Edge of 30: Our new little valentine

By Lindsay Steele

For those of you who saw my picture in last month’s Messenger and noticed I’m a little rounder than usual — yes, I’m expecting!

It seems like a miracle, and I find myself in disbelief constantly. It seems like it’s taken a long time to get to this point.

Contributed Baby boy Steele is about 20 weeks gestation in this ultrasound image.
Contributed
Baby boy Steele is about 20 weeks gestation in this ultrasound image.

I’d always suspected pregnancy might be difficult for me to achieve, and doctors confirmed my fears in the summer of 2014. As a Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) sufferer, my hormone levels were off just enough to prevent ovulation each month. Without ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur.

I wasn’t sure what to think at the time of diagnosis. I thought I was fine with the possibility of not being able to have biological children, but over time it became increasingly difficult to look at burgeoning baby bumps and wonder, “Why them and not me?”

My husband and I did have hope in the form of oral ovulation-regulating medications. Still, I struggled a bit emotionally and spiritually with the idea of treatment. The treatment is church-approved and allows for natural conception, but I wondered: was my infertility diagnosis a sign from God that I wasn’t supposed to have biological children? Was I supposed to adopt instead? Was I playing God if I went forward with treatments?

A fellow St. Mary’s-Davenport parishioner helped ease my fears. She explained that, even with the medication, it would still be up to God to determine if we achieved pregnancy. I realized she was right – ovulation-regulating medications are not a guarantee. Statistics from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine show that women on these medications for up to six months have a 20-30 percent chance of getting pregnant and carrying a baby to term. The odds are about half of what they would be for a healthy couple trying to conceive within the same time frame.

Last summer, my husband and I decided we were ready to try the treatment. Though I sadly admit that I don’t pray as often as I should most of the time, I found myself fervently praying for God’s will and the ability to accept the outcome. My grandmother and her prayer group, in turn prayed for St. Gerard’s intercession.

The first month was unsuccessful. I didn’t have high hopes for the second month either, but I suspected something might be up when I began to feel abdominal discomfort coupled with an uncharacteristic craving for spicy food.

The “Am I? Am I not?” dialogue played over and over again in my head. After a few days of ruminating, I finally got up the courage to take a test. Almost immediately, the telltale second line showed up. I didn’t cry or scream: I just looked at the test, stunned.

To our great relief and joy, all of the ultrasounds and heartbeat checks so far have indicated that our little one is healthy and growing well. Last month, we found out it’s a boy. I’ve begun to feel him move around, and I love to rub my stomach in response, even though I’m sure he can’t feel it yet. We are so excited to meet our little guy and shower him with love.

As I near the third trimester, I find myself wondering why God allowed me to get pregnant. So many of my acquaintances with infertility are still waiting and my initial question has been reversed: “Why me and not them?” I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand.

Regardless, I thank God for the gift of life growing inside me and ask for your prayers – both for the health of our little one and for all couples struggling with infertility.

(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at steele@davenportdiocese.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)

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Waiting is hard in an instant gratification culture

By Lindsay Steele

Advent is a time of waiting.

Anne Marie Amacher
Lindsay Steele stands next to a grandfather clock, whose arms are perpetually stuck at 11:56, at St. Vincent Center in Davenport Dec. 11. In her column, Steele discusses her personal battle with impatience and why the Advent season offers an opportunity to reflect on the need to wait with grace.

Most people don’t really like to wait. I recently read an anonymous reflection on fullycatholic.com that said, “Waiting is not something we normally celebrate; we like to have things instantly.”

My generation in particular has been accused of living in an instant gratification culture. At a recent young adult seminar at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City, the crowd erupted with laughter when Veruca Salt’s image appeared on the PowerPoint slide. “Don’t care how, I want it now,” the caption read.

I believe we laughed because, at our core, we hate having to wait for what we want.

We get annoyed when someone doesn’t text us back right away. We get annoyed by a red traffic light, whether we are running late or not. We are annoyed when a friend shows up 10 minutes late for a lunch date.

Well, maybe some people have the patience not to be bothered by such things, but regrettably I am not one of them. I have never been known for my patience.

I recall being a child and waiting for Christmas morning. Oh, how the days dragged on while the neatly wrapped gifts sat beneath the tree, seeming to mock me.

I remember waking up every hour, on-the-hour as Christmas morning slowly approached. At 6 a.m., I’d wake my parents, but they’d remind me that we couldn’t open presents until my sister awoke. Much to my dismay, no amount of “accidental” noise making seemed to wake her from her slumber.

Not much has changed since then, unfortunately. Even here in the office, I notice myself doodling or squirming in my chair if staff meetings run a little long.

I’m sure God knows that waiting is hard. Maybe that’s why four weeks every year — Advent — are dedicated to waiting and the virtue of patience.

