I have had a naturopathic family practice for 11 years supporting natural women’s health, including fertility and pre- and post-natal issues. Over time in my practice, I’ve seen an increasing number of patients with fertility concerns that are not well served by conventional medicine. I’ve also heard many stories about both the side effects and ethical dilemmas involved in Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) that is practiced at local fertility clinics.
As a doctor who has pledged to “first, do no harm,” I worry about the impact of powerful artificial hormones used in fertility medicines on children born using ART. I also worry about the emotional and spiritual effects of people being told that they cannot conceive without extensive technological intervention; where implantation in a medical outpatient clinic replaces conception in the loving environment of the home.
Fortunately, I have many tools besides medications for promoting fertility. In my practice, I have used Natural Family Planning (NFP) with cycle charting for many years to promote fertility literacy, and have used charting successfully with botanical and nutrient medicines to achieve pregnancy for many couples. Recently, I have also noticed increasing interest from patients in natural fertility methods, and patients often come in with their own cycle charting done on paper or with digital apps.
As a diagnostic tool, cycle charting also gives me useful information about when to test hormone levels so that the information acquired is clinically relevant. In the past, patients were often told that their levels of estrogen, progesterone, or other hormones were “fine” for fertility when they were not. With cycle charting, I have a much better idea when to send patients into the lab for blood testing to establish if there are specific problems with ovarian or uterine functioning or we are dealing with healthy cycle variations. Knowing when to test also helps if pregnancy is successful to monitor progesterone and other hormones to help prevent miscarriage or pre-term birth.
Earlier this year, I was accepted to the Pope Paul VI Institute at Creighton University for their post-graduate medical consultant program. This certification involves two eight-day sessions of intensive classroom instruction and a year of supervised practicum training (with long-distance faculty support) to help implement the Creighton protocols in a variety of clinical situations. What convinced me to follow Creighton was the fact that I will have more experienced medical professionals supporting me while I’m learning to put their protocols into practice.
Choosing to use fertility awareness forms of family planning has become profoundly counter-cultural in our secular society. However, almost 50 years since Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, warned about divorcing the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects of marital intimacy, we are discovering that medicalizing fertility has in fact profoundly disempowered many couples. Instead, what has resulted from the “ease” of contraceptive culture is many people are now struggling with sub- and infertility, as well as increasing levels of miscarriage and premature birth. Natural fertility methods, using cycle charting and supportive natural or prescriptive medicines, help to heal this cultural wound in so many of our families, and provide medicine in support of life.
The billings Ovulation Method is based on awareness of the woman's natural cycles of fertility and infertility, unmodified by any chemical, mechanical, or other artifical means. It takes advantage of the biological fact that women are infertile more often than fertile throughout their procreative years. The fertile phase, that time when conception may occur, is recognized by physical signs accompanying ovulation. This knowledge, together with planned abstinence, can be used either to achieve or to postpone pregnancy.
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The Life & Family Resource center provides a number of programs and services to help you with your family planning.
Marriage is a divine calling by which a man and a woman give themselves to each other in a life-long partnership. Between Christians marriage is a sacred reality, a "sacrament", or effective sign of God's love and fidelity, which strengthens and divinizes the natural union of marriage. It is also the beginning of family, the basic unit of society and the smallest instance of Christian community (a 'domestic church').
From its opening pages the Bible affirms the goodness of human sexuality. Male and female are created "in the image of God" and in our bodily natures is inscribed our vocation "to join together and so become one flesh" and in turn to "be fruitful and multiply".
An inseparable connection exists between the union of the spouses (love-giving) and the procreation and education of children (life-giving) as they help the spouses to grow in their love for God and for each other. This is why the Church supports Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods in assisting responsible parenting.
These methods assist couples in having a better understanding and appreciation for the wife's fertility and consequently for her as a person and her more intimate design. NFP will assist you in increasing your communication as you grow together in your sexual union, and as you discern with God the sacred gift that are children. I encourage parents to make these important decisions regarding responsible parenting (achieving, spacing, and avoiding pregnancy) in the context of prayer, in a spirit of love and generosity, in accordance with the Church's beautiful teaching on the gift of human sexuality, and in light of your responsibilities to God, each other, your already born children, and to society.
✠ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary
The ability to conceive and bear children is often taken for granted, but more and more couples are finding that having a family is not as easy as they initially thought it would be. Infertility is a medical condition defined as the inability to become pregnant after one year of unprotected intercourse1. As per Health Canada, it is estimated that up to one in eight Canadian couples experience infertility2. What this means is that if you are not experiencing infertility yourself, there is a good chance that you know someone who is.
Infertility can present itself in many different ways. Some are primary infertility (couples who have never been able to conceive), secondary infertility (couples who are unable to conceive after having given birth to at least one baby), couples who are subfertile (it may take a long time to be able to conceive) couples who experience miscarriages, couples who have chosen to grow their families through adoption, and couples who have chosen to remain childless.
No matter in which scenario a couple finds itself, they will face different challenges. The Church teaches that "a child is not something owed to one, but is a gift… the child possesses…the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents""(CCC 2378). For Catholic couples wishing to be faithful to Catholic Teaching, this means that the typical methods of infertility treatment such as In Vitro Fertilization or Artificial Insemination would not be permissible. One of the major challenges is to pursue medical treatments outside of these which are often the primary approaches offered by specialists. Other challenges may be remaining strong against the temptation to pursue treatments that go against ones beliefs, especially when these are presented as the only options for a potential pregnancy. Still other challenges may be focused around making peace with the cross of infertility and the ways that infertility may change the direction of a couples life together.
Regardless of the struggles that a couple experiencing infertility faces, it is helpful to know that you're not alone. Fertilitas is a ministry to support couples who are journeying through infertility. We do this by making available connections within the community such as priests, medical personnel, and other couples who who've shared similar experiences. We are working towards providing information relevant to Catholic Couples with infertility (www.fertilitas.ca). We also have several meetings throughout the year with guest speakers and group support.
Events for the year are tentatively scheduled for January 25, March 22, and May 3 from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and include a potluck lunch.
If Fertilitas may be helpful to you or someone you know, or you would like to assist with this ministry, you can contact Gabriele Kalincak by phone at (403) 218 – 5504 or by email at email@example.com.
(submitted by a member of the Fertilitas committee)