When I Interviewed A...Fertility Acupuncturist
I tried pretty much everything when we were riding the Fertility Bandwagon of Delight.
Some of it I liked, some of it I didn’t. The key is finding what YOU like. If you find you don’t enjoy something or that it is actually adding to your stress: don't do it! For me, acupuncture was something I liked.
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a while, you’ve probably
a) Heard acupuncture can help but haven’t yet had a go cos you’re a bit cynical/scared of needles/totally f-ing broke from all of the other stuff you’ve forked out for (and Fertile Folk get their babies for FREE dammit!!)
b) Had a few sessions and love it
c) Been seeing someone for months: now mildly obsessed with therapist
d) Had one session: hated it
e) Had a few sessions, continue to go cos’ it’s supposed to be good and might help you get up the duff
But getting to the point (needles innit! sorry); one way or another if you’re ‘TTC’ you’ll know acupuncture is up there on The List of Things to Try.
I thought if I spoke to some very wise, very experienced acupuncturists it might help you decide whether you try it or continue with it or at least understand a bit more about why you’re actually going.
Knowledge is power my friend. This is the first in a two-part series on Acupuncture.
Acupuncturist with over 10 years’ experience, specialising in Fertility. (Susana also has her own egg donor IVF experience which she was generous enough to share with me. I'll also be sharing it with you - with permission!- in another blog soon)
I met Susana on a freezing, snowy day in her Streatham clinic, where she gave me lots of her valuable time. Here is an extract from our fascinating talk:
A: I think I got to the acupuncture stage when I just felt like I needed something else to do. I didn’t know if it would help. I just researched and found someone local who specialised in fertility. I found my sessions very helpful. It was like a more practical version of counselling with a side helping of ‘might get you pregnant’. Can you explain what it is and how can it help fertility?
S: It helps at different levels. At a nutritionist you are told what to eat; but with acupuncture we look at everything – diet, emotional wellbeing, symptoms, other conditions you may think have nothing to do with your reproductive system. We look at the whole picture and give you advice. So, is there any specific medical problem that can be contributing to the fertility issue? How is the relationship? Are they actually aware of when they are fertile, or what happens at their most fertile time; like changes in mucus and in their cervix. Are they having enough sex?? From our point of view having sex when ovulating is not enough…so we look at this, we look at lifestyle – are they very stressed? Is work impacting? What changes can they make? We look at the relationship between the couple- is there love? Companionship?
On the medical/physical side in Chinese medicine, we ask questions of all sorts too. How is the digestive system? Bowels? Do you have headaches? Do you feel hot at night etc. We ask loads of questions. Then we come up with a plan on how to help.
Basically - it aims to help restore the blood flow and energy flow through the channels.
A: Awesome. How?
S: So, specifically we are lucky there has been more research now in more Western terms. When you train in Chinese medicine you are looking at energy paths (they didn’t have the tools we have now to understand PCOS for example; we talk about everything energetically).
Where there’s imbalance, there are deficiencies or excess and that’s what you treat. You make a diagnosis and you try to restore balance in the energies you feel are out of balance for whatever reason - diet, lifestyle, genetics.
In conventional Western terms (and what research has shown) is that you can improve blood flow to the pelvic area and improve the reproductive organs to work more effectively; you can help stimulate ovulation and you can address stress levels, which can have an impact.
In terms of Chinese medicine there’s a whole other range you’re trying to address – not just reproductive organs and fertility but what can be contributing to it…it could be lots of other things that led to the problem. So, you try to look at what could be throwing the body out of balance energetically.
A: How do you know where to put the needles?
S: You might diagnose a kidney deficiency or qi (energy) stagnation and you look at how the qi is flowing. The symptoms you have are manifestations of the state of the qi. Different symptoms guide you to where the deficiency or excess is happening. And whether the body is too cold, too hot – where is the imbalance?
Then you have meridians. This energy, qi that we talk about flows in meridians, like we have our veins where the blood flows.
On the meridians there are certain points and if you stimulate them, they have an action. If it’s a kidney deficiency you use the kidney meridian to restore that balance and in that meridian there are several actions – some will stimulate the yin and the yang and others will help (even the stimulation and how you stimulate the needle) can help the deficiency or get rid of the excess (if you’re sweating and you’re too hot, you have excess heat, what we call fire) it is a very complicated system of medicine.
It’s been thousands of years that they’ve developed trial and error and as a therapist you come to a diagnosis and perform a treatment. The feedback from your patient tells you if you’re on the right track or not.
You might decide, actually I was deceived by the symptom and actually what’s going on here is this and its why acupuncture is not 1 treatment. They think the therapist is just trying to sell more sessions! But I often say if you can only afford one session then don’t…spend your money on something else. Enrol in a meditation course because it takes time to understand what’s going on.
