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When Jennifer Quigley first became interested in using Natural Family Planning to care for her reproductive health, she had very little help in learning how to practice it effectively.
As a Catholic convert and student pursuing her doctorate in nursing at Belmont University, she became more aware of how widespread that problem is around the world. Now, she is working to change things in Nashville and in Haiti.
The St. Rose of Lima parishioner recently spent three weeks in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, teaching the Standard Days method of Natural Family Planning to doctors and nurses. Her trip was born of a partnership between Belmont’s School of Health Sciences and Nursing, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the organization Hope Through Healing Hands, which was founded by former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist.
In July 2014, Sen. Frist and Melinda Gates met at Belmont with faith-based community leaders and health care providers to discuss strategies to combat infant and maternal mortality in developing countries. During the event, Hope Through Healing Hands announced it would award a grant from the Gates Foundation to a Belmont graduate student who wanted to get involved in those efforts.
Quigley’s interest in global health initiatives inspired her to apply.
“I’ve been a nurse since 2008,” she said. “But for awhile, I’ve been interested in global health. And I’ve been able to pursue that during my time at Belmont. I had to do a project for my doctorate program, so I submitted a proposal to one of my professors to educate Haitian health educators about the Standard Days Method of Natural Family Planning. These lessons would incorporate a visual aid for those struggling to understand the directions.
“She approved and told me about the grant. I applied and had interviews with the chairs of the School of Health Sciences and Nursing, and I was selected,” she explained.
|Jennifer Quigley leads a session on Natural Family Planning techniques during a recent visit to Haiti. Quigley taught 180 health care providers at 10 clinics in northern Haiti during her visit. Quigley hopes to establish a program in the Diocese of Nashville where health care providers would be available full time to teach NFP to interested women and couples.
Quigley’s trip to Haiti was a massive success. She initially was going to teach only 30 providers, but demand grew exponentially.
“The response and the desire for knowledge on the method of NFP was so great that after I filled my 30 initial spots for the study, I continued on to teach an additional 150 health care providers, from MD’s to students to community health workers in over 10 different clinics in northern Haiti,” Quigley said.
Although Haiti has one of the biggest Catholic populations in the world, Quigley taught her classes from a medical perspective to reach a larger audience.
“The main thing I wanted health care providers to know is that it’s possible for women to care for their bodies without contraception, and that they can have an idea of what their bodies are going through without experiencing harmful side effects,” Quigley said. “Because I approached the issue that way, I was able to appeal to Catholic, Protestant and non-religious audiences and clinics. They all appreciated it a lot.”
Quigley thinks that Natural Family Planning can also help correct other problems Haiti is facing, such as poverty and overpopulation.
“Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and overpopulation is also a major concern there. And so often, other countries push artificial birth control and abortion on the women there,” she said. “By introducing women to NFP, it can be a way for them and their husbands to figure out how many children they want and can afford to care for. Plus, there are no harmful side effects for their bodies.”
Quigley thinks cultural opposition to Natural Family Planning stems from a lack of understanding and awareness about it.
“I did a literature review over Natural Family Planning last year, and found that most health providers don’t teach it. I think it’s because their perceptions of it are skewed, and they honestly don’t think it’s effective. I’ve been using the Creighton method for the past five years, and my doctor lectures me all the time that it doesn’t work. Over and over again, I’ve had to respond that I’ve been using it for awhile and I’m doing very well with it,” she said.
After she earns her degree in 2016, Quigley hopes to establish a program in the Diocese of Nashville where health care providers would be available full time to teach NFP to interested women and couples.
“I’ve noticed that there aren’t many resources available for women and couples who want to learn more about this. When I first started using NFP five years ago, a friend had to teach me how it works,” Quigley said. Her program would also be open to interested non-Catholics who want to take classes.
Quigley says the most rewarding aspect of what she does is spreading awareness about something many people know nothing about.
“It’s been great to provide women and families with information about something many of them have never even heard of before,” she said. “I get to teach couples about something that increases communication between spouses and improves family life. Plus, since I’ve been using NFP myself, I get to incorporate my own personal testimony and show people living proof that NFP works.”
While Quigley has no return trips to Haiti currently scheduled, she does plan on going back in the future.
“As of right now, the three weeks I spent there was a one-time trip. But I feel more than ever that God has called me to get involved in global health, and I’m sure eventually I’ll be returning to Haiti,” she said.