Thursday, September 5, 2013

Getting my Qi right

The second un-published post (8 weeks along) . . .

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I find that when people find out you're newly pregnant they always ask two questions: 1.) When are you due/How far along are you?, and 2.) How is the morning sickness?  The neat thing about question number two is that people get to ask that question each and every time they see you, even if it was only a day or two ago.  Over and over and over again.  The upside is that it gives me plenty of opportunities to find something wooden and knock on it, "No, nothing yet."

No, no morning sickness yet.  And for that, I am thankful.  One of my girlfriends had experienced debilitating morning sickness.  She had to take time off of work, take medication to keep anything down and actually turned a pale green color for a few weeks.  It wasn't a pleasant experience.  Most of the pregnancies I've heard of have included some morning sickness, but one of my girlfriends told me that she hadn't experienced and morning sickness with her daughter.  I am not presumptuous enough to think I'm going to get through the first trimester without tossing my cookies or being overwhelmingly nauseous at least once, but I am grateful that I have made it to eight weeks with nothing but an acute sense of smell.

Maybe the settled stomach is the result of acupuncture, which I started immediately after our last failed IUI and have continued through my pregnancy.  Maybe the entire pregnancy is the result of it.  After all, it is the only thing I did differently for this cycle.  My acupuncturist told me that my belly was too cool to carry a baby and I had some Qi (pronounced chee) blockages in my abdomen that needed to be addressed.  So we worked on getting my Qi and my blood flowing.  Occasionally I'd put a heating pad on my belly for a hour or so - a few times a week.  I found it interesting that one of my girlfriends, who is Japanese, had given me the same advice, without telling her what my acupuncturist had said.  When I told her I had trouble conceiving she immediately guessed it was because my belly was too cool.  She told me to put a heating pad on my belly as well.  I figured if I was hearing it from two different sources, it could hurt.

I was hopeful that the acupuncture would help with fertility, but I was surprised to find how good I felt overall.  Most notably, I began to sleep really well at night.  I have always been a light sleeper.  I was too hot, I was too cold, I wasn't tired when I turned out the light, little things woke me up and then I couldn't fall back asleep.  When I started acupuncture, those things either went away entirely or were seriously curbed.  Since I was sleeping better, I felt more energetic during the day.  I used to crash around the 2-4pm time frame each day, sometimes falling asleep while I worked on my laptop.  No more.  I felt great in the afternoons and used that time of day to work out which, in turn, made me feel even better.  I also found that after a few acupuncture treatments that my abdomen was free of the tightness and discomfort that I noticed while I was doing yoga.

It was one of my fertility doctors, Dr. W, that recommend acupuncture to me in the first place.  A middle-aged, white, male, American military doctor - not someone that I would usually think would be supporting of alternative or Eastern treatments.  There are two fertility doctors at the clinic, and usually I worked with Dr. L.  I would occasionally have appointments with Dr. W, but not very often.  The lead-up to an IUI is a delicately timed process, requiring regular blood tests and ultrasounds to figure out when the right time to perform the IUI occurs.  By virtue of timing I had my last appointment going over blood results before the IUI with Dr. W.  It was a Friday morning in the clinic and it was really quiet.  It was the day that residents go to some sort of weekly training, and because Dr. L had the day off they had scheduled very few patients.  This gave me lots of time to chat with Dr. W.

As he went over my blood work at looked at the ultrasound of my follicles, he asked me all sorts of questions about our journey through infertility.  He asked if I had tried any alternative treatments, including acupuncture.  I told him no, but that a friend of mine had sought it out when she was struggling with infertility and now they had a healthy baby girl.  To my surprise he told me that he was a licensed acupuncturist.  He had come to acupuncture in a strange way.  Within the last decade more and more of his infertility patients were coming to him saying that they wanted to try acupuncture.  Some of them were already using it.  He was worried that his patients were exposing themselves to risks, plus he was concerned about how much money it can costs for regular, consistent treatments.  (Which are not covered in most cases for military family members.)

