Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Fertility Treatments
Fertility starts with menstruation. When treating women especially for fertility, their menstrual history is the most valuable information one can have from the Chinese Medicine perspective. That is why we go through the details of the cycle, the length, regularity, amount and color of blood, presence of clots, and associated symptoms during, before or after. All that gives us information about the emotional, physical and hormonal balance of the person. The flow of menstrual blood, like the flow of our breath, is ruled by our autonomic nervous system. The more tense we are the more jagged and less satisfying is our breathing. The more we hold tension in our lower abdomen, our hips and our sacrum, the more we create stagnation in the flow of energy that moves the blood in our uterus. In Chinese Medicine "cold" is also a big culprit. Anytime we have cold feet, we are bringing cold into the channels that enter uterus. The same with eating cold food during our menstruation such as ice cream, yogurt, iced drinks, too much raw food or smoothies. Those can affect the flow of our blood and over time can lead to disharmony and stagnation.
Life altering emotional events during childhood and teenage hood can affect our cycle as well as the use of birth control and IUDs with or without hormones. Anything that prevents us from menstruating in a relaxed and warm environment can lead to stagnation and fertility issues along the way. You might think who is not stressed and working during their menstruation? There are little things we can do to help the flow. Warm bath or use of moxibustion on the abdomen and feet during menstruation or before and avoiding cold food and stressful situations in our control is a step in the right direction. Our menstrual care and habits are the most important element in ensuring a future healthy pregnancy.
From the Chinese Medicine perspective the Essence or Jing and kidneys are in charge of reproductive energy. You can think of them as reproductive organs, hormones, and adrenals. The Essence is stored in kidneys, reproductive organs and our brain. The Essence is the body’s densest substance, but also the most ephemeral. We are born with our preserve of it according to Chinese Medicine and as we age we keep using it up until we die. It’s what keeps us young, our joints agile and our minds flexible and creative, it’s the essence that builds new neurons in our brain when we are young, it’s also our DNA and genetics that we are born with. Both kidney yin and yang need to be present and in balance. Reproduction is the dance of the Fire and Water elements, the nourishment and the force, the progesterone and the estrogen, the FSH and LH. To preserve the Essence and nourish it is crucial for a healthy and balanced reproductive life. The main way to preserve Essence is to live a life of low stress since cortisol is what expedites the use of our Essence. Anything that creates shock or fatigue for the body and mind has to be minimized. That is why changing a job that has a more hour commute to one that is remote is a great strategy. So is changing a high stress job or environment to one that is lower stress.
Our diet is a big part of how we place stress on our nervous system. Caffeine and sugar saturated diet keeps us on a nervous system yoyo. Drinking plenty of water and getting quality sleep at night is crucial for cleansing our body from the stress of the day. Going for walks in Nature and connecting to loving and grounded friends and family is also a way of reducing stress. Living a low stress life is a key to pregnancy and an enjoyable experience of parenthood.
The quality of eggs and hormonal balance can be affected by Chinese herbs and acupuncture. It takes longer to nourish Essence than other treatments that involves qi or blood in Chinese Medicine. Nourishing essence is like mending bones, creating bone marrow, maturing fertile eggs and having the balance and grounding of nervous system to care for them. According to Toni A. Maughan and Xiao-Ping Zhai from their article "The Acupuncture Treatment of
Female Infertility - with Particular Reference to Egg Quality and Endometrial Receptiveness" (see links below) it takes about 4 to 9 months for our eggs to mature. In addition one needs at least three menstrual cycles to start changing the menstrual patterns. So I recommend an average of 3 to 6 months of treatments with Acupuncture and herbs after a miscarriage or failed IVF attempt before starting again.
I see a lot of women in my practice who are going through IVF therapy. The hormonal treatments for egg retrieval and insemination are intense and disturbing to the balance of kidney yin and yang. Some of my clients experience peri-menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Some have to endure weight gain, breast tenderness and nausea. Acupuncture is immensely helpful in these moments, by clearing heat and managing the symptoms, it helps ground the body-mind to create an optimum relaxed nervous system that can be most receptive to the medical interventions.
With the fertility success at 30 to 40% in IVF it becomes imperative in my practice to remain neutral. It’s really hard not to want to rejoice or feel like a failure at someone’s success or lack of. However the neutral space is what helps people find out what their calling is. Are they in for another round, do they need some time off to find themselves without the effects of the hormones, or are they feeling ready to give it another go. There is a lot of emotions, fear, insecurities, anger, self blame, partner blame, etc in this process. Having a supportive partner or a good therapist who can listen and hold space is immeasurable.
Becoming a mother was the answer to my life’s quests in so many ways. I cannot imagine where I would be without it. I became a mother at a rather late age of 38. What in the view of the ancient medicine is considered an old mother! Yet in our modern time so many women by the time they are ready to create a family financially and emotionally, they are already in their mid thirties. They have spent almost 20 years of their most fertile reproductive age trying not to get pregnant. Ignoring their bodies’ natural cycles, using birth control pills and IUDs and blocking their emotional ups and downs related to their cycles with psychiatric medications. Now at this point trying to get pregnant is undoing 20 years of a life style. No wonder a lot of my clients who get pregnant at this stage go through big life changes such as changing jobs into less stressful ones, moving out of the city, working from home and adapting a more relaxed life style closer to Nature.
Becoming pregnant is the most incredible gift of Nature. At its core is the prefect blend of parasympathetic and sympathetic activities of our nervous system. For this perfect balance to be present one has to be aligned with one’s spiritual access as well as rooted into the most physical parts of life. A connection between Heaven and Earth. The Etheric and the Earth elements meeting in the mutual space of being; welcoming a soul to this earthly planet.
Now for this perfect miracle of life to happen so many parts of the equation have to line up. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we have room for both etheric and earthly elements. We have herbs and practical therapies to move stagnant blood, to bring fresh blood to the uterus, to nourish essence and have high quality eggs, and to balance the reproductive hormones. At the same time we have a space to bring awareness and flow to what needs to resolve for any process to become integrated in the emotion-mind-spirit level, for the nervous system to find balance, for one to become connected to one’s higher self and guides, and to listen to one’s calling and inner voice.
In Western fertility medicine, since the focus is solely on the physical level a lot of times the suggestion is to try an IVF method which is a more controlled environment and easier to predict from the medical perspective. This narrow focus unfortunately places huge amount of stress on women who go through the process. Hence there is such a great popularity and need for acupuncture during IVF and the success of it supported by research.
At the end of the day, those of us who are blessed to become mothers will be and those who are not will not and my hope is that they will be able to find other channels to express their mothering energy in the world. How that devision is made remains a mystery.