When Margaret Smith discerned her calling to teach the Creighton system of natural family planning, she declared, “If, by becoming a practitioner, I prevent even one abortion, then I’ve done my job.”

Adamantly pro-life, the former palliative care nurse and sometime missionary is now an integral part of the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Centre Fertility Care Programme, which held its annual general meeting on Nov. 13 in Toronto and is starting to sponsor satellites elsewhere in this country. Smith, now a seasoned Creighton “practitioner,” announced that Dr. Thomas Hilgers’ FertilityCare education program, taught at Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb., will be brought to Canada for the first time. From Toronto, it can spread in this country and beyond.

The new education program, which will be headed by Smith when it opens in 2008, will train more practitioners to meet the growing demand for the education of youth, women and couples in authentic fertility appreciation. Marguerite Bourgeoys doubled its new clientele in the past year alone, primarily by word of mouth. While the bulk of the services are offered by practitioners who teach the Creighton system, many clients also become patients of trained medical consultants. In cases of gynecological or reproductive difficulty, information from the fertility charts kept by a woman or a married couple is correlated with hormonal profiles and ultrasound results to co-ordinate state-of-the-art treatment.

The medical application of the Creighton system is called Naprotechnology – short for natural reproductive technology. Some client couples need only the information from the fertility chart to understand the best time to achieve pregnancy and may find success within the first cycle. Others learn that medical factors are compromising conception or gestation. Some couples are supported as they resolve the problem through adoption; others pursue treatment and prepare the mother’s body for pregnancy.

In contrast to artificial methods of assisted reproduction, Naprotechnology is safe for the woman and her babies, ethical for the marriage and exponentially more effective. As a result of the treatment, Marguerite Bourgeoys clients and patients welcomed close to 50 “miracle babies” in the past year alone.

David and Jessica Sheppard of North Bay, Ont., married in 2001 when they were both just 19, experienced one of those miracles. Prior to the marriage, Jessica had already been offered the birth control pill because of menstrual difficulties, but she refused because of what she learned through the pro-life movement. When the Sheppards married and tried unsuccessfully to conceive for two years, some dismissed their frustration, because they assumed that as a young woman, Jessica should be healthy and that the couple had plenty of time. Meanwhile, gynecologists offered her fertility drugs without determining the underlying problem. Again through the movement, Jessica was put in touch with Marguerite Bourgeoys and the couple began keeping their Creighton charts.

A Marguerite Bourgeoys medical consultant diagnosed Jessica with polycystic ovarian syndrome and encouraged the couple to avoid pregnancy while the mother’s health was stabilized. Only once Jessica’s tendency to miscarry was alleviated, was she safely able to receive a fertility drug to help ovulation. After two years, their son was conceived. Her treatment continued to sustain her pregnancy while she carried Levi, who was born July 10, 2006.

“Napro is not the fast way” to address infertility, said Jessica – but for the sake of the mother who needs to be healthier and the unborn child who needs to survive gestation, it is the right way. She also explained that the journey of infertility “can make or break your marriage” and the support from Marguerite Bourgeoys and the Creighton system was a tremendous help to her and David. “It’s God’s will and I had a doctor who was following God’s will” who honoured the couple’s first priority, their faith.

When “Paul” and “Elissa” (not their real names) of Vaughan, Ont., married in 2002, they knew that conception could be difficult. Elissa was already 39 and Paul, though just 32, had a varicocele, a mass of enlarged veins in the spermatic cord. Exposed to natural family planning in marriage preparation classes, they tried to use the method to achieve pregnancy right after their wedding, but gave up in frustration.

Although they considered themselves devout, Paul and Elissa went to a secular fertility clinic for help. Desperate for a child and not considering that their church forbids such action, they attempted intra-uterine insemination five times and in-vitro fertilization three times. Although the fertility clinic was indifferent, Paul also had his medical problem surgically corrected.

The couple suffered two miscarriages following those procedures, and increasing guilt as they started to learn more about the requirements of their faith. Then they were advised against further IVF, because of a “three strikes, you’re out” recommendation. “I didn’t think I wanted to put my body through another IVF anyway, and … by this point, I was more aware of the Catholic church standing on it, so it was just too much for us morally,” Elissa recalled.

Fortunately, a woman named Mary had befriended the couple at church and encouraged them in their faith. She also introduced her daughter, who in turn introduced them to Marguerite Bourgeoys. Thinking, “What do we have to lose?” the couple gave Naprotechnology a try.

The process was not easy: each time they went to the doctor over the course of six cycles, “she always gave us another reason” to temporarily avoid pregnancy. Elissa’s body had the tendency to miscarry, something not treated by NFP alone or by artificial methods. Elissa remembers the medical consultant telling them, “It’s all what the Lord wants. I’m not going to lie to you and guarantee you a baby at the end of it.” But, at minimum, the couple could do right by their marriage and Elissa’s health by sticking with Creighton and Naprotechnology.

“I just loved going to” Marguerite Bourgeoys, recalled Elissa. “It was so serene, compared to that fertility clinic, because near the end, I used to just be in tears going there. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’” In contrast to the sterile indifference of the secular fertility clinic where she was “treated like a number,” Elissa was “overwhelmed by everybody’s kindness” at Marguerite Bourgeoys. She found the atmosphere “very tranquil” and was impressed by the low doctor-patient ratio, pleasant staff and generosity of the professionals. Paul and Elissa were treated as whole persons and encouraged to pray and grow in their faith throughout the process.

Carefully, the medical consultant treated Elissa with hormones until she advised that pregnancy would be safe for mother and baby. Within another seven cycles, conception occurred safely and naturally. At first, it was hard for Elissa to be confident she could now avoid miscarriage, but she was told by a priest, “Be not afraid.” Hormonal support continued to sustain the pregnancy and Joseph was born on August 15, 2006.

As part of her training for the new educational program, Smith is supervising three new students of the Creighton model and realizing her goal of saving lives. Tanzél Picard, one of five Canadians who became practitioner interns this fall, was drawn to the Creighton system because it offers “a true method of natural family planning” which can be used by married couples both to achieve and avoid pregnancy and can be used to monitor the health of women throughout the reproductive life cycle. Said Picard, “Education is fundamental to helping bring about change in society and the only way people can really decide what is right is by making informed decisions.”

Theresa Smyth, MSW, RSW, a reporter for The Interim, serves on the board of directors of Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Centre.