When we first got our diagnosis of azoospermia, I never gave us a chance at trying to have a biological child. I never questioned the doctor’s results or suggestions. And I never questioned my own assumptions as to what could be done about it or if there were a moral way around it. But once adoption started to lose its idyllic appeal, the option of fertility treatments reentered my horizon. I slowly started to read about IVF and found out that there is the “typical” way to do it, but that there are also alternative ways to do it.
For one thing, IVF can be done without creating “excess” embryos who would have to be cryopreserved (frozen) and, in the long term, possibly destroyed. For another, if my cycle was within the norm, there was no need for me to go through daily injections of hormones for weeks and weeks before attempting egg retrieval and embryo transfer. Being equipped with the knowledge that there are ways to go about this without necessarily throwing caution to the wind allowed me to reexamine all of my reasons for running from IVF.
As it turns out, I had been hiding behind the veneer of self-righteousness in an attempt to hide my fear of physical pain. (I’m getting better, but as recently as this January, I passed out during a blood draw.) It seems that I jumped at the chance to “blame” virtue for the reason why I wouldn’t consider IVF.
As the renewal of our homestudy for international adoption stalled, I started to reflect on how difficult it was to adopt in spite of us being much more open to different “criteria” than many other couples. It wasn’t us who were rejecting children; it was us who were being rejected. I started to consider that maybe, just maybe, in spite of adoption being such a good calling, it wasn’t MY calling. Maybe God wanted me to stop assuming that I knew what He wanted for my life, and start listening and obeying instead.
These realizations were coming to me early on in my renewed effort to find God. We had just made our marriage encounter weekend and started to openly discuss faith with each other. We were still “baby” Christians, and in spite of growing up in the Church, I was nonetheless not well-versed in Catholic reasoning behind various stances on such things as IVF.
Therefore, having only my personal prayer life and reason to guide me, I began to discern if I would be willing to go through IVF after all. You see, the irony of male factor infertility is that it doesn’t matter that it's the man's body that is affected by the medical condition; the treatment will nonetheless fall primarily on the woman. I say “primarily” because in some circumstances, it does involve a surgical procedure on the husband. In our case, this procedure was called TESE, and it was the end of the road for us.
Once we agreed that we would try IVF because I found a clinic that specializes in natural cycle IVF (one of only two in the US, I believe), the next step was to schedule a procedure to try to extract sperm to freeze and then thaw and use in a future IVF natural cycle. We were still new to praying together as a couple, but this was the procedure that brought us together before God. We prayed for a successful outcome, of course. I spent the two or so hours sitting in the waiting room flipping through my Bible and praying intensely. I thought that the intensity of my prayer would have a direct effect on the results of the procedure.
This is why I was so shocked when the doctor ushered me into a private room to tell me the procedure did not yield any sperm. I still wasn’t that clear on the lifecycle of sperm, so I thought she just meant no mature sperm. I thought for sure there must’ve been a few that we could use in a procedure called ICSI, where one sperm and one egg are brought together in a very intentional way. But alas, there were none. I didn’t waste any time. I immediately called the fertility clinic and cancelled our appointment for a consultation that was to lead to our natural cycle IVF. And then, I had to be the one to break the news to Alex.
I didn’t understand why I had been led to finally accept the possibility of putting my body through IVF if it wasn’t meant to be. Or what was the point of praying so intently if it wouldn’t be fruitful? Maybe because without this experience, I may never have considered another alternative: embryo adoption.
You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you.