We're continuing our focus, on National Infertility Awareness Week, today with a post from guest blogger Angie VanEpps. Angie shares her journey to parenthood, through utilizing the Creighton Method of family planning.
Our journey starts the summer of 2012: we had just gotten married and everything was new and hopeful. I was already in my early 30s when we said “I Do”, so news of a new baby was expected, by not only by us, but also by all of our friends and family too! After all, my sister and her husband were blessed with a three week old on their first wedding anniversary, so why would I have thought our future would hold something other than a happy, easy pregnancy?
Growing up Catholic, I wanted to practice natural family planning (NFP). Knowing that its effectiveness is often challenged by mainstream society, citing much lower efficacy rates than are actually true, we were open to an unplanned pregnancy in case we incorrectly used the method. I was able to find an online class and we learned the sympto-thermal method of NFP using Skype, over the course of three months. During the class we learned that when intercourse is timed appropriately, most couples trying to achieve pregnancy are successful within 3 months and with increasing success as the duration of use continued. So, after four months of trying, I feared something was wrong. When I reviewed my record of daily basal body temperatures with the NFP instructors, they couldn’t tell me what we were "doing wrong" and confirmed that we were appropriately timing intercourse to conceive.
With that confirmation, I made a call to the fertility clinic and scheduled an appointment. There we met with a doctor and an intern who basically told us that we hadn’t tried long enough to worry. They then did some bloodwork on me and some tests on my husband, prescribed Clomid, a drug commonly used to treat infertility, and told us to come back in a few months if we weren’t pregnant. I took my script for a few months and still no baby.
Turned off by the doctors’ dismissive attitudes towards our concerns, we next ventured to another local clinic. This time, they wanted a follow up on day 14 of my cycle so they could do bloodwork and an ovarian ultrasound. During the ultrasound, the doctor diagnosed me with PCOS, because I wasn’t ovulating on day 14 like the textbooks say I should, and he wrote a multi-month script for Clomid and sent us on our way. Again, he basically told us to come back in a few months if we still weren’t pregnant. After a few follow ups, he gave us the ultimatum that if we didn’t concieve using Clomid, IUI and IVF were the next things he would try. This was a big turn off to both of us as we did not want to use IUI and IVF to grow our family. I felt that either of these options were a one-time fix and since I wanted more than one child, I wanted to find a solution that would help us get pregnant not just this once but in the future too.
We coasted for a few months, not wanting to deal anymore with fertility clinics and not wanting to give up trying.
And as expected, still no baby.
Then, one day, a friend of mine, who, along with his wife, teach NFP, had posted about the Creighton Method, NaProTechnology, and the Pope Paul VI Institute on his Facebook wall as alternatives to the sympto-thermal NFP that we had been using.
Little did I know that seeing this posting would change the course of our adventure to become a family!
I had heard of these before, and didn’t know how they differed from the sympto-thermal method, so the research began. I learned that unlike the sympto-thermal NFP method, which required me to take my temperature first thing each, the Crieghton Method focused solely on cervical mucus observations. Being a scientific mind, I looked through many of the research articles that were shared on their websites and they all passed for what I considered to be sound scientific information.
At this point, we had been trying for 16 months, so I was willing to try anything shy of the IUI and IVF treatments. After discussions with my husband, he agreed to give this a try. I was able to locate a local Creighton Method instructor and scheduled a slot in her next available appointment a few weeks from then. I also had submitted a question to the Pope Paul VI Institute, which is the over-arching institution that is responsible for the research that has been used to develop the Creighton model. To my surprise, a friendly Catholic nun had called me back to schedule a question and answer session with my husband and I. This was a much welcome change from the cold, inattentive “care” we received at both local hospitals!
We had the call with Sister Renee in early October. I took the phone call from my car as I was parked in the parking lot at work so that I could escape any potential eavesdroppers who may overhear. Sister Renee was warm and helpful. She was a wealth of knowledge. She renewed my hope that this was the right path for us and for the first time since being newlyweds, I felt optimistic and hopeful!
After a few months of meeting with the Creighton instructor, she recommended I visit the physician in the area that specialized in Creighton. Much to my disappointment and surprise, the closest practicing doctor was in Dunn, NC! How could the Raleigh/Durham area, with all of its biotech and medical greatness not have a doctor who specialized in this at the time?
Thankfully our trips to Dunn to see this physician were well spent. He reviewed my sticker-laden chart, shared his suspicions about my medical conditions, laid out a plan on how to pin point exactly what was wrong so that he could identify the best course of treatment. Again, the scientist in me rejoiced as this seemed like a well laid out plan!
This plan required me to undergo frequent blood draws first to confirm ovulation, and then secondly to monitor hormones in the post ovulatory phase. Based on my blood tests, he confirmed that I was accurately charting; which was essential in identifying ovulation window, and prescribed a series of HCG injections for me to self-administer on specific days after ovulation. Now, I felt like we were getting close!
Sadly, the drawback of taking an HCG injection is that you don’t get to participate in that age old tradition of peeing on a pregnancy test. This is because the HCG injection would elevate my HCG, which is the same hormone detected in at home tests and the test would show positive. So, again with the blood draws to confirm (or not confirm) pregnancy. After a cycle of HCG injections, we confirmed I wasn’t pregnant. His next step was to do surgery to evaluate other potential issues.
So, we scheduled an ovarian surgery for early March 2014.
After the surgery, he showed me photos he had taken from the laparoscopic incisions showing endometriosis scar tissue, which he had removed, and showed me confirmation that my fallopian tubes were properly functioning as this is frequently an issue when dealing with endometriosis.
