It is indeed a great trial for a couple to realize that there are difficulties for them to conceive a child. There are, in fact, very few couples who are completely sterile without any possibility of pregnancy, while some other couples, appoximately 10 %, are “hypo-fertile”, which means they will take longer to conceive a child and to do so they might need medical intervention.
- Much is said at present about “in vitro” or test tube fertilization. What is it precisely?
The procedure consists in extracting ova from the woman, after having provoked many ovulations, and fertilizing them with the man’s spermatozoids, thereby producing many embryos. Three or four embryos will be implanted in the uterus while the others will be preserved by freezing them in liquid nitrogen. If these embryos grow normally it is not uncommon to proceed with a so-called “embryonic cleansing” which is the abortion of one or two embryos which have nonetheless succeeded in implanting themselves! As for the embryos kept in the deep freeze, they will be used to fertilize (impregnate) either the same woman or another one, or they will be used for scientific research.
- From this initial procedure other variations are possible. In cases of major sterility of either the husband or the wife, ova may be obtained from another woman or sperm may be provided by a sperm donor.
- Even if these procedures represent remarkable medical and technological progress, they then raise certain disturbing issues.
- Fecundity (fertilization) takes place outside the sexual encounter. The separation of the act which expresses, in a privileged way, the love of the parents and the act which is at the origin of life, makes this life the outcome of a technical manipulation and not the direct consequence of an act of love. Thus life is no longer rooted in an act of love… even if this child will surely be loved by his parents.
- As we saw, these procedures require the fertilization of a certain number of embryos of which some will be destroyed either voluntarily or by technical handling, such as during the thawing process.
- There is a great temptation for doctors to utilize these procedures often as a training ground to improve on them so as to acquire always greater expertise in a competitive setting. Is not the satisfaction of feeling like masters over life and over the origin of life, a very doubtful, even dangerous, motivation both for couples and society? Whose power is at stake?
- The treatment of hypofertility should have for its purpose the restoration, for a man or woman or for both, of the possibility of sexual intimacy which is the sign and expression of their love as well as the source of life. But it is now possible for medical technology to produce a child without healing infertility in the man or woman.
- Is it a right for couples to have a child? The child is not a necessary “object” required for the fulfilment of the couple, but the child should be the fruit of love before being the success of scientific skills. The child is a gift which signifies the mutual gift of the spouses in an act of inseparable commitment of both bodies and hearts. A child is not “made”. It is not the property of the parents even from the first moment of conception.
Denying themselves recourse to such methods could well imply a substantial sacrifice for some couples. In understanding the profound mystery of life as a gift from God and relying on the grace of God they will be helped to live through such a trial.
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- What is the answer for couples who are not able to become parents? Firstly, they need to learn to wait and not avail themselves of complex medical interventions when patience might suffice. Secondly, they should consider another treatment. The test tube method has almost become the only answer to all forms of hypofertility while other avenues of research have been abandoned. Maybe such couples could also consider other forms of fecundity in devoting time, energy or use of talents to a cause dear to their hearts… or perhaps to consider adoption in welcoming one or more children who, thanks to them, would be part of a family and receive the love of which they were very likely deprived from the outset of life.
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As a specialized physician in hormonology I got married at thirty years of age. After two years of married life, although we wanted a family, we were childless. Obeying the Church, we excluded the possibility of a test tube pregnancy even though this decision was not easy!
At the ordinatioin to the diaconate of one of our friends we asked him: Francis, pray that we may have a baby. Marie Josephine was conceived two months after the ceremony and Francis is the godfather.
Like most couples, we got married with the expectation that it would not be too long before we would have our own family. However, after many months of waiting we were forced to accept that, undoubtedly, we would never have the joy of expecting a child. We underwent every possible and imaginable examination and followed many treatments without results. It was a painful trial. Each birth in our neighbourhood was a new source of suffering for us.
Then, slowly, we began to think of adoption. We prayed a lot to have a child and, at the same time, we felt that our prayers prepared us for a different life experience. We faced a deep interior “mourning” which required much time. I felt I was walking the right path when I was able at last to care for the children of others with serenity.
Will we be able to love him?
We were still full of fears. Could we really love a child for itself, a child in whom we could not see ourselves, a mysterious child, with origin and background totally alien to us? Should we have a child later, would we be able to love this adopted one as much?
A simple thought at the time helped us to see more clearly. When you see a little one with outstretched arms saying, Mommy, Daddy, you will not be afraid! This is exactly what happened. (We omit the details of proceedings, meetings, inquiries, waiting time…) Myriam came to us from her native India. We knew nothing about her except her first name and date of birth. Immediately, we had the feeling of having always known her. She became “flesh of our flesh”. Without any doubt it was our prayer for her during the waiting period that had united us so intimately.
We marvelled at the capacity to love which was in us. Many fears vanished very quickly. We became aware that God gave us an extraordinary gift for which we give Him thanks every day. The adoption of a child is not a last resort but a special grace. Now we understand that God’s plan for us goes beyond our own way of seeing things. It is meant for our happiness. He teaches us to give our sufferings to Him so that He can make them bear fruit.
Michael and Mary Helen
P.S. We are preparing ourselves for a new adventure as we await the coming of a little brother for Myriam in a few weeks time.