My biologist perspective on IVF

As I already posted what our decision is, I just wanted to get out some of my own struggles with making it in writing. 

The thought that kept me from falling back to sleep this morning was- what if we go through all of this and don’t get any viable embryos.  I know this is a very real possibility, and it’s one that I’m not sure how we would face.  I know many women out there have been through this but for us, I think it would be the worst imaginable outcome and possibly the end of the road for us to have children.  Aside from this fear about the outcome, doing IVF at all holds some conflict with me as a biologist- warning, this is about to get a little philosophical! 

As a biologist, I am well aware of the driving factors of evolutionary fitness and natural selection through which all life on Earth has survived, flourished, and diversified.  It is, I think, the most beautiful and all encompassing theory that we humans have ever figured out because it so accurately reflects and allows us to understand the living world around us.  It relies on the concept that not every individual of every species will survive and reproduce.  Those that do, will have adaptations that helped them survive, and those adaptations will then pass on to their offspring, allowing them to do the same unless there are dramatic changes that cause a different set of adaptations to be more beneficial.  The question of whether humans have essentially found ways to become exceptions to the ‘survival of the fittest’ rule is kind of fascinating.  Disabilities and diseases we consider fairly minor now would have been completely debilitating for our ancestors. Through the help of modern medicine and technology, we have helped millions of people and their descendents to survive that otherwise would not have. 

The ability to have surviving genetic offspring is the very definition of evolutionary fitness and a requirement of natural selection.  So, by choosing to undergo IVF am I bypassing my evolutionary limitations by forcing my genes into the next generation when without this technology I likely may not have children?  Am I then contributing to this defiance of natural selection that we as humans are becoming so good at?  Or is this just taking advantage of our ability to adapt to our challenges through innovation and technology?  Then again, maybe if our society hadn’t changed in so many other ways I would have gotten married at a much younger age and tried to have children earlier and had no problems whatsoever, so maybe my genes should have made it to the next generation already and I’m just going through these extra steps because my biological clock hasn’t caught up with our societal trends.  Finally, with bypassing natural selection so commonplace for our species, does it even matter what I choose to do? 

As a biologist I am also very sensitive to the fact that the majority of our unsustainable impacts on the Earth are so damaging due to our massive increase in human population size over the last 50-100 years.  By having children, I would be contributing to that.  I can’t help but think of having children as a direct conflict of selfishness and selflessness.  It is selfish because we want to have children to satisfy our own desire to become parents and grandparents, but I think that to be a good parent you have to be ready to become selfless to prioritize the child’s needs above your own.  Ultimately, I like to think that both my husband’s and my genes would be a great addition to the next generation- and I hope that we would be good enough parents to help our children be good people, who like us, want to help find ways for our species live more sustainably so we don’t continue to hurt other species chances of survival as well as our own. 

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6 Comments

  1. This will probably sound elitist of me, but…if you compare the population of a typical Kaiser birthing class to the population undergoing fertility treatments (I used the local Resolve group as my sample), it’s hard to believe that fertility treatments are hurting the species by bypassing natural selection… Yep, definitely sounds elitist… Oh well!

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  2. It’s not what I blog about, but I am on the IVF train too. I have had similar thoughts and chose to do IVF anyway. I figure:

    a) As you said, our biology hasn’t caught up with the unprecedented speed of social/technological changes. If we’d been married off at fifteen, many of us would have managed to conceive at least once.

    b) I had a similar fear of no embryos surviving. It felt like the real test of hubby’s and my genetic compatibility. The fact we still can’t force that fertilization and embryo growth (even with ICSI) says to me that nature will still assert itself of my DNA is really not suited to carry on to the next generation. (I over responded and had to cancel the transfer, but am happy to say we have blueprints–how I think of blast stage embryos–in the freezer awaiting FET).

    This is not to say I think you should give up if you don’t end up with good embryos the first time around. Think of all the trial and error in nature. One good embryo should not be discarded just because many failed DNA combos came before it. We all have to decide for ourselves where the end of the road (or the time to change course) is.

    c) The creativity, persistence, intelligence, resiliency, etc that made both the invention of fertility treatment (from the perspective of the species) and our ability to get through it (as prospective parents) are all part of natural selection. These are traits worth passing on.

    d) Families having one or two babies (what most IVFers usually end up with despite the octa-mom stories out there) and doing their best to live sustainable lives, are not the cause of the planet’s over population problems (in my humble and unscientific assessment).

    Wow, longest comment ever. Hope it was helpful and not too rant like 😉 And I hope your IVF goes well.

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