Infertility: Where do we draw the line? (Part I)
The letter-writer signed, “Is tznius not the hallmark of our lifestyle?” (Chronicles 6-18-10) calls into question the ethical mores, as she perceives them, pertaining to the subject of infertility treatment. Indicating her disapproval of the depiction of “A healthy-looking smiling infant” (used by an organization for their ads and mailings), the author critiques the practice (“What do attempts at producing a life in a lab say for our belief system?”) as well as method (“taking all sorts of extreme measures, while being monitored and supervised by men and women in white coats”) utilized in helping couples alter their childless state.
The writer also takes exception to the lack of tznius (“I was always under the impression that the method by which to carry out the mitzvah of pru u’rvu is an intensely private one”) and what she considers to be an “in-your-face campaign” that she feels may pose an awkward dilemma to parents who would need to explain to their children what these ads allude to.
The following is a reader’s commentary in answer to “Is tznius not the hallmark of our lifestyle?”
You are right. Indeed, pictures of healthy-looking, smiling infants are not the best way to solicit for an organization reaching out to help hundreds of couples struggling with infertility to realize their dream. I, for one – having been there, done that – often mused how effective a fundraising campaign might be if but a small percentage of our pain could be depicted on those posters and mailings.
How horrified would the average reader be to confront the size of the needles I had to subject myself to during treatment, and how much more of an impact would it make if organizations (such as the one you refer to) would opt to use the photographs of healthy embryos in a Petri dish instead of happy babies on their advertisements! As a follow-up, ads can perhaps illustrate how none of those beautiful embryos developed into the healthy-looking infants – the ones clearly causing you great distress.
You ask if G-d had meant us to have children, would He not have granted them the natural way.
As I try to understand where you could possibly be coming from in your letter, I am completely stumped by your query. Have we not learned since the beginning of time that G-d works in mysterious ways? Did our patriarchs and matriarchs not beseech the heavens for a child of their own when they were childless? Does our holy Torah not devote much narrative on this very topic, delving into the unimaginable difficulties faced by husband and wife and by women in particular who desperately hope for a child? Finally, is anything G-d does really “natural?”
To try and understand you, I must ask a question in return: Do you use a fax machine? How about a computer, a cellular phone, an iron, a radio, and just about a million other things modern technology has given us? If your throat hurts, do you not take a culture? If your knee is scraped and bleeding, will you not apply an antibacterial cream and/or dress it with a bandage?
Your logic would mean that G-d would want us to wear wrinkled shirts and get breaking news from history books. Laboratories are laboratories! Whether testing bacteria for strep throat or sugar levels for diabetes, the work done in medical facilities today is nothing short of a miracle – G-d’s blessing for our generation! A hundred and fifty years ago, the folks living at that time were blessed with the automobile. Should they have insisted that car manufacturers halt the assembly process and just let everyone walk, as surely G-d had intended us to?
Yes, the mitzvah and concept of having children is an intensely private one. And then, if G-d forbid calamity strikes, how is it to be handled if all is kept private? A couple needs the information in order to survive! They need to know, as soon as possible, that they are not alone, that there is help and that their story can G-d willing have a happy ending!
Because of the importance placed on privacy in married life, reaching out for help under such circumstances is often the most difficult step a couple must take. I often felt that I could tolerate everything relating to infertility, if only I didn’t feel so violated. Yet, I consciously chose, as did my fellow infertility sufferers, to “face the music” – the hope, the pain, the frustration and the bitter disappointment, time and time and time again, before we finally merited having a child of our own! The hope kept me alive, even if I had to “share” that hope with my whole family and my entire community! In the end, it seems a small price to pay to enjoy a beautiful, happy baby who is of my husband’s and my flesh and blood.
No, I don’t feel cheated that this blessed event took place in a laboratory, just as I don’t refrain from seeing the dentist when my tooth hurts. Everything G-d has put on this earth, including the brains and determination in medical science and progress in medicine, has the potential to be holy. We certainly have the ability to choose, but at a time when clearly thousands of beautiful couples in Klal Yisroel are faced with the devastating news that they must be treated medically in order to have children, who would suggest that they just “forget it and move on with life?”
Please understand that the desire to have children is pivotal to Jewish life and tradition – as are children themselves – which is the reason the organization has the kind of success it does! No parent, no grandparent or even a neighbor wants to see one of “us” – a Yiddishe daughter or son – remain childless!
To be cont’d