Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ethics, Unmoored

My husband and I have been trying to give our son a sibling for nine months. So far, no luck. So we did what many others in our predicament do: seek help from infertility experts.

It looks like we are going to be embarking on an IVF journey soon, something I'd never pondered doing before. Which in turn means I've never given much thought to the sticky ethical issues that can crop up in the course of building a family via medical science.

I now find myself feeling torn and uncertain about where to draw lines about what's morally and ethically OK, and what's not. When I was a practicing Christian, the lines were clear: artificial insemination, creating "petrie dish babies," was an abhorrent concept. Wrong. Evil, even. Treading on God's ground as creator of life. If you were meant to have children, you would have gotten pregnant. In other words, take the hint already. If you want kids, adopt.

Yet here we are. As much as I may believe that adoption is a wonderful way to build a family, I love seeing my husband's features reflected in my son's face, my husband's temperament in his actions. I love seeing the strong resemblance our son has to his cousins. The genetic pull is strong and since I've let go of God, I don't feel divinely judged for taking advantage of medical advances.

So, as a result, we want to try to give our son a biological sibling via IVF. But even if I'm generally cool with using assisted reproductive technologies, IVF in particular presents at least two thorny decisions:
  • How many embryos to create from a single IVF cycle. The argument for "as many as possible": some huge percentage of fertilized eggs from women my age become abnormal embryos (I think up to 80% have chromosomal abnormalities?). More fertilized eggs = higher chance of healthy embryos. And extra unused embryos can be frozen and used in a future cycle if the first one doesn't take. The argument against: creating excess embryos means we have to decide what to do with those ultimately not used / not needed. Are these our unborn children?
  • Whether to do pre-implantation genetic screening. Pro: Can help identify which embryos have chromosomal abnormalities. Such unhealthy embryos are a leading cause of miscarriage, so identifying which embryos are unhealthy means that only healthy ones are selected for transfer, thus increasing my chances of a successful pregnancy. Downside: is this not creating designer babies at some level, and again leaving unused (unhealthy) embryos in limbo?
I had always identified as pro-life and was never interested in drawing distinctions about when life begins: at conception seemed like an obvious and easy answer. (Easy because it eliminated a lot of gray areas that seemed too hard to parse.) Post-God, I didn't sit down and consciously re-examine my pro-life stance. But when Paul Ryan's Personhood legislation of 2011 was in the headlines (which proposed to give fetuses full personhood from the moment of fertilization), it did not take me long to reject that proposition on its face. Taken to its logical end, any woman who had suffered a pregnancy loss was at risk of being accused of murdering a person. This struck me as patently ridiculous, because at the margins it meant that a woman who had experienced a chemical pregnancy - where an egg is fertilized and implants on the uterine wall briefly, but doesn't "stick," and thus no pregnancy develops - was theoretically at risk of a murder charge. Considering that 50-75% of miscarriages are caused by chemical pregnancies, if such embryos are "persons" then humankind is well and truly overrun with murderous women. As I said, patently ridiculous.

As a few people have explained to me, some (many? most?) chemical pregnancies are the result of chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo - the miscarriage being nature's protective system kicking in. If you believe in God, and further believe that personhood begins at fertilization, don't you then have to grapple with the question of why God is killing babies left and right, not even giving them a chance at life? Is not God himself creating "designer babies" in womens' uteri by virtue of the fact that this biological process of rejecting embryos is occurring every day?

I don't care that much about getting answers to the above - let the believers sort themselves out in whatever way makes sense to them. The real question is - how does this all sit with me, someone now unmoored from that great Christian Morality Play, and having to make decisions about IVF?

It feels like some part of my answer could come from the above: nature is selecting and de-selecting embryos all the time for healthy development in the womb. But it just doesn't compute for me to imagine that actual people are dying every time a chemical pregnancy occurs. This in turn might suggest that my ideas about when 'personhood' begins have started to shift. But to what? I don't know yet; I still squirm at the idea of creating excess embryos and I'm unsure about where the right lines are for deeming an embryo "too" unhealthy to transfer. I know I'm not alone in these discomforts, as even a rudimentary google search will show.

So there's lots more to ponder. Sometimes I really wish for the good ole black-and-white days.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Believer's Vindication?

Two-plus years since my last post, and I'm still happily married with a chunky, happy, walking-almost-running 1 year old son. My work is going well: I'm teaching at a local university in addition to managing my client consulting practice, my health is stable (i.e. no new cancer scares), my husband and I consider each other our favorite people in the world, and we have lots of local friends and family who keep our social calendars full.

