First off I want to say thank you to everyone who has sent me texts and messages the past several months after I opened up about my fertility struggles back in January. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I released that post, but know that all of the kindness and empathy you have shown have truly touched my heart. Seeing my home screen fill up with dozens of comments on my Instagram kind of made me choke up and a little teary-eyed. Not that they were tears of sadness, but rather from compassion. That tender feeling I felt coming from all of your words, were overwhelming especially from those who shared their own struggles with fertility with me. I know it’s not easy to share such personal matters with others, so it truly means so much that you were willing to open up to me about your own stories!
If you haven’t read Part I yet and would like to, click here:
It is now almost 11 months since I started this new holistic approach with a new Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor. The verdict? Well, I’d like to say I’ve seen growth in my mental state, emotional, physical, and spiritual as well! So I’d say there has been some progress. I told myself at the very beginning that I would give this holistic approach a full year to try out and even if we do not conceive naturally, at the very least I will be healthier.
In order to understand the process I went through with this TCM approach, I think it is important to first understand a little bit about what this practice is about. TCM is a traditional medical practice that includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, and QiGong exercise (which is very similar to TaiChi. Most people know what TaiChi is but not necessarily what QiGong is). It also includes other forms such as cupping, GuaSha, and other types of “massages”, but I only focussed on the former 3 during my treatment. TCM is all about balance; the balance of your Yin and Yang and how our energies flow with the Universe’s energy current. TCM has been around for centuries; for over 3500 years! but nowadays, it has been influenced greatly by more modern Western medicines. I mentioned QiGong earlier – One of the basic tenets of TCM is using the body’s Qi/Chi (aka energy) that is circulating through channels called meridian points. These points have branches connected to bodily organs and functions. Thus, it is believed that TCM and QiGong can treat just about any health problem or disease (even cancer). Yes, you have to REALLY keep an open mind if you want to go this route. Everything and anything I learned through my IVF journey, I pretty much had to throw out the window. This method may not be for everyone, but I was at a crossroads and knew I needed to try something completely different. Women used to be able to get pregnant many centuries ago without all this medical assistant we have today…so I’d like to believe that TCM can still work in today’s world. Following a similar structure as my last blog post, I will first talk about the treatments I’ve been going through thus far.
The first month was detoxing. I had to get rid of all the toxins in my system – from all the injections and drugs I was taking. I took an herbal concoction where I had to mix hot water with and take 3 times a day. Wow, it certainly detoxed my system! Let’s just say I had to run to the bathroom A LOT! The first week was the worst. If you work in a corporate office setting and your job requires you to attend a lot of meetings, well, I would highly recommend you take that week off if you can! After that first week, it got better. Once my system was cleaned out, I was given a new set of herbal powder to help strengthen my system and then a different set of herbal powder to prepare for pregnancy. Unfortunately, I forgot to save these bottles and recycled them so there is no photo, but the bottle looks the same as the above image, just different ingredients.
The herbal teas come in two different forms; dry herbs where you need to boil or in a powder form. I prefer the powder form because all you need to do is add hot water! Some TCM practitioners may argue that the herbs are better and some will say it makes no difference. It’s really up to you. I’ve tried both and personally, I think both methods will do the job. The powder form is more convenient and I won’t risk burning the herbs. The dry herbs have to be slow-cooked in a special ceramic pot for 4 hours AND since it is required to drink the tea at least 2 or 3 times a day….. well, who’s got time for THAT? No thank you!
One last thing, there are SO MANY TCM practitioners out there. Make sure you do your due diligence and really research the one you feel is right for YOU! As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, many claimed “TCM” doctors follow a more modern practice and very few follow only the old ways of TCM. There are pros and cons to both, but ultimately I believe it comes down to preference. I’ve seen both ways work with others so I believe it depends on how much YOU believe in yourself and trust in your doctor.
I just calculated the total costs we spent with this TCM practitioner from January up until now (December 5th, 2019), we have spent just shy of $14,000! That’s pretty much a round of IVF! Honestly, I thought it would be less expensive, but I guess my TCM practitioner is a bit pricier than others. She’s supposedly one of the best in this field so I REALLY hope we get what we want; a baby out of this. Weekly costs can range anywhere from $80 (the price of acupuncture session) to $800 (including herbs, additional treatments, and my husband’s treatments and other supplements). The average weekly cost was about $350 for us.
