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(Krieg Barrie) ()

Lifestyle

Infertility remedy

Couples increasingly look to ‘NaProTechnology’ as an alternative to IVF

On their first date, Patrick and Dorothy Yeung talked at a Mexican restaurant for six hours. They even discussed marriage, and found they shared a desire for “as many kids as God would give,” Patrick says.

But four years into the Yeungs’ marriage, Dorothy still hadn’t conceived, although she and her husband yearned for children.

Doctors told the St. Louis, Mo., couple that their only hope for biological children was in vitro fertilization (IVF), a process they opposed as Catholics. The Yeungs began to pursue adoption, but still wanted answers about their infertility.

Patrick, who is now an OB-GYN and fertility specialist, learned about an IVF alternative called “NaProTechnology,” short for “natural procreative technology,” also referred to as “restorative reproductive medicine.” Catholic doctor Thomas Hilgers founded the method in the mid-1980s after the Vatican denounced artificial insemination and the creation of test-tube babies. It relies on meticulous tracking of a woman’s menstrual cycle, diagnostics, and treatments that address the underlying causes of infertility. The treatments range from supplements and hormonal therapy to surgery to restore female reproductive organs impeded by abnormal growths, blocked fallopian tubes, or ovarian dysfunction.

Despite little fanfare and sometimes daunting protocol, NaProTechnology is quietly gaining a following as many infertile couples seek an alternative to IVF.

One in 8 couples has trouble achieving and sustaining pregnancy, and 12 percent of U.S. women under the age of 45 have sought fertility treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a booming fertility industry dominated by IVF services, doctors often push infertile couples toward assisted reproductive technology as their only option for biological children.

Sometimes this leaves the cause of infertility unexplained and untreated. It can also leave couples hopeless if, like the Yeungs, they opt out of IVF for religious and ethical reasons. Many couples have become concerned about IVF practices, including the freezing of surplus embryos, selective reduction, and screening procedures that weed out “abnormal” embryos. One clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, promotes NaProTechnology as a “morally acceptable system which maintains the integrity of the person.”

But others are drawn to NaProTechnology simply because IVF is invasive and expensive: The average cost of an IVF cycle (often not covered by health insurance) is $12,000, with only about 30 percent of women giving birth to a healthy baby with just one round. In contrast, NaProTechnology often leads to a “billable diagnosis” of a medical condition likely covered by insurance, Patrick says.

Looking for answers, Dorothy began charting her female cycle and had an exploratory surgery to find out why she couldn’t conceive. A laparoscopy revealed she had severe endometriosis, one of the top three causes of female infertility. After surgical treatment, doctors showed Dorothy her “obliterated ovaries” and she “cried for weeks,” believing her chances for biological children were gone. That same year, the Yeungs adopted a baby girl.

But the Yeungs were shocked six months later when Dorothy found she was pregnant. They’ve since had three children naturally. Patrick, a “restorative fertility” specialist at Saint Louis University, shares their story with his patients: “You can’t guarantee a baby. ... But we can set the table and see what happens.”

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The Simmons Family (Handout)

Lifestyle

Better together

Christian blended families say faith helps steer them through relational problems

When people ask Little Rock, Ark., resident Roosevelt Simmons about his five children, few are prepared for his answer. “I have a 20-year-old, a son and a daughter who are both 18. I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old.” When a follow-up question about the 18-year-olds comes, he explains they are two months and 10 days apart, but they’re not twins. The startled questioners “don’t know where to go after that,” he says.

When Roosevelt Simmons married his wife, Shannon, he already had two children from previous relationships. The Simmonses have now been married for 18 years, and while the Christian couple says they made some “disobedient choices” in regard to past relationships, they know their family of seven is no mistake in God’s eyes. They are among the many American couples seeking to navigate life as a stepfamily, or “blended” family.

Ninety percent of blended families form after one or both spouses have experienced a divorce. Twenty million Americans have gone through a divorce, and about 3 out of 4 remarry. The average wait time is four years, which means that about one-third of all weddings produce stepfamilies—and close to half of those stepfamily unions also end in divorce.

All of that can lead to social chaos. Unrealistic expectations, unexpressed loss and grief, battles with ex-spouses and stepchildren, and problems in combining holiday and family traditions are among the common pitfalls that threaten stepfamilies.

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Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

A wall of photos at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Lifestyle

A brutal thing

Washington’s ‘living memorial’ to the Holocaust

May 14 is the 70th anniversary of the date Israel became an independent country. It had sufficient international support to do that, over violent opposition from surrounding Muslims, because of the Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. This year is also the 25th anniversary of the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Kim Henderson visited it recently.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is swathed in blacks and grays. The palette saturates its concrete floors, its reels of subtitled news footage, and the haunting mound of shoes from Majdanek concentration camp. It also colors the identification cards that visitors receive when they step inside the museum’s main entrance.

Perhaps more than any of the museum’s exhibits, the cards—paper profiles of individuals who lived during the Holocaust—succeed in humanizing the horrific. Each trifold “passport” contains a photo and a biographical sketch. As visitors make their way through the museum, they unfold pages to learn of someone’s early life, war experience, and, finally, fate.

Ruth Huppert Elias smiles from the front of one of these ID cards. Her dark hair is carefully smoothed back, and she is pictured leaning toward the camera, chin resting against her right hand. It is the hand of a classically trained pianist bound for the musical academy in Prague, but the young Czech never made it there. She went to Nazi camps Theresienstadt and Auschwitz instead.

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