by Katie Sciba
Tom and Katie Aranda have an adventurous love story. After meeting overseas, they enjoyed a friendship and began dating while stationed hundreds of miles apart with the Air Force. A wedding and months of long-distance marriage finally saw them together in Shreveport. Like many newlyweds, the Arandas had hopes of having a family together, and they looked forward to expecting many children; but, with the exception of Katie’s pregnancy with their daughter Genevieve, they endured miscarriage after miscarriage, all of which were explained as “bad luck.”
Matt and Mikki Sciba fell in love in college and married soon after graduating. They moved to the area in pursuit of small business and establishing roots with local family. Like the Arandas, the Scibas were eager to welcome children, but in nine years of trying, children never came. After taking extensive efforts with doctors, the Scibas were told their infertility was unexplained and unless they used in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination, they had little to no chance of conceiving.
By God’s grace, both couples were able to add to their families – each being twice blessed by adoption. Still, they knew something wasn’t right physiologically, and both hoped to achieve healthy pregnancies.
“Nobody ever thinks they’ll have issues having children,” Katie Aranda told me. “[The miscarriages] were all hard, but the fourth one really brought us down.” Prior to this, Tom and Katie had taken as thorough an approach as possible to their struggles, being tested for chromosome problems and immune deficiencies – any and all factors not conducive to carrying to term. The results came back normal.
It was the same with the Scibas; Matt and Mikki went through testing as well – the results of which pointed to no conclusion at all. “You should be fertile,” they were told. “We don’t know why you’re not.”
This is the story of hopes fulfilled and prayers answered, and God working through a science called Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro), which the Arandas and the Scibas both sought amid feelings of helplessness.
Because of its versatile nature, there are variety of understandings as to what NaPro is and does, but the simplest definition states that NaPro Technology is a reproductive health science that works cooperatively with the procreative and gynecological systems. Those who have felt defeated by infertility, repeated miscarriages and other abnormalities can lift their heads in hope.
Danielle Van Haute is the Respect Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Baton Rouge and was first introduced to NaPro in the late 90s as a student at Franciscan University. After years of study, she became a practitioner in 2011. “NaPro is good medicine. Its patients are optimistic because they have full knowledge of their own personal health,” Van Haute said, a less than common trait among women struggling with reproductive illness. Infertility and repeated miscarriages, among other issues, are too often regarded as diagnoses and treated with birth control, or the couple is advised to use IVF. When it seems all avenues have been taken, a woman or couple may be given the conclusion that their problems are “unexplained” and therefore not treatable. What NaPro considers is that these health problems are not diagnoses, but symptoms pointing to underlying issues.
“What we do with NaPro,” Van Haute began, “is try to figure out the root cause of whatever the problem is – miscarriage, infertility, PMS, ovarian cysts. There’s a physiological reason for everything.” These problems are tragedies wrapped in mystery for many women, who may feel hopeless facing them over and over again. Van Haute continued, “In order to do justice to the woman, she deserves a thorough workup, complete hormone profile, and diagnosis because when we treat the problem, our hope is that with the proper physiology, she will have fertility. That’s what our reproductive systems are supposed to have, it’s what they’re ordered to. Our primary goal is restoring natural, healthy physiology.”
So what does a “workup” look like? Through charting the biomarkers of her cycle, a woman will be able to ascertain hormonal behaviors and with the help of a NaPro practitioner, interpret them to understand her own physiology. This is all done through practicing the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, also known as the Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning. The characteristics and timing of these biomarkers speak loud and clear; charting them, Van Haute confirmed, reveals exactly what the body is trying to say. “It’s just another form of body language.” After just a short time of charting and getting a hormone profile, it’s likely that a FertilityCare practitioner or NaPro doctor will have strong insight into what ground-level health problem exists, how to test for it, and how to treat it. Receiving treatment might mean taking bioidentical hormones (over synthetic ones) and undergoing surgery with a specialized NaPro surgeon to restore the natural order of a woman’s reproductive health.
The inherently natural approach in NaPro Technology is integral both to its appeal and success. It is 100% pro-woman, pro-marriage and pro-baby. By practicing and charting with the Creighton Method, a woman is empowered with in-depth knowledge of her own body and physiological behaviors. Where birth control would mask and alter the biomarkers needed to understand base problems, Creighton and NaPro together use the indicators already in place. The purpose is to correct disorder and restore health. Few women know that they already possess within themselves the information needed to heal.
