Frustrated that she wasn't getting pregnant, but not yet ready to turn to infertility treatment, Whitney Harris tried acupuncture to help her conceive.
I spent 10 years dating my now-husband trying desperately not to get pregnant. All through college, his law school and our young professional lives, we doubled up on birth control: I was always on the pill and he used condoms. We were that cautious. Finally, almost three years into marriage, we felt ready to try for a baby.
In February 2014, I went off the pill expecting to get pregnant in about a minute. I'm a healthy, active 29-year-old who eats organic and tries to lead a stress-free life. My period is more regular than any high-speed rail and everyone has always told me how easy it would be to conceive. "You'll be preggers within a month!" friends and family had all shouted with glee well before I was trying. I've even had psychics tell me how fertile I am.
The first month without a period I was elated because I figured we'd been lucky enough to get pregnant with our first try. But multiple pregnancy tests revealed otherwise. Then March, April and May went by and I wasn't anywhere closer to being pregnant. I still hadn't resumed a post-pill period.
For the first few months I told myself to be patient and not obsess over whatever was (or wasn't) going on with my body. Stressing out is the surest way not to get pregnant, right? But instead of rubbing my pressure points with calming essential oils and practicing some downward dog, I found myself falling down the wormhole of infertility message boards.
By June I was frantically searching for alternative therapies. I had seen my OB-GYN and she assured me that I was healthy and should just be patient. When I told her that I'd been reading about acupuncture and the positive effect it could have on fertility, she gave me the green light to try it. I had heard that acupuncture could help women resume ovulation and preferred to do things as naturally as possible. So rather than step on the gas to a fertility clinic (which was tempting), I decided to give acupuncture a shot. My doc agreed that Traditional Chinese medicine was a good option since I wasn't in a huge rush to get pregnant. (If I had been, she recommended I take an ovulation-enhancing drug like Clomid.)
The idea of letting someone stick me with myriad needles on a weekly basis was a little off-putting at first. But I was assured that there are no serious risks if you visit a licensed acupuncturist. (If you're already pregnant, there's increased risk of miscarriage if an incorrect point is used, but that should never happen with an experienced professional.) I found a practitioner who specializes in infertility and prepared to be treated like a pin cushion.
I endured six months of being poked with tiny needles without so much as a twitch from my fallopian tubes. I could feel tingling sensations every now and again at the insertion point between my eyes but none of the life-changing, chi-balancing magic that was promised.
I started to make a list of what might potentially be wrong with me and categorically researched them one by one: PCOS, fibroids, poor liver or thyroid function, premature ovulation failure, and every other scary Google search term I could come up with. I knew I'd eventually have to get tested but told myself to wait a full year. I circled February 2015 on my calendar in red ink.
Once December arrived, I convinced myself to take some time to enjoy life without thinking about my health. After one last acupuncture session I dove into Christmas shopping and holiday preparations. Every once in a while a niggling thought would crop up—You haven't had a single drop of blood in 11 months!—but I would calmly wish the impulse away and refill my champagne flute or hot chocolate mug.
One evening, before attending a particularly wine-fueled holiday party, I decided to take a pregnancy test. Just to be safe.
One pink line appeared. And then another. Two pink lines. Pregnant.
I figured it had to be a mistake. When my husband came back from the drugstore with two more pregnancy tests and both came up positive, we stared at each other in disbelief. How could I be pregnant? Is this some kind of miracle?
We don't believe in magic, but it was pretty amazing to see that I became pregnant when we had no idea what—if anything—was going on inside my body for nearly a year. I'd like to think that the weekly acupuncturist visits (amounting to about $1,800 in the end) contributed to our success, but we may never know for sure. Still, my journey to motherhood felt a little more in my control every time the practitioner swabbed my skin with alcohol and gently inserted those countless tiny needles. If nothing else, acupuncture gave me time to pause and practice patience—something I rarely do but should learn to once again when I become a mom.
Interested in acupuncture?
If you're considering trying acupuncture, here's how to get started:
Speak to your OB-GYN Depending upon your age and health, your doctor may recommend a more proactive approach to fertility. He or she will help you weigh your options and establish a timeline that you can follow to feel more in control. You may have blood work done and then try acupuncture to address your specific needs. But if you have certain conditions, like endometriosis, acupuncture may not be worth your time and money.
Find a licensed provider Research your state's licensing board to confirm that your acupuncturist is licensed and up-to-date on all certifications because some expire after two to four years. If that's the case for your practitioner, find someone else who's current.
Know what to expect Your acupuncturist may ask you to take a basal body temperature reading every morning, check your cervical mucus, tweak your diet and/or incorporate herbs into your daily routine. Be prepared to make a few changes to your lifestyle if necessary. And always ask questions to keep yourself informed.