1.31.2013

Why Not IVF?

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.


30 comments:

  1. Excellent post. I don't think I would ever do IVF either, but IF isn't something I've had. My friend, a Catholic, did natural IVF twice, resulting in two children, but it was her husband who had almost no sperm. He had surgery and they used her natural cycle to get a single egg. No extra babies were created. Does NaPro do anything for male IF?

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    1. Thank-you. Yes, NaPro addresses male IF, usually in consultation with a urologist (for example, my NaPro ob/gyn refers to a urologist near her that she knows is respectful of Catholic teaching).

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  2. I am so glad you wrote this. I don't know anything about IVF or IUI or any of that and I like reading your perspective as someone who has been the contraception route and why you don't want to go the ART route and how they are related emotionally.

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  3. Great Witness for why not to use ART!!

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  4. Such beautiful words, Rebecca. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My relationship with my husband grew immensely during our IF journey and I think discussing IVF was a very important part of that journey. I am ashamed to admit that I was the one more tempted by IVF but through many conversations with my husband I realized that the temptations were not the true desires of my heart. God gave me (and him) the grace to realize that. Although still infertile I couldn't imagine my life any different now!

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    1. There is no shame in being tempted! It is a decision all of us have to make and on those nights when the pain is so deep and sharp, it is hard to not be tempted. Like you with your DH, I'm grateful for The Man because he helps to keep me focused.

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  5. Thank you for writing this. I appreciate that you took the approach of explaining it from your perspective rather than a preachy approach. I am a lapsed Catholic who feels very conflicted about the fact my husband and I conceived our son via IUI one year ago. I felt strongly that IVF was not something I was willing to do because I am uncomfortable with the idea of having embryos that were or not implanted, but my desire to have a baby made me justify the IUI. If it weren't for that IUI, I wouldn't have my dear little baby boy, who I strongly feel was meant to be, but at the same time, I feel guilty that maybe I was greedy and should have trusted God's plan for us. We are no longer using birth control, and I pray that I am able to conceive again on my own.

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    1. One thing we know is that manner of conception, whether in line with God's plan or not, has absolutely no bearing on the dignity of the child created. I also think that all we can do when we have made a decision that we come to regret (I speak from my own experience of years of birth control use), we can only ask for and accept the reconciliation that our Church provides. It is truly one of the most beautiful aspects of being Catholic. I remember the first time I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation after more than 15 years, confessing the use of contraception among other things, and the tears that left my eyes as the Priest granted absolution came from a place of healing I had never experienced before.

      Most importantly in all of this, I will be praying for you, for peace in your heart as to how your sweet son was conceived, for healing of your Faith, and that you are able to conceive again. Many of the issues that IUI attempts to overcome can actually be cured or at least lessoned when working with a NaPro or other doctor who does not use IUI.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. I agree that when certain teachings of the Church are there in the midst of your struggle, you don't choose those teachings because that's what the Church says to do. I know for me (in different circumstances) that living what the Church teaches is not about what it teaches but about why it teaches those things. The "why" is where I find the real answers that I'm looking for and the real reasons to live as I do. I certainly can see why others faced with the same problems make other decisions. By the grace of God, those other decisions can lead to beautiful graces as well and I love that you didn't discount that.

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  7. I'm late to the party, but Rebecca, this post is excellent. And the information here is so so important. If you and others did not share these things, many of us would be lost, not knowing what our other options are. What a beautiful soul you are. Your courage in all this is inspiring.

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    1. It truly is a grace of the most undeserved kind that I was reading IF blogs before I knew about our IF. Otherwise I would probably never have known about NaPro. When I think about that, I think about the song "Be Not Afraid" and the line that says "I go before you always, come follow me" and it applies so much to my experience here.

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  8. Rebecca, Well written! When I lost my ability to bear more children we were offered surrogacy from 2 women very dear to us. After much prayer and research we came to the same conclusion as you. The experience really made me look at my own beliefs. Thus leading to our adoption journey. God Bless!

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  9. Thank you for taking the time to carefully lay out your reasoning, Rebecca! Those questions about "what am I willing to do" in terms of treatments are always a struggle. When I was referred for IF, we debated whether starting with a local RE was the right decision, especially since at that time there wasn't anyone teaching CrMS nearby, and working with a NaPro doctor would involve significant travel. We opted to start with a local RE with the commitment that if/when she recommended anything we were opposed to, we would make whatever journeys necessary to begin NaPro treatment. We are fortunate that we have not been pressured (or even encouraged) to do anything against our beliefs. For the time being we are content to continue working with our RE. Switching to NaPro is something I would like to do, but we're still working on the whens and hows. Taking the time off needed to get the couple months of "new" charts is a worry, since our age is a big concern. (Why haven't they found that Fountain of Youth yet? )

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    1. Stephanie,
      Sounds like your doctor is great so far :) I just wanted to throw it out there that we didn't "take time off" to learn CrMS. The system does ask that you abstain for 30 days so that you know what you are looking for. We discussed it, and since that first cycle charting was already so stressful (for non-related reasons) we decided that we would not abstain. At my first follow-up with my practitioner, I told her that if I thought I was having trouble distinguishing between fluids, we could abstain during a future cycle. She said not to worry about it, and told me to read the section on seminal fluid asap. Of course, your practitioner might be different or you may need the 30 days--but you won't have to take a couple months off.

