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Answers to Your Questions about IVF

In October, Catholic Sistas ran a heartrending and powerful story about one couple’s experience with in vitro fertilization (IVF). In today’s post, author Jenny Vaughn* answers some tough questions posed by readers about her experiences.

Have you heard of or considered Natural Procreative Technology (NaProTechnology)?

Yes. But we didn’t find out about NaProTechnology until after our retreats. At that point, we still had four frozen embryos in vials. So we focused on our frozen children first over attempting to get pregnant naturally.

IVFAfter we didn’t get pregnant from the transfers, I went on a strict diet for polycystic ovarian syndrome, which helped my body to begin cycling. We learned the Creighton Method, and consulted with a NaPro doctor for procedures that might help. The doctor suggested ovarian drilling and wedging, but I was overwhelmed by the invasive procedures I had gone through with IVF and didn’t want to do more. The Creighton Method made me a bit OCD about my mucus and some of the wording in the manual bothered my husband and me. So we decided that NaPro wasn’t for us.

I went to a naturopathic doctor who put me on inositol (a B vitamin), reinforced my diet, and introduced me detoxing techniques such as hydrotherapy and castor oil packs on my liver. I am about eight months into this regimen, and am now having periods every month for the first time in my pubescent life. Other than these changes, we’re leaving the growth of our family up to God.

NOTE: NaProTechnology is a women’s health science that aims to help couples conceive by resolving the underlying health problems that hinder conception. All procedures and practices are in accord with the Church’s teaching on the sacredness of human life and the conjugal act between spouses. NaProTechnology can assist women in resolving a variety of reproductive health issues, not just infertility, and more information can be found at the NaProTechnology website

Did you consider adoption before IVF? Have you considered adopting since finishing IVF?

Prior to IVF (while we were doing the intra-uterine insemination), we decided that if we had a chance to have a biological child of our own, we were going to do ALL we could to make that happen before adopting. Looking back, I now see that as selfishness–we wanted our own children and felt that if we adopted it just wouldn’t be the same. We feared we wouldn’t be able to love an adopted child as we would our own. We are planning on getting involved in foster care when our son is older and can understand why children are coming and going.  If God leads us to adoption down the road, we will follow His will.

How did your family respond to your conversion?

Some of my family seem to agree and understand somewhat what has changed in me and why. Others do not agree; one of my cousins just gave birth to a baby that she and her husband purchased as an embryo (along with two of his sibling-embryos).

My mother was VERY resistant as I shared with her what God was showing me about the sacredness of fertility and human life. “How can you reject the procedure that gave YOU and your children life?!”  she would ask repeatedly. She felt that I should be grateful and accepting of these procedures.

But as we discussed things more over the course of a year and she learned about the violence of most artificial reproductive technologies, as well as the slippery slope that they lead people down, she began to open up to the truth. Now she completely understands and agrees that artificial insemination and IVF go against God and His will for us. We talk about it openly and she prays that God helps me to share this story for the benefit of others. My sister and I have just reconnected in the last year, too, after a long estrangement and my experience of IVF was what triggered that reconciliation. Like my mother, she has understood and supported me.

How would you approach a person who is considering IVF (or has done IVF) to help them see the truth about it?

This is a hard question because I remember how resistant I was to anyone who spoke against IVF.

The tombstone for our deceased twins and their three embryonic brothers.
The tombstone for our deceased twins and their three embryonic brothers.

When talking to those who are just considering IVF, you may have take a more forthright approach, because there’s so much at stake. But you also have to consider your relationship with the person. My cousin and I were able to have a fairly candid conversation before she transferred the embryo she and her husband purchased last year. I simply told her I did not agree with her decision and that it broke my heart that we can participate in the commoditization of babies, who are so innocent and vulnerable.

If you perceive the person is exceptionally resistant, you may need to be very gentle. Mention that you read a story online about a couple that went through IVF (like mine) and encourage them to read it. Ask what is prompting them to take that route and if they have considered alternatives? Have they spoke to their priest? Do they believe life begins at conception? If so, encourage them to read how their babies will be treated.

