Monday, April 08, 2013

God, infertility and IVF

Infertile couples will pray to God to give them to a baby - and will curse him when their IVF cycle fails. Many have a love-hate relationship with God - and it can be hard to make sense of these conflicting feelings.

This is a very thoughtful post by our expert patient, Manju

I was introduced to God by my parents at a very young age; perhaps during the time when I started to imitate my elders. They took me to temples , asked me to keep my palms together and said, “Ask God that He should take care of you and protect you”. I repeated what they said without even understanding the meaning of what I am repeating “God please protect me !”. My parents were very happy and so were my near and dear ones . They enjoyed the childishness in the words I uttered. They were pleased that I would grow into a “God-fearing” child. But I had no idea who God is. I felt happy to be in a temple because I could see so many different people there; I was excited to repeat what I was told to - because everyone’s attention was on me and I got lots of appreciation for what I did. This is how God came into my life. I never knew at that point of time that this invisible person, whom I will never meet, will shape my life; will have a strong control over me and will provide me with emotional protection. I also never knew that he can make me feel guilty and fill me with irrational fears !

When I grew a bit older, my parents used God as a tool to control my pranks. They used to say “Manju, if you tell lies God will pierce your eyes; so do not lie.”  I used to get terrible dreams of losing my eye sight every time I lied. However, the lie saved me from my elder’s anger more effectively than God would. But the fear that God will punish me remained etched in my mind.

I was educated in schools run by Christian organizations. I learned a lot about God there. We had a church within the school; there were regular prayer meetings and bible studies. In such an environment, I got to hear the message - “God loves you” , and this was a very new message for me. I was taught until then that God will protect me from harm and he will punish me when I do something wrong; but no one told me that God loves me and I had no insightful thinking to assume that the “super power” loves me. Those are the times I started to feel closer to God ; I started to treat him as my friend. I shared with him my fears and wants; when I was worried, and when I could not talk to anyone about what bothered me, I knew where to go. I went to church, kneeled in front of Him, told Him my worries and asked for help. When I reached out to Him, my fears appeared less bothersome and I strongly believed that I would get help. I asked Him for help for everything – for getting good marks, so that my dad wouldn’t get upset; for protecting me from my teachers’ wrath whenever I failed to do my homework; for giving me the things I desires; for protecting my mom, dad and sister; for curing my dear ones - and for many more things ! God became my confidant – he knew everything about me – each of my secrets. I struggled hard to keep my thinking good – I was scared that bad thinking would bring forth God’s anger and He would punish me ! I also learned to seek His forgiveness whenever I did something wrong; whenever I went against my conscience. I got a lot of relief when I could repent and get His forgiveness. The bonding I had with Him increased day by day , and I am sure he loved me unconditionally!

 I was taught this prayer during school days – and I can recite it even now :
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Then came my teen age years – I was physically and mentally metamorphosing into a new person. Raging hormones; physical changes; and lots of new, exciting thoughts and feelings set in. With that came in a lot more guilt ! I became uncomfortable about the fact that God knew “all” my thoughts.  I struggled between keeping myself pure so that God remains pleased with me , but my “Mills and Boon” desires seem to pull me away from God many a time ! That was the most beautiful and highly confused period of my life. I tried hard to keep my thoughts “blemish free” and concentrated on my studies.

As I grew, I learned to bargain with God too. I would tell Him “God I will not eat non-vegetarian food on particular days; I will control my desire to eat it– can you please make my wish about coming first in this test come true ? “I used to panic a lot when my mom fell ill; and I always ended up feeling guilty because I believed that God was punishing me by making my mom suffer because of my evil thoughts and deeds ! In short, when my thought processes were not fully mature , I viewed God as a powerful person , who knew everything, including my innermost thoughts and desires . I believed that if I was good , I would be spared of His anger and He would bless me by granting me all my desires. This fear of God  acted as a protective shield from many unwanted distractions I encountered in life. But it also curtailed my rational analyzing power many a time , and left me with irrational feelings of guilt !

