You Are Not Alone - Pro-Life and Open to Reproductive Technologies

“I would never consider IVF” I snidely remarked to a new grandmother encouraging me by telling me of her daughter’s solution to infertility. The idea of freezing or destroying some of my children in order to have one live birth was quite unappealing to me.  At the time, I really believed my response.  Now I regret it.

I started my infertility journey very opposed to IVF as well as a variety of other fertility interventions, but I am learning that my initial opinion that I couldn’t be pro-life and seek this care were less educated than I thought.  

Initially when I sought out a doctor who would support my desire to not “play God” or take an overabundance of medication, I informed the doctor that I would basically be taking the Catholic stance on fertility treatment.  Even though I’m not Catholic, the Catholic church was the only religious body that I knew of that had investigated reproductive technology and prepared a conclusive ethical statement about how to interact with it.  

In dealing with my grief of being childless I picked up a variety of Christian books, both Catholic and Protestant, that adhered to this doctrine.  Yet I found their commentary on just having hope quite unfulfilling.  In fact they in many ways contributed to my pain and sense that I would never become a mother, even though raising a child was one of the great desires of my heart.

One afternoon while praying and reading my Bible, I discovered the variety of ways that God brought forth human life in the book of Genesis.  God showed me that he allowed Jacob to have children with a concubine and then God blessed those children.  In fact these children helped fulfill God’s promise to the childless Abraham of becoming the father of many nations. Jesus was a descendent of Perez who was conceived when the widowed Tamar deceptively had intercourse with her father-in-law Judah.  She deceived him in order to bear children who would inherit her deceased husband’s estate (See Genesis 38). Now while I see these actions as morally wrong today, God seemed to bless them. In fact, it appears as though the text honors what Tamar did in order to become a mother and carry on her family name. Prior to conceiving Perez, Tamar had intercourse with her deceased husband’s brother Onan for the purpose of conceiving.  And Onan was punished with death for his unwillingness to donate sperm.

These are unusual stories, but as I listened to God, I heard Him giving me permission to explore the possibilities.  God told me that we would be blessed with a child.  I just needed to be open to how God might bring that child into our lives.

My hardened heart softened, now I just needed to investigate.

With my objection to infertility treatments that went beyond treatment of illness to creation of life now dismissed, I now had to deal with my concerns about the destruction of embryos during the IVF process.

The question became, “when exactly does life begin?”  Does it begin, as my graduate bioethics professor indicated, when there is a unique human DNA strand?  Or does it begin in just the opposite way of its ending, with the first heartbeat?  I may have studied theology, but the practical reality of life in all its nuances have shown me that answers to these questions are not always as clear as we would like them to be.  As someone once asked, “When does the soul enter the body?”  Do we really even know when it departs? Being a pastor and walking beside people in the last days of their lives, I do not think that the departure of the soul and the time of death necessarily always coincide.  What we do know though is that there is a God of the universe who loves us and is the author of both life in the present and life in eternity.

Since I wasn’t able to come up with a clear sense of understanding on this topic, I decided that I didn’t want to take the risk of destroying any life that was put together.  So thus began my search of a means for doing IVF that would not lead to the destruction of embryos.  My husband and I proposed the idea of freezing eggs and sperm separately and then bringing them together once my body was ready for the implantation process.  I had decided that I didn’t want my body all stocked up on drugs when the embryo was placed in my womb.  I was frustrated though as I called some of best fertility clinics in the nation and they seemed uninterested in my concerns or my ideas.  

Then a colleague of mine suggested that I explore what is done in other countries.  This ended up being quite the fruitful adventure, as I learned that in Korea they are less medicated in their treatment processes and in Australia they’ll even put the sperm and egg in the fallopian tube at the same time, and allow them to fertilize themselves.  This then gave me some terms like IVM, natural IVF, mini/mild-IVF, LTOT and GIFT to use while searching for clinics in the United States that offer similar processes. Once I knew the language to use and that I was not alone in my belief that IVF could be done successfully in a manner that honored my pro-life ethics, the search for the right doctor and treatment became much easier.

When I started this process I felt so alone in my willingness to be open to reproductive technology while being pro-life. When I attended my Resolve support group, read infertility blogs, and heard stories on the streets of others who successfully became pregnant, all I heard was that I would need to compromise in order to give birth.  And I just couldn’t do it.

This week is National Infertility Awareness week and the theme this year is “You are not alone.”  For all of those couples out there who are open to the conversation while desiring not to destroy multiple embryos, I want you to know You Are Not Alone.

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