I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Of Fathers and Sons

The trio were conceived via IVF - something which I have no problem sharing with people who ask, because I find they are often being nosy because either they or someone they love has been through a similar experience. It's also something which we've been very open about with the kids. The "how did you get pregnant, Mummy?" question is one which I've had to deal with fairly early on.

It's now part of bedtime story lore that, "...we had to go see some special doctors, blah blah and then you three miracles were born." I often refer to them as my miracle children because I really believe that their conception - their mere existence - IS a miraculous event. Our infertility was both male and female related: reproduction-wise, we're both totally buggered. I remember one OB/GYN telling us that as individuals we had close to zero chance of conceiving, but as a couple we had less than zero chance. Niiicceee.

One of the hurdles we had to jump was doing some genetic testing for DH - to see if his problem was genetically based. I suppose if the answer were yes, we would have to really think long and hard about continuing on that path to parenthood. Luckily, the answer was that no genetic abnormalities were detected. Plain and simple, DH's reproductive roll of the dice was just bad luck. Over the years, the possibiity of this same bad luck happening to my son is something I've thought about. A bedtime story is one thing, but what about when he wants to father his own children? How will I explain that he may not be able to? Actually the issue applies to the girls as well - because it's more likely than not that they will inherit my issues, too. (Don't say I never give them anything!)

It was with some interest - and a hearty dose of fear - that I read this article, all about the sons of infertile fathers. In specific, one paragraph freaked me out:

"The whole issue raises the science-fiction prospect of a society in which many men can’t father children naturally. According to one estimate in the journal Nature Genetics, if even half of affected men used ICSI to have kids, the incidence of severe male factor infertility could double nationwide within seven generations."

The article goes on to quote several infertile fathers who basically think that, by the time their sons have grown to reproductive age, IVF will be just another medical procedure - and hence not all that worrying.

It's true that advances in science have meant that IVF procedures and success rates are better than they have ever been...but it's also true that I wouldn't wish that process on my worst enemy, let alone my children. Now there is no absolute guarantee they will have any issues of infertility, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it now and again. I also have to wonder if, when, and how we'll tell them the more intimate details about it all. I suppose the day will come when they will ask us directly, at which point I plan on being as honest about it as I've been until now. (Which is to say, full disclosure at an age-appropriate level.)

If you're someone who has experienced this, what is your take on it? How much do we tell our children of our experiences? When do we tell them? Do you ever worry about having passed on your reproductive issues to them? The bigger question is really this: By even using processes like IVF, are we altering the future population? Are we in effect messing with the future? How much are we messing up the population by allowing these "mutations" to carry onwards? Fact is, 20 or even 10 years ago, these kinds of procedures were not available. Couples like us just wouldn't be able to have biological children - we'd have stopped this mutation dead in it's tracks. because we could not pass it on to our children. By using IVF, we've allowed it to move forward ... with little, if any, thought to the future generations. Is this the ultimate in selfish acts?


Cameron said...

Let me play devil's advocate to your hypothetical arguments. If it were possible to stop the mutations responsible for a lack of fertility dead in their tracks, they would have been stopped dead in their tracks long before both of you had been afflicted with them.

Also, natural suggestion makes no judgements about why certain genes survive and certain individuals contribute to the gene pool. Some people may have hyperactive sperm, or a friendly environment in utero, and their genes will have an easy time propagating. Some people may not have these traits, but blessed with the good fortune and ability to be successful enough to afford IVF and will propagate their genes. Who are we to say that one set of circumstances is more valid than another?

To make a religious argument, the first commandment that humans were given in Genesis was to 'be fruitful and multiply'. Given that, would IVF not be the ultimate in un-selfish acts?

Dani said...

Through IVF and FET, my two boys were conceived at the same time but born two years apart. Even though I am insanely grateful for assisted reproductive technology, I have a hard time reconciling in my head the miraculous journey they took in their embryonic stage. I am especially haunted by the fact that my younger son was cryopreserved for 26 months, and I wonder--when the time comes--how I will help him make sense of that.

I haven't thought about the ramifications of passing down an IF mutation, but here's my take: if mankind was endowed with the intellectual capacity to correct, or circumvent, human genetics, then it was all meant to be. For good or bad, our children and future generations increasingly will depend on medical intervention to lead more fulfilling lives. A family history of infertility will be akin to inheriting mom's weak eyes, dad's heart disease and bad knees, and will likewise be managed medically.

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

Cam and Dani,

I think you both have valid points...and while my own religion definitely promotes going forth and multiplying, I don't think that commandment considered IVF! *grin*

Similarly I know of several religious people who will not use IVF because they feel it is interfering with "God's Will" ... so for them the importance of not interfering overrides the importance of procreating.

Hippocratic oath tells our doctors to "first do no harm" - so are the doctors performing these procedures also committing some sort of ethical crime? Is not knowing what the future holds a good enough basis for forging ahead? Then again, going ahead without knowing the outcome is the central point behind experimentation.

Oh boy, this could go on forever!


Cameron said...

I think we could discuss the finer points of this topic until the wee hours of the morning and not come close to untangling the thicket of issues. Different doctors, even mainstream religions have radically different takes.

I think the Catholics are big into 'not interfering', while Orthodox Jews see IVF as a tool for fulfilling the commandment to 'be fruitful and multiply'.

As for 'doing harm', that mingles with a number of theological beliefs about what is and is not life, and what constitutes harm. For some reason I'm not worried about humans becoming like the bananas in the grocery store due to the popularity of IVF.

To segue from the abstract to the concrete, I think you can sleep peacefully at night about the long-term consequences of your actions - you and David are some of the best people I know and I figure the more children you two can add to the world, the better the world will be for it, in all the ways that really matter.

emzeegee & the hungry three said...


Leave it to you to put it all into perspective...and I seem to recall having rather a lot of very late night conversations about stuff (although never about anything as cerebral as this, and mostly via email. )

As for the comment about David and I - thank you, that means a lot. I'm guessing my parents paid you for that one (ha!) because they are always reminding us that we should have ANOTHER trio.

Once I stop laughing hysterically, I eventually tell them that THEIR chances are 'less than zero."

...and it would seem that you and yours are catching up in the procreation stakes. :)