WATERLOO— Ten months ago, an eastern Iowa doctor made the decision to stop prescribing artificial birth control to his patients and to instead offer only natural family planning (NFP) options at his medical practice. It was a bold move for the doctor, Robert Pranger, MD, who is in independent practice at Kettman Pranger Family Medicine in Waterloo, but one that has given the Catholic physician a great deal of peace.
Dr. Pranger, a native of Davenport, completed his undergraduate work at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, and received his medical training from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City, graduating in 2001. He completed his residency training in Waterloo three years later.
He said that during his years of training, it had seemed out of the question to even think of having a practice someday that would not prescribe artificial birth control. He recalled, “At that time, my knowledge of Humanae Vitae (the 1968 papal encyclical that reaffirmed the church’s rejection of artificial birth control) was quite limited and the concept seemed very foreign to me as I had no physician mentors who embarked on such an adventure. It was so countercultural and did not seem feasible to be able to build a practice without what seemed to be a staple of American society.”
Dr. Pranger credits his wife of 21 years, Maria, for eventually helping him to see that a natural family planning-only practice, one that treated medical problems more naturally and avoided prescribing birth control pills and artificial means of contraception, was possible. The Prangers, who have 12 children, learned the Creighton Model of FertilityCare, one method of natural family planning, after the birth of their first child in 1995. Dr. Pranger said that while they used the method as a couple, he never personally internalized the basis for the system and did not originally consider it for his practice.
Over time, though, and through his wife’s persistent prayer and encouragement, Dr. Pranger began to gain a different perspective and started to reevaluate the use of artificial birth control in his practice. During a period of about 12 years, Dr. Pranger said, “I began to read and learn more aspects of my faith which centered on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Humanae Vitae.
“The most instrumental part of this was my introduction to presentations and writings by Catholic theologian Christopher West on the theology of the body developed by Pope Saint John Paul II.”
“The final piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Pranger said, came in 2013, when he met Jamie Rathjen, a practioner in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area newly trained in natural family planning methods. She was looking to network with local physicians friendly to NFP and encouraged Dr. Pranger to be trained as a natural family planning medical consultant. It was then that Dr. Pranger said he felt moved by the Holy Spirit to finally make the change at his practice to NFP-only.
In September 2014, prior to starting his training as a natural family planning medical consultant, Dr. Pranger officially made the leap and stopped prescribing artificial birth control at his practice. Dr. Pranger has faced some challenges since he made this change, but not as many as he had previously anticipated. Some medical colleagues have questioned his switch to NFP-only, but he said most have been supportive of his decision. Dr. Pranger also had to tell patients who he had previously prescribed birth control pills to that he would no longer be able to continue to do so. A few patients stopped seeing him, but most have continued with him. Dr. Pranger said several patients have explored natural family planning after they learned he no longer prescribes hormonal contraceptives. He said his move to NFP-only also sparked conversations with a few of his patients who had already been using natural methods without his knowledge and now felt comfortable talking to him about it. He said, “They were excited and relieved when they discovered my position, almost like now they could share this part of their life with me without fear of judgment.”
Dr. Pranger sees many benefits for his patients who have chosen to embrace natural family planning. He feels it empowers women to take care of their own healthcare in a very fundamental way and allows them to fully embrace and appreciate their own femininity. “They learn what their body is doing and a lot about how their reproductive system functions. This gives them an appreciation of their fertility and thus life in general,” he said. He also believes it strengthens their relationships with their husbands. “It demands that they communicate about the most intimate aspects of the relationship and the greatest responsibility they have as a married couple for bringing life into the world,” he said. “This drives the growth of a deeper love in the couple.”
Embracing natural family planning methods seems to have also benefited Dr. Pranger himself. He said since he switched his practice to NFP-only he has had comfort knowing that none of his patients will experience any of the adverse side effects possible with hormonal contraceptives, and he has had a general sense of relief that he is doing the right thing. “Since I have made the change,” he shared, “I have noticed that I am at much greater peace with the balance between my faith life and my medical practice. I feel a sense of fulfillment like this is how it always was supposed to be.”
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.