It turns out that the U.S. Military has an acupuncture licensing program available for its doctors.  The military has found that acupuncture helps wounded warriors with everything from phantom limb pain to PTSD.  Dr. W signed up for the training as a skeptic.  His goal was to obtain the information he needed to discredit the practice and bring this back to his patients.  He said he sat smugly in the room, secure in his knowledge of Western science and medicine and how it was superior to the myths and mysticism of alternative remedies.  As he told me about this, he laughed at himself.  "After a week," he said, "I was a convert."  He said the class opened his eyes to his ignorance and narrow-mindedness.  He began offering acupuncture treatments to his infertility patients to supplement some of their regular appointments.  If he had performed an IUI on a patient, he would offer them a relaxation treatment to help their anxiety and help with implantation.  (You have to lay there for 30 minutes after the procedure, so why not?)  He also found that the acupuncture helped his patients that were in their first trimester that were suffering from severe morning sickness.  A acupuncture treatment often meant they had 2-4 days of relief without drugs.

"I know you aren't having your IUI until tomorrow," he said, "but if you want to see what acupuncture is like, I can give you a relaxation treatment right now.  Then you can decide if it's something that you want to pursue."  Dr. W explained the process, how it works, and showed me the needles that he uses.  I was interested.  Why not?  What could it hurt?  I felt like I was coming to the end of my fertility journey, so I figured I had might as well try something else.   Dr. W placed a few needles in my body and I could feel the strange, dull, ache in the insertion points that he had described.  It was so . . . weird.  Not painful or uncomfortable but odd.  It's rather hard to explain.

I had the IUI the next day.  It didn't work.  I sent an email to my friend who had used acupuncture for infertility and asked for suggestions on how to find someone reliable.  I spent some time online, made some phone calls, and finally settled on a clinic not too far from our home.  Before my initial appointment, I filled out a six page questionnaire with all sorts of unusual questions.  Questions about my tongue's appearance, my stool, my sleeping patterns.  Do my fingers and toes get cold easily?  How often do I get heartburn?  All sorts of questions that I've never had a doctor ask me.  I brought the answers to my first appointment and went over them with the acupuncturist.  

She studied my answers solemnly and had me lie down on the exam table.  She took my pulse at in three different locations on both my left and right wrists.  She pressed around in my abdomen, silently making notes in her head.  For the first time I became acutely aware of a tightness in the lower left quadrant of my abdomen.  It's always been there, but not anything I ever thought about except when I'm doing yoga and it sometimes pulls.  But after taking the questionnaire I found myself being very aware of my body, and paying attention to things I hadn't thought about in the past.

After examining me, the acupuncturist told me (in her delightful French accent) that my belly was too cool to carry a baby.  She described it as having three burners (like on a stove) in your tummy.   You want all three of them to be on a simmer-like low-heat setting for babies - not too hot, not too cold.  She also wasn't happy with the tightness in my abdomen.  She said we could work on getting my blood and my Qi flowing and that it could help with the fertility.  I figured what could it hurt?  All of our Western medicine attempts hadn't worked yet.  We were getting to the end of wanting to keep trying.  Maybe this would be the thing that would work.  Or not.  But at least it would be trying something different.  (In addition to our usual Western medical assistance.)

I went every week for three weeks.  Then every other week, then down to every third or fourth week.  I felt great.  My energy levels were up, the tightness in my abdomen went away.  I no longer had nights where I woke up from sleep because I was too hot or too cold.  I could sleep a solid 7-8 hours, feeling rested in the morning.  Even if the acupuncture didn't help with fertility, it certainly helped with everything else.  I crossed my fingers as we went in for our next IUI cycle.  Maybe this East-meets-West thing will work.  I continued with the acupuncture after the IUI treatment, figuring that I should keep those burners on low to keep my belly baby-incubating-friendly.  After a few weeks and the positive pregnancy I test, I told my acupuncturist that it appears our team effort had paid of.  She was delighted when I told her and we both laughed with excitement.  I've continued with acupuncture every three weeks or so, and I wonder if it's one of the reasons I've had a relatively easy first part of my pregnancy with no morning sickness.

Regardless of it whether it worked or it's all in my head, the fact is that I'm pregnant and feeling good.  And that's all that really matters.

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