As we enter National Infertility Month, we invited a patient to share how acupuncture impacted her fertility journey. She has generously offered to share her experience in hopes that it brings comfort and connection to others who are navigating infertility. Here is Nicole’s story, in her own words.
Infertility is suffocating; its heaviness so stifling it steals your breath, it intrudes every aspect of your life, infusing your days with hopelessness and grief, it makes you feel weary and worn. This was me: after years of periods that came, right on time, despite desperate prayers that they would stay at bay coupled with countless failed infertility treatments; I was left feeling like a broken and incomplete woman. Regardless, I remained relentless…and desperate…in my quest to conceive. Having already tried all the diets, all the treatments, and all the recommendations, it was in those darkest days of infertility, in the depths of my own despair, that I finally, through word of mouth and a bit of internet research, found acupuncture, that I finally found Julie.
When I made the initial phone call to Selby Acupuncture to set up my first appointment, I think I barely got two words out before breaking down into sobs. And she held me there, Julie, over the phone line, ensuring me that all hope was not lost, and caring for me before she even saw my face. It was in those few minutes during that first phone call that I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, things could turn out the way I prayed so intensely they would and perhaps quite possibly acupuncture was the key. I got in for an appointment the very next week and went back every week to two weeks for the next several years, working with Julie and her team to get my body, my mind, and my soul ready for IVF.
There was always this perfect moment at the start of every appointment, right as the first needle was placed, when the weight would lift from my chest, my lungs would open up and I would take a long, deep breath. Each week it was in this breath that I found relief, that I found a sense of calm; it was in this breath that my body relaxed and my heart found just the smallest amount of peace amidst all the stress and anxiety that had become ingrained in my typical infertility routine. This breath was magic. And, over time, as acupuncture became a more consistent part of my weekly schedule, this breath became easier to come by – even outside of treatment – and I felt my body get healthier, stronger, more able. Just by walking into the clinic, I was immediately relaxed. And, after a couple more failed infertility treatments (six total), my husband and I, and our entire care team (including my OBGYN and Julie), agreed that IVF was our next step and the time was now. I took that deep, courage-invoking breath and dove right in.
At this point, I’d read all kinds of research and had numerous conversations with my acupuncturist and others about the benefits acupuncture yields in infertility intervention outcomes, particularly with IVF, so once our treatment began, my acupuncture regimen became even more important. What stood out to me in the research in particular was the improved outcomes seen when acupuncture treatment was given immediately prior to and immediately following an IVF transfer. Now, after more than six years of infertility and heartbreak, I was determined to do anything and everything in my power to become pregnant, so I took this information to my reproductive endocrinologist and requested that my acupuncturist be allowed to treat me before and after my upcoming IVF transfer. Julie had already agreed, however, to my great dismay and surprise my reproductive endocrinologist rejected my request due to purported liability. Instead, I was told that I could drive to my acupuncture clinic immediately after the transfer and get treated before going home.
I was devastated. This felt counterintuitive to all of the other recommendations I’d received: acupuncture immediately before and after, keep stress low, go home and be on bed rest for two days, etc. Making a special trip and getting in and out of the car felt potentially detrimental to our outcome, but at this point, acupuncture had become so key to my physical and mental well being, and I believed that delayed acupuncture was better than no acupuncture, so I acquiesced to the limits of the IVF clinic.
After a roller-coaster of a ride and unexpected delay (but that is a story for another time), it was June 2012 and finally time to transfer our one viable Frozen embryo. I did everything according to instructions and plan, including making the trip to my acupuncture clinic, praying harder than I’d ever prayed for anything that our embryo would take and we would be pregnant, and then heading straight home for two days of bed rest. But, our story was only just beginning at this point and, after an excruciating two-week wait, we learned that we were not pregnant.
I broke down, I wanted to give up, I went on vacation with my amazing husband, and then I pulled myself up by the proverbial bootstraps and decided to give it another go.
For this second round, I did everything the same: my acupuncture regimen remained intact, I continued with a fertility-friendly diet, and I took care of my body and my heart in all the ways I could. The only thing that changed was going to a completely different IVF clinic and working with a completely different Reproductive Endocrinologist. During the intake appointment, once we completed the health history and began discussing next steps, they asked me if I had an acupuncturist and if I was interested in having said acupuncturist treat me on site the day of the transfer. They. Asked. Me! I cried from relief on the spot and knew right there I’d found the right clinic. As we continued our conversation, they expressed how important it was, how core it was to their beliefs as a provider to care for the entire patient, asserting how they too have seen positive outcomes when IVF is paired with acupuncture. Liability was not their concern; I was their concern. I was sold.
