This post is uncomfortable and you may not want to read it if you are in a bad place. It’s about the morality of IVF, whether embryos are people, and a super awkward conversation with my mother.
I called my mother yesterday to let her know that the beta result was good, and she was thrilled. Then, strangely, she asked me, “Do you believe life begins at conception?”
I gave her the most honest answer I could, which was that it depends on how you’re defining “life.” Fertilized eggs and embryos are not the same as babies, but they’re also not nothing. They’re not people yet, but they are most certainly alive. (What I didn’t add, of course, was that it also depends on how you define “conception.”)
This was insufficient, and she pressed me: “OK, now answer my question. Do you believe life begins at conception?”
I didn’t know what to do with this, so I said, “If you’re asking me if I think I killed three babies last week when those embryos stopped growing, the answer is no.”
She responded: “Well, I guess I’m just old-fashioned. I believe life begins at conception.”
WTF? Like, seriously, WTF?
Where was she going with this? I can’t even imagine. She has never breathed a word about being uncomfortable with IVF, but if she was implying what I think she was implying, what I just did that resulted in this (take a deep breath and say it) pregnancy was tragic at best and monstrous at worst: I created five PEOPLE, knowing they would not all survive, and presided over the deaths of four of them.*
I don’t think my mother really thinks I have killed four** children. I know she’s happy about this pregnancy. Which is why I just don’t know what to make of this conversation. In the moment, I changed the subject and we went on talking for a while, but I have been chewing on it ever since and I just can’t figure out what she was trying to get me to say. Has she just not thought this through to see the implications of the cardboard talking point she was repeating? Why would she ask something like this in the middle of the very conversation in which I am telling her the IVF cycle actually worked?
I mean, yes, a life is beginning right now. It is a medical fucking miracle, is what it is, but it won’t be a baby for a good long while yet. I know that sounds callous and I sort of hate being in the position of having to articulate that the pregnancy I waited years for and moved heaven and earth to achieve is not actually the same, yet, as a born baby, but it’s the truth.
This is hard to put out there; I want to be all unicorns and rainbows because holy shit, I’m actually pregnant, but I was really taken aback by the whole life-at-conception thing yesterday. If anyone has gotten through this mess, I would like some honest feedback: did you think of your embryos as children? Did you face any problems from people who thought IVF was wrong? Am I totally off my rocker for thinking that I can love, and hope, and invest all my fucking maternal instinct (such as it is) in this embryo, and still not think it’s exactly the same as a baby yet?
* With a beta of 118, twins are unlikely.
** In case anyone is confused about the embryos: we had five. Two were transferred. A third never got beyond two cells. The remaining two stopped developing before they were mature enough to be frozen.