Wednesday 11 August 2021

Trip (real and metaphorical)

1. I'm going to England today, so blogging--as they say--shall be light. I'll take photos, though. 

2. I made the mistake of getting involved in a Twitter conversation about a celebrity's wife, mother of five, who wants to use IVF. A pro-life acquaintance highlighted the story, and I agreed that mothers should be grateful for the children they have. I also mentioned that infertility was a heavy cross, and I disliked how the NHS dealt with mine. (Update: They kept offering me IVF as if it was my only option and as if I had not already refused it several times, citing my religious faith.) Eventually a "Catholic" told me that refusing IVF was my choice, so I shouldn't "castigate" women who have it.  Her actual message was insensitively written, shall we say. 

It was an ideological rug-pull. Caroline was told (in short) she couldn't say anything about IVF because she doesn't know the pain of infertility. I was told (in short) I can't say anything about IVF because, although I do know about the pain of infertility, I refused IVF. 

The two pro-IVF women in this conversation identified themselves as Catholics, but when I brought our Lord Jesus Christ into the conversation, the first had the grace to admit that she had lapsed. This may be a discovery that when someone who clearly doesn't believe one of the harder teaching says she is a Catholic, one should mention Our Blessed Lord and see what she says then. After all, Catholicism is not veganism. It's not an ethical code (let alone an ethnic group): it's a relationship. 

What made me angry about the remarks of the second non-Catholic Catholic was that she assumed I feel pain over refusing IVF. I feel no pain over refusing IVF. I'm proud that, under God, I refused IVF. Of course, it wasn't a struggle, as I found the concept stomach-churning even back when I first found out such a thing existed. 

This is not, by the way, a rejection of anyone, least of all the innocent human beings conceived that way. God can and does bring good, in this case babies, out of such evils as extramarital sex, rape, and IVF. 

No, I'm proud I refused IVF, and it gives me something in common with the brave women who continue to trust in God after their 12th pregnancy. The pain is about not having children--a bruise the unbelieving second Catholic walloped. However, I have learned my lesson, and it is not to reveal my weak spot on Toxic Twitter, even in a good cause. 

Update (August 13): I didn't have time to say so, but when a Christian woman is so desperate to have a child that she turns to IVF (knowing what moral compromises that entails), her choice is reminiscent of Milton's version of Adam, who chose Eve over God. In this scenario, the woman choses what child she might have (who does not as yet exist) over God. God in His mercy sometimes gives that woman what she desires so badly anyway.  (Of course, there are some women who might think that God gave man the intellectual gifts to develop IVF for the better flourishing of mankind, in the way man developed the polio vaccine, and it is a brave Catholic who steps in to explain why this ideas is wrongheaded.)


  1. Some folk's anger make them callous Seraphic and their focus is on solutions alone, whatever the means. Pointing out the fly in their ointment sets them off. It really is a case of forgive them for they know not what they do. Online anonymity emboldens them in this. My sincere sympathies. Sinéad.

  2. I realize this comment may not be posted. I am sorry that happened to you. I think public Catholic discussion of infertility is generally pretty awful, on which more later, but the limited nature of Twitter sometimes concentrates the worst in any discussion. Having peeked in on social media for analysis of the motu proprio, I had to look away, as what I read was pained trads protesting that “NO Catholics” don’t believe the Church’s teachings and reject Humanae Vitae, etc. I had to look away because my liturgical preference is for the Ordinary Form, and it absolutely looks from the outside like I am one of those “NO Catholics rejecting Humanae Vitae,” but actually I am living out that hard teaching as best I can. While stewing about what I’d read, I realized that of the handful of married Catholic women around my own age that I am or have been close to such that we discussed these things, all but one has (many) fewer (living) children than she hoped for. One was childless, like me, but adopted. I didn’t meet these ladies in an infertility group; they are college classmates, post-college roommates, and friends from various Catholic workplaces over the years and we got married at different ages, too - having been married for 5 (that’s me :-) ) to 21 years. Therefore I suspect that infertility is much more common than we realize, and I wondered how those pained trads had reached their conclusion, so I looked up surveys on Catholics and NFP - as a sort of marker for accepting HV. A widely cited Guttmacher stat has 2% of US Catholics practicing NFP, but that’s nearly 20 yr old information. This study ( from 2017 shows that 30 ish % of Mass-attending US Catholic women say they have used NFP, but if you eliminate women who were past childbearing age in 2017, that percentage rises to 47 (although the age categories force some older ladies to be included still.) The study questions were worded to only uncover those who used NFP to avoid pregnancy, potentially leaving out those who suffer infertility, so that I think an onlooker who sees “small” (whatever their definition is) families at the Ordinary Form is likely not seeing wholesale rejection of HV and more likely seeing evidence of death and suffering in this world. Sometimes it sounds as though Catholics preach a sort of prosperity Gospel around children - the more you have, the holier/better you are. One way, perhaps, to de-awfulize Catholic discussion around infertility just a little, would be to acknowledge that normally functioning fertility is not a marker of holiness or favor with God, anymore than tallness or hairiness or any other physical trait. Then maybe we could see children better as the gifts they are. -EA