I reached out to Om Mama Collective members, Dana + Brittnie of Esva Healing, to share how acupuncture can be beneficial for fertility. As Brittnie mentions in her story, according to the CDC about 10 in every 100 women in the US have difficulty becoming pregnant or staying pregnant. Acupuncture can improve many challenges associated with infertility, including improving blood circulation, decreasing stress, and even diminishing fibroids and cysts – to name a few. I am so grateful to Brittnie for sharing her journey from endometriosis and infertility diagnosis to acupuncture and fertility.
One of the things I love most about acupuncture is that it is a profession where 90% of those in the field chose the path based on a personal success story. For me this story centers around my reproductive health.
At a very young age I was diagnosed with Endometriosis. I struggled through my teenage years with insanely heavy bleeding (think a super-plus tampon AND a diaper sized pad bled through in an hour), incredibly painful ovulation and periods, and a barrage of birth control meant to help but did nothing aside from leaving me in a state of depression. As I entered college my symptoms got worse. I frequently had cysts forming and then rupturing, which left me sobbing on the floor as I crawled to the bathroom searching for the temporary relief of a hot bath. I visited the ER on numerous occasions certain my appendix had ruptured to once again be put on a different type of birth control because it was just the pain from my disorder. When I was in the midst of this hell one doctor nonchalantly told me that I should consider a hysterectomy since my chances of having children were slim to none anyway. I still cant believe that doctor could look at a 20 year old woman and say such a thing as though she was telling me I had a cold, but more on the damage that did later.
Hormones, Birth Control and Menopause
I was eventually put on a drug called Lupron which is a hormone injection that puts the body into a false menopause. The drug did give me almost two years of relief but the six months I had to take it leave me terrified of what the real menopause will have to offer. Then when I was 23, in the middle of teaching my preschool students, the old familiar pain returned. I remember having to quickly lower myself to one of the (very) small chairs in my classroom as I tried to breath and not cry. One of my students came over and put her sweet hands on my face and asked my why I was sad. I was in so much pain I couldn’t even answer her and the director of the school had to drive me home.
The resurgence of my symptoms presented a new issue as well. This was before the age of Obamacare and the new insurance I had gotten when I started teaching labeled my endometriosis as a pre-existing condition, for which they would not cover treatment. So that meant the Lupron which had given me two years of relief, would cost me almost $1000 dollars a month. That was if I even wanted to go through the separate nightmare that the side effects of the drug had to offer. Needless to say I was feeling pretty hopeless, especially as each month the symptoms got more severe and frequent. Thankfully my roommate at the time was the son of a nurse who focused on natural and wholistic health. While she was visiting one day I was talking to her about my situation and she told me to try acupuncture. I had used acupuncture before but only for muscle aches and pains and had no idea it could help with anything else.
Acupuncture for Endometriosis
Ultimately I have always been a bit of a skeptic. So I was fairly certain acupuncture would not be the solution but I was willing to try anything. And since the acupuncturist I found was only 50 bucks a visit, even at once a week I’d be way better off then paying the $1000 a month I’d have to fork over for the Lupron.
I’m sure that after reading the first sentence of this story you have already guessed this, but it worked. I did weekly acupuncture sessions for a couple months and slowly weened off to going very occasionally for a “tune-up”. And I can honestly say that it has been over 10 years and I am virtually symptom free. And as a result when I needed a new path in life, I decided to return to school to become an acupuncturist. Both to better understand the medicine that had been my lifeline, and to bring that “magic” to other women in similar situations.
My “Truth Flag”
Now back to the comment about my future infertility. While it was nothing short of devastating, over time I basically went through the stages of grief and then allowed it to become my truth. I carried that truth with me almost like a flag. You see when you work with kids (and honestly even when you don’t) it is inevitable that you will hear “when are you going to have children, you’ll be such a great mom” or “you have to have kids, someone who loves them as much as you won’t be complete without them”. It is kind of crazy that anyone ever thinks this is an okay kind of pressure to put on someone. Additionally, such statements are rather ignorant as they indicate an assumption that everyone and anyone can get pregnant at any time, which really couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, according to the CDC about 10 in every 100 women in the US have difficulty becoming pregnant or staying pregnant. But I digress.
The point is that every time such a statement was made I’d automatically wave my “truth flag” and would respond “I have severe endometriosis and was told I probably cant have kids” as plainly as if I was commenting on the weather. I would often follow this with some sort of statement about how I really only liked the kids I could give back anyway, so that I could make the other person more at ease over their thoughtless comment (which is BS by the way, if someone is going to make an asinine comment to you, it is not your job to make THEM feel less uncomfortable).
