Article by Peggy Haslar
Perhaps timing isn't “everything,” but it sure can't hurt. Michelle Valdez, a local women's health nurse practitioner since 1996, wasn't expecting issues surrounding the practice of artificial contraception to make headlines when she stopped prescribing it in her medical practice last spring. She saw it as an issue of conscience. “I wanted to live consistently with my faith,” she says. “I could not practice in a manner I no longer believed was right, or in the best interest of my patients.”
But the US Department of Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptive insurance coverage has revived public debate concerning both the morality and medical risks of contraception. It's possible that the expertise Valdez has acquired to help women avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally may be in greater demand, thanks to the ongoing national discussion.
Last winter Valdez began studies with the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska. She is now trained to instruct couples and individual women in the Creighton FertilityCare natural family planning method. Developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Creighton University School of Medicine, the method helps women understand their menstrual cycles which have naturally-occurring phases of both fertility and infertility, in order to to make decisions regarding avoiding or achieving pregnancy. But this is not the “rhythm method,” developed in the 1930's and often criticized for its ineffectiveness at preventing pregnancy, assures Valdez. The result of 30 years of fertility research, the Creighton Model is an integrated educational system with a 96.8 % effective use rate.
After resigning her position as a nurse practitioner earlier this month, Valdez launched Servant Song Women's Wellness, where she is available to advise women and train both individuals and couples in the Creighton FertilityCare System. Her services are reimbursable by many insurance plans, and grant monies are available for couples without insurance. She will soon have office space at the parish hall at Sacred Heart Church in Alamosa. But Valdez says her services are not restricted to Catholics. “Natural family planning benefits all women,” she says.
How? Couples who use natural family planning often come to a new respect for each other as they accept and work with the biological reality of the fertility of both the man and the woman, says Valdez. Their divorce rate is estimated at between 2 and 5%, substantially lower than the rate among couples who use artificial methods of contraception. “When women take the entire burden of contraception on themselves, men aren't included in some very basic understandings that they could have with their spouse. Working together to understand each other's needs helps men value their wives on a level not often acknowledged in a culture where artificial contraception is pretty much a given.”
Extended use of the birth control pill also carries health risks including blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Natural family planning supports health-conscious women who dislike the idea of taking medication to prevent ovulation. “The Creighton FertilityCare System is not appealing to all women,” Valdez acknowledges, “but it is now available as a viable option to those women searching for an alternative to artificial contraception.”
The Creighton system also can be used to achieve pregnancy. Valdez can help couples understand how to time when pregnancy occurs and can refer women who have difficulty conceiving to Integrated OB/GYN, a clinic with expertise in Creighton's NaPro technology. And while Valdez is launching her business by offering expertise in natural family planning, she has bigger plans for the future of Servant Song Women's Wellness.
Valdez hopes to expand her services after receiving additional training. Creighton has developed alternative treatments for endometriosis and other medical issues treated with birth control pills. Teenage girls who are prescribed artificial contraception for these issues are at greater risk for long-term side-effects of the pill than women who start these treatments later in life, but without alternative interventions, these young women and their parents may believe that artificial contraception is their only choice.
For women in the San Luis Valley, that may not be true for long.
Michelle Valdez may be reached at 588-9432.