Recently, I was home visiting my parents for a long weekend. One night, as I was lying on their couch watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, my mom came storming into the living room and slapped a newspaper down next to me. I looked to see that it was the Catholic Globe, the paper produced and distributed through our Diocese. Upon seeing the paper, I knew in an instant what had upset her. She'd been reading an article that I'd attempted to read myself, but hadn't been able to get through. It was an article written by a priest, a Bioethicist, entitled "Making Sense Out of Bioethics: Considering the Options for Infertile Couples". Follow this link to read the article in full.
To anyone who hasn't experienced infertility, the article might seem rather practical and straightforward. The author states that some couples experience infertility, that the Church is morally opposed to certain medical practices to counter said infertility, and then lists other possible options for those couples to "still realize their parental and maternal desires". At first read through, it might be hard to point out anything particularly offensive or insensitive.
However, break it down and read it through the eyes of someone who has suffered through infertility, and it comes off much differently. I myself have not had this experience because I've not tried to have children yet.
But my mom has.
I won't lie, this post proved very difficult for me to write. There's so much about this article that angered me, and I found myself going on and on about the Church's stance on IVF and the author's claim that such treatments "produce" children rather than conceive them. I struggled with what angle to take, thinking first to go paragraph by paragraph through the article and basically write what I found wrong with the statements and claims made. I couldn't seem to wrap my head around everything that's in the article. There's simply so much I could say. So much I could write. But then it dawned on me. It's not about me. This blog post isn't about me.
It's about my mom.
It's about my dad.
It's about every couple that has struggled with infertility. Experienced the pain of knowing they can't have children the "natural" way. Known the fear that the biological children they long for might be beyond their grasp.
This post is about my mom's reaction to the article. Not mine. It's about what she found offensive and painful. What she objected to because of everything she's experienced. In the end, it doesn't matter what I think. It matters what she knows.
The author of this article spends much of his time writing about why IVF is considered immoral to the Church and listing other treatments that are basically Church "approved". Even now as I write, it's very hard for me not to go off and rip into his statements. But again, it's not about me. I've never had to choose whether to do IVF or not. My mom has.
My mom and I never really talked much about her struggles before she and my dad pursued adoption. She's never really told me about the other options they considered. All I really knew was that it took them a long time to come to the decision to adopt, and that that decision was preceded by several years of pain and disappointment. I never understood just how painful, though. How disappointing. I still don't understand fully, but after reading this article, my mom shared some more with me about that time in her life. That time before I was even a thought. When conception, not adoption, was the ultimate goal.
She told me that IVF had once been on the table as an option for her and my dad. My mom will admit to having mixed feelings about procedures like IVF. She isn't completely okay with it, but also isn't completely against it. What she would never do is presume to think she can tell another couple whether or not they should do it. She just knows, in the end, it wasn't the path for her and my dad, but not for the reasons I would have guessed. She talked about the emotional roller-coaster she was forced through when she was going through fertility treatments. About the hope when the doctor told her she might be pregnant, followed quickly by the despair when sometimes mere days later her body proved she wasn't. She told me aside from any moral objections, what really kept her from pursuing the treatment was the fact that she simply wanted off that ride. She couldn't take the sudden up and the crashing down anymore.
Infertility is not an uncommon condition in my family, and we are not unfamiliar with the medical options available to suffering couples. It's important to highlight the fact that infertility is not just a female issue. Men suffer from it too. Men I know and love right alongside women I know and love have had to deal with their body's inability to conceive. Though my parents eventually chose to go the route of adoption, I have several family members who were conceived using IVF, and no one will ever convince me that their conceptions were any less meaningful than if they took place naturally. I saw the pain their parents went through. The struggle. They tried to hide it from the rest of us most of the time, but the frustration and despair slipped through the cracks every now and then. If anything, the pain they went through, the disappointment, the perseverance in achieving their goal of conception is so much more meaningful than a lot of natural pregnancies that happen because someone forgot the condom. Their use of IVF wasn't a way of "producing" children rather than conceiving them, or made their pregnancies any less meaningful than if they had happened naturally. It made those pregnancies miracles. The children born of those pregnancies are miracles.
Okay. So, I managed to slip in a little something about IVF. I simply couldn't help myself.
My mom was angry at the article for what it said about IVF and similar treatments, but it was the last few paragraphs that really pushed her over the edge.