Drs. Stephanie Veit and Alexa Williams describe it as a gift to work with women in understanding their natural fertility.
“You can’t turn away from things that are rooted in truth and beauty,” Williams said. Understanding that natural fertility care is often seen as countercultural, there’s a need to educate others about the gifts it brings to women and couples, she added.
The Catholic physicians joined Dr. Richard Brennan at his practice at Mercy Clinic OB/GYN-Southfork in south St. Louis County in 2021. The practice offers obstetric and gynecological medical care in accordance with Catholic ethical and religious directives, meaning they offer a natural fertility care approach instead of hormonal methods of birth control or performing sterilizations.
All three doctors have received training in the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, one of several methods of natural family planning, and its medical component, NaProTechnology. The Church in the United States celebrates National NFP Awareness Week July 24-30 this year.
Williams, a native of South Dakota who completed her OB/GYN residency at Mercy in St. Louis, credited the support of several Catholic physicians along her journey, including learning the stories of numerous Catholic doctors who completed their residencies at Mercy in St. Louis over the years.
“There’s this legacy in St. Louis,” Williams said. “I remember hearing those names and thinking wow, I can’t wait to be like them someday. I want to carry this on here at Mercy because of the beautiful tradition that has been instilled there with Catholic residents.”
Likewise, Veit, a native of St. Louis who attended Oak Hill School and Visitation Academy, said she found a passion for providing health care to women, especially when it comes to treating underlying issues with their fertility and gynecological care. She knew of the challenges she’d face along her educational path, but she knew she’d have to stay strong and not compromise her values.
“I knew that if God was calling me to this field and this way at this time that He would get me through and make it possible for me to do that,” Veit said.
Treating women with respect
Veit felt a calling to medicine from a young age. She attended Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, Pennsylvania, with pediatrics on her mind. But during her time at medical school, she met an OB/GYN who became a mentor and ultimately influenced her to change specialties.
Growing up Catholic — Veit and her family attended Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield — she knew it wouldn’t be an easy field to enter. “I had a lot of morals that went against the normal grain of the typical OB/GYN,” she said.
But she also knew there are women who share the same values, and want a physician who is not going to push contraceptives or sterilizations upon them. During her residency with Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, Veit was up front about what she was willing to do — and not do — as a physician. She said she was treated with respect, but yet still had to seek training in natural fertility care on her own. Veit completed a one-year fellowship at the St. Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska, which specializes in research, diagnosis and treatment of fertility and women’s health care within a pro-life ethic through the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and NaProTechnology.
“I learned more about the menstrual cycle in that one year than I had in the previous eight years of medical school,” said Veit, who learned how to treat women with painful periods, endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, among other conditions. “You could just see the passion for these issues and treating women with respect and trying to figure out the underlying problem, versus just throwing birth control at everything.”
Providing good care
Williams grew up on a ranch in rural South Dakota. As a college undergrad trying to figure out what career path she wanted to take, she shadowed an OB/GYN who provided health care on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.
Williams saw firsthand the impoverished conditions of the people who lived there. In the midst of that, Williams also witnessed her first delivery, which she described as a “beautiful moment.”
“At that point, I thought medicine might be the place for me,” she said. “I had a special connection to women’s health care after seeing that delivery.”
While at the University of Arizona in Phoenix for medical school, Williams was mentored by a Catholic physician, who connected her with resources on Natural Family Planning. She also sought out medical training at the St. Paul VI Institute.
“You learn so much about the menstrual cycles with Creighton or other methods of NFP that you wouldn’t learn otherwise,” Williams said. In 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a committee opinion recommending that menstrual history be used as a vital sign when evaluating the health of girls and adolescents.
“That was an ‘a-ha’ moment for our specialty that says a female’s body can tell us so much,” Williams said. “That’s where these methods can teach a woman and a physician so many things and help in treating problems.”
Charting cycles takes time and patience, she said — two values that society sometimes says aren’t worthwhile. “NFP is countercultural in the way that it teaches you these other important values,” she said.
The gift of medicine
Williams and Veit noted that less than 10 percent of their patients are Catholic. Some are referred by NFP practitioners who help women learn how to chart their menstrual cycles. Others find them via internet search engine and are seeking treatment for underlying issues.
Williams said she wishes she would have kept count of the number of women who say to them: “How have I never heard of this before?” Sometimes patients will disclose that they never wanted to be put on birth control, which can have side effects.
“It’s a beautiful gift to be able to take care of women in all areas of their lives and help them navigate these situations with Natural Family Planning,” she said.
Veit said she recognizes and values that women place their trust in them to provide well-rounded health care. “They trust to you impart this knowledge that is really personal, and knowing that we can help them in that way — there’s something beautiful and humbling about that.”