Categories
Assisted Reproductive Technologies Fatherhood Ink Slingers Marriage Misty Motherhood Parenting Respect Life Same Sex Attraction Vocations

The Travesty of Two Daddies

familyEvery once in a while, I come across a story that stops me in my tracks. Like the Italian high court’s decision to overturn a pedophile’s conviction because his 11-year-old victim says she’s “in love.” Or the Australian judge who pointed out that easy access to abortion and contraception may lead to the legal sanction of incest, as it has to once-taboo homosexual relationships. Today’s story stayed with me all day, as I pondered the implications of a gay actor describing his joy at being able to create children with his partner–while he’s HIV-positive.

As a faithful Catholic, I have dozens of theological reasons for believing it’s wrong for two men or two women to use in vitro fertilization or surrogacy to obtain a child. But I actually don’t need a theological reason, because I’ve had six children with my husband over the past 20 years. And what I’ve learned is that the relationship between a woman and her child is primal, sacred, and written in my very flesh.

We used to know this intuitively. But as we’ve fixated more and more on fulfilling our personal desires to the detriment of everything (and everyone) else, inconvenient truths about the irreplaceable relationship between a child and his mother, between a child and her father, were sacrificed at the alter of Me, Myself, and I. Facts, though, are stubborn things, to quote John Adams. And the facts are clear: a child needs a mother and father for the best chance to be emotionally, psychologically, and even physically healthy.

The psychological and biological inter-dependency of a mother and her child, from conception through infancy, is well established. A baby is born with eyes that can focus just about the distance from his mother’s breast to her face; his cry will cause her body to involuntarily release milk to nourish him. A newborn allowed skin contact with his mother has a more stable temperature, higher blood sugar levels (a good thing), and more normal heart and breathing rates. A mother and child who sleep together even synchronize their breathing. There are dozens of studies showing the many ways in which a child depends on his mother’s actual presence to gain the best footing upon entering the world.

Despite all this, I find myself a growing minority in refusing to celebrate the scenario of two men creating twin boys with an egg donor to raise as their own, as happened in Texas last year. I’ve carried a child and then held him to my chest, feeling the spiritual connection between us reflected in my very body, which responds reflexively and unconsciously to his needs. I saw the picture of the two Texas dads holding their baby boys to their naked chests right after birth to mimic the skin-to-skin contact recommended for moms and babies. I cried about it for days. Because instead of celebrating the victory for gay rights, as everyone else seemed to be, all I could think about was the confusion and incalculable loss to those two little boys, who instinctively sought the warm haven of their mother’s arms–and were denied them by adults whose priority was their wants over the children’s needs. Because that’s what good parents do, right?

After infancy, mothers are just as indispensable to their children. I have four daughters and it’s primarily my job to help them navigate the emotional, social and physical challenges of growing into a woman. Even the most compassionate gay dad will never be an adequate substitute for a loving mother who shares your unique feminine biology and struggles. A girl doesn’t want her dad or even her gay dad’s best female friend to help her when she gets her first period; she wants–she deserves–a mother there with her.

And what about fathers? Despite the secular portrayal of fathers as incidental to children’s development, the facts are stubborn here, too: fathers have a profound effect on their children’s development. Girls who grow up apart from their biological father are more likely to experience early puberty and a teen pregnancy than girls who spend their childhood with both parents. Research suggests that a father’s pheromones may influence his daughter’s biological development and that his presence provides the security and confidence she needs to avoid “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

It should go without saying that a boy needs a father to guide him into manhood, but conventional wisdom now says that two women can do the same job for a boy that a father would. Yet I’m certain my preteen son would disagree. Even the most caring mother can’t speak to a boy’s struggle to embrace his masculinity–both biologically and psychologically–like a father can. A boy wants a father to show him how to shave, not a mother. A boy with a father can look at his dad and know that he, too, will survive all the bodily and emotional changes that have turned his world upside down.

