OMAHA, NEB. (CNA/EWTN News) - With the hope of providing authentic and ethical health care for women, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, creator of Natural Procreative Technology, has worked for decades to establish a medical network that studies, understands, and treats the female fertility cycle.
Assisted by his wife, Sue, and two nurses, K. Diane Daly and Ann Prebil, this group has been working together since 1976.
"What we've developed, in effect, is a professional delivery system for Catholic reproductive health services, which not only involves family planning services, but also the whole variety of women's health issues. This has all come out of our research in the last 39 years," Hilgers told CNA.
A medical student when Bl. Paul VI published Humanae vitae, his 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth, Hilgers "felt really called to" the issues he read about in the document.
He then went on to complete his first research project in natural methods of parental planning, after which he received training in obstetrics and gynecology.
Together with his colleagues he developed NaPro (Natural Procreative) Technology. In Omaha in 1985 they founded the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, and in 1999 formally created the Creighton Model FertilityCare System.
NaPro Technology has successfully been used to help women better understand their bodies' natural fertility, to achieve or avoid pregnancy, and to find solutions to a variety of health problems.
Hilgers and his colleagues considered it important to differentiate themselves from natural family planning, feeling that term was "too ... limiting," Sue Hilgers said.
With the help of a marketing specialist, they developed the term "fertility care," emphasizing that their model is intended not only to space births, but to truly and broadly manage a woman's gynecological health long-term.
"For millennia, women had not understood their menstrual and fertility cycle," Sue Hilgers said. "For the first time ever, the mystery of the menstrual cycle has been removed. Through the research of Dr Hilgers in the menstrual and fertility cycles, we now have answers to questions that had plagued women for centuries; but beyond that, we have treatments to give hope and healing to women no matter their age, their reproductive category, nor their gynecological or obstetrical problem."
Women using the model chart their cycles daily to indicate fertile and infertile days and to monitor their health. Physicians can examine the charts to find unusual patterns, and thus conduct appropriate tests for a diagnosis.
'Fertility care' invites all women, whether married or celibate, to know how their bodies function and thereby receive adequate health care based on their personalized observations and assessments.
Hilgers saw the preponderance of artificial birth control as a band-aid solution to such health problems as severe menstrual pain and abnormal bleeding - " they've changed away from looking at the underlying problems."
"In a way, it's set us back in women's health care," Hilgers says. "Politicians ... talk about this war on women, and it's a way of deflecting away from what actually has been going on. The real war on women is all this contraception, abortion, sterilization ... and it's not to say that there weren't some real problems there when all this started but we haven't solved any of them. They're all symptomatic, and they're all band-aid approaches."
Many physicians have "antagonism" and "close-mindedness" toward anything that is not artificial, Sue Hilgers said.
Through the work of the Pope Paul VI Institute, several women's health issues now have more safe, reliable, and effective resolutions. According to Dr. Hilgers, the team has discovered ways to prevent pelvic adhesions during surgery; they have identified various ovulation abnormalities through ultrasounds; and they have correlated the type of mucous cycles women have to particular fertility problems.
According to Dr. Hilgers, about 9.5 million women in the U.S. have fertility issues, and of those women, fewer than 0.5% become pregnant. Many couples are turned off by IVF because "it's a very expensive methodology" and "it's highly abortive," Dr. Hilgers stated.
In vitro fertilization requires multiple eggs to be fertilized; many women who only want one or two children must make a choice to either freeze the leftover embryos, or have them destroyed.
There are "maybe 80,000 women who get served by the IVF industry" he said. "Well, 80,000 out of 9.5 million is pretty small."
"When we see the publicity image of it ... it's like [IVF] is the only treatment there is for infertility. But at NaPro Technology we take an approach which looks at the underlying causes, or the root causes, of the infertility problem."
While artificial fertilization or contraception glosses over underlying problems, the Pope Paul VI Institute aims to find the causes of infertility or abnormal menstrual occurrences.
While not every couple suffering with infertility will become pregnant, women leave with healthier bodies and more knowledge of their complex nature.
Patients come and are "so happy, because they learn about how their bodies work," Daly told CNA.
"The men are in awe of how their wives' bodies really function," she continued. "And then they're empowered - once they really know how things are normal, how things regularly are, then it can empower them to be a partner in health and they can take that to their physician and say, my chart is showing this and this, and I would like you to help diagnose that and treat what you can."
Prebil said that "one of the things very early on we realized, was that it was very important to develop good communication between the couple, that they would learn to communicate about things that maybe they weren't communicating about before."
The goal was not simply to teach women and couples how to chart and to recognize infertile or fertile days, but to be a "witness to them on how to communicate," and how to "share all levels of sexuality," Prebil continued.
Sue Hilgers said that "we've really field tested these teachings now for almost 40 years, and we're here to say that the teachings are on target, they work and they bring so much hope and healing and reflect the Church's true love and compassion for women, couples and families."
Daly added, "We're just going to keep on working as long as we can to serve God and his kingdom and bring this message ... to all people because everybody has a right to this information - everybody deserves this."