Tuesday 2 July 2013

Processing (otherwise known as rambling), and Chinese medicine

THANK YOU  to everyone who has left a note of support, encouragement, and a bridge back to her online home on my last two entries about DOR/POF.  I really appreciate that you reach out and I've discovered more great blogs and gutsy women in the process. For more on the DOR/POF, see this entry for the rundown of the medical tests, and this entry for my emotional response. And yes, that is the order in which I processed it.

Incidentally, I think the most uncomfortable moments of the whole IF-journey so far happened while I was receiving the tests results that point to a DOR/POF diagnosis. Not only because it was bad news, but because I was really baffled as to how I should react. Mr. Turtle kept looking at me as if he expected the top of my head to blow off any moment. He's a counsellor and I could just feel him shift into "crisis intervention mode" when we got the drift of Dr. Cotter's message. And meanwhile I'm sitting there, thinking: "Would you stop staring at me! I'm so confused and now I'm embarrassed too!" Ha. The truth is, I was struggling just to process what Dr. Cotter was saying, and as the shock set in it was harder to concentrate. I had no energy available for a dramatic meltdown. Also my mouth and throat was really dry making it difficult to talk properly.  Things you  learn on your trying to conceive journey, number 13.4556: Bring a bottle of water to uncomfortable fertility-related appointments.

I've also realized it's important write down what all the tests are about before I hand in the requisition forms, otherwise I have a hard time remembering what they are and what is the significance. While they explain all that at the follow up appointment, I find things move very fast at appointments and it doesn't help to be mentally behind.

Today I gave up 8(!) vials of blood for the following:
-Anti thyroid ab
-Anti adrenal antibodies
-Karotype testing for Fragile X
-HIV / Hepatitis testing (standard before proceeding with fertility treatments)

I was rather anxious about this bloodwork. Not because I am scared of needles (I just drink a lot of water and point them to the big fat juicy vein in my left arm - the needle hurts more going in than it does in the right arm, but the blood comes easier). No, I was scared because now I am expecting more bad news. The rational part of my brain knows it's silly to worry about that, but the irrational side worries anyway. However, it's all done now, follow up is on August 8th - I know, a long time - and in the meantime I can focus on other things.

The laboratory happens to be near a large shopping mall, so I did some errands after giving it up for Science. Among them was to pick up a book my MIL recommended: The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis, Ph.D.  My MIL is a Chinese Medicine Practitioner and does acupuncture treatments in  her own highly successful clinic, as well as working with hospital patients at times.  She is a highly informed, sensitive, calm, kind, all-round amazing human being. The catch: she lives on the other end of the continent, so I see her at most twice a year. However, she is fully up to date on the fertility situation, and we had a chance to chat a bit on  the phone this weekend. Because I do respect her greatly and we could use all the help we can get, I picked up the book.

Now, other than a few complimentary treatments from MIL for motion sickness and relaxation (the normal extent of my health concerns prior to infertility) I don't have much experience with acupuncture or Chinese medicine. I've had it flagged as something to look into, for quite a while...but I tend not to be proactive about health matters, if only because I'm usually healthy. So, this book is taking me a bit out of my comfort zone.

I found a cool spot in the house (not easy; it's the first really hot day of summer) and read a bit of the first few chapters and the chapter on POF. It's definitely thought-provoking. The idea of treating the body  has a whole system, rather than focusing on one organ (e.g. ovaries) that is not working is intriguing. So is the idea of encouraging the body to correct its own hormonal imbalances rather than flooding it with outside hormones. There are paragraphs about supplements that are supposed to help balance the body, and dietary recommendations.  The chapter on POF ends with the story of Dannette, age 33, who had POF and had stopped menstruating. (She also had had an earlier pregnancy that ended in  miscarriage.) Dannette had given up on having children (though she still wanted them) but was seeking some relief of the nasty POF-symptoms. After acupuncture and herbal supplements, Dannette's menses restart and she eventually conceives.

There's still a lot in the book for me to read through, but I found even as I read this chapter I was feeling both some interest and excitement but also fear and even anger and frustration, especially when reading Dr. Lewis's happy anecdotal examples. Why? I think it is because "trying naturally" became so frustrating that I really want to put all that behind me. We tried with timed intercourse for a year and a half, and I think we actually were very good at it. However, after receiving the diagnosis of "primary infertility" from our doctor last summer,  I think I have labeled the year and a half of trying unassisted as a failure and a waste of time. The later diagnoses of male factor infertility and especially DOR/POF have just underlined all that as pointless.  I'm goal oriented, and once I identify a path as not profitable, I just don't want to go there anymore. It's onto the next thing.

Even the title of the book bothered me: The Infertility Cure.  Are you kidding me? Somebody thinks they can just CURE INFERTILITY? Yeah I don't think so! Let me give you a big fat list of things you can't cure with some stupid herbs.

One the other hand, ART and traditional medicine don't have all the answers either, and I'm intrigued by what I've read in The Infertility Cure. Considering DOR/POF has underlined to me that IVF alone may well not be the resolution to our infertility, either. IVF is probably still the best way to go; after all we have the male factor diagnosis on top of the DOR/POF. No reason Mr. Turtle can't try some Eastern medications as well, but since we suspect his infertility is related to his Crohn's, which isn't going to go away, there's no quick fix there. Still, some of the Eastern medical techniques coupled with IVF might lead to results; in  the meantime, I can contemplate a diet without dairy (oh no, say it ain't so.)

I know lots of people try acupuncture; has anyone tried a holistic "cure" for infertility?


  1. "Ouch" about those blood tests :( I hate blood tests too although I've taken at least a thousand of them. As for the tests, I've not heard of anti-adrenal antibodies...the other 2 (fragile X and anti-thyroid)aren't that scary and there are solutions (e.g. PGD for fragile X, though it's unlikely you'll have it).