Going through these TCM treatments has taught me to really understand and be more intuned with my body and its changes. My menstrual cycle typically lasts 28-days, which does make it a little bit easier to calculate. Overall, my cycles are pretty regular but there is the odd 25 or 45 days cycle once awhile – this is greatly impacted by the stress level that month. We all know about the two phases we have in our cycle; the follicular phase (1st half of the cycle including your period) and the luteal phase (2nd half once ovulation has started). If you don’t know about the phases, google about your cycle now! I won’t go too in-depth about the phases as you can find a lot of information online but it is very important to know the details of your menstrual cycle when you’re trying to get pregnant (obvi!), but understanding your cycles more deeply will allow you to be more in control of your body’s changes, be aware of your symptoms, and understanding the WHYs of your treatments with your TCM practitioner. I’ve become so intuned with my body’s chi (energy flow) that I can honestly feel WHEN I’m ovulating, sometimes even when an egg is being released, and even when it’s been fertilized (well, almost. Still working on this one). It’s pretty cool and I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve become more sensitive and intuned with what goes on in my body!
Now for the weekly routines. We can divide the menstrual cycle into 4 parts and I will use my cycle as an example:
Week 1: My period – When your period starts (full flow) that’s counted as your Day 1. Typically, I will start spotting and this lasts for a day so I count this as Day 0. All doctors and the fertility clinics count your Day 1 when you have a full flow of bleeding anyway, but this TCM strangely will count my spotting day as Day 1. It doesn’t make sense to me and I personally find that it does throw off my calculations so I do two charts for this (lol). I tend to bleed for 5 full days and on the 6th day it will be ‘spotting’ and by the 7th day, it’ll be 99% clean. Depending on the day my acupuncture treatment is, the session will be either to minimize the bleeding or to strengthen my ovaries and uterus for ovulation time. You may ask why minimize the bleeding? That’s so that your body does not lose too much blood/iron. If you lose too much bleeding in this cycle, it will affect your chances of getting pregnant – that is not having enough iron and blood to hold the fetus. During this week the herbal tea I drink is simply to keep my body at bay and ensure that the energy flow does not drop.
Week 2: My ovulation – So this is where I find that it gets a little tricky for me. Even though I have a regular 28-day cycle, my ovulation days tend to last for a few days or starts a bit later making my luteal phase sometimes shorter than 14 days. My ‘ovulation’ days usually last about 4-5 days! See what I mean by tricky? This doesn’t happen every cycle so I believe it depends on my diet (what I’ve been eating), quality of sleep, and stress levels that month. My TCM advises that the best day to try (meaning, have sex) is the day before ovulation, day of ovulation, and the day after. So we would be baby dancing for three days straight! In other articles and also what we’ve been told by others was to have sex every other day because the sperm can last 3-5 days. My ovulation days are usually Day 14, 15, and 16 (sometimes Day 17). Again, depending on the day of this week if it’s early in my ovulation or end of this phase, the acupuncture points will be different.
The herbal tea that I take is usually the same as the week before with an added herb that works as an “embryo glue”. In Western medicine/IVF there IS such a product called Embryo Glue – Yes, it’s a thing. Embryo glue mimics those uterine secretions. So this is a natural ingredient whereas with IVF, on embryo transfer day, the embryo is dipped into the ‘glue’ then placed in the uterus. The adhesive effect of this medium is to help your embryo stick to your endometrium lining. With the natural herb, it will tell my body to create more of this secretion naturally.
Week 3: Luteal Phase 1/2 – Conception – I am told to stay well-rested after ovulation and absolutely NO physical activity like working out and lifting anything heavy, 7 days after ovulation. I’ll be honest, the first few months I still went kickboxing immediately after ovulation up until that 6th day LOL but now, I don’t do that anymore since I’m still not pregnant and thought maybe that might affect it. So I’ve decided that I will stop all exercises immediately after ovulation. However, walking is fine! Just no intense workouts or running and jumping.
Week 4: Luteal Phase 2/2 – Waiting – This would be 7 days after my ovulation date. At this point, my TCM is will read my pulse and let me know if my egg is fertilized or not. How she can tell this early is mindboggling! From March to September (6 cycles) she claimed that my egg was fertilized! Side Note: I remember the first time she told me, I was in shock and super excited. I couldn’t contain my happiness and texted my best friend, Lucy right away. I only told her because she knew I was seeing this TCM and is familiar with her methods. I was contemplating whether I should tell my Mom or not but I ended up telling her a week later. Sadly, THE day after I told my Mom I ‘lost’ it. I started spotting. I got nervous and messaged my TCM right away. She said not to be too alarmed because spotting is common within the first trimester. She prescribed an herb that she calls “Prevention of Bleeding” which is supposed to stop the bleeding. However, the bleeding did not stop or lesson – it got worse. By the third day, I was seeing blot clots and there was just way too much blood to be ‘safe’. She said my uterus is not strong enough to hold on to it and the fertilized egg is pushing out. Thus, there was no point to keep holding on and so I stopped the “Prevention of Bleeding” herb and went back to my original herb. The next day, a lot of blood dropped into the toilet. It was blackish-red, long, and really thick which almost looked like tissue. After showing my TCM a photo of this, she claimed it was tissue and that the fertilized egg has passed. Essentially, this was an early miscarriage. I cried. I was disappointed, to say the least. My happiness level went from 100 to 0 within 72hours.
