Cell Blocked: Fertility Treatments Lead to Questions of Belief

A detour through IVF sent Thea Singer zigzagging across ideological lines. Now she's back where she started. Sort of.

By Thea Singer
And when, in 1997, we thawed my frozen embryos for transfer, I performed a ritual in the lab: Hovering over the liquid-nitrogen tank where my "little ones" were banked in a test tube, I recited the Prayer for Pregnancy, in Hebrew, that my stepfather had written with a rabbi friend for me. All four embryos survived the thaw and divided (the general thaw success rate was just 50 percent), and two grew to be "perfect" six-cellers, according to the embryologist, who stood by my side during the service. We were convinced that it was the praying that got them there. Still, that IVF failed too.Yet somewhere, through all my incantations and vetoes on consent forms, a tether to my once analytic, feet-on-the-ground self tugged incessantly. It let me know that my battle to get pregnant had more to do with control -- my (until now) much-lauded ability to make things happen -- than with having a child who shared my genes. Indeed, my husband and I were pursuing adoption too, with zeal, knowing the process could take time.Now, nearly nine years later, I've drifted back over the border to my blue state. I have an eight-year-old daughter, whom we adopted at birth. True, throughout my ordeal, I remained adamantly pro-choice (for other people) and a staunch advocate of stem cell research (with other people's embryos). But it took my flesh-and-blood girl -- the person who plays air flute to my air violin at Starbucks -- to provide the perspective to settle my soul. I look at those Polaroids now and marvel at the transformation of sperm and egg to embryo, but I barely claim the balls of cells as mine. They are the place where, for a matter of days, my husband's and my genes met -- no more, no less. Meanwhile, my baby is upstairs, waiting for me to cuddle with her in bed. And yet... While my when-life-begins conflict has "righted" itself, my cognitive dissonance regarding abortion has taken on a new, horrid twist: What if the 20-year-old who gave birth to my girl had made a different choice? Just the thought stops my breath. Thea Singer has written for The Boston Globe, The Washington Post Magazine, and The Nation. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter.Originally published in MORE magazine, October 2006.

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