I had an interesting experience last week, one that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past few days. I was flipping through a copy of People Magazine while I got a haircut, and came across an article by Alexis Stewart (daughter of Martha Stewart). In the article Alexis, who is 41 years old and single, talks with stark honesty about her current struggles to have a child. Below is an excerpt from her story:
Since December, I’ve been going to the New York Fertility Institute in Manhattan. The drugs cost $6, 000, the doctors and in vitro fertilization procedures about $20, 000 to $27, 000 — a month.
They give me, like, eight times as many drugs than the other place did to stimulate egg production, then check me every two to four days.
I take two shots a day…Once a month, I inject myself with a drug that causes me to ovulate in 36 hours. Just before the 36 hours are up, I go to the doctor’s office and they put me under anesthesia and use an 18-inch needle to remove about 10 eggs. Then, I go home to my apartment in Tribeca, change and get ready for my Sirius Radio Show, Whatever, that I co-host at 5 p.m.
The doctor, meanwhile, fertilizes the eggs right away, using a technique called ICSI [intra cytoplasmic sperm injection], which involves poking a hole in each egg and shoving a sperm in to create an embryo.
I’m using an anonymous donor, but not from a ‘genius’ bank. Those are creepy.
After the doctor conducts an embryo biopsy for Down Syndrome and the myriad of other things you might find around the three-month pregnancy mark, he says, “Eight out of 10 are not healthy” or whatever. Then, he tries to [transfer] the healthy embryos. I’ve had two transfers; they haven’t stuck.
Last month after my egg retrieval, the clinic left a phone message saying I should call. They were going to tell me how many embryos were healthy…When it may be just another emotional blow, I sometimes don’t need to know right away; knowing won’t change it. If there are not healthies, I try to let it go immediately, because you can go crazy. Crazy.
But I’m not even close to stopping. I’m trying to build up a supply of healthy embryos because ideally, I’d love to have two kids.
I tell people who are 40, or ever 35, if you have the money, freeze your eggs, or better yet, embryos. If you don’t have a husband, get an anonymous donor. That way, if you never find Mr. Perfect, you have options. [MORE]
Not surprisingly, Ms. Stewart’s article gave me a lot to think about, and remained on my mind after I got home. Later that day I sat down to do a bit of blog reading, and came across another story of infertility, this one on a blog called Waiting for Life:
I have prayed that God would give us the opportunity to show generosity in this way [by having a family] soon. Even if we can’t have our own, I truly want to provide a home for children in need. Perhaps a child with a disability. I never thought I could even consider that. But lately my heart has been so heavy for orphaned children with disabilities. Perhaps they feel no one would ever provide a home for them because they are “less than perfect.” The other day on the way out of mass, a boy about the age of 12, who had a disability of some kind…turned and looked me straight in the eye. He smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen and waved with excitement. It pierced my heart. My eyes filled with tears — tears of joy — that God made this precious child. Though he made not appear “perfect” by the world’s standards, he is perfect to God. And he has dignity because of this.
And I went to the adoration chapel with P and as we sat before Christ in the Eucharist I prayed that He would allow me the privilege to love someone like that. I have so much love inside. I really want to do something big for God. Not for my sake really. I want to show them how much God loves them just how they are.
I found these posts to be stunning examples of the fruits of two very different worldviews on the creation of life.
In the first view, presumably the way Ms. Stewart sees it, children are something we make. They don’t have their own inherent dignity until we say they do. The decision about when each conceived life becomes a true “person” worthy of respect (e.g. at conception vs. at six months gestation vs. at birth, etc.) is a personal choice for each mother to make as she sees fit. And until a conceived life reaches the point of personhood, whatever that may be, we are free to destroy them at will.
In the second view, presumably the way Waitingforlife sees the world, children are begotten, not made. As D. Vincent Twomey writes, “The child is the gift of life that supervenes on the spouses’ mutual gift of self. It is not the direct product of their wills. What we intentionally make are things, property at our disposal. What we beget, are persons equal in dignity to us.” At the moment of conception, that unique code of DNA, the only one like it in all of human history, is something very special. It’s a human soul, precious to God.
To be clear, my point here is not a personal commentary on Ms. Stewart or Waitingforlife — they both seem like great people, each trying to do the right thing based on her view of life. (I actually really admire Ms. Stewart’s refreshingly brutal honesty, she’s the type of person I’d be friends with.)
What is so interesting to me about all of this, and what I’ve been thinking about all week, was the nature of my reaction to reading these two posts back to back. Often when I read two sides of a controversial issue I react on a cerebral level to the points I encounter. I know where I stand based on logic and reason, and that’s that.
Not so in this case.
Reading Alexis Stewart’s article literally made my stomach turn (again, not at her personally, but at the events she described). I had this strong, visceral reaction of deep uneasiness at hearing someone so nonchalantly discuss the creation and destruction of human life. It made me profoundly uncomfortable to hear the decision of which lives are worth living and which must be destroyed discussed in such a casual, off-handed way.
On the other hand, the post on Waiting for Life filled me with a sense of peace and comfort upon reading it — not even necessarily because the writer would consider adopting a special needs child, but simply because of her basic recognition that every single human life is worthy of dignity and respect.
What I wonder about, which of course there is no way to know, is how many other people would have the same reaction. Not that long ago I shared Alexis Stewart’s worldview. Technically, nothing she describes in her article would have been offensive to me. Yet I can’t help but wonder if my heart might have sunk in the same way it did last week if a few years ago I’d read about casually discarding embryos that had Down Syndrome. There’s no way to know for sure, but I suspect that it would have struck me that something was horribly amiss here, that this just didn’t feel right.
My conversion from atheism was a long, long path involving countless factors, but many of the key turning points were situations like this: times when I would look at the fruits of my own belief system, watch what happened when people disregarded the soul and God, and feel in my heart that something just wasn’t right.
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