Anyhoo, the fourth week of the cycle is the most BORING week because I would have to be on bed rest the entire time. She wouldn’t even allow me to cook since that would require me to stand up. I’d have to sit on a stool while showering! This is when I binge watch my k-dramas! 😉
It has been like this for the past several months. The summer months were supposedly my best chance to get pregnant because of the warm weather (as mentioned earlier, I have a damp cold system so the warm weather will help maintain the warmth in my uterus). From September to November, I was sick with a cold and had this annoying cough that just would NOT go away! (P.S. This is why there is a bag of herbs labeled “common cold” above. I was taking these for 3 months!) So these last three months have been a ‘write off’. Our TCM did not want us to bother trying because my body was too weak. I had to let the cold take its course and recover first. According to our TCM, if we ‘try to conceive’ (ttc) while I was still coughing, it would do more harm to my body than good. Why? because my body needs to use all its energy to recover first and if I were to get pregnant then that energy flow will shift to protecting the baby first, but since my body is weak from the cold, the fetus would not last anyway and would result in a miscarriage. I guess that makes sense!
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, I have a ‘damp cold’ system.
People with dampness in the body tend to show signs of cold hands and feet, frequent loss of appetite and is often easy to get sick and gain weight. The ‘cold’ refers to too much Yin in my system (therefore, imbalanced). This means I need to stay away from raw and cold foods such as shellfish (since most shellfish live in cold water environment), no (raw) sushi, and cold salads (since it’s raw), no cold beverages, which will cause my body to be cold which will affect my uterus being too cold (to carry a fetus). However, I also cannot have foods that are too hot for the system like spicy foods or anything that could cause inflammation in the body. I had to change my diet all over again and be conscientious about choosing balanced ‘neutral’ foods and ingredients. Let me tell you, this was extremely difficult to follow! It made eating such a chore and I love food!
So in addition to the acupuncture treatments and herbal tea solutions, I had to follow an extremely strict diet, which I called the ‘pre-pregnancy diet’. With all doctors that I’ve seen, there is a group of common foods to avoid: no dairy, no caffeine, no alcohol, reduce sugar intake, and of course, try to minimize the intake of processed foods. Then there are specific foods that I could not eat according to my damp-cold system. These include all foods that are too ‘cold in natural’ and those that create heat/inflammation such as no eggplant, banana, watermelon, pineapple, raw foods such as raw vegetables and sushi, shellfish. Aside from foods, there are also certain types of spices that I cannot have during specific times of my cycle such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, capers, cumin, saffron, anise and a lot of others. Now during weeks 1 to 3 it is okay to have these, but once my ovulation starts I need to be careful these spices can cause a miscarriage (apparently).
Normally, I am able to have cinnamon and ginger because those are warming for my body. However, if I am given a certain herb by my TCM where these spices could counteract the effects, then I have to avoid it while I’m taking that particular herb. It is a lot of tracking. It’s been 10 months and I still can’t get used to it. It is a challenge to remember everything since it changes all the time. Tip: WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN!
So we are now in December and my cold has healed, finally! and no more coughing either. The cough finally cured at the beginning of December and our TCM just gave us the green light this cycle to start trying again! Crossing our fingers we have some good news to share with ya’ll in 2020!
It took me a few weeks to decide to post this blog because I wasn’t sure if I was emotionally ready to share my current state. I had written the process of this TCM/Holistic approach, but I knew I wanted to end this post with how we (my husband and I) are at this moment. The past couple of months have been a struggle – deciding what to do next, now that the year-end is soon approaching. We struggled with the idea of doing another round of IVF or going with a surrogate. Surrogacy would still require me to go through a round of IVF, and possibly 2! Based on my history, I am only able to get about 1-2 euploid embryos and with surrogacy, you need at least 3-4 euploids. [Euploid is an embryo that contains a normal number of chromosomes. This is found after the embryos have gone through PGS (Pre-implantation Genetic Screening) Testing].
