of discomfort about it - the feeling that it would be wrong for us.

One thing I do not agree with is that the doctor would be the one 'creating life' - as you know, there are many IVF procedures that do not work, despite all the medical knowledge we have. The doctor does not have the power to create life, only God does! The doctor (or scientist, whatever) can set up conditions that may be more favourable for it to happen, but they can no more create life than create the universe - at least, that is my thinking.

There is the argument (which I am sure you've heard before) that God has blessed us with our amazing thinking abilities which allow us to do many things. When you look at medical stuff - if you have a heart problem, or high blood pressure, or diabetes - there is medication you can take for it, and I think most people do so instead of saying that it must be God's will for them to die earlier.

What is the difference with a physical issue which impedes pregnancy? What I see is that it can allow another life to come into being - thus participating with God in the creation of a new life - and the intimacy of the man and woman in becoming one flesh. (as a side note, becuase I don't know, I wonder what the church's stance on medications to help with the sexual act if there is a physical barrier to doing so? Seeing as that is a sacred part of marriage?? Hmmm).

Second Chances said...

Perfectly said TCIE. Love this.

Several years ago we went to a church that was Catholic, but certainly by name only. It was way off. One of the members explained to us that they are Catholic, but they challenge what the Pope says. My husband spoke up immediately, saying "that's fine! Just don't say you're Catholic then!" which is the opinion we both have of the infertility treatments that go against Catholic teaching. If you choose to do them, then that's your decision. But don't call yourself a Catholic. Or at least admit that you're not fully in communion with the Catholic church.

I love when Jesus teaches the "hard truths" to the apostles and asks them if they will still follow Him and Simon Peter responds by saying, "Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of everlasting life". Love it.

Thank you for being a witness to truth!

Rebecca said...

Thank-you for this - in a way, I feel like this was sent to me today.
I feel much the same way, and while we are still at the beginning of this journey, we both agree that IVF is not an option for us. It's just nice to be reminded, so clearly and beautifully, that we are not alone in this decision.

Faith makes things possible said...

Beautiful post! You seriuosly left me with goosebumps up and down my arms. Thank you for sharing, seriously, amazingly written!

the misfit said...

I think this really does need to be clarified. Especially the point about free will. My personal favorite is when Catholics (and non-Catholics) blame the Church for persecuting infertiles by saying that IVF is wrong. There's only two possibilities - either IVF is wrong, in which case the Church is doing EVERYONE a favor by letting them know, and they shouldn't use it - or the Church is mistaken and IVF is fine, in which case the person following his conscience who decides to use IVF anyway has not been misled and has done the right thing, and as far as I can see has nothing to complain to the Church about. I've also read a non-Catholic blogger bashing the Church because baptism was not offered to their stillborn babies (post-stillbirth). If they would spend ten seconds of their hours of stewing googling instead, they would realize that baptism is NOT EFFECTIVE with respect to anyone who is alive, and offering it would be a totally empty gesture - in fact, a lie. (It's frankly bewildering to see it as an intentional snub - what motivation could the Church possibly have for being petty to the dead?!) I think our culture has taught a lot of people that kindness means lying to the suffering - telling them that wrong things they think will give them comfort are OK, giving euphemistic names to their suffering, etc. By this logic, we should be encouraging the grieving to use mind-altering drugs, methinks. I don't find it comforting to be lied to myself. Maybe we don't always like the answers, but it's a matter of respect to tell us the truth.

(I still think the Church could stand to expand her messaging beyond "don't do IUI or IVF," because nobody who's listening has missed those messages as far as I can tell, and those messages would get through a lot better anyway if struggling infertiles saw a message of compassion and understanding first and a prohibition second, rather than a prohibition and absolutely no recognition of the broader human suffering involved. But that's a problem with the Church's - or individual parishes' - pastoral wisdom, not the Church's teaching authority.)

Little JoAnn said...

I wish everyone could understand this truth.

Hebrews 11:1 said...

Amen sister! I too have no regrets about not doing IVF. Rather, I'm always relieved I never did.

Anonymous said...

Dear TCIE,
thank you very much for the wonderful post. I was blessed enough that my husband shared with me the decision of not going through IVF of ICSI even if he is not Catholic but I met many people (including devout Catholics..) that didn't understand or respect our choice. I guess they didn't have any idea about the church teaching.
PS ho letto il post che hai scritto in italiano. Bravissima!!!

Sissy said...

While I don't believe the same way you believe as my denomination does not have the same stance on IVF, I respect that you can put it out there and really live your life following your church despite what I know to be a longing for children. My reservations are more for the reason that I don't want to feel like a science project, and there is still no guarantee. Of course, I'm learning that adoption is filled with it's own pitfalls, but I'm not constantly blaming myself for the fact that we don't have kids.

