So if IVF isn’t an option – or doesn’t work – then what?
Dignitas Personae and “Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology.” In these documents, the Catholic Church clearly teaches that IVF is morally impermissible: there are no circumstances under which it is allowed. But rather than rely on those arguments, I chose to focus on ten points that I hoped would be accessible and compelling to any person, regardless of their belief. In the end, if your conscience is not troubled by the Church’s clear teaching or any of the ten points I raised, and you firmly cling to the belief that the good end of a child justifies any scientifically available means, then you will likely pursue IVF or justify your use of it no matter what argument I or others make.
Where does this leave those who suffer from infertility but are unwilling to participate in IVF? Where does that leave the many people who seek to conceive through IVF but because of its low success rate remain childless? While I am not a doctor or a counselor, I have walked this path and humbly offer some of the concrete things that have helped my husband and me.
1) Get good medical care. A healthy man and woman should be able to conceive, and a healthy woman should be able to bear a child. It is important to remember that the reproductive system is not an independent component in our bodies – oftentimes infertility can be indicative of a systemic issue. It is always worthwhile to pursue holistic medical care, especially as it could reveal underlying health concerns that may or may not be identified in a typical IVF workup. Be willing to take an active role in your health care. I had difficulty in finding a doctor who was willing to be creative once IVF was off the table, and eventually I sought treatment through NaproTechnology and reproductive immunology. I am grateful to have identified underlying conditions which affect my general health, not simply my fertility, and which are treatable and manageable. Ask your doctor, “how can you help me to be a healthy person, whether or not I conceive and give birth to a baby?” If your doctor is not interested in providing this kind of care, find another one.
2) Take good care of yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the medical approach to infertility, but to neglect healthy living. Eat nourishing food. Take wholesome supplements. Exercise. Sleep well.
3) Love your spouse. Infertility puts a great deal of stress on marriage and especially on intimacy. Just as contraception and pornography risk reducing one’s spouse to an object of pleasure, a hyper-focus on fertility can reduce one’s spouse to a means to have children. Don’t neglect your marriage in your desire for children. Instead, let infertility be the occasion to accept your spouse with all his or her frailties and weaknesses. Love one another. Focus on your common interests and your friendship. Be attentive to ways that you can protect your intimacy.
4) Share your burden. Because infertility is silent and lonely, and because it may place different burdens on men and women, I often desired and sought the advice, prayers and encouragement of others – especially other women dealing with the same issue. Whether a professional counselor, a spiritual director, support groups, or close friends, don’t be afraid to seek outside support. In turn, give support to others who will appreciate your companionship and who may benefit from the lessons you have learned along the way.
5) Protect your heart. There can be many hurtful reminders of the pain of infertility. I think, for example, of how difficult it can be to hear people complain that they are pregnant, reminding us of an experience we may never have. Or how painful it is to hear a friend confidently plan the timing of her next child as if it was so easy for everyone, or declaring that she is “finished” when you haven’t even been given the chance to begin. It is difficult for some to attend baby showers, or even to be around young children. Know your limits and protect your heart by being prepared in advance. It may be necessary for you to avoid certain people or situations, especially at particularly difficult points in your journey.
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