By Kevin Burke, LSW
[I want to be clear that in this article I am in no way defending the use of IVF embryo’s to make memorial jewelry. The negative reactions to this are of course warranted and the practice is deeply disturbing. However I hope to offer another perspective based on my experience of over 20 years in counseling and ministry to women and men after abortion. ]
You may have seen this article on the Kidspot website, “Couples are turning extra IVF embryos into jewelry.”
Belinda Stafford is the mother featured in the Kidspot piece. Belinda seems to me a caring and sensitive mom struggling to resolve the complex moral and family decisions that reproductive technologies present to couples.
Couples facing infertility issues are vulnerable.
They have the good and natural desire to start a family together. Yet for various reasons they find this impossible. IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) is waiting with the shiny apple that our first parents ate in the Garden of Eden.
This modern version of that ancient story from the book of Genesis assures us that we can assume God-like providence over procreation and human life, without any negative consequences. Given the desperate desire to parent, couples are often unaware of the moral, spiritual and practical challenges that IVF will present.
Belinda shares that even though they were able to give birth to twins during the process, there was a price to pay:
“We had been on a six-year journey of IVF…It was painful, tormenting, a strain on our marriage and just plain hard.”
One of those challenges involves the excess embryos that are created during the IVF process that the couple must either preserve at great expense or discard. Belinda reveals a clear understanding of the human life created in the IVF process and does not use some Orwellian euphemism to rationalize the nature of their tiny lives:
“My embryos were my babies – frozen in time.”
As a loving mother, how could she simply throw them away?
“When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them. I needed them with me. Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.”
The Post Abortion Connection
While there are clear differences between the IVF experience and those who have abortions, there are some connections we can explore.
Given the anguish many parents experience when they come to regret their role in the death of their unborn child or children, they have a need to share their painful feelings and memories of the abortion event within a process of spiritual and emotional hailing.
An essential aspect of that journey in programs like Rachel’s Vineyard, is the transition from their inability to acknowledge and grieve what was lost – and the movement to develop a spiritual relationship as mother/father of their unique child.
Those who grieve their aborted children do not have the remains of the child to provide a place of burial and closure. The healing process closes with a memorial service where participants read a loving letter to their child and entrust them to the Lord’s mercy.
Some mothers and fathers will find other ways to memorialize their child with a special piece of jewelry, a website or other space dedicated for this purpose, a Christmas ornament, or a piece of artwork or music to honor and remember their precious child.
The Truth Will Set You Free
In the Kidspot article, the author says of Belinda Stafford:
“She now carries her babies with her wherever she goes.”
Belinda like all mothers is deeply attached to the children she has conceived with her husband Shaun.
She agonized as she considered their tiny lives being discarded or left in frozen limbo.
She hungered for a closure that would honor their lives and keep them close to her mother’s heart.
Sadly, this method of memorializing human embryos reveals the slippery slope of the IVF process. IVF takes the experience of procreation, and entrusts that intimate communion, and any lives conceived, to the secular setting of science and laboratory.
Pope Paul VI warned us in 1968 of the deleterious effects of separating the unitive from the procreative aspects of sexual intimacy:
“…we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. “ (Humanae Vitae, section 17)
An essential aspect of abortion recovery, and one that can never be forced, is when the heart moves from pride to blessed humility, and opens up to God in sorrow and repentance for one’s role in the child’s death.
The desire of couples using IVF technology to memorialize their children arises out a deeper need to honor the unique life of each of their children conceived in this process.
Yet, both science and faith reveal that the process leads them to participate in the death of their conceived children.
An authentic and spiritually complete response to the loss of these children will not be found in simply preserving their remains in a piece of jewelry. This may bring a superficial and even comforting sense of closure to some parents that will seem to honor their children’s unique lives and preserve some parental connection.
The pathway to truth and real peace is a more painful one that calls parents involved in such fertility treatments to humbly acknowledge that, like our first parents in the Garden, we can be tempted to assume the providential authority of God over human life.
With that said, couples are usually not equipped with the moral and spiritual formation to make the right decisions when confronted with the painful awareness of infertility, and persuaded by medical professionals, friends and family that IVF is their best option.
Finally we need to consider how the living siblings of those children conceived in the IVF process will respond when they learn someday of the loss of their brothers and sisters that were discarded after fertility treatment.
Perhaps like siblings of aborted children, they may also require some support to work through their own feelings and survivor guilt at being offered the gift of life, while their siblings died, and their remains memorialized in jewelry.
For couple’s facing infertility, please consider life affirming alternatives to IVF such at those offered by the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility