Tuesday, October 27, 2015

IVF When You're A Christian

   I hear a lot of conflicting emotions when it comes to IVF, or fertility treatments in general.
"It's abortion!" 
"It's taking matters into your own hands!"
 "It's playing God!" 
"You're going against God's will!"
    Most of these ideas come from ignorance (before anyone gets upset the definition of ignorance is: a lack of knowledge or information). Obviously fertility treatments and infertility are something that is close to my heart, and something that I've done a lot of research and praying on. I'm here to give you the facts on IVF and what I have come to truly believe about God and fertility.

"It's abortion!"
    I am not here to discuss pro-life vs pro-choice. I'm discussing things that have been said, whether to me or others considering or going through IVF. The people who say this are, obviously, pro-life, so that is the position from which I will answer and the stance from which I will defend IVF.
    The reason this comes up is because sometimes there are things a couple (or individual) can chose to do during IVF that is considered abortion when you are pro-life. Multiple embryos can be transferred in hopes of getting one to stick. Sometimes they will all take, resulting in an extremely high risk multiple pregnancy. The course of action typically taken is 'selective reduction', or aborting all but one or two. This is very rare. The majority of doctors do not transfer more than 1-3 embryos, and even 3 isn't incredibly common in my experience. A twin or triplet pregnancy is considered high risk but generally not life threatening, and there is no need for selective reduction.
    The other reason that this argument comes up is that the way IVF works when it comes to fertilization. The embryologist will fertilize as many eggs as they can, sometimes resulting in as many as 15-20 embryos, or babies. Obviously couples will not implant 20 babies. So what happens to the 'leftovers'? Well first of all not all of the embryos will survive. Some will die. The same embryos that would have miscarried or never implanted in the first place will pass just like they would have in the uterus. You can take the healthiest embryo and inject the healthiest sperm and give them the best environment but you cannot force them to fertilize or grow.
    Now lets say you are left with 10 healthy embryos. You probably won't plan to have 10 babies. Again, your numbers go down. Not every embryo will implant. You can take the healthiest blastocyst (a 5 day old embryo) and put it in the healthiest uterus but no one can do anything to force it to implant and grow. By then you could only have 6 embryos left. 
    Now what if you only want 1 or 2 kids? What happens to the other 4 or 5? Well, this is where to beauty and gift of science comes in, once again! You can freeze them. Through my research I have found that the technical shelf life of a frozen embryo is 13 years, but most doctors agree that an embryo can be frozen almost indefinitely. This is wonderful news for couples who can only conceive through IVF because it means that you can put your embryos on ice and in a few years when you're ready to expand your family you don't have to go through the egg retrieval and fertilization process again.
    Some couples, however, don't want to use more than 1 or 2. Ever. You are still left with 4 or 5 unused, healthy babies. Legally you can throw them away. I can see where this poses an issue with those who are pro-life. You are discarding babies. But did you know that most clinics have internal embryo adoption programs available?  Or that there are websites where you can connect with couples who can't have biological children and are looking for embryos to adopt? Isn't this beautiful?! Through your infertility you can help others going through the same thing have a baby, too! There are so many options for embryo storage and transfer now that it's very rare for an embryo to be discarded, and even more rare for a doctor to recommend discarding of the embryos.

"You're taking matters into your own hands!"
"You're playing God!"
"You're going against God's will!"

    God doesn't make people infertile. Infertility, miscarriage, and infant/child loss is not part of God's perfect plan. 
    The bible is full of examples of barren women crying out to God and finding nothing but comfort in Him. He never rebukes them. God told us to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:1). That children are a blessing from the Lord. People try to treat our world like it's a world made new by God. It isn't yet. Satan still "roams the earth" (Job 1:7). Broken things happen because we live in a broken world ruled by the consequence of our sin. 
    A lot of the indifference and un-compassionate mindsets towards infertility come from the refusal to acknowledge it for what it is. A disease. No one views it as acceptable to walk up to someone with cancer and say, "Get over it. It's not a big deal. It happened because God wants it to. If you try to treat your disease then you're sinning. Accept it and just pray you don't die." If someone said that to a friend with a severe illness we would be horrified. So why, then, is it ok to tell someone with infertility to stop grieving and accept that God wants them to be infertile? 
    I will admit it. I'm bitter. I hate that I, and others, have had to feel the pain of infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss. But you know what I'm not bitter towards? God. I'm not bitter towards God because I know that He didn't do this to me and that His heart breaks with mine. To be honest I don't know how someone can go on with the mindset that God made them sick. Sometimes God is all I have to cling to. God and the knowledge that He didn't want this pain for me. In His perfect world there wouldn't be infertility or death. That's how I know it's not caused by God.
    While it is not ok to place having children above your devotion to God, it's also not wrong to seek healing from infertility. God created science. He gave us brains. He meant for us to use them. In the above section I talked about the fertilization and implantation process being out of human hands. You can have the perfect embryo in the perfect uterus but there is nothing anyone can do to force that baby to grow. Only God can do that. IVF is a miracle. Just like chemo and the IVIG treatment I get for my DM. Just like penicillin and casts. To write off medical treatment is like writing off science. And if you're going to do that then you have to give up electricity. Cars. Stoves. Houses. Indoor plumbing. TV. Etc. All of those things happened because of science. 

