Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Us, IVF, and the Pastor

Where to begin? This post has been developing in my head for the past few weeks. We are nearing the end of our 4th IUI and suddenly IVF is before us. What will we do?

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:
  1. The Infertility Companion: Hope and Help for Couples Facing Infertility (Christian Medical Association) by Sandra Glahn (Excellent book all around)
  2. 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)


A said...

Wow, this is exactly how (I think) Mr. A and I would proceed in IVF!! It is so comforting to read your thoughts- even though I know they aren't really "comforting"- you are definitely not alone in what your wishes are, and I think it is so exemplary how you are so prayerfully considering this fork in the road. Be assured of my prayers for you both as you see God in all of this (hug)

Missy said...

Yes, I have been thinking about all the same things. I am also troubled with the thought of doing IVF for ethical reasons and that I know I will consider those embryos "my babies" and they will be hanging out somewhere. Right now we have discussed moving to adoption if IUI does not work for us. I hope you find peace in whatever decision you guys make.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this - I was wondering what your Pastor would say. I too believe life begins when sperm and egg meet. We are starting IVF in February and we told our RE that we only want to try to fertilize 2 eggs and to transfer them both should it work...he did look at us like we were crazy...he was like "you know you could wind up with 2, 1 or 0 embryos" of course we know that...but I can't imagine discarding any extra - even though this may mean that I may never have a child. I will pray for us both and that our decisions will lead us to pregnancy.


addingtothepack said...

I hope that you don't need it, but I'm glad that you have the groundwork for an IVF plan that you are at peace with in light of your faith. Another blog friend of mine is also concerned about freezing embryos and decided to go with the egg-freezing route. Her blog is here:

She hasn't posted in a few weeks and I should warn you she got a BFN on her first IVF, but I thought you might be interested in reading her story.

Jendeis said...

You've written beautifully and articulately here. Gorgeous post!

Just Us... said...

I too agree with you that life begins at the moment of conception....

and well the rest of that thought isn't for a comment...

BUT I wish you TONS of luck in this quest, and like you I hope that you receive your BFP soon!

Life Happens said...

It sounds like you have prayerfully thought all of this through. As long as you seek guidance from God, all will be well.

I pray that the IUI will be successful so you don't have to go through IVF. And if it comes to IVF, your faith will get you through it.

Christa said...

I've been following your post for a while and I would like to offer a suggestion (although I know most infertiles, including myself, don't like unsolicited advice). You may want to consider a mini-IVF or micro-IVF. The cost is about half the cost of a regular IVF cycle with less stimulation and therefore less eggs to retrieve. If you only want to fertilize 2-3 eggs anyway this may be ideal for you. I wish you the best of luck!

Amanda said...

I think you are being really thoughtful and conscientious, and that so important here.

I used to read this RE's blog: He is a big proponent of "natural cycle" IVF which might be an avenue for you to pursue. I believe that he is east coast so that won't help, but I think he may respond to comments and emails if you'd like to know more about them.

Good luck! This stuff is tough.

Find joy in every journey said...

I know this this decision isn't to be made lightly.

This was one way that we didn't want to go at all. He had success finding a urologist that was willing to do everything possible to get my DH to the best health. Insurance covered it all.

Have you thought about getting a second opinion about your cyles as well? Just helping you think of all the possibilities.

Praying for you!

MRS.B said...

What a beautifully written post. My husband and I have dabbled with some of those discussions, but haven't seriously been forced to make a decision yet.
I agree with you also that everything in the fertility world is best entered into prayerfully. Because we understand like you that this is not ours to handle alone.
Praying that you won't have to follow through with your IVF thoughts! Fingers crossed for this round to work!

Leah said...

Hillary, I think it's wonderful that you and your husband are so true to what you believe. It is obvious that none of this is taken lightly for you, and I so admire that about you.

I'm a big believer in that there is a plan for you. I related so much to this post. When DH and I got married and started talking about kids, I was naive as well. I said, if we can't conceive, we'll adopt. Ha! None of the decisions surrounding creating families are easy. Well, it's easy to decide to want children, but actually getting children is difficult.

I will continue to pray for you on this journey. I pray that IVF will be an afterthought, because this IUI will work. And I pray that you your RE trusts and respects any decision you make if it comes to IVF for you and your DH.

Baby Wanted said...

Amen...I agree with you. We never did IVF because of our religious beliefs...your way of going around it is wonderful. God Bless you both and may you have a successful IVF. Don't worry too much about statistics, you have God on your side!

AplusB said...

