I have not always had a fully informed knowledge of the Catholic Church’s teachings on infertility and the techniques for assisting fertility, nor do I claim to have a full understanding now. However, I realize that the Church’s teachings are available if we choose to inform our consciences. At times in my life, I wrestled with some of these teachings, feeling they were outdated, and like my suffering was not really seen by the Church. It seemed the Church’s teachings were limiting me. After allowing the Holy Spirit to intervene and guide me to spend time with several documents regarding the Church’s teachings on in-vitro fertilization (IVF), I now see their true beauty.

I have taken several key insights from these documents to heart. Most importantly, we have a God who loves each and every one of us more than we can even imagine. God is love. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. God loves us so much that He created us with a nature that is ordered to love Him. Out of the depths of His vast love, God created man in His own image and likeness and entrusted to humanity dominion over all the earth. This means all human life is precious, from conception to natural death, and we must treat each and every life with the dignity and respect it is due. In docility to this great love, we must have a moral compass consistent with Our Lord’s wishes, even when evaluating medical treatments for infertility.

With our nature ordered to love of God and our subsequent fall from grace, humanity has interpreted the “rules” of our nature in different ways throughout time. Most of us, at some point, have probably felt they were limitations keeping us from being our best and happiest selves, especially when they are not honored by most of society. Years ago, when my husband and I were in the most desperate phase of our infertility journey, we fell into this trap. However, we slowly learned that the Church’s teachings are in place to help us avoid potential harm and damage that we cannot see.

Early on in our infertility journey, my husband and I experienced the height of our envy, grief, sadness, and despair. We felt like the Church did not see us, did not understand the desperation of our infertility, and did not provide the answers, support, and guidance that we wanted and needed. We talked to our priest and tried to find support within our parish and diocese. Not knowing what we needed or exactly what we were looking for, we came up empty-handed. Although the Church recognizes the immense suffering the cross of infertility inflicts on couples, the Church’s support is often imperfect and unfortunately, many times non-existent. Only now, am I learning that in the midst of the suffering, our families are called to carry our crosses and to be witnesses of humility and hope to the Church and the world.   

What we did see, though, was the fertility clinic right around the corner – a place that was familiar with stories like ours. The doctors listened to us, evaluated us, and offered us hope in IVF. Although we knew the Church does not permit IVF, at that point in our faith journey, we did not feel compelled to dig further into the Church’s teachings. We were so focused on the possibility of a child and lacked any support to say yes to a higher call for our family, that we quickly reasoned away the bad parts of IVF.

The Church, in her wisdom, states in Dignitas Personae that medical treatments for infertility must respect three things: “1) the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death; 2) the unity of marriage, which means reciprocal respect for the right within marriage to become a father or mother only together with the other spouse; 3) the specifically human values of sexuality which require ‘that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses’” (Second Part, Item 12).

It is often difficult to see the evils of IVF when faced with the potential of a life without children, but evil remains despite desires and feelings. This is exactly why we should trust in the Church’s teachings.  Despite the fact that it sometimes helps couples have children, IVF falls so short of respecting the right to life and physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death. After our first transfer, I told myself and others that there was no way those embryos were human lives; they looked like drops of water under the microscope – a clump of cells. Thinking that way caused me to see the hope in IVF as opposed to the detrimental way it treats human life. 

After years and several rounds of IVF, we were blessed with two living children. My husband and I are so grateful for our children, and although we can now see the disordered nature of how we chose to have them come to be, they are gifts and blessings, deeply loved by both us and God. Still, we had six others that died in the process and four embryos that remained in cryopreservation. We knew that we did not want to discard those last four, but we did not know what else to do.  As I pondered the options, I prayed for my embryonic children and their disposition and the Lord began to impress upon me the gravity of their situation. I slowly began to see IVF as the Church sees it, instead of as my only ray of hope in the darkness of infertility. I also came to the shocking and devastating realization that our four remaining embryos and those who died were, in fact, precious and vulnerable little lives we were given to parent. How on earth could we be good parents to our children if we allowed them to be discarded or let them sit in the freezer of a lab?

As I continued to ponder these embryonic children, I thought about the years they stayed in the freezer. They were not brought about by the spousal and conjugal love of their parents; they were brought forth by science because of the desire and desperation of their parents. I feel this intimately when I think of the first moments of my children’s lives; instead of passing as a gift from my husband’s body into mine, embraced in warmth and love and passion, sperm and egg were treated like a lab specimen prior to being forced together as a precursor to fertilization. Upon fertilization, these embryonic children did not grow within the living warmth of their mother; instead, they grew in a petri dish under the watchful eye of a microscope. They did not grow hearing their mother’s voice, their sisters, or the sounds of home, but with the harsh sounds of the laboratory. Those that were not used, yet continued to grow, were frozen. My children were put in a freezer for years. If we can recognize the miraculous nature of human life, why do we settle for this treatment?

While we pursued IVF, I told myself that my husband and I were at least as unified, if not more unified, than couples who were able to conceive naturally. On some level, this may have been true; emotionally, we were unified in our grief, despair, and unmet desire for children. We experienced each other’s pains, ups, and downs. We were committed to our marriage in our lowest time. However, the nature of IVF is such that my husband did not physically give me a part of himself. He gave that precious piece of his body to the lab and the doctors. The doctors were the ones who gave me his gift. I know now that our marriages deserve to be unified, not only for ourselves, but for our children; IVF degrades that unity, even if we may be tempted to feel otherwise. My husband’s gift to me (sperm) and my way of receiving his gift (egg) were physically removed from our bodies and forced together to grow, outside of the nurturing warmth and love of my body. IVF does not allow for the human person to come about by the conjugal act between spouses.

The Church speaks at length about the dangers of IVF through various platforms. Eighteen years ago, at the height of my infertility distress, I did not see support for those carrying the cross of infertility. Today, there are great organizations, like Springs in the Desert and the Fruitful Hollow, that are seeking to provide accompaniment for couples through infertility. While their work is deeply valuable and is making a difference in the lives of many, they can’t do it all. There are still only a handful of dioceses in the country that are offering support to those carrying this heavy cross. 

I invite you to join in the effort of supporting those walking the path of infertility within the Catholic Church. Through continued education in the broader aspects of maternity, paternity, and fruitfulness, our community will be strengthened to resist the lie of IVF. Friends, by living our infertility journeys with humility and seeking the joy that only Christ – not even a child – can give, we can be examples to the world.

Katie M., co-founder of Shiloh IVF Ministry, has been married to her husband, Mike, since 2004. They live in central North Carolina and are humbled parents of three beautiful daughters.