You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Pslam 139:13 NLT
Hi fellow struggler! Despite our friendship here on the blog, I don't know much about you. For instance, where are you in your infertility journey? Are you just getting started with a basal thermometer and a temperature chart? Starting your first round of Clomid? Diving hopefully into intrauterine insemination (IUI) or taking out a loan to cover in vitro fertilization (IVF)? Regardless of your position on the treatment continuum, you've probably pondered how far you'll go to have the baby you've always dreamed of.
Yes, assistive reproductive technology (ART) can be costly and deciding on a budget before jumping into treatment is critical. But the ability to afford treatment is not the only , nor the most important, factor to consider. While reproductive specialists will outline a mountain of ART options, not all of these will honor life in its earliest stages of development.
In Christian circles, there is much disagreement about what is considered ethical in the world of infertility. I encourage you to be open to counsel from godly leaders. However, the most direct counsel you will receive is through your own prayer and seeking of God's will. The Holy Spirit dwells in all believers and, along with the Bible, gives each one of us access to our very own godly discernment. James 1:5 reminds us that "If any one of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."
We all would do well to seek wisdom when tackling a complex problem like infertility. However, there is one overriding truth that is indisputable: God values life at every stage and we must also.
In our quest for a baby, my husband and I were blessed to stumble into an infertility clinic staffed with Christian doctors who taught us what valuing life looks like. Here's what we learned about best practice.
1. Create conservatively
Doctors who honor life pay close attention to the potential life they are creating. Sperm and egg are simply cells until they are joined to create an embryo. Once an embryo is formed, even taking into account its microscopic size, it is a human life. Before you start an expensive and emotionally-charged procedure, decide how many embryos you are able to care for. Embryos created through ART are your current and future babies. If you are hoping to have 5-6 kids, you will have more wiggle room then someone who desires only a family of four. Either way, you are responsible for the care of embryos created.
2. Use the embryos created
Our most successful IVF procedure resulted in the creation of 6 healthy embryos. While transferring all six embryos at once would have increased our chances of a pregnancy, we agreed with our doctor to transfer only three. In consideration of my age (30) and health (no known risk factors), three was the number of embryos he believed I could safely carry to term if all implanted. We chose to freeze (not destroy) the remaining 3 embryos for a future IVF. A year after a tubal pregnancy with twins, we transferred our 3 frozen embryos during another IVF. While neither of these procedures resulted in a baby, at the beginning of the first, my husband and I were prepared for the possibility of raising 6 children.
3. Do not destroy
Unfortunately, there is big money to be made in the infertility industry. Couples desperate for a baby paired with unscrupulous specialists is a recipe for disaster. Such doctors will not hesitate to recommend a large number of embryos for transfer to increase pregnancy potential with a plan to selectively reduce (i.e. abort) excess embryos after implantation. The only way to avoid this disaster is to transfer only the number of embryos that a woman can safely carry. An abundance of research points to 1-3 embryos as a safe transfer number. Many doctors in the U.S. are moving toward transferring only one embryo to avoid high risk pregnancies with multiples.
So, what happens if your first procedure works and your family is complete, but you still have frozen embryos? Here is an article discussing a great example of what not to do:
As the author points out, when microscopic embryos stored in straws are cremated, they are essentially vaporized. "What remains in the “embryo ash” turned into jewelry, then, aren’t the embryos, but burnt remnants of the device in which they were stored."
It goes without saying that setting fire to embryos and placing the remains into jewelry is not a life-honoring option.
A couple of other ideas?
Embryo Donation, which allows your frozen embryos a chance at life. You can read more about this option at the National Embryo Donation Center and at Christian Life Resources Snowflakes Embryo Adoption. While making a decision to donate your embryos is not an easy one, it gives your babies a chance at life. What's more, you'll be able to have an open or closed relationship with the adoptive couple. Strange, isn't it, to be on the flip side of infertility?
If you positively cannot live with the idea that your biological child would grow up in a family other than yours (I can't, which gives me an even greater respect for my daughters' birth parents!), you could always reconsider your family size. Had my husband and I given birth to triplets with our first IVF, we would've later transferred our three frozen embies during a natural cycle (Yay, no meds!) and, in the event of a pregnancy, made peace with raising more kids.
Whatever your plan, don't allow your God-given desire for a baby to cloud your conviction about the sacredness of all human life. Seek godly wisdom, make a plan, care for growing embryos on the outside of the womb like you would ones within, allowing each one the opportunity to reach its God-given potential.