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Inconceivable - Book Review

Earlier this week I mentioned that I was reading Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage

The Savages are the couple that were accidentally implanted via in vitro with the embryos
from another couple. Because of their strong pro-life values, Carolyn carried the baby to term, despite the fact that her own medical condition made this her last pregnancy. You can read briefly about their story here.   I blogged about this story here and here.

Throughout the book, the reader is pulled into the very raw and tender feelings of Carolyn Savage as she balances a much wanted pregnancy with the knowledge that the baby she carries is not hers to keep. Any woman who has been pregnant can empathize with her as she goes through the trimesters of pregnancy and then the difficult Cesarean delivery.  The chapters that involve the birth and the transfer of Baby Logan to his biological parents are full of poignant sorrow and grief and yet love and hope for the gift the Savages have given to this other family. That part of their story is and always has been very courageous and noble.

My particular interest in the Savages from the start was how they came to their decision to use in vitro fertilization while still claiming to be practicing Catholics.  If the reader is looking for an in depth look at the church's teaching and one couples struggle to reconcile the teachings of their church while dealing with infertility, they should look elsewhere.  That topic is barely handled in this book.

Briefly on page 22:

I hadn't thought much about the Catholic Church's stand on this issue; I understood the Church's condemnation of anything that takes procreation out of the intimate relationship between a man and a woman, but I had hoped IVF was an issue. I would never have to grapple with.  After all, we were a strong Catholic family, and our choices about how to spend our time and raise our children had always been consistent with our religious beliefs. In addition, I had worked my entire career in Catholic schools, and Sean was raised in a devout Catholic family.  Our boys attended a Catholic school and nearly all of our friends were people we knew from church or school.  Considering how we lived our lives, we couldn't lightly dismiss church doctrine on the subject.

The first paragraph of this excerpt reminded me of Matthew Chapter 7 vs. 22 and 23.

Sean Savage reiterates that he feels the church owes him a morality pass because of all his good works. From page 210:


Over the years, Carolyn and I took to heart our stewardship responsibilities to the Church by giving our time, energy and resources. Ministering to the youth through coaching sports, raising funds for parish expansion, and giving to worthy church causes was embedded in my being. Carolyn had dedicated much of her career to being a teacher and then a principal in Catholic schools. Now, in a public forum, we were being called out by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to account for our "morally unacceptable" behavior. It really hurt and we felt abandoned.

Again from page 22
Yet after examining the Church's opposition to assisted reproductive technology, we found that stance discriminatory.  The Church is definitely pro-family.  IVF helps committed couples build the families they so desire.  What could be immoral about that?  If we followed its underlying logic, the church doctrine was in essence saying that God wanted to deny us a larger family simply because I had a disease (endometriosis).  That seemed ridiculous to us.  My eggs fertilized fine; they just couldn't navigate their way through the fallopian tubes to implant in my womb.  IVF allows embryos to go directly to the uterus.  Miraculous technology.  God-given technology we believed.
God denies people certain gifts all the time for a variety of reasons. What I don't find in that paragraph or anywhere else in the book is a struggle with trying to discern the will of God. There is a lot about trying to assert their own will (20 ovarian stimulations, IVFs and even a surrogate to carry twins) regardless of what the church or anyone else thinks about it.

Interestingly, at several points in the book there is are "Why is God doing this to us?" moments. During those times I had to put the book down and wonder at the irony. If as Catholics we believe that Jesus Christ founded the church to be pillar of truth and to be the the last word in issues of faith and morals, it was amazing to me that the authors would willfully and deliberately go against church teaching and then wonder why God was turning against them? The logic of that escapes me.



To us it seemed like the Church might eventually accept this technology and all the love and joy it brings to couples who want so desperately to bring more Catholic children into the world.  Also, it was clear to us that other families in our parish had wrestled with this issue and decided that they did not agree with the Church's opinion about assisted reproductive technology either.  Our boys' Catholic grade school was full of fraternal twins and triplets.

Once again, the appeal to popularity logical fallacy that Carolyn uses in her blog post. 

Many times I have heard people who use birth control or support abortion and gay marriage etc. express the idea that the Church might change on this or that issue.  There is no reason to believe or indication to think that it will.
After going back and forth on the issue many time, we finally decided to try IVF.  We had no intention of ever challenging the Church regarding its stance on it.  We just decided to move quietly onward. If God wanted to take it up with us later, we decided then so be it.
That's pretty much the end of any theology-based decision making.

Although the Savages are a Pro-life Couple there seems to be some nonchalance about that stance when it comes to creating embryos that I found troubling.