I am beginning to realize that waiting with grace is important, perhaps because it is hard to be joyful with an impatient spirit. What I’ve learned over the years is that the time I spend being upset or anxious about waiting is not spent in the present moment. I recall going to California with college friends just after graduation. I was so upset about leaving behind my boyfriend at the time that I spent most of the trip calling him or being upset that it wasn’t time to go home yet. I even considered leaving early. I remember so little of that trip and regret that now. I could have had a lot of fun and built lifelong memories. My friends’ patience is a little better than mine — despite my faux pas, we’re still close.

Especially now, as my husband and I wait for God to (hopefully) bless us with children, I must remember to stay in the present and wait with grace. So often I say that we hope to start a family, but the truth is we do have a family right now — each other, our pets and our extended families. If I spend all my time being bitter about my infertility issues and anxious about the months that pass as we explore our permissible options, I won’t be able to be present and enjoy what I have right now. We could be waiting for years; I’d be wise to live them with a sense of gratitude.

I do not have the anecdote for an impatient spirit, though certainly I’d make a great test subject. Still, in the spirit of Advent, I feel challenged to give a healthy dose of patience a try.

(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at steele@davenportdiocese.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)

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Beyond IVF: Hope for infertile Catholics

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

(This is the third in a series focused on Respect Life Month, which is the month of October.)

For couples struggling to conceive a child, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) has been a medical standard for the past 30 years. The Catholic Church has long spoken out against this method of conception due to the fact that it destroys embryos in the process and replaces the marital act. However, because of its prevalence in the medical world, some Catholic couples are led to believe they are out of medical options after a doctor recommends the procedure.

Contributed
Dr. Kristina Pakiz, associate medical consultant at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb., holds a baby whose mother experienced progesterone deficiency during pregnancy and carried to term with help from the Institute.

Officials from the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Repro­duction in Omaha, Neb., report that IVF is not a miracle procedure, and more effective options exist. Dr. Kristina Pakiz, associate medical consultant, said couples “do not have to feel trapped in a corner where they are told they will never have a child without in-vitro fertilization. The truth is that there is superior gynecologic healthcare available to them.”

She said IVF has a success rate of about 30 percent and increases the risk of high-risk pregnancy and birth defects. About five in six embryos created in the process will die. IVF does not address root causes of infertility — only a detailed workup that helps diagnose and treat infertility as the product of an underlying condition can do that. When infertility is seen as an underlying medical condition and treated accordingly, success rates increase.

Dr. Karla Polaschek, medical director for Women’s Choice Center in Betten­dorf and pro-life OB/GYN practitioner at Medical Arts Asso­ciates, in Moline, Ill., said many doctors are aware of alternative treatments and procedures, but may be skeptical or less comfortable with them based on the current medical model. Additionally, she said IVF is part of a profitable industry; treatments cost $10,000 or more per menstrual cycle, and medical research companies depend on donated embryos (with the parents’ permission) for research. She said these issues turn an embryo into a commodity, posing a moral dilemma for Catholics. “There is money to be made… (but) a baby is not a consumer good. It’s a child!”

Jamie Rathjen, director of Fiat FertilityCare Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, suspects that there is more money to be made in treatments like IVF as opposed to solutions that treat the underlying condition. Additionally, she conducted a survey of 15 Cedar Falls-area doctors, and most revealed that such treatments were not emphasized during medical school training. Rathjen, an advocate for procedures that diagnose and treat the underlying issue, said doctors tend to be receptive to Church-approved methods and technologies once they understand them as viable options. Three Cedar Falls-area medical professionals are now seeking additional training.

These alternative treatments often utilize Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods to chart fertility cycles and detect problems. Beth Budelier, NFP teacher and parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport, explained that it is common for couples with low or marginal fertility to conceive within six months of learning this method.

For women who do not ovulate or have other issues which cannot be detected or confirmed through charting of fertility signs alone, ultrasounds and hormonal testing can be useful. Treatments can range from a healthy diet to fertility-enhancing medications such as clomiphene and letrozole to reparative surgery. Dr. Polaschek has seen almost universal success with a procedure called ovarian wedge resectioning for women with ovulation issues.

Still, she said, some couples may not be able to conceive even with the most statistically effective treatments, depending on their condition and age. Even as women statistically seek motherhood past the age of declining fertility, IVF does not offer a viable solution. The Society for Assisted Repro­ductive Technology reports a success rate of less than 5 percent for a 42-year-old woman.

Anything that helps to increase a couple’s natural fertility — as opposed to replacing it or creating life outside of the body — is acceptable in the Church. Father Thom Hennen, religion teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport, theologian and diocesan vocations director, said that couples are welcome to try what is permissible, all the while being open to whatever life may or may not come. “At all times there has to be an abandonment to God’s will.”

