Infertility comes with many complex emotions. Dealing with infertility and loneliness can be a double strike. From day to day, minute to minute, emotions can range from excitement and joy at a positive test result, a response to medication, or a particular symptom to devastation, sadness, or anger over another failed cycle, miscarriage, or dead end. Through what can only be described as a rollercoaster, one prevailing feeling often shines through.
For many of the couples that come for acupuncture at our office here in Knoxville, their support system is very small, or even non-existent. Other than their spouse, support may only come from a very small group of people; a trusted friend, mother, etc. I can’t think of many other stressful life events that aren’t shared, overshared, discussed, laughed or cried about with a larger group of support people.
And nobody brings over casseroles when you’re going through infertility.
Is social media helpful?
Even in the event one does decide to break the silence and share their situation, they’re often met with well-meaning, but not helpful comments like “just relax,” “my friend took this vitamin, you should try it,” “have you thought about adoption?” Or, worse yet, they slowly drop off their level of communication and effectively vanish from their lives.
What about the other areas of daily life?
And this isolation just doesn’t stop at social relationships. It can extend to work or other hobbies. Living through infertility often means playing a game of “what if.”
Constantly wondering if/when treatment might be successful can create situations where women might put off going for a promotion, changing jobs, etc to prepare for what might be.
Infertility itself can even be a reason to put careers on hold. Sometimes a job might be a good fit for the flexibility needed for fertility treatment, or health insurance at a job might even cover treatment.
Finding a connection.
For some, social media is a great outlet where one can even remain anonymous if they prefer. There are countless groups based on diagnosis, clinic, region, cycle, etc. But when they log off, that connection is gone.
Some couples turn to counseling or therapy to work on communication and coping skills. For others, their place of worship plays a vital role.
Be a support.
I don’t have an answer to solve this loneliness (though I wish I did…), but I want you to know that we hear you and our thoughts are with you. The one thing we all can do is learn from this and be that support to other struggling with infertility.
If we are chosen to be that, maybe they’ll have just a little bit less loneliness as they walk their own journey. Hopefully, over time, with advocacy and more openness, this will all be a thing of the past.
Here in Knoxville we are lucky to have many organizations and support groups that are also willing to help with those struggling through infertility and loneliness. Please reach out and let us know how we can support you.
Heather Huddleston is a young woman who has struggled with severe endometriosis since puberty. At the age of 19, she had her first of many surgeries. It was so extreme that the surgeon told her she would never have children—he had removed 2/3 of one ovary and 7/8 of the other. Drugs and surgery were the solution offered her by traditional western medicine, and she took the solution seeing no other option. She managed to get through both undergraduate and her graduate studies by allowing the doctors to put her body into medically induced menopause to cope with the 10 level pain. She thought this was her only option—even doing as told, her quality of life was greatly diminished.
While finishing her graduate studies she got married. She maintained her treatments. Two years later, she and her husband were eager to begin a family. She ceased all hormonal therapy although she was terrified to come off of the drugs remembering the severity of the constant crippling pain. Yet she knew she had to begin somewhere, in her quest for sustainable good health.
The pain was as bad as ever. She trudged through and she and her husband sought the help of fertility specialists. After being unsuccessfully treated by 2 fertility specialists and undergoing 2 more extensive surgeries she was no closer to achieving her goals. The last surgery was performed by a surgeon specializing in excision and was very thorough even removing tissue from her diaphragm. After she recovered, she went back to the fertility doctor—unsuccessfully. Feeling frustrated and hopeless, she decided to go back on the hormones and regroup.
A year later, she began to have new symptoms—this time in the colon and bowel. This was quite concerning. After consulting a specialist, she was told that the surgery required was extremely dangerous. He recommended pursuing pregnancy before taking that step. She found a new fertility doctor. She achieved a pregnancy through IVF only to be disappointed with a miscarriage 6 weeks in. As bad as this was, the doctor was encouraged because she had achieved a successful pregnancy. He advised them to try again immediately, this time recommending that she do so with the addition of acupuncture.
She took the doctor’s suggestion and made an appointment with a Practitioner specializing in infertility, Sarah Prater. The hormones that were a part of the treatment protocol caused the endometriosis to flare up resulting in crippling pain. This time both she and Sarah hoped to not only achieve a healthy pregnancy but a measure of relief from the crippling pain—.