I think it's great that you and your husband have such a great pastor that listens, encourages, and offers advice. It sounds like you and your husband have put a lot of good thought to options for IVF and I know you'll ultimately move forward with what you trust is the right thing to do. HOPEFULLY it won't even be an issue!
Also, I'd just like to say thank you for your statement about how this is the decision that you have come to. I think it's wonderful that we all come from different faiths, backgrounds, etc. and can express our beliefs without worry of judgement or criticism.

Al said...

Hilary, so much to consider here and my husband and I would have so many of the same concerns that you and your husband do if we were where you are with IVF. I hope that your RE is understanding and cooperative with your parameters. But more than that, I hope and pray that this cycle is the miracle for you and you don't have to face these difficult decisions after all.

AplusB said...

I think it's great that you and your husband have such a great pastor that listens, encourages, and offers advice. It sounds like you and your husband have put a lot of good thought to options for IVF and I know you'll ultimately move forward with what you trust is the right thing to do. HOPEFULLY it won't even be an issue!
Also, I'd just like to say thank you for your statement about how this is the decision that you have come to. I think it's wonderful that we all come from different faiths, backgrounds, etc. and can express our beliefs without worry of judgement or criticism.

Andrea said...

When I think of the option of IVF I am reminded that God gave these bright women and men the tools by which to develop this method of treatment. That's my take :)

You should be commended for your well thought out approach to being responsible for the embies you create. I'm praying you don't have to enter the world of IVF, but if you do I know you will make decisions that are tailored to your belief system.

Hugs and blowing much baby dust your way :)

One Who Understands said...

We too have put a lot of thought and prayer into our upcoming IVF. I really enjoyed reading your take on it all. I hope this cycle is it for you too and IVF will be an afterthought. Good luck. (((HUGS)))

entrusted said...

I think you already know that I agree with your thinking completely! If you can freeze eggs, I recommend going for it. Of course, I'm extremely biased since it was a cycle using frozen eggs that finally worked for us!
Above all, I am praying that this IUI works and that you don't need IVF at all.

Tabitha said...

These are all questions and concerns that my DH and I discussed, sought counsel and prayed about just like you. Although we may have come to slightly different conclusions in the end, that doesn't matter...what matters is that we both are comfortable with our end decisions and feel that we are pleasing the Lord, and that is the most imortant thing! I'm praying for you, and I'm so very proud of you for staying strong, looking over the possibilities, and not loosing hope. From one girl facing MFI to another, I know how you feel. And God WILL bless you, I just know it!!

Melissa G said...

First of all this was (not surprisingly)an incredibly honest and well written post.

I know what a difficult decision this has been and I admire your strength and approach to a tremendously complicated situation.

I know you'll find the right decision for you both, it's just going to take some time.


Mellow said...

Hi there. I stumbled on your blog somehow and have read a few of your posts. What you are going through is not easy, but, how you are handling it sounds like the way my husband an I handled our issues. After 4 failed IUI's with male factor, we felt like we had come to the end...but after months of prayer and time, we went ahead prayerfully with our first IVF. Our concern was the same as yours, we did not want to freeze any embryos. After 19 retrieved, 12 fertilized, 8 kept growing...we prayed that we would end up with only 2 to transfer and none to freeze. We spent the night before transfer praying that this wouldn't be something hard for us. God heard our prayers, and we had 2 to transfer, and ended up with one baby on the way through our first IVF. God will hear your prayers. Our other option was through a place called snowflakes, donation to parents who need help having their own babies... anyway, sorry for the long comment, but just know through prayer, huge mountains can be moved. I pray you won't have to go this far and your IUI cycle was successful. May God richly bless you!

Meg said...

We had the exact concerns about our embryos/babies. I did not want 18 embryos frozen -- just waiting for a chance at life. We would never "discard" our babies. We chose to do a mini IVF (or a mini-stim). I produced 5 eggs (which the doctor said was GREAT for a mini-stim) and four fertilized. Two perfect embryos were transferred with a bfn. We are about to undergo a FET for the other two babies waiting for us. Even if I end up with a bfn again, I feel as if I am being obedient to God for giving every embryo He blessed us with a fighting chance at life. Oh, I'm praying for you two. It's such a difficult road to travel down.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your thoughtfulness and wish you well. I am a Christian and I feel very frustrated with Christians who are ok with the death rate that occurs with thawing embryos. Everyone says that since the purpose is to create life it is ok. Thank you for taking a stand even when it means things may cost your more money.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing these words. I just started following your blog and look forward to reading more! Many blessings and God's divine wisdom. S~

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the book links-- this is just what I need as we navigate many of these same questions. All the best to you and your husband.