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‘Authentic femininity’ vs. the pill

Seminar explores links between women’s health, fertility, and Church teachings

“Is there a sperm? Is there an egg? Can they get together? That’s every fertility problem,” said Dr. Christopher Stroud during his keynote presentation at the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar held at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

Photographer: ISABELLA HAINLIN | FC

“Is there a sperm? Is there an egg? Can they get together? That’s every fertility problem,” said Dr. Christopher Stroud during his keynote presentation at the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar held at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

MIAMI GARDENS | Over 100 “counter-cultural revolutionaries,” mostly women, filled St. Thomas University’s Convocation Hall recently, excited to learn more about cutting-edge, holistic options for reproductive healthcare that is both medically safe and ethically sound.

The Archdiocese of Miami sponsored the Feb. 24 Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar with support from the Catholic Medical Association and the Couple to Couple League. The goal: to unveil the mysterious wisdom and beauty of the Church’s teaching concerning reproductive healthcare.

Keynote speakers included Dr. Christopher Stroud, a leading medical consultant in Creighton Model Fertility/NaProTechnology, and Haley Stewart, a Catholic convert, author, blogger and mother of three.

“The Church acknowledges that sexuality and new life are connected and there is no disconnecting them without consequences,” said Haley Stewart during her keynote presentation at the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar held at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

Photographer: ISABELLA HAINLIN | FC

“The Church acknowledges that sexuality and new life are connected and there is no disconnecting them without consequences,” said Haley Stewart during her keynote presentation at the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar held at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

Using Discovery Channel-type videos, charts and graphs, Dr. Stroud, also a Catholic convert, discussed the moral and scientific advantages of using NaProTechnology (natural procreative technology) to treat female health care issues such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which affect a woman’s ability to conceive a child.

“At least 50 percent of women with PCOS have underlying endometriosis,” he said, noting that it is common to see pregnancy immediately after treating endometriosis.

NPT methods boast a higher overall success rate in helping women achieve pregnancy compared to mainstream methods such as intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization. While birth control pills can ease the pain of endometriosis, they can mask other health problems.

“My job is not to be co-creator with God, my job is to make her whole,” said Dr. Stroud, explaining that not every couple is called to biological parenthood. But if there is an underlying biological problem, that should be ruled out first.

“Anyone who has a history of any kind of pregnancy problem, including infertility, we check the progesterone. If it is low, we supplement with bioidentical progesterone. It’s not complicated, and it works,” Dr. Stroud said.

He recalled how it wasn’t until he confessed to a priest that he prescribed contraceptives — and the priest told him to stop — that he understood the seriousness of what he was doing. He knew the Church teaches contraception is wrong, but he didn’t know why. Reading Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humane Vitae” helped him connect the dots.

 

QUITTING CONTRACEPTION

A highlight of the seminar was Stewart’s lively presentation, “From the pill to NFP: How quitting contraception (and embracing Church teaching) taught me to stop thinking my body was broken.”

Stewart is one of a growing number of “counter-cultural revolutionaries” who are embracing the Church’s teaching that sexuality and new life are intrinsically connected. Her talk focused on how embracing the Church’s teaching on natural family planning — a moral way for achieving or postponing pregnancy — changed the trajectory of her life. 

Interjecting well-timed doses of wit and humor, Stewart gracefully and passionately dismantled the stereotypical myth that the Church wants women to have as many children as humanly possible.

“When you’re ready to be an authentic woman, men will be men,” said Mari Pablo, a theology teacher at her alma mater, St. Brendan High School in Miami. Her talk, “Freedom in Authentic Femininity,” was geared toward youths and young adults who attended the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar held at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

Photographer: ISABELLA HAINLIN | FC

“When you’re ready to be an authentic woman, men will be men,” said Mari Pablo, a theology teacher at her alma mater, St. Brendan High School in Miami. Her talk, “Freedom in Authentic Femininity,” was geared toward youths and young adults who attended the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar held at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

“My friends who are on the pill or use an IUD get pregnant too, and they are very surprised because they have built this fantasy in which sex and babies don’t go together anymore,” Stewart said, emphasizing “the Church is highlighting what reality is.”

