In vitro fertilization: Lots of things can happen, and most of them are bad

My twins
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I came across Fertility treatments: Would you get selective reduction? – CNN.com via Paging Mother Nature (read it as well).

The whole CNN piece was a glimpse into the mindset of those who don’t think carefully about matters of life and death, or even insurance, for that matter. Note how many times this worldview is in direct contradiction to reality.

Some segments and my thoughts . . .

Are they one of your success stories?” I asked, pointing behind Dr. H. to a large silver-framed photo of two fat-cheeked babies, identical twins. Dr. H. was my fertility doctor, and this was our first appointment.

“They’re my grandkids,” he explained, then laughed. “But everyone always says the same thing” — he held up his hands, like someone appealing to a higher power, and shook them dramatically — ” ‘We don’t want twins!’ ”

Hilarious, I thought. Dr. H.’s reaction suggested that anyone desperate enough to visit him would take a kid any way she could get one.

“But I really don’t want twins,” I said. “I already have a 3-year-old, and money is tight. One more is all we can handle.”

“Welllll,” Dr. H. replied, “given your age, we need to be aggressive. So I’d recommend going right to IVF. But if you want, we can transfer only one embryo.”

For that privilege, I had my insurer to thank, surprisingly enough: Since my policy covered three rounds of IVF, Dr. H. said, we could be conservative with the number of embryos we implanted each time.

For starters, why should insurance cover IVF at all?  Think about it.  I would gladly pay less for a plan that doesn’t cover wildly expensive and largely unsuccessful and unnecessary treatments.  This is the costly fallacy of many health care discussions.  Just because a procedure exists doesn’t mean you have a “right” to it and that others are obliged to provide it.  If you can’t have kids and don’t want to adopt, then pay for IVF yourself.  We had fertility issues before we were blessed with kids and we would not have used IVF.

“Great,” I replied, with a sigh of relief. “Then let’s get started.”

I left the consultation feeling excited and optimistic. Here was a science so precise that Dr. H. could choose among outcomes — you don’t want twins? Fine. I’ll just implant one embryo.

I was in control, finally. I’d spent months taking my temperature, monitoring my cervical mucus, and visiting an acupuncturist, wondering all the while if these efforts were any more effective than chanting a spell: Bibbity, bobbity, boo!

What if we did just one embryo?

One thing I’d somehow forgotten to ask Dr. H. about was my chance of becoming pregnant using a single embryo. According to research I’d done before seeing him, I knew that the live birth rate for in vitro fertilization for a 43-year-old like me was less than one in 20, and that was when the average number of embryos implanted was three. So going with only one had to worsen the already poor odds, didn’t it? But I kept silent.

Short version: She comes to realize that if she doesn’t implant multiple embryos that her odds of conceiving go down.  No kidding.

And we seemed to have luck on our side: The crappy health plan supplied by my husband’s nonprofit employer paid for three IVF cycles. As I said to him after meeting with Dr. H., what did we have to lose?

Again, note how a system that provides three IVF cycles is “crappy.”  I’d say providing more than zero is a waste.

. . .  “You’re pregnant. In fact, your levels are quite high.” He paused. “And I’m afraid it might be twins.” He sounded apologetic; maybe he’d registered my objections after all.

I reminded him that when we did the insemination, he’d said that although I’d produced four follicles — as opposed to the one generated naturally — it was “highly unlikely” that more than one of the eggs would be fertilized.

“We won’t know anything for sure until we do a sonogram,” Dr. H. tried to reassure me. “And a third of the time, one of the twins vanishes anyway. So it’s too early to tell. But you’re pregnant — that’s the important thing…. Congratulations.” It came out sounding like an admonition.

Or perhaps he was opposed to abortion and trying to steer me away from the procedure known as “selective reduction,” in which one or more fetuses in a multiple pregnancy is terminated. I had no way of knowing.

I hope he was opposed to abortion.

It happened to be my husband’s and my anniversary. We’d been together long enough that we didn’t feel obliged to mark the occasion with flowers or candlelit dinners, but as he walked in the door that night, the timing suddenly seemed serendipitous. “Happy anniversary!” I said, pressing my lips to his. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything. Oh, there is this one little thing….” I stared coyly up into his face.

He lifted his eyebrows. “You’re pregnant?”

