The Good News: You're Pregnant
Kelly and Eric Romenesko tried everything to get pregnant—doctor visits, hormone injections, medical tests. They knew the heartbreak of 30 failed home pregnancy tests in five years. They exhorted a higher power. "I'd go to church and pray for God to bless us," says Kelly, now 37. Finally, with the help of IVF, in which a doctor combined Kelly's eggs and Eric's sperm in a laboratory, the couple's prayers were answered: twins Alexandria and Allison were born in early 2005.
Today the Romeneskos have their hands full, both with the girls and the discrimination complaint Kelly brought against her former employer. Four days after informing her supervisor at a Catholic school district in Appleton, Wis., that she was pregnant, Kelly, a French teacher, was told her services were no longer needed. The reason: Since the church forbids IVF, she had violated school rules requiring teachers to live according to Catholic doctrine. Her case against the Appleton Catholic Education System, charging bias based on her gender and pregnancy, was dismissed by the state and is awaiting appeal this fall. "I want to set an example for my girls," she says. "I want to say, 'I stood up for myself, and you should do the same.'"
She faces an uphill battle. The Vatican says that childbirth should be the result of "natural" conjugal relationships, not events in a test tube. The church also takes issue with the fertilization of multiple embryos for IVF, since those left over after a pregnancy are often frozen indefinitely or destroyed. But while more than 200 people have e-mailed messages of support, religious institutions are free to require employees to uphold their teachings (see box below). "A Catholic schoolteacher has to be a role model," says Father Michael Orsi, a legal scholar at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich. (The school system declined to comment.)
Ironically, Romenesko agrees with much of church policy. A lifelong Catholic who went to parochial schools, she and Eric, a 34-year-old fireplace equipment store manager whom she wed in Jamaica in 1999, always counted family as a top priority. "We wanted someone to share our lives with," she says. When Romenesko asked for time off for fertility treatments, her boss at Xavier High School, where she was hired in 2002, referred her to a priest who laid out the church's problems with IVF. She says she left the meeting with the sense that "this is against church teaching, but I am a good person and will be accepted by the church." She and Eric are still considering what to do with the frozen embryos left over from their IVF.
Whether she wins her case or not, Romenesko hopes to return to teaching someday—at a public school. For the moment, she's focused on raising her 16-month-olds. Both girls were baptized at a Lutheran church where their parents now worship, although Kelly says she hasn't given up on Catholicism. And no matter the faith she finally embraces, she says, she will have no qualms about the steps she and Eric took to bring their babies into the world. That decision, says Romenesko, "is between us and God."