For those who have done IVF, ask them to share their story with you. Let them share and ask questions about why they decided on that route. How many BABIES did you say were made?  Ask them if they named them or buried the ones that died. Talk to them and acknowledge ALL the children that were created in the IVF process. Ask how they feel about the procedure now that they are on the other side. Allowing parents to speak of their journey and about the lives created is a non-confrontational way to encourage them to open their hearts to see things more clearly. There’s no point in browbeating them about the wrongness of the process, which would most likely just cause them to shut down and disconnect.

There’s one exception to this advice and that’s clergy–if you are a moral authority, you have a duty to point out that this procedure is profoundly offensive to the children’s dignity and to God. You must do this sensitively and gently, and you should be prepared for anger from the person, but love demands that our priests be willing to guide our errant souls to repentance for these sins, so that we may be reconciled with God.

During my own life-changing Confession, the priest told me, “All I know is that children conceived in this way…their rights are violated from the moment of their conception.” I was LIVID at him for saying that! I thought, “You are telling me–their MOTHER–that I would want these children so badly to do all of this, that I’m violating their rights in the process?!” Yet that experience triggered a deep and fundamental humbling in my soul that allowed God in. And He used it to start working on me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend and still cannot.

Sometimes, no matter how gentle or diplomatic you are, a person’s feelings will be hurt and they’ll be defensive and offended. But the discomfort of conflict is a small price to pay if we can save babies lives by helping people understand how their decisions impact those around them, even those yet to be conceived. Jesus was not always gentle or concerned about feelings, especially for a righteous cause like casting out the money changers in the temple.

Practically speaking, it’s a good idea to remind people if they believe life begins at conception, then embryos are babies and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Emphasize the gory details if necessary–a woman having her vaginal walls pierced with a needle so that eggs can be aspirated from her ovaries is not dignified…embryonic babies being frozen and then housed in a laboratory is not respectful. Being sucked into a syringe and shot out into your mother’s womb–or even a stranger’s uterus–is violent, not to mention undignified. If these details are shocking to the person considering IVF, encourage the person to become more educated on how the procedure is done. Let the horror speak for itself.

*Jenny Vaughn in a pseudonym to protect the privacy of the author’s husband and son.

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Movie Review: The Identical

Without realizing it, Ryan Wade begins impersonating his twin brother, Drexel Hemsley.
Without realizing it, Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) begins impersonating his twin brother, Drexel Hemsley.

Yesterday, I enjoyed an advanced screening of The Identical, a new film by City of Peace Films. The movie stars several big-name actors, including Ray Liotta, Seth Green, and Ashley Judd.

I was intrigued by the premise of The Identical even before seeing it because my mother was an avowed Elvis Presley fan. Few people know that Elvis had a twin that died soon after birth. This fictional movie asks the question, “What if Elvis’s brother hadn’t died, but the two were actually separated at birth and grew up apart?”

The Identical begins with a young, poor, and newly married couple having twin boys during the Great Depression. Soon after their birth, the father attends a tent revival meeting where a traveling minister (Ray Liotta) asks the congregation to pray for him and his wife (Ashley Judd), whose prayers for a child have gone unanswered.

There’s a heartrending scene when the father of the twin boys tells the mother that he thinks they ought to offer one of the boys to the minister and his wife to raise. “We can barely feed ourselves,” he says. “With one child, we can just make it.” The mother violently resists, but comes to see the necessity of her husband’s proposal and agrees to adopt one of the boys out to the other couple.

I’ve rarely seen a film that treats infertility or adoption realistically. The Identical, however, captured the unspeakable agony of spirit inherent in both miscarriage and in handing your child to someone else to raise. The adoption in particular was treated sensitively and without the usual rose-colored glasses; you really sensed the profound, ongoing loss of the birth mother, as well as the humble gratitude of the adopted mother, in this movie.

The baby who stayed with his natural parents goes on to become iconic rock ‘n’ roll star, Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley, but scenes of his rising stardom are only shown to parallel and punctuate the true story, and that’s the spiritual journey of his adopted brother, Ryan Wade. Having grown up and faced down his father’s plans for him to become a preacher, too, Ryan is relentlessly drawn toward a career in music. He goes on to–ironically–work as a Drexel Hemsley impersonator called “The Identical.” Eventually he discovers his true identity, but not before spending much time and energy trying to figure out God’s unique calling for him.

The Identical shows the pain of both miscarriage and losing a child through adoption with a poignancy that few films today do.

