Monday, October 09, 2006

Kind of Pissed Again

Okay, I am kind of pissed again. Just when I think that churches might possibly be of some help to me, they blow it. Honestly! I really don't know why I keep hoping.

What has set me off this time is a blog with a posting about IVF and morality. This woman, Perfect Work, is very critical of IVF and defending the Roman Catholic ban on IVF as "morally illicit". She is a fan of the former Pope's Theology of the Body and says:

... we always pose a great risk to ourself and our marriage when we bring sexual reproduction outside of the love act.

But, as seems to be the case with these kinds of commentators nowadays, she is not so much critical of the people who do IVF, as critical of the doctors and the industry:

I believe the practices of the extremely lucrative and corrupt IVF industry is very much like a rape. It takes the hopes and dreams of a couple and turns it into cash--with a very low success rate (less than 15% on any given cycle) and a whole host of emotional, spiritual, and physical risks.

Honestly! Does this woman truly believe that a couple doing IVF together, however horrible it may be, is not engaging in an act of love at least as profound as having sex?

I am thinking of the months that the Big Dude and I did fertility treatment.

Partly the sheer awfulness of it. Waking up each morning before 5am to needles in the stomach. Catching the bus in the cold and the dark of winter 30 minutes later so that we could make the hour and a half journey to the clinic and still get me back in time to start work. The discomfort and indignity of the procedures themselves. Being a physically shy women enduring regular penetration, not with the warm penis of the man I love, but by a stranger with a camera. The shock to my body of being catapulted into an imitation of menopause, hot flushes and all, and then into intense stimulation. My incredulous laughter when I was offered panadol for the pain after the transfer. The intense sadness when cycles failed.

But I am also thinking of how much it drew us together. We always caught that bus together. The Big Dude never made me go alone, and I truly pitied the women who sat in that clinic by themselves. The way he practised with the needles until he was so expert that I could hardly feel them. The way we joked about the bruises that covered my stomach as if I had been kicked in the guts by a thug. The way he nearly fainted when we looked at that last, giant needle that triggers ovulation and we both had to close our eyes so we couldn't see it. The way this former soldier gritted his teeth and forced himself to get over thoughts of bayonets and thrusting people in the stomach and told me I was his new hero. The way he held me when I cried. The way he comforted me when the cycles failed.

And our intense joy when it succeeded. Our joy in our beautiful boy.

I am also thinking of the kindness of our clinic. The way their expertise, their dedication, their years of study, their professionalism, brought us such joy. Its true that I hated the clinic at the time. But really, I didn't hate them. I just hated the fact that I was having to do this.

And this is the trouble. She sees IVF as similar to rape and the expense as exploitation by a corrupt cash-making machine. I see it as an act of love, a sacrifice I willingly made as an expression of my love for my partner and our baby. She sees the pain and the risk and says it is exploitation. I remember the pain and the risk and I feel like a soldier who proudly remembers what he chose to endure for a great cause.

We are never going to agree. We see the same things, but we see them with a totally different gaze. She seems like a nice lady and I respect her right to outline her opinons. What I hate is the way some of her readers immediately leap to what should be done to enforce their opinions. One of them opines that, while she wouldn't want to take IVF babies away from their parents (that's big of her!), IVF should be illegal. She doesn't want to take the Little Dude away from me, but she thinks that he should never have been born and she wants to take away the possibility of another little dude or little dudette from me. I am a grown woman, and I don't want to be protected by her or her church. I don't want her and her readers to take my choices away. Does she really think that IVF is more traumatic that infertility?

The reason this stuff is bothering me so much is that our fertility clinic, the Canberra Fertility Center, has just been booted out of the hospital that housed it. The hospital has been taken over by a Catholic organisation that doesn't want to provide IVF services.

This limits the availability of IVF services in Canberra, which is a small town in numbers despite its status as Australia's capital city. It means that people are going to have to turn to private theatres. This won't stop people doing IVF. It will just raise the costs, which are already prohibitive, and reduce access and increase the difficulty of the process for low income people like ourselves. Rich people won't suffer much. But poorer people will.

And the reason I am pissed is that the way churches go about imposing their views really shits me. Its not just the Catholic Church. I have no problem at all with churches and individual Christians advocating a "high" view of moral issues. I can be inspired by those views at times and by the goodness of the people who follow them. But I hate the use of politics and cash to impose them on people who don't accept their views and on a supposedly secular society. And the fake-compassion the churches show to people who for whatever reason don't fit into their teachings.

