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Fundamentalism and infertility


silvia

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With Michelle Duggar's recent child-bearing struggles, as well as those of other women in similar circles, I've been starting to think more about this topic recently. For women who are raised with the implicit or explicit message that their primary worth and identity resides in their role as a wife and future mother, it must be absolutely devastating to learn they are infertile. I truly feel for these women on that front. (I think Chantel of YLCF, for instance, falls into this category; she has made repeated allusions online to being unable to have kids despite really wanting them.)

On the other hand, the feeling I get--and it's just a hunch--is that many of these women aren't being very proactive, from a medical perspective, in getting the children they want. Being infertile has never been a walk in the park, but thanks to modern science, it's easier than ever today to get effective treatments for the condition. Yeah, I get that for certain sects IVF is not cool because it may involve discarding embryos (even though our bodies naturally discard about 1/3 of fertilized eggs, but I digress). Still, there are PLENTY of other good treatments out there--metformin for polycystic ovarian syndrome, corrective surgery for Fallopian tube blockage, and laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, just to name a few--and I'm unsure how often women in this subculture are actually taking advantage (or being allowed to take advantage) of them. Take this recent YLCF post, for instance: ylcf.org/2012/05/5-things-to-remember-when-the-doctor-says-youll-never-be-a-mom/ . Almost all of the comments, many from infertile women, are about letting God take control of the situation, trusting in Him, etc., not about concrete action any of these women could take to solve the problem.

As I said, though, I don't have much direct knowledge of how Biblical literalist types deal with this issue. What say you, former (or current) fundamentalists? Do infertile women in the culture tend to seek medical help for their condition, or do they truly leave the issue of childbearing "in God's hands"?

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My mom took fertility meds for most of her 9 children, but... we were not allowed to tell anyone because they would look down on her.

Hubby and I tried a few rounds of Clomid, but no luck. :(

It is devastating when you are essentially trained your whole life to believe the highest calling a woman can have is to be a mother only to realize you are infertile. It is even harder when all of your peers who did NOT buy into that and had college degrees and careers and did stuff with their lives are now "settling down" and having babies. :)

But yeah, most of the Christians I know who struggled with infertility never used medical assistance.

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A woman in my church growing up asked to be anointed to cure her infertility.

When it didn't work, she adopted internationally.

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My mom took fertility meds for most of her 9 children, but... we were not allowed to tell anyone because they would look down on her.

Hubby and I tried a few rounds of Clomid, but no luck. :(

It is devastating when you are essentially trained your whole life to believe the highest calling a woman can have is to be a mother only to realize you are infertile. It is even harder when all of your peers who did NOT buy into that and had college degrees and careers and did stuff with their lives are now "settling down" and having babies. :)

But yeah, most of the Christians I know who struggled with infertility never used medical assistance.

Didi, I am so sorry to hear about your struggles. The infertility issue is one reason I get so angry when girls in this culture are so strongly conditioned to believe they must be wives and mothers. When there is a fertility problem (usually no fault of women's own), they feel like they've failed at the single thing they're supposed to do in the world, which is tragic. If they were encouraged to develop other interests or even a career, they would at least have more possible avenues for deriving meaning from their lives.

Christians not using medical assistance for infertility, though, I just don't get. Isn't God supposed to help those who help themselves and all that?

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I'm very curious how qf fundies feel about fertility drugs. If they're truly leaving their family size up to God, is it right to take them?

I wonder whether Nathan and Melanie Maxwell used some sort of assistance, other than prayer, during their 4 years of infertility. If so, it worked very well.

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Does/Did Kelly Bates really get fertility treatments? I heard gossip about that.

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Guest Anonymous

I am a Christian, and my twins were conceived via our 2nd IUI (intrauterine insemination). We had been trying to conceive for two years. If IUI's were unsuccessful, we were prepared to go forward with IVF.

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It varies among my friends.

One who is in a very conservative Anabaptist group went into marriage knowing they would never have children naturally, barring a miracle. She'd had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and the treatment pretty much killed her system. :( They have so far adopted 3 children, two internationally and one through the state. I know it was tough for her, not to go through pregnancy herself, and get to experience that, and knowing she would be out of the norm in her community with a smaller family, but she is very stoic about all of that and has told me several times not to worry about announcing new pregnancies to her, in case I hesitated to do that (and I had hesitated, not wanting to hurt her). They are very happy to give their love and resources in the form of adoption.

Most funadmentalists I know wouldn't touch IVF with a ten-foot pole. Many of the other options are seen as too much meddling. (which, honestly, is consistent with the "trust God, don't interfere" ethos, just the other side of the birth control coin) A few take metformin to deal with symptoms of reproductive disease, but with the understanding that they may not necessarily get a baby, even so. Dh and I are no-bc types. Dealing with secondary infertility and miscarriages has been tough, but we have stayed away from fertility treatment/enhancement, even charting. Because it isn't about getting a new kid every year, for us. So though we have a smaller family than might be expected without birth control, that's OK with us. A while ago I reached a point of being content whatever happened, whether we had more or not. We recently had another baby and she is a very happy addition. :) I have only run across one person who looked down their nose at me for not having a baby every year, and told me breastfeeding was birth control, lol. Other than that, none of my QF or fundie friends have gone anywhere near being snooty about my family size being smaller than theirs, or implying that I'm doing something wrong or lacking faith.

