I’m not one to keep up with celebrity news – from facelifts to fashion there is little to catch my attention. Until recently. When the news of Sofia Vergara being sued by her ex-husband over two frozen embryos popped up in my newsfeed, I felt compelled to read on. Not surprisingly, media coverage focused on the battle for control over the embryos with guest columnists weighing in on issues of property rights, medical ethics, parental power, and embryo viability.
However, important questions are missing from the coverage: What emotional meaning do frozen embryos have for couples that have created them? How are people prepared for the decision of what to do with those left over from fertility treatments? And how do people of faith grapple with these issues?
In the United States, advanced reproductive technology is rarely covered by insurance. As a result, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a numbers game in which doctors encourage maximum egg production per cycle. The more eggs, the more potential embryos, the better chance of a desperately wanted child. Couples unsuccessful after years of trying to conceive a single child cannot comprehend the sudden potential risk of too many. So, most march along the set path hoping for a “good yield” that will boost their chance of a positive pregnancy.
Certainly for some couples, an abundance of embryos is a blessing. There are stories of repeated failed cycles followed by success using the “very last one.” However, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates more than 600,000 cryo-preserved embryos in the United States. Not all of these can be used to bring forth a child.
Most faith-based information about frozen embryos takes a black and white approach of what is “right.” But I have rarely experienced the divine in this way. For me, God lives in the gray areas, the spaces between what I know and what I wonder. When we see God as prescriptive, we miss out on the experience of delving into the great mystery to find our truth. And my truth is — there are no simple answers.
So, how are people of faith called to help those dealing with decisions over frozen embryos?
First, listen. Hear what these embryos mean to this individual, this couple.
Next, be open. Be open to understanding that these may represent years of prayer, tears, and expensive medical intervention. Be open to understanding that people may experience grief over children not to be. Be open to understanding that people may be ready to let go. Be open to understanding that, no matter the decision, it may never feel “right.”
Finally, pray. Pray for discernment, pray for acceptance, pray for peace.
Project Pomegranate’s book, Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss, is now available. Visit https://projectpomegranate.org/book/