My Struggle with Fertility
I was taking a walk with a friend recently and we were chatting and she brought to my attention the fact that I don’t talk to you (my audience) enough about fertility. Both my own struggle and how I help many other women with the same struggle. She’s right and it got me thinking, “why don’t I?” If I’m being honest with myself and you, the answer is because I don’t like to label myself. The word “infertility” sounds so ugly, dark and hopeless. That being said, yes, I had trouble getting pregnant, and yes at times I felt frustrated, but I wasn’t hopeless; and I’m never hopeless for my patients. Infertility doesn't have to be ugly or hopeless. So here’s my story.
I barely know where to start here. I could probably start at puberty, or maybe when I became vegetarian at age 8, but without any nutritional guidance. Since this isn’t a novel though, I’ll start at age 17 and then fast forward. At age 17 I had lost 15lbs and with that, I also lost my period. I wasn’t underweight and truthfully, I was heavier than I am now and have been for the past 2 decades. The drastic fluctuation in my weight though, did something to my body and I stopped getting my period regularly. After not getting my period for 4 months, I went to the gynecologist and she recommended I go on the birth control pill to get my period back. I wasn’t sexually active and I wasn’t a real fan of my period, so I ignored her. For the next 2 years, I got my period once every 4-6months. Honestly, it felt like a dream! When I went back to the gynecologist at 19 though, she disagreed. She lectured me on how it was dangerous to not get my period because it put me at risk for osteoporosis (true) and that I HAD to go on birth control (not true). At the time I didn’t know better and I was scared because a medical professional was telling me my bones would break if I didn’t go on birth control. I went on the birth control pill and I stayed on it for the next 11 years.
MY FERTILITY JOURNEY
Fast forward 11 years. I turned 30, I was married and I wanted to start trying to conceive. I went off birth control, hoping it would be that simple. Months went by and I didn’t get my period. What once felt like a dream, was now more of a nightmare. You can’t get pregnant without your period, or at least without ovulating. Through the years I’ve become disillusioned by the medical world, but I went to see an endocrinologist to see if anything was physically wrong with me. Lab tests showed that my estrogen levels were slightly low. The endocrinologist was a lovely woman, but do you want to know what her solution was for me having low estrogen AND trying to get pregnant? Go on birth control. I said “no thank you” and that I would do it my own way and that’s what I did.
The endocrinologist was a lovely woman, but do you want to know what her solution was for me having low estrogen AND trying to get pregnant? Go on birth control. I said “no thank you” and that I would do it my own way and that’s what I did.
I was finishing up acupuncture school at the time, so I was fortunate that I had some resources to turn to. I went to an acupuncturist who was recommended to me because she specializes in fertility. The acupuncturist was wonderful. I felt truly listened to and heard. I came in regularly for acupuncture and took the herbal formulas she prescribed. I tracked my basal body temperature (BBT) and took ovulation tests *just in case* I was ovulating (I wasn’t). I learned that I had a lot of coldness in my body (yang deficiency in Chinese Medicine) and that overall my body needed more “Blood” and Qi (energy). Blood is not defined the same in Chinese Medicine as it is in Western Medicine, although it does have a lot of the same properties. Blood warms your body, provides energy, and nourishes the body. You don’t need to be anemic to be Blood deficient. The best way to increase/nourish Blood is through acupuncture, diet and lifestyle, so I did that.
I took control of the areas of my life where I could make changes. I had just run my first marathon (in Paris!) and was working part time as a personal trainer, but I knew that my exercise habit was not helping my ultimate goal of getting pregnant. In order to grow another human you need a lot of Qi (loosely defined as “energy”). Exercising takes a lot of energy (qi) out of you and I didn’t have enough Qi to be wasting on running marathons AND growing a baby.
In order to grow another human you need a lot of Qi (loosely defined as “energy”). Exercising takes a lot of energy (qi) out of you and I didn’t have enough Qi to be wasting on running marathons AND growing a baby.
Instead, I slowly trickled down my exercise until walking and light yoga was all that was left. In order to grow another human you need a lot of Qi (loosely defined as “energy”). Exercising takes a lot of energy (qi) out of you and I didn’t have enough Qi to be wasting on running marathons AND growing a baby. Instead, I slowly trickled down my exercise until walking and light yoga was all that was left. I’m not going to lie, that part was hard. It was mentally and physically challenging. Exercise had become a part of my life and who I was. I had grown up believing that “more was more” and I had to move into a “less is more” mentality. My body wanted to move, my mind wanted my body to move. I wanted to sweat and I wanted the endorphins of a good workout. I told my body and mind to chill out, though, because more than all of that, I wanted a baby. I turned to meditation to calm my mind and walked to move my Qi (that desire to always be moving). Most of all though, I just reminded myself that it would all be worth it. Spoiler alert: It was.
Next, I worked on my weight. I was underweight according to the medical community and even my acupuncturist had tried lightly advising me that maybe I should try and gain weight. So I did. Again, that was hard. I had grown up with bad eating habits, constantly trying to lose weight in all the wrong ways. By this stage in my life though, I had finally got to a place where I felt good with my weight and I didn’t have to struggle for it. I was skinny and I didn’t know if my weight was holding me back from my goal of having a child, but I didn’t want to wait 2 years to find out. I figured I’d try to gain weight and see what happens. It wasn’t easy at all. On top of dealing with the issues of my changing body and not feeling good in my own skin and my clothes, it was physically hard to gain weight. Who knew! At first I tried “healthy” foods, but when that didn’t work, I just ate whatever I wanted. In retrospect, not the best idea. The thing is, though, I wasn’t just healing my weight, I was healing my relationship with food
The thing is, though, I wasn’t just healing my weight, I was healing my relationship with food.