I nodded, but already my choice of words, “one little thing,” rang ominously in my ears. I trapped my bottom lip between my teeth. “Apparently my levels are high. He thinks it might be twins.”

My husband pulled back from me with the abruptness of someone who’s just learned he’s been betrayed. “Bettina, we can’t handle twins,” he said firmly.

“Well, we could if we had to. People have a toddler and twins all the time.”

“I told you when you started all this that I didn’t want twins.”

What about adoption instead of selective reduction (i.e., abortion)?  This option was not even mentioned in the article.  It reminds me of the deadly pride and selfishness of a boyfriend of a Care Net client I spoke to.  He was pushing for abortion.  When I raised the possibility of adoption, this “macho” guy got serious and said, “There’s no way I’m going to let someone else raise my kid.”  Uh, yeah, but you’ll pay someone to kill her?

I nodded. He had said that. Unlike me, he’d been reluctant to have a second child. Our son was everything we could’ve wished for — funny, smart, a source of regular joy. As he got older, our lives got easier.

We took trips and found time for exercise and going to movies; we even had space in our two-bedroom apartment for guests. But at that moment, I didn’t want to hear any of that. I’d always wanted two children, and I countered with my best argument: Preserving our lifestyle seemed like a self-centered reason to deprive our son of a sibling.

Sadly and ironically, she will destroy one of his siblings to preserve their lifestyle.

Selective reduction had been my contingency plan, yet I’d never thought — or felt — through actually using it. I didn’t even know how the procedure was done. Now I was horrified at the idea of terminating one of the fetuses growing inside me by injecting potassium chloride into his or her heart.

Yes, that is horrifying.

With my son, I’d witnessed the step-by-step progress from blip to eight-pound, two-ounce boy, marveling at the increasingly recognizable sonogram images, poring over the weekly e-mail announcements from a pregnancy website: Your baby now has fingernails, your baby is now the size of a lemon, a banana, a melon. … And while I strongly believed in women’s right to have an abortion, the unlucky fetus destined for elimination wasn’t merely an abstract potential life, or an accident.

He or she was the product of my love for my husband, a life we’d made together on purpose. This fetus had an identity, not least as someone’s twin. “Selective reduction” was Orwellian; I knew I was ending what could be a life.

She comes close to honesty there.  She knew she was ending what is a life.  It is a scientific fact that the unborn are unique, living human beings from conception.

I also worried that the surviving child would be scarred by the loss. Perhaps the fetus would register the cessation of the heartbeat in the neighboring sac, the stilling of the fluttery movements.

Bizarre.  She doesn’t even know which one to kill yet, and is worried about the survivor’s reaction.  But if she isn’t a life yet, that makes no sense.

Could the proximity of decaying fetal tissue infuse my womb with the specter of death? If the chosen one ended up with mental illness or autism, would I always blame myself for having a reduction? All this may seem melodramatic, but I’ve heard about identical twins holding hands in utero; I’ve seen the secret language and private reality shared between even fraternal twins.

. . .

“But neither of us even likes our brothers and sisters that much,” my husband persisted. In fact, if it weren’t for the affection between our son and his cousins, he went on, we’d rarely see our siblings.

. . . .

During my weekly visits to Dr. H.’s office over the next month, I watched the two little sacs on the sonogram darken and grow, develop heartbeats and vaguely human outlines. “Can you turn the screen away, please?” I asked, tears pooling in the corners of my eyes. “I don’t want to get attached.”

. . .

My husband was convinced that twins would radically change our lives for the worse. We’d have to leave our beloved neighborhood for a place with cheaper rents and better public schools — there was no way we could afford private education for three kids.

Meditate on that, folks: They think it is better to kill one child than to have to send them all to public schools.  The pro-teacher union / pro-abortion folks must be tied up in knots over that one!

We’d kiss goodbye any hope of career advancement, at least for the foreseeable future. To his list, I added the loss of my income, necessary to meet our expenses. I couldn’t see how I’d be able to resume working after the birth since we could never afford full-time help, and — no matter how well they napped — two infants wouldn’t leave much time for anything else.

Trot out the toddler time: Could they kill any child outside the womb for those reasons?  Of course not.  So the only question is, “What is the unborn?”

My husband told me he’d support whatever choice I made, but for him, there really was no choice. Our twins weren’t part of God’s plan, he reasoned (or rationalized?). They were the product of artificial insemination.

