Last January, I wrote about why we chose NaPro (Natural Procreative Technology) and didn't, couldn't, go the route of working with my local OB/Gyn. It honestly boiled down to a need to not have to advocate for myself every step of the way, to know that I could trust the doctors I was working with to focus on restoring and preserving fertility without having to constantly explain what, why, and how.
But there was a choice that had to come before choosing NaPro or working with our local OB/Gyn. We had to decide if we would pursue IVF or other forms of Artificial Reproductive Techology, ART (IUI, donor eggs/sperm, surrogacy, etc). (From here on, I will use ART to refer to all of these methods.) If we were choosing ART, there is a reproductive endocrinologist here in town that we could have seen.
I know there are people reading this who have gone the route of IVF or other forms of ART. Please know I write this with a sincere heart, with much love for you and your children, and as a way to document my process and maybe help someone else make a decision for their process. I will not be offended if you choose not to read this OR if you choose to read it and disagree vehemently with me. All I ask is that you read it with the spirit of love with which it is written and remember that it is simply my story, every time you see "I" or "me" or "us" or "we" in this, I am directly referring to myself and/or The Man. I do not apologize for what we believe or the choices we have made, and I would never expect anyone else to apologize for their beliefs or their choices.
So, why not ART?
One "short" answer to someone I would meet in passing is "because we are Catholic." But that's not the whole answer, at least not for us. While my faith is extremely important to me and makes up a big piece of who I am, it is not my sole reason for not pursuing ART. This answer is inadequate, because while I am Catholic, I also personally believe in what the Church teaches on this topic. This choice to not pursue ART is not, for me, an act of blind obedience. Certainly there are times when blind obedience is OK, even necessary; in this instance, quite honestly, I do not think anyone who has experienced the pain of infertility could just blindly obey the Church on this topic. You either fully understand and embrace the Church's teaching, or you do not. (If you are interested in an easy-to-read, straightforward list of what the Church teaches related to infertility treatments, go here: USCCB Reproductive Technology Guidelines).
Another "short" answer to someone I would meet in passing is "it's too expensive." This one is usually reserved for when I really don't want to talk about it. We do not have the kind of money that ART costs. However, this answer is also inadequate. I know myself well enough to know that if money were the only obstacle to ART for The Man and me, it would very quickly not be an obstacle any longer. I am a "where there's a will, there's a way" kinda girl.
So, what is the real reason, the "long" reason for why we are not pursuing ART. And honestly, there really isn't one "long" reason, but a group of reasons.
First, for us, it goes back to a lot of what we experienced when I was on "the pill" and the issues that it caused within our relationship and with my health. Our sexual relationship and our view of one another was very unhealthy. So much healing took place when we realized the necessary combination of the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse. There is a very real awareness of what happens when we separated these aspects, of the harm it causes, and of the utilitarian view of humanity it places on one another. When we were first married, we separated these by cutting out the procreative aspect of our sexuality - we focused solely on the unitive and pleasure aspects and ignored the fact that we are given a beautiful gift with which God allows us to participate in the creation of new life with Him. To pursue ART would be turning the tables, it would be using our bodies and our reproductive systems only for the purpose of creating new life and not for unifying and bonding us as a couple. We lived what happens when we separated the unitive and procreative ends of sexual intimacy once before, we are not willing to relive it.
Second, when we learned NFP we were introduced to a new thought process on children. Our society says children are possessions that we may reject (contraception and abortion) or demand (ART); something that we deserve if we want them. Our faith says children are gift that we may not demand or reject, and like any gift, they are not something we deserve. That they are a living, breathing expression of "two becoming one flesh”; they are the living, walking, talking sign of the love between their parents; they hold as much inherent dignity as adults do - as we all do. It is this very thing, the living breathing expression of love that we are hoping to create. It is this very reason that infertility is so painful, to be denied the supreme gift of marriage. To be denied a deep desire of your heart. To know and fully believe that God is capable of making the infertility go away in the blink of an eye, and yet He choses not to. However, the lessons infertility has taught me have made it clear that this was a necessary cross in my life. This understanding of children as a gift we do not deserve motivates me all the more to do what I can to heal my body and invite God to create life in the way He intended, to honor His role of "Giver" and mine of "receiver."
