The Journey to Fertility
I have been working with women who have been wanting to get pregnant for more than a decade and it never ceases to be a challenge. Every woman is different, including what she needs and what her problems are. Getting pregnant for many women is not easy and for some it is a strenuous mental and physical journey with feelings of sadness, anger, frustration and hopelessness. As a therapist I find it is important to not only treat the body but also the mind and try to change these emotions into feelings of hope, as negative energy will only add to the difficulties facing a woman trying to get pregnant. I have not yet met a couple who have gone through, or are going through, years of trying to get pregnant and/or fertility treatment, who have not suffered also mentally through this time.
Chinese Medicine and Infertility
In Chinese medicine there are a variety of patterns that may cause infertility; however, I will talk about the most common patterns I see that give rise to infertility. The main patterns include Kidney Yang or Yin deficiency, Qi and Blood deficiency, Liver Qi stagnation, and Blood or Phlegm stagnation. These patterns from a western standpoint can be translated into an absence of ovulation, disturbance in hormones, PCOS, blocked tubes or problems in the uterus like myomas or fibroids. These TCM patterns are by no means the only ones that can cause infertility, however going through all the patterns would require writing a book. Once the TCM syndrome has been diagnosed a treatment plan will be created for the individual.
The Kidneys and Infertility
The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine are related to reproduction and are perhaps the most important organ in fertility. The Kidneys store Jing, which is our Essence. It can be described as our reproductive strength. In men this is sperm and in women it is the menstruation and the ‘heavenly fluid’ which is the stretchy mucous excreted at ovulation. The Kidneys possess both Yin and Yang qualities. Kidney Yang is responsible for warming the uterus and for ovulation. A deficiency in Kidney Yang will cause anovulation (absence of ovulation), long cycles and a feeling of cold. A Kidney Yin deficiency is responsible for the growth of the follicle and the uterine lining. A disturbance would bring a short cycle, little bleeding and small clumps in the blood. A Kidney deficiency will for example cause PCOS, unexplained infertility, low follicle count and endometriosis.
Qi (Energy) and Blood Deficiency
Qi is the energy required to fulfil tasks. It is a part of Yang and has an upward movement. If Qi is deficient there will be a downward bearing feeling. The energy of the body is low so you feel tired, and you could have a loose stool and shortness of breath. The cycle will be long and when bleeding comes it may be heavy as the body is unable to hold the blood. If there is a blood deficiency the blood will be of a light colour and with a light flow or there will be an absence of bleeding. Blood is obviously very important in fertility as it nourishes the uterus and builds the lining. There is a saying in Chinese medicine that the Qi moves Blood and the Blood nourishes Qi. They therefore work synergistically and are dependent on each other. Qi and Blood deficiency will cause anovulation and amenorrhea.
Liver Qi Stagnation
Liver Qi stagnation is a very common syndrome I see in my patients. If a woman didn’t have it when she started the fertility journey of baby making then she surely does by the end. Stress blocks the energy of the Liver and stress is definitely accompanied with years of unsuccessfully trying to have a baby. Symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation include breast pain before the period, PMS, irritability, depression, the period can become irregular and there is dark blood with clumps. Any energy that is blocked in the body needs to be freed, this is important so that there is a free flow of Qi and Blood in the uterus. Liver Qi stagnation is also associated with endometriosis, irregular periods, PCOS and dysmenorrhea.
Blood and Phlegm Stagnation
As with a blockage in Qi energy, a blockage in Blood or Phlegm will cause havoc in the body. This will come with fixed pain and can cause a blockage of the fallopian tubes. Phlegm is caused when fluids accumulate, which can lead to a myoma or fibroids. Phlegm stagnation can cause heavy bleeding and palpable ‘knots’ in the lower belly. Again, as with a Qi stagnation, fluids need to be free flowing, otherwise this will cause infertility.
The treatment plan for all of these syndromes will include acupuncture and they will be coupled with herbal formulas tailor made for the patient. As we are all different no one treatment plan fits all. However, these patterns are treatable, so don’t give up hope.