I am thinking of the way the churches of many denominations have banded together in Australia to restrict access to abortion. Now, I have strong feelings about abortion. Having tried so hard for a child, I flinch away from the concept of the destruction of a fetus. I am horrified by the number of abortions in Australia. But I believe it should be legal. I do not want to see desperate women using coathangers and knitting needles. I want abortion to be safe, legal and rare. And my friend Judy had a termination. She didn't want to. But she did not believe that she should bring another child into her situation with her husband, she had discovered the Huntington's Disease issue, and she was thinking about the welfare of the children she already had.

And you know what? She is still the best person I know, and I don't believe that she was wrong to do it. When I am looking for a moral example of a selfless life, I always think of her. But she was told that women like her are "selfish". They tried to block her access to the service by talking about how abortion exploits and hurts women. They should know about selfishness and exploitation of women, the smug bastards.

Churches, frankly are going to run into trouble when they start ranting about exploitation and harming of women. Because many of us have seen a lot of this in churches. I am thinking about a friend of mine who was told by her pastor that she had to stay in an abusive marriage, because marriage was indissoluble. She was actually told that she had "made her bed" and now she had to lie in it. She did.

I am also thinking about the way the churches lobbied to block my gay friend David from teaching jobs, feeding into completely unfounded beliefs about a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Jeez. I could talk here about the scandals around churches and pedophilia, but I will refrain.

I do not believe that my experience of churches and the experiences of my friends are all that unusual. They are surprisingly common.

And I am thinking about my last attempt to go back to church. I wanted to go. I wanted to open myself more to experiences of God. I wanted that experience of Christian community and of group worshop. I went for a few weeks.

But you know why I left? Because I knew that if they realized who I was and what I thought and how I lived my life, they would not be able to accept me. They would demand that I change. They would not be able to accept that a de facto relationship might be, in its way, just as sacred to me as marriage was to them. That it might arise out of a philosophical and moral objection to the institution of marriage as founded on the subordination of women that was at least as concerned about the "dignity of the person" as they were. That I might have thought about that position pretty long and hard. That I might still be striving towards the ideals of marriage that I do agree with and find inspiring and that there might be something good and worthwhile in that attempt.

I did not believe that they would be able to support me in having a child in a de facto relationship and via a sperm donor and IVF. And I was too vulnerable during that process, too dependant on my sense of God and my hope of his mercy, to expose myself to people who could not support me and who would feel compelled to persuade me that God thought I was wrong.

It was clear to me that, while they might try to soften what they would say, the most sacred aspects of my life would not be respected, but would be labelled their equivalent of "morally illicit".

My friends and I have been hurt many times by churches and, even though at times we hunger after the things that churches could offer, we don't go. Because our guards are up.

I hate the abuse of power by the churches in our society. But at a more personal level, its the lack of respect that really pisses me off.

My thanks to people like Desmond and Molly and others for showing me that there can be good things about Catholic and other Christian and church teachings. And no, I don't need you to agree with me about IVF, abortion, homosexuality, etc. I can accept and respect who you are and what you believe in, if you can accept and respect me for who I am.


Blogger oldbear said...

See lady, you got character, tons of it!

And I am not saying that just because I totally agree with ALL you said (just 99% :-). I said it because this post shows you think things through ,and then back up your postiion. And that you CARE about people more than what society or some church says.

We got the same crap going on here, with the same punks who were doing nose-wiskey and casual sex by the ton in the 80s and 90-s are all cranked up on churching like religious speed freaks! THEY have kids now, so everyone else is supposed to now listen to THEIR favorite mega church preacher like he is some sacred orcle!

Yes, these punks scream no to abortions, but the catholics I know who adopt kids from helpless yong moms or take in troubled kids are usuallly the more Kind/unjudgemental ones and are generally NOT the kind of smug people who deliver the punk-asssed pronouncements on other UNKOWN people's morality.

Course what do I know, I read and write on sex blogs, so I guess I should have no rights according to these smug hypocrites and never-dids :-) !!!!!


6:12 PM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

Emily, thanks for the nod in our direction (blushing); I hope we really are as gracious as all that. . .

Honestly, though, I admit I get a little impatient when the accusations start flying that the Catholic church is 'trying to impose its views' on everybody, because from where I sit, it just doesn't look that way. The Church, for sure, has definite, worked-out, thought-through ideas on all sorts of things, and, being the kind of institution that it is (ie, massive), it can seem awfully 'imposing'. Huge institutions like the Catholic Church just don't engender the sympathy that individual people, with specific pain and suffering, do.