    Definitely keep taking your DHEA though. That is one supplement that is proven to help with DOR. Not only that, it also reduces the risk of miscarriage.

    Very interesting that your MIL is a Chinese Medicine Practitioner. I myself have undergone months of acupuncture treatments and have also read books that advocate TCM. I'm not a believer in herbs, though, mainly because my stomach doesn't react well to them. TCM is controversial, but I'd say no harm giving acupuncture a try - if you're not phobic about the needles. It helps you to relax, which may have an impact, although it makes little difference to some people. However, do check with your RE if you're taking herbs. My RE bans herbs during IVF treatment and only allows acupuncture which he thinks is harmless.

    1. Here is a link info on anti-adrenal antibodies:

      In the case of IF I assume the test is looking for something that would interfere with the production of sex hormones.

      I tend to be a skeptic about anything not scientifically proven, especially herbal remedies. (On the other hand...some of the stuff we accept as scientifically proven appears to be dodgy at best: e.g. pharmaceuticals) However, I'm open at least to acupuncture because as you say, it can't do harm and might do some good. Especially with a balanced approach, such as: No one treatment is a cure, but a combination of different things, taking care of different aspects of the issue, MIGHT have an impact.

      I think it's really important to not see ART as a cure-all either. I've struggled a bit to find a "spiritual" angle on the whole IF situation and what it does to my health. The TCM approach of looking at the whole body as a system comes the closest to addressing that. Makes me want to learn more about it, anyway. Whatever the outcome of the fertility interventions, I want to come out the other side still feeling like a whole, sane human being. I know that might be hard sometimes, but it is important to me.

      I will definitely discuss with fertility doctor prior to going on any herbal treatments. Good point there. I don't know if we'd go that route anyway. A colleague recommended a TCM practitioner, (not for fertility intervention specifically) so I'm planning to look into that.

      Thanks for the comment and helping me to think through all of this <3 Hope you are enjoying life as a mommy!

  2. I agree, the title of the book would irritate me a little too.

    I just watched a doc on how we are treating the symptoms of our unhealthy lifestyle instead of looking at the root causes (environmental degradation, poor diet etc) It convinced me how important it is to eat a balanced, varied diet (which I always tried to do anyway, but now even more so) because Western medicine DOESN'T have it all figured out... I think trying everything you can do to be healthy in mind and body will only benefit you in the end.

  3. I agree, Gypsy Mama! It's so easy to make poor choices around lifestyle and diet and those things have long term consequences. I think it is so important for parents to teach their kids about good diet too. One of the best things my parents did for us is raise us in a junk-food free household. We grew up with almost no emotional dependence on junk foods/drinks and while I will eat things like sweets or chips on occasion, I don't care for them and they make me feel gross if I eat too many. But I see people all the time who think they can't live without that stuff, and I wonder how much of that is learned behaviour when you are young. It's so hard to change a habit when you are older.

    I consider myself a healthy person (and until they started analyzing my reproductive parts in detail, doctors agreed with me!) I think something that's been hard for me to deal with in this process of testing and debriefing is changing my view of my body as a healthy, functioning entity to something that isn't. I struggle with that. It's more intuitive for me to focus on what it my body is doing RIGHT and then support those functions. For example: maybe I have DOR, but I still have a regular cycle (mostly) so isn't that GOOD THING that we can work with?

    thanks for checking in! I have a lot to think about these days!

  4. Healthy lifestyle and eating is so important! I also think it's vital for parents to teach their kids about a good diet, because habits and associations are formed so early. I think one of the best things our parents did for us is raise is in a junk-food free household. I'll eat junk food or treats on occasion, but because I have no emotional attachment to it, I have no perceived "need" for it and if I eat too much of it, I just feel gross.

  5. I will admit, I am hugely skeptical of "natural cures" for anything, especially infertility. I mean, no matter how many herbs I consume and and/or toxins I don't consume, my uterus isn't going to magically reshape itself and stop being deformed. But I understand that other kinds of fertility issues are more nuanced and can be positively influenced by various supplements and lifestyle changes. I'm glad you are open to trying different things, and it's great that you have such a wonderful relationship with your MIL. Finding a cool spot in the house to sit and read a book on a hot summer day sounds absolutely lovely no matter what you're reading :)

  6. Hi Annie, you're right I don't see how a natural remedy would be any particular help with a physiological problem. And in all fairness, Dr. Lewis (and I would hope any practitioner who is not a charlatan) does always qualify by saying that TCM is not for all problems; sometimes you need a "Western doctor" or surgeon. She does have a chapter on "mechanical infertility" (i.e. obstructions) but glancing through it (didn't read in depth) it looks like she is mainly talking about scarring caused by things like pelvic inflammatory disease.

    I wish the book did not have the word "cure" in the title because that makes promises that I don't think anyone can claim to fulfill. Seems like that title was more about selling books than reflecting the actual information and values presented.

  7. I think it's a good idea to read up on different perspectives, including the natural ones, since fertility is such a big mystery. You are right - we should not see ART as a cure-all, since ART is not perfected yet (although I believe it will, some day). I think it's okay to read 'cure-all' books and see what they have to say; I too remember downloading an e-book called "The Secret to Getting Pregnant" or something, can't remember what it's called... The book had a heavy slant towards TCM although it also included Western supplements and ART. I'm sure you know that TCM is not just about herbs and acupuncture; it's about following specific diets for specific body constitutions. What I like is that the advice is generally in line with healthy eating (e.g. less alcohol, fat, sugar), and I agree with Gypsy Mama that a healthy, balanced diet is important, I'd say it's important regardless of whether one has a fertility problem or not.