Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thinking Catholic on ARTs

A while back, I wrote a post explaining why I take issue with being told that we have done IVF when in fact we have only done FETs (frozen embryo transfers).  You can read the post here.  At the time, I still believed that I could reconcile the official Catholic teaching with my personal discernment on the subject.  My intended audience for that post was fellow Catholics who are too quick to judge when the idea of ARTs (artificial reproductive technologies) comes up.

I got flamed by a non-Catholic (at least a non-practicing Catholic) who went out of her way to accuse me of being self-righteous when all I was trying to do was explain WHAT the RCC teaches and HOW embryo adoption via FET is in line with that teaching.  I was not in any way trying to insinuate that those who actually do IVF are in any way less holy than me, because I know that is poppycock.

However, having been unable to convince the more narrow-minded "orthdox" Catholics to use their God-given reasoning abilities, I've realized that I was going to have to re-access the value of trying to convince haters to love.

Truth be told, when I was explaining how an FET is not the same as IVF, it was not to highlight how brilliant I am in remaining within the confines drawn out for me by the Church.  No.  I was simply stating facts.  But to be honest, this doesn't mean that I wouldn't have done IVF if I actually had the chance.  I might have.  In fact, we were going to.

This is no secret.  I discuss this aspect of our journey here and here. Granted, at the time, I was not fully knowledgeable on the Catholic church's teaching of ARTs.  However, I certainly discerned the next steps carefully.  I have said that the temptation to do IVF was removed from us by virtue of our SCOS dx.  However, honestly, this is a bit of a cop-out.  Now I see that in spite of all my well-meaning attempts to explain to the uninitiated how we ended up staying within the confines of Church teaching, I am still being judged.  I finally see that there is no pleasing some people.

I'm glad that the reason we didn't do IVF was for practical reasons and not theological ones.  Otherwise, I might be resenting the Church big time right now.

There are two reasons the Church opposes IVF.  One has to do with the creation of more embryos than can reasonably be transferred in a fresh cycle, leading to various additional moral dilemmas such as cryopreservation, possibilities of lab mishaps, and possible eventual adoption or destruction of "extra" embryos.  I fully agree with this reasoning.  There are too many things that can go wrong to fully protect created life outside the womb.

However, the other reasoning against IVF is a stretch.  While I am all for the sanctity of marriage and keeping marriage, sex, and babies all together in an Earthly trinity, we cannot pretend that marriage is a simple algebraic equation that cannot function without the right combination of factors.  Sometimes in life, we have to compromise.  Sometimes we have to improvise.  Obviously, separating sex from procreation is not ideal.  But to say that the spouses "deserve better" when that better is to remain childless and have that be a daily reminder of how the sex isn't leading to procreation? That's absurd.  How exactly is that honoring the marital bond between the spouses?  

And, dare I ask, where is the overwhelming support in our church communities for childless married couples, so that it can be abundantly clear how they are a complete family without children, how they are fully valued members of the parish, how they have many gifts to offer us and lessons to teach us?  I'm at a very friendly, "liberal" Franciscan parish, and even here this sort of climate simply doesn't exit.

Childless married couples are seen as social lepers. Oftentimes, they are first assumed to be contracepting, and therefore are judged for that.  When it becomes evident that they are infertile, they are then judged for not adopting.  Few people  bother to consider what adoption entails or that not every family is eligible to adopt.  When pushed into a corner with this knowledge, that's when the "here's your chance to shine as a saint" commentaries come out. 

At any rate, let's be honest.  The way Catholic life actually plays itself out on the ground, outside of theological books and encyclicals, is that to be a married Catholic means to be a parent.  Otherwise, the Church doesn't know what to do with you.  Catholics have a lot more options than many others when it comes to life vocations.  Many religions simply assume that everyone must get married and have kids. Catholics have callings to the religious life, to the single lay life, and to married life.  Unfortunately, the married life does assume children.  So we still get stuck with the short end of the stick, even in Catholicism.

I believe that our understanding of suffering as redemptive can only be useful for childless married couples when they have truly exhausted all of their options.  We are not supposed to strive for martyrdom!  If we can avoid suffering, or alleviate the suffering of someone else, then we are to do so, as long as in so doing we do not commit a grave sin.  And this is where I have to part ways with my fellow Catholics who consider a married couple who employ modern technology and medicine in their attempt to "be fruitful and multiply" (as God commanded) as committing a grave sin.

When it comes to sex and sexuality, I really think it best to leave the philosophizing to those who are able to apply first-hand experience to the subject at hand.  Only the spouses involved can decide if a certain decision will improve or deteriorate their relationship when it comes to their sex lives.  Well-meaning celibate theologians: let my husband and me be the judge of just how important the unitive aspect of our sexual intimacy is when weighed against our desire to be co-creators with God Almighty, per His command.

And so, I'm done apologizing for the choices we've made as part of our five year discernment process as we traveled the infertility road that we were placed upon.  The truth is that I love Jesus more than I love the Church, and I don't think He is upset to hear that.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus said that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."  Likewise, the teachings of the Church are there for our benefit.  They are there to help us grow in holiness.  They are not there to make us slaves to them.  We should definitely consider what the Church teaches and why before making our decisions, but we have to trust the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.

