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The Other Embryos

Posted Feb 19 2013 7:14pm

You may remember from our IVF project that was MISSION: Team Zoll #3 last year, that we transferred two embryos. They looked like this:

Team Zoll Starting Lineup

Despite rising beta numbers that could have gone either way, only one of those two embryos implanted. And here I am, 23 weeks pregnant with a healthy boy.

And about 40 minutes from my house, four additional high-grade embryos are chilling away in frozen storage.

Right now we’re not in any kind of position to decide what to do with those embryos and thankfully, our insurance covers the first year of storage fees. My philosophy right now is let’s see what it’s like raising one child before we decide if we want any more. I think that’s a fair philosophy, no?

But I think about those four embryos and even the one who didn’t make it – a lot.

. . .

I get accused of talking about politics too much. I don’t make any attempts to hide my political inclinations: I’m a progressive feminist – and honestly, even those two labels don’t fully capture the complete spectrum of my political, moral and ethical beliefs. But if I had to sum it up quickly, there you have it.

And how I label myself is not to shut out others: I thoroughly welcome and enjoy respectful conversation and debate. All viewpoints have always been welcome here in this space. The only thing I take issue with is when someone forces a particular viewpoint by stating falsehoods. Come here, make your case – but dont’ lie. Don’t just make up facts to support your beliefs. And that’s something with which I take umbrage whether your left, right, somewhere-in-between or unaffiliated. If you’ve got a point to make, at least have credible, accurate info to back it up.

So yesterday, I had a bit of an enraged reaction to recent personhood legislation working its way through North Dakota and some alarming legislation out of Arizona. And yes – I got unabashedly political in that post.

As I mentioned in the update at the end of that post, it’s not about casting judgment on any political movement – it’s about pointing out the fact that groups like Personhood USA are funded and orchestrated by one very vocal, very well-funded segment of conservative politics. It’s not a judgment but a statement of facts.

When I say I’m a progressive feminist, I don’t claim to represent ALL progressive feminists. Just as Personhood USA doesn’t claim to represent ALL conservative Christians. So, before folks think I’m rallying the mob and grabbing pitchforks in an anti-conservative crusade – slow your roll. I’m not.

. . .

It was October 10th. The day before beta.

Larry was at work and I was taking a shower. As the hot water poured over me, I instinctively closed my eyes and placed my hands on my belly. The tears flowed.

“I have no idea if you’ve stuck around,” I said out loud. “But I hope you have. I love you both already so much. And if one or both of you make it, I promise you will be loved every second of my life until the day I die.”

A pause, then: “I love you.”

. . .

Groups like Personhood USA and the Center for Arizona Policy (the group responsible for the embryo tracking bill proposed in Arizona) push their pro-life agenda in the name of “pre-born” Americans. Of the two organizations, CAP has the most articulated position statement when it comes to infertility treatments (emphasis mine):

Largely because of the rapid advances in technology, this field has gone almost entirely unregulated. As a result, many in the industry have pushed the boundaries of ethics in the name of “building a family.”

It is tempting to gloss over these troubling ethical questions because the outcome is often that a couple who desperately wants a baby receives that wonderful gift. Infertility doctors and advocacy groups work to keep the focus on the desires of the infertile couple to have a child and off the difficult issues. However, when life is destroyed or someone’s health is jeopardized just so another person can have something they want, the grave moral problems remain, despite the efforts to sweep them under the rug. An unethical action is not justified by how much good comes of it in the end.

Personhood USA takes a broader standpoint, calling out this as one of their organization’s commitments:

Moving churches and the culture to make the dehumanization and murdering of preborn children unthinkable.

In these sweeping position statements, they imply that infertility patients who pursue IVF are destroying, jeopardizing or outright murdering “pre-born” Americans when their doctors perform the standard procedures and protocols of the IVF process. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, in doing so, they seek to shame and dehumanize anyone who would infringe upon the “rights” of “pre-born” Americans, be they the 16-year old girl who wants an abortion or the 30-year old woman from Massachusetts who used donor eggs to get pregnant.

The implication is that these “pre-born” Americans – these 8- and 10-cell blastocysts – are unwanted.

And it couldn’t be further from the truth.

. . .

You want to talk about wanted? Loved?

Let’s talk about my fertilization report , the day I found out we only had 6 fertilized embryos after 20 eggs had been retrieved:

I talked to my friend Natalie who gave me the permission I needed to NOT be okay with this right now. And so I rage. I rail. I tremble. I let this fear consume me. And then I break it down for what it is: I am afraid that these embryos aren’t enough. I am afraid they won’t make it to Saturday. I am afraid this cycle will fail.

And:

There are six embryos. Six of our embryos. Any one of them could become our child, our children. I live in a world, at a time in history where six of my potential children are growing right now, in a petri dish, in a lab just 40 minutes from my house. How remarkable. How fortunate we are to be alive at this precise moment in time.

. . .

Like I said, I think about all those embryos a lot. About whether we have more children down the road. About how, if we decide not to expand our family beyond one child, what will happen to them. Larry and I have legal arrangements in place should either of us die or we divorce, but what happens to them in any other context remains in the air.

Do we let them thaw and discard them? Donate them to research? Donate them to another couple?

These are all hypotheticals. And while we’re not yet at a point to engage more fully into those hypotheticals, I want to direct you to a blog post from RESOLVE New England about one woman’s thought process on what to do with her excess embryos.

. . .

Personhood USA would eat this up about me, because this progressive feminist just called her embryos her “children.” That she would whisper and sob the words “I love you” to balls of cells in her uterus. (And this is a great example of why labels are so janky at really capturing the full spectrum of a person.)

But it doesn’t change the fact that groups like CAP and Personhood USA and state legislatures have no business regulating my ability to have a family simply because I require medical treatment to get pregnant.

Did I “desire” to have a family? Absolutely. But not only is it my right to have a family as a free human being – it’s a biological imperative.

I can’t say it more plainly: personhood legislation strips that right to have families from infertility patients… in the name of life. In the name of families.

. . .

I haven’t written before about these other embryos because I’m so focused on just getting through this whole “gestating a fetus” thing right now. But I do think about them. I worry about them and their time in storage as much as I worry about my son’s first day of school. I worry about what will become of them as much as I wonder about the kind of man my son will grow up to be.

Infertility patients aren’t just throwing excess embryos in the trash because they’re just balls of cells.

We love them. We want them.

They’re our potential children – but they’re not “people.”

And we need to do what we can to protect them from any legislation or regulation that seeks to prevent their creation in the first place.

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