THE INFERTILITY MYTH

By Randine Lewis, L.Ac., MSOM, Ph.D. It can be frightening, this yearning for a child—it’s hard to fathom the desperate urgency. Wendy Wasserstein, award-winning playwright, first-time mother at age 46

The maternal instinct—the most intensely motivating human force there is—begins where the cell meets the soul. While the question, “When does life begin?” has been debated throughout the ages, one issue that is virtually undebatable is the intense desire of women to bear children. Kahlil Gibran says our children are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. Life doesn’t “begin” within us, but is allowed to manifest through us.

Young girls jump rope singing, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Susie with a baby carriage!” Our mothers prepare us to follow in their footsteps—they obviously succeeded in having children, so they assume their daughters will do so too. Even those few girls who show no interest in babies, baby-sitting or younger siblings while growing up still assume they possess the capacity, if not the desire, to have children themselves.

However, when children become teenagers, the focus shifts to not having babies too soon. Most adolescents in the United States are well-schooled in preventing pregnancy through condoms, birth control, abstinence and so on. Subconsciously, we assume that when we are ready to have a baby, it will happen. Until then we must do everything we can to avoid getting pregnant. Certainly, this is an important message for our teenagers, but what happens to women who, when they are ready to have babies, find that it’s not as easy to conceive as they were led to believe it would be?

The increasing incidences of infertility diagnoses are neither a small nor an isolated problem. Fertility issues affect one in five couples in the U.S. The American Fertility Society states that a marriage is to be considered barren or infertile when pregnancy has not occurred after coitus without contraception after one year. I define “fertility issues” a little more broadly, as the inability to conceive and carry a child to term. These statistics mean that every month, seven million U.S. couples experience the pain and disappointment of yet another period or go through the trauma of miscarriage. The causes of infertility are wide-ranging—sexually-transmitted diseases, hormones thrown off-kilter by environmental stresses, immune problems, age-related factors, mental and emotional issues, biological incompatibility between partners and other. Unfortunately, couples usually don’t know there’s a problem until they want to conceive, and then they’re thrown into what can seem like an endless spiral of diagnosis, treatment, trying to get pregnant and failing, more diagnosis, more treatment, more failure, and on and on.

Since you have found our website, you are probably one of these couples who is struggling to conceive. You may know that many others have traveled this well-worn path, yet you still feel desperate and isolated when yours are the feet that are treading from one uncertain step to the next. I want to assure you, you are not alone on this journey. As a medical practitioner specializing in fertility issues, I know firsthand the desperate hunger of couples who want to conceive and bear children. And as a woman, I know personally the pain of wanting to conceive and failing. I too have suffered through miