This week I got a Fit Pregnancy assignment on ways to improve your egg quality. I started with a Google search, which led me to some message boards for those TTC (trying to conceive). Reading about women whose list of supplements sounded like a code of numbers and letters – CoQ10, DHEA, etc – or who were doing shots of wheatgrass daily (yes, it tastes like grass), or eating royal jelly (queen bee poop, basically) brought back memories. And not good ones.
Those supplements are the fuel of desperation. When you can’t get pregnant, it seems that there is both nothing you can do, that everything is out of your control, and that there are so many things to try, it’s overwhelming. These “alternative” treatments fall into the latter category. Western medicine is great, but when it doesn’t work, you start looking for answers elsewhere.
That led me to a wonderful, if slightly crazy, Korean acupuncturist and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner. I can’t say if anything she ever did for me worked. I know I spent a lot of money there. I was willing to try anything and everything.
But, I knew that she really believed in what she was doing – she wasn’t trying to scam me. She owned her business, and worked long hours. When she wasn’t practicing acupuncture, she was in the back of her shop mixing strange concoctions of herbs to give to her patients. She wouldn’t have been so dedicated if she didn’t believe in it.
Of course that doesn’t mean that it helped. But as I said, I was willing to try anything.
When I first saw her, she was running behind. I waited on the couch in front of the three rooms used for acupuncture treatments, filled with women trying to get pregnant (her specialty). Then she took me to her office. A huge wall of little drawers of herbs, like an apothecary’s cabinet, took up half the small space. She asked me questions about my history and looked at my tongue. Then she pronounced that she knew what was wrong with me. “Good,” I said. “Because no one else does.” She then proceeded to tell me that my uterus was cold.
Hmph, I thought.
I didn’t want to start on herbs, so we agreed instead to twice-weekly acupuncture treatments. During our sessions she did something I’ve never heard of another acupuncturist doing – placing rocks on my stomach, with a heat lamp over my belly. Apparently this was to warm up my uterus. I was instructed not to eat anything cold, like ice cream, and even to drink liquids at room temperature. I was also to use a heating pad daily – it belted around my waist and contained inside it flat rocks that, when the pad was heated in the microwave, apparently had the same warming effect as our treatment. Using a regular electric heating pad was, she said, not sufficient.
But after more failed cycles, I decided to try the herbs. They were crazy expensive because they were all imported, and weren’t regulated by the FDA. I didn’t tell my regular fertility doctors I was taking them. I knew what they would say – they didn’t know what was really in them or how they would interact with the medications. But I had tried their Western medicine way, and it wasn’t working. I didn’t care if the herbs weren’t studied – they had been practiced in Asia for centuries.
The stuff tasted like crap. I had to take two bags a day of the brown substance, filled with some strange assortment of deer antler and turtle shell and unicorn horn – oh wait, not that last one – but some very random stuff.
I still didn’t have success.
Her next suggestion was moxibustion, which consisted of burning herbs over my belly in a little pot. Well, that’s how it was supposed to work, anyway. The first time she tried it, she set off the fire alarm and the fire department actually showed up at her door. I sat in the treatment room, half naked with burning herbs on my stomach, listening to this little Korean woman try to explain moxibustion to a burly, surly fireman. Even in my desperate state, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Plus, the stuff smelled like pot. I would go for treatments on my lunch hour, returning to work smelling like I had just lit up in the parking lot.
When I still didn’t get pregnant, she looked up what else she could try. I was already taking the aforementioned wheatgrass shots and spoonfuls of special, expensive royal jelly. I was taking that long list of supplements. I had even bought some for Foggy Daddy. But she had something else for me to try: Placenta powder.
You heard right. Placenta powder.
This was obviously not my placenta since I had not yet been pregnant. This was the ground-up, dried placentas of some other random women. Is it safe? She assured me it was. OK, what the hell? I thought. I’d already taken every other weird substance known to man.
It actually didn’t taste that bad. Just a spoonful a day mixed with water. Yum! Just don’t think about what’s in it…
OK, so none of this stuff actually worked. I still could not maintain a pregnancy. My acupuncturist actually encouraged me to stop trying to get pregnant, saying that I should focus on my career, that she in some ways regretted having children because she couldn’t focus on her career as much as she wanted. That there were other things in life. She was so distraught by her inability to help me that she started doing acupuncture on me for free. I was her pro bono case. She said she’d never seen anything like it.
I eventually took a little break from all of it, including acupuncture.
When it was time for my last cycle, I had already gone another route that mainstream doctors think is bunk: reproductive immunology. This guy had me taking an intravenous blood product called IVIG; and when that didn’t work, we tried an off-label injectable called Neupogen, commonly used to boost cancer patients’ white blood cells during chemo. The doctor also had me taking a fairly high dose of prednisone, which puffed me up and gave me the dreaded “moon face.”
I decided to go back to my TCM lady solely for acupuncture in my last cycle. She took one look at me and in her English-is-not-my-first-language-so-things-come-out-with-no-filter way said, “What happened to your face?” Thanks, I thought. Like I don’t feel self-conscious enough.
That cycle gave me LM. We continued to do acupuncture until around 16 weeks, and then she hugged me and wished me luck. I sent her a birth announcement and she called me when she received it, happy almost to tears.
I have no idea if any of it made a difference. It appears that my other witch doctor, the reproductive immunologist, might have had the right medicine for me. Or maybe it was all just sheer luck. But when I think about going through all of that again to have another child – the list of supplements, the crazy treatments, the acupuncture, and not knowing if any of it is even doing anything – it seems overwhelming. Reading the stories online recently of women who are doing all of it brought me back mentally to that place, that lonely, desperate place. I’d be happy if I never went back there again.
Did you do anything crazy to try to conceive?