This is the third article of the Inside the
It takes a certain kind of grit for
a woman to take 288 negative pregnancy tests, six surgeries,
three failed adoptions, and two miscarriages—and to keep on hoping
for the gift of a healthy baby. In her own
battle with infertility, Regnum Christi member Melissa Foley experienced all
the sadness and desperation that one out of ten women
endure when their best efforts to have a baby end
When everything is ready but the stork never arrives,
it can be tempting to look for extreme solutions. One
of those solutions is IVF (in vitro fertilization), which combines
an egg and a sperm in a petri dish and
then injects the fertilized egg—now a human person in the
earliest stages of development—back into the woman’s uterus.
surface, IVF looks like a dream come true: who wouldn’t
want to give these women the chance to be mothers?
But a deeper look shows that IVF—already an expensive treatment
at about $12,000 per cycle—has a tremendous hidden cost in
human lives. In the States, each cycle of injections, 24
new lives come into existence, of which four may be
implanted and one or two survive. The remaining twenty lives
will be thrown in the trash, donated to scientific research,
or frozen in liquid nitrogen.
The terribly irony of IVF is
that a wanted pregnancy could create an even higher death
toll than an unwanted pregnancy. While an abortion may claim
the life of one or two babies at a time,
a single IVF treatment can create and then destroy lives
by the dozens.
And this is why Melissa has made
it her mission to “talk women off of the IVF
ledge” through a ministry which is also her profession: as
a “Christian infertility coach” trained in the CREIGHTON MODEL FertilityCare™
System, she reaches out to women who are in the
same place of desperation she was in, and shows them
the solution that gave her three healthy babies.
An IVF alternative
recommend IVF way too often without knowing what is really
going on with the woman. They tell couples that it’s
the only option, but it’s not true. IVF is not
your only option. There are alternatives to IVF,” said Melissa,
noting that in many cases, infertility is actually the symptom
of another underlying problem.
In her experience, that underlying problem
was an illness called endometriosis, which is when cells from
the uterine lining migrate to other areas of the body,
settling on the ovaries, for example, and stifling the normal
fertility cycle. Yet, endometriosis can be corrected with laser surgery
and medication. Once it is removed, a woman’s fertility can
It should have been obvious to most doctors
that correcting endometriosis would be the first step to restoring
her fertility. But in Melissa’s experience, many were quick to
recommend IVF, which would have meant forcing her body to
have a baby without correcting the underlying problems.
That was until
she met Dr. Thomas Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI
Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska.
His expertise in NaPro (Natural Procreative) Technology opened a new
perspective for the Foleys, giving them a sense of hope
in the possibility of working with nature, not against it,
and of finding a solution that would not put them
on a path of disobedience to God.
When Dr. Hilgers’ approach
worked out and gave them one healthy pregnancy after another,
Melissa and her husband Ryan were filled with gratitude. She
also began to discover that NaPro methods (such as the
Creighton Method) were effective at addressing a wide range of
infertility problems beyond endometriosis.
“I was just so grateful for it
and I wanted to give back. Anytime there was some
quiet time, when we would go on a long drive,
that desire and that call to help other couples would
keep coming up again,” she recalled.
“I wanted to encourage people
and let them know that it does work, that you
can have a baby and also maintain your relationship with
God and each other,” she said.
A crisis infertility clinic
that persistent desire led her to launch her infertility
coaching outreach, which went live on March 25, 2010, the
feast day of the Annunciation of the Lord.
Through her work,
she has personally coached many other women who are seriously
considering IVF, who have a sense of the ethical problems
and risks associated with it, and who are open to
looking for alternatives. Even so, in some cases, the desire
for a baby is so strong in the women that
they consider sacrificing their faith and morals on the altar
“Women have that strong, natural inclination to want
to give life as the fruit of a marriage. But
they need to be able to see that although God
gave you that desire, it cannot be ‘at all costs,’
and the end does not justify the means,” said Melissa.
role is much like that of a counselor at a
crisis pregnancy center. When a woman is in anguish, facing
an impossible choice, driven by fear, anguish, or confusion, she
doesn’t just need medical advice. She needs someone to talk
to, someone who gets the bigger picture with all of
its emotional, moral, spiritual, and medical implications.
As Melissa puts it,
“It’s about the whole person, not just her uterus.”
reaching the whole person is precisely where Melissa’s personal gifts
come in. She is not only knowledgeable about the medical
side of IVF and alternative options, but she also has
a special ability to listen and relate to people as
a sister and a friend. As on the larger pro-life
battlefield, one of the most important weapons is authentic empathy,
a love that encompasses both woman and baby.
Not every conversation
is successful. People have their freedom, plus there are some
who feel a lot of pressure from family and friends
who see no ethical problems with taking the IVF route.
“They teeter on the edge of IVF for a long
time. It’s a very long conversation,” said Melissa, noting that
a one-shot counseling session is usually not enough. “Society, their
parents, their best friends are telling them, ‘Oh, you should
do it.’ It’s so hard for them to know what
to say back when people lose patience with them, when
they’re crying and upset.”
“I know some good Catholics who have
jumped. That’s how strong that desire is,” she said.
the same time, there have been some success stories, too.
Keeping women away from IVF is only half of the
success story; the other half is when the wait or
the pursuit of alternative methods bears fruit. Although Melissa could
not share any particular cases in order to protect client
confidentiality, she did mention one case of a woman who
had been trying to have a baby for some time
and decided to schedule a session with Melissa. The day
before her scheduled conversation, she tested positive for pregnancy. When
the client shared the news, they both laughed.
just blesses people’s desire to stay within the confines of
morality,” Melissa said.
A battle ahead
The practice of IVF is
bound to grow in the coming years. Each year, more
than 85,000 American women undergo IVF treatments. Over 250,000 babies
have been born through IVF technology since the technique was
first tried in the United States in 1981.
there are close to 400,000 frozen embryos locked away in
about 365 laboratories across the United States alone. Many others
have been quietly discarded. As IVF becomes more sophisticated and
affordable, both of those numbers will grow exponentially.
In that context,
the need for a faith and science-based outreach will grow
as well. Although the IVF machine dwarfs anything that one
woman can do, Melissa’s plan is to keep spreading the
word that IVF is not the final solution and to
team up with a NaPro-trained surgeon.
Specifically, she wants to open
up an alternative clinic in downtown Atlanta, right next to
the biggest IVF clinic in the area. The idea is
not unlike opening a crisis pregnancy center right across the
street from a Planned Parenthood clinic.
A battle like that
takes a certain kind of grit. It takes hoping against
hope, and then fighting through every obstacle that comes up.
It sounds like something Melissa Foley would do.
For more information
about Melissa Foley’s Christian infertility coaching, or to recommend it
to a friend, visit www.melissalfoley.com.