Notes from a Portland Acupuncturist: Fertility Struggles and Support

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LotusIn my Portland acupuncture practice, I treat a lot of women both locally and from other states who have fertility concerns. Some of them come to see months before they plan to start trying to conceive, but usually it is after varying amounts of time have passed without success. For some people, coming to see me is their first step in bringing in outside help. Some women decide to try acupuncture and herbs because they are not ready to go the conventional medical route. Some of them can’t afford the conventional medical route. Sometimes it is early enough in the process that their OB-Gyn won’t recommend any conventional treatment. For others it is after years of trying, sometimes even after numerous failed attempts at IVF, and they come to me as a last resort.

We spend the majority of our reproductive lives trying to prevent pregnancy based on the assumption that when we are ready, we’ll be able to conceive.

Whatever amount of time or how many trials have passed on your journey to motherhood, you all share common fears: The fear that you may never be able to have children. The fear that something is wrong with you. The intense ache, the deep and wounding idea that your body is letting you down. That you are letting your partner down. These fears are based on a primal desire — this is not a new job or a bigger apartment that you want. You want to have a child. This is the biggest want you have ever had.

And you are quickly realizing that you are not in control.

I remember that fear. I remember parcelling out my life in two week chunks. The first half of my cycle full of hope. This will finally be the month! Some months I let myself have a glass of wine or cup of coffee, hang out with friends, go jogging. Some months I was on the new cleanse I read about or taking that herb that a friend told me about or using a new tracking tool that was certain to make the difference.

Then came post-ovulation. The 2 week period of seclusion, worry, anticipation; this time was filled with the constant and obsessive monitoring of any symptom that could prove I was or was not pregnant (depending on how far the hope stretched that month). I remember that desperation. The questioning. The self blame: Maybe I didn’t want it enough and that’s why I’m not pregnant. Maybe I wanted it too much and that’s why I’m not pregnant. I see it in virtually all of my patients.

It would be bad enough if this roller coaster only affected you, but this intense mental, emotional and physical stress seeps into your relationship, and oftentimes leads to strife between you and your partner. Sex becomes a task to be completed and a means to an end instead of a loving or passionate act. I remember my husband telling me with a defeated look on his face that I had managed to make sex not fun anymore.

Your journey will be much different depending on whether or not you told friends or family that you were going to start trying. But either way, it is isolating. Unless people have been through it, there is no way they can understand the struggles that come with infertility. If people know about your struggles, you have likely heard some version of the following: “You’re just too worried about it. Relax and it will happen.” Now it is absolutely true that stress is a fertility impediment, but having someone tell you to relax, to stop worrying about the one and only thing you want in the world is far more likely to make you want to commit a violent act than it is to help.

The truth is that people don’t know what to say when someone wants to be pregnant and isn’t. We are terrible at dealing with grief in our culture, and every single month that you get your period, you grieve. You grieve the child that you hoped would be growing inside of you. You grieve the life that you hoped you would have and now fear you will not. You grieve the things that you put on hold so that you could get pregnant only to find out that you are still not pregnant.

The isolation, fear, anger, and grief that come along with infertility (or even the fear of infertility) can feel too much to bear. You do not need to undertake this struggle alone. You are not alone. Almost 11% of women ages 15-44 in the US have impaired fertility. For some this means difficulty getting pregnant, for others it is difficulty in staying pregnant. Some women are dealing with primary infertility, while others have had a child or children without issue before and now are dealing with secondary infertility. Whatever your situation is, you are not alone.

The more you struggle in silence, the harder the road you will have to walk.

It is easy to lose sight of yourself as a person, to lose sight of your marriage, and to lose sight of other life goals when you are focused on getting pregnant.

What you need is to be guided. To be nurtured. To have support and to have people around you who can help sift through the information so that you don’t have to. You need to stop googling and leave the forums. You need to take care of yourself. You need to have honest and open communication with your partner about your end goals and about the resources you are both willing to commit to reaching those goals. These conversations need to happen regularly, too, as the limits you both set will change as time moves forward. You need to come through this intact with a strong relationship, and to make that happen, you cannot do it alone.

Whether you come to see me for help with your fertility, or you choose a different option, please do not try to walk this path alone.  A whole world of support exists.  You are not alone.