I'm still a practicing Catholic, mind you.  But I think I'll stop co-oping my conscience to theologians and take responsibility for my own discernment process.  I'm a thinking Catholic now.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Be Careful What You Ask For

A little over 2 weeks ago, I was concerned going into our first sonogram because I "didn't feel any different".  Well, thanks to my big mouth, I now feel different, and it isn't pretty.  My hay fever went into overdrive at the same time as my bronchitis came back, and only after spending the week in bed and NOT taking preggo-unsafe medication did I also realize that lo and behold, I have morning sickness!  But wait, there's more!  In my case, to make up for not feeling different, I guess, the nausea pretty much sticks with me everywhere I go.  I'm on crackers and ginger ale all day long, I gotta eat every 3-4 hours or little Dino will let me know I'm overdue, and I've napped every single day, for several hours at a stretch.  This is not normal for me, so yeah, I'll say .... I finally feel different.  But now that I do, I kinda wish I didn't!

What's worse, with my illness I'm worried about the little one and was assuming I'd have another ultrasound next week.... only to find out we have graduated early to the OB.  So now it'll be up to my regular OB when my next sono will be.  Of course, I will request one asap, but I think I remember them saying they only have the abdominal scan version, which means we'd have to wait a bit longer before being able to see/hear anything again.  I'm thinking I might want to get a doppler to evesdrop on my little occupant so I can be reassured whenever I need it.

The good news is that today I am 8 weeks along, aka 2 months pregnant!  We are a third of the way done with the first trimester!  I have started to wean off the fertility medication as well, so I'll be on completely natural hormones in a month.  I'm hoping that the combo of the artificial hormones and the baby-induced hormones has been contributing to the way I feel, and once I'm off the meds, all will be well with the world again.

I am writing about this, but it is not sinking in yet.  Interestingly, I think that once I tell my dad, he won't let me forget about it, and then it'll start to get more real!  I'm actually looking forward to telling my dad, bc he has been hassling me for years about having a baby, so I just know that he will be thrilled.  My guess is that there will be a thumbs-up, huge grin, hugs, and tears.  I've been having several dreams about him lately, so maybe I need to hurry up and tell him.  My mom, so funny, wants me to quit making her keep this a secret any longer because she can't shop for the baby around my dad because he tells her the stuff is too small for their 3-year-old grandson!  Precious.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quick Update

Hello readers, this is Alex writing for Karolina because she is very ill and can not read or write at this time. So, here is where we are now. We had our sono and the baby is on time at 7 weeks and has a good heart rate of 121bpm. This time line puts us at a due date of Dec 7.   

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Other Two-Week Wait

Ignorance is bliss, yet wisdom comes from experience.  The million dollar question is - would you rather be wise or happy?  I have come to the conclusion that this is the question that Adam and Eve answered incorrectly when they opted to try to know more than they needed to.  But in my case, it's not exactly my "fault" that I know what I know.  The experience of a previous pregnancy loss, however early on, plus the knowledge of what can happen based on all of my online buddies' experiences, keeps my pregnancy bliss at bay.

People who have never had to struggle to get pregnant find it hard to understand why I can't just rejoice, why I have to be so pessimistic.  But I think I'm being realistic.  In reality, the statistics say that not every embryo conceived is born.  There isn't a magical point at which the risk is turned off.  Rather, it's a gradual change over time, with the greatest risk of miscarriage passing with the first trimester.  This is why women are advised to wait until the end of their first trimester before announcing their pregnancy, since at that point their risk of miscarriage drops to below 2%.

In the case of women who used artificial reproductive technology, there are additional questions forming a whirlwind in our minds as we anxiously await that first ultrasound. The first milestone to pass once a pregnancy is confirmed is to eliminate the possibility of a chemical pregnancy.  This is where an embryo burrows itself into the uterine lining but then calls it a day.  The initial hcg level in the blood may be lower than expected or it may be normal.  The second beta blood draw will show that the hcg level has dropped or is not doubling according to plan.

Other times, the embryo burrows and grows just fine, but the location of implantation is such that the baby is unable to grow, develop, and be born.  This is an ectopic pregnancy, or one where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube (most commonly), or anywhere else outside the uterus (on the ovary, in the cervix, or even in a cesarian scar).  The likelihood of bringing a baby to term is almost entirely impossible.  I believe the few instances of it happening have either been due to an initial misdiagnosis or the location of implantation being less than ideal but still such that the baby was able to grow within the womb (as opposed to trying to grow in a fallopian tube).

There are also instances of a blighted ovum, where the blastocyst implants and the placenta grows and secretes the hcg needed to signal the existence of a pregnancy, but upon ultrasound viewing, it becomes evident that there is no embryo inside.Only an ultrasound can establish a) that there is indeed an embryo growing, and b) where the baby is growing.

This is the second milestone that I am currently waiting for.  In a little over a week, I will be able to rest a lot easier knowing that all is well.  Until then, I simply know too much to relax.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Present

I hesitate to write an update, because I do not want to be celebrating in real life yet.  You can probably guess based on that first sentence that we got the best Easter present we could've hoped for - a positive reading on a home pregnancy test!  But we have been here before, so we are remaining cautiously optimistic.  I don't want to have to untell anyone anything if, God forbid, these little ones end up leaving us prematurely.

In order not to repeat myself, I'd like to direct you to this post for an overview of how I'm feeling about where we currently are.  Continued prayers are much appreciated!