After eight months of ineffective medical fertility treatments, I was exhausted, depressed, and generally unwell. I wasn’t ready to give up on having a child of my own, but I couldn’t stomach another invasive treatment or round of medications that supercharged my hormones and yanked my emotions around like a yo-yo. I turned instead to the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM is a holistic approach to healing where everything is connected. It is based on the theory that energy (called Qi) runs through the body along paths (called meridians). When this flow of energy is blocked or out of balance it causes illness. I think of it as a four car pile-up on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) at rush hour, you know you’re not going anywhere until that mess is cleaned up.
My practitioner saw all of my aliments as symptoms of this underlying gridlock, and in treating that backup, she started to get traffic flowing again, which alleviated the exhaustion, stress, depression, and unexplained infertility.
When I arrived for an appointment, my acupuncturist would feel the pulse in both my wrists and look at my tongue, this would give her an indication of where the pile-up was on the BQE meridian at that particular moment. Coming from mainstream medicine, I found it uncanny, and more than a little bizarre, how she would immediately pick up on some subtle difference in the way I’d been feeling through these two methods.
This would inevitably lead to a discussion of how I was doing both physically and emotionally. In TCM mind, body, and spirit are equal contributers to health. My practitioner was not only my acupuncturist who prescribed herbal treatments, she also became my psychologist and helped me to process the feelings I was having regarding infertility, my recent miscarriage, and my all consuming desire to have a child.
We would then look at the chart I was keeping to record my basal body temperature and fertility signs. We used this graph of my cycle to figure out when I was most likely to conceive. Each month my erratic temperatures lessened and my chart looked more and more normal. It was a great visual to see how TCM was helping to alleviate the traffic jam.
After the discussion, we would go to the treatment room where she would insert tiny needles into points along the Qi meridians to help energy flow freely. I would lie in the darkened room and relax while she wrote my prescription for chinese herbs. These needles I’m talking about are really very small and they don’t hurt (certainly nothing compared to the injections I was giving myself during mainstream fertility treatments). In fact, I would look forward to my weekly appointment because it was one time where I had to relax. There’s not a whole lot else you can do when you’re lying on a table stuck full of needles. I always left her office with flushed cheeks and a little buzz, feeling much lighter and more optimistic than when I had entered.
The following day I would stop by China Town on my way home from work to pick up my prescription. I would watch in amazement as hundreds of little drawers were opened and closed. Herbs that were unrecognizable to me were removed and weighed on traditional copper scales as prescriptions were filled. It was a trip into a completely different world, and the ancient mystery of it all gave me hope. I would leave with my little brown bag and brewing instructions.
I used my purpose bought clay teapot to brew the herbs in our little Brooklyn apartment and the smell permeated everything. The herbs stank so much that the smell would still be lingering the next morning. They didn’t taste great either. This isn’t a tea you can cozy up with, this is a ninja warrior you fight to get down and fight even harder to keep down. The first week was the hardest but then I developed my own tea drinking muscles and that little ninja no longer stood a chance against my stomach.
I certainly benefited from acupuncture and Chinese herbs: my stress lowered, my energy increased, and my depression subsided. With each month of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, my basal body temperatures became less erratic and my fertility signs became clearer.
Based on my own experience, I have no doubt that TCM improves fertility. It has been around for hundreds of years and is becoming increasingly accepted among mainstream medical practitioners. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce stress, which cannot only impact fertility but is also exasperated in mainstream fertility treatments. For this reason, it is also a great accompaniment to Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
After 10 months of acupuncture and herbs, we decided to give mainstream fertility treatments one last try. I stopped the Chinese herbs and did an IVF treatment, supported with acupuncture. That procedure produced my eldest daughter and I believe that the 10 months I spent building myself up with TCM played a major role in our success.
We were on a timeframe as we were about to move to Zambia, Southern Africa, where acupuncture and mainstream fertility treatments are not available. I do, however, believe that I would have eventually conceived with acupuncture and Chinese herbs alone. With the side effects of increased energy and vitality, I feel TCM is the best place to start a treatment program for unexplained infertility.
As with any profession, some individuals are more specialized in certain areas. You’ll want to find an acupuncturist who has experience (and success) working with fertility issues. It is also important to find someone that you are comfortable with. Discussing the intimate details of your fertility signs can be uncomfortable at the best of times, so look for someone that makes you feel at ease. Not all acupuncturists are trained to prescribe herbs. If this is something you are interested in, you will need to ask any acupuncturist you are considering if they are trained in Chinese herbology. If they are, you may also want to know if they create their own formulas specific to your needs or if they prescribe ready made formulas that are often in pill form.
To find out more about the practitioner that worked with me, Sally Rappeport located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, please take a look at her website. It will provide a lot more information about TCM and acupuncture as well as her contact details and her experience and approach to treating women’s issues and other chronic conditions. If you are looking for an acupuncturist and are near Brooklyn, I cannot recommend her enough.
To read about Mayan abdominal massage, another alternative therapy I found helpful see:
To read more about my experiences with mainstream medical treatments take a look at the following posts:
- What is the Best Treatment for Unexplained Infertility: Clomid, IUI, and IVF?
- Top Fertility Clinics are not Created Equal; My Unexplained Infertility Success Story from NYC