The clues were everywhere.
From studies showing that oral contraceptives can increase the risk of heart problems to Dr. Dominic Pedulla's own cardiology practice, where many of his female patients complained of tightness in the chest or rapid fluttering of the heart.
Even Pope John Paul II contributed some hints. In several of his encyclicals - The Gospel of Life and The Splendor of Truth among them – the Holy Father wrote about the value of the gift of self and how the use of contraception contradicts the full truth of the sexual act in married love.
Inspired by these clues, Dr. Pedulla began to formulate a theory. What if contraceptive behavior plunged a dagger in the heart of love between a man and a woman so deeply that the woman suffered trauma to her personality, her soul and, ultimately, her heart? During his research, he came across a term called “hostility and cynical distrust,” which the mainstream medical community identified as risk factors in heart disease, especially in females.
In other words, what if contraception caused a woman to become more distrustful, hostile and resentful by the wounding she either subconsciously or consciously felt was caused by her contraceptive behavior?
Prolife Profile “In those days, I realized contraception was wreaking a great deal of havoc in my patients' lives, but I didn't have a medical way of addressing it,” says Pedulla, 41.
The medical way is natural family planning (NFP), which used to be described as the “rhythm method.” Nowadays, NFP is an umbrella term for scientifically proven, modern, reliable and healthy methods of birth regulation. Certified instructors teach couples how to watch a woman's fertile signs – body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical changes – which indicate the times she can and cannot become pregnant.
The dysfunction Pedulla was witnessing led him to fully integrate NFP within his Oklahoma City cardiology practice by opening, at the end of 2001, the Woman's Choice Institute, a clinic that offers couples NFP classes to learn various methods and gives them support to discontinue contraception in their lives. The clinic had been operating within his practice since 2000, but not in a fully organized way.
As a result, more than 30 couples, from all religious denominations, have stopped using contraception and are now using NFP, he said.
Trained teachers include his wife, Bernadette, a nurse who works in his practice, and another nurse. The institute – which has made available several NFP methods: Billings Ovulation, Creighton Model Fertility Care System and Sympto-Thermal – also offers pastoral support, including a prominent local rabbi, an Anglican priest and Father Daniel McCaffrey, a local diocesan priest with a ministry called NFP Outreach.
One woman who stopped taking oral contraceptives because of Pedulla's influence was Jana Davison, 32.
She was his patient starting in 1997, when she was diagnosed with tachycardia, an extremely rapid heart rate.
He treated her successfully, but then two medical problems surfaced when she started taking the birth-control pill after the birth of her baby, Devon. The tachycardia reappeared and her blood pressure skyrocketed.
He suggested she learn about NFP. Even though she had taken college courses in human sexuality, she had never heard about the system before. However, once she stopped taking the pill and learned the Creighton method, her tachycardia condition stopped – and her blood pressure came down to a more normal level.
“You hear all the different things on television, like ‘it'll clear up your acne,’” says Davison, referring to commercials about oral contraceptives. “‘It will give you so much freedom.’ I feel so much more empowered using this method because I have absolute control. I can change my mind at any given moment if we want to decide to have another child. I know exactly how to do that.”
Trade Trauma for Trust
Pedulla also felt the need to do more intensive research, so he created a nonprofit organization in 2001 – the Edith Stein Foundation, dedicated to researching woman's health issues, particularly those involving NFP and the transmission of life.
The foundation is sponsoring a study to investigate whether couples who use contraception have measurable levels of anger, hostility and cynical distrust, which leads to a woman having a diseased heart. He also wants to discover whether, after months of using NFP, couples are able to replace that negative trauma with trust, increased communication and healing of hearts, which he believes will be the case.
In order to complete the study, the foundation needs about $125,000, which it is trying to raise, to do the 18-month study, he said.
Pedulla first began his detective work during the mid-1990s, but it wasn't until he met Father McCaffrey that he began to focus on how he could help women who were contracepting.
When they met in 1998, Father McCaffrey was looking for office space for his NFP ministry. Pedulla had a spare office in his practice that he donated to him. Because of Father McCaffrey's friendship and encouragement, Pedulla began to learn as much about the medical aspects, and the different methods, of NFP as possible. So he went to places that have researched NFP: the Pope Paul VI Institute, in Omaha, Neb., and the Billings Ovulation Method Association, in St. Cloud, Minn. He also plans to go to Couple-to-Couple League in Cincinnati.
Pedulla and his wife have always followed the Church's teaching on the Gospel of Life. Married since 1987, they chose not to delay pregnancy during the beginning of their matrimony, practicing lactational amenorrhea, a natural way to space births through breastfeeding. Over the years, Bernadette has given birth to three boys and three girls. Because of recent health problems, they decided two years ago to chart using the Creighton method, which they also teach.
Using the Creighton method to plan a pregnancy for the first time made the Pedullas realize the difficulties and burdens couples face when they want to avoid a pregnancy. It also made him realize that, because of their medical training, he and his wife were being called to help others combat “the very pervasive and strong and powerful” contraceptive environment that leads couples to place their confidence in contraception, he said.
This environment sometimes makes it difficult for a person to talk about his partner's fertility. One young couple, for instance, came to Pedulla's clinic hoping to achieve a pregnancy by using NFP.
The husband spent most of the first class looking out the window, says Jeanne Blasi, a nurse who teaches the Sympto-Thermal method at the institute.
“He was uncomfortable with terms that we were using,” Blasi says. “Mucus, menstruation and ovulation and things like that. There's a shyness or uncomfortableness in that aspect of your body, the reproductive system.”
He soon overcame his shyness and participated.
“Once you understand it, it's beautiful how the body is put together,” Blasi says. “It takes most couples by surprise that everything works together in such a timely manner.”
Carlos Briceno writes from Woodside, New York.