Dr. Courtney Sick, an OB/GYN at Renaissance Women’s Center in Conway, meets with about 20 to 30 people each month who struggle with infertility, which is common among doctors in her field today.
The St. Joseph parishioner, who converted to the faith in 2002 before marrying her husband Tony, said there are several misconceptions surrounding infertility.
“I have a lot of patients that come in and think that there’s no way I’d be able to afford any infertility workup or treatments, when actually their coverage is pretty good and they don’t have to pay pretty much for anything,” she said, adding that couples also assume there’s a risk of multiple children at once. “We see all the TV shows where people have six kids, eight kids and that is really, really rare … we really have been able in this past five years or so to decrease the amount of people who end of up with twins, triplets.”
Because treatments like artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are counter to Church teaching, Sick said a lot of Catholic couples assume they do not have options.
“There are so many things that are able to be tried before that, be it pills, injections. There’s so many things that could be the case of the infertility. You may need a surgery before if there’s something with your uterus or fallopian tubes,” Sick said. “There may be something with the guy we need to get addressed and fixed.”
Throughout the past four years in Conway, she’s only had two patients opt for IVF. In most cases, it’s as simple as couple’s not timing intercourse correctly with a woman’s cycle.
“Some people think they need to have sex every day during that time in order to get pregnant, but that actually decreases your chance of pregnancy. So you want to time intercourse every other day so the male sperm count stays normal. That’s what I see a lot of couples do wrong.”
Other common factors that affect fertility include male sperm count, Sick said. A urologist can assist in ways to boost the count, including in some cases getting off of medications that decrease it. Issues with women can include blocked or infected fallopian tubes, endometriosis and fibroids in the uterus.
“For women probably the most common thing is called anovulation, so they’re not ovulating an egg. Especially this day and age because obesity plays a role in that, lifestyles and stuff, we see more and more of that,” Sick said. “… Losing weight, eating healthy is a really big deal with women. That can increase your rate of fertility by leaps and bounds.”
There are scenarios where there are no identifiable reasons for infertility.
“The ones where we don’t know the reason are harder emotionally for patients to deal with and understand. We do see that a lot where we just don’t know. I think that’s a lot of things in life we just don’t know why,” Sick said, adding that there are still treatment options to try even in those scenarios.
Sick suggests Catholic couples talk with a priest or deacon about why certain options do and don’t align with Church teaching.
“I think there’s a lot of counseling and stuff you kind of do even as OB/GYN doctors, talking to these patients about what your end goal is; your end goal is to be a parent. And you want to do that without compromising what your core values are and your spiritual beliefs, your ethical, religious type beliefs. You don’t want to sacrifice that if there’s other ways you can become a parent,” she said.
Sick faced what was likely infertility as well as health issues that made pregnancy high risk. The couple adopted three children through Catholic Adoption Services, including Luci, who died after being born premature at 25 weeks.
“Sometimes it’s very hard for families and couples to give up having a biological child … I tell patients we’re just as much Oscar and Sydney’s mom and dad, as if they had come from my own body,” Sick said. “That was hard for a little bit, especially for my husband. It took a little bit longer for him to come to grips with that. But now we look at it and there’s no other way we want to be parents but adoption. I don’t want to be pregnant. I love the way that we’ve gotten our children. I think it gives me a different perspective as a doctor having gone through adoption because I can talk to these people about adoption as an option.”
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