Acupuncture for Fertility
This is where the weight of that one doctor’s statement really begins to shine. Despite the success I had had with acupuncture, and then the large amounts of studying, time, energy, and money I put into becoming an acupuncturist, I apparently still wasn’t convinced. Actually through all the classes I took on female health, and all the research I read on acupuncture and fertility, or even successfully treating patients with fertility issues, it never occurred to me that perhaps my infertility didn’t have to be my truth anymore. Here is where Dana (my business partner, fellow acupuncturist, best friend, and voice of reason) plays a big part. As we were nearing the end of grad school she said “why don’t you just try to get pregnant”.
Obviously I waved my truth flag but she said, “then why not try, you have been getting acupuncture forever and for all you know its probably healed your scar tissue”. For 9 years I had been so invested in being unable to have children, my husband I had only used the “pull out method”. Which further convinced me that if I was ever going to get pregnant it would have happened. Because Dana is bossy but has a habit of being right, I figured I might as well listen to her and just “try”. So I did. And long story short, turns out acupuncture works and I have two beautiful little girls to show for it.
So on to some of the whys and hows. In many reproductive disorders, blood circulation and oxygenation to the uterus and ovaries is diminished. Not only does this make it a less hospitable environment for a fetus, it can cause a build up of carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which increases the pain and discomfort felt during their menses. Research has shown that acupuncture greatly increases uterine arterial blood flow. Additionally Chinese medicine can enhance the reproductive potential by harmonizing the endocrine system. Acupuncture has been shown to directly affect the pineal and hypothalamus glands which have a significant affect the reproductive organs of both males and females.
As was true in my case, acupuncture has also been shown to dissolve or diminish polycystic ovarian cysts, other ovarian masses, fallopian blockages, and fibroids. All prevalent causes of fertility issues.
Acupuncture for Stress Relief
A very large way acupuncture can help is to diminish stress. Pretty much everyone knows someone that tried for years to get pregnant and then either adopted or did some sort of fertility treatment. And shortly after that child came into being, the couple got pregnant no problem. A HUGE part of this is due to the stress people put on themselves when trying to conceive. When you are constantly monitoring your ovulation and tracking every last symptom of your cycle, and you then top it off with the disappointment of getting your period month after month, how can you not be stressed? So when a child comes into the picture and a couple then gets pregnant inadvertently what has changed? You guessed it, there is no longer the stress of trying to have a baby. It turns out that stress causes your body to produce large amounts of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone has an annoying habit off suppressing ovulation and causing an imbalance of the estrogen and progesterone ratio. Well thankfully, acupuncture is well known for its stress reduction (and thus cortisol production) capabilities. In fact it is pretty normal to hear terms like “acubliss”, “acudrunk”, or even “acustoned” from patients after treatments because of the great relaxation acupuncture can provide.
What to Expect
So what can you expect if you seek acupuncture for help getting pregnant? Obviously there will be needles involved, but they aren’t going to be placed in the same places for every person. In fact, from week to week the treatment will be different because that is the really great thing about acupuncture, it is completely unique to each person and to what the need from each individual session. Sometimes we might burn something called moxa over your stomach in order to bring warmth and blood flow to the uterus if it seems like perhaps “cold in the uterus” (yes that is an actual Chinese medicine diagnosis) is what your symptoms suggest. Often you will have needles inserted directly above your uterus and ovaries, but occasionally all the points we select might be on your back. The back is where something called “the back shu” are located, which are essentially the heavy hitters for all of the systems in Chinese Medicine. And yet another treatment might only involve points on your hands and feet because that’s where there are amazing points for opening up blockages in the “channels” of the body. More then likely you will also be asked if you want to try herbs. I’m not going to lie, some of them taste like burning rubber if you take them as granules so if that is too hard to stomach, feel free to ask about taking encapsulated herbs instead. The point is this medicine doesn’t look at you as blood tests and lab results. It looks at you as a whole person, and fertility problems are only part of the larger picture.
Speaking of that larger picture, don’t forget about the other half of making a baby. In fact, 40% of the time infertility is actually the man’s issue. And acupuncture is just as useful in treating hormonal imbalances and stress levels in men as it is in women. So if you are considering acupuncture for fertility, please consider bringing the sperm donor as well.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Above all, remember to be gentle with yourself. Our problems or imbalances didn’t happen overnight, and it is going to take a while to convince the body to heal itself. So give yourself space to feel sad or disappointed or even angry when your period comes or your best friend gets pregnant after one try. Then try your best to let go of those feelings that aren’t serving you and give yourself permission to be hopeful. Just try not carry around negativity and self doubt or an identity tied to infertility like I did. Because if that becomes your truth, your body is probably going to believe it too.
Dana + Brittnie practice out of Aditi in Wallingford and the StudioWorks building in Ballard. Learn more about them here + follow them on Instagram! Esva offers exclusive discounts to Om Mama Co. Members. Join us today and get these and many other benefits here!