DR. JAN PATTERSON opened the Gianna Center — which is an affiliate of the National Gianna Center for
Women’s Healthy and Fertility — in 2013. The center helps provide natural and ethical options in reproductive and fertility care, and recently celebrated the birth of its 100th baby. (Emily Benson photos)
DR. JAN PATTERSON opened the Gianna Center — which is an affiliate of the National Gianna Center for Women’s Healthy and Fertility — in 2013. The center helps provide natural and ethical options in reproductive and fertility care, and recently celebrated the birth of its 100th baby. (Emily Benson photos)
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Gianna of Albany is celebrating a precious milestone: the birth of its 100th baby.

Dr. Jan Patterson, MD, founder of the center, made the discovery last month while going over paperwork: “Someone was helping me count up the deliveries that we have had and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re at 100!’ ” she said.

Gianna of Albany is affiliated with the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility, a nonprofit women’s health-care initiative that provides natural and ethical options in reproductive and fertility care, and has helped women struggling with infertility, recurrent miscarriages, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts, and more.

The center’s 100th baby — Evangeline Margaret Mary — was born to Alisha Fogarty on Nov. 1, 2020. Fogarty and her family recently moved from the Albany Diocese to Connecticut, but she is still a patient of Patterson’s and stays in touch through virtual appointments.

Fogarty first connected with Patterson in August 2019 after a tumultuous few months of trying to get pregnant. Even before her visit, Fogarty had heard about Patterson’s practice through a local homeschooling group for mothers, but it wasn’t until Fogarty and her husband started trying for their sixth child that she would think of going to Gianna of Albany.

Fogarty had no reason to suspect any complications from pregnancy — after all, she already had five easy pregnancies — but then, she had a miscarriage.

“A few months went by and I had a second miscarriage,” Fogarty said. “I didn’t even know I was pregnant at the time, but I wasn’t feeling myself.” Fogarty went to her OBGYN for help, and after talking with her doctor, realized that her symptoms were from the second miscarriage.

At that point, she wanted answers: “I just went off,” Fogarty recalled, “things are still fuzzy, I’m tired and … I wanted to be tested for low thyroid and some hormonal imbalances.” Her OBGYN doctor said they couldn’t do that, but they could put her on birth control.

It wasn’t the answer Fogarty needed. She told her doctor that her Catholic faith prevented her from being on birth control, and moreover, she didn’t want to be; she was trying to get pregnant.

“I said, ‘I want to have more children, what can you do about it?’ ” she said. Her doctor told Fogarty that she would need to have a third miscarriage before she could get referred to a fertility clinic for further help. And that’s unfortunately what happened: In May 2019, Fogarty went to the hospital with a third miscarriage.

“They asked me, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I’m mad. I am mad that I’m here having my third miscarriage,’ ” she said. “That’s frustrating and it’s maddening because it shouldn’t have happened. This was preventable, but (they) wouldn’t do anything about it. I said get me through it so I can get help.”

Despite the painful path, Fogarty said there was a draw to working with Patterson and the center. “They know what they’re doing, but I was tired of being on the defensive with the doctors,” she said.

Fogarty added that Patterson was one of the few doctors she felt didn’t brush off her symptoms, but actually listened: “To go to a doctor and say things aren’t normal and to have someone who’s willing to sit down and say ‘Let’s see if there’s a reason why you don’t feel right or why you have these symptoms’ without having to go through the trauma is important and it’s an undervalued resource.”

TWO KEY SERVICES

 Gianna of Albany offers two key health services: the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, known as CrMS, and Natural Procreative Technology, NaPro.

CrMS systematically charts cervical mucus and bleeding changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle to assess fertility and overall reproductive health. NaPro uses CrMS to monitor hormonal events and to correct issues by working cooperatively with a woman’s natural cycle.

Patterson worked with Fogarty and her husband on charting, how to track cycles and a number of tests for blood work. They tried different vitamins and hormonal supplements over the next few months along with various tests, blood work, adjusting things and adding things as time went along. Then in January 2020, Fogarty got pregnant. Nine months later, Evangeline was born on Nov. 1 — All Saints Day.

“Having to chart is kind of a hurdle you have to commit to, but being able to learn your body like that was really eye-opening and powerful too,” Fogarty said. “Just knowing you can be more in control of your fertility and knowing what’s happening and be able to present more concrete facts to a doctor … it was empowering because before I would say, ‘I think this is going on,’ but to be able to take control is important and empowering.”

HEALTH AND FAITH

 Patterson’s drive to open a facility in Albany was a mix between her own negative experience in women’s health and her faith. Patterson had worked in women’s health and fertility at a family practice in Austin, Texas but left when she converted to Catholicism. Her faith pushed her to look into studying NaPro — then, in the midst of her studies, she underwent a difficult pregnancy. It left her in a precarious position: should she get pregnant again, her next pregnancy was bound to be high risk.

After moving to Albany in 2007, Patterson attended the opening of the National Gianna Center Headquarters in New York City in 2009. Inspired by its work, Patterson opened Gianna of Albany in 2013. Since its inception, she’s helped close to 800 women in the area and around 50 percent of all her patients aren’t Catholic. While based in faith, the draw comes from the natural approach to healing.

Beth Ulrich first visited Gianna of Albany in 2015 to discuss natural family planning. Ulrich was 24 at the time of her first visit, and while she and her husband were open to expanding their family, they didn’t want children just yet. Ulrich’s faith prevented her from using birth control, so they visited the Albany Diocese’s website where they found the center.

Ulrich began following the CrMS model, tracking her cycle and noting any changes to her body. While tedious at times, Ulrich said it made her informed about the natural functions of her own body.

“I found this to be very empowering because nothing was being masked and we were able to really listen to my body and study my body in its natural cycle,” Ulrich said. “So not only is it  natural family planning to potentially avoid pregnancy but at that time I wasn’t ignoring my body.”

In July, the National Gianna Center announced that the non-profit would close due to economic circumstances compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Patterson says she will continue working as a stand-alone NaPro clinic for as long as possible, but isn’t sure what the next steps for the practice will be without additional funding.

“I accept insurance because I feel like women should have access to this kind of care and shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket, but the reimbursement from insurance doesn’t cover the cost of care,” Patterson said. On average, a visit with Patterson takes 45 minutes, but insurance only reimburses 20 minutes of the appointment. “Until now I’ve been counting on National Gianna Center grants to fill in that gap, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do now,” she said.

Still, the need for natural and restorative options in women’s health isn’t going away and neither are her patients.

Added Fogarty: “(This) is about learning your ups and downs and basic fertility and that can help you solve issues, especially if so many women seem to have negative effects from various contraceptives or don’t want to mess with that … it could be a natural approach for anyone. It’s just learning your body.”

For more information about Gianna of Albany or to donate, contact Dr. Jan Patterson at www.giannaofalbany.com