Heather went into her first treatment with level 10 pain. After the treatment, she walked away pain free! She was amazed—wondering how long the relief from the pain would last. It not only lasted through the night but continued until her next session and beyond. She never experienced that crippling pain again through the treatment, even though she followed the protocol for the hormones which previously made life almost unbearable.
She continued with acupuncture following Sarah’s treatment plan for her all the way up to the transfer, after the transfer and subsequent treatment. Her transfer was successful—she achieved a healthy pregnancy!
Heather is now 12 weeks pregnant and being released by the fertility doctor to an obstetrician. She is headed to Japan for the next year with her husband where she will continue acupuncture and by God’s grace deliver a healthy baby!
The Power of Hope
Sarah Prater has had the honor of helping many women give birth to happy, healthy babies and has a diverse background that enables her to fully support her patients. Her passion for helping women struggling with infertility led her to found the Tennessee Center for Reproductive Acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to increase success rates for women struggling with a variety of issues and conditions associated with reproduction.
Acupuncture can increase fertility by reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing the endocrine system, according to several studies and medical research.
According to A recent study from Tel Aviv University, when used in conjunction with Western fertility treatments, acupuncture increases conception rates by 26%. It found that when combining IUI with Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments, 65.5 percent of the test group was able to conceive, compared with 39.4 percent of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy.
A well-known German study done in 2002 followed 160 women who underwent IVF. Eighty of them received acupuncture as well and 34 of those women got pregnant: a success rate of 42.5%. Of the other 80 women, those who received IVF without any acupuncture treatments, only 21 women (26.3%) became pregnant.
An American study, of 114 women showed that 51% of the women who had acupuncture and IVF treatments became pregnant compared to 36% of women who had IVF alone. Further analysis of the data revealed a much lower rate of miscarriage for the women who had acupuncture as well as IVF.
Sarah strives to stay up to date with current research in her field and is constantly updating her protocols to offer the maximum benefit. Her wide breadth of experience allows her to work cooperatively with reproductive endocrinologists and OB/GYN’s to provide the best care for her patients.
Many of our patients have been told they have poor egg quality or diminished ovarian reserve, or even poor embryo quality and this is the reason why they are having trouble conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. While it is true that your egg health diminishes over time, it is not true that there is nothing that can be done to help support your egg health.
Even if you don’t have any specific ovarian or egg quality issues, helping support good egg health will help increase the chances your cycle will be a success!
The total time it takes for one egg to fully mature is about 90 days. It is during this window of time that we are able to have the biggest impact on egg health. So, we recommend that all of our patients looking to plan a treatment cycle take advantage of this time to prepare and consider acupuncture, supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes to help support their egg health.
Some of the main factors affecting egg health are:
Diet and Nutrition
Blood flow to the uterus and ovaries
Oxygenation of your blood
Our three favorite ways to improve all of these factors affecting egg health are acupuncture (of course!), diet and exercise, and specific supplements.
Each of our treatment protocols (IUI, IVF, and medicated cycles) begins with the recommendation of preconception acupuncture. Preconception acupuncture is treatments given weekly in the 1-3 months prior to any fertility cycle specifically designed to support egg health and hormone balance.
By now, you probably know that acupuncture done alongside a fertility cycle can improve the chances of pregnancy for that cycle. What you may not know, is that acupuncture’s effect is cumulative, much like exercise. Each treatment and treatment cycle builds on the previous. Research done on fertility acupuncture supports this idea. Generally, the more acupuncture one receives, the better the pregnancy rates.
The reasons why acupuncture done in the months prior to a fertility cycle can have an impact on your egg health and the overall success of your cycle are:
Dramatically improved blood flow to the uterus and ovaries: This increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, and facilities waste product removal, improving overall egg health.
Hormone regulation: Many women notice changes in their cycles during preconception acupuncture: less pain, more regular ovulation, and normalization of menstrual flow.
Reduced stress: Help your body and mind get ready for the upcoming cycle.
2. Diet, Exercise and Lifestyle:
Diet: A healthy diet can dramatically affect one’s fertility (and overall health!). Taking the preconception time period to focus on eating a clean, whole-food, plant-based diet can help improve egg health. Our favorite general fertility diet comes from a Harvard Medical School research study, but many diagnoses related to infertility, such as endometriosis or PCOS, call for some specialized nutrition.
Overall, the basics of a healthy fertility diet include:
Low amounts of saturated fat: Choose plant based fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and healthy fats like those found in salmon and other fish.