    Now that we've discussed the fact that God doesn't make people infertile, let's move on to 'taking matters into our own hands' and 'playing God.'
    Once again, nothing that any human can do can force a baby to implant and grow. Nothing. To say that fertility treatments are taking matters into my own hands is saying that I have the power to force a baby to grow and be born. You are saying that I have the same power as God (obviously I don't). IVF is only around 60% effective at the highest level. It does not guarantee a baby. Only God can make that baby implant. I don't have the power to make myself have a baby. All I can do is utilize the gift of science that God gave us.
    People say that if you are unemployed and need a job, you can't just sit on your couch and expect a CEO to knock on your door asking if you can start tomorrow. You need to go out and do interviews. Seek the job, and pray for God's strength and will along the way. Why is infertility any different? I'm not going to sit on the couch and hope a baby suddenly appears in my uterus. We have a disease, and we're going to seek a cure. I believe that God's miracle is waiting for us in a form other than natural/traditional/PIV conception. 
    I want to make clear that I do believe that someone can have a personal conviction against fertility treatments (or anything really). I call this a 'personal legalism'. You may feel like God has called you not to do anything other than sex in order to try to conceive, and that's 100% ok. What is not ok is when you feel like medical help is wrong for you, that it's wrong for everyone else as well. God spoke to me about my situation. He did not speak to you about my situation and leave me out of the conversation. You don't know people's personal relationships with God and you don't get to tell other people what to do just because you feel a certain way. I completely respect people's right to feel that medical treatment, fast food, soda, alcohol, or makeup are wrong. What I don't respect is when they try to impose their will onto me. You're not God. Don't act like it. Not everything is laid out black and white in the bible. Sometimes we have to talk to God about it to find out what our path is. Everyone has a different path, that's the beauty of it all.

    In the end, one of my biggest points is that yes, IVF can be displeasing to God when done a certain way. So can sex. And food. And entertainment. God created sex as something so good, but people pervert it all the time. Does that mean that all sex is bad? Of course not. Gluttony is one of the 'seven deadly sins' yet we don't make food off limits. That would be ridiculous. There are many books, movies, and television shows that are pure filth and totally dishonoring to God. Does that mean we can never read or watch TV again? I certainly hope not.
    Every good thing can be and has been perverted. That doesn't make it off limits. It simply means that we should strive to do those things in a way that is honoring and pleasing to God. 

IVIG | In The Works

    In my last IVIG post I talked about being on the phone with a lot of different companies and trying to get some extended insurance coverage to help pay for my treatment. Well, we got some good news! The original company I was signed up to go with was MedProX. They called me just a few days after my last post and said that they have a sister company, BioRX, that is in network! Not only does our insurance cover it completely but our deductible that comes out for the IVIG will also go towards any fertility treatments we decide to do! We were ready for some good news. Though it seems like it does all come in waves, so I am trying to balance my hope and bracing myself for the next wave of rough stuff.
    I was scheduled to start my IVIG yesterday (October 26), but the lovely employee at BioRX who was in charge of my 'case' never sent my paperwork in. Fantastic. Now the doctor has the paperwork but he hasn't signed it yet. I informed them that they will be hearing from me at least twice a day every day until the job is done. I'm actually on the phone with them right now, checking to see if my doctor sent the paperwork in (spoiler: he didn't).
   I swear guys, it's easier to get a Target order corrected than it is to get your medical information sent where it needs to be. It's incredibly frustrating and terrifying.
    Moving on....my first day of infusion is going to be pretty long. The average infusion time is 4 hours, but the first couple days will be 5-6 hours, just to see how I respond to it. I'm hoping not to get any migraines with it but at this point, I'll take it if it means I can get better. This treatment couldn't come at a better time. I'm in a lot of pain lately and my joints are so sore. Yesterday my thumb decided to just randomly start bleeding, and my leg thought it would be a good time to get stiff.
    I'm hoping that when I call the doctor again in about an hour the paper will have been sent through. Faxing's hard y'all.

Monday, October 5, 2015

IVIG | Getting Started

    As many know I have suffered from Dermatomyositis for the past 5, almost 6 years now. You can read more about my story in my post 'A Little Twist on the Ice Bucket Challenge'.
    During my last trip to The Mysotis Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore my doctor decided that we were not seeing the results she wanted on my Imuran. Due to the stress of the house and infertility I've been getting flares more often and, while I haven't relapsed completely, I have not been making any sort of improvement at all. She decided that it was time to bring out the big guns, so to speak, and get going with IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin). IVIG is a blood product administered intravenously. It contains the pooled, polyvalent, IgG antibodies extracted from the plasma of over one thousand donors. IVIG's effects last between 2 weeks and 3 months. According to Dr. Christopher-Stein, it's a 'miracle treatment'. She is optimistic that it could even take care of my rash completely! When she told me the news it was all I could do to fight off the tears. I had resorted myself to the reality of being somewhat disfigured (to a point) for the rest of my life. The thought of having normal looking skin and hands for the first time in 5 years was more than I could ever ask. Right now I'm just on the phone a lot with insurance and doctors and IVIG companies. Trying to get everything right so we can start. It's a process, though. The IVIG company is out of network so insurance doesn't cover as much as if it was in network, and right now we aren't really in a position to pay for the treatment. I've been requesting pre-certification, though, and am hoping that they will agree to charging an in network rate.
    On another front I finally found a Myositis support group! They meet every three months near Chicago. Their next meeting is October 24. I'm very excited for it!
    Hopefully I'll have an update soon, but until then....