Third, if I believe (and I do) that life begins at conception and that every life has value from that moment of conception, how could I reconcile the deliberate creation of extra embryos (tiny babies, lives) in order to ensure the greatest chance of one successful pregnancy? If I believe that every life has an eternal soul from the moment of conception, and that we will all be reunited in heaven, how would I face those souls, those children whose lives were created for the purpose of creating their sibling? Again, it creates a utilitarian view of the individual, that the end result is the ultimate determination of good and the method does not matter. Just traveling this road of infertility has reinforced this. Each month, from the moment that there *might* be conception I consider the real possibility of another soul on this earth, a soul entrusted to me. To knowingly create extra souls, lives, and know that they would be frozen or worse, destroyed, just seems unfathomable to me. I've also witnessed first hand the pain this causes in women who truly do understand that these embryos are lives, are their children, and may not make it. A dear friend trusted me enough to witness her emotion upon learning her wee ones didn't make it, to say it was excruciating does not do her any justice. This is a pain I choose not to risk - for myself or my children.
Fourth, someday, God-willing, we will have a child that will want to hear about how they came into being. About why they are here on this earth. From an experience within my family, I know it is very awkward to teach your child about "the birds and the bees" and then in the next breath explain that that is not how they were created. Rather, their creation came with a mommy, a daddy, a doctor, and a nurse in an exam room. We are also not comfortable with the way the daddy is asked to provide his "part." I want to tell my young children about the "special hug" that a mommy and daddy share that invites God to create new life from their love. I want to reassure my teens that while they are horrified at the thought of their parents doing "that", it is a beautiful act of love and one of the greatest gifts God gives us. I also do not want to have to tell my children that they have siblings who died in a clinic somewhere in the attempt to create them or that are frozen in time somewhere.
Fifth, NaPro technology has better results and is healthier than ART. One question I struggled with early on, and if I'm honest, still struggle with at my darker times, is this: "Do I not want children badly enough if I am not willing to use all methods available to me to have them?" What I know is this: NaPro has better results than ART. NaPro has, as its focus, healing the underlying cause of infertility, rather than the symptom. Infertility, the inability to get pregnant (and I would also say carry to term) is a symptom related to an underlying problem. All other symptoms experienced (irregular cycles, digestive problems, etc) are related to the underlying causes of the infertility - endometriosis, PCOS, etc. It is not the other way around, the infertility does not cause endometriosis, etc. it is caused by such diseases. Also, ART utilizes very high doses of hormones and manipulation of the woman's natural cycle. I did that with "the pill". I manipulated my cycle and I paid the price, physically and emotionally, for it. For the sake of my marriage and my long term health, I am not willing to mess with that process again. I am very cautious of the level of the hormones I am taking while pursuing NaPro and am careful to monitor any side effects closely. Also, in many cases ART, because it only addresses the symptom (the inability to get pregnant) is required to be used repeatedly because the underlying cause is not treated. Whereas, NaPro, in treating the underlying cause often results in healing that restores a couple to normal, or near-normal, fertility. (While this is not a guarantee, it is much more likely to occur than with ART.) In support of this is that most insurance companies cover treatments that are part of NaPro while they do not cover ART treatments.
As I conclude, I must say that it is truly only but for the Grace of God that we did not travel down the road of ART. It is some very real experiences within my family growing up; it is walking the road of ART with a dear friend and seeing her pain; it is reading the stories of so many of you long before I ever knew we were going to struggle with infertility and learning there was an alternative to ART; and it is the experiences of contraception and separating the unitive and procreative ends of sexual intercourse that brought us to this choice of saying no to ART.
I am certain, well, as certain as you can be about an unchosen road, that if we had gone straight from contracepting to trying to conceive without NFP we would likely have ventured down the road of ART. And as certain as I am about that is how certain I also am that I'm not sure we could've survived it and remained married. Out of sheer stubbornness we might have, but I can't imagine the pain we would've caused one another along the way.
I am sure I've left out some things and I'm willing to answer any questions you may have in the comments. If I could please ask that your comments be respectful and kind (you "regulars" always are :)) this is, as I know a difficult topic that we tend to feel passionately about and I know that there are people who read here who feel and have chosen differently. The one thing any of us who have considered these options share in common is this: we have experienced the pain of infertility and we have made the best decisions we could for our families. I think dialogue is important, but anyone who has prayed for a child and not been told "yes" right away has already suffered enough pain and I would hate for this post to be the cause of more pain.
I also feel like I must address why this post and why now? Why this post? Partly it is to remind myself of why we've made our choices, to see that it holds up as well on paper as it does in my head. Partly it is to prove to myself that I have formed my conscience well and this choice to not pursue ART is an act of my free will with which I am comfortable. Why now? We are both feeling like we are nearing the end of what we are willing to do medically, knowing that we are leaving options "on the table" (both with NaPro and ART). As we near this end, we have reevaluated each step, and reevaluating ART has been part of that. Finally, as with so much of this space, it is to document our journey, our road home.