We Will Be a Family

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12/29/2011

Adoption and ethical fertility treatments gave us hope that we would welcome the gift of children

by Carlos Gamundi

adoption

The author and his family sit in a park near their house in Louisiana. (Photo by Mary Lou Uttermohlen)

My wife, Emily, had tears in her eyes over the new reality that we were facing — we did not know whether or not we would ever be able to conceive a child. Our desire to start a family, as well as our anxiety, grew immensely after each cycle.

I proposed to my wife on March 19, 1999, the feast of St. Joseph. My proposal combined two related questions: “Will you be my wife and the mother of my children?” Her “yes” would mean not only a wedding, but also motherhood.

In the midst of this uncertainty and disappointment, I told my wife, “We will be a family.” I said this not because I thought she would eventually get pregnant, but because we were open to the gift of adoption, which brought a sense of hope where there appeared to be none.

I proposed to my wife on March 19, 1999, the feast of St. Joseph. My proposal combined two related questions: “Will you be my wife and the mother of my children?” Her “yes” would mean not only a wedding, but also motherhood. Our exclusive, conjugal love would allow each of us to become a parent, and our children would be the fruit of our love. We were open to life from the beginning, but we did not know that this openness would also mean being open to adoption.

We married in our early 20s, right after graduating from Loyola University New Orleans. Because we were both young and healthy, we never worried about the possibility of infertility. But we soon learned that not only children, but also fertility itself, are gifts that should not be taken for granted. Considering that a woman’s fertility sharply declines in her 30s, or even her late 20s, according to experts, this reality affects a growing number couples who marry later in life. After one year of marriage and failing to conceive a child, we discussed alternative ways to become a family.

SEEKING HELP

The powerlessness we experienced in failing to achieve a pregnancy led us to register for a natural family planning class, which taught us to read the signs of fertility. More than merely being open to life, we actively sought to create life, and NFP enabled us to know which days provided the best chance for conception. It also allowed us to discover irregularities related to a potential health problem.

We turned to a local fertility clinic in New Orleans for more answers. I remember passing by a wall of baby pictures at the clinic, which offered an initial sense of hope that maybe one day our newborn baby’s picture would be there as well. But at what ethical price?

As I sat next to my wife, the doctor told us, “We want results.”

I quickly responded, “No, I want my wife to be healthy.”

Each month as I observed the severe physical pain my wife endured at the end of her cycle, I wanted her first and foremost to feel well. Continuing our consultation with the fertility doctor, though, it became clear that he was not interested in discovering the root causes of my wife’s infertility. As I learned later, achieving a pregnancy, instead of healing the whole person, is commonly the primary goal of fertility clinics and of parents.

My wife and I agreed that the way we became a family was important. Following the treatment plan set forth by the fertility doctor would have required technicians to control and manipulate my wife’s body. With the path of in-vitro fertilization, our child would have been “made” using sterile instruments rather than “begotten” from our conjugal love. Though every child is a gift no matter how they come into the world, not every child is afforded the dignity that he or she deserves at conception. After leaving the clinic, we turned our attention to adoption and looked for a different doctor.

THE PATH LESS TAKEN

Adoption is usually an infertile couple’s last option when all other avenues have been exhausted. But for us, it became a real and joyful alternative as soon as we accepted the possibility that we may never conceive. We asked ourselves, “How long are we willing to wait? And for that matter, why wait for something that may never happen? Let’s become a family now rather than later.” The decision to adopt helped us to see more clearly what we truly desired — family life.

We signed the paperwork to begin the adoption process after almost three years of marriage. We didn’t realize that it would take three more years of paper signing, interviews, home studies and personal reports before we would receive our son, Antonio.

In the meantime, my wife came into contact with Dr. Thomas Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb., through a friend who taught the Creighton method of NFP. Emily sought treatment from Dr. Hilgers through mail and phone correspondence. After analyzing three consecutive months of her fertility charts and blood specimens, Dr. Hilgers prescribed medication to help regulate her hormonal levels. Emily was also scheduled to have surgery for endometriosis. But three months before the scheduled surgery, we discovered that she was pregnant.

Our five years of infertility had suddenly come to an end. After a long history of negative pregnancy tests, we experienced the joy of seeing test results read positive. Nine months later, Ignacio was born. And after four months of being a family, we received news about the referral for Antonio.

I remember seeing the picture the adoption agency had sent us via email. Staring at the computer screen, I cried, realizing that Ignacio would soon have a brother to play with. Our family would grow again, but this time it would be through the gift of adoption. Since that time, my wife has given birth to two daughters, Caterina and Lucia.

SURPRISE AND WONDER

Our family’s experience helped my wife and me to understand more profoundly the reality that every child is a gift. The giftedness of the child rests upon who he or she is — a unique person who elicits from his parents joy and gratitude. The nature of this gift includes surprise and wonder, because children come to their parents as they are, not as we want them to be. Without this sense of surprise and wonder, we can turn a child from a “someone” to a “something,” from a gift to a right. And if we see having children as a right, then we are tempted to justify any means necessary to secure that right.

When Emily and I struggled to conceive, we were comforted by the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes that the desire for a child is a natural part of conjugal love, and that infertility can involve great suffering. The Vatican’s 1987 instruction on Respect for Human Life notes that the desire to conceive “can be even stronger if the couple is affected by sterility which appears incurable” (Donum Vitae, 8). The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages infertile couples who have exhausted legitimate medical options to pursue adoption, to practice generous service and to “unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross” (2379).

If you ever visit the Pope Paul VI Institute, you will find a picture of our family on the wall with many others. The difference between the institute’s wall of baby pictures and the one I saw at the fertility clinic lies in how those infertile couples became a family. This how determines whether or not children will be treated as persons from the moment of their conception.

With much gratitude, Emily and I are now expecting our fifth child in June 2012. We know that each pregnancy may be our last and are grateful for the children God has blessed us with. Today, the desire to become a mother and father is full of hope, thanks to adoption agencies and to a growing number of doctors who offer ethical treatments for infertility. I can attest to the fact that for the married couple who is struggling with infertility, there is still hope of becoming a family.

CARLOS GAMUNDI, a member of St. John Council 10176 in Folsom, La., is a Ph.D. candidate at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.