I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be an OB-GYN. After growing up in a military family, I got engaged to my husband who was already in the Navy, so I joined the Navy which sometimes pays for medical school.
While in the Navy, I went to a civilian medical school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and loved all the different specialties, but obstetrics and gynecology was the only place I knew I would be fulfilled. I could see women over their reproductive years and could deliver babies. I enjoyed both its surgical and medical aspects.
In the military, the residency match is a little bit different. Program directors of the OB-GYN residencies get together and decide which program takes the residents. In a traditional residency match, the newly-graduated doctor gets to provide a little more input as to where they want to be placed.
I finished residency, which was in the Navy, at a non-pro-life program. We had some pro-life residents but no mentorship and no real idea that it was possible to be a pro-life OB-GYN. You could be against abortion, but the fact that you would be non-contraceptive prescribing was just insane to this program. All of us pro-life residents had opted out of abortion training and tried to support each other. Regarding NFP, I did not really accept the authority of the Church and its teaching at that time. I thought that I do NFP myself but if my patients choose to do something else, it is not really my choice. I tried to justify prescribing contraceptives by thinking I was just helping them do what they thought was the right thing, and it was okay.
As I traveled through residency, I started to feel more and more uncomfortable with certain aspects of the way I was practicing and started very quietly backing away from those aspects. I started to think about situations where contraceptives might lead to abortion — things like the Mirena IUD. The sperm might be able to meet egg but it can’t implant. The baby dies. I started feeling uncomfortable with that, so I stopped putting in IUD’s but was still in general okay with prescribing contraceptives.
After graduating from residency, I worked in a Navy hospital in Japan doing the normal OB-GYN thing — still prescribing contraception — and I really started to see the brokenness. My patient population was across the board. I had wives of active duty sailors. Then, I had active duty sailors who were female who tended to be really young women who were often, but not always, coming from very difficult backgrounds using the military to try to get a leg up and escape. I started seeing how they were looking for love and fulfillment, and they did not know where to find it. They only knew how to find it in the intimacy that comes with sex, and they weren’t even finding it there. All we would do was give them contraceptives and send them out the door. We never addressed the real problem. I really started seeing that prescribing contraceptives was not right.
My husband was a convert to the Catholic faith when we were in college together but when I was in residency, he deepened his conversion. He started to have this very deep understanding of our goal on earth. I remember the day he said to me, “My job is to get us to heaven. It doesn’t matter what my work is as long as it helps me to get my family into heaven. That is what we are here for.” As I started to see this brokenness in my patients, I began to realize that to have that love for my patients meant that I had to do the same for them. I was not doing anything to move them toward heaven and help them find fulfillment on earth. I was impeding them in that by giving them contraception and not trying to help them better their situations.
Also during that time, my husband had been listening to Catholic Answers and heard a commercial from Dr. Theresa Stigen. She was a former St. John Paul Fellow who had been duking it out in the wilderness of Southern California. We decided to look her up. I watched her whole hour-long testimony on YouTube and thought, “She is just like me.” I got in contact with her, and we discussed the possibilities and where I could go if I ever made the decision to really fully practice as an OB-GYN in a Catholic way. She told me about NaProTechnology, the Saint John Paul Fellowship program, and EP.
Later that same year, I went to the American Association of Pro-Life OB/GYN’s and heard Dr. Hilgers give a talk at that meeting. Walking into a room and seeing it filled with pro-life OB-GYNs was deeply moving. I felt like I had been in the wilderness surrounded by people who say it’s impossible to be a pro-life OB-GYN. It was really eye opening.
Because I was a pro-life OB-GYN at the Navy hospital in Japan, I had an agreement with our nurse who did all the abortion counseling. If she would offer to every patient an ultrasound and to see a doctor, I would make myself available any time, day or night.
I once had four patients in a row who were all considering abortion. Two were single, unmarried women. One was a teenager, and her mom wanted her to have an abortion. One of them was a woman in an abusive relationship who had another child, and her husband told her he wouldn’t take care of her anymore unless she aborted the baby.
They were all like, “I was on contraception, but it failed me.” I began seeing even more clearly this brokenness and how this whole system works together. We give them the Band-Aid of contraception. We don’t fix their situation. Abortion is a Band-Aid in the same way. You don’t have to try to help her fix that abusive situation. You don’t have to help her figure out why she is not fulfilled by these sexual relationships, and then the baby gets killed in the process.
On a side note, two of the women went on and had their babies and were happy that they did. The other two sadly chose to have the abortion, and I pray for them a lot.
At that point, I realized that I could not stay in the military. I would serve out my time, and then it wouldn’t be a problem in the future.
Coming out of the Navy, I realized my toolbox was empty. Contraceptives are what gynecologists use to treat everything – some surgery and then birth control to suppress the symptoms that people are having. Painful period — you go on birth control. Abnormal uterine bleeding that is not cancer — you go on birth control. You name it – you go on birth control.
I bought Dr. Hilgers’ textbook and started reading through it, but it is hard to learn it straight from the textbook. (I know there are people who do, but I have trouble with that.) I had this natural break as I was coming out of the Navy, so I applied and was accepted into the Fellowship.
Working in a Catholic organization, we see the inherent worth of every person and respect them in that way. It is part of our guiding principles. It sounds so simple to say that, but it is not. At the Institute, obstetrics and gynecology is practiced how it should be – really trying to figure out the issue.
Erica Kreller, MD was a graduate of the 2018-2019 St. John Paul the Great Fellowship in Medical and Surgical NaProTechnology. She took the skills she learned in the fellowship to Gilbert, Arizona joining a practice with a pro-life physician called Morning Star OB-GYN.