Dr. Polaschek recommends that Catholics seeking infertility treatment familiarize themselves with treatments acceptable to the Church, and resist being persuaded into using illicit treatments. Even if a doctor is not explicitly pro-life, he or she may know of alternative methods or be able to make a referral. If a doctor does not respect couples’ wishes, they can look for a new doctor. They can also call the Pope Paul IV center for referrals.

Lists of pro-life doctors are available at www.onemoresoul.org and www.fertilitycare.org. Currently, no doctors from the Diocese of Davenport are listed, but practitioners are available in Moline, Ill., Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Sioux City and Des Moines, Iowa.

Dr. Polaschek offered a message of encouragement to doctors, encouraging them to look beyond IVF while trying to help couples achieve pregnancy. “We (can) use more of their natural bodies, use more natural ways versus going to (IVF) right away,” Polaschek said.

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Infertile couples seek sensitivity, understanding­

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Tyla Cole always imagined herself having a houseful of children to love and care for. When she and her husband married eight years ago, they bought a five-bedroom house in Dav­enport, expecting they would soon fill it with the sound of rattles, coos and giggles. Two years into their marriage, however, the extra rooms were still empty, and they received a devastating diagnosis: Cole had fallopian tube defects and her chances of achieving natural pregnancy were “very slim.”

“We held each other cried for hours and hours,” recalled Cole, the Diocese of Davenport’s archivist.

Lindsay Steele
Tyla Cole, 41, looks at a negative pregnancy test. Because of infertility, the diocesan archivist has been told her chances of conceiving are slim.

Eight years into their marriage, she said the tears still flow, and the loneliness she feels is twofold — she feels the void of not having children, and the additional void of not being able to relate to her peers with children. Others often question why she does not have children, or offer unsolicited or hurtful advice, not realizing her pain and spiritual struggles. “I just pray to accept God’s will in my life,” she said.

Although the Center for Disease Control estimates that one in six couples will struggle to get pregnant or carry a baby to term, Cole said it is an issue that isn’t often talked about. “There is a need not being fulfilled out there. We don’t get the same support as someone with a chronic illness.”

Father Corey Close, parochial vicar of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, has an advanced degree in marriage and family life. “I feel such compassion for those in that struggle,” he said. “Essentially it’s a loss. … There is a profound loss and suffering in losing that beautiful gift of (biological) children.”

Fr. Close said parishes and fellow Catholics can help ease the burden, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. He has observed that couples with infertility issues often feel embarrassed or ashamed, and therefore tend to be afraid to speak out or seek help on a spiritual level. He said it is essential for these couples to know that “it is not their fault,” and they should be respected and supported in their grief.

He suggested parish ministers discuss this population as one that may be in need of support, using input from those affected by the condition if possible. In one parish, a formal support group might be beneficial. In another, a more organic group formed by those suffering from infertility might be a better approach. He said priests and deacons can make a difference by including the heartache of infertility in the intercessions during Mass.

Judi Droll, retired RCIA director at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, experienced seven years of infertility before conceiving her first child. Now 68, she is working with her parish to create a grief and healing ministry that will be open to those struggling with the emotional aspect of infertility and miscarriage. “It is a very real grief,” she said, noting that the ministry may begin by the end of August. “Not everyone is given that miracle (of biological children) and we have to be there to support them, let them know there is someone there that cares. That’s one thing we have to get going and make happen.”

Cole said she would welcome the opportunity to “ hear from couples going through this now and dealing with whatever is coming their way … see how they cope, listen to their stories, maybe get some insight on handling it better.”

Fr. Close said that any Catholic wishing to show compassion for childless couples can do so by “praying for them, being there as a shoulder to cry on when they need it. Ministry, 99.9 percent of the time, is just being an ear or a shoulder to cry on. It’s easy to offer solutions, it’s a challenge to actually listen to someone and love them where they are right now.”

Some infertile couples may eventually conceive. Some may adopt or become foster parents. Others may discover other ways to express their maternal and paternal desires, such as through ministry or volunteer work. Fr. Close said, “If God never graces a couple with physical children, it doesn’t mean they cannot be spiritual mothers and fathers.”

For Cole, the first step is just speaking out. “I think if it was talked about more, more couples would come forward. We need to not be so embarrassed about it.”

RESOURCE:
One resource for couples enduring infertility and those who want to be more sensitive to the needs of infertile couples is “The Infertility Companion for Catholics,” published in 2012 and endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family. Written by two women with infertility, it provides a spiritual perspective on the emotions and faith involved in embracing the cross of infertility, while also describing the Church’s teaching on reproductive technologies.

 

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