Catholic Infertility: One Family’s Journey

Tags: Currents Catholic Family, Infertility, IVF, NaProTechnology

With an infant, a toddler, and a pre-teen, Maria Heyer is on ‘mommy patrol’ around the clock. But her home wasn’t always a constant symphony of cries for attention and whines for baby bottles. The Heyer house used to be quiet.

“You know, just within the Italian community, before you’re married they ask, ‘When you getting married,” says her husband, John Heyer. “Then they ask ‘When you having a baby,’ and then before you have your baby, they ask ‘When you having your next baby.’”

The Heyer’s are part of a big Italian family, in the middle of a large Italian parish. They were expected to have a baby, and they did. It wasn’t until after their first born that their plans of having a full house began to fall apart.

“Just like you look to blame yourself, you look to blame your spouse, you look to blame God,” says John when he thinks about the years he and his wife could not conceive. It seemed impossible. So began years of train rides to consultations and appointments, poking and prodding. Maria remembers times when she just wanted to “give up.” “I remember being on the 6 train going up to Lenox Hill and wanting to turn around and just go home,” she says.

Maria, a devout Catholic, chose to refuse treatments that were supposed to ‘guarantee’ a pregnancy, like hormone injections and In Vitro Fertilization. In return, multiple doctors told her that IVF was the only way, and if she didn’t want to go through with it, her only alternative was to sit back and relax, with a glass of wine.

Desperate for the family of their dreams, the couple even asked the Bishop of Brooklyn for advice. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio gave them a third class relic of Saint Gerard Majella, the patron priest of expectant mothers and unborn children. They placed it underneath their bed. But, the relic didn’t seem to work either. After nearly six years of trying, the Heyer’s were giving up. Their marriage was being pushed to the brink. Then someone told them about the Gianna Center.

“The job of any doctor is to figure out what is causing the symptoms, says Dr. Paul Carpentier, “and infertility is a symptom. It’s a sign that something is going wrong.” Dr. Carpentier is the medical director at the Gianna Center, a small Catholic health center that specializes in women’s health and fertility. He’s one of the first family physicians trained in something called ‘NaProTechnology,’ a natural medical approach to treating women’s reproductive disorders.

“They went step-by-step to diagnose what could have been preventing fertility,” says John, “as opposed to just trying to get her pregnant.” This was the kind of care the Heyer’s were looking for all along.

NaProTechnology  is a restorative reproductive medicine, meaning it’s based on figuring out what’s wrong, through tests and studies, and fixing it. As Dr. Carpentier explains, sometimes it takes more than just testing. What’s wrong could be revealed in simply listening to your patients.

Catholic Health Services allows on average one hour with patients. Across the United States, only spend seven minutes with their patients. Dr. Carpentier says it’s just not possible to really know what is going on in someone’s body in that brief amount of time.

Through simple blood tests and conversations, Maria found out she had endometrioses. Soon after she had surgery, the Heyer’s had an announcement to make. They were expecting a baby girl.

Maria credits NaProTechnology for the birth of her children. The success rate is the same as IVF, but the prematurity rate is six fold less. Dr. Carpentier says, through NaProTechnology, they are saving “one embryo at a time.”

Less than a year after their second born, the Heyer’s had another baby. This one was born on the Feast Day of St Gerard Majella. “I really believe that if you have faith, you don’t believe in coincidences, you believe in miracles and providence…and things happen for a reason,” says John, reflecting back on their long journey.

The Heyer’s say they are hanging onto the relic, but one day, they might give it to another couple that just might need a little faith.



**John Heyer is the Director of the Annual Catholic Appeal and Special Assistant to the Vicar for Development for the Diocese of Brooklyn