Wednesday, November 13, 2013

making peace with ivf

It took Andrew and I a long time to make peace with in vitro fertilization (IVF). We had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years. We'd had two losses. I know that a lot of people double, triple, even quadruple our waiting years, but we knew that the heartbreak had gone on long enough and we needed to take the next step - IVF. 

Moving forward with IVF requires all sorts of decisions, conversations and sacrifices. It's a major financial burden. It's a hefty physical undertaking. It's a serious time commitment. But it was the spiritual aspect of IVF that had us completely and utterly stuck. 

In our faith community, there's a healthy skepticism about reproductive technology. I count myself among those who wrestle with the implications of our country's big science and small God. So when we felt ourselves inching down the path that leads to IVF (a place we never, ever thought we'd be), we entered into a wrestling match of our own.

Obviously, this is our journey. Only ours. I am not making any recommendations here. I am not providing a theological lesson. I am simply explaining how Andrew and I made peace with IVF.  I have come across many people along the way who feel much differently than we do about these issues. It's such a personal thing, an individual choice, but one that’s important to dialogue about.

Our biggest concern with fertility treatments was whether IVF was sin. In the beginning, we asked so many questions -Are we not trusting God enough by moving forward with this? Does the procedure itself take God/marriage/love out of the equation and remove God's blessing? When embryos die as part of IVF, how close is that to abortion? These were very difficult questions for us to answer, so difficult that many of them went unanswered. But even with unanswered questions, we eventually came to a place where we felt very comfortable and at peace moving forward with it, and we have never once looked back. 

The freezing/cryogenics part of IVF was a tough issue for me to wrap my head around. It sounded really scary and weird at the beginning and was one of my biggest problems with the process, but I've become more comfortable with the idea over the last couple of years as I've learned more about it. I was fascinated to learn that some clinics have found that frozen IVF cycles can often be even more successful than fresh cycles! Also, some women respond much better to frozen cycles than fresh.

All of this is to say that freezing embryos doesn't necessarily mean that they are less likely to turn into viable pregnancies. If you research miscarriage rates, they’re all over the board, but they’re generally higher than we’d expect. That’s because many women think they're just having a late, heavy period when really, they're miscarrying. I have heard doctors say that the embryos that don't survive the thaw are the ones who may have been chemical pregnancies. I know they can't know that for sure, but it really makes sense to me. Also, even after a baby is inside of you (via IVF or a more natural method), there are all sorts of things that can cause problems - deli meat, car accidents, soft cheeses, overly hot showers, seat warmers in cars, laptops, etc. You do your absolute best to protect them, but there are threats everywhere it seems. For us, the cryogenic process was one of those potential threats. So, we felt like it was important to do everything that we could to protect our embryos (choose a reputable clinic with a good lab, decide ahead of time what we’d do with our remaining embryos, etc) and then pray for them like crazy. We knew we couldn't completely protect them. That part took a lot of faith.

One of my very best friends told me the most freeing thing during one of our conversations about spirituality and IVF. I was going on and on and on about the science behind everything, and she eventually just said, "Em, this is all gray area. God hasn't given any specific instructions about embryos, infertility procedures, etc. You have done your due diligence in educating yourself on the subject, and you've still ended up in the gray. There's just so much we don't know. This is one of those situations where you have no other option than to align your heart with God's and ask Him to show you the way. Ask Him to put a peace in your heart if He wants you to pursue IVF and ask him to put an uneasiness in your heart if He wants you to go a different direction."

So that's what we did. We had already researched like crazy and had tons of conversations to get people’s opinions about what we should do, and we kept ending up in that gray area where there are no clear answers. So we stopped focusing on the science and the debate surrounding IVF and put that energy toward our relationships with God. We spent extra time reading Scripture. We talked to God all the time. We made sure that our hearts were as aligned with His as they'd ever been, and we begged Him to take away the peace that He had already placed in our hearts if He didn't want us to do IVF.

