Laura and her husband married in the Catholic Church and have been open to life throughout their marriage, yet in three years they have not conceived a child. Well-meaning family and friends keep asking when she is going to start a family. In spite of her smiles and reassurances that they hope to have children someday, she has a growing realization that there might be a problem, a physical reason for why they haven’t gotten pregnant. Her heart aches as she thinks about life without bearing a child. She wonders how God could let this happen to her.
Laura’s suffering is not unique — 7.4 percent of married couples in the United States are infertile, a condition generally defined by the medical community as the inability to get pregnant after at least 12 months of regular intercourse. Advertisements for fertility centers abound, but most of these clinics focus on assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF) that replace the natural conception of a child with a sterile biochemical process in a laboratory. In this process, the child is treated like a manufactured commodity and as disposable raw material, since more than nine out of 10 children conceived in this way do not survive until birth.
Natural Procreative (NaPro) technology is a specialized field of fertility medicine that is both effective and moral.
Church teaching about such interventions is clear — those that replace the marital act instead of merely assisting the marital act to achieve pregnancy are immoral.
But what are faithful Catholics who struggle with infertility to do?
Natural Procreative (NaPro) technology is a specialized field of fertility medicine developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Lincoln, Neb. He and his colleagues also developed the Creighton Model of fertility awareness that many couples use for family planning.
These physicians know that infertility is not necessarily a final diagnosis, but is often a symptom of an underlying condition that can be treated. Couples who are having trouble getting pregnant should seek out a fertility specialist who is committed to looking for and correcting the cause of infertility instead of just trying to circumvent the problem with IVF.
For some conditions, the use of NaPro Technology methods is more successful than standard infertility treatments in achieving pregnancy. For example, IVF has a 27.2 percent success rate for women with occluded fallopian tubes, while NaPro Technology has a 38.4 percent success rate in achieving pregnancy. Even more striking, women with anovulatory infertility had an 81 percent pregnancy success rate with NaPro technology, compared to a less than 30 percent success rate with IVF.
The key to NaPro Technology is the use of biomarkers, easily detectable changes in a woman’s body, to accurately monitor hormonal events during the menstrual cycle. This careful tracking helps pinpoint abnormalities and identify possible solutions.
Of course, not every couple will become pregnant. While this is unquestionably difficult, such couples are encouraged to recognize that biological parenthood is not the only option. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 100,000 children are in foster care awaiting adoption. Rates for adoption have steadily declined in the United States. In 1995, 16 percent (2.1 million) of the women who expressed an interest in adoption actually took steps toward that end. In 2002, only 10 percent of women who expressed an interest in adoption actively pursued it.
Couples faced with infertility should prayerfully discern whether or not God is calling them to open their hearts and homes to a child via adoption. There is also a significant need for couples to serve as foster parents and be a temporary family to a child in need. Family building can extend beyond biological boundaries.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, marriage is a calling to serve God as a couple. While every married couple promises to be open to the gift of a child, this new life is a gift, not an entitlement. Some spouses are called to serve God through biological parenthood, but God asks a different form of service from others. Like Christ, our prayer must be “Thy will, not mine, be done.”
Our Creator only wishes the best for us. Especially in the midst of trial, we will not be disappointed if we surrender our plans for His.
Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. She writes for HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum. This article originally appeared in the Catholic Herald.