Yes, life is messy and sometimes we can’t provide our children with a mother and a father. Their father left us; our spouse died. Her addiction or his abuse forced us to divorce to keep everyone safe. But here’s the difference: single parents always intended to give their child the two parents they need. These men and woman are making the best of a bad situation and I know God blesses these families with abundant graces. Most single-parent families also still have the opposite-sex parent as part of the child’s life; though separated, the mother and father are still available to the child and can provide the guidance and model he needs while growing up. Even when regrettable circumstances separate a child from his biological parents, adoption can still provide him with a loving mother and father so that he can thrive despite that loss.

But that’s not what happens when gay couples start a family–these folks deliberately create a child that will never have a father or mother, for which there is no hope of ever having both of the vital relationships so important to our development as persons. It is fundamentally wrong–not from a religious perspective, but from a human rights one–to purposefully deprive a child of so basic a need as a mother and father, so that gay men and women may have what they WANT.

A girl needs a mother to learn how to be a woman. A boy needs a father to learn how to be a man. Children need the opposite sex parent, too; a girl needs a father and a boy needs a mother, for both provide example and guidance unique to their sex. A mother and father provide the fullest education in what it means to be human–and this is simple wisdom that no amount of social engineering will change.

 

Categories
Assisted Reproductive Technologies Current Events Guest Posts Ink Slingers Jenny V. Marriage Matrimony Motherhood Parenting Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Respect Life Month Sacraments Testimonials Vocations

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.

Categories
Assisted Reproductive Technologies Current Events Ink Slingers Jenny V. Loss Marriage Motherhood Parenting Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Respect Life Month Spiritual Growth Testimonials Vocations

My Journey through In Vitro Fertilization

IMy Journey through In Vitro Fertilizationt’s July 2008 and I’m strapped to a surgical table as a fertility doctor siphons three dozen eggs out of my ovaries through a long needle. Blood is coming from between my legs, as the needle repeatedly perforates my vaginal walls en route to my ovaries in search of viable eggs. In the next room, my husband is masturbating so fresh sperm can be used to fertilize the eggs.

When we’re done, my ovaries hyperstimulate and I pass out. My abdomen and chest begin to fill with fluid; the anesthesia doesn’t stop the severe pain that fills my body. I struggle to breathe. The doctor stabilizes me, but it still takes nearly a week to recover from the brutal procedure.

The doctor had retrieved 38 good eggs, of which 31 are fertilized. Over the next week, 16 of our embryonic children die and are discarded. Thirteen are cryogenically frozen, mostly two to a vial. Two fresh embryos are transferred to my uterus.

Yes, the cost is high for what we’re doing, both financially and physically. But it will be worth it, I tell myself. Because surely at least one of these embryos will give us our heart’s desire–a beautiful child of our own.

Justifying Our Choices

My journey into in vitro fertilization (IVF) actually began in the 1980s, when my mother used donor sperm and intrauterine insemination to conceive me and my twin sister. When we were 12, we discovered that the man we thought was our father was not. I was disturbed that we were created by my mother and a stranger, and have always felt as if only part of me was “real.”

Fast-forward to my own marriage in 2004. We wanted children right away, but a year of trying had resulted in no pregnancy. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, an endocrine disorder that inhibits regular ovulation. Doctors put me on the same ovulation-stimulating medication my mother had used to conceive me–Clomid. Four unsuccessful cycles later, we moved on to artificial insemination, though we did at least use my husband’s sperm. Still no baby.

My Journey through In Vitro FertilizationIn desperation, we graduated to the expensive and complex process of IVF, where my eggs and my husband’s sperm would be taken out of our bodies, joined in a petri dish, and the resulting embryos would be inserted into my uterus.

Even before we started down the IVF road, there was a voice inside of us whispering that it was wrong. But that voice was drowned out by louder, more persistent voices, like the doctors’ who said we had little to no chance to conceive without it. Friends and family, too, supported anything that would end the suffering of our infertility. Then there was my own desire for a child, shouting down the doubts and assuring me that God would want me to be happy and that as a woman, I deserved a child. And really, how could science that helps create life be a bad thing?

So we signed the contract and started the IVF process. To prepare, I took hormone injections and pills to stimulate my ovaries for egg retrieval. Though most eggs were fertilized simply by exposing them to sperm, some needed sperm forcibly injected into them with a needle. These newly formed, microscopic human beings were then graded for quality and we were encouraged to discard “low-grade” embryos that had little chance of survival. But because we couldn’t fully stifle our doubts about the wrongness of IVF, we insisted that all our viable embryos be preserved.

