I'm An OB-GYN. Here's Why I Turned To Acupuncture When I Wanted To Get Pregnant
I am a maternal-fetal medicine specialist who takes care of women with high-risk pregnancies. My practice is academic and evidence-based, which means I practice according to the most recent proven data, and I also contribute with my own research on improvements in maternal care. For the most part, my professional life has been greatly influenced by what can be supported with science.
But when an unexpected journey through fertility struggles became my reality, my professional and personal worlds were turned upside down. After two failed embryo transfers with five cycles of IVF and one egg donor cycle, I began to question everything I thought I knew.
Although I was 39 when my journey began, I truly believed I would only need one or two cycles of IVF and be pregnant in no time. After two years of fertility treatments, however, it was clearly evident that ovarian aging was my problem. Not only that, but my uterine lining was never ideal for an embryo transfer. My ovaries and uterine lining were manifesting the effects of my age.
I now recommend without hesitation that anyone going through fertility treatments consider using acupuncture.
Before my experience with fertility challenges, I was never one to entertain the idea of alternative medicine. I knew that many women going through these same struggles utilized various forms of alternative therapies, but it was never something I considered. I simply stuck to what I was taught as an OB/GYN and relied on the guidance of my doctors. I do remember, however, going to my fertility appointments and seeing fliers for a local practice for acupuncture. I admit, I rolled my eyes a few times thinking to myself, "Whatever … this stuff doesn't work." For nearly a year and a half of fertility treatments, I simply took what was prescribed for each IVF cycle and trusted in the process.
In October of last year, I had a failed embryo transfer of two donor egg embryos. With this failure, I was broken. I was completely devastated. After multiple heartbreaks and many rides on the emotional roller coaster, I was desperate and confused. I second-guessed every decision I had made up to that point and wondered if I could have done anything differently to change my outcome. After many months of robotically proceeding through fertility treatments, I finally acknowledged that maybe part of the problem was how I handled the stress and emotional toll of my pregnancy journey.
I thought about those acupuncture fliers and decided to see what it was all about. A month later, I had my first visit. I started acupuncture treatments for stress management and even agreed to take Chinese herbs for stress relief and improving my uterine lining. I have to admit, I still wasn't convinced that it would help, but at that point I was willing to try anything. I kept telling myself, "It's not going to hurt. I have nothing to lose."
I did acupuncture and Chinese herbs from November until March, when my husband and I decided to transfer two more donor egg embryos. During these months of treatment, I can honestly say that my stress level was significantly reduced. Where I really noticed a difference was at work. My job is very fast-paced and high-stress on most days, and I seemed to come home less anxious and mentally drained. My husband noticed a difference as well.
I can't say I went through treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbs expecting a miracle, but I did let go and was committed to the process. I really did my part as a patient to make the most of my therapy. I can honestly say I tried.
My embryo transfer was on March 11, 2016. Looking back, I was less anxious and stressed about this transfer compared to the two times before. I actually felt more at peace — at peace with whatever outcome was to come my way, good or bad. Although my uterine lining still wasn't stellar, we proceeded anyway. It was the best it was going to get. This time I felt I was mentally and physically ready.
And just like that, I was pregnant ... with twins!
Do I credit therapy with acupuncture and Chinese herbs for my pregnancy? While I can't say for sure, I truly believe it played a significant role in my successful embryo transfer. Looking back, I know my stress level was affecting my lack of success with fertility treatments, my overall mental well-being and my ability to handle the stress of disappointment. My choice to let go and put my scientist brain in timeout proved to be a good choice and a positive experience for me. I had been stubborn and closed-minded about the potential benefits of alternative medicine.
Now, when asked about acupuncture or herbal therapy, I no longer say, "It's not going to hurt. You have nothing to lose." I now recommend without hesitation that anyone going through fertility treatments consider using acupuncture or herbal therapy during their journey.
The scientist in me was wrong, and I have two babies on the way to prove it.
Shannon M. Clark, M.D. is a double board-certified Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist and OB/GYN at UTMB Galveston. She is the founder of Babies After 35, a site dedicated to fertility, pregnancy and motherhood after age 35. Clark is a women's health writer and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Glamour and Self Magazine.