OTTAWA, Ontario, January 17, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Infertility has approached epidemic levels in Western countries. In 2002, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 7.3 million women suffered from infertility in the country, about 12% of the reproductive-age population. Many of these millions are sped along to IVF doctors; robbed of the joys of natural procreation, they are often slated to endure years of heartache as they strive unsuccessfully for a child.
Pierre and Heidi Desrochers of Ottawa were one of those couples. Married in 2005, the young pair learned in October 2007 that Heidi suffered from advanced endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, and possible polycystic ovarian disease. They were told their chances of conceiving and bearing a child were slim.
The couple was referred in December 2007 to the Ottawa Fertility Centre, which specializes in assisted reproductive technologies. The doctor told them IVF was their only option.
“It was really difficult for us to believe that a conclusion could be drawn just after one surgery, without conducting any other tests,” said Heidi. “We still didn’t understand the cause of my infertility.”
Convicted against IVF by their Catholic faith, they were unsure where to go. “We didn’t have any other option at that point,” she said. “We basically felt abandoned by our doctors, and we were really grieving not being able to have a child. It was a deep emotional pain.”
In the midst of their struggle, the Desrochers were introduced to the new reproductive science NaProTechnology. A natural, fertility-care approach to women’s health, the method was developed by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers of the Creighton University School of Medicine based on thirty years of research into the woman’s fertility cycle.
The Desrochers began consulting with a NaPro doctor at the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Centre in Toronto, and were sent down to Nebraska for surgery with Dr. Hilgers, who has pioneered specialized microsurgical techniques to heal women’s reproductive systems.
Only one month after the surgery, Pierre and Heidi conceived their “miracle baby” Daniel Raymond Joseph Desrochers, who was born August 11, 2009.
“I was overjoyed and so grateful to God for this tremendous blessing and gift. I was also very surprised that it happened so quickly after my surgery,” said Heidi. “NaPro does take some effort and patience and it is not always easy, but in the end, it was worth it!”
NaProTechnology - Successful, Natural, Cost-Effective, Ethical
Though widely ignored in medical circles, NaPro has been hailed as a cost effective and morally acceptable solution that has consistently shown better outcomes for mother and child than assisted reproduction. There are fewer miscarriages, and no increased rate of multiple pregnancies.
A 2004 study by Dr. Hilgers’ Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska found NaPro up to 81% effective at achieving pregnancy, depending on the condition, whereas success rates for IVF have ranged from 21-27%.
Besides infertility, the method has been effective in treating miscarriage, irregular cycles, ovarian cysts, premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and many other women’s health conditions.
Dr. Julia Cataudella, a medical consultant and NaPro specialist at the Marguerite Bourgeoys Centre, told LifeSiteNews that the idea behind NaPro is to identify and treat the underlying problems with the woman’s physiology.
“Infertility is seen as a symptom of disease. It’s an end sign that something’s not right,” she explained. “So if you can identify what it is that’s not right, and correct it, then conception can occur naturally because you know the fertile times and you’ve optimized the conditions of fertility - cervical mucus production might need to be enhanced for example.”
Dr. Cataudella said NaPro relies on knowing the phases of the woman’s cycle, not only in general, but also the cycle of the individual woman. “That cycle reflects the communication between the ovaries and the brain, so it’s quite delicate and complex, and it can only be done through fertility awareness,” she said.
The woman charts her cycle using the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System, a standardized assessment using biomarkers such as cervical mucus and menstrual bleeding. Besides pinpointing the woman’s fertile periods with precision, the chart allows her and her medical practitioner to observe her body’s rhythm and identify abnormalities that need to be treated. According to Dr. Cataudella, the treatment is often administered at specific points in the cycle - at the time of fertility, or just after ovulation, for example. This timing is often crucial to the treatment’s effectiveness.
The Struggle to Get the Word Out
Despite NaPro’s common-sense approach and documented benefits, most doctors who have heard of it remain skeptical, and its proponents have struggled to get their findings published.