Love you.

polkadot said...

Love this post! You are so right: the Catholic Church's teachings on this--and on all topics related to human sexuality--are incredibly beautiful. Because the truth is beautiful. And once you know the truth, why on earth would you ever consider going against it? All of this just makes me love the Church even more...and extra thankful for NaPro. :)

I second Little Joann. I wish everyone understood this.

JellyBelly said...


What a great post! We knew from the get go that we would not use any form of ART, although we had more than one doctor try to convince us otherwise.

I did ask my brother-in-law (yes, the one studying Canon Law!) if there was a way around the rules. He did say that since doing IVF or the like is a private sin we couldn't get excommunicated and that we could go to confession afterward. Even knowing that I knew that we couldn't go against the Church's teachings.

I do not want to create life outside of the marital act. If we are meant to bring life into the world I want to create that life with my husband, not in a laboratory!

We are taught to respect and honour our bodies and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Angela said...

Great post! Agree completely! I've had family members (no longer practicing Catholics) who still could not understand why DH and I would not do IVF...I agree with others that I've never begrudged the church for this teaching...instead I find it comforting that our church sticks up for the truth. And you are such a witness to stick up for your faith! Good job!

Thankful said...

Well done as always! You have a gift for mixing words and emotions.

Lisa said...

Speaking as a 7-year infertile, I wholeheartedly agree with your post. We are still trying to fix things with NaPro, but God has blessed us through this cross many times. I think your argument is solid. The Church has her teachings, but She doesn't force couples to do anything. People who are most bitter and loudest complainers are usually the ones who are secretly convicted by their own hearts that what the Church teaches is the Truth. This reminds me of how so many people claim that the rate of unplanned pregnancy and/or abortion is the Church's fault because She teaches that contraception is wrong. Since a very small percentage of those with unplanned pregnancy/abortion issues actually FOLLOW that teaching, I don't see how that can be an argument AT ALL.

All in His Perfect Timing said...

AMEN! You had an awesome, POWERFUL post ... and as a soon-to-be-5-year-infertile woman myself, I have to agree that I do not feel slighted that the Catholic Church does not allow IVF. God has reasons for what He does and doesn't allow ... for our own good! Who are we to question?
You are such an INSPIRING person!!! Prayers your way for your daily witness. :-)

Beth said...

you rock ;)

Anonymous said...

i feel very fortunate that we have never felt tempted to do IVF. not even tempted, although we have been at this a very short time compared to others. thanks for this testamonial.

Kerry said...

agreed 110%!

I got this info today and it was SOOOO interesting to me... the links between children conceived in IVF and disease...

Cecilia said...

I had the exact same experience with my GP. I explained that I wasn't interested in IVF because I was a practicing Catholic. He said, "Oh I am too, and my wife and I did it twice." He gave me the name of his Dr. and the Dr.'s website said, "Helping you create the genetically healthy family of your choice." Riiiight. IVF is not enough, now we're openly weeding out the misfits. Bleh. My RE pretty much never accepted it though we explained it to him at least 5 times. It's hard to believe, but I have to accept the evidence that these dr's just NEVER hear this from people. It's very sad.

Your post is beautifully stated. I would also add that in addition to undermining the dignity of the parents, it undermines the dignity of the child - treating him/her as a commodity to be pieced together according to the parents' desires. This is a human being, not our property.

Great post!

Lost Now Found said...

After reading through the comments etc. It is very easy to learn the Catholic Church's position on IVF and WHY of that position. It is called "Humanae Vitae." (1968) The Church's encyclicals have always been translated into English. HV is not long - perfect for this attention-deficit world we live in. Because Pope Paul VI got right to the point in this encyclical. (If you are willing to read a longer encyclical see "Evangelum Vitae" by St. John Paul II.) Here's the link for HV- may you be blessed by knowing the Catholic position on contraception etc. and the WHY -- and be blessed in knowing the Catholic Church is indeed INFALLIBLE when it comes to MORALS. That is what >Infallibility< refers to _ doctrine and morals ONLY. (not predicting the winner of next week's baseball game!) In brief, the Catholic Church teaches "the ends do NOT justify the means." The means MUST be obedient to God. And YES, I suffered from infertility for 2 years that I know of. I probably suffered from infertility for the 20 years before I married my husband, given that I exhibited the same symptoms in the 20 years prior as I did during the 2 years of infertile marriage. And I can tell you, Mother is always right. - Holy Mother Church that is. The more I conform my life to what She teaches, the better it goes for all involved, the more peace I know. Those 20 years I walked apart from Christ's own Bride, the Catholic Church, were HELL. I do not care to live that way again, nor watch anyone suffer needlessly through pure ignorance of Christ's Church.