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Acupuncture & fertility: a journey of empowerment and discovery

Recently I was asked to guest blog for Kismet & Kale and couldn't be more honoured. I highly recommend you head on over to this blog and check out Nicole, a local yyc blogger, and her fertility journey. Nicole is an incredible light that exudes joy and authenticity and I have been blessed to join her and Jamie along their fertility journey. I am seeing an influx of fertility patients in my clinic and I am really grateful that there is more conversation starting to happen around the struggles, miscarriage, stress, relationship discord and other pressures surrounding the fertility journey. Nicole does such an amazing job being honest and real in her journey so that others know they are not alone in their struggles and there is a great community of support out there. Below is my little bit on the aim of acupuncture in fertility treatment but I do encourage you to visit Kismet & Kale to get a real, honest look at a bigger, more full picture. As Nicole says it best "love, lust and baby dust" I just can't get enough of that tagline!

One of the most experienced Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners in the area of fertility reminds us that, “the first step to fertility isn’t another drug or procedure, or even an acupuncture treatment: it’s discovering a new way of thinking about yourself, your body and your health.” (Randine Lewis, Infertility Cure). Acupuncture is a tool, a practice to help become more attuned with your body and the subtle messages it is sending continuously. Fertility issues affect one in six (approximately 16%) of couples in Canada. (Government Canada, 2016 Stats) This is not a small, insignificant number. Thankfully conversation around fertility issues is starting to ignite! It is with thanks to blogs such as Kismet&Kale, that couples on their own unique fertility journey can start to relate, open up and build a supportive community.

Chinese Medicine looks at the body as a whole, everything as connected and the role of the acupuncturist is much like the role of a gardener to provide tools for the body to be in optimal balance. Much like a gardener cultivates fertile ground, ensuring the soil conditions are right, functional irrigation, the right amount of sunlight exposure and proper minerals and nutrients present, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine provides these tools for the body to become fertile and implant, nourish and grow a seed of life within.

There are many different factors that can contribute to fertility issues. In Western Medicine these come in the form of diagnostic terms including but not exclusive to ovulatory problems such as hypo or hyperthyroidism, uterine and/or cervical abnormalities, fallopian tube damage or blockage, endometriosis or primary ovarian insufficiency . Male related fertility issues include abnormal sperm production or function, problem with the delivery of sperm or exposure to environmental factors. Then of course there is the frustrating diagnosis of unexplained fertility. Ruling out any specific hormonal or physical reason for inability to conceive, doctors deliver the news of unexplained infertility. This is the stage where I often meet my fertility patients. They have spent years trying, been through the labyrinth of tests and still without success often show up at clinic, nerves shot, devastated and hopeless, willing to give anything a shot.

Our bodies are built to carry us through this life and for women to nourish and bring life into this world. A significantly smaller number than the 16% of couples experiencing fertility issues are not capable of bearing children at all. If a woman is of childbearing age with all reproductive organs intact, all anatomical structures present, the body can be restored to health, brought to a state of balance and conception can occur. For this reason I don’t like to use the word infertility as I find it disempowering. When we struggle with health issues, speaking of fertility in this case, we often feel let down by our body, for a woman being told you are infertile can feel as though you have just been told that your body has failed the very reason for existence. This is the beginning of the connected, mindful fertility journey, the new way of discovering your body and health. Have trust in your body and its ability to do the job. You can conceive and nature is on your side. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is one of the ways you can help your body.

The goal of acupuncture is to restore balance. This is done by promoting the natural flow of energy through the body, strengthening blood and energy where needed, reducing excess and stagnation in other cases. Correcting underlying deficiencies and or clearing obstructions is the way that acupuncture and herbal remedies accomplish balance and homeostasis in the body. Many hormonal imbalances are caused by very slight imbalances in the endocrine system altering the way the body produces hormones. Modern Western diagnostic techniques and imaging may not have high enough sensitivity to pick up on these abnormalities. These very slight deviations however can throw the entire system out of balance so that it can no longer function properly. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine works to bring the body back into balance, not by stimulating hormones but by restoring the natural flow within the internal system. Scientific studies have shown that using Chinese Medicine to complement assisted reproductive technology mitigates some of the difficult side effects caused by some ART medications, increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, reduces hyperactive sympathetic nervous systems caused by stress, and modulates hormone and endocrine levels.

Acupuncture is applied in order to supply what is lacking and drain off excessive fullness.

-Nei Jing

Fertility struggles can be damaging to mental health. High levels of stress, depression, anxiety and disconnect between partners can further complicate this journey. Couples often lose sight of the joy of being intimate together with the end goal of conception taking over any emotional feelings of love, passion and connection. I often recommend couples come for treatment together. This is a partnership and I feel it is equally important that both partners are in balance. Treatments together can significantly reduce the stress surrounding conception and create an environment of connection and relating. Stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, fatigued adrenals and a depleted system. None of which support a healthy body to conceive. The acupuncture sessions along with lifestyle suggestions, dietary recommendations and herbal remedies can do wonders to decrease stress, feel empowered in your body and take control of your fertility and mental and physical health.

None of this is to say that I suggest everyone ditch Western Medicine and chose a completely holistic approach. Western Medicine and fertility advances have helped a large percentage of struggling couples successfully conceive. I believe that everyone has a unique fertility journey and as such the more tools available the better. This journey is about discovery. What works for your body? What is your body asking for so that it can do the job at hand? A multimodality approach to your fertility can be very successful, and the marriage of Western and Eastern medicine is a beautiful thing, both with their own areas of strength. Discovery, attunement, and empowerment starts with communication and connection. Thank you so much to Nicole and Jamie and all the other brave couples and individuals out there stimulating these conversations, showing up in all the realness, and vulnerability so that others don’t feel alone in these struggles. You are all amazing!

There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view remains the same.

-Chinese Proverb

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