Dr. Michael Podraza is one of fewer than 100 doctors, by his estimation, who have a clinic and practice solely on the notion of NFP, studying fertility and solving infertility issues naturally. He opened St. Francis Women’s Health & Fertility in Memphis, Tenn., two years ago and sees many patients who travel from out of state.
A devout Catholic, Podraza, 39, and his wife follow the Creighton Method, as she is a certified instructor. It is the main method the clinic teaches, though he has patients that use other methods. The couple have seven children.
“I was shocked to learn how few OB-GYNs are in this field,” Podraza told Arkansas Catholic. “I guess I wanted to be part of the solution.”
Aside from his medical school training, he is nearing the end of his studies at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb. Podraza said back in the 1960s and 70s, the medical community pushed artificial hormones to treat fertility problems in women.
“The Catholic side, if you will, really was completely suppressed. It was very hard to get research in publications on natural cycle regulation because that wasn’t what the government was interested in,” Podraza said. “It was also driven by pharmaceutical companies who are not allowed to patent a natural hormone; an artificial hormone they can patent in a lab.”
While NFP methods are typically 98 to 99 percent effective, much like contraceptives, Podraza explained most gynecologists instead say it’s 75 percent.
“During research studies, about 20 percent of people using it decided they didn’t want to avoid pregnancy anymore, so if you take that over a study, one in five couples who use it get pregnant,” Podraza said. “If you don’t take those people out of the study, then of course it looks like you have a 75-percent success rate. It doesn’t make any sense.”
In many cases, young girls around 14 years old start taking “the pill” to regulate their periods. However, Podraza said it’s normal for girls new to puberty to be irregular and solving it with artificial hormones can cause harm.
“They are told there’s no reason to get off of contraceptives ever until they’re married and want to have a child. You are literally taking extra high doses of artificial hormones every day for 20 years. There’s absolutely no medical justification for that,” Podraza said, adding that the side effects can be changes to the cervix, making it harder to get pregnant, a greater risk for yeast infections and cancer. “If you give a teenage boy hormones, you can get put in jail. You can give young girls obscene amounts of hormones and call it medical therapy.”
From what he’s seen, Podraza said couples in their 20s are “very leery” of NFP because many have been on the pill for years already. For Catholic couples, he estimates 10 to 20 percent do not use contraception — which could be NFP or nothing at all.
“I think that the reason is that there has never been an effort Catholic or otherwise to really extol the benefits of NFP. Also there’s never really been an effort to evangelize at least not on a national or in most cases on a local scale” to explain the differences in NFP and contraception, he said. “You probably haven’t heard a homily on the benefits of NFP for a long time.”
To change the conversation, Podraza said to educate parents to get young girls charting soon after going through puberty rather than being put on the pill.
“If we really want to change things, talk to younger people, young high schoolers, even seventh and eighth graders who are just starting to have cycles,” Podraza said. “Granted teenage girls are not the best charters in the world … but it’s not hard by any stretch of the imagination. I guarantee if you have a girl, Catholic or not, who is charting their cycles from the time they are 14 years old, those girls are not going to throw away their chart when they get engaged and married.”
To contact Podraza, call (901) 254-8180 or find his office on Facebook at facebook.com/NFPMemphis.
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