Things tend to come in cycles. Yeah, punny! Anyway, I have weeks where almost everybody has the same thing; I’ll get like 5 back pains in a row, and the next week everybody has digestive upset, and the week after that everybody’s neck hurts.
Lately, there is a fair amount of lower back pain (but when is there not?), and I have been getting a lot of calls about people wanting to get pregnant. I’m sure there are studies about uterine bloodflow and conception rates with acupuncture, but I figure y’all have google. So, what is it that I do?
Well, first I rule stuff out. A lot about my job is not entirely explicable by modern science, but I don’t believe in miracles. If diagnostic tests have been done and the sperm count is low, for example, I’m not particularly interested in just seeing the woman. If the fallopian tubes are pretty scarred, my expectations are low enough that I would advise going straight to IVF. And little details like boxers vs. briefs, use of hot tubs, or laptop computers held directly on the lap. Nobody thinks of that last one, but to encourage conception, don’t defeat anatomical design by roasting the external gonads!
Then I look at general health. Does either partner have a condition that needs management? If there is no diagnosed disease or syndrome, do Chinese diagnostics determine stagnations or deficiencies? Common syndromes are Liver qi stagnation, Spleen qi deficiency, and Kidney deficiency. I’ll very briefly define these.
In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), Kidney is the system involved with reproduction. A doctor friend tells me that in the embryonic development, the kidneys and reproductive organs develop together, so it’s not completely divergent from modern medicine. The Kidneys store the essence we receive from our parents, and as we live and age, the Kidney system runs down, faster, if the lifestyle is overworked, overpartied, or otherwise unhealthy. Kidney deficiency is a usual suspect in infertility cases and is often addressed with herbs.
Nearly everyone in the modern world has either/or/some combination of Liver qi stagnation and Spleen qi deficiency. Each organ system has an associated emotion, element, bodily substance, function, etc. The emotion of Liver is anger, i.e. stress, and the emotion of Spleen is worry.
The Liver (according to TCM) is involved in blood storage and smooth flow of qi. It is heavily involved in menstrual and emotional disorders. Which is to say they knew stress affected conception thousands of years ago! Liver disorders also tend to invade upon the Spleen system. Timing of treating stagnation is important, since pregnancy is a functional stagnation.
The Spleen has a digestive system role in TCM. It is in charge of transporting and transforming food and fluids into muscle and energy. Spleen controls blood and holds everything in place, including the fetus.
So, am I treating infertility? Sort of. When I’m treating a specific area of pain, I am treating a localized meridian imbalance. When I am treating other symptoms, I am trying to re-establish a systemic balance. In my mind, I am less treating infertility than I am trying to correct a stagnation or tonify a deficiency, which is what I would be doing if the chief complaint was any other thing than infertility.
Pain is an acupuncturist’s bread and butter, because progress of pain management is generally pretty easy to track. Pregnancy is a binary condition; you are or you aren’t. It’s something with a fairly limited window to change, as well. With or without assistance, it may take a month, it may take a year. Acupuncture can certainly help temporarily with relaxation, but if you are really looking to affect fertility, it will do the most good on a regular basis. Take time for acupuncture, take time for sleep, regular meals, general well being, and (this should be a no brainer) take time for baby-making! Some of y’all almost seem too busy to get busy!