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I am a Christian, and my twins were conceived via our 2nd IUI (intrauterine insemination). We had been trying to conceive for two years. If IUI's were unsuccessful, we were prepared to go forward with IVF.

Twinmama, I'm so glad your treatments were successful! Not sure what type of Christian you are--did you ever have moral qualms about fertility treatment, or get any grief about it from anyone you knew?

One other thing... I believe that when Crystal Paine went through a brief period of not being able to conceive (I think about a year or so) that she looked into fertility treatment, but that it would have involved her and Jesse doing things they weren't willing to do. I have no idea what happened with the Paines, but I'm guessing that in some cases like this the doctor asks for a semen sample, and that the couple refuses because they see masturbation, or any intentional "seed-spilling" outside the female body, as wrong. (Semen samples are also required for both IUI and IVF.)

These treatments aren't free, either, and some are not covered by insurance. So it's also possible that some couples in this culture simply can't afford them.

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IIRC, I think Crystal was 4 years into marriage before their first baby arrived. I think I remember somethign about that on her old blog, and i know that was difficult for her.

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I don't think it's just a fundie thing. I know my father believed if he couldn't have children, he was not supposed to have children and he never wanted to adopt, so that was that. I don't get it, but my father's not a fundie at all. I have heard some fundies say that infertility was punishment for unrepentent sin or something because being infertile and wanting children isn't bad enough, there needs to be a guilt trip of it being your own fault as well.

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Most funadmentalists I know wouldn't touch IVF with a ten-foot pole. Many of the other options are seen as too much meddling. (which, honestly, is consistent with the "trust God, don't interfere" ethos, just the other side of the birth control coin)

Yeah, that's definitely the impression I've been getting--that some fundamentalists believe medical treatment for infertility, even if it doesn't involve discarding embryos, is somehow meddling with God's plan. Yet I also have a strong suspicion that many of these people wouldn't hesitate to get modern treatment for any other medical condition. Infertility is nothing more and nothing less than a biological issue, and it baffles me that people wouldn't want to seek appropriate medical treatment for it. (If you're simply sub-fertile but can still have kids periodically or are OK with not having more kids, I feel like that's a different situation--I'm talking about people who really want kids and can't have them naturally.)

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Yeah, that's definitely the impression I've been getting--that some fundamentalists believe medical treatment for infertility, even if it doesn't involve discarding embryos, is somehow meddling with God's plan. Yet I also have a strong suspicion that many of these people wouldn't hesitate to get modern treatment for any other medical condition. Infertility is nothing more and nothing less than a biological issue, and it baffles me that people wouldn't want to seek appropriate medical treatment for it. (If you're simply sub-fertile but can still have kids periodically or are OK with not having more kids, I feel like that's a different situation--I'm talking about people who really want kids and can't have them naturally.)

I see with what you're saying (and I've always tended towards the 'God helps those who help themselves' POV), but then again wouldn't it be hypocritical to say 'no' to BC because you're leaving family size up to God, and then go around and have infertility treatment?

This is, of course, assuming that the infertility is *only* a problem insofar as having children is concerned. If it has other medical effects then I would expect it to be treated as a medical condition, but I imagine people who see God as controlling family size wouldn't see infertility alone as a medical condition.

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Infertility is nothing more and nothing less than a biological issue, and it baffles me that people wouldn't want to seek appropriate medical treatment for it.

For most people it is. And I understand the bafflement.

But because pregnancy doesn't involve just one's own body parts but--in fundamentalist view--a whole new person and an eternal soul, it's kind of set apart from other medical issues, and that is probably why it's viewed and treated differently than, say, a broken leg or asthma.

And unfortunately, as another recent thread showed, there are those who don't want to seek medical treatment for even those issues. :(

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It depends. I've known a few QF women who've been treated for PCOS and endemetriosis, but none of them really brought up fertility as the main reason. It was usually because of pain or, in the case of PCOS, weight control or avoiding diabetes.

For me, personally, I had decided I'd leave how many children I'd have up to God or nature before I'd ever really heard of QF. I didn't do fertility treatments partially because I felt like it would be meddling with that, but also because of the costs involved. I had a female friend who spent over $30,000 on IVF and there was no way we could have afforded anything near that.

Like a lot of the other medical decision posts, I think this is one of the most common problems for a lot of QF families. Most of these families do not have huge incomes and many don't have health insurance, or have minimal insurance but couldn't afford the co-pays and treatment costs that insurance doesn't cover. Also, pregnancy tends to be seen as a woman's thing and most QF women are taught to put themselves last, so a lot of women might feel like it'd be selfish to spend that much time and money on trying to get pregnant when it might not work.

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I have a close friend who is a very religious Baptist. She and her husband found out they could not have children after several years of trying. I was pregnant at the time they found out and she could not bring herself to even acknowledge my pregnancy, which is sort of understandable but was hard for me also. Anyway, they did not even consider the IVF route, and went straight for adoption. I think we all assumed it was because of the cost, but since reading here I realise that it probably was for religious reasons. The adoption worked out really well for them though.

