IVF or Fostering

I really would love your advice and the Jewish perspective on this issue. I am a 46 year old woman. I got married late in life – and have been happily married for 8 years. However, no children have come along and my husband and I are very disappointed. We did get medical checks and neither of us has any medical reasons that would prevent us having children – other than age on my part. We live in Australia and the cut off age for IVF using our own eggs is 46th birthday (already passed).

The only option they will consider is for us to have IVF using donor eggs and the waiting list for donor eggs is up to 4 years. Neither myself nor my husband feel keen on this idea but I would love to know the Jewish perspective on this because I don’t want to make a wrong decision and I feel like there are limited options. I have prayed for years about having children but I have not gotten pregnant naturally. There doesn’t seem to be any medical help available other than the donor egg option. Even adoption is not possible where we live – they have a different system here which is more like ‘long term foster care’ and neither of us feel that this would be the same as having our own children.

I would be very grateful for your wisdom on this matter as I am sure would lots of other couples in the same situation. It is very distressing and hard to come to terms with.

Thanks very much and Kind Regards and thanks for all the great work you do.

Rachel P.

Dear Rachel,

Your letter to us is one of those that breaks our hearts. We can feel only a small part of the pain and heartbreak that you and your husband are experiencing.

We aren’t positive that we understand exactly what you are asking, so we would like to lay out the two questions that we hear from what you wrote:

  1. Where on the spectrum between having a child of our own and adoption does using a donor egg lie?
  2. Considering our ages, should we just make peace with not having children?

Two thousand years ago, before it was medically possible, ancient Jewish wisdom discussed in theory what would happen if one woman was the biological source of a fertilized egg while another woman carried and delivered the baby. One question it raised concerned which woman was the mother. Note that this is different from an adoption, where a child has both a biological mother and a spiritual mother. In the case we are discussing, the question is whether the source of the egg outweighs the source of nurturing in the womb. From this perspective, we can tell you that in many ways a baby conceived from a donor egg that you carry to term and to whom you give birth, can be considered your biological and physical baby. Such is the power of the nine months of pregnancy.

If your question is the second one we are considering, that is also an emotional and wrenching one. We personally know women who have conceived and given birth in their late 40s and early 50s. It is certainly not the norm and, medically, it is statistically more dangerous for a woman of that age to go through pregnancy and delivery. It goes without saying that advanced age of the mother can lead to complications for the baby as well. In your case, it wouldn’t be God deciding to gift you with a later-in-life baby, instead it is you pulling the strings to make it happen. (Obviously, God would be involved but, in effect, you are taking the lead and asking Him to bless your decision.)

Furthermore, while illness and accidents can strike at any time, you would be deliberately bringing a child into the world who will very likely have to deal with aging parents while he or she is young and with no siblings to share the burden. In so many ways our society has turned having children today into a case of, “My need for a baby is the most important one,” instead of focusing on the well-being of the new baby. It is all about the parent(s) and not about the child. You and your husband do not sound selfish to us, so we think that you must be taking your ages into consideration.

Rachel, you reveal your generous heart by saying that you think others would benefit from our answer as well. We share your hope and if one young couple reads your question and recognizes that getting married and having a family should be a top priority when they are in their twenties, then your name will be blessed. While we don’t know why you married only in your late 30s, there are nineteen and twenty-year-olds now who are being indoctrinated with the idea that postponing marriage and family until much later is the best option for a happy life. We hope your words pierce their hearts.

What is our advice for you and your husband? First, it is to make sure that you are on the same page. Does your husband, too, feel the lack of children as you do? We believe that every human being needs to have an attachment to the future. Children are the most natural way for that to happen, but there are others as well. The rest of our answer assumes that your husband feels as you do.

It is truly with tears in our eyes that we urge you to think again about becoming foster parents. We aren’t familiar with Australia, but Israel has what sounds to us like a similar system that makes adoption almost impossible. Whatever the legal make-up, it is secondary to the bonds you can form with a child who needs your love. You are right that it is not the same as having your own children. The reality of your situation is that you don’t have children and that trying to have your own children has many obstacles. In that case, second-best might become the best choice. There are children already born whose lives you can literally save by welcoming them into your house. You may not feel the immediate connection you expect that you would feel with a birth child, but as you give and nurture, that bond will grow and we believe it will reach a point that you will be astonished that you ever questioned that attachment.

If you feel unchangeably negative about the foster option, perhaps there are children in your extended family or social circles who would benefit from a ‘home-away-from-home’. A very wonderful woman with no children of her own played that role for a number of years for young Lapin children. Our home was a busy one and at various times, many of our children needed a safe place and a sympathetic ear. This woman played that role so successfully that to this day, her birthday every year is noted by Lapin girls who are now mothers themselves.

We hope that at the very least we have given you and your husband food for thought and, whatever your decision, we wish you all the best.

With much compassion,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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