But something's "off." I'm not quite myself, feeling like on any given day I'm only about 75% present. I'm not depressed, exactly - I still wake up with a smile and laugh plenty throughout the day.

...but I am adrift. What am I doing with my life? Why don't I feel any of that old deep passion I used to have for my work, my hobbies, my relationships, my causes? Why do I struggle to get things done most days, feeling apathetic and procrastinate-y about everything? Did I lose the thread when I lost the grand narrative that animated most of my being for so long?

I feel smaller and more petty than I used to be. I have circled the wagons into a protective cocoon (is this still fallout from my Slapdash Journey to Agnosticism?) and have become less generous, more cynical, more isolated. I've stopped reflecting: I haven't journaled regularly in over three years. I've stopped reading actual books. I've developed Media ADD and have lost untold hours toggling between news websites and Facebook, Big Bang Theory, Private Practice, and House. And I have absolutely nothing to show for any of it.

In short, I've stopped growing.

I know, of course, that mine is an individual path, post-religion, and that others who have tread this ground before me have continued to experience that delicious freedom from the unbearable weight of (incoherent) dogma, judgment, and expectation.

There is some part of me, however, that imagines the just-under-the-surface glee that some believers might feel at seeing an agnostic stumble. See? I can hear them saying. This is the god-shaped vacuum you've heard about your whole life. You're experiencing the absence of God. How does it feel?

Wanna come back?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Answered Prayers?

I suppose I will pick up where my last post left off: I was newly engaged and starting to build a life (and home!) with my future husband. At the time, my biggest stress was whether and how to tell my mom about our impending cohabitation.

Fast forward a few months: it's late September and I go in for my annual "womanly" exam. This exam kicks off a series of events that culminates in me learning, three days before our wedding, that I have breast cancer. At this point, we don't really know how bad it is: it's ductal carcinoma in situ (which, as far as cancer goes, that's good), but it's big (9.5 cm) and the cells are aggressive (that's bad).

Mr. Slapdash and I keep this to ourselves over the wedding weekend because we don't want to dampen the celebration. It's a fabulous wedding and we have a great time (and I'm now Mrs. Slapdash, thanks!). We tell family and friends our cancer news upon return from our honeymoon in Hawaii (which I spent wondering whether I was going to die like my sister's sister-in-law who died of BC at age 39). A couple of weeks later, I go under the knife. Mastectomy.

Then we get some great news with the pathology report: despite its size and despite the nefarious aggressiveness of the cells, it hasn't spread anywhere and they got it all out. No chemo, no radiation, no hormonal therapies needed. Whew!!! Even my surgeon was surprised that there was no invasive disease found.

My family, friends, and colleagues have been just great, support-wise, and of course Mr. Slap has been incredible. And today, I am recovering nicely from surgery and recently went back to work, where it is as though none of this happened.

So here is where this is all getting funky for me: I can't tell you how many of these supportive people who love me have commented on how God has "answered their prayers"; how "blessed" I was to have found Mr. Slap when I did; how almost-miraculous it was that no invasive cells were found. A lot of these people seem to have a narrative going in their heads about what a grand miracle of timing this all was: God brought my life partner around just in time to help me through this trial as my husband.

The snarky side of me thinks that "God's providence" would have been a more compelling argument if God had clearly prevented me from getting cancer to begin with. Yes, I'm going to live, but I became a one-boobed wonder at age 36 -- not exactly a dream-come-true. I am at risk of lymphedema in my right arm - if I ever develop it, there's no cure. And despite being cancer-free today, I am still at risk for a recurrence and I have a greater-than-average risk of getting another primary cancer in my lifetime. So yeah, things could have been way worse, but damn. It's not like I escaped it unscathed.

BUT, there is a bigger side of me that is like "whoa - that was pretty crazy timing" and I am very thankful for it - like I feel a general "Thanks, Universe!" sentiment quite frequently and am very aware that things really could have been much, much, much worse. It was also very awesome to have Mr. Slap by my side; I really could not have asked for more, partner-wise.

Still. I'm skeptical of any God role in any of it, particularly because merely having good things happen is no kind of proof of God. It was a lot of bad stuff happening in the world that made me start questioning God in the first place...and I'm pretty sure that a series of good, even seemingly divine, events in my life still can't undo all of that doubt. Right?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Oh, my poor, dormant blog...!