Yeah, they are all about following God’s plan here.

If we’d become pregnant with twins naturally, would we be making the same decision? I didn’t know. All I knew was that ultimately, I didn’t think we could have twins and remain an intact, happy-enough family.

Boo-hoo.  Seriously.  Has this lady ever stepped out of her Liberal enclaves to see the rest of the world?  People endure far more than she could dream of, and many do it with much more joy.

After another stretch of silence, I asked, “Could you say a prayer when they’re doing it?”

He glanced at me, looking slightly surprised. “Sure. Of course.” Neither of us is very religious, but I wanted God to know that he or she, or whatever form God took, hadn’t been forgotten.

I hope they learn to think more carefully about God.  It is their only chance at true joy and forgiveness.  I doubt this marriage lasts very long after this.

Our doctor told us that she’d take into account any gender preference if the CVS determined that both babies were equally healthy. Now as she examined the ultrasound, she asked whether gender mattered to us. “Well, we have a boy at home, so I guess we’d prefer a girl,” I said, realizing with a start that since she gave us a choice, I must be carrying a boy and a girl, and I’d just chosen to terminate a boy.

One of the rare gender selection abortions that destroys a male.  Usually this “pro woman” practice results in dead females.

What a sad story.  I hope they find forgiveness and peace someday.  And I hope this cautionary tale makes people think more carefully about IVF and reproductive issues in general.  You do not want to put yourself in a position of having to make life and death choices like that.  And if you do, choose life.  Don’t buy into their bleak worldview.

0 thoughts on “In vitro fertilization: Lots of things can happen, and most of them are bad”

  1. The whole idea of IVF is nothing but selfishness. “I can’t have a baby on my own, so I will play God and force one.” I mean, after all, who wants to adopt one of the zillions of children needing homes when you can just have insurance pay for you to get one via IVF.

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    1. Not sure if that was directed at Glenn or me . . . my $0.02 is that it isn’t terribly wise given the cost, stress and low success rate — and the risks if too many are taken to term.

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    2. Yes, I still think it would be wrong. Especially if the eggs or the sperm are donated, because that violates the oneness of the couple. Even if it is the couple’s own source, the reason for IVF is sinful pride – “I want a child from my body” rather than accept that God has allowed the lack of children for His purpose, and if a child is desired one can adopt. Additionally, the horrific expense is not good stewardship if it is one’s own money, and if insurance is paying for it, then everyone who pays premiums are penalized with higher rates for the insurance companies to afford these procedures. Insurance companies should NEVER pay for such procedures – insurance should only be for health needs, not elective things.

      I can see no reason for IVF except selfishness – “it’s all about me.”

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    3. It was directed to Neil but I appreciate Glenn’s response too 🙂

      I strongly feel that God has allowed us to advance in the medical field in order to do great things like cure disease, save lives, etc. So, I think IVF could be one of those great things if done right. I personally believe that if a couple does the IVF process wisely they could do it without it being wrong or immoral. Granted, this rarely happens.

      If God did not want someone to have a child he could make sure that the IVF didn’t work. Just like if he wanted someone to have a child–he could make sure their birth control method failed (I have known several people who have gotten pregnant while on bc…and my mom’s cousin who had twins after having her tubes tied).

      I agree that adoption is the better route though for those who are infertile and/or someone like me who doesn’t want to get pregnant again but would like to have another child.

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      1. To say that IVF “could be one of those things” that “God has allowed us to advance in the medical field” is to start down a really slippery slope. The fact that God allowed (I think in many cases “helped”) us to advance in the medical field to save lives, improve health, etc, does not mean that He approves of things like IVF where we begin to take into our own hands the right to life and death. The medical advances allow us to choose what sex our child will be, allow us to clone, and all sorts of abuses of medicine and yet none of these “could be one of those things” God approves of.

        Artificial insemination, if not using the husband’s sperm and wife’s eggs, is also wrong because you introduce another person into the marriage. I don’t agree with artificial insemination at all for many reasons, but I can’t biblically justify them, but that which includes another person is, in a way, adultery in my book.

        But back to IVF, I can find no justification for it – just selfish “all about me” attitude.

