By Dino Durando
Natural Family Planning (NFP), a method of observation of the signs of fertility, is a moral and effective way for spouses to form their family and manage their fertility. On Dec. 2-5, Dr. Pilar Calva and Dr. Mercedes Arzu-Wilson came to Kansas City to offer a public presentation at Rockhurst University, a workshop for priests, and a 4-day training for new teachers of the Family of the Americas method of NFP in Spanish.
Wilson and Calva met when another doctor brought them together to work on the Pontifical Academy for Life. Just before his death in 1994, Dr. Jerome Lejeune was appointed by Pope St. John Paul II to serve as the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Dr. Lejeune is a geneticist, commonly known for his discovery of the chromosome that causes Down syndrome. He mentored Dr. Calva and asked her to join the newly formed pontifical academy. When Dr. Calva began to work with Dr. Lejeune she did not bring her Catholic faith to bear in her work. He helped lead her on a path to an intellectual conversion regarding the dignity of life in all stages of development. She became convinced that there is no incompatibility with good science and faith and it changed her approach as a geneticist, doctor, and bioethicist.
At Rockhurst University, on Dec. 5, Dr. Calva spoke about her work as Professor of genetics and bioethics at Universidad Anahuac Medical School in Mexico and as a member of The Pontifical Academy for Life from 2002-2012. She spoke to the students in a direct fashion about the scientific facts about hormonal contraception and the health risks associated with their use. Just a few of the side effects include increased risk for stroke, depression, and some forms of cancer.
She also described the ways that the contraceptive pill (and other hormonal contraceptives) operate in medical terms. They have three effects: the first works to make sperm migration difficult through the thickening of cervical mucus, the second works to prevent ovulation (high levels of estrogen and progestin may suppress hormones and prevent them from being released by the pituitary gland; however, when it fails, a pregnancy could result), and the third effect is that if a pregnancy should occur, implantation in the mother’s uterus becomes very difficult which often results in a spontaneous abortion. If this occurs early enough in the pregnancy, many mothers may not even be aware they were indeed pregnant. Needless to say, when Dr. Calva finished this explanation, the room of about 200 students was silent as the truth of the medical facts sank in.
She also explained why In Vitro Fertilization is not a moral solution for those who experience infertility and described the more effective and moral medical technologies that have been developed using the Ovulation Method along with medical treatments to help infertile couples achieve pregnancy.
Dr. Mercedes Wilson, is by her own admission, “not a medical doctor.” The students responded with laughter when she explained that she received an honorary doctorate for her work, “which I highly recommend because it is a lot easier.” She is the founder and President of Family of the Americas Foundation, which is dedicated to defending the rights of the family, and teaching the Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning. In 1994, she was appointed as a founding member of The Pontifical Academy for Life by Saint Pope John Paul II. She has been involved with the United Nations, including serving for a time as the Guatemalan delegate, and has organized 22 International Congresses for the Family in 18 different countries.
She delivered a message about how the Ovulation Method works and why it is the method she has worked so tirelessly to spread throughout the world. “It is so simple that everyone can learn it, even illiterate women.” Her close relationship with St. Teresa of Calcutta helped her to bring this method of family planning to the poor throughout the world. Her organization has trained every member of the Missionaries of Charity in the method so that they can spread this message to the poor wherever they serve. Mother Teresa would say to Dr. Wilson, “if the poor of Calcutta can learn and use this method, then shouldn’t everyone else be able to?”
Her manual for the Ovulation Method, Love and Fertility, is in its fifth edition and is printed in 23 languages and used in 80 countries. The method uses observation of the signs of fertility. The woman learns how to observe the type of mucus her body makes during each phase of her cycle of fertility. Because the method uses daily observations there is no guess work or predictions and it does not depend on the length of the cycle and works even when a woman’s cycle is irregular or varies from month-to-month.
The scientific evidence for the correlation between the signs of fertility and ovulation is very strong. Dr. James Brown performed more than 850,000 hormone tests with women who were using the method by comparing their observation charts with blood and urine samples to document the correspondence of the presence of pregnancy hormones which trigger ovulation.
This work has been published in more than 220 publications and medical journals and was certified by the World Health Organization which conducted additional studies to confirm his findings. In other words, this method is scientific and backed by extensive research. The knowledge these observations bring allow the couple to either postpone pregnancy or not, depending on their own discernment of their circumstances.
Dino Durando is Director of the Family Life Office for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.