Friday, July 5, 2013

My Catholic Doctor & Current Diagnosis

We have an amazing doctor and we are SO blessed to have found him so early on in our infertility struggles.

My husband and I use the Creighton Model of fertility awareness. We learned it about 6 months before we were married and have used it ever since. Using easy-to-detect biological signs, I'm able to figure out when I'm fertile and when I'm not every cycle. I can basically pinpoint ovulation every cycle. It's pretty mind blowing when you first learn about it all. "Like, WOWZ. Just by paying closer attention to my body I can tell when I'm fertile? No way! Cool." That's basically what every woman is like when they first start learning about fertility awareness.

Picture borrowed from the Creighton Model website.

We used the Creighton Model to help us avoid pregnancy for the first year of our marriage and figured it'd be smooth sailing when it came time to achieve pregnancy. Instead of avoiding each other during the fertile time, we would switch to using those times to make a babe and BAM, a baby would be here before we knew it.

But as I've said before, it wasn't that easy. Month after month after month it wasn't working. And because we knew so much about my fertility, after 6 months, we knew one of the two of us probably had a problem. Actually, I pretty much knew after 3 months. I just felt it, ya know? So, after 6 months and no baby, we took the next step and found a doctor who specializes in helping couples with infertility. And as luck would have it (well, not luck... it was a blessing!), Dr. Hilgers, a Catholic doctor who originally developed the Creighton Model of fertility awareness, is also awesome at treating patients with infertility. He calls his infertility treatments NaPro Technology, short for Natural Procreative Technology.

Our initial plan was to work with one of the doctors he trained at his institute, Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, NE. We sent off my charts to be studied and within a month, I had a response saying that just by looking at the charts, the doctor thought I possibly had an endometrial infection, hormonal issues, and/or endometriosis. Our first step was a hormone panel where I would get my blood drawn every other day for about a month so the doctor could look at my hormones. After that, if they suspected more, I would head up to Omaha for a week for an ultrasound series (to see if I was ovulating), a hysteroscopy (to look at the inside of my uterus), and a laparoscopy (to see if I have endometriosis).

The day before I was going to start my hormone panel, I joined a private Catholic infertility group on facebook and started reading some of the blogs by the women in the group. One of the women wrote about Dr. Gray in Jackson, TN, a doctor who had been trained by Dr. Hilgers and used NaPro Technology to treat his infertility patients. He also does not prescribe birth control, which we thought was pretty awesome. Instead, he has his patients use the Creighton Model, just like us, to monitor and embrace their fertility. Oh, and he's Catholic. Mega plus.

Well, I called him up! I called his office and left a message with his nurse. The very next day, I got a personal call from him and he helped talk me through deciding whether or not we should travel several hundred miles to work with the doctor in Omaha who had reviewed my charts or switch over to working with him and travel just about 100 miles to Jackson for our treatments. (Duh, the decision sounds so easy when I put it like that.) After calling my insurance company and finding out Dr. Gray and the hospital he performs surgery in are both covered (another blessing!) we decided it made the most sense to work with him.

So, I went ahead with the hormone panel and got my blood drawn every other day for almost an entire cycle. When the cycle was over, I drove up to Jackson with my husband to finally meet Dr. Gray and hand off my dry-iced blood to him. Our first meeting was so lovely! He was so patient with me and explained his plans for us. After the lab had a chance to run my blood, he was going to call me and let me know what he thought the best next step would be.

The hormone panel came back and turns out, my pre-ovulatory estrogen was lowwwwww. Like outside of the average range low. Post-peak, my progesterone and estrogen were mostly normal, though they took a dive around 7 days post-peak. From this, Dr. Gray decided I should do the ultrasound series to see if I was actually ovulating. Ya see, when estrogen is low before you peak, sometimes that means you're body isn't ovulating. You need that estrogen to ovulate, after all. So, for the next cycle, I drove back and forth to Jackson pretty much every other day for two weeks so an ultrasound tech could watch me ovulate.