The core issues of the movie–forming your identity and discovering God’s unique plan for your life–are especially likely to resonate with teens, who are dealing with these same issues for themselves. The movie is exceptionally clean, too–there’s no cursing, only one kiss (at a wedding and it’s the bride and groom), no violence, and no sexual content. The main character never devolves into damaging, sinful choices. In fact, his eschewing of alcohol during times of temptation and high stress are especially good messages for teenagers. Franciscan University of Steubenville is offering a free downloadable youth discussion guide for parents and youth ministers to use after seeing the movie.

The movie isn’t likely to break records; it’s devoid of all the sex, violence, and special effects that usually make for box office hits. But it’s a heartfelt, very human story that in many ways mirrors the quest we all are on to “find ourselves” when we become adults. The acting of Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd is splendid and I found myself tearing up at the end when the truth is revealed to Ryan about his origins.  The movie works on many levels, with its true strength being that its story can appeal to youth, parents, adoptive parents, birth parents, adopted children, siblings, Christians, and just about anyone with a dream.

If we want Hollywood to make more family-friendly films that explore real spiritual issues , then we need to support movies like The Identical. So go see the movie, which will be out in theaters on Friday. And enjoy that rare film that makes you think and whose characters aren’t ashamed to ask the most important question of all: “Who does God want me to be?”

For the trailer and more information about The Identical, visit the film’s website at

Ray Liotta gives an outstanding performance as a passionate Protestant minister.

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They Just Don’t Get It…

They Just Don’t Get It… Marriage

I used to wonder if it has always been like this.  Has it always been so intense?  Has it always been in such danger of being lost? Is it because it’s my turn in the front lines? Am I more aware of  who wants to take it from us?  Or has the trend of wanting what one can’t have made it fair game for those who don’t understand its purpose?

It is the beauty that God infuses into all things He creates. The stability and joy that come with perfection – because God does not do things halfway – are so desirable to the human spirit because He made us to long for Him. We are created in His image and likeness, so it is unavoidable. The peace that emanates from those who understand this becomes a much coveted attribute for those who don’t. And so they seek it but, alas, refuse to succumb to it.  This insatiable longing with resistance is what brings us to the present battle over marriage, family and adoption.

God ordained marriage between one man and one woman. He commanded that we procreate, form families, numerous ones. Thus, the family is a reflection of the biggest mystery of our faith, the Holy Trinity. A family, as God detailed it must be, reflects love and joy because it reflects God and God is love. Sure there are struggles, sorrow and anger in marriage and family, but there are also endurance, trust, and peace of heart and mind. The sacrament of marriage creates a bond that far exceeds the pressures of this world. Guided by Our Lord, it overcomes all obstacles. It is enviable to the point that people who do not follow the teachings of the Church want it. They covet that stability and peace that a true marriage emanates.

However, it is a grace that does not come without hard work and commitment.  That marriage that they desire is the result of conscious decisions, sacrifices, acts of obedience, complete surrender, immeasurable faith in God, trust in your spouse, painful humility and persistent selflessness. It is the result of dying to self and living for others, of loving so much that it brings you joy to forfeit your fair share for the benefit of those you love. In return, those you love, live and die for you. And there is peace.  So to just want it is not enough. To claim rights to the name of the institution or sacrament will not bring them any of what it is they seek.  To demand inclusion in a rite of passage does not guarantee or even offer the benefits that come to those that do it the way God intended. If He designed it and defined it, He gives the rewards for the effort and discipline put into it.  Without God, marriage is just a civil union, a partnership that can be dissolved at any point by any qualified human being, a simple contract. A lifeless word.  To reject the very source of that which they covet makes it impossible for them to attain it. And this is why they just don’t get it.

From marriage comes children, family, a clear reflection of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When a marriage begins under false premises (calling a marriage something that is not), the family does not stand a chance against the temptations of this world.  It’s trapped like a fish in a barrel, waiting for the one earthly thing that one of its parties will treasure all the more.  Children, whether naturally born into a family or adopted, deserve better. Adoption,  a loving and selfless vocation, is reserved and should be reserved for legitimate marriages. In God’s design, every child should have a mother and a father, both living under one roof. That He permits families to survive with one parent is completely irrelevant. Permissive will as a result of sin does not redefine the original terms laid out for the success of a family.  God made man and woman distinctively different on purpose. There is the complementarity needed in both genders to raise children with balance.