From page 21:


We watch the embryos every day to see how well they are growing. Between three and five days later we transfer one, two or three of the embryos back into Carolyn's uterus."


"How do we decide how many to transfer?" Sean asked.


"I determine the quality of the embryos and we talk it over. If the embryos are growing well, I would never transfer more than two. If the embryos are of lesser quality, we might transfer three. What we don't want is you carrying three or four babies."
Later in the book the Savages hire a woman named Jennifer (a semi-professional surrogate and egg donor) to carry some of their embryos for them.

Carolyn also refers to her embryos as "potential babies" This is not a totally pro-life position.

I had problem I had with the book was the reaction of the Savages to the baby's bio parents, the Morells.  Their were several times during the book that I winced at the lack of empathy and insight they seemed to show to what the Morells were going through.  I am currently reading Misconception: One Couple's Journey from Embryo Mix-Up to Miracle Baby, and feel that Shannon Morell is much more gracious towards Carolyn Savage than Carolyn Savage was towards her.

I also wondered about the other Savage children. One of their sons is a great cross country runner, but his parents obsession with in vitro and surrogacy took their full attention from his achievements. During this time they also had a toddler daughter but their unfortunate situation overshadowed her milestones.

It should also be pointed out that all of this assistance was very costly; about $8000 according to the book per IVF attempt. The Savages also admit to spending a lot of money on ovarian stimulation (I wonder if this increases the risks of ovarian cancer?).

In a twist of logic that I still don't quite get, Carolyn Savage has happily hired a surrogate mother for her twin daughters. I guess the difference is this surrogate wanted to be the gestational carrier, but I'm not sure that is going to make her feelings at surrendering these babies after birth any easier to deal with.
(A study of 34 surrogates published in 2003 in the journal Human Reproduction revealed that 32 percent reported some difficulties after they relinquished the babies they’d carried. A few months later, 15 percent still were having trouble coping. And these are women who made an intentional decision to pursue surrogacy.)



This might be the book that inadvertently backs up the wisdom of the church's position against IVF. Human error and messing around with reproduction certainly lead to a lot of heart ache for all the adults involved, embryos were created, frozen, thawed and most ended up dead, and the overwhelming instinct of a woman to mother the child inside her has been bowed to medical science and the legal system. This hardly seems like anything God-given to me.

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Comments

RAnn said…
I just didn't care anymore when they gave Logan up--too much me, me, me before that.
Elena said…
That too!

A family of privilege and means, very self-centered and in some ways selfish. Shannon Morrell's book was much better in that way. I'd be very surprised after all of this if the Morrells and the Savages remain in each others lives - I really don't think the Savages painted them in a very good light.
hi i really agree with you on the comment that the savages seem to focus on their own struggle througout the horrendous experience, while there is nothing wrong with it, as they went through alot as well as give alot of sacrifise for this, (though strictly speaking, abortion is murder, so in some respect, it is about doing the right thing according to word of God). what made me annoyed is the fact they seem to think because they are giving morrells this gift, that in some ways morrells owes them, as result, they seem to have not shown morrells experience as much empathy as they should have. in fact the part of the book where they discribed shannon as flippant, i thought that was really unbecoming of a christian, and a little bit highschool mean girlish, as savages seem to understand shannon was nervous, but she meant well, she was merely trying to break the ice in a tense and no doubt nervewrecking first meeting for all participants concerned, while i can see the savage did not appreciate the way shannon did it, they knew she meant no harm. ( if i were in the situation, i personally wont be offended, as i believe a person intention is more important than their execution, and in end of day, i do believe strongly as christians, we need to have accepting attitude that everyone has diff personality, and they dont have to like us in order to be right).
pinkmama said…
Wow, everyone. I think when you are forced to give up a child you carried for 9 months, and bonded with, whether he shares your DNA or not, you can talk about how selfish this mother is. I do not have a lot of money myself, but I have a son who I gave birth to, who doesn't share my DNA, and I know the people who he does share that with. I can tell you, there is nothing abnormal, or selfish about Carolyn Savage's feelings of grief and anger. This woman handed over this baby because it was best for him not to be involved in a horrible custody fight, not because that's what was best for her. There is nothing self-centered about that. I can empathize greatly with both of these families. They both did the best they could, and the child came out the winner here, I think. That's what is important.
Elena said…
Pinkmama if you had carefully READ my posting you would have said that I thought that part of their story was courageous and noble. My biggest beef with the Savages is their blatant attack on the Catholic Church. I have also had several online interactions with Carolyn Savage. She is not a saint.
Em said…
Wow, you are the judge of who is a saint or not now? Sound very unCatholic of you to judge other people like you did.
So you're making a judgement of me about judging... funny that!