“People are definitely pushed toward the [assisted reproductive technologies] instead of looking at the root cause,” said Desrochers. But she thinks doctors also opt for that approach simply because they don’t fully understand the woman’s cycle, knowledge of which she believes the medical profession lost when oral contraceptives were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. She said the problem was exacerbated in the 1970s when assisted reproductive technologies took off.
“Back in 2007 when I was seeing that gynaecologist, her first solution for me was the oral contraceptive pill,” explained Desrochers. While it would have helped with the pain from her endometriosis, she said, “it simply masks the pain [and] the underlying issue. ... It’s a band-aid solution, because it overrides the menstrual cycle instead of treating the problem.”
“[NaPro is] not often taken very seriously, because it’s not very technological,” said Dr. Cataudella. “You’re not intervening with pipettes and microscopes to cause the fertilization.” She also said there appears to be “a moral boundary” for doctors who believe in contraceptives like the pill.
The Dangers and Failures of IVF
The major pioneer of IVF, Dr. Robert Edwards, was honoured with a Nobel Prize this fall, for bringing “joy to infertile people all over the world.” Yet the evidence and experience of NaPro suggests the advent of IVF has resulted in unnecessary physical harm and emotional heart ache for countless infertile couples and their families.
Dr. Cataudella pointed out that the failure to diagnose the underlying causes of infertility results in major health problems in women. Beyond simply the inability to bear children, infertility is a symptom of diseases - such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease, anovulation, and tubal occlusion - that can lead to long-term disability, a lower quality of life, and even premature death. Women who are infertile can suffer pelvic pain and irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems, and are at increased risk for heart attack and diabetes, as well as ovarian and breast cancer.
The failure to diagnose underlying causes is also one of the reasons why there are so many failed attempts at IVF, said Desrochers. “Sometimes the uterine environment is hostile, the baby can’t even implant in it because there might be something that they haven’t diagnosed,” she said.
Dr. Cataudella agreed, saying that the approach is always the same with IVF. “It doesn’t matter what the problem is. Every person gets the same treatment,” she said. “‘Let’s just do the conception for you, and hope that it takes.’ Ultimately the results aren’t that great.”
IVF has also been shown to endanger children. Desrochers said that when she and Pierre went into the Ottawa Fertility Centre, the doctor tried to appeal to their Catholic sensibilities by claiming that the facility would use all of the couple’s embryos in the IVF process.
But, as she later learned, the claim was false because a high percentage of the embryos are lost simply through the process of freezing and thawing. Not only that, but in many cases where multiple embryos implant in their mother, the undesired babies are “culled,” “selectively reduced,” or in layman’s terms, killed.
A growing body of evidence is revealing a much higher level of birth defects in babies born through IVF, including heart valve defects, cleft lip and palate, and digestive system abnormalities. In 2010, a French study - the largest yet on the subject - found that assisted reproductive technologies double the baby’s risk of deformity.
Besides the physical dangers, there’s also the simple fact that IVF children are conceived in a lab, denied the right to be conceived naturally. “IVF is definitely not an option for us,” said Desrochers. “IVF replaces the physical expression of love between husband and wife, and children are treated as commodities.”
“Pierre and I feel that the child is not an object over which we have a right, or own, but the child is a gift, and life is sacred from the moment of conception,” she added.
Restored Health for the Future
Because the focus is on promoting the woman’s health, NaPro aims to restore fertility in the long-term, meaning there is a much better chance of conceiving naturally into the future.
Pierre and Heidi are hoping and praying that Daniel will have a sibling soon. They’ve been told that Heidi’s endometriosis could return, and a test recently found that one of her fallopian tubes was blocked again. They conceived Daniel so quickly that they hadn’t completed the process, so now they are working with a NaPro doctor to balance Heidi’s hormones.
Heidi has been trying to share her experience in the hopes of helping other couples who struggle with infertility - in a recent letter to the Ottawa Citizen, for example, and an article in the Winter 2010 newsletter of the Companions of the Cross, a Canadian community of priests based in Ottawa.
“[NaPro is] morally acceptable, maintains the integrity of the human person, and respects the dignity of women and of marriage,” said Desrochers.
Learn more about NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction’s website.