At one point during our decision-making process, I pictured myself in heaven having a conversation with God. I imagined Him telling me that the IVF that brought us Harriet was a sin. This probably sounds a bit heretical to even say, but I imagined myself stating my case to Him. I imagined myself describing the way that I put myself out there and pursued Him like crazy and sought His heart and mind on this issue. I imagined myself asking Him why He didn't take away that peace. I just couldn’t imagine God frowning on us for doing something that we had decided to do after such soul-searching and while really, truly, fully pursuing holiness in this. That imagery of having that conversation with God gave me an even more intense peace about it.

Lastly, when we finally decided to do IVF, we created very firm parameters around it. We decided that we would give every single embryo the very best chance at life, whatever that looked like. We decided that we were uncomfortable with the idea of selective reduction. We felt like God had been very faithful in leading us to this decision, and we wanted to be just as faithful in our part of it.

I was talking to a friend about the spiritual aspects of IVF this past summer, and she made an excellent point, one I’d never considered before. She said that what is sin for one person isn't always sin for another person. So the fact that we did IVF and have a peace about it and some friends of ours have decided against IVF for spiritual/ethical reasons doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is going against God’s direction. Maybe, for whatever reason, God calls certain people to something else, so pursing IVF would be wrong for them. It took me a while to wrap my head around this concept but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. I can think of examples of other things in life that would be a sin for me but wouldn't be a sin for other people, or vice versa. Like some people can have a couple drinks and it's just fine, but other people have been called to complete sobriety so even one drink is a sin for them. Maybe IVF is the same way.

As far as books and other resources on this topic, I haven't come across much. I think that the ethical/spiritual part of IVF is something that people stray away from for fear of offending people and/or being judged. I really wish that there were more resources out there. I did read one book about the ethics of reproductive technology. It was very black-and-white about the issue and discouraged readers from doing anything in that gray area. Is that probably the "safest" way to go? Some would say yes. They would ask why you'd even want to walk that line of "is it sin or is it not?" To us, the science and academics behind all of this stuff just wasn't cutting it. We needed to feel and experience God's answer in our hearts/souls/bodies rather than keeping it all in our head. So we went a different direction than the book recommended...and I'm fine with that. To me, that felt safer than just having a blanket, black-and-white answer...but many would disagree with that. Again, I wish that there were more resources out there for people who are wrestling with these questions. If you know of any, let me know!


To those of you who are in the midst of this decision, my heart is with you. It’s a tough thing to feel that the thing your heart longs for the most might be in conflict with the One who holds your heart in His hands. I wish I had concrete answers to the many questions that arise around IVF and spirituality, but I don’t. All I have is my own story. Hope it was helpful.

13 comments:

  1. LOVE THIS! Love, love, love it! So thankful you're willing to tackle the big issues like faith and sin and IVF! I've wrestled with this for so long and I'm coming to grips with the fact that there will still be unanswered questions even when we reach our IVF start date... unless the Lord sends a clear message to answer all my questions, there's just too much gray. : ( Thankful that you have a peace with your decisions and that the Lord has blessed you richly!

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  2. Well said! I especially like what you shared about a certain path being okay for some and a sin for others. In these gray areas, it really is about whether the peace of God fills you or not. I know that's how we felt in deciding on IUI. Loved reading this post!

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  3. I really appreciated this post. I am going through similar thoughts and dilemmas since we will most likely be starting IVF after the New Year. I think it's so important to have this kind of dialogue and for women to be able to work out their decisions without judgement or condemnation. I think I probably read the same book you mentioned. I agree that it presented the "black," "white," and "gray" areas. While I appreciated that, I agree with your point about us needing to be clear on what God is calling us individually to do with those gray areas.

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  4. It's so interesting to me how different people's faiths can be SO different when it comes to matters like this. I'm a religious person and believe in God, but I'm an ELCA Lutheran (not Catholic, which I'm guessing you are), and my particular division of the Christian Faith has no problem with IVF. I mention this only to say that sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that in addition to all of the pain people have gone through to get to the point that they have to make a decision of to do or not to do IVF, it's astounding me to me that people of your particular denomination also have to struggle with the decision of whether or not it's a sin to pursue ART. Mind blowing.

