Managing fertility doesn't have to be risky
By Karen Murphy Corr
Special to The B.C. Catholic
Health Canada recently linked popular birth-control pills Yaz and Yasmin to the deaths of at least 23 Canadian women and to adverse reactions in about 600 others between 2007 and 2013.
Most of the women died suddenly after developing blood clots; the youngest was just 14.
Open any package of birth-control pills and you will read a litany of side effects in the small print. It's estimated that one in 10,000 women on older contraceptives will develop blood clots; with Yaz and Yasmin, that risk is three times as high, or one in about 3,300.
The Vancouver Sun reported this year that fertility doctors are calling for tighter controls on the use of super-ovulation fertility drugs.
The month before, an Ottawa fertility doctor was accused of professional misconduct after apparently artificially inseminating three women with the wrong sperm.
Before Christmas a Vancouver Island woman from Nanoose Bay was in B.C. Supreme Court trying to preserve four frozen embryos for at least six more months.
All these cases illustrate the ethical and legal grey area around contraception and fertility, the Vancouver Island case in particular. Juanita and Gregory Nott were engaged in a custody battle over the frozen embryos, created nine years earlier.
The fate of the embryos will be determined during their divorce trial, but the embryos needed to be moved from the now-defunct IVF facility at B.C. Women's Hospital to another facility for storage.
Their battle is considered a Canadian first, with Juanita's lawyer pointing out that the embryos are neither property nor persons in the eyes of the law. Hundreds more such samples are frozen at B.C. Women's alone.
For women and men who are uncomfortable with this undefined, uncharted territory involving donor sperm, super-ovulation and frozen embryos, there are alternative methods to assist with sub-fertility and infertility.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) organizations, long the approved fertility care for devout Catholics who do not use artificial or hormonal contraception, are attracting more and more non-Catholics because they manage fertility naturally, without treading into these murky and undefined reproductive quandaries and without the risky side effects of any of the hormonal contraceptive methods.
Catholic Family Services of the Archdiocese of Vancouver works with three NFP organizations: WOOMB, Serena BC, and the Creighton Model Fertility Care System. These methods of understanding women's natural fertility cycles are founded on science and research.
WOOMB teaches the Billings Ovulation Method, which has spread worldwide and demonstrated success in helping couples avoid or achieve pregnancy, including those who have tried more than two years to conceive or have had failed attempts with IVF. A recent trial demonstrated a pregnancy success rate in sub-fertile couples of 65 per cent.
Serena Canada teaches the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) of NFP across the country. Accredited volunteer teacher-couples help couples learn to chart daily observations of the woman's basal body temperature, cervical mucus signs, changes in the cervix, and peri-ovulatory symptoms.
Couples learn to interpret this charted information to determine the fertile, infertile, and relatively infertile phases of the menstrual cycle so they can then jointly decide whether to avoid or achieve pregnancy.
Serena Canada benefits from constant reviews of scientific research and the commitment of its medical adviser, Dr. Suzanne Parenteau-Carreau, an internationally respected fertility researcher who develops and reviews technical materials and advises teacher-couples when STM charts are difficult to interpret.
Many of Serena BC's teacher-couples are medical professionals drawn to the science behind STM.
Serena BC can help couples to avoid pregnancy without chemical or hormonal contraception or to conceive a child without the invasive procedures of IVF. STM is particularly useful in uncovering possible causes of infertility, including anovulatory episodes and irregular menstrual patterns.
Charting can identify cycles that are too short, too long, or irregular. Post-ovulatory phases that are too short or too irregular are identified using the Sympto-Thermal Method.
The Creighton Model System offers over 25 years of scientific research at the Schools of Medicine at St. Louis and Creighton Universities and at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb. It relies on observing and charting biological markers of the menstrual cycle, defining the times of fertility and infertility day by day.
Couples can use this information to avoid pregnancy if they choose. The Creighton Model also has documented success in helping couples with infertility achieve pregnancy.
Between 20 and 40 per cent of couples who use only the FertilityCare System achieve pregnancy. Up to 80 per cent conceive with additional medical assistance that does not result in early abortions or frozen embryos. Unlike IVF, Creighton offers multiple pregnancy rates one-tenth as high as artificial technologies.
To meet demand for instruction, Catholic Family Services has just sponsored a training program for 12 new Creighton practitioners. They will be spending the next 13 months studying and seeing clients under the supervision of their instructors.
More information is available from Catholic Family Services, 604-443-3220, and from WOOMB, Serena BC, or Creighton online at www.rcav.org/NFP.
Karen Murphy Corr, a freelance writer, is a part-time Serena B.C. provincial coordinator.