Suffering and Loss

After the first transfer in July 2008, we were thrilled to discover we were pregnant with twins, due the next April. But at 21 weeks gestation, our twins–Madi and Isaiah–were born prematurely and only lived for one hour each. During those brief, heartbreaking few hours, we held them, bathed them, dressed them, and baptized them, holding onto their tiny, fragile bodies as long as we could.

For the next year, I floated numbly through life. I believed the twins’ death was God punishing me for my past sins. My husband remained silent. Through it all, my heart was torn about the route we’d taken, as well as the fact that we still had 13 frozen children whose lives were on hold.

Eventually we felt ready to try IVF again. In October 2009, our only singly vialed embryo, Jeremiah, was thawed and transferred to my womb. We did not get pregnant.

My Journey through In Vitro FertilizationIn February 2010, we did another transfer. The embryologist came into the room beforehand and said that “one expanded and one did not.” We knew then that our son, Luke, had survived thawing, but that our daughter, Lucilla, had died and been discarded. In the end, Luke died, too, and we did not get pregnant.

Three months later, we thawed another vial and both Elijah and Ezekiel survived. The situation was complicated, however, because the death of the twins at 21 weeks had shown I had an incompetent cervix. This made carrying even one baby risky. We decided to transfer only one of the boys, because I would likely lose both if they developed properly after being transferred to the womb. Elijah was transferred and we were ecstatic when he was born in 2011.

His brother, Ezekiel, didn’t make it. But he was so, so resilient; he was initially frozen, thawed, refrozen, and re-thawed, yet survived to be transferred in January 2012. We did not get pregnant. Three months later, Olivia didn’t survive the thaw, but we were able to transfer Isaac.

A Spiritual Awakening

While waiting to see if I was pregnant with Isaac, I went on my first spiritual retreat. I went skeptical and defensive; I wasn’t going to share what I was going through with anyone. But God gave me a “spiritual spanking.” The poignant lyrics to a song caused me to break down crying and I experienced an intense spiritual awakening. That night, I went to reconciliation for the first time in years.

I had yet to own my sinfulness, however, because in my mind, I was still denying the truth—that I had killed my children through the violent and undignified process of IVF. By the end of the retreat, however, grace had finally washed away my pride and I experienced a full and overwhelming gift of faith. Overnight, my life went from being about what I wanted to being entirely about the love of God. Two days after I returned from the retreat, we discovered that Isaac had died, too, and I was not pregnant.

After seeing my transformation, my husband went on the same retreat in May. He had several profound spiritual experiences of his own, where he felt the Lord lift the guilt from his heart. God assure him that our deceased babies were safe and loved and would be waiting for us in heaven.

My Journey through In Vitro FertilizationBut faith didn’t solve the problem of what to do with our still-frozen children. We could leave them frozen, discard them, donate them to scientific research, or adopt them out. We felt all those options were disrespectful to the children and we feared they were offensive to God, too. We’ve since learned that the Catholic Church hasn’t fully clarified what is the most morally prudent and loving route to take when dealing with frozen embryonic children and theologians are all over the map on the issue. Some say every child created deserves a chance at life and ought to be implanted, as we did; other theologians suggest embryonic babies should be baptized, thawed until they pass away, and then buried. Hopefully the Church will soon define the best course for frozen IVF children, but until then, couples in our situation can only seek counsel through their spiritual advisers and through the Holy Spirit, in prayer.

We went into the first of the final three transfers in August 2012. Though I had been through the process before, this time was different; sadness consumed me as I sat in the clinic waiting room. I felt God’s pain from all the lives discarded by doctors and parents, who often create embryos only to throw away the “surplus” to save storage fees or get rid of lesser quality ones. I saw the cold beginning and end of so many of my babies’ short lives–first in a petri dish, then in and out of a freezer, and finally discarded like trash.