Incidentally, I think that it hit her husband just as hard, particularly as the infertility was on his side. He grew up in a country where people would see a large family as a sign of his masculinity and I think this was a massive blow to him. I have to say I think their strong faith really helped to pull them through this.

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There are "collection condoms" for Catholic patients seeking fertility testing that would be available to other patients, as well. Also, conservative Protestant literature on sexuality displays a wide range of opinions on masturbation; many authors don't see it as a problem at all.

I'd guess that many of these couples like the ones you quoted are concerned about IVF or are unable to afford treatment, as you conjectured.

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I have heard that in cases of people who do not believe in masturbation (and are unwilling to rationalize the semen sample as a BETTER way, in their case, than the usual PIV sex to try and fulfill the mandate to reproduce) they can have regular PIV sex (there at the clinic, secluded) and then the sample be taken from the woman, afterward.

But, it's not as good a result.

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In Orthodox Jewish circles, the emphasis is on being fruitful and multiplying, not on "leaving it up to G-d", so fertility treatments are encouraged, with the proviso that a couple should consult with a rabbi with expertise in this area to ensure that procedures are done in accordance with Jewish law. There are charitable organizations in the community to help assist with the cost.

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I see with what you're saying (and I've always tended towards the 'God helps those who help themselves' POV), but then again wouldn't it be hypocritical to say 'no' to BC because you're leaving family size up to God, and then go around and have infertility treatment?

This is, of course, assuming that the infertility is *only* a problem insofar as having children is concerned. If it has other medical effects then I would expect it to be treated as a medical condition, but I imagine people who see God as controlling family size wouldn't see infertility alone as a medical condition.

Good points. I think we're actually talking about two different groups here: the QF fundamentalists and the non-QF fundamentalists. For QF fundamentalists, I can see how they might eschew fertility treatment under the "leaving family size up to God" philosophy, although that involves a misunderstanding of infertility's status as an often-treatable medical condition.

For some non-QF fundamentalists, there seems to be a more general passive approach of accepting that it must be "God's will" for them not to have children (if they're trying and not succeeding), which seems like a viewpoint that may spring from an information deficit in some cases. If a couple learned their infertility could be improved or cured with a certain surgery, would they still be so sure it was God's will for them not to have children? Would the more liberal among them then see the surgery--and any subsequent pregnancies--as God's will, much as they might see chemotherapy treatments that cured a family member's cancer as divine intervention?

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Good points. I think we're actually talking about two different groups here: the QF fundamentalists and the non-QF fundamentalists. For QF fundamentalists, I can see how they might eschew fertility treatment under the "leaving family size up to God" philosophy, although that involves a misunderstanding of infertility's status as an often-treatable medical condition.

For some non-QF fundamentalists, there seems to be a more general passive approach of accepting that it must be "God's will" for them not to have children (if they're trying and not succeeding), which seems like a viewpoint that may spring from an information deficit in some cases. If a couple learned their infertility could be improved or cured with a certain surgery, would they still be so sure it was God's will for them not to have children? Would the more liberal among them then see the surgery--and any subsequent pregnancies--as God's will, much as they might see chemotherapy treatments that cured a family member's cancer as divine intervention?

Yes, you're right, there is a difference between QF and non-QF fundamentalists. I suppose with the latter group it would depend on whether they see it as merely a medical condition to be cured or see it as intervening in God's will. For some people, receiving medical treatment to be fertile would be seen as meddling, because if God wanted you to have children He wouldn't have made you infertile, and this is viewed as separate from other medical conditions.

Attitude towards BC is also relevant, I think; if a couple is OK with hormonal BC for limiting family size they're more likely to be OK with medical intervention to increase it.

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I don't think it's just a fundie thing. I know my father believed if he couldn't have children, he was not supposed to have children and he never wanted to adopt, so that was that. I don't get it, but my father's not a fundie at all. I have heard some fundies say that infertility was punishment for unrepentent sin or something because being infertile and wanting children isn't bad enough, there needs to be a guilt trip of it being your own fault as well.

I kind of believe that. I'd adopt though but if I didn't get pregnant naturally I couldn't see myself going through fertility treatments for something that I don't feel was meant to be.

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All the people I see at the fertility clinics I work at have already made the decision to obtain fertility treatments - so I don't really know anyone who has declined treatment on religious grounds. However, I have wondered if finances could play in part in the decision to use/not use fertility treatment. The costs can really add up - and that might be unmanageable for a couple with tenuous finances.

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In Orthodox Jewish circles, the emphasis is on being fruitful and multiplying, not on "leaving it up to G-d", so fertility treatments are encouraged, with the proviso that a couple should consult with a rabbi with expertise in this area to ensure that procedures are done in accordance with Jewish law. There are charitable organizations in the community to help assist with the cost.

Interesting. In a way, you'd think this is the approach the Christian QF set would adopt, since that subculture places such an emphasis on raising large armies of children for God's glory. But I guess for the time being, they are choosing to let "God's will" reign supreme over more tactical concerns. ;)

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