October 21, 2016

New York fertility doctor shares story of embracing pro-life, Catholic faith

By Natalie Hoefer

Dr. Jan PattersonAfter the White Mass for those in the health care field on Sept. 29, a reception was held at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. During the reception, pro-life and late-comer to Catholicism Dr. Jan Patterson shared her story of conversion and struggle to promote a culture of life through the practice of Natural Procreative (NaPro) Technology, which works with a woman’s body to provide reproductive help and health. Here is a summary of her talk.

‘My first conversion was pro-life’

Patterson was raised in the Presbyterian faith and married a Catholic. Despite being a doctor, she said, she believed that “women should have control of their own bodies, and that babies were just blobs of tissue.”

That perception changed when she became pregnant.

“My first conversion was to pro-life, when I heard the heartbeat of my first baby,” she said.

Her next step toward Catholicism came in the practice of Natural Family Planning (NFP). The method was suggested to her after she quickly became pregnant a second time and wanted more space between her children.

“I thought NFP was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard,” she admitted. “But as I learned NFP, I learned that it teaches the biomarkers of the woman’s fertility cycle, and that interested me.”

Patterson had been going to Mass as a non-Catholic with her husband and children for about 15 years. What inspired her to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), though, was not a growing appreciation of the faith.

“My first child was ready to start religious education soon,” she said. “I went to RCIA to find out what they’d be teaching him so I could fix it later.”

During that time, she was invited on a pilgrimage.

“It was on that pilgrimage that I gained a real, true appreciation for the Eucharist,” she said. “I learned that the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ was in that Eucharist, and it blew my mind. …

“I realized that, if the Catholic Church has Jesus Christ in the flesh—the way, the truth and the life—then the Church had to be correct about its teaching on contraception.”

‘I had a responsibility … to help’

This understanding created a moral dilemma for Patterson, whose major duties included performing pelvic exams and prescribing contraception at a medical practice in Austin, Texas.

After returning from the pilgrimage, she told her husband she could no longer prescribe contraception. He advised her to hold off telling her employer, saying that she would seem “crazy” to come back from a pilgrimage and make such an announcement.

“So I waited for about a month, and wouldn’t you know, in that entire month, we had not one person who needed a pelvic exam,” Patterson said.

But she did then tell the doctors her decision, and she was soon let go.

After attending a NaPro Technology conference, Patterson learned that she had a partial molar pregnancy, a situation which could lead to cancer. She had to be monitored closely for a long period after the birth, and she could not become pregnant during that time.

Her parents, both medical professionals, were “really upset” at her decision to continue practicing NFP rather than taking contraception during that time.

“There were no supportive doctors around me, nobody I could go to,” she said. “At that time, it dawned on me that women who are living a culture of life need and deserve support to be able to do so.

“It also helped me to realize that I had a responsibility to provide that kind of help, to be that physician for people around me, especially now that I was learning about NaPro Technology.”

‘Pro-woman, pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage’

As a Planned Parenthood second trimester surgical abortion facility was built in Austin, Patterson and other members of the Catholic Health Care Guild of Central Texas started discussing an alternative to Planned Parenthood in the area.

“We wanted to develop an alternative to Planned Parenthood that was within the culture of life,” she said. “That alternative would have medical care and NaPro Technology. We would have education and support and help for women. We needed something pro-woman,

pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage.”

After five years of effort and prayer, the St. John Paul II Life Center opened in Austin in 2010.

Her husband’s job transfer took Patterson and their six children to Albany, N.Y. Patterson was disappointed to learn that her new home ranked number one on a 2013 list of cities in the United States that reflect “a lack of Christian identity, belief and practice,” according to the Barna Group. The status was determined by a poll of 15 questions addressing such topics as how often residents pray and attend church, what their beliefs are about God, and more.

“There were only two NFP practitioners in the whole diocese, and no NaPro doctors,” she said.

When three of her friends all had miscarriages—including one who ended up twice in the intensive care unit—Patterson felt the call to open the pro-life medical practice she currently operates: Gianna of Albany, which is associated with The National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility, located in the northeast.

“We still have work to do,” she said. “I get discouraged at times, but I remember that Edmond Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

“And I think of St. Mother Teresa [of Calcutta] saying, ‘I do not pray for success. I ask for faithfulness.’ ” †


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