My Journey through In Vitro FertilizationVincent survived thawing and was transferred to my womb. Raphael hadn’t survived, however. We’d learned from our priest that if a baby didn’t survive, we had to save his body and bury him properly in holy ground, just as we would a born child. So this time I told the embryologist we wanted the “bodies” of any babies who didn’t survive the thaw to take them home to bury.

I remember it so clearly–the embryologist walked out of the lab, cradling the vial containing Raphael. She had a very solemn look on her face and was very respectful. I knew she was Catholic, too, and I can’t help but wonder how that experience affected her. Vincent didn’t survive transfer, either, though, and we did not get pregnant.

Four months later, we transferred Bethany; John didn’t survive the thaw. I was able to keep John’s body in a vial as we had Raphael’s. We did not get pregnant.

The final transfer took place in February 2013. Mary Laura Claire was transferred, and we carried her brother, Gabriel Jesus, out in a vial as we had his two brothers before him. We did not get pregnant.

When our twins had died, we’d had them cremated and placed their remains inside small pewter hearts that had been sewn into “Build a Bear” animals. We kept them on a shelf in our bedroom for five years. As we grew in faith, so did our knowledge that those babies, too, deserved to be buried respectfully. Five months ago, we went home to New Mexico, and buried our twins with their three embryonic brothers.

After nine transfers and 30 babies, our IVF journey had finally come to an end.

Realizing the Truth about Life

Earlier this year, I went on a retreat for post-abortive parents, since I felt that what I’d done to my babies through IVF was similar. I felt mixed vibes from others there, possibly because most people don’t understand the complexity of IVF. But if life starts at conception, then you can have sorrow and regret for denying your children life through IVF, the same as you do with abortion.

My Journey through In Vitro Fertilization
The tombstone for our deceased twins and their three embryonic brothers.

At one point, I was sitting outside. The sun was warmly bathing my face, but inside I was in turmoil. In my mind, I saw two ribbons–one expressed was the violence, darkness, and sinfulness of humanity, while the other showed the beauty and sacredness of human life. I suddenly understood just how sacred every single person is to God. I realized how selfish my decisions had been in allowing my babies to be violently injected into my uterus after they’d endured the indignity of freezing and thawing. Yes, the violence paralleled that of abortion.

The similarities were further brought home to me when I read over the IVF and cryopreservation contracts for the first time a month later. I felt brokenhearted and ashamed as I read the dehumanizing language describing that most sacred process of creating human life. Our babies were described as “cryopreserved material,” “concepti,” and “orphaned specimens.” Another section gave the clinic permission to take “Title” (ownership) of our embryos if we stopped the process, as if our children were commodities like cars. This consumerist mentality, combined with the emphasis on “cost effective treatment,” is what makes it acceptable for IVF children to be donated for research, abandoned, discarded, and even aborted through “selective reduction” when too many embryos stay alive after transfer.

My Journey through In Vitro FertilizationThe contract also stated that, “It is rare for an embryo to not survive thawing.” Half of our babies didn’t survive thawing. And, “Occasionally, an embryo is not found in the vial due to the nature of embryos to stick to the vial or pipette.” What incredible dangers we’d exposed our children to! Only one phrase in the entire contract spoke to the humanity of our children by calling them babies.

Being created in a lab and then frozen violates the dignity of these tiny human beings. Thawing and discarding is killing. Reducing women to incubators and men to sperm donors is also undignified. Children have a right to be the fruit of their parents’ loving union, not products to be bought, sold, donated, or trashed.

There are still days when my sorrow about our children and the IVF industry itself becomes nearly unbearable. It’s hard to accept that we consented to what we did, but the desire for a child is so primal and powerful and we understand the desperation that drives couples to IVF. I take consolation in what God said to Habakkuk: “WAIT! I am here through it all! And I am establishing a work in my people that you cannot imagine! Be ready and willing when I call you.” I offer this story of our family’s journey through IVF, with its perils and heartbreak, as my expiation and my fiat–“Father, You are my only source of strength; my very existence. I am your instrument; do with me as you will!”

 ::Stay tuned for the podcast! You will hear from Jenny Vaughn directly about her journey with IVF.::

My Journey through In Vitro Fertilization
All of our babies. Of 31 embryos created in a lab, only one survived to be raised by us.