With a clean bill of health, the recommended course of treatment was to continue HCG injections with each cycle. Thankfully, it didn’t take long when we learned the happy news – we conceived! This blood test result wasn’t without concern as the HCG level was still lower than the scientific papers say it should be, so I had another blood draw a few days later. I got this phone call early the next morning, confirming that the HCG level was not increasing as it should and that it wasn’t a viable pregnancy. The doctor instructed me to stop taking the progesterone and wait for the next cycle.
What better timing to see the bloody discharge from a miscarriage than Mother’s Day? It was a sick, twisted reminder that I wouldn’t get to celebrate this holiday, and it was amplified by the fact that my husband was out of town on a business trip, which left me to endure this alone.
While any miscarriage is devastating, I found the silver lining in that I actually conceived! This regimen of HCG and progesterone got me pregnant once and I had faith that it would again.
Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long to hear, "You're pregnant!", as we were able to conceive on my next cycle. And this time the confirmatory blood draws showed my HCG levels rising appropriately!
At 6 weeks and 2 days gestation, we made the trip to Dunn again; this was a very special day as the ultrasound showed a tiny beating heart and a thriving little one!
Throughout this pregnancy I had blood draws every two weeks to monitor my progesterone level. I also had to receive intramuscular progesterone injections twice a week to supplement my body with progesterone that wasn't being produced. Saying these shots were painful is an understatement!
Twice each week I would draw 2 ml of progesterone in oil into a syringe, pass it to my husband, and then feel around on my upper butt cheek to identify where I wanted this injection, trying desperately to avoid the welts from the previous injections that were often still well defined three or four weeks later. The injections need to take several minutes of slowly pushing the oil into my muscle, while I try to hold perfectly still so as to not move the needle and cause even more pain. Our Monday morning and Thursday afternoon routine continued until about 25 weeks gestation, which is when my blood tests showed good results and I was able to switch to a less invasive form of progesterone: nightly vaginal suppositories! Yes, this is about as much fun as it sounds: insert the pill and then try to avoid needing to use the toilet for as long as possible so my body could absorb as much progesterone as possible. These continued about 6 weeks until the blood tests again confirmed I was in a healthy zone on the progesterone vs. gestational age chart in the Creighton literature and my dose could step down once more to an oral dose, which I was also able to do away with after a few short weeks!
With the progesterone under control and a due date approaching, we finally chose to announce our pregnancy on social media about 7 weeks before our baby was born.
I hadn't wanted to share earlier because of the pain it caused me of seeing each announcement and I feared that if I had made an announcement sooner, I may be sucked into posting about how miserable and exciting pregnancy can be all the while knowing how much I had envied and hated those who did this when I was trying to conceive!
Our baby boy entered the world on a snowy February day! I hadn't wanted to know baby's sex until he was born because, I was just so happy to finally have a baby that I knew it didn't matter which sex he was!
Later that year, we knew my fertility had returned and we weren't actively trying to avoid pregnancy as we both assumed that we'd have to use HCG and progesterone to conceive again. We had been told that a pregnancy can reset the body causing it to heal or develop other issues, but we were both skeptical. After a well-timed cycle and not getting pregnant, I made a follow up appointment with the doctor.
Again we did blood work to evaluate hormones and using the Creighton knowledge, we laid out a plan of what it would take to have another child. This time the doctor said I'd just need to use progesterone after ovulation. Sure enough, she was right and we conceived on the next cycle! This time I was able to confirm on a home pregnancy test and follow up with blood work. The blood work confirmed I was pregnant but again the HCG value was lower than it should be.
Two days later I had another blood draw and another day later I got the phone call. Not only was my HCG low, it had dropped confirming that I had already miscarried. I discontinued the oral progesterone and waited for the inevitable cycle to restart.
Like I had mentioned earlier, I had to see the silver lining: this worked, I had conceived!
So, we tried again the next month and sure enough we had another positive pregnancy test. The enthusiasm of having a positive test was quite dampered knowing that we've been here three times before and only had one child to snuggle.
I went to the doctor again for a blood test to confirm and waited for her call. My HCG level was good, right where it should be! A second blood draw confirmed that my HCG level was rising at the rate it should and we scheduled an ultrasound for 6 weeks and 3 days gestation. I was able to see the heartbeat at the ultrasound and I felt so much relief!
Again I needed progesterone to support pregnancy and the cycle of inconvenient blood draws and painful injections continued. It was, of course, well worth it when we welcomed our baby girl into our family this past fall!
She's just 21 months younger than her brother, and with two children aged two and under, our family is complete, at least for now. Having gone the route we did with using Creighton, I feel that if, or when, we choose to have additional children, I know we have a wonderful network of health care professionals that can confidently and compassionately help us. I'm very thankful that we found Creighton and used it to become a family! I felt that I was actively engaged, consulted with, and involved with decisions regarding my care and that was very powerful in helping heal the emotional scars infertility had caused.
I'm also glad I walked away from the doctors who were pushing for IUI and IVF. Not only did I not like their solutions, but by using Creighton I learned things about my body that makes me confident that it would have taken longer to help me get pregnant and stay pregnant. Creighton helped diagnose a problem that kept me from conceiving and the corrective treatment isn't a common standard of care in mainstream fertility care.
If you would like more information on the Creighton Method, NaProtechnology, and the Pope Paul VI Institute for the study of Human Reproduction, please visit www.creightonmodel.com or www.popepaulvi.com for more details.