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The Line Between Fetus and Child From an IVF Father

The Line Between Fetus and Child From an IVF Father

I have the ultimate baby picture on my fridge. You can see it above. That's the Daughter With One F when she was just a zygote in an in vitro fertilization doctor's Petri dish. You can actually count how many cells she was at that point. I'm thinking about getting it tattooed on my chest when money is less tight.

In the wake of Wendy Davis' amazing filibuster and the temporary stoppage of Texas Republicans' plans to severely damage the availability of abortions in our state thanks to, for want of a better term, a politically charged flash mob, I spent more time than was strictly healthy debating the nature of abortion with those of my Facebook friends who hold views opposite of mine. My views, by the way, are that abortion should be safe and available, and hopefully rare.

None of those who hunt-and-pecked out emotionally charged comments at me seemed to want to talk about anything but what they considered "baby killing." They even brought up films like 180 Movie (Which compares abortion to the Holocaust) or the old propaganda flick The Silent Scream. To them, a person is a person once semen hits egg and that's that. There is no middle ground.

This is a sore spot for me because this type of thinking would mean my impossibly wonderful miracle of a daughter would just be plain impossible under their rules.

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Infertility isn't a fate I would wish on my worst enemy. It's agonizing. It makes you question your worth as a man or a woman on a basic biological level. My wife and I spent three years and more than $10,000 out of pocket trying to overcome various physiological barriers with tests, surgeries, tests, injections, tests, diets, tests, supplements, tests, visits to specialists, tests, and oh yeah tests.

You learn a lot about your reproductive system when it's crap. Here's what I learned. It's all an odds game. Nothing more. Nothing less. Everything is odds. You have to face that reality if you're going to succeed.

The first goal is to get an embryo, and preferably more than one. Odds, remember? The woman spends two weeks stabbing herself in the stomach with a follistim pen, injecting enough hormone into her body to try and get the follicles in her ovaries to drop some eggs than can be fertilized. In our case we got just one, but often you get more.

Then you add semen and see if they fertilize. You try this with all of them in hopes that you'll get enough to work with. If science and nature high-five each other just right, you may have two or four or eight or more little potential children to try and implant.

We only had one, so this question was irrelevant to us, but what do you do with all these lives you've just spent thousands on alchemy to create? You could just ask them to throw the whole lot in you as Nadya Suleman did with her eight. She said she couldn't bear the thought to part with them, though you're not likely to find a doctor that would risk that insanity these days.

You can freeze them if you want to try again down the road, though this has a host of problems. Not all clinics offer the service, and it's expensive to do. Then there are other concerns. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to argue over the ownership of these embryos in divorce court? It's happened.

You can donate them to infertile couples, and that's a noble thing to do. Be prepared to spend the rest of your life looking for mini-you in a crowd of children if you do that. It's really no different than adoption. That's assuming anyone wants the embryos, of course. Other couples are doing the same thing you are for their own biological children, and you may not fit any of the criteria that they want if they fail.

Donating them to science is helpful. They will die if you do that. Ditto if you dispose of them of course. Regardless, this decision will not be made any easier if one day some senator's obnoxious personhood bill gets passed because my point is that even starting the IVF journey means that at some point the basic genetic material of your child is likely to be written off as a loss, even if successful. 

After you've got your embryo, they insert them into the uterus and hope that they stick. Generally they try two, which is why there are so many IVF twins. Sometimes one doesn't stick, though, or neither, and they get flushed out. You get to spend a couple of weeks waiting to find out if it took. We got lucky, but it's perfectly possible your body will reject or discard the embryos. It happens all the time even to regular healthy fertile couples. Possible children... gone. Just a biological odds game.

As the weeks of our pregnancy progressed our doctor would tell us with each visit what the miscarriage odds were. That sounds morbid, but that's because he knew as well as we that this experiment could end any moment. That's what it was, an experiment. Can we take the faulty building blocks of life from these two people and end up with a baby?

He also told me, by looking me dead in the eye and using a voice like a winter wind, "This probably won't work." He was not a cuddly man. What do you expect from people that play God?

My daughter's nickname is Peanut. That's the first I saw of her once she was safely attached to my wife's womb. This is little peanut image of a hope and dream that I was bluffing on a busted straight for. She was amazing... but she wasn't a person. She was still just odds, my little elder god dead but dreaming and waiting for the stars to be right.

At every stage in the IVF process you have to have no doubts that the mass of cells that you may produce could end up flushed out, non-viable, or destroyed. Even the peanut that vaguely resembles a human has loaded dice against her because your body is sporting faulty equipment like a third-hand carseat.

The only thing that makes that endurable is the knowledge that it's not a person, just the dream of one. The beginning of one. It doesn't feel pain, it can't hear, it can't sense, it doesn't even know it's there.

Until one magic day it does, which is the day for me when our IVF doctor declared spontaneous miscarriage highly unlikely and turned us over to my wife's regular OB/GYN for the rest of the journey. We won the hand. The peanut had eyes that could see, emitted brains waves, responded to my voice, and was no longer an it.

"It's a girl," said the tech. "I can see that," said. "I'm pretty sure blind people can see it."

My daughter is a miracle, the gift of prayers to all good forces, great and small. She charges into life armed with the name of a dead girl I miss so very much and the Eleventh Doctor's fez askew on curly blonde hair from God knows where.

This person would not exist if we ever declare that personhood begins at conception because her conception would become impossible to accomplish. There is a line in the womb where a fetus and a chance becomes a child. Is it 21 weeks, the youngest a child had ever survived outside the womb? Is it 24 weeks, where the current scientific consensus says they begin to feel pain? I don't know, but I do know that it isn't at conception because at that point it isn't viable. It's odds. Painful, but inarguable odds.

During Davis' filibuster she read accounts after account of people and their experiences with abortion. All personal, all different. Her opponents showed nothing but disdain. It's important to remember that behind every roll of the dice is a story, and while I would never have aborted my daughter even if there was an indication of developmental problems or something, I cannot bring myself to judge another person's ability to stay in the game or fold.

I understand that to some people millions of abortions is an image of millions of dead babies, but to see it that way is to deny how the reproductive system works. It's painful to face the idea of a failed pregnancy or an abortion. Both are bloody, heartbreaking things, but refusal to accept the line between fetus and child will do nothing but condemn some people to have babies they don't want or can't handle, while others like me are left without a biological option. Those of us in these situations others seek to control view things very, very differently from the line.

Jef With One F is a recovering rock star taking it one day at a time. You can read about his adventures in The Bible Spelled Backwards or connect with him on Facebook.


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