Monday, January 29, 2007


I started acupuncture right around the time I started trying to get pregnant. I'd never tried it before, but a friend swears that acupuncture made her second IVF attempt succeed. So I figured, why not? I found an American acupuncturist who'd worked in a fertility clinic and had special protocols for women trying to conceive. She prescribed herbs to take twice a day (two formulas -- one for before the insemination, and one after).

When I got pregnant, I had been taking the herbs she gave me. But I ran out just as the test turned positive, and by the time my new supply arrived, I felt intuitively that I shouldn't take them. So I didn't.

The acupuncturist also advised against going running after ovulation. I've heard this elsewhere, but my OB at the time (Dr. Unsympathetic) thought running was fine. After I found out I was pregnant, I went running a few times, because I really wanted to.

After the miscarriage, I tried a few more times and wasn't getting pregnant, so I decided to see a different acupuncturist -- a older Chinese woman whose ability to get infertile women pregnant was legendary. She had, apparently, a more traditional approach: you were instructed to bring a jar of urine to each appointment. She'd take the jar, shake it up, and assess you based on the bubbles. That's right.

Here are some of her suggestions:
Don't exercise: during your period, around ovulation, after ovulation.
Don’t eat: sugar, dairy, anything cooked in the microwave, beef and poultry if it wasn't organic.
Eat: yams, seaweed, papaya, shrimp, seafood, fruit.

She didn't prescribe herbs (they took too long to work, she said, but if you really wanted them, you could go see her sister), and she advised against taking a prenatal vitamin (I acquiesced and switched to simple folic acid). She also suggested I lose 10 pounds. (Whatever. Losing weight while trying to conceive is generally frowned upon.)

Acupuncturist #1's treatments were relaxing. Number 2's were downright unpleasant. They were painful, and there was a lot of yelling. "GET A COLOR. Cervix is LIGHT LIGHT BLUE. Uterus dark blue. Fallopian tubes light blue. Ovaries dark dark blue." Then she'd wiggle the needles -- nicely positioned around my uterus and ovaries -- in such a way that I'd feel a shock. "TURN TO GOLD!", she'd yell. I'd arrive home exhausted.

The hardest thing about #2's advice was following her dietary restrictions. I'm a girl who enjoys her chocolate cake, so avoiding sugar entirely was really challenging. And it was hard to reconcile the advice -- she wants me to eat sweet potatoes, but she doesn't want me to cook food in the microwave. If that's the only way I'm going to eat them, does the benefit of the sweet potatoes outweigh the cost of the microwave?

I actually did a pretty good job, for a while, of cutting way down on the sweets (though not cutting them out entirely) and eliminating some dairy. I found a seaweed snack I liked and a form of papaya I could tolerate, and ate seafood that's low in mercury. I definitely wasn’t perfect, but I tried. But with all of that effort, I didn't get pregnant.

During this journey, having new things to try, like acupuncture and Clomid, has been a real comfort. It’s nice to feel as if you can control the outcome, in truth, you can’t. When I miscarried, Dr. Unsympathetic was adamant that there was nothing I could have done during my pregnancy to change the outcome. I believe her. So at some point, as I spent weeks munching on seaweed and passing up brownies, I realized that the problem with Acupuncturist #2’s approach was that it gave me the illusion of too much control. When I miscarried, it wasn't because I went running, and if I didn't get pregnant, it wasn't because I ate a KitKat bar. While cutting down on the sugar is, for me, a good idea (I have a little bit of a problem with the chocolate-chip cookie dough), blaming my sweet tooth for my infertility isn’t. I mostly eat a healthy diet, but women across the country get knocked up eating junk.

A friend told a story of another friend, S., who was having trouble conceiving. S. had cut out running but eventually started up again, reasoning, ‘I’m not getting pregnant by not running, so I might as well run.’ (She eventually did IVF and has twins.) I didn’t get pregnant following Acupuncturist #2’s recommendations, and when I started on the fertility drugs, I stopped seeing her, knowing that she would disapprove.

I haven’t gone back to see Acupuncturist #1 in a while. (I never thought I was the kind of person who'd have not one but two acupuncturists.) It’s hard to schedule, especially given all the schlepping I have to do for the rest of the project. I still occasionally eat sweet potatoes and dried papaya, and the seaweed snack is a keeper. But I’ve given up the illusion that my diet will be the determining factor in whether a healthy egg meets a healthy sperm, fertilizes, continues to divide, and seven to 10 days later, finds a nice comfy uterine lining in which to implant. Sometimes it’s a relief to accept the things I cannot change.

1 comment:

Nosher said...

I just came across your post and wanted to say I can *really* relate about the acupuncture and issues of control. I've had acupuncture for several years (even before TTC) and recently have decided to quit. If it hasn't worked yet, it's doubtful it will do anything. It's a relief to feel it's not all my fault.
Thank you!