Then came my college days and a much more mature me. I went to temples whenever I could and felt very peaceful when I stood in front of Him with my hands folded. I no longer kept my eyes closed when I prayed to Him. I found happiness looking at Him; talking to Him just like I talk to a friend  - and I started to love Him too. I felt immense strength when I had Him near me. I prayed to Him frequently to give me a good future – a good job, a good life-partner and I constantly pestered Him to make my wishes come true !
Then I entered into a period of life where I was well-settled; I found a wonderful life-partner and was ready to have lots of babies. Life was happy - but I found to my dismay that I could not get pregnant. I saw that something which was very natural and easy for others was denied to me. During this time I got a lot of advises on - which God to pray; what to offer Him; what kind of fasting and prayers I could do in order to please Him so that I could get my child! I prayed to God faithfully; swallowed the “prasadams” which was offered to Him - and fasted as instructed. I got pregnant – but went through a traumatic miscarriage!
This was when I was exposed to “life”. My pain made me receptive to other’s pain. I started to look around and realized that there are many others who suffer more than me. Suffering leads to “enlightenment”; suffering and pain opens up our mind; it makes us search for “truth”. We only learn from adversity in our life – and what we choose to learn is upto us ! I am sure the “Bodhi tree” stands as a euphemism for “suffering” - and everyone becomes a little Buddha during some point in their life when they are faced with grief and agony !
The pain of infertility was so intense that I did my best to escape from it. The only reasonable way out, which is within my reach, is to acquire knowledge. When I say knowledge , it doesn’t mean scientific knowledge alone , but an attempt to get some rational answers to philosophical questions. Why did this happen to me ? Why did God forsake me ? Why is He making me suffer ? What did I do wrong ? Why do I have to endure this pain ? Is infertility a punishment ? Why can’t God help me out ? Why does God bless someone with a baby when they don’t want one - and when I need one so badly, why is He denying me that happiness ? Why are unwanted babies created and thrown in dustbins when there are so many people struggling to have one ? Why are so many children born to people who cannot even feed them properly ? When many drug addicts and pedophiles can have a baby without trouble, why  can’t I? Why do bad things happen to good people ? I needed answers; answers which could ease my pain. Whom should I turn to? Where will I get the answers so that I will find peace of mind ?

When I carefully analyzed all the questions which arose in my mind, I understood that God is the anchor and all the questions are connected to Him in one way or another. I realized that, I will get the needed answers only if I could understand who God is ! Do I really know the person whom I am depending on all my life ?  Where is He, what does He look like ? Does he really have anything to do with suffering ? Does he punish us when we do wrong ? Will he wipe my tears ? Does he posses the magical wand to make our reasonable desires (my baby wish !) come true ? WHO IS HE ?!

Below is my humble attempt to understand who God is ! I am no expert in religious literature,  although I do try to grasp the crux of what is said in them. This article is like a baby’s first step , and I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone’s ideology. I hope I will not get a mail saying I am a blasphemer! The following definition I developed in my mind about God helped to me to be at peace with myself - and I hope it helps some of you too.
God is a form of energy. There is a powerful energy which is operating in this world. We can understand it when we think about this world’s architecture. In fact, why consider such complex things – just think about our body and how reproduction happens. Two minute cells unite to give birth to the most complex living organism. Being a biologist, I am always bewildered by all the minute yet complex processes that work in unison to keep us alive- and to create a new life form ! For such a complex process to work perfectly , there
should be a designer. Doesn’t the accuracy by which this world functions and by which our body functions demand the existence of an omnipotent designer ? I believe there is a “super brain” at work behind the complexities and perfectness of life.  There is an unimaginable and unfathomable force that operates in this world and we call that energy God. Imagine neglecting your home for a few months – the orderliness of your home will be gone ! Your home needs “you” to keep it in order ! Likewise , this world needs a “super power” to maintain its orderliness! 

However, that energy (God) has nothing to do with making us cry or wiping your tears; it has nothing to do with the sufferings that happen in this world; it has nothing to do with giving me a baby or not giving me a baby; it is not responsible for our happiness or sadness. In short, it is an energy which doesn’t operate keeping an individual’s goodness in mind. It doesn’t even have a mind, it is just an energy which is dissipated evenly throughout this world!

Such magnificent energy cannot be seen but it can be felt. You can feel it when you immerse yourself in the beauty and magnificence of nature. You can feel it in the kindness which people show you and in the love you give others. You can feel it when you help others - and when they help you. You can feel it , if you keep your heart open, in the work you do; in the warmth and compassion in this world; in a baby (any baby - not only in a human baby!); in  suffering and pain; in happiness and joy; in a beautiful smile; in the perfect functioning of our body everything, everything ! You can also feel that energy when it takes a destructive form - in a storm, in a tsunami, in an earthquake. The same energy which protects this world can destroy it too !