Did you know stress can affect how long it takes for you to ovulate? And of course I let myself stress out about driving back and forth (1.5 hours each way) every other day to Jackson for two weeks. I also stressed out about my infertility. (What if I can never have kids?! Why do most people get to have babies so easily?!) I also stressed out about a terribly painful procedure I had done during my first ultrasound visit. (The procedure was a biopsy, where they scrape off some of the lining of your uterus and test it to see if it's infected. Ouch. Lots of blood and lots of ouch.)

Due to the stress, my ovulation took a while. The follicle (which has the egg in it) grew verrry slowly on my right ovary. But eventually it did rupture! ... which is usually when the egg is "shot out" into your fallopian tube and then can be fertilized. Hooray! Though the ultrasound technician did have trouble seeing evidence of an egg in my follicle. Boo. However, Dr. Gray wasn't too concerned about that.

A little while after the ultrasound series wrapped up, Dr. Gray called me and told me the biopsy (ouch.) showed that I actually had an infection of my uterine lining, called endometritis (not to be confused with endometriosis). He prescribed 2 weeks of an antibiotic and said the infection would be cleared up by then. Wahoo! I had insta-hope! Perhaps this endometritis was the problem and by fixing that, we'd get pregnant easily. My infertility woes were over!!

Woahhh, not so fast, Stephanie.

Dr. Gray said that although the infection could have been the only problem, it's not likely. He still thinks I have endometriosis. That's when the lining of your uterus grows in weird places. It can cause all sortsa pain (although, I've never experienced any) and can cause maj probs when you're trying to get pregnant (experiencing some-a that). So, our next step is surgery, a laparoscopy. Assisted by a robot, Dr. Gray will go into my uterus with a camera and look around for signs of endo. If he sees any, so long as it's not a severe case, he'll remove it. The surgery has a quick recovery and only requires two small incisions.

John and I decided that we're going to try 3 more months before we go ahead with surgery. If we're still not pregnant, we'll go ahead with the laparoscopy from there. And if we're still not pregnant 3 months after surgery, we'll get more serious about adoption. We realize that even after surgery, some women take several months or years and doses of different drugs to make pregnancy happen. We just aren't ready to wait that long to be parents, ya know? So we'll open some doors by looking into adoption while we still try to get pregnant. It's win-win.

Even with all these struggles so far, the reason I say (and know) we're blessed is because...

1.) Creighton Model led us straight to NaPro Technology, which helped us find Dr. Gray.
2.) We didn't have to go through several doctors before we found one who was awesome.
3.) NaPro Technology has much, much, much higher success rates than any other procedures used on infertile patients (in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, etc.) and is completely in line with what we, as Catholics, believe.
4.) Even if I can never get pregnant, these treatments are helping to fix what's actually wrong with my reproductive system, unlike other treatments that leave the problem there and try to override it. My health is the focus, not "a baby at any cost."

I know a bunch of women who have been through several doctors and several unsuccessful treatments only to continue to suffer infertility or take 10 years to get pregnant. John and I are SO BLESSED to have been led straight in the right direction since the beginning of our struggles. Our problems are not yet solved, but we have faith that we're doing the best we can to figure this stuff out. And it's only because we have God on our side, leading us down the right path :)

(If you're reading this and struggling with infertility, I want you to take a look into NaPro Technology. It's the best thing you can do for yourself and your spouse and has the best results out there when it comes to treating your infertility. Also, know that I'm praying for ya!)


  1. So glad you found Dr. Gary! I will be praying the antibiotic takes care of it and you never need to schedule the surgery appointment.

    1. Thank you! I sure hope so too. Our first cycle of TTC after the antibiotics was unsuccessful. 2 more cycles 'til we go the surgery route. At this point, I just tell myself that surgery is a definite. That way, I don't get my hopes up, but if things do work out, it'll be an awesome surprise :)

  2. Hi Stephanie! Thanks for commenting on my recent blog posts so I could find your new blog! More importantly, thanks for sharing your story with the Interwebs. So often people just share the "pretty" and avoid sharing their struggles and reality. You and John are in our thoughts and prayers as you're TTC.

    1. Hi friend! I'm glad you found the blog :) I thankfully have found a handful of other great Catholic infertility bloggers, so, through their support (and the support of a select few "in real life" friends), getting my not-always-pretty details out there has made me feel a bit better about our situation. Thanks for the prayers. We truly appreciate them. Hope we get to meet little Monica some day soon!


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