Of course, IVF has always been in the back of our minds. On the day we got our male factor diagnosis I remember thinking, "Will we have to do IVF?" and wrote about it in my first ever blog post. But it was such a huge, complicated, and expensive thought that my mind only went there on rather desperate days.
I have read so much about IVF through blogs, message boards, and books, so I have seen the joy of pregnancy and how God used that medical intervention, but I have also seen the devastation of negative pregnancy tests. These are deep waters and I tread lightly and cautiously.
As I'm sure you can tell from posts on this blog, my husband and I are Christians who believe that life begins the moment a sp.erm fertilizes an egg. We believe this life is a precious gift from God and is to be treated with the utmost care and value. Thus, the topic of IVF adds extra layers of concern for us as we would potentially create embryos. Can we do IVF and still honor the sanctity of life (and God)? If so, how?
Our prayers and research have led us to believe that we could do IVF under specific parameters. We are not at the point of saying we will, but we could. And while I do believe there is right and wrong, I must say at this point that these are the conclusions my husband and I have prayerfully come to - I do not expect you do to the same. I would hope that any Christians out there DO give much prayer and thought to every decision they make in regards to fertility treatments, but I humbly will not go beyond that and say I know what Christians should do.
First and foremost, we would never 'discard' or 'donate' embryos to science. If we did have extra embryos - what if DH or I died before we could give them a chance at life? I know it is unlikely, but I feel like we must examine all possibilities. We could donate them to another infertile couple, but we feel like that is easy to say now when it is not a reality, but would be a much more difficult thing to face if one of us passed away. It reminds me of saying in premarital counseling, "Oh, if we can't have kids we'll just adopt"....glibly and easily. But here we are and there is nothing easy about it.
But more specifically, we do not want to create any extra embryos that would potentially be frozen. Our main concern is the "thaw rates" that clinics advertise for frozen embryos. This is not 100%, and while I have read arguments that the embryos that do not survive the thaw were simply not viable embryos anyway, I have to ask: how do we know that? How do we know the freeze/ thaw process itself was not difficult for the embryos? If there were some reason to "freeze" a birthed baby and there was a 5% chance it would not survive the freeze/ thaw process, we would certainly not do it. Even if that baby was sick and weak, we would want it to live. So that analogy is the same for us and our view of embryos.
Also, I have read that some clinics do have fairly high thaw rates, but there is also the possibility that they only freeze the "strong" embryos. To some extent I just don't trust an embryologist to determine which embryos are "good enough." If the embryo has clearly arrested and stopped dividing, that is one thing. But what if there is just a lot of fragmentation? Or it grew slower? We would want all of our embryos to have an opportunity at life.
With that in mind, we would do a limited fertilization of 2-3 embryos so that if any of them do fertilize and grow, they could all be transferred to my uterus.
I know what you're thinking: this will lower our chances of success tremendously. That 50% success rate that couples are given for traditional IVF would be lowered by I don't know how much. I know. And perhaps you're remembering your own cycle, or that of a blogger friend, where they got 15 eggs, 10 of which fertilized, 4 of which developed, 1 of which made it to transfer, and then the cycle resulted in a BFN. I know. You don't need to tell me. Or the fact that most couples don't even end up with frozen embryos. I know. But we have to plan for all possibilities, and in one of those we would have embryos to freeze.
But all I can say is that, as terrifying as it is to lower our odds, we could not proceed any other way with a clear conscience. We believe this is what God would want us to do. And while I don't have any clear communication from God that he WILL bless us with a pregnancy if we do a limited fertilization, and I honestly know there is a very high likelihood we could walk away from IVF without a pregnancy, I do believe God will be honored and pleased at our obedience to him. And that he CAN create life even out of only two fertilized eggs.
We have also toyed around with the possibility of freezing any remaining eggs to get more bang for our buck, so to speak. Since eggs are not life, we have no issues freezing/ thawing them, and if we did not use any/ all they could be discarded. We would then be able do a frozen egg cycle in the future, rather than a full-fledged IVF, which would be easier and cheaper. However, this is still very speculative and there are many unknowns. Egg freezing success is rather low, so we would have to get a decent enough amount of eggs to make it worth it, and the amount of eggs is such an unknown. We also don't know how much it would cost to freeze/ store the eggs and do a frozen egg cycle.
I should also add that if we do proceed with IVF, we would do up to three cycles. It is a pay-as-you-go plan, but the second and third cycles are discounted. With our lowered odds of success, I don't think I could emotionally handle our last chance being only one cycle. Of course, the money is DAUNTING, but we have been saving for over a year and have been blessed with a few extra chunks of money this year, so we could afford it. If you could call it that, haha.
We met with our pastor this morning over coffee to share our journey with him and seek his counsel as we face this large decision. He has known for some time about our infertility, and has been praying for us. I was so blessed by his compassion and conversation this morning!
I do think, in a way, I wanted his blessing before possibly moving forward. I don't believe his blessing would 100% give us a green light - pastors are sinners just like the rest of us and could lead incorrectly - nor did I think he would "ban" us from doing IVF. But I do believe God has set leaders over us to guide and instruct us, and we wanted to respect his role in our lives.
After a detailed discussion of our journey thus far (which was filled with such compassion and care), he ultimately said that from what we have explained to him he would see nothing unethical about proceeding with IVF. However, he said that the few people he has known who did IVF walked away sad and and without a baby, so as a pastor and in a fatherly sort of way there was a part of him that would not want us to go down that path.
DH & I walked away from that meeting encouraged and cared for, but we also felt very somber. This is a huge decision with huge ramifications. His words of caution rang true to us to attempt to really consider even the most difficult possibilities.
Our next step will be to meet with the RE. I have told him twice that we do not want to freeze embryos, but I know it will be somewhat difficult for him to wrap his mind around. We need to know what he would place our odds of success at.
But as I feel the weightiness of all of this today, I am all the more wanting this cycle to work. To find out I am pregnant in a few days and put all this discussion of IVF behind us. Please, please, please.
In case you interested, these are two books that helped us think through IVF from a Christian perspective:
- The Infertility Companion: Hope and Help for Couples Facing Infertility (Christian Medical Association) by Sandra Glahn (Excellent book all around)
- Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response to Today's Most Controversial Issues by John F. MacArthur (This book only has one chapter that discusses IVF, and it is lumped in with contraceptives and other infertility topics. But it was concise and helpful)