    This was a really interesting post, and I love your point about needing to decide whether or not each particular grey area is a sin for YOU. Like you said, that can be different for everyone. Priests have to be celibate or it's a sin, but parishioners are meant to procreate and it's not a sin. Hm...

    Thanks for sharing...

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Josey! Actually, I'm not Catholic. I grew up Evangelical and now attend a non-denominational church. Our church doesn't have teaching on the use of reproductive technologies. When I mentioned my faith community, I was referring to our friends and family who share our Christianity in general. We've had lots of friends who have pursued IVF and lots of friends who haven't felt completely comfortable with the ethics of it. My personal struggle with the ethics of IVF had more to do with my personal relationship with God than with my religion. I just really felt that it was important to consider all aspects of the process and how they'd impact us and our community in all areas - emotional, mental, financial, relational AND spiritual. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to clarify that here! I agree with you though - my heart really goes out to those whose religious leaders have banned certain types of reproductive technologies. Especially those who don't feel that same conviction within themselves.

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  5. You are so wise girl, admire your willingness to share the logic behind your reasons and decisions, This is super helpful for girls considering it or on the IVF track!!! Thanks for sharing, so glad you had a peace about it xoxo

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  6. you are more help and more hope than you could ever imagine friend.
    xxo

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  7. I love how you put this all into words. While there is not much out there on the subject to research, by you writing this post, it does give others something to at least think about and consider if they are going through the same struggle in trying to decide what is best for them. For me, I have to think that God had a hand in the education of these doctors and the technology that has made ART possible. I spent a lot of time praying about what our next steps in the process should be too. It has to come down to what each person/couple is comfortable doing and can be at peace in their decision. I admire you so much for addressing this topic

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  8. I have different beliefs than you, but I wanted to thank you for writing this post. This -->

    "I think that the ethical/spiritual part of IVF is something that people stray away from for fear of offending people and/or being judged."

    <-- is so true, and so very much why the world needs introspective posts like yours. I may not share your beliefs or concerns, but it makes me very happy to read of your own individual decision-making process. It makes us all better people and better members of this community to be exposed to other honest and heartfelt points of view.

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  9. Your post brought tears to my eyes as I too have had this back and forth struggle in my heart before my first ivf and it all came back again as now we are pursuing using a donor egg which has brought out even more questions. I too have not found much on the subject and have found that the peace in my heart once I made the decision lets me know that it is the right one. For myself, this journey has required me to find much courage in myself. Thank you for posting on this. It is a relief to know that others wrestle with this spiritually as well. God Bless!

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  10. This is so well written--I love how you articulated it. We're not quite to IVF (or really any treatments yet) because I'm already struggling how to reconcile it with my faith. In some ways, I've convinced myself I'm not pregnant because God doesn't want me to be a mom, so by doing any treatments or even considering adoption, he wouldn't allow it to happen anyway because it's outside of his will (it sounds irrational when I write it, but I'm really struggling internally). Until a few days ago, when the thought was put in my mind, "you take medicine when you're sick, right?" Even though I fully trust that God could heal me on his own, or keep me sick despite the medicine, I still take it. So that's a new thought I'm wrestling with! Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  11. I love reading this! We are in a place in our journey where were are considering all our options and IVF appears to be so ominous. Thanks you for giving light to it. I appreciate your insight and honesty. None of us thought we'd be walking this road, and it makes it so much easier when the travelers can share their insights with each other. Thanks!!

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  12. super interesting read - thank you so much for sharing. love reading others opinions and experience about IVF and alternative methods of conception and "family building".

    I'm not religious, but if I were, I think I'd have to subscribe to the thought process that God or whatever being you believe in must have had a hand in creating the doctors, science, and technology that makes this all possible --- and has given it the world, to the people as an option, as a choice, should it make sense in their lives and in their hearts.

    It's a fascinating discussion and one I hope others will continue to talk about as I think we all have much to learn! As a donor offspring myself (my parents used an anonymous sperm donor when they faced infertility issues) if find it incredibly personal and insightful. :)

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