Instagram Questions and Answers
I asked if anyone had questions on my Instagram. Several did – so here you go team. Your answers are below.
@ivfjourneyuk2018: can it be performed before and after egg collection?
S: We don’t think it’s the most useful time to do it. Personally, in my practice if I see someone through the IVF cycle, I stop at that point. Because hopefully you’ve been working with the person for a little while, helping the quality and working alongside the drugs (stimulating ovaries to produce more follicles); so, at that point of the egg collection I don’t treat. Up until yes – but after the collection, its invasive, you go through anaesthetic and you need a rest. I normally wait and see what happened with the eggs and if they’ve fertilised, (3-5 days) and then I treat before and after transfer.
I try to see them on the day of the transfer. Before and after. But often that’s difficult and the last thing you want is to add stress. Sometimes I go to the hospital (St George’s Tooting, London) with them when possible. The doctors are very accommodating, if they have the room, you can go. But I always say to my patients, if it adds stress to fit this in, it defeats the purpose! So, we might try to do it the day before transfer. After, we may wait a few days and then do it when there’s possible implantation and try to encourage that.
A: I bet that’s such a support when you go in with them.
S: Yes, it’s so nice. One of the things with no argument, acupuncture can really work in your nervous system and can really help you relax. It’s very calming. You probably never thought it would be so relaxing! It’s incredible because you feel excited but anxious, emotions are everywhere and it is so nice to be able to help that.
A: It must help to remind them of all the emotional preparation they’ve done and not get too overwhelmed with the medical side of it. Remembering you’re a person going through it and not just a number on the IVF funding criteria – things like ‘egg harvesting’ why do they have to use that term?! I always had a problem with that! Makes you sound like a farm – awful.
@shradda_baby_journey for which situation is it the most useful please? Thin uterine lining, low egg count? I realise it helps everything but is there a type of problem it helps most with and how does it work?
A: in my head I would think it would be particularly good for uterine lining? Because it encourages blood flow?
S: Yes, definitely. One of the problems women face even going through IVF is the lining not thickening enough, sometimes the body doesn’t respond to the drugs when it is being manipulated. I know cases of patients being told your lining is still thin, so we increase treatments to twice a week and get good results.
A: But you wouldn’t say it’s MORE helpful than getting ovaries functioning well for example?
S: It is absolutely helpful for people experiencing problems with ovulation, perhaps thin lining, lack of periods, light periods, any stress related problems that affect periods, so definitely helpful in those cases – endometriosis too. I’ve had good results reducing pain etc. but of course sometimes you need surgery if its severe. You have to be realistic.
A: That’s helpful too – realism.
S: Yes, and it’s very important to choose a practitioner who really knows what they’re talking about. Ask questions, don’t think you need to book straight away, ask for an initial chat with a therapist. Ask: how many patients for fertility have you seen? Are you familiar with IVF clinics? Do you know any? Anyone who specialises will know all the IVF clinics, the drugs they use, what they do with their patients, so explore and make sure you’re seeing someone who knows.
@ivf_got_this_0817 Is it comparable to reflexology or does it do completely different things? I had reflexology for pain management and haven’t tried acupuncture and probably never will…
S: I’m a reflexologist as well. Reflexology is incredibly relaxing and helpful, but acupuncture is a lot more comprehensive.
A: Are they aiming to do similar things?
S: Yes, it’s just not as in depth but I don’t want to undermine reflexology. I just find with acupuncture you can do more.
@ivfyou best time to start before a transfer? Recommended time between sessions?
S: Start before you even embark on IVF to prepare the body for what’s to come. Start as soon as possible if you’ve already begun treatment. Because a lot of what you do is the initial stims process with injections and we stim as well in a natural way; we help you with the side effects – bloating, headaches, feeling pre-menstrual, so start straightaway.
If you can’t, the treatment before and after the transfer are great and helpful. If you can, once a week unless there’s anything that shows you’re not responding well in which case we might do 2 treatments that week.
@shradda_baby_journey how to make it cost effective? It can get quite pricey!
A: What if you can only afford 2 or three sessions? Is it worth it?
S: Very hard to say, but probably if you can only have three sessions for example I would do whilst your stimulating (2 sessions) and one after the transfer.
It’s a real shame that we are not on the NHS so people can’t have this sort of support, but things might change. They are running a research project at Kings Hospital specifically for IVF success rates: a massive trial. But we don’t know what’s going to happen. Will be interesting to see if it’s worth doing if you can only do 2 sessions. If it does show results, most fertility clinics will include it with the package I hope.