Local, grass fed, organic meats whenever possible
Fresh fruits and veggies: We suggest eating foods from every color of the rainbow and making sure at least half of your plate is filled with veggies as an easy way to maximize your fruit and vegetable intake
Vegetable protein sources: Try to replace one serving of meat per day with a vegetarian protein source like beans or tofu.
Lots of fresh water: Try to avoid water bottled in plastic and stick to filtered when possible.
Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread and pasta, etc instead of simple, white carbs,
Iron rich plants: spinach, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, and beets.
Full fat dairy instead of low fat varieties.
Minimal (or no) sugar intake: be sure to watch added sugars and high fructose corn syrup as they can hide in many unsuspecting foods as well as sugary drinks and desserts.
For women who have endometriosis, we recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet. For those with PCOS, a low-glycemic index diet is best.
Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise improves the oxygenation of blood and increased blood flow throughout the body. It is also a great stress reliever and helps maintain a healthy BMI, which is associated with higher pregnancy rates. Yoga is also a great way to strengthen your core and help reduce stress.
The preconception time is perfect for implementing a consistent exercise routine as exercise is commonly limited by your doctor during a fertility treatment cycle.
Lifestyle: There are many lifestyle habits that can have an effect on egg health. Our top suggestions are the following:
Allow personal ‘down-time’ to meditate, read, or just relax.
Listen to fertility meditations via Circle Bloom to help de-stress and foster a healthy body/mind connection
Work to reduce stress and overwork as much as possible
Seek counseling or a support group if you feel it is necessary.
3.Supplements and herbs: In addition to a good quality prenatal vitamin, there are some supplements that you can take that will help support egg quality and overall fertility. One supplement that has some evidence showing it’s efficacy is CoQ-10.
CoQ-10 is a vitamin-like substance (meaning our bodies can make some on their own) that functions within the energy production centers, called mitochondria, present in each cell. As we age, the efficiency of the mitochondria declines. The idea is that by supplementing CoQ-10, we can help support this energy production, which is especially needed for high-energy processes like the cellular division involved in egg production and embryo development. There is some preliminary research showing an egg-health benefit in mice and we await further research. CoQ-10 is generally regarded as very safe to take while trying to conceive and most experience no side effects. It also shows some promise in helping support male fertility as well.
Other supplements that we typically recommend are:
Fish Oil: high in omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation in the body
Probiotics: to support good digestion and absorption of nutrients.
There are also specific supplements and herbs available for other fertility related conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, luteal phase defect, male factor infertility, etc and will be recommended as needed.
Please call 865-315-3845 or contact us, we are more than happy to answer your questions or set you up for preconception acupuncture! Good luck with your cycle!
A 33 year old woman came to our office after experiencing infertility for 7 years. She had a history of endometriosis and low progesterone. Her husband had a history of low motility. She had never been pregnant and was feeling very frustrated.
Her previous fertility treatment included multiple medicated cycles using both clomid and letrozole and two previous IUI cycles. She had undergone two laparoscopies to treat endometriosis. She began fertility treatment in another state before moving to Tennessee, where she began seeing Dr. Doody in Knoxville.
We saw her a total of three times during her IUI cycle.
The first treatment was done on cycle day 6 to support follicle growth and reduce the side effects from the clomid. Supporting the first phase of the cycle and making it as healthy as possible sets up the rest of the cycle for optimal fertility and can help treat luteal phase defect.
The second treatment of the cycle was done the morning of the IUI itself. This treatment helped to facilitate ovulation. Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective means of ovulation induction and we like to use it along with the trigger shot.
The points used for the first and second treatments followed a modified Stener-Victorin protocol. This protocol has been specifically shown to increase blood flow to the uterus and is used successfully to improve IVF cycle success and regulate hormones.
The third treatment of the cycle was done 6 days following the IUI to support implantation, reduce uterine contractions, ease stress and support healthy progesterone levels. The points used for this treatment followed a modified Paulus protocol. The Paulus protocol is commonly used before and after embryo transfer during an IVF cycle and has been shown to improve pregnancy rates.
She received a positive pregnancy test about a week later. Her HCG levels rose an appropriate amount between her tests. The pregnancy was confirmed by ultrasound, and has been going well for mom and baby.
We are very excited for her success and hope the rest of her pregnancy goes well!
If you’d like to add acupuncture to your upcoming IUI cycle, call or contact us and we will find a protocol that is best for your cycle! 865-315-3845