But really, if you're not Catholic, there isn't any 'imposition' going on; at least, it doesn't seem so to me. The late pope (of whose Theology of the Body I'm also a huge fan) was fond of saying, "The Church proposes; she doesn't impose." And honestly, that's why I'm Catholic today - because when I looked into what the Church was 'proposing', I found it compelling.

Obviously, at least in this instance, you don't, and, even in the eyes of the Church, you're completely free so to do. I mean, you're not Catholic; it would be different if you were, but even at that, everyone always has the freedom to choose whether or not they will be a Catholic; it's not like it's only a one-way door going in.

As a Catholic, I regret the tone of the blogger who gave you such provocation; I wish she had been less harsh. More likely, she was being passionate, and her passion met yours in a particularly combustible way. At any rate, on my own behalf, I'm sorry that she hurt you. . .

FWIW, I have a neice who was conceived by IVF. I might wish that my brother and sister-in-law (they aren't Catholic) had done it differently, but that doesn't keep me from sharing their joy in their daughter, nor does it cause me to love my little neice any less.

7:37 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

Emily, I have a long comment (apologies in advance!). Please take it as just an honest assessment of what I read here.

Churches. Churches. Churches. I see the word "churches" all over, and I just don't get it. I have trouble feeling bad or "guilty by association" in these cases, because let's face it. Churches are people. They are completely fragmented. What I consider to be "church" is miles different from what 10 million other people consider to be church. And those 10 million other people are probably in a million different churches. So to be upset with "churches," to me, is like to be upset with "businesses," or "schools." An annoying person in 1 of them (or 10, or 100) doesn't reflect on all, or even half, of the others, because they are SO different. I have serious trouble even categorizing them all together.

One person's opinion, especially this anonymous blogger's opinion that you mentioned, doesn't seem to carry any weight to me or "the church." Perhaps we need a disclaimer: "This blogger's views in no way represent the views of God or his church."

I see this anger at churches all over, and I can't help but thinking a couple of things.

1) Some people are at the wrong church. There are good churches. There are bad churches. Lots of bad ones. Just like a business or a school. They vary quite a bit, and many don't seem to follow the teachings of Jesus or God.
2) The churches are full of people. People are often rather stupid. Even in one church, you'll find 20 different views. There may be people that don't like you for some reason. Again, that's not indicative of God or "the church," that's just indicative of that person.

I'm not sure how else to respond to this post, because when someone has a problem with "churches," it's pretty hard for me to come to the church's defense. But I feel as though I should, because churches are vital. There are a ton of churches doing a ton of very good work in society. They are vital communities. They are places of learning and fellowship and service and worship. I've never been to Australia (although I hope to one day), but I have trouble believing that ALL the churches are as you mentioned. But I don't know. Maybe it's much worse in Australia than it is in the American midwest. I've had excellent experiences with a number of churches. Multitudes of caring, friendly, compassionate people. No overwhelming sense of hierarchy from an outside source. Hearts of worship, service, and community.

In these discussions, we usually try not to generalize. We try not to stereotype. We try not to lump people together into one preconceived notion. But every time I see the word "churches" in this post, it seems as though that is exactly what has happened.

Am I going to run into trouble if I rant about the exploitation of women? Because I'm part of God's church.

My take on this is probably a bit different from Desmonds, because his Catholicism is a bit more steeped in tradition and he will have an easier use of the term "the church." I'm not Catholic, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or a denomination that reports up to a higher human hierarchical authority. So while he and I agree on a good many things, we will have slightly different vantage points to talk about "the church."

You say you've been hurt many times by churches. Have they all been similar? What are the characteristics of the churches that have hurt you? I'm curious because I'd definitely recommend finding one with different characteristics.

Having said all that, I have no idea why anyone would have any problems with IVF. I'm thrilled that you have a happy, healthy baby.

(I'll most definitely skip over the abortion discussion for the time being, though.)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Hip Grandma said...

I suggest you learn to take these criticism in your stride.It is not only the church but every other religious body that feels the need to give their opinion in such matters.They are welcome to their opinion aren't they?If a person is vulnerable enough to be affected then it will not only be the church but every third person's opinion that will matter to them.These people cannot be assisted by anyone.A thinking individual on the other hand weighs the pros and cons, just as you have done, and acts in the best of his/her family's as well as personal interst and as long as it does not clash with anyone else's it should be fine.Don't be despirited.We're all with you.May you boy bring you enough joy and may you never have the need to worry abt. such trivialities.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

I would be the first person to aknowledge that churches can be valuable communities and also do a lot of good. I have worked alongside church people on volunteer work, charities, refugees, etc, and they were really excellent. Many of the causes dear to my heart would have few volunteers if it wasn't for churches and individual Christians.

