Fertilization or Implantation

It didn’t take long for the concerns over the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade to leap over into In-Vitro Fertilization. Some states, including Louisiana, are already contemplating laws that would define a fertilized egg as having the same rights as a live child which will definitely have the same chilling effect on IVF clinics as the escalation of anti-abortion laws at the state level has had on clinics that perform abortions.

The Catholic Churches inconsistency regarding when life begins hasn’t helped matters. Among Catholics it is NOT clear – does life begin at fertilization or at implantation ? One Catholic said, “It’s actually not disputed. For example: the official stance of the Catholic Church is that life begins at IMPLANTATION, not fertilization. Additionally, you can’t turn a pregnancy test positive without implantation. So again, many would consider ‘conception’ to mean successful implantation.”

In 2006, under Pope Benedict (before the current Pope Francis), it was affirmed during an international congress on scientific aspects and bioethical considerations of The Human Embryo Before Implantation that embryos are “sacred and inviolable” even before they become implanted in a mother’s uterus. The Pope said the Church had always proclaimed the “sacred and inviolable character of every human life, from its conception to its natural end.” adding, “This moral judgment is valid from the start of the life of an embryo, even before it is implanted in the maternal womb.”

In 2021, Washington’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory spoke at the National Press Club, during which he fielded questions about President Joe Biden’s support for abortion. “The Catholic Church teaches and has taught that life — human life — begins at conception. So the president is not demonstrating Catholic teaching in that,” Gregory said. “Catholics should take care not to believe the myths and lies that are produced by those influential individuals and institutions that want to confuse people about the true nature of abortion or who wish to exploit the bodies and lives of unborn children. For example, the myth that ‘pregnancy begins at implantation’ is a deception that has caused misunderstandings for decades.”

Another Catholic noted – Our vicar general was very confident that when the church says “conception” they are referring to implantation, per his actual priesthood teachings. But, that most Catholics assume conception means fertilization, but that isn’t correct. My discussions on this topic with him were in 2010 for reference. I know the pope said prior to that that it’s before implantation, but the actual documented definition in church literature is apparently implantation.

At the end of the day, this is splitting hairs and I’m pro-choice. But, it’s clear even the church can’t figure out a cohesive stance, and none of this is dogma anyway. Also, just because “life” begins at conception it’s doesn’t address the bodily autonomy issue (the Church doesn’t support forced organ donation to save another adults life, but they are ok with a pregnant person being forced to give up their body?).

I don’t know anyone who would say they are trying to “conceive” and mean that they are just trying to fertilize an egg. For all practical purposes, fertilization alone just isn’t conception. And these old white men can believe otherwise, but if my egg is fertilized but doesn’t implant, I would never say I conceived because I wouldn’t even know the egg was fertilized, unless I went through IVF anyway.

Leaving aside religious arguments, Wired had an article by Sarah Zhang in 2015 titled – Why Science Can’t Say When a Baby’s Life Begins with a subtitle – If anything, science has only complicated the personhood debate. The article notes – When life begins is, of course, the central disagreement that fuels the controversy over abortion. 

In the 19th century, abortion in Britain was legal—until the quickening. The “quickening” was the first time a woman felt her baby’s kick, it was the moment the baby came alive, the moment it got a soul. Ultrasound imaging made quickening, a concept that had been around since at least Aristotle, a relic. In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan explained that after seeing their unborn daughter on ultrasound, they nicknamed her “Bean.” My husband jokes about our youngest son being “LumpT” before he was born. Ryan actually sponsored a bill for fetal personhood, giving full legal rights to a zygote after fertilization.

After fertilization, must come implantation. The fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and attaches to the mother’s uterus. “There’s an incredibly high rate of fertilized eggs that don’t implant,” says Diane Horvath-Cosper, an OB-GYN in Washington, DC. Estimates run from 50 to 80 percent, and even some implanted embryos spontaneously abort later on. The woman might never know she was pregnant.

Clearly, the controversies and debates are not going away any time soon. It is going to be very messy for some time to come.

Misunderstood

Suddenly, friends and family have discovered what I have been writing about daily for over a year and they are understandably confused.  I would not have understood before about two years ago myself.  Both of my parents were adopted and so adoption was the most natural thing in the world to me.  Both of my sisters gave up children to adoption.  What I can say is that ignorance is bliss.

But for adoption I would not exist and I never forget that.  But for adoption my mother would have grown up in abject poverty instead of the privileges of wealth as the child of a banker and socialite.  My husband has said that my story could be viewed as pro-adoption and that is the truth.

Even so, I cannot ignore the many voices of adoptees and the original mothers who have suffered because adoption carries with it inherent wounds and that is what I tend to try and explain in this blog.

Even so, today I read a heartwarming story.  I am sympathetic to the pain of infertility.  I do believe that couples who have struggled with that really DO need to seek counseling before adopting any child.

Back to that heartwarming story.  A couple was traveling on an airplane with their 8 day old adopted daughter.  The mother have given birth in Colorado.  It had been nine long years of fertility treatments, miscarriages and adoption stress for this couple.

A flight attendant announced that he’d be passing out napkins and pens for anyone who wanted to jot down a message for the new parents. The cabin erupted into cheers and applause. A steady stream of people came by to coo and congratulate the couple.

One of the napkins read: “I was adopted 64 years ago. Thank you for giving this child a loving family to be part of. Us adopted kids need a little extra love. Congratulations.”  YES, some adoptees are truly grateful and I do not doubt that but I pause on that thought “adopted kids need a little extra love.”  Hmmmm.

The flight attendants explained to the couple that they are married, and a fellow flight attendant had done this for them while they were on their honeymoon. They wanted to pay it forward.

The new father shared, “Adoption is wild with uncertainty.  You wonder, is this birth mother going to choose us? What happens if she changes her mind, if she backs out?”  The overwhelming support the couple felt during that plane trip was also a time when they were worried that their daughter might somehow be stigmatized.

Southwest Airlines released a statement saying, in part, that the crew showed “kindness and heart” on that flight.  Common kindness always matters.  I actually do care about every part of the adoption triad.  Just saying.