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      2. I appreciate your position. I still believe that IVF can be a positive thing. I know a family who after adopting several kids did IVF. They had 5 embryos made (using the husband & wife’s sperm & eggs) and have used 3 of them (which gave them a single birth and a set of twins). They are going to implant the other 2 embryos in the near future. In my opinion they are a strong Christian family who God has blessed tremendously.

        I totally agree with your stand on artificial insemination. I never thought about it being like adultery but I can understand why that could be.

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      3. So they adopted and still did IVF? And you don’t see that as selfishness to have a child from her own body? They still felt that need to be fulfilled, obviously. SO you are saying that the extreme expense of IVF was then justified? Can’t buy it!

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      4. Glenn: I was just trying to point out that “playing God” or “thwarting God’s will” can be shaky grounds for saying that something is wrong, because those terms can be applied (or mis-applied, more precisely) to a variety of situations. Mostly, I was doing my Socratic teacher thing and pushing for a better explanation or principle of why IVF is so wrong and so fundamentally different from other medical procedures.

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      5. The main difference is that medical procedures are usually to improve lives or save them, while IVF is just tinkering with technology to be able to satisfy selfish desires, playing God along the way. I put it right there with cosmetic plastic surgery which benefits vanity (not to be confused with reparative stuff).

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  2. It reminds me of the deadly pride and selfishness of a boyfriend of a Care Net client I spoke to. He was pushing for abortion. When I raised the possibility of adoption, this “macho” guy got serious and said, “There’s no way I’m going to let someone else raise my kid.” Uh, yeah, but you’ll pay someone to kill her?

    Right on, Neil.

    I’m impressed that you were able to go through that monstrosity of an article, paragraph by paragraph, because it made me ill. It was one of the biggest “WTF, are you kidding me” things I’ve seen in a while.

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  3. my insurance premiums are way high this year. I hope one day we are be able to select an insurance plan that meets our needs and doesn’t include staff we don’t approve of or need.

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  4. Wow, I am just mind-boggled by this. So sad! So selfish of these people to sacrifice their baby on the altar of and to the god of their cushy *lifestyle*!

    But in answer to something mentioned a few times, about insurance covering IVF, I know that some states *mandate* that insurance cover it (John Stossel has talked about this before, because his state requires that insurance companies cover IVF). Somehow I doubt that most insurance companies just jump up and down at the thought of shelling out $15,000 every few months so covered women can get pregnant and have a baby costing even more thousands of dollars in birth expenses (and that’s best-case scenario, because if the baby has problems or is preterm, which is more likely with IVF, then the costs go up and can quickly and easily get into six figures).

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    1. I often forget about the other costs associated with IVF (i.e. preterm delivery), which just makes it worse.

      I’m not as much opposed to artificial insemination, possibly because you are still dealing with the same basic concept, you don’t create a bunch of embryos that you “discard” or “donate to research”, and the chances of twin or triplet births is just the same as any other normal process. Perfect? No, but to me, that’s a lot more like the other myriad ways that we mess with the natural course of things for the better (like, oh, antibiotics, pain killers, heart surgery, etc.) rather than the deliberate creation and destruction of human life.

      We do have many awesome medical interventions that are far, far away from the natural course of disease, so I’m not convinced that the touchstone is how close to God’s plan it seems and to just submit to your destiny. In fact, human beings using their minds and lives to heal others is pretty amazing. The problem I see with IVF is that it’s not a legitimate medical procedure; you’re not making human life the best it can be; you are destroying it.

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  5. i have a 3 year old son and my husband is 22 and I’m 32 and we want at least 3 more.However my clock is ticking and do not wish to have any more children past the age 35,So we are thinking of in vitro to achieve triplets.Any ideas would help we have tried to get pregnant when my son was 10 months old and no luck.So I am really ready to get it done and over with.

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    1. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I discourage people from in vitro. The costs are too high and more importantly, the ethical risks. What about the unused fertilized embryos? What if “too many” are implanted?

      I highly encourage you to trust God with the quantity and the timing. Consider adoption if you have infertility issues.

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  6. I understand your opinions on IVF but there is also other ways to look at it. I am a child of IVF and my parents tried for many years to have kids and really could not afford to go through the long costly process of adoption. So they elected to do IVF and ended up having me and I really can’t think of any negatives to that. Maybe it may not be right for you but it may be someone’s only option.

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