The biggest part of this struggle is the money. It is A LOT of money, a lot of medication and a lot of time spent at the clinic with early morning cycle monitoring visits. IVF is invasive and the thought of going through all of that AGAIN and maybe TWICE again, kind of made me cringe. Our fertility doctor, Dr. Virro at MFH advised that I should start the process NOW (meaning this was back in October). We still haven’t made the decision. It is a really difficult decision to make and truthfully, 90% is due to the funds. Each IVF is roughly $15K (with all the meds) so let’s say I do 2 rounds, that’s $30K and if we decide to use a surrogate, that’s another $60K+ so in total, we could be spending $100K. Gosh, even if I do get pregnant, we might not even have money to support this little bean after birth! (lol..nervous laughter). Another decision that we’ve been struggling with is to move on from all of this and start living our lives…just for us. It’s been almost 6 years of ttc. I know some people who have been trying for 9 or 10 years and I don’t know if I can wait that long. (You guys are such troopers btw!) In another 4 years that will be 10 years of ttc and I’ll be 40 y.o.! I’ve always wanted to be a Mom, but as of late, the thought of us not having kids does not ache as much as it used to. Perhaps I am slowly accepting the idea of us not having our own children.
(Also, please don’t ask me about adoption. Of course, we have thought about it, but realize it is not for us and not a route we want to go with. So I ask that you please respect that and understand everyone makes their own choices).
As I mentioned earlier, we wanted to give this TCM a chance and because we knew this would be a slow process, it was only fair to give her a full year with her treatments. Technically, it will be a year as of January but since the last 3 months have been bad months with me being sick, we’ve decided we should stretch it out to March/April to make up for the loss of those 3 months. For now, this is what we will do and we are going to take it one step at a time and will see how things are in the spring.
One thing that I have learned this past year is to be okay with my feelings. It is okay to feel sad and live through that sadness because it will eventually pass through. I believe that this is a healthy way of dealing with your emotions – feelings aren’t meant to be bottled up inside because it can turn toxic so quickly, which leads us into this topic of toxic positivity / toxic happiness. While going through these emotions/through this process, I’ve learned that is there is actually so much toxic positivity. Too much positivity is not really a good thing…yes, really!
Toxic positivity is the idea that encouraging others to only be happy, to stay positive, to look on the bright side, etc. This is actually more harmful than helpful. We see this everywhere; books, quote, social media, and everyday conversations. Honestly, telling someone to ‘look on the bright side’ isn’t always the most supportive thing to say. For some people, this might be the motivational kick they need, but accepting the negative emotions can actually help us better defuse these feelings and lead to fewer negative emotions over time which in turn will lead to better overall mental health.
It is natural for people to place a great deal of pressure on themselves and/or feel the pressure from others to feel happy all the time. These feelings could potentially lead to negative emotions and experiences as signals of failure and will drive more unhappiness instead.
It has become all of our jobs to paint a picture of positivity for ourselves and the outside world, but we need to recognize and accept that feeling ‘bad vibes’ is part of the human experience too. Unless your negative feelings are overwhelming and affecting your daily life then that’s when it’s probably time to get professional help.
So my advice is to anyone who knows someone who may be struggling, to please be understanding of their feelings, validate their feelings, and acknowledge that he/she is going through a difficult time and respect it – THIS is the best thing that you can do for them!
If you know someone who has had a miscarriage or is trying for a second, try not to say things like “at least you have another child!” or “you can try again” or “it’s a blessing in disguise!” -_-
In all honesty, I have been guilty of this too but I’ve learned that it can really hurt the person who’s struggling. I realized this when these comments were directed at me and it made me feel more upset and depressed. It is really okay to go through those negative feelings. It’s better to accept it and learn from it – it becomes toxic when these feelings are rejected or dismissed.
Instead, approach it from a different angle. Here are some examples:
“This must be really difficult”, “How can I support you?” or “Are you in a place you’d like to talk about possible solutions?”. Re-word it and re-phrase it to show that you acknowledge how they feel. You do not necessarily always have to offer to help – sometimes all we need is just an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.
I have always believed that things happen for a reason and that certain events are meant to happen; good and bad. I am not religious, but I would say I am pretty spiritual (more so the last couple of years). I do believe that I was meant to go through all of this so that I could share my story with others and be there for those that are battling similar struggles today. It started off as a very lonely journey, but I know now I am not alone and YOU are not alone either.
To anyone who is/has been trying to conceive know that you are brave and a true warrior and I am here for you! Please feel free to reach out if you need someone to talk to and/or just want to share your story with me!
P.S. I recently watched a CityLine segment on Toxic Positivity and I thought they had some great insights! Check it out: https://www.cityline.tv/video/why-too-much-positivity-can-actually-be-toxic/