I've been obsessively checking Chez Miscarriage for weeks, hoping I wouldn't miss her baby's birth story. It's up now; look now, because it may be gone later. The author keeps no archives, so I've pieced my understanding of her history together from snippets I read in the comments.
From what I can tell, the author is a "DES baby:" her mother took the drug diethylstilbestrol, and as a result, the author herself has a malformed uterus and has been unable to carry a pregnancy to term. Hundreds of comments appear on each of her posts; I gather that her story is followed by many, many readers. The author's son (whom she calls "Gefilte"---I missed the reason why) was born a few weeks ago. The woman who gave him birth, "Sarah," is a gestational surrogate.
Here are some snippets from the birth story, just in case you miss it.
I remember lying on the living room floor with Sarah's children, eating popcorn and playing Go Fish all night.
I remember the moment at the pre-birth dinner when Sarah introduced me to all her friends as "the baby's mother," and the way her words made us both cry.
I remember sitting up with Sarah through a run of contractions, watching the clock, wondering if this was really happening....
I remember the hospital administrator who attached two matching identity bracelets to Sarah's and my wrists - One for the egg, she said smartly as she clicked my bracelet closed, and one for the uterus....
I remember how our hospital room began to fill up as the day went on and our story got passed around the floor. I remember the nurses who stayed past their shifts, the shy medical students, the residents who kept popping in and giving us the thumbs-up sign. I remember the sense that they were all rooting for us, that they had seen our two families (all of whom were pacing the hall, fielding phone calls, and bringing one another food) and understood what we were trying to do...
And then Gefilte was born - I remember the first moment I saw his face, the way his wide-open eyes stared in amazement at the crowd of people surrounding him - and suddenly everyone was crying and reaching for one another, touching hands, laughing out loud. A nurse lovingly called him "the miracle baby." A resident sat on Sarah's bed and cried, thanking her. My husband and I held one another and wept with joy and relief and amazement.
What I don't remember - although Sarah told me this later - is that immediately after the nurses checked Gefilte and wrapped him in a blanket, I lifted him up and brought him to her, so that she would be the first person to hold him.
Later, everyone went home, and Sarah and I stayed together in the hospital room. I remember that night much more clearly than anything that came before it. We kept Gefilte in a bassinet between our beds, and we stayed up talking while he slept. We looked at him, and at each other, and kept asking in amazement, Can you believe it? Can you believe he's really here? And we reviewed it all, the whole last year of our lives - Do you remember our first telephone conversation? Do you remember the transfer? Did you ever think it would lead to him, to this, to tonight?
When it was morning, before our families returned with breakfast and raucous demands to hold the baby, I said to her, I know you think that you created a life yesterday, but really, you created two. You have renewed me.
She reached for my hand across the bassinet and said, I knew it would happen like this. I knew it would feel like this. I knew he would be like this.
I knew I would love him this much.
The author crafts her writing beautifully---when she's funny, she's really funny, so her blog is a joy to read. I was touched by her willingness to write about the real losses that her baby would experience as a result of his unusual conception and birth. She didn't spell them out, but we all know what they are: he wouldn't be breastfed (although Sarah planned to supply him with pumped breastmilk for a time), he would be transferred from one mother to another. Many of her commenters downplayed those losses, but she herself acknowledged them, and wrote about how she hoped that by acknowledging them she would better be able to compensate.
I bring this up because the "problem" of infertility treatments---meaning "intellectual exercise to grapple with"---is difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I mean the ethics of them, the morality of them. In one sense, I am not really called upon to comment on them. I have conceived naturally twice, and given birth naturally twice. I am not in a pastoral position where it is my duty to counsel people who are infertile. If I only keep my mouth shut, I can avoid doing wrong.
But at the same time I struggle with how to feel about them, how to shape the words in my own mind that explain the issue in a way that satisfies me.
I know, accept, affirm, and am thoroughly convinced that a whole constellation of so-called "infertility treatments"---primarily those that involve in vitro fertilization (IVF), whether homologous or heterologous, and artificial insemination, whether homologous or heterologous---are not treatments (for they don't alleviate any disease) but are illicit manipulations of human genetic material, even though they do result in the conception (and, if all goes well, birth) of a new human being.
I understand, accept, affirm, and am thoroughly convinced of the theological arguments supporting that position. Some of them rest on the assumption that in the process of IVF, a large number of embryos are created only to be put at great risk of death or destroyed outright. This is real, and this is clearly wrong; it is easy for any pro-life Catholic to oppose the wanton destruction of any new human life. This is why the restrictions that the Italian people have placed on IVF are true safeguards.
But this so-called collateral damage happens only because technology makes it easier and less expensive to create lots of embryos and waste them rather than to carefully create them one at a time. The high risk of death for each one, too, is an artifact of technology. We could imagine a world in which success rates were so high with each implanted child that hardly any embryos died and "extras" were never created to be destroyed later. So the more important arguments against IVF are the ones that articulate problems that are inherent to the process.