Men are natural providers, detached. They put themselves first because it is ingrained in them that if they are not well, they cannot provide for their family. They are rough, physically stronger. They look at the big picture and try to fix anything that they consider broken. All of this is important, especially for women who embrace their femininity. We are emotional, attached, sensible, pay attention to detail. We nurture every living thing in our path. We put ourselves last in order to embrace that servant’s heart God has so lovingly placed within us. We see things completely differently than men do – and it is good that we do. It is imperative that we do. In creating us so different and yet so complementary, He created the perfect balance for humanity. Again, He does not do things halfway. And that is why, when both men and women embrace and work hard at perfecting their gender specific roles, families thrive and children grow up content, satisfied, fulfilled.  Those families create that sense of longing for normalcy within the people who just don’t get it.

The progression of courtship, marriage and child bearing and rearing is very simple, organized. God is a God of order. When done according to his specifications, it becomes one of those coveted and unattainable things for people who refuse to follow the natural order of things. The safeguards placed by God himself into the institutions of marriage and family are not present when a same sex couple tries to adopt children in order to feel complete and normal. Changing  laws to meet needs of acceptance or affirmation will not fix or change anything. Civil laws are shaped by moral laws, not the other way around. Any attempts to reverse the natural order adds turmoil, restlessness, not peace.  There are no guarantees in any union, be it a marriage or a civil agreement, that no one will sin. But, in a true marriage, a true family, the sacrament, the presence of God himself, multiplies the odds of resolution by way of forgiveness and charity. When there is nothing greater than self in a relationship, there is nothing but self keeping that relationship together . When God is right in the middle of it, we persevere and humble ourselves to do what is necessary to honor the promise we make before Him. And so, that  peace, love and joy that radiate from a traditional family is impossible to attain by those who just don’t get it.

So, I am not sure if it has always been so. Is it just my turn, our turn, to defend the lines? Has it jumped to a whole new level? What I do know is that we must operate from the understanding that what the liberal moral relativists seek is that which only God can provide. We must be clear in communicating that because of their staunch rejection of God and His creation, they just don’t get it. Maybe then we will be better equipped to have the conversations that will need to be had in the coming months and years with regards to marriage, family and adoption. More importantly, we will be able to point out the difference between what their hearts long for and what they end up getting in its place.

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It Was The Only Answer

Breakfast in Bed (1897)
Mary Cassatt

One year ago this month, a few weeks before the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade, a young woman took the money her boyfriend had given her for an abortion and bought a bus ticket. It was a one-way ticket, back to the Mid-western state she had grown up in.

By society’s standards, this was a young woman who should have had an abortion. She was poor, living in a trailer with her boyfriend, and a high school dropout who had laughed in the face of rules and regulations. She had no business having a baby. Especially since her boyfriend had given her the money for an abortion.

Instead she bought that one-way ticket and got on that bus. She was taking a big risk by doing so. She had no idea at the time if she would find support or rejection when she arrived at her destination. But she knew that abortion was an unacceptable answer. Months later her child’s adoptive parents would thank her for choosing life for her baby despite the many obstacles she faced. She simply replied “it was the only answer.”

On the one year anniversary of when this young woman made her decision to leave that trailer and get on that bus, the baby’s mother, reflecting on the impact this decision had on her own life, told me, “She will never truly know what a remarkable person – a hero – she is to our eyes. There is a long line of well-to-do, highly educated people who CAN’T do what she did a year ago today……”

Heavenly Father, we pray that all women who find themselves in less than ideal situations will turn to you for strength in their time of need. Give them courage and fortitude to choose life for their unborn babies, hearts that are open to the gift of adoption; yet for those who choose to raise their children, give them the temporal means to do so. Lord, we humbly ask that you guide the hearts of all mankind to see the generous gift you bequeath on the human race through the unborn lives that live in all pregnant mothers.

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Ruffling Some Feathers

If you know me in real life, you know that there are many things that I’m passionate about. There are also many things that I take a “you’re entitled to your own opinion, and we’ll have to agree to disagree” stance about. Then there are other things that I just get flat out fired up and “preachy” about. I guess in that regard I’m not that different from anyone else.