What an eventful year-plus it has been since my last entry. The headlines:
  • I am engaged to a fantastic man and we're getting married in October. :)
  • I am still, well, I suppose "agnostic" is the best description.
  • My fiance is not agnostic, though he would say he's a "deist" more than a Christian.
  • We are having a Jewish chaplain friend of his marry us. We haven't told our parents yet (mine: Protestant; his: Catholic).
  • We are trying to figure out how to tell my mom that we are moving into our newly-purchased condo together next month - before the wedding.
  • Five weeks ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, which sucks of course, and also makes telling her about our impending "living in sin" that much harder.
I still occasionally check out the de-Conversion blog, but it doesn't hold the same interest that it did a couple of years ago. For the most part, I have settled into a pleasant way of "being" that is not concerned with the existence or nature of god. To be sure, I get irritable and grouchy when I feel pressured by people of faith to think, do, or "be" differently, but those episodes are few and far between these days.

That said, when my fiance and I start a family, we will have to think through what we want to teach our children, and how we will handle it when one or both sets of grandparents wishes to impart their faith systems to their grandkids. thing at a time!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ is risen indeed

There are no less than 15 "Happy Easter" and "Hallelujah! Christ is risen!" greetings on my Facebook homepage today.

Today also marks the first time in my life I have not celebrated Easter in any way. For the last two years I have nominally celebrated it by going to church and having a big Easter meal with family or friends. And before that? Easter was one of my favorite holidays, ushering in spring, bringing with it a sense of renewal, life, resurrection (duh). Today? Nothing. Nada. I have not done a single thing to mark the occasion.

Granted, this is partly because I am sick with some bronchial crapitis that has had me laid out for almost a week. If I weren't sick, I suppose the question is: would I have done something?

A big part of me thinks yes. It's always been a great excuse to spend a day with people you love. I would probably have skipped churchiness but would have joined in to any big banquets I might have been invited to (ahem, not that I was...) or might have organized myself.

But maybe I wouldn't have skipped churchiness: recently I have been contemplating dropping in on a local Friends meeting. Friends of mine go there and have really enjoyed its non-preachy, non-doctrinal liberalism (apparently there are Jews, Buddhists, and atheists who attend and nobody's trying to push anything on anybody). I think I do miss some kind of spiritualism in my life. I don't want God back, in particular, but I would like to find a way to nurture and attend to the values that always felt valuable and important. In recent years I've become a lot more open to meditative practices, thanks in part to yoga, so I'm thinking that spending an hour in a Quaker meeting might be a way to feed that little part of me that still wants nurturing in some way.

Oh well - time will tell.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Neither Here Nor There, But...

I encourage you to watch a documentary called Arusi Persian Wedding, airing these days on PBS's Independent Lens show. Check listings to see if it's playing again in your area. It follows the visit of an Iranian-American man and his American wife to Iran to meet/visit his family.

I know one of the writers/producers, and it reminds me of my own trips to Iran, now 9 and 10 years ago. (!) The scenes from Esfahan strike such a nostalgic chord with me - I've been to every place they have filmed there.

In a subtle way, my own visits to Iran played a role in my de-conversion, if only in the exposure to a people largely unfamiliar with Christian tenets. Subconsciously, it became harder to hew to a conservative theology after spending time with warm, hospitable people considered heathens (at best) and terrorists (at worst) by certain Christian groups.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Things that make you go hmmm.

Through the wonders of Facebook, last night I found my 2004 ex-boyfriend's now-wife. He got married about two years after we broke up and they've since had a child. By all appearances (on FB and her linked blog) they seem very happy.

I was madly in love with this guy, and crushed when he broke up with me for no discernable reason. The failure of that relationship was a major triggering event in my de-conversion, because I spent months afterward praying for reconciliation, and 100% convinced (for a number of reasons) that God was leading me to pray for reconciliation. When it didn't happen, I couldn't help but question the entire prayer experience. Et voila, my de-conversion kicked into high gear.

So what would have happened had we not broken up? Would my faith have remained intact? If so, I sure wonder why God would just sit back, not answer my prayers, and watch my faith implode.

But maybe if we hadn't broken up, some other disappointing event would have led to my de-conversion. In that case, it was surely better for my ex (and for me) that we didn't wind up together; in fact, it was almost...providential that we broke up. Except, wait, I don't think I believe in that stuff anymore.

It's an odd thing to ponder.