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  • Writer's pictureDr. Susan Caldwell

My Own Journey From Birth Control to Fertility Appreciation

As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. I knew that my monthly menstrual period somehow was preparing my body for motherhood. That’s where my understanding about my cycle ended - the rest was a mystery. I just knew that I wanted children…but not yet. In high school, my periods were very painful so I went to a gynecologist who gave me something to help the pain. Then eventually I was prescribed birth control pills for the pain. This sounded great! My cramps were milder AND I didn’t need to worry about getting pregnant. Now I could go on pursuing my plans for the future without worrying about my periods or about unintended pregnancy. Sounds smart, right?

I vaguely remember learning about Natural Family Planning (NFP) during a weekend for engaged couples more than twenty-five years ago. It sounded like a sweet way to build a family for some people…but not for me. I had big dreams for my career. I was smart. I needed a more reliable form of birth control so that I could be in control. I didn’t want to take the time to pay attention to my body and then to develop the virtues needed to use NFP. Little did I know that I was deceiving myself and passing up the opportunity to grow in ways that would help me work to become the best version of myself. I believed that birth control was helping my body. I didn’t understand what was actually happening inside.

Time passed and I went through four years of medical school. We thought it was a good time to try to conceive so I stopped taking the pill. Ironically, I started to chart my cycle using the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness to determine the fertile window. Months went by without a pregnancy. I was confused because my chart did not look like the one in the book. Instead of reaching out to a fertility instructor for help to understand my body, I reached out to a fertility clinic. The fertility doctor was happy to help us to try to conceive. He performed surgery and found that I had stage 2 endometriosis. I was glad to finally know why I had such painful periods. During surgery he treated my endometriosis with ablation (rather than excision – the gold standard) and my pain came back within months. I was in a hurry to conceive so I agreed with aggressive treatment. The next step was artificial insemination (intrauterine insemination, or IUI) and then we went on to in vitro fertilization (IVF). I wanted to be in control of my fertility and I was in a hurry so IVF seemed like a great idea.

The IVF procedure was successful! There were more than twenty embryos that were “produced” during that cycle. Three of the best embryos were transferred to my uterus and the rest were frozen. Soon after the procedure, I began to have symptoms of ovarian hyperstimulation, a known potential consequence of IVF due to the drugs given to induce ovulation. I had severe abdominal pain, vomiting and profound weakness that brought me to the emergency room. There I learned that I had a positive pregnancy test but I was too sick to feel happy. I was admitted to the hospital for resuscitation with fluids and electrolytes. While I recovered I learned that I was pregnant with triplets. I was on bed rest for the entire pregnancy (I was clearly no longer in control). One of the babies died at 9 weeks but the other two (boys) were born healthy at 36 weeks. It was a difficult pregnancy and delivery but it was worth it! Four years later, we went back to the clinic and went through the process of thawing the other embryo. Thankfully, we had a successful, health pregnancy and delivery of our daughter.

It sounds like a happy ending so why am I so opposed to birth control and IVF? Because there was a better way that I could have chosen if I had only known. In my desire to be in control, I used birth control that shut down my ovarian function that was essential in preparing my body to conceive naturally. My body needed more time to heal from the effects of the pill so that my cervix could make mucus – the essential passageway needed for sperm to reach the egg for conception. My brain and ovaries needed more time to learn to communicate again so that my hormones would reach normal levels during ovulation. My uterine lining needed time to be nourished by progesterone made by the ovaries (not found in the pill) so that healthy implantation could take place.

In retrospect, I should have reached out to a fertility educator to help me make sense of what my body was trying to tell me about my cycles. I was naïve to think that I could navigate all of it on my own. When pregnancy doesn’t come naturally, we need to seek the help of those knowledgeable of naturalcycles. Our bodies are designed to create new life when problems are addressed and health is restored. We can trust our bodies when we listen to them and respond in a loving way. In retrospect, I had betrayed my body by ignoring the symptoms (painful cramps and infertility) and by rushing to the quick-fix approaches of birth control and IVF.

About ten years ago, I encountered two women who had struggled with infertility but instead of going to a traditional fertility clinic, they sought out healing with Creighton Model Fertilitycare System and Naprotechnology. And they were healed. I learned that this approach is far more safe and effective than IVF. I learned that I was not so smart when I decided to use birth control. In fact, there is an abundance of scientific research behind the modern fertility awareness methods that allow women to effectively achieve or avoid pregnancy depending on their goals.

During my own difficult yet successful experience with birth control and IVF, I had hoped there was a better way. I meet women daily in my practice who have similar stories and are looking for that better way. I am blessed to have been able to be trained as a Naprotechnology medical consultant so that I can provide this type of care to women in our community. This approach offers genuine healing to women and families but many reject it for very personal reasons. I understand why they might but I hope that this post helps to open the minds and hearts of women who are trying to decide which path to choose.

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