Stewart’s journey to Catholicism and NFP began at age 22. She and her beekeeper/farmer/chef husband, Daniel, had been married for two years when she realized that the birth control pill she was taking was affecting her mood. She had begun questioning whether her marriage was a big mistake. Once she connected those feelings to the pill, she stopped taking artificial contraception.

The couple planned to postpone pregnancy for a few years and perhaps buy a house. Having heard about NFP, she spent about five minutes googling it and thought she had a good idea of how it worked. But, she interjected, “Haley did not have a good idea of how NFP works.”

After noticing she was hungry, tired, and nauseous all the time, Stewart took a pregnancy test.

“As I was waiting for the results of this test, God just changed my heart. I had never wanted anything in my life as much as I wanted that baby. My heart was completing turned,” she said. “I remember being in the bathroom floor on my knees, feeling this punched-in-the-gut love and gratitude and telling God I didn’t even know to ask for this.”

She noted that embracing Catholic teaching “made me realize I don’t have anything to apologize for. I can celebrate that my body is bringing new life into the world, that my husband and I are honoring each other’s manhood and womanhood and wholeness.”

Participants Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, left, a retired OBGYN and medical director for the Archdiocese of Miami pregnancy centers, and Susanna Pando-Taupier, volunteer counselor at the South Dade Pregnancy Center, participate in meditation during the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

Photographer: ISABELLA HAINLIN | FC

Participants Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, left, a retired OBGYN and medical director for the Archdiocese of Miami pregnancy centers, and Susanna Pando-Taupier, volunteer counselor at the South Dade Pregnancy Center, participate in meditation during the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

“If we think that denying our fertility and the distinctiveness of what God created (means) we are being liberated or given freedom, we’ve really been taken in. When we divorce procreation from sex women do end up getting degraded,” Stewart said.

She added that women are ready to hear something different.

 

‘GENEROUS LOVE’

“My pregnancy put me on a journey to generous love. I was able to confront a lot of my selfishness,” she said. “It’s so beautiful that the Church wants to equip us and support us to honor our bodies and know about our bodies, and to rejoice in the way that God designed us.”

The seminar also offered four “a la carte” sessions designed to engage participants on a more personal level.

Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a retired OBGYN and medical director for the Archdiocese of Miami pregnancy centers, attended Dr. Stroud’s talk entitled “Pro-life and pro-contraception: Is there a dilemma?” geared toward medical professionals.

Mari Pablo, a theology teacher and junior campus ministry director at her alma mater, St. Brendan High School, addressed youths and young adults in her talk, “Freedom in Authentic Femininity.”

“When you’re ready to be an authentic woman, men will be men,” Pablo said. “Allow them to open the door, let them be men. They want to be. We can’t just blame men. How are we carrying ourselves? How do we speak to men?”

In her talk, “Walking in faith through infertility,” Gloria Fonts Suarez recalled how she struggled with infertility for four years before getting pregnant with her son, who is now four. She and her husband, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, have been married for 10 years and have a girl on the way.

“I know what it is like to be sitting in these chairs,” Fonts Suarez said, urging women to not be afraid of infertility and that it’s okay to talk about it.

“I can’t forget the cross of infertility,” she added, noting that she practiced NFP the first two years of her marriage. In 2012, she began “Eventually: walking in faith through infertility,” a ministry at her parish, Little Flower in Coral Gables, for couples who are experiencing difficulties conceiving.

“It is good to see so many young people,” said Carmen Santamaria, a seminar facilitator and co-author of “The Infertility Companion for Catholics: Spiritual and Practical Support for Couples.”

“We are grateful to Archbishop Wenski, we couldn’t have done it without his support,” she added.

Participants Rachael Sosu, Johana Jesteadt, and Francesca Rieth participate in a moment of meditation during the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

Photographer: ISABELLA HAINLIN | FC

Participants Rachael Sosu, Johana Jesteadt, and Francesca Rieth participate in a moment of meditation during the Women’s Health and Fertility Seminar at St. Thomas University Feb. 24.

The caption on the last photo of this article has been corrected to reflect the correct name of the persons in the photo.

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