Hard to Conceive
Unable to Get Pregnant, She Turned East in Quest of Fertility
By Suz Redfearn
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; Page HE01
I stand in a hotel conference room with 15 other women simultaneously bending down to scoop up imaginary piles of dirt. In unison, we bring the make-believe soil to our pelvic regions and then, as instructed, reach up as high as possible to funnel energy from the skies through our heads and down to our uteruses.
"Collect the yin energies from earth and the yang energies from heaven, then blend them in your center, where all life begins," directs Randine Lewis, creator of the five-day alternative fertility retreat in which we are taking part.
This ancient Taoist moving meditation Lewis has us doing, part of a discipline called qi gong, is an integral part of our healing process, apparently, and so we wake to scoop and reach every morning at the crack of 7:30. Most of us can't really envision yin in the dirt or yang in the sky, but we try. Oh, man, do we try.
If someone had told me a year ago that I would soon combat my infertility by tossing myself headlong into an ancient Chinese regimen including herbs, acupuncture, daily meditation and sweeping changes in my diet, I would have wondered what kind of herb she was smoking.
But she would have laughed last. Because earlier this year, at the age of 37 and after 2 1/2 years of very conventional, very Western attempts to conceive, I threw myself into such a program.
And why not? Six months on fertility drugs, two inseminations and one $13,000 attempt at vitro fertilization (IVF) had all failed me -- or I them. I felt I had to try something else. In February, minutes after I realized the IVF hadn't worked, and knowing my husband and I would have a rough time financing a second round of treatment, I hit the Internet looking for an alternative.
Go East, Woman
I quickly stumbled on Lewis's book "The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies" (Little, Brown, 2004). Unlike lots of other books that champion this or that single regimen, this one combined a slew of alternative therapies: herbs, acupuncture, diet changes and mind/body work.
I ordered it and dove in, reading about how in 1991 Lewis -- who now holds advanced degrees in Oriental and alternative medicine -- had been a stressed-out medical student who couldn't get pregnant. Unwilling to go on fertility drugs, she read up on and tried herbs and acupuncture, adding stress reduction and a better diet. Three months later, bam, she was with child. Under her tutelage, Lewis says, some 1,000 women have followed suit.
The book got me wondering: Was there hope for me somewhere outside the IVF labs?
Figuring I had nothing to lose -- except $2,250, which is a whole lot less than what IVF costs -- I signed up for one of Lewis's "fertility-enhancing retreats" in the hills of western North Carolina. A month later, I stood -- along with 15 distraught, perplexed others -- in a dimly lit room slowly windmilling my arms every morning in an effort to "call to the unborn child." The rest of the days were spent sharing teary sagas and absorbing the details of how to incorporate traditional Chinese medicine (TCM, as it's called) and mind/body work into our lives.
Outside the Bottle
We are not alone -- the infertile 15 and me -- in looking to herbal medicine, acupuncture and mind/body exercises to battle our babylessness. Though there is scant scientific support outside of a few studies on acupuncture and fewer on herbs, a glance at any infertility bulletin board on the Web will show that interest is high. Some of us take a finger-wagging from our physicians, who are not sold on the tenets of ancient Chinese medicine. But we jump in feet first, often because there is nothing else left to try, or nothing else we can afford.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Writer Suz Redfearn gets an acupuncture treatment from Njemile Carol Jones. Fertility guru Randine Lewis says the therapy returns the endocrine system and boosts blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. Many doctors are skeptical.
(Juana Arias - The Washington Post)
The Quest for Fertility: Suz Redfearn, a freelance writer, discusses her story about using accupuncture as an alternative means of trying to get pregnant, 11 a.m. ET.
Alternative Medicine: Stephen E. Straus, M.D., director of NCCAM, and Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior adviser for Scientific Coordination and Outreach at NCCAM, answers readers questions about the latest reasearch on alternative medicine, 2 p.m. ET.