The go-to document for these questions is Donum Vitae. This document came out of the CDF in 1987 and, as such, was written in part by Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Benedict XVI.
The Church's teaching on marriage and human procreation affirms the "inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, makes them capable of the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman." This principle, which is based upon the nature of marriage and the intimate connection of the goods of marriage, has well-known consequences on the level of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood"...
The moral value of the intimate link between the goods of marriage and between the meanings of the conjugal act is based upon the unity of the human being, a unity involving body and spiritual soul. Spouses mutually express their personal love in the "language of the body" which clearly involves both "spousal meanings" and parental ones. The conjugal act by which the couple mutually express their self-gift at the same time expresses openness to the gift of life. It is an act that is inseparably corporal and spiritual. It is in their bodies and through their bodies that the spouses consummate their marriage and are able to become father and mother. In order to respect the language of their bodies and their natural generosity, the conjugal union must take place with respect for its openness to procreation; and the procreation of a person must be the fruit and the result of married love. The origin of the human being thus follows from a procreation that is "linked to the union, not only biological but also spiritual, of the parents, made one by the bond of marriage."Fertilization achieved outside the bodies of the couple remains by this very fact deprived of the meanings and the values which are expressed in the language of the body and in the union of human persons.
Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person. In his unique and unrepeatable origin, the child must be respected and recognized as equal in personal dignity to those who give him life. The human person must be accepted in his parents' act of union and love; the generation of a child must therefore be the fruit of that mutual giving which is realized in the conjugal act wherein the spouses cooperate as servants and not as masters in the work of the Creator who is Love.
In reality, the origin of a human person is the result of an act of giving. The one conceived must be the fruit of his parents' love. He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of an intervention of medical or biological techniques; that would be equivalent to reducing him to an object of scientific technology. No one may subject the coming of a child into the world to conditions of technical efficiency which are to be evaluated according to standards of control and dominion.
The moral relevance of the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and between the goods of marriage, as well as the unity of the human being and the dignity of his origin, demand that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses.
So there's that. All this I believe, affirm, accept.
And I know, too, that hard cases make bad law, anecdotes make bad data, and---firmly---that emotional reaction to a situation is a poor moral yardstick.
What makes the argument hard to articulate is that the intended end of these illicit means is a good, the best kind of good that our universe brings forth.
The author of Chez Miscarriage knows that.
I've met at least one child, a little girl, whom I know to have been conceived through homologous IVF. I certainly don't have the guts to look her parents in the eye and say "You know, it wasn't right what you did to get her."
(To get her. She was gotten, not begotten. Is that a pithy enough summation for you?)
Fortunately, her parents will probably not ask me my opinion.
Also from Donum Vitae:
...the child has the right, as already mentioned, to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents; and he also has the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.
It seems like strange language, to me, to talk of how the child has the right not to be conceived artificially, when the child and, therefore, the rights, would not exist without that conception.
But in another situation, the language is almost the same, and yet I find it easier to accept. I'm thinking of a child conceived as a result of rape. In that case, the rapist violates the woman who becomes the child's mother, but he also violates the right of the child to be conceived through an act of mutual self-giving. In failing to respect the mother as a person, the rapist also fails to respect the personhood of any child that might be so conceived.
I don't have any trouble with that language, even though the child, and the rights of the child, came into being after the rape, and as a fruit of the rape.
Is it, in fact, possible to violate a right that does not yet exist, by an act that brings about the existence of those rights? Apparently so. Wrap your mind about that particular moral time warp.
We see darkly through time's glass. Maybe, just maybe, this will make more sense in a perspective where time itself has no meaning. I suppose that I can hang onto that.
Anyway. Also from Donum Vitae:
Although the manner in which human conception is achieved with IVF and ET cannot be approved, every child which comes into the world must in any case be accepted as a living gift of the divine Goodness and must be brought up with love.
Once there was a time when the response to sterility could have been a different one: acceptance of the cross, perhaps expressing generosity in the service of life some other way, through adoption of abandoned children, or through commitment to some cause. But now that other response has been chosen and executed. The wrong is over, and what is left is only mothering and fathering (if I may use that word to describe what fathers do and ought to do throughout the lives of their children). The same as mine, the same as yours.
"It wasn't right what you did to get her." And yet, here she is, a fact on the ground, and more importantly, a person. Accept her, love her, respect her. Somehow, sometime, to respect her personhood has to include acknowledging that mysterious wrong done to her, back in the pre-conception mist, that mysterious wrong that brought her person into being.
Something to think about, and think about some more.
UPDATE: More here, in a post that attracted some comments from parents of children conceived via artificial insemination. I think their comments are worth reading.
UPDATE: Fixed the atrocious formatting.