Last week I wrote about how children are a gift and not a right. I wrote about how IVF is immoral by separating the unitive and procreative meanings of sex. This may lead many to wonder what options are out there for Catholic couples who find themselves seemingly infertile. The good news is that there is a lot of solid science out there to help determine many causes of infertility.
The bad news is that most of woman’s reproductive healthcare lacks that information. They don’t look for underlying causes and answers, but often jump to treatment that may be immoral, more expensive, and often less effective anyway (such as IVF). Therefore, women who desire to reach optimal fertility have to advocate for their health and do their own research. My hope is to lead you to some good resources to help you uncover some of the answers you are looking for.
Using NFP and charting gives you invaluable information about your fertility. If you have short luteal phases, it could be a progesterone problem. You can get progesterone supplements or shots. If you have low temperatures, it could be a thyroid problem. I have a friend who had repeated miscarriages until she began to take levothyroxine for her thyroid. If your cycles are long or irregular or you don’t always ovulate, you may have PCOS. A low sugar, low carb diet has allowed many women with PCOS to help regulate their cycles and achieve pregnancy. In fact, I have a family member who doesn’t get pregnant until she eliminates sugar and bread from her diet for several months. Painful periods could be a symptom of endometriosis but surgery can help.
The point is this: your body is trying to talk to you. When you take birth control, you are suppressing your body’s natural cycle. If you are taking birth control to “fix” a fertility-related problem, the synthetic hormones mask your symptoms without solving any problems. Also consider that one of the side effects of birth control is infertility. Years and years of suppressing your natural cycle can lead to health problems and lower fertility. NFP puts fertility at the forefront by seeing reproductive function as integral to a woman instead of an obstacle.
2. NaPro Technology.
Short for Natural Procreative Technology, NaPro Technology is nearly 3 times more successful than IVF without any abortions or frozen embryos or high rates of multiples in a pregnancy. It is highly scientific and in line with Church teaching. This technology assists a woman’s reproductive cycle instead of trying to override it. From the website:
NaProTechnology (or natural procreative technology) uses the Creighon Model System to help a woman reach her optimal state of reproductive health. Its medical and surgical approaches, developed over decades of research and now emerging in peer-reviewd medical literature, achieve real solutions to real problems that face women and couples.
Dr. Thomas Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha has devoted his life’s work to helping women regulate their natural fertility. If you are looking for a wealth of information on everything from menstrual cramps to postpartum depression, hormonal abnormalities to ovarian cysts, he covers it all in his book: The NaPro Technology Revolution: Unleashing the Power in a Woman’s Cycle.
3. Do Your Research.
Luckily, there are some great sources out there that have done much of the research for you. Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition by Marilyn M. Shannon has gone through several editions following decades of research on fertility and nutrition as it has developed. It goes into the details of diet, vitamins, etc. that your body needs for all your hormones to work together to achieve optimal function. Sure, not every diet can cure infertility, but “knowledge is power, and knowing the risk factors and ways to reduce them enables you to change the things you can and accept the things you cannot change.” (p. 161)
For example, did you know that yeast overgrowth can be a contributing factor to reproductive problems? Did you know that magnesium can help relieve menstrual cramps? Glucose levels could be at the root of mood swings and reducing lights at night while you are sleeping can boost melatonin levels and improve cycle regularity. Too much caffeine can increase your risk of miscarriage, B vitamins help regulate estrogen levels, and essential fatty acids are, well, essential.
I highly recommend Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition for the wealth of information it provides for women to be healthy. There is a chapter on male fertility as well. It stresses how important diet and nutrition are for couples, as well as giving guidelines for how to eat.
Marilyn Shannon’s newest book looks interesting as well: Shorter, Lighter, and Pain Free Periods.
Another great resource would be The Infertility Companion for Catholics by Angelique Ruhi-Lopez and Carmen Santamaria. The authors write from experience with their own infertility to encourage, support, and educate those going through the same struggle.
From their website:
“One in every six United States couples experiences infertility but Catholic couples face additional confusion, worry, and frustration as they explore the medical options available to them. Filling a major void in Catholic resources, The Infertility Companion for Catholics is the first book to address not only the medical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of infertility, but also the particular needs of Catholic couples who desire to understand and follow Church teaching on the use of assisted reproductive technology.”
Lastly, a great website and blog: http://www.naturalwomanhood.org
They write from a place of science, which supports the faith we believe.
By doing your research, charting, and searching out NaPro and NFP doctors, you are helping to revolutionize women’s medicine. We must demand better treatment and more research, because there is still so much to be discovered about the science between hormones and fertility.