On Sunday 7th December, the conference facilities of Protea Hotel, Lekki, received a stream of women participating in a seminar titled “A Woman’s Challenge”. The invitation included an attractive motto: “Decidedly Young and Active”. The objective was to inform the public about solutions to the problem of infertility. It was the first of a series of DYA seminars on “The Essence of Womanhood”, organized by the Lekki Club for Ladies in conjunction with Doctors’ Health Initiative (DHI).
The first session was led by Dr. Obi Ideh, a gynecologist who is the President of DHI. She talked about infertility in the context of the Nigerian society. She urged women facing this problem to remember it does not in any way lower their dignity. At the same time she appealed to women blessed with children to give respect and love to their infertile sisters instead of compounding their problem by taunts and turning a medical inability into a major social issue. She reminded her audience of Maria von Trapp’s words “When God closes a door somewhere, he opens a window” and urged them: so go through it! We have to look for creative solutions that will be physically and psychologically healthy. There are remedies, but it is necessary for every woman to know her own cycle and understand the way her body functions.
At this point, Dr. Ihuoma Nwogu took over for the 2nd session that focused on test-tube babies. The IVF (in vitro fertilization) technique was introduced in Nigeria years ago, but there is a shroud of silence surrounding the health and ethical implications of the procedure. Dr. Nwogu first emphasized the inadequacy of the term “assisted reproduction” applied to human generation. Animals and plants reproduce, but men and women procreate, because every child is the result of a joint action of parents and God. She then explained how many of those who have recourse to IVF do so in ignorance of the risks involved, and stated the importance of making informed decisions, understanding what really takes place in such a procedure.
I can only explain it in layman’s language for I am no medical doctor. With the IVF technology, the woman’s ovaries are hyper-stimulated to make them produce several ova instead of the usual single ovum. These have to be extracted. At the same time the womb has to be made ready, through drugs, to receive the zygote. Doctors and Lab technologists mix sperms (usually obtained by masturbation) and ova in a dish and keep them in an incubator. If fertilization takes place, the zygotes (already a human being at its very first stage of development) obtained are examined; those deemed unsuitable for implantation are discarded and the others implanted in the womb in a procedure that is risky because of the manipulations involved. If implantation is successful but multiple births are to be avoided, the doctors carry out “selective fetal reduction” – a euphemism for the killing of one or more of the fetuses so that only one baby will be carried to term.
I am sure that what Dr. Nwogu said about the risks to the woman is true, because I know someone who nearly died as a result of a failed IVF, and a couple close to me told me about the tremendous physical and psychological stress they went through, especially the woman, with still no positive result.
At this stage the outlook was grim. Was there any hope, then, for women afflicted by infertility? That’s when Dr. Wanda Alli-Balogun took the microphone and told us that indeed, there was a window, and she was going to show it to us. Her talk gave me, and I am sure it was the same for many other participants, a thrill.
She introduced to the audience the Creighton Model Fertility Care system, a natural procreative technology (NaProTech) which allows for women’s health problems to be approached in a way co-operative with the fertility cycle in a manner morally acceptable to people of all faiths. It is effective to achieve or to avoid pregnancy but works in harmony with the woman’s natural cycle and treats fertility as a gift, never as a problem. NaProTech, although it is a relatively new development, already boasts 80% success rate in achieving pregnancy at the same time as it helps early detection and treatment of health problems. This makes it a far superior alternative to IVF with its paltry 30% success rate and enormous risks to both women and babies.
Mrs. Ada Dan-Okafor, President of the Lekki Club for Ladies, talked about “choosing the right school for your child” and gave research-based reasons for the superior advantages of single-sex schools over the co-educational system, even a primary education level. She informed the audience that NAWA, the promoter of the prestigious Lagoon Secondary School for girls, has started the Lagoon Primary School as well.
In the end the well-known Mrs. Adesua Onyenokwe emphasized that all that had been discussed was not “something catholic” but simply something human – it was truth based on scientific facts. While this seminar series was inspired by the teachings of St. Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church, it imparted useful and truthful information about deep human issues concerning all people of good will. Everyone remained free to accept it or reject it, but at least they now knew the facts and could make informed decisions concerning these matters.
The Master of Ceremony, Mrs. Noela Nwosu, concluded on a humorous note, pointing out the folly of the Western world where everything is now expected to be “green”, i.e. natural. “People don’t want processed food any more, yet they don’t mind having processed babies!”
I left the seminar thoughtful. I was comparing in my mind IVF and NaProTech. IVF functions like a baby manufacturing facility with operational teams, machines and quality control: parents are the providers of raw materials, doctors are factory managers, lab technologists are engineers and skilled operators, each one with his or her own technical role to play in the production process. By contrast, I discovered NaProTech as a truly human assisted-procreation method in which doctor and trainer help a couple to achieve pregnancy without interfering with the normal marital union; there, parents remain co-performers with God of the creation of a new human life, fruit of their mutual self-giving. With an 80% success rate, and no associated health risks, it seems to me not just a window, but a beautiful gate, that God has opened for those who found themselves in front of a closed door.