“My favorite part of meeting with our practitioner had to be covering what she called the S.P.I.C.E. of our marriage,” Mikki laughed. “She asked us how we were doing Spiritually, Physically, Intellectually, Communicatively and Emotionally with each other. It was great because we knew they were looking at the whole picture of our relationship, not just the physical objective of making a baby.” These meetings involve both husband and wife rather than the wife alone, underscoring the union of the couple’s sacrament.
And Catholics struggling with reproductive abnormalities can set their minds at ease knowing that there is nothing within NaPro Technology that goes against Church teaching, particularly teaching on the marital act. Intercourse itself is designed to be simultaneously procreative and unitive; unlike artificial birth control which short circuits the procreative aspect, or IVF which does not physically unite husband and wife and involves the discard of less healthy human embryos. The Creighton Method and NaPro maintain full regard for every person in a family. Even in cases when a husband is infertile, NaPro uses sexually moral methods of collecting data for analysis and treatment that, according to Van Haute, have proven to be very thorough and effective. In this area of medicine, the procreative and unitive aspects of marital union are preserved and encouraged for both husband and wife, regardless of who exhibits signs of infertility.
It was NaPro’s moral accessibility that was enticing for the Scibas. “Why did you want to pursue conception this way?” I asked Mikki. Gracefully and without hesitation she replied, “Because it doesn’t go against Catholic teaching, yet simultaneously provides a means to conception.” Because this science acts naturally and within Catholic bioethics, conception for the infertile is possible without compromise.
The process might seem dizzying at first – charting, seeking the aid of NaPro practitioners, keeping Catholic sexual ethics, treatments, surgery and daring to hope for a baby, what are the odds that conception will happen for a couple declared infertile?
“A baby is always a hope and desire,” Van Haute told me. “For couples previously declared infertile, [meaning they’ve gone 8-12 months without conceiving], between 20 and 40 percent will achieve pregnancy with the Creighton Method. Once we talk about adding NaPro Technology [to attend to any health problems they have], up to 80 percent will conceive.” She added that the large range of success exists because conception will vary greatly depending on the underlying causes of infertility. In general, NaPro is nearly three times more effective than IVF; and men and women are able to get thorough diagnoses and treatment to be able to conceive.
In the cases of both these families, treatment involved exploratory surgeries for Katie and Mikki, during which surgeons fixed varying issues to enable healthy, term pregnancies. Katie’s expression relaxed recalling her post-op meeting with her NaPro OB, Dr. Kathryn Karges of Caritas Complete Women’s Care. “We told her all our miscarriages had been unexplained and she just said to me, ‘We explain the unexplained. That’s our mission.’” It was the first time the Arandas had solid hope.
Both the Arandas and Scibas had every reason in the world to hope. Now healthy through charting and treatments, both conceived and delivered tiny miracles to their families. Considering the tumult their families endured waiting for things to go right, I asked them, “At what point did you say to yourself, ‘Oh my goodness, it worked!’?” Again Mikki was quick to respond, “When I held him!” smiling down at her newborn son, Samuel. “After nine years of infertility, it was hard to hope, even during pregnancy. So it really sank in when we finally saw him and got to hold him.”
Katie was calm and confident from the early stages of her pregnancy with their new blessing, Luke. “I was so much more hopeful from the beginning. I just felt like they were taking care of me, watching my [hormone] levels. I felt safe. I was finally able to enjoy being pregnant without any fear.” The care she spoke of was yet another blessing of NaPro – specialists and FertilityCare practitioners are there every step of the way to ensure the optimal environment while the baby is in-utero. NaPro practitioners strive to prevent pre-term delivery and keep the baby safe and healthy through birth.
In north Louisiana, there isn’t a NaPro OB/GYN or FamilyCare practitioner within a three-hour road trip, but that’s no problem. Because the need is more widespread than the actual facilities, many NaPro patients have Skype consultations with their practitioners to cover questions about charting and how to proceed with treatment. The prevalence of these remote meetings is high, which renders treatment and hope all the more accessible. It’s important to note, too, that NaPro Technology handles more than infertility and miscarriage – any and all women’s health issues are addressed within its science, giving healing and peace to unmarried women as well as married who have painful cycles, hormonal problems, cysts and other illnesses.
A highly successful health science that’s pro-woman, marriage and baby, with a mission to explain the unexplainable is here; an approach that looks at a full range of reproductive abnormalities not as problems on their own, but as indicators of underlying issues. “This isn’t just Catholic medicine,” Danielle Van Haute told me. “It’s just good medicine.” •