Artificial Reproductive Technologies (ART) encompass a sensitive subject area, but are (strangely) one of my favorite things to talk about. It’s a multifaceted topic with many aspects that are often left unconsidered by the average infertile couple – and especially by the average person recommending it. As someone who feels incredibly fulfilled despite living infertility for over seven years, I like to try and bridge that gap by giving some other perspectives. Most people don’t plan on being infertile, so when it hits, it is usually devastating. And the devastation only intensifies as months continue to pass without a positive pregnancy test.
A common reaction to this jarring life circumstance is to eventually turn towards IUI and/or IVF because most are unaware of any worthwhile alternatives, or simply because they desire to have children that share their DNA. It’s not that going the ART route is easy, but many consider it to be their last hope in conceiving a child. Catholics are one surprising branch of many in this boat. The fact that the Catholic Church advises against it as seriously sinful is either ignored, unknown, or believed to be untrue. Many can’t fathom why any Church would reject such “amazing scientific advancements.”
Yet, CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) 2377 insists:
According to this statement, IUI and IVF do contradict the principles of human dignity. But here’s the thing that we, Catholics, have to do a better job at communicating to people in this difficult situation:
The feelings of frustration that infertile men and women experience in regards to ART are understandable.
The desire to have a child is very good. It is innate. It is part of God’s plan for marriage. It is part of how God designed woman. It is a desire to respond to God’s very own call to “…be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) in one of very many ways, and it is beautiful! When that doesn’t happen naturally, it is extremely confusing to a couple. But science offers a solution, begging the question: what the flip could possibly provoke God to not ordain this?
Clearly there is some misunderstanding?
It is understandable why this Church teaching is initially upsetting, challenging, and/or flat out confusing for so many people who are already experiencing so much pain. On the surface, it appears to be a charitable response to a couples’ inability to bear children. But the fact that a response or solution exists, alone, does not automatically mean that it is just or that it even serves us well.
The end doesn’t justify the means.
In general, having an unbiased third party to assess the situation from the perspective of all parties involved is extremely effective. It’s even better when that third party truly desires, and knows, what is best for our lives and hearts. The Church doesn’t exist to simply point fingers and ruin our plans just for fun. She was established by Christ Himself to illuminate the most loving choices that are most fulfilling and lead us closer to Himself, even when it feels impossibly hard.
Remember, He didn’t make His own self immune to human suffering. There was a grueling crucifixion and death on the cross that preceded His Resurrection.
He Came to Serve
Understanding this aspect of “Church teaching” is incredibly useful because even when we don’t yet understand why She teaches certain things, we can be sure that Her purpose is to serve, not to hinder, us. Christ has put Himself in service of us, not as dictator over us!
“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
Nothing is imposed on us. The Church only proposes the most life-giving options. We have the free will to ignore anything we choose to. When we open our hearts to understand why certain “propositions” exist the way they do, these teachings stop feeling so restrictive. Chris and I have never felt “bound” by the Catholic Church’s warning against ART because we not only understand it, but are in complete agreement with it. If it were free and a healthy pregnancy could be guaranteed, we would still decline IUI and IVF for several reasons. This does not minimize the pain of infertility, but acknowledges that It would not serve us as advertised.
*I understand and respect that not everyone feels the way we do. I am simply stating our reasons for not choosing either of these options.
IUI & IVF:
1) Both circumvent God’s perfect design for the co-creation of new life, separating procreation from the sexual act
2) Both circumvent the underlying health issue(s) preventing conception
3) Both can be extremely emotionally invasive (on top of what is already emotionally exhausting)
4) Both can easily make a baby the priority over God and spouse
5) Both can put undue stress on a marriage
6) Both can be physically uncomfortable/painful
7) Neither have guarantees or high success rates
8) Neither improve health, even when a baby is not the result
9) Neither continue to support the women throughout pregnancy
1) Most often creates multiple embryos with a low survival rate. Many of these new lives are frozen or destroyed. Those would be our sons and daughters – no matter how small.
2) It’s very expensive; multiple rounds are often required with no guarantee
Some of these are also reasons why the Catholic Church opposes this practice. She is not opposed to ART in an effort to exert authority, but out of profound respect for each human person and the dignity of the marriage vocation. Still, many beautiful new humans are created this way and each have equal worth and value as humans conceived naturally. However, that doesn’t mean conception occurred under the best of circumstances for the couple.
Making the end the priority makes it easy to lose sight of the effects of the means. God desires more for us! If Chris and I had gone this ART route, we would’ve never met the beloved girl that calls me mommy and Chris daddy – the one God had planned for us all along. I would’ve never been motivated to search for the meaning of my infertility. I would’ve never lived the freedom of all the life-giving gifts I now experience daily. God doesn’t call every infertile couple to adopt, but he does invite all infertile couples to be life-giving! This call can be answered in a plethora of ways.
If life gives you this curveball, there is more than one way to knock it out of the park. Sometimes infertility does end with a baby, and sometimes it just gives us new-life.