Being restrictive in any way just wasn’t working. I indulged in pastries and I didn’t feel bad about it. I ate a burger and fries when I wanted to and didn’t feel bad about it. That part was liberating, but I still didn’t feel good in my body.
I tried to include a diet that in Chinese Medicine is considered to “build blood.” I ate the foods that I knew were good at building blood (red meat, beets, spinach, bone broth, etc). At the time, I wasn’t a vegetarian, but I had been for a lot of my life (from age 8 - 21), so I wasn’t eating a lot of meat. I didn’t love eating meat, but I also wasn’t opposed to it and meat is very nourishing for the body, so I started to incorporate more meat into my diet (about 3-4x/week). I have since learned how to build blood very effectively without meat products and have helped many patients do so; but for me and my body, meat was OK. I gave up coffee, because coffee depletes your Kidney energy which is vital to fertility. I focused on eating only warm foods and beverages, because warm foods are easier to digest and take less Qi to digest. I also knew that the uterus thrives in a warm environment and keeping my insides warm was important.
I also tried reiki with a wonderful practitioner and other forms of energy work. It was all very cathartic for me. I tried Mayan abdominal massage and started learning Tai Chi. If my mind couldn’t make my body prepare to have a baby, maybe my energy could. I kept my belly, back and feet warm because in Chinese medicine these are all important places to protect our Kidney energy, which houses the essence of reproduction.
After a year of all of this, I still didn’t have my period back and I was frustrated. I was heavier than I started, my diet was better, I had given up exercise which I loved and I felt like I had gotten nowhere. It didn’t make sense and I felt defeated. So I turned inward. I had taken the time and worked on the physical, but now it was time to work on the internal. Over the past year, all my energy was focused on trying to heal my body, but none of it was focused on just being happy. So I did things that made me happy
Over the past year, all my energy was focused on trying to heal my body, but none of it was focused on just being happy.
Somehow it came to me that that a baby, a soul, wouldn’t come to me until I was ready. Meaning, I was happy with myself, in my body. I had made all these changes to my body, but I didn’t embrace them. I wasn’t happy about it, I just did it because I knew I had to do it. I wasn’t making the changes from the right place, my heart. I sat and I thought about what lights me up. What was a thing, or a time in my life where I felt light and joyful. I landed on dancing. I grew up dancing ballet and dancing always just made me feel like me. So I went out and got new ballet slippers and I bought a dance pass to Broadway Dance Center. I got over my internal fear and embarrassment of going to a ballet class as an adult after not having danced for a decade and I went to a ballet class. I loved it. Everything was harder than it used to be, but my muscle memory was still there and it lit me up. I was finishing up my Masters in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at the time and was studying for my board exams because I wanted to take them early, but I still made time.
About a month later, I got my period for the first time in 1.5years. I was ecstatic! Finally I was getting somewhere. My next period didn’t come for another 45 days, though, which is long and not ideal for getting pregnant. As an acupuncturist, in order to help someone conceive, the goal is to regulate their period. Even the slightest abnormality can make conception hard - for example, having a cycle that is 26 days long instead of 28, or cramping, or an extra long cycle like I had. I was a little bummed, but still, I knew I was moving in the right direction. My next period came a little sooner (maybe 37 days, I don’t totally remember). I was then on my 3rd cycle since getting my period back and somehow I just knew my baby was on it’s way to me. I remember walking around SoHo a couple of weeks before I conceived and a psychic stopping me on the street and said, “you have good news coming to you soon.” I just smiled and said “I know, thank you.” I don’t know how I knew, but I just knew it was my time. My next period would have come on a 35 day cycle, but it never came. Instead, I got my son, Ethan. It took 1.5years to get my period back and 3 cycles of trying to conceive to get my baby and all of it was worth it.
WHAT I LEARNED ALONG THE WAY
In retrospect, I did some things wrong, but that was my journey. Since going through my own fertility struggles and having a child, I had evolved so much as a person and a practitioner that by the time I was ready for a second child, I got pregnant right away. Here are some things I learned:
I learned that building Blood and Qi was more important than gaining weight and that sometimes gaining weight is a bi-product of building Blood & Qi.
I learned that I didn’t have to try so hard. I put so much mental energy and stress into trying to get pregnant and all that probably didn’t help. I needed to push less and just allow things to happen more freely.
I learned that what you eat and how you eat it does matter, but that can fit many different molds.
I learned that I didn’t need to stop exercising as drastically as I did. What I needed was to focus listening to my body and understanding the difference of exercise that drains me vs. energizes me. At the time though, I was in an all or nothing mentality.
I learned that being aligned with myself and my happiness was probably more important than everything else I did. I wrote more on that here.
I learned that even when things don’t seem perfect, you can still get pregnant.
I learned that having help and support and someone who understood what I was going through was so important.
WHY AM I TELLING YOU MY STORY?
Partially because it’s cathartic to me and reminds me of why I work so hard to help others. More so, though, it is so that if you are trying to conceive and it doesn’t work out right away, you don’t have to feel helpless, or feel like you don’t know where to turn. I hope you’ve learned that you can question your doctor, or the fertility specialist and that there’s always another way. I’ve done the work, the research and I have been the guinea pig so that you don’t have to feel lost.
Even if you’re not trying to conceive, I hope you learned that you can question your doctor/acupuncturist/anyone and that if what once person tells you doesn't feel right, you there's always another way.
If you’d like to learn more about fertility and how I can help you, email me KatherineAnneWelllness@gmail.com or fill out the Contact Me.