BY: JESS CLAYTON, M.AC., L.AC. – OCTOBER 22, 2018 – ACUPUNCTURE
When I was 16 years old, I was told by doctors that if I ever want to have children I need to start trying before 30 years old and that it may be extremely difficult. When I was 24 years old, after 5 years of medically advocating for myself to prove that the daily stabbing pain I had was real and not in my head or because of “stress” (as many women are told) and 4 surgeries later, I was officially diagnosed with endometriosis. I was told yet again that if I want children I need to start trying before age 30 and that it could be extremely challenging if even possible. When my husband and I were ready to start a family after my 6th surgery, I was told that the endometriosis had spread to my diaphragm and that it would be incredibly dangerous to get pregnant and could result in a collapsed lung or damage to my heart. Due to the location being too dangerous to remove surgically, I was advised to do a 6 month treatment of Lupron therapy which has its own slew of side effects, risks and challenges.
After 6 months of treatment, we finally got the green light to try to get pregnant but were told that given my extensive medical history, fertility treatments were our best option to get pregnant before the endometriosis returned…again. When we began fertility treatments, we were told that I may not be able to carry a child due to some other medical issues and that we may want to explore the possibility of gestational surrogacy. Finally, after some more tests and doctors appointments that showed positive results, we were able to start the fertility journey.
We tried 3 cycles before being able to get pregnant and while I don’t suggest that was a long time because I know how many women struggle for years and years with more difficulties then we experienced, it doesn’t take away from the fact that fertility treatments were among the hardest things that I have ever done – physically, mentally and emotionally. There were SO many ups and downs throughout the whole process and on top of it all I was literally injecting myself with massive amounts of hormones all the while having fear of the unknown as well as the voices of previous doctors in the back of my mind that this may never happen for us. I had feelings of failure, frustration, anger, resentment and sadness that no one can understand unless they have gone on the journey themselves.
Through all of this, I was receiving weekly sometimes twice weekly acupuncture treatments and firmly believe that it not only helped me to keep my sanity, reduce my stress and come to peace with my fears but it helped me to continually advocate for myself, never give up and to defy all my doctors to be able to physically conceive and carry a happy and healthy baby full term with few issues.
4.5 million couples experience infertility each year with nearly seven million American women seeking fertility treatments during their reproductive years. Nearly one quarter of those couples will add acupuncture to support their Western medical treatments. For couples yearning to begin a family, monitoring temperature, tracking cycles, eating healthy, drinking fertility teas and failing to conceive, recurrent miscarriage or diagnosis of infertility can not only take the fun out of trying but can be devastating for both partners. Just like every person is unique, every fertility challenge is different and there is no single solution for fertility. Combining complementary therapies such as acupuncture with IUI or IVF treatments can increase the chance for conception, reduce symptoms of hormonal medications and reduce the stress associated with the fertility process. In fact, leading reproductive endocrinologists also referred to as fertility specialists are recommending acupuncture not only to support women day of embryo transfers but also as an overall essential part of treatment throughout the entire fertility process.
Acupuncture supports the body’s self-healing mechanisms and restores balance within which can be a huge asset to getting pregnant since conception relies on intricate processes that must occur at specific times throughout the menstrual cycle. Western medicine tends to want to label infertility or recurrent miscarriage or in some cases just consider it to be unexplained. The truth is that when it comes to fertility, there are many moving parts. In Chinese Medicine we can often explain what may be happening in your body and treat it because we look at the whole body. With the exception of structural blockages or a complete lack of eggs, acupuncture can significantly improve the chances of conception whether naturally or using assisted reproductive technology. In Traditional Chinese Medicine texts, infertility is sometimes referred to as a ‘cold womb or uterus.’ The main goal of treatment through Chinese Medicine is not just to get pregnant but to stay pregnant and have a healthy baby. We do this by focusing on increasing the flow of blood and qi in order to warm the uterus and nourish the embryo. Much like yin and yang, Western medicine fertility treatments and Eastern medicine fertility treatments are built on very different foundations but also complement each other quite well. Acupuncture helps to trigger the body’s own healing properties. Treatments can affect the hormone balances within the endocrine system, blood circulation to the pelvis and uterus, immune responses, and reduce inflammation and stress which can help to regulate the menstrual cycle and ovulation, support a healthy and nourished egg, endometrial lining and encourage embryo implantation.
It is never too early or too late to start acupuncture treatment for fertility. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer has been shown to significantly increase the chances of conception. If and when you receive a positive pregnancy test, it is recommended to continue acupuncture once a week until the end of the first trimester as acupuncture can help with a lot of pregnancy symptoms which you can read more about in my next blog found right here! Chinese Medicine can help to support couples throughout this important time in their lives – whether physically or emotionally. In your fertility journey it is important to choose the right healthcare practitioner(s) as relationships and support are everything during this often difficult time. Endometriosis, chronic pain and fertility are the main reasons that I became an acupuncturist. It is a passion of mine to provide a space of deep listening and understanding to those who have been and are going on a similar journey. Acupuncture can complement IVF, IUI, natural methods and help both men and women on their own fertility journey. Contact me for more information or to schedule an appointment.
Studies and Resources Looking at Acupuncture and Fertility:
Fertility and Acupuncture
American Pregnancy & Acupuncture
Psychological Impact of Infertility – Harvard Mental Health Letter
East Meets West to Boost Fertility – Tel Aviv University
Acupuncture Regulates Hormones Boosts Fertility – HealthCMi