Let me start with a disclaimer. I haven’t struggled with infertility myself. I’ve never tried to get pregnant, so I haven’t personally experienced the awful pain of disappointment, month after month, when yet again, pregnancy eludes. Or the false hope when you think that maybe this is the month, only to be disappointed by another negative pregnancy test. Or the agony of seeing an endless stream of babies and pregnant bellies all around you, the innocent questions from friends and family, and the unanswered question of why. But I have walked with close friends who have experienced it, and it’s a heart-wrenching situation. The pain is deep and raw. Infertility can be a very dark place.
The consideration of in vitro fertilization (IVF) almost always arises out of that place of deep pain. Couples who desperately desire children look for an alternative plan when the initial plan fails over and over again. IVF is rarely a decision taken lightly or quickly. It is deeply personal, and it is difficult.
The children born through IVF are every bit as much precious gifts to their families as children conceived any other way. For those of us who, like myself, believe that all people are created in the image of God, children conceived through IVF are every bit as much image bearers as anyone else. God’s good purposes for his children include kids born with the help of IVF and other fertility treatments.
All that said, there are some important questions that I think we need to consider when thinking about IVF, and I wonder if there might not be another, better way.
IVF, for a lot of reasons, isn’t a particularly great option. There is no guarantee of success. In fact, according to the latest CDC data, less than 30 percent of IVF cycles result in a pregnancy. Of those pregnancies, 82 percent result in live births, but that works out to only about 24 percent of cycles resulting in live births overall. On top of that, the financial cost is high, an average of $12,400 per cycle. Since nearly three-quarters of cycles don’t result in a pregnancy, that first $12,400 will likely be only the beginning. And the emotional toll of all of that—hormone treatments, procedures to retrieve eggs and transfer embryos, waiting for pregnancy test results, failed attempts, miscarriage—can be brutal.
And that’s before we even get to ethical questions about eggs that are fertilized but not transferred to the mother’s uterus. After all, they too are human and created in the image of God. It is standard procedure to create more embryos than are transferred, leaving the others to be frozen and stored or destroyed. There are currently an estimated 620,000 fertilized embryos in storage around the country. If we believe that life begins at conception, then that’s 620,000 children. Some of these will eventually be transferred and allowed to develop further, but most will not.
For all of these reasons, even people I know who have chosen IVF would agree that it’s far from ideal. I think all of that raises a lot of questions for couples, particularly people of faith, who find themselves considering IVF. Maybe most fundamentally, there’s the question of why we even have children. Is it mostly about passing on our genes? Or is it about building families?
We all accept, universally, that family isn’t entirely about biology. My closest relative –according to the state, the church, other family and friends – is my husband, but we aren’t biologically related at all. What makes us family is that we choose to love and be committed to each other, and we are recognized that way in the eyes of the law.
So maybe couples considering IVF should weigh up all of those negatives and the very real ethical questions they raise, and consider whether choosing to love a child who doesn’t directly share their genes might not be a better option. The success rate of adoption is significantly higher. The cost ranges widely, with the more expensive being comparable to a few rounds of IVF and the least expensive costing virtually nothing. And there are few ethical questions. Responding to infertility with adoption redeems two broken situations – infertility and orphanhood – simultaneously.
So maybe, when the pregnancy doesn’t come, we shouldn’t look to fertility clinics but should, instead, consider how we might build families through the miracle of adoption instead.
POVs are Point of View articles by NC Family staff and writers.