By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary
You’ve mentioned in the past about married couples who have come to you to discuss the difficulties they are having in conceiving a child and to ask for your prayers. Can you talk about this very sensitive topic?
It is a truly painful experience for a couple to talk about infertility. I’ve had a number of conversations with Dr. Susan Caldwell, who is the medical director of Hope Woman’s Clinic in New Orleans and who deals frequently with couples who have come to her with infertility issues. Susan not only is a board-certified internal medicine specialist and a pediatrician, but she also is a specialist in NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology), which is a growing science pioneered by Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the St. Pope Paul VI Institute and is fully in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church. NaPro can help diagnose the cause of infertility so that medicine or surgery can lead to healing and fertility. Quite often, when a couple is unsuccessful conceiving after months or years of trying, they have a feeling of desperation.
Dr. Caldwell has been very candid about her own personal challenges with infertility and has written about the dangers of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and why she would never recommend it.
I really applaud Susan for telling her personal story – which she has allowed me to share – because it can help other women facing similar circumstances. For many years, Susan and her husband tried to have a baby. She wanted desperately to become a mother. It never crossed her mind that she might not be able to have children. When she couldn’t conceive, however, she sought out an expert in fertility and tried various treatments, which did not work. She had surgery to treat endometriosis, but she still could not conceive. That’s when her doctor suggested IVF, which is a procedure – not approved by the church – in which the woman’s eggs are surgically removed and then fertilized in the laboratory and transferred back to the woman. The church has stated that IVF is not in accord with church teaching for several reasons, but mainly because it replaces the marital act as the only proper setting in which human life should begin. IVF also is a highly abortive technique – it destroys life in order to create life. In Susan’s case, she was required to take the birth control pill in the month before her IVF treatments began, and then she was injected with powerful hormones over a 10-day period in order to force her ovaries to “super ovulate.” The natural process of ovulation normally produces only one mature egg per cycle. In some IVF cases, more than 20 mature eggs are produced, which is an extreme stress on the woman’s body. Susan later learned that more than 20 of her eggs were initially fertilized, and only eight survived over the three days before the scheduled embryo transfer. The doctor was able to transfer three of the “highest-quality” embryos, and the others were frozen. About a week later, Susan became so sick at a barbecue that she was hospitalized for severe ovarian hyperstimulation. Three weeks later, an ultrasound confirmed a triplet pregnancy. But because of abnormal bleeding, it was discovered four weeks later that one of the babies no longer had a heartbeat and was miscarried. Susan spent the rest of her pregnancy on bed rest and went into labor one month before her due date. Her twin boys were born healthy – they are now 19 – and she had a daughter who was born four years later, also using IVF.
Dr. Caldwell loves her three children and is so thankful to have them, but why is she saying that she would never recommend IVF to anyone?
She told me, “The experience harmed me. It didn’t heal me. When we are infertile, we want a baby so badly. But the women who come to me in my practice today with questions of infertility really just want to know what’s wrong with them because that answer has not been given to them. I was so impatient and I just wanted a baby, and I didn’t know enough at the time to consider the bigger picture. The bigger picture was, ‘Do I have a disease that is keeping me from living a full life?’ I didn’t know that the process of IVF can hurt you. Couples aren’t really told about the abortive effects of IVF. Embryos will be created yet only a few will survive the procedure to be held their parents’ arms. There are so many side effects of IVF, and it does not address the underlying problem of what is affecting a woman’s fertility. It’s side-stepping the problem.” Susan told me in the years since her procedure, she learned about the alternative technologies, such as NaProTechnology, that seeks to find the underlying cause of infertility and then works to restore health to the couple so they can naturally achieve a healthy pregnancy. I applaud her for sharing her story so other couples may avoid the pitfalls that often come with IVF.
For more information about NaProTechnology, call Dr. Caldwell at 496-0214. Hope Woman’s Clinic is located at 4612 S. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans. Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.