Julie and I got to work getting my body, my head and my heart in the best place it could be so that it could serve as the vessel for life I so desired. Seeing her every week, amidst the shots and tests and monitoring and anxious waiting was nothing short of a breath of fresh air. Laying on that table, in the dark and in the quiet, breathing in and breathing out, was my sanctuary from it all, the only place I could truly take pause. There were times during the cycle that I felt strong and sure, where I would walk into my appointment head held high, and there were many times I felt overwhelmed and weak, times I was in pain and tired and I could barely make it onto the table, but no matter where I was or in what condition, Julie was right there beside me, meeting me in that space and guiding me through.
Then, in November of 2012, it was time for our second retrieval. The retrieval went beautifully and two gorgeous embryos were to be transferred. On the morning of the transfer, Julie was the first face I saw as I entered the clinic. I remained a bit anxious, but it that moment, the worry of it all, the fear that I’d carried from the heartbreak of the past, it all washed away. We were walked back to a procedure room, the lights were dimmed, a quiet fell over the space, and Julie got to work. My teeth, which had been chattering, quieted. I found my breath. My body calmed. I was ready. The transfer was completed and I was wheeled right back to Julie for a second treatment – now, much of this I don’t remember, due to the medication, but knowing she would be right there waiting for me and those embryos was all I needed.
On the day before Thanksgiving, we learned we were pregnant and one of the first people I called was Julie. Her tearful and joyful reaction was everything – it had become her journey too, after all and the glee between us was palpable. Nine months later, our first daughter, Haddie Lou was born healthy and gorgeous on July 27, 2013. Everything: all of the appointments and needles and herbs and care and heartbreak and healing had all culminated in this one tiny, perfect human, and it was all worth it.
Since then, Julie has seen me through so much more life…and loss. Our third IVF cycle resulted in the conception of our son. It was a mere 15 weeks into my pregnancy with him when he was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a condition deemed incompatible with life, and our world came crashing down around us. Julie, again, was one of my first calls and she stayed with me, through my entire pregnancy, keeping my body and my heart strong so that I could give him as much life as possible while preparing for his birth. On February 19th, after carrying him to term, our wee, but mighty Abel Joseph was born. He lived for a stunningly beautiful 4 hours and 11 minutes before dying in my arms. In my grief, Julie was there, opening her heart and scheduling book to me, whenever I needed it, when I felt I couldn’t make it, when my spirit was worn and weary, and when, after just a few months, I desperately wanted to try again. She met me wherever I was and helped get me to where I wanted to go.
After a failed frozen transfer, we decided to try again with another fresh cycle. Everyone stepped into place and the plan, as we’d practiced and refined it, was put into motion. It all felt so familiar, so fluid, and so settling. I’d experienced life’s greatest loss, and I carried that loss, I carried Abel, with me in every moment; I was terrified of going through even a piece of that again. But, Julie, our doctor, the nurses, they had all been there with us and they carried a bit of Abel with them as well, so despite how fearful I was, I felt comfort in knowing we were all in it together.
As it had before, the retrieval went off without a hitch and two embryos were prepared for transfer in November of 2016. As she had been before, Julie was there. She placed that first needle and I took that glorious deep breath. She sent me off and received me and those embryos when we returned. My husband took me home, we rested and waited. Two weeks later we found out that we would be parents for the third time. There is no way to describe that feeling. And, a couple months shy of her due date and in quite exciting fashion (again, another story for another time), Hazel Genevieve made her grand entrance on July 9th, 2017.
My life is full, my heart, despite missing a huge Abel-sized piece, is full, my days are hectic and loud and chaotically beautiful. Being a mother is my calling, I know this to be true, despite how difficult motherhood was to come by. I didn’t get here spontaneously, as many do, but I got here with a great deal of love, care, courage and devotion, which is so much of what mothers are made of. IVF is so hard. It drains you emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. And, as incredible as it is, It can be isolating and it can be scary. Because of this, and because of my experience, I believe, with all of my fibers, that an integrated, holistic, and multi-discipline approach is key. Knowing that I had acupuncture every week, knowing that I would find that breath between stim meds and ultrasounds, knowing that I had a team of people working to ensure that I was in the best possible position to conceive, knowing that I was seen and heard, knowing that I was being treated as a whole and not a part, was the reason I didn’t succumb to the heaviness and hopelessness of years of infertility and heartbreak. It’s the reason the world knows Haddie, Abel and Hazel and all the gifts they bring with them. It’s the reason I’m a mother and why I owe enormous amounts of gratitude to Julie and to her gifts as an acupuncturist, as a healer, and as a nurturer.