What I am trying to say is that churches of many denominations try to impose their views on people who don't accept them. There is nothing wrong with them having and preaching those views and people choosing to attend or not attend the church, or to listen or not listen to them. That's how a free society works.

But churches, at least in Australia, are getting more and more organised around political and moral issues and more aggressive.

For instance, in this case, the Catholic Church has been buying up local hospitals and then refusing to run IVF and other services.

Our Health Minister is a strict and orthodox Catholic, which I have no problem with, but he just tried to reduce government funding for IVF. He and his allies, who were linked with a range of church denominations, not just Catholics, supported this with a lot of misleading information, for example campaigning around why should we have to assist selfish career women trying to have babies in their 40s. The average age of a woman on IVF in Australia is 33 years old! ie she tried to get pregnant some time in her twenties or early 30s, just like most other women, only to find that she had a problem. Only a strong public outcry prevented this from going ahead.

Buying up hospitals and changing laws and restricting government funding for these kinds of services aren't just advocating their views. That's restricting access, including for people who don't agree with their views.

I realize I am taking this personally, but if things like this were threatening your chances of having a baby, you might take it pretty personally, too!

Not long ago, the government, concerned at the abortion rate, set up counselling services for pregnant women. I am happy with that. I am also concerned about the abortion rate. But those services, in my opinion, should be outlining all the options and assisting the woman to make her own choices. But the government has funded services with very strong anti-abortion views which have been found to be guilt-tripping and frightening vulnerable women with misleading information about abortion. We had a government report into this recently, which illustrated the problem, and the government decided to do nothing, because they decided that if they wanted to reduce the abortion rate, then the end justifies the means. I regard this as harmful deception and just plain immoral.

I really think churches need to stay out of this kind of activity. If they just advocated their views and non-church attenders could just be inspired by the behaviour of their followers, that would be fine. What I hate is when churches and individual Christians try to impose their views, using cash and politics.

That's why I was not so much upset by the Perfect Work blogger herself (actually, I found her accounts of her multiple miscarriages very moving and I am crossing my fingers for her current pregnancy), but by her readers talking about making IVF illegal.

2:02 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

FTN, Digger, and Grandma. All of your takes are similar. All fo what yo guys say is true. And many including me owe a lot to organized (Catholic) religion. But I believe you all are not seeing the whole picture, perhaps because water seeks its own level and You all are nice and kindly people who would nevver personally do wrong to anyone. You seek exculpation for the entity(ies) E describes as "churches" based on various disclaimers like: Churches are just amalagaamations of people in the same cross section of people as in society as a whole, churches do good work so their flaws are trivial or balanced out by comparison, churches in general ought not to be blamed for anything as such a description is too nebulous to indentify which group inflicted and offense on the writer, and various other spophistries. All of them are avoiding two ugly truths about almost all organized religion in current America.

Foremost is that Emily correctly pointed out that almost all churches are now involved deeply in politics. Everything from telling people how to vote to donating to religious extremist candiates, to receiving our tax dollars and then using them to fund programs that are not secular in application or intent. All churches ought to lose their tax exemptions since they are just businesses and so deeply involved in politics.

The second ugly truth is that for hundreds and hundreds of years of human history Religon in the sense of people organized into local groups called churches and then groups of churches called religions have been respeonsible for more death, hate, wars, and other unchristly behavior than all other institutions except possibly Sino and Soviet communism, and the new Satan among us, that conscienceless economic entity, the modern Mega-corporation.

Good people of faith such as the three of you have doubtless done much good for other people in your lives or you would not be Emily's friends. Internet or not. But the mostly Theist founders of the USA set a model of democracy for he world based on individual citizens decidng things for themselves. Not the abrogation of their personal political responsibilites to a church or its leaders, no matter how benign the citizen believes them to be.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Finished Last said...

I can understand you anger and frustation but i don;t think that "churches' or religions are the only ones that seek to impose their views on others. The homosexual community here in the states wants to make it so that if you think that behavior is immoral that you will be branded a bigot. Evironmentalists want to make us not be able to drive our cars when and where we want. Athiests sue so that communities can no longer display Nativities or even Christmas trees. Anyone who believes deeply about something is going to take steps to voice their opinions and convince others to believe the same. if they feel the issue is important enough they will use the courts and electoral and legislative porcesses to impose thier view on the rest of us. There are some in those same churches that feel just as threatened and imposed upon as you do. One would hope we could learn from our own feelings how we ought to act towrds others. (BTW I have no problem with IVF and am glad you had such wonderful results from it)

3:40 PM  
Blogger itchingtowrite said...

i think itis a matter of choice. esp on the IVF if both partners hav no problem- no body should pass judgement. if science is finding a way to give happiness ot people , the church who is the upholder of the character of the society should support & be open to teh changes! well written & comprehensive.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

My best friend, my chosen sister, has the most beautiful child in the world thanks to 'intervention'. And she is trying again for her second child. Luckily the first time, IUI did the trick but this time it looks like she will have to go the IVF route.