I felt called to write this post because lately I’ve been having one conversation with people more & more, and I finally decided that the Holy Spirit was calling me to write about this very topic. Before I begin, let me set the stage. I’ve shared with you my Infertility history, and the fact that my husband and I are currently living childless. We’ve been in the starting gate for adoption several times over the past year and something always seems to happen to derail our efforts and we’re currently discerning whether or not we’ll adopt at all, but that’s not what this post is about.

Lately I find myself engaged in the conversation about Assistive Reproductive Technology more & more. I wrote about In-Vitro Fertilization during Respect Life month last October, so I won’t recreate that post. I have several friends who have used IVF and have beautiful miracles as a result. Some of them I have encouraged them to think the process through a little more, but often I have taken the stance that they are allowed to make their own determinations about whether their decision is moral and just. I don’t like to interfere in my friends’ lives. I just don’t. If they come to me and ask for advice I will give it to them, but I don’t give it in an unsolicited manner.

But I digress….

What people will often say to me (or other people who say that they don’t agree with the morality behind IVF) is “but what about ____” and then they proceed to tell a story designed to tug at the heart strings and to try to get me to tell them “well, in that case, IVF is perfectly reasonable.”

But the thing is that the Catholic Church teaches us that it’s not.

There is no situation where IVF is considered to be a moral treatment for infertility.


“But what about someone who’s born with a condition in which she has ovaries and no uterus? Isn’t it moral for she & her husband to do IVF and use a gestational surrogate so that they can have their own child?”


Let me tell you that this next part was exceptionally hard for me to wrap my head around, and this is the part that’s going to ruffle some feathers. I first read this part of the Catechism four years ago and I was angry when I read it. Ironically I was sitting at church, waiting for a meeting to start, and I was so angered by the “arrogant, pompous and condemning words” behind the statement (my opinion at the time) that I almost got up and walked out using an excuse that I was about to be sick. (Hey, if I can’t be honest here about my faith journey where can I be honest?)

Every child is a gift, not a piece of property. He/she is not owed to anyone. No one has “a right to a child.” Only the child has genuine rights. The child must be “the fruit of a specific act of the conjugal love of his parents” and to “be respected as a person from the first moment of conception” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2378)

The last four years I’ve reflected on the statement many times, and last year I finally came to understand what it meant. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)

Children are not a right. Children are a gift from God above, entrusted to families to raise and help grow in faith until He calls them home.

People will tell you “but it’s not fair that a couple can’t have biological children.”

You’re right. It’s not fair. It’s painful, and it hurts worse than just about any pain I would ever wish on anyone. But (as I said a year ago) God never promised us that our life would be easy. God never promised that life would be fair. He never promised that our road wouldn’t be filled with rocks and detours when other people seemingly get a smooth highway where they can coast and not worry.

My mom said it back when I was four, “Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”

The fact of the matter is that some couples cannot have biological children, and that’s an awful realization to wrap your head around, but there are two moral choices for those couples: adoption or to live life as a childless couple and assist the children who are around them (nieces, nephews, god children, neighbors, friends) at growing in faith.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the decision to live childless (for now) has been an easy one for my husband and me. I cry at every baptism at church, and I still endure the sideways glances from people who wonder why we don’t have children. I pray every day for God to reveal our path to us. I’ll be turning 40 this fall, and if God is going to give us biological children I’d like it to be soon. If He’s calling us to adoption I’d like it to be soon. If he’s calling us to live the rest of our lives childless I’d like Him to remove the ache from my heart.

But you see? That’s just it. It’s not about my wants and likes and needs. It’s about God’s plan for my life. God is bigger than infertility. He is bigger than any problem, any challenge placed before Him. God has worked miracles and there’s nothing that says that He can’t again. If God is calling me to motherhood He will guide me towards that opportunity (biological or adoption).

A friend at my former parish once told me “God never tells us no. He tells us yes, not right now, or I’ve got a better idea.”

There have been days that I’ve clung to that notion with everything that I’ve had.

For you see, accepting the path that God has chosen for me has not been easy. I don’t know why God has chosen me to have seven angels in heaven and none on earth. But I do know that my life has taken twists & turns that I never could have imagined it would when we started this journey. My life is not lacking in gifts because I don’t have children. I have a very rich and fulfilling life. I just happen to have an empty bedroom in my house.

But through the Divine Mercy of Christ I have learned to say “Jesus, I trust in you.”