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    2. Speaking as an FCP... we teach you the method, but you practice it how you wish. :) If you're not comfortable taking a cycle off, then a good FCP will work with that. Yes, it may take more time to gain confidence in your true days of fertility (or it may not... it may be easy), but either way, it's what you're comfortable with that matters.

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  10. So articulate and very well written Rebecca. What a well laid out explanation of what many of us have come to understand, that these "rules" aren't here to limit us, but to protect us and free us. I read nothing but love in this post!

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    1. Freedom in obedience - a phrase that seems so contradictory, and yet has been such a beautiful reality in my life.

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  11. Excellent post, Rebecca. The first two reasons you explained are so, so important--even more to the core of why the Church is against ART than that it has the potential to end lives (IVF), I think.

    I've been blessed--if I may use that word--to know two women who conceived their children via IUI and IVF. The effects are sad--we had a conversation once about fear for one's daughter(ie, what if she dies young because she wasn't meant to exist in the first place?) which I think is a manifestation of some level of guilt. I've had a few too many conversations about the dilemma over what to do with the remaining embryos. This would have completely convinced me not to go anywhere near ART even if I hadn't already accepted the Church's teaching.

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  12. Rebecca, this is SO well written. I think we've been on similar journeys... my husband and I went through similar discussions and made similar decisions.

    You lay out the reasons well for not using ART and IVF.

    What is amazing is that I was drawn to the Catholic faith precisely because of this Church teaching and because of NaPro. If the Church encouraged doctors to really, truly treat women (not just foce them to get pregnant, or mask symptoms) because it believes every life is sacred and important, then I was on board with that.

    Thank you for writing this.

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  13. This is an *EXCELLENT* Post!!!! One of your *best*, without a doubt!!!! So much of your explanation & reasons for not doing ART are taken straight from my heart as well. We are very alike, I just can't put words to paper quite as well as you do. ;-)
    I realize how controversial this may be to some, but I stand behind and agree with your writing 100%. I do believe your writing this & sharing your story very much helps others to look towards NaPro / NFP & away from ART.

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  14. You have such a gift with words! I just drink in every post you write lately. I know this post will bless so many considering ART

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  15. You are AWESOME!! It is pretty clear God is choosing to work through you. Thank you for taking the time to write this well-thought out, beautiful post! Sometimes we can know what we mean to say and what we want people to understand, but it can be so difficult to articulate it respectfully and kindly to someone who may not agree. I know I will be coming back to read it again in the future!!

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  16. Thank you for this post, I was lucky enough to have found out about NaPro. I prayed that God lead me in the right direction and I came across an IF blog and that's how I found out about it. I knew it was from God because every attempt I made to see an RE didn't work out. It was kinda strange. Bless you! And I pray that Christ gives you the miracle you're waiting for.

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    1. This blogging community has been such a blessing to me in many ways - one is that I was reading IF blogs long before (2 years, maybe?) I knew about our IF, so I knew about NaPro before I knew I'd need it.

      Thank-you for your prayers.

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  17. Rebecca, this is excellent. I was just talking with my sister about this regarding a friend of hers looking into this. In her friend's case, my sister doesn't think she's ever thought about the consequences that you mentioned in #4.

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  18. My heart is with you...I don't often comment because I don't want to say the 'wrong' thing and cause you pain. You and Cliff have obviously given a great deal of thought, prayer, and discussion to these issues. You are such a good writer and express your feelings very well. Praying that you will have your little one someday and that you will have peace of mind as you travel this difficult road.

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  19. Beautiful and sensitive and strong--such a "Rebecca" post. God bless you.

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  20. Rebecca, a true and beautiful testament of trust and love. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story with the world. There are so many women who will find consolation and encouragement in your words, praise be to God. God bless you.

    Saint Agatha
    Saint Anne
    Saint Anthony of Padua
    Saint Casilda of Toledo
    Saint Gerard
    Saint Felicity
    Saint Philomena
    Saint Rita of Cascia

    Pray for us.

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