In 2008, Jenny Vaughn and her husband began a journey with in vitro fertilization (IVF) that would change their lives forever. That summer, Jenny had thirty-nine eggs siphoned from her ovaries. The procedure caused her ovaries to hyperstimulate, causing her to faint. Her abdomen and chest had filled with fluid, and she neededdays to recover. The doctor fertilized thirty-one of the eggs with Jenny’s husband’s sperm. What happened next was commonplace and expected, but had her children been older than embryos it would have been newsworthy: sixteen of the couple’s thirty-one children died. They were discarded as medical waste. Thus began a series of parallels between ART (assistive reproductive technology) and abortion that Jenny would come to fully understand only later.
After the death of the first sixteen embryos, thirteen more were cryogenically frozen, and two more were transferred to Jenny’s uterus. Here, Jenny shares the heartbreaking, in-depth story of how, in succession over several years, thirty out of thirty-one of her babies ultimately died in the IVF process. Some of the embryos did not survive thawing after being cryogenically frozen. Some embryos died because they could not successfully implant into Jenny’s uterus after transfer. Two passed away as later-term baby twins who were born too premature to survive long outside the womb. Jenny and her husband had the joy of welcoming one healthy baby, Elijah, in 2011. Jenny spoke to Texas Right to Life, and shared the lessons that her experience with IVF taught her and her husband.
Although Jenny herself was conceived with the help of a sperm donor through artificial insemination, she did not at first make the connection between her feelings of confusion when she learned that she had not been conceived naturally, and how her own children may feel when they learned the same. “I am now worried that my child will feel different because he was conceived artificially,” she shares.
A pang of conscience was Jenny’s only initial indication that something about her IVF decision was wrong. Her understanding of God at the time, coupled with an intense desire to be a mother (and of her husband, to be a father) dominated her thought process, and the twinge that told her to take a step back easily faded into the background. “If my intentions were good and God loves me no matter what,” Jenny recalled, “then going through IVF and the little voice in my head were easily set aside because He loves me.” Preciselybecause Jenny knew that God loved her,she says “it was easy to brush off the little voice that said something was wrong.” Jenny felt “more comfortable” believing that IVF was good – and her loved ones reinforced this notion.
I didn’t want anyone to reaffirm my inclination that what I was doing was wrong, then I would have had to confront my decision, the best means of me having a child, as being wrong. Then what? No baby? That was too much to bear.
But as Jenny’s understanding of God’s loved deepened and matured, that small voice that said something’s wrong began to jive with her faith. A difficult but life-changing Confession with her Catholic priest planted a seed of self-conviction that would continue to grow. The priest had told her, “All I know is that children conceived in this way… their rights are violated from the moment of their conception.” Jenny was, at first, very angry to hear these words. But they affirmed that small voice which had been calling out to her along the journey.
For Jenny and her husband, IVF was the most logical way of addressing the sorrow and suffering of their own infertility. Jenny’s husband experienced guilt that he could not carry on his family’s name, and says, “I grieved with my wife when she was diagnosed with PCOS and that grief was greatly intensified when we found out I was also contributing to our infertility in having low sperm morphology.” The battery of emotions and trauma inflicted by infertility is suffered by many couples, and yet few solutions are offered to address the most fundamental aspect of this human suffering.
Jenny believes that couples preparing for marriage should learn about infertility and receive helpful toolsbefore potentially experiencing infertility first-hand:
We must somehow plant that seed in couples before they find out they are infertile. Couples must have a source to reach out to if they find themselves in that situation. If we don’t address the suffering- genuinely, empathetically, and sincerely, then the result is the continued commoditization of human beings and their suffering.
“Clinics are profiting from the suffering of human beings,” Jenny says, drawing out the relationship between ARTs and the abortion industry. “Before anything changes,” she says, “society has to somehow, gently and compassionately address the suffering of infertile couples.” Jenny continues:
The suffering parallels that of someone so desperate as to choose abortion. The fear, anxiety and grief that a woman feels carrying a child she is not prepared for are similar to the feelings an infertile couple experience. I still, to this day experience fear, anxiety and grief thinking that our conjugal love will not produce another child.
The solution provided by both industries, Jenny says, “is to get rid of (kill) the baby, or create a baby to ease the anxiety, grief and fear.” But Jenny experienced the detrimental consequences of this approach first-hand, and says that a different solution must be provided to parents. “If we can help people confront their emotions within the confines of God’s will then it may be possible to help them see that babies are a gift and not a right; otherwise their selfish desires will be the prevalent emotion that is driving their decisions.”