I support everything she has been through and will again. She even had a termination before she had her first little one, for profoundly personal reasons I won't go into.

Religion should stay out of so many things, and a couple's right to bear children, through whatever it takes, is their own decision.

And yes, when you go the route of IUI or IVF or even to more extremes such as surrogacy, I think that proves beyond words how much two people want a child, so far beyond those lucky enough to conceive from the act of physical love.

12:41 AM  
Blogger artnavy said...

Yiu have reason to be pissed. And good that you have vented it out.
Any activity that brings joy/ hope (even if only a little)CANNOT be questioned by anyone, as long as it does not harm anyone else.

3:14 AM  
Blogger Tajalude said...

I've actually encountered the same sort of thing, but regarding birth control. The facility I initially was going to have my IUD inserted in, doesn't allow IUD insertions, because it goes against the belief of the Catholic church, and it is a Catholic-based facility. I have no other options for birth control, except condoms. Which are only 97% effective when used PERFECTLY.

Luckily, I was able to find another doctor who was able to do the procedure in his office and it was a non-issue. But I wonder what happens to these women who are like me, who have no other options, who aren't lucky enough to have flexible insurance, and end up not getting any other sort of reversible birth control and end up with unwanted pregnancies. Which is worse?

11:10 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

Um. . . I mean no offense here, but doesn't a Catholic hospital have the right to operate according to its own Catholic principles? If you're gonna say that a Catholic hospital has to give me the services I want, and forget about their principles/consciences, then who's imposing on whom?

I don't say that that to be snide or a hard-ass, but it's question worth asking, isn't it?

12:18 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Yes, I don't have any problem with Catholic or any other religious organisations establishing and running hospitals according to their own principles.

Actually, I gave birth at a Catholic hospital - mainly because it was my local hospital, but also because I liked all the mother-and-child iconography around me.

The problem for me arises when these organisations buy up former public hospitals. The government benefits from the cash, it will not establish another hospital just to ensure services like IVF (and abortion, birth control etc) services, and that affects access to these services for lower income people, and it also affects access for people in smaller towns and regional areas.

I think the government is failing in its responsibilities when this happens, but I reserve the right to be pissed when that organisation boots out my IVF clinic before any alternative arrangements can be made. I mean, many of its clients would have been mid-cycle. It must have been so traumatic for them.

And the fact that this seems to be happening just after our Health Minister tried so hard to restrict IVF services and has now gone in for anti-abortion counseling services for pregnant women (dishonest ones - I wouldn't have a problem if they acknowledged their stance openly and women could make an informed choice) makes me feel that the whole thing is not exactly an accident.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Tajalude said...

Desmond, I absolutely think that a Catholic hospital has the right to offer only the treatments and services that are supported by their belief system. But the thing is, it's not a private hospital, and accepts federal funding. It's primarily the doctors that are on the board of trustees that have disallowed certain practices. There are doctors in the area that will not support implementing certain types of birth control (especially the IUD) due to their religion and I fully understand and agree with that. But there are many people who have insurance plans that are tied to certain facilities, and you don't have a choice. Sometimes these same people are like me and are extremely limited in options for birth control. I don't mean to imply that they should be doing something they don't support.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I'm rather ignorant about contraception principles as part of any religious organisation, but something irked me about reading that a woman cannot take charge of whether or not she conceives and has to rely on a man and his willingness (or not) to don a raincap!

I always thought no contraceptives meant...NO contraceptives.

Again, I learn something new.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am from India.. I thought a repressive society is a product of illiteracy,an attempt by the hoarder to establish his supremacy over the potential competitor, an atavistic tendency of the oppressed to "belong" by pandering to the oppressor.. but since the time I have started reading international blogs.. I come to know better..but i still fail to understand.. what makes these guys tick? there is no logic to their thoughts.. and where do they get their support from? how can a woman allow ANYBODY to dictate what she needs to do with her body? An animal does not allow that without a violent protest!

4:34 AM  

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