Creating life

August 21, 2007 | Human Life, Motherhood, Struggles | 9 comments

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.

9 Comments

  1. FloridaWife

    Hi. I found out about you from WaitingforLife. I left a comment on that Celebrity Baby Blog. I literally got sick reading it. I’m totally disgusted with the perpetual destruction of human life.

  2. Veronica Mitchell

    This was a lovely post, but I am curious why you write about other bloggers without linking to them. Is this your policy? I don’t mean to complain, but it seems a bit rude.

  3. Dan

    There you go discering spirits again. Great job of paying attention and listening. He speaks and reveals truth!

  4. Renee

    There is a site of resources for persons who were concieved from donor. Pretty interesting to see not the side of the mother’s want, but rather a child’s needs as an adult.

    http://www.whosedaughter.blogspot.com/

    I have the genetic marker for cystic fribrosis, to think if I was created in a lab rather then naturally in my mother I would be discarded as an ‘unhealthy’. As a society I thought we treated diseases, not dispose of those who have them.

    I didn’t go through all of the comments, it was much to upsetting about the praide and admiration of her honesty. Not one mention of the needs of a child.

  5. La gallina

    A few years ago my son went to nursery school with a child whose mother had been a test tube baby. This woman was very sweet, had three darling children, and had a husband quite a bit older (sort of a “father figure” it seemed to me.)

    The very first thing she told me when I met her was, “My father was an anonymous sperm donor.”

    My heart went out to her. She was a gorgeous woman and a wonderful mother. But I could just feel the huge empty hole she had in her soul. The fact that there was no man on earth who could claim her as a daughter just ate away at her every minute of her life. Even though I had no interest in God, Christianity, morals, etc. at the time, I could feel how this way of conceiving a child was just wrong.

    That’s the part that these mothers desperate to conceive forget about. To be a child with no father creates a deep, deep heartache that cannot be repaired.

  6. Jennifer F.

    Veronica –

    The comments around here lately have gotten pretty heated occasionally, sometimes downright nasty. And because IVF is such a hot topic anyway, and Waiting for Life strikes me as a very personal blog (it doesn’t seem to me that she’s seeking to grow the traffic on her blog), I wanted to ask the writer if she wanted a link first, because I suspected that she might receive some hostile comments if I did link to her post. I have not heard back but will update the post with a link if I do.

  7. cordelia

    Mark Steyn wrote about this in the current issue of National Review…He makes an interesting observation about how Martha has built an empire on “Home Arts” but she has no real family to offer it to…very sad.

  8. lyrl

    That’s the part that these mothers desperate to conceive forget about. To be a child with no father creates a deep, deep heartache that cannot be repaired.

    Is it better to not exist at all? For single women, or those whose partners are infertile, that’s the choice – a child with possibly this psychological issue, or no child at all.

    Similarly for women whose partners abandon them during pregnancy. Many children have fathers who were nothing more than sperm donors, despite being conceived the normal way. My father has expressed the opinion that it’s better for women in this situation to have an abortion than to carry to term, and he was very hostile toward one of my mom’s friends who chose to continue her pregnancy even though the father had left her.

    I guess I’m just sensitive to this particular line of reasoning. I see the slippery slope from advocating non-conception because the child might have an emotional disability, to advocating abortion for the same reason.

  9. Suzanne Di Silvestri

    Thanks for referring me to your post. I enjoyed reading it (and, by the way, have been silently to your blog many times in the past.

    I think that, because of your conversion, you have a unique ability to see truth in the context of our secular world. It is this understanding of how decent people can be fundamentally and morally wrong that makes your post so poignant.

    Thanks again–I was glad to get your comment on my post.

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