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How we almost ignored the Church’s teachings about IVF (and why we’re glad we didn’t)

VIktor Jakovlev via Unsplash

Starla Hester - published on 12/12/16 - updated on 06/08/17

I have always been pro-life, yet I was quick to throw my beliefs away and was ready to abort my own embryos just to have one child.

Marked in my journal is the day we started trying to conceive, October 21, 2007. That day, I stopped taking antidepressants and started taking prenatal vitamins.

But seven months passed and I still wasn’t carrying a baby inside me. I started looking up old wives’ tales and every pregnancy hack I could find. I ate the cores of pineapples, drank green tea, and stood on my head in hopes I would get pregnant. No success.

As time went on, and every pregnancy test was negative, I became ever more desperate to have a child. I blamed myself. I knew that the stress I was feeling was not healthy. Charting my temperature and taking an ovulation test every month became an obsession.

My husband and I finally decided we needed to figure out what was going on. I went in for some blood work and Daniel had a semen analysis done. Turns out, my blood work was normal, but his sperm count was zero.

We were heartbroken. But we both knew we wanted a life with children.

We began to pursue the medical avenues in an attempt to treat my husband’s condition, after multiple tests confirmed the same result. Wanting a child as much as I did, he readily scheduled a surgery to see if there was a blockage. Hopes rose and fell again as the surgeons informed us there was no blockage.

We were then referred to a fertility specialist to talk about in vitro fertilization (IVF).

My husband and I were new to the Catholic Church, but I knew the Church prohibits IVF.

We didn’t call the specialist, deciding to try to conceive for a while longer on our own. But as holidays came and went, I grew even more depressed about not having children to celebrate with. Finally, we decided to move forward and made the call, looking for a deliverance from my depression.

The fertility specialist first ordered a blood test on my husband that no other doctor thought to run. She found out my husband has Y-Chromosome Microdeletion, meaning he is missing a piece of the y chromosome, a genetic mutation from birth, that is responsible for making sperm. It revived us to finally have a clear explanation as to why we couldn’t have children. Our hopes began to rise again when we were told that my husband could have a sperm retrieval surgery and there would be at least a 50% chance of finding sperm … to use for IVF.

There was that word again, IVF.

IVF was not supposed to be an option for us.

But we moved ahead anyway.

I started my first round of injections preparing my body for IVF and my husband had his second surgery, this time to retrieve sperm. While Daniel was in surgery, I prayed continuously. I remember praying this prayer, “If what we are doing is not right, please don’t let the doctor find any sperm, because I would rather not have children than go against you Lord.”

But they did find sperm. And we were overjoyed for about three hours, and then came the heart-crushing phone call. All the sperm they found were dead.

The fertility specialist told us our next step was to pursue IVF with donor sperm.

But we said no. Our IVF journey had ended. We would not be moving forward.

We are not the first to do immoral things to have children. In Genesis, Sarah ordered Abraham to sleep with her slave to build a family. The slave girl was even made to give birth sitting in Sarah’s lap so it would seem that Sarah was giving birth. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in having made foolish choices because of my own aspirations. The agony of childlessness has been going on for millennia, and some set their morals and beliefs aside to achieve what they desire the most.

The IVF process is wrong and the Catholic Church is right in teaching us this. For IVF to occur, my egg and my husband’s sperm were to be put together in a dish, where an embryo would form. The lab creates 10 or more of these dishes with embryos, and the best embryos are selected to be placed in the womb. Usually two or three embryos are transferred to the uterus in hopes one will implant.

But what about the remaining, living embryos? You can either pay to keep them frozen for future use, you can donate them, or they can flush them down the sink.

The science is clear on this. There is a separate human life at the point of conception. A living embryo is life.

It has been years since we attempted to do IVF, and I am still thankful every day we didn’t do it. I would have never forgiven myself for discarding the remaining embryos. I have always been pro-life, yet I was quick to throw my beliefs away and was ready to abort my own embryos just to have one child.

I had forgotten that a child is not something owed to me. A child is a gift.

In paragraph 2379 of the Catechism it states that “spouses who have exhausted legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.”

Since our IVF journey came to an end, my husband and I have gone on to foster numerous children, and recently became the godparents of one of our ex-foster children. God did not fix our infertility problem, but he has redeemed it in a beautiful way.

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