Why is it so; why do bad things happen ? Why there are natural disasters ? Why there are diseases, hatred, war, crime ? Why do humans inflict suffering on fellow humans ? Again , it has nothing to do with that energy’s intent. You can use that energy to help you; to make you a better person; to live in absolute love and peace; to increase your happiness; and to make this world a better place to live in. You can also use that energy to destroy your happiness; to destroy peace and love; to make yourself miserable; and to bring darkness into this world. That energy which pervades everything actually takes the form of the mind which uses it. The negative form of that energy is very powerful and dangerous too. But without its negative form , we will never be able to appreciate its positivity.

This is why it is said that God is everywhere, in all life forms. I don’t believe in a God who is ready to wipe my tears; I don't believe in a God who is waiting to punish when I do something wrong or reward me when I do something good; I don’t believe in a God who gives me what I desire; I don’t believe in a God who will come to help me when I am in pain ! All this cannot be performed by God (by that energy)– but humans can do it , with the help of that omnipotent, omnipresent energy. Every human takes the role of God many a time. I see God in the love I get, in the help I receive, in the warmth and compassion of many fellow beings, I see God in a beautiful smile, in a child’s happiness and I see God in myself too , many a time.

A Chinese student who works with me came to me; I help him in his work. Few days before he asked me when I am going to India; and I told him about IVF treatment and so on. I told him when everything goes OK , I will go very soon for having a FET. Few days later he came to me and said, “Manju, I want to tell you something”. I thought he wants to talk about his work. But he said “ Manju my mom and dad got married very late. I was born to my mom at 35 and my little brother was born when my mom was 40; so Manju, please do not worry, everything will happen in good time for you as well “. I saw that positive energy in him; the energy which wanted me to give me some courage and comfort. I had tears in my eye - and even now they roll down my cheeks when I write about his kindness. There is God in the feeling I am having now - absolute gratefulness !

Please do not think that sufferings are a punishment from God. God doesn’t punish or reward anyone.  When we are happy and content we never think “Why me ?”. We accept it so naturally. Just like happiness and joy, pain and suffering are an essential part of life; and we need to accept them too. Every adverse moment helps us to grow spiritually; it teaches us to use the omnipotent energy in the proper way. When there is no pain there is no gain ! We should learn to use the positive form of God (love, empathy, compassion, contentment, gratitude , knowledge, wisdom etc) to keep us strong during difficult times. After all, the aim of life is to find its purpose and such an “enlightenment” comes only during arduous times ! Remember, only the people who go through tough times make this world a better place to live in, with their contributions to mankind ! Gandhi was determined to fight for freedom only after he was thrown out of the railway compartment by an arrogant Britisher ! He transmuted his anger into a positive desire to help his suffering countrymen ! God comes wherever there is pain and suffering. You get to know God better when you suffer.

Always keep in mind that our thinking has enormous power. That is why we unknowingly attract people whom we love and repel people whom we hate. We are what we think ! Prayer is nothing but concentrated thinking. Praying to God may not get you what you want , but it will help you to accept what you get .
Thinking and praying is also an expression of that omnipotent energy – good thinking bring forth good deeds and hence a better life ! A better life doesn’t just mean physical comforts; a better life doesn’t always mean a baby; a better life doesn’t mean good health – a better life means a heart ready to accept things as they are, and a mind which is prepared to face the struggle and come out of it successfully !

So,  instead of searching for God somewhere else; instead of believing that God will help us ; instead of believing that God will make this world a better place; if we try to use the energy which is within us; which is around us; which is everywhere– we can make this world a better beautiful place to live in. God is the energy that keeps the world going. It is the energy that keeps us going too. Perhaps that’s the energy which gives me the courage and strength to fight infertility! There is no guarantee that I will end up with a baby in hand with the help of God; but I am sure I will be a better person at the end of this journey - and that is what matters the most !

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.”

-    John Lennon

This is an excerpt from our forthcoming, book, The Expert Patient's Guide to IVF. This being authored by our expert patient, Manju and me.

 You can email Manju at [email protected]

Her blog is at
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1 comment:

  1. Dr, I have selected the same photo for this post and I was so sure you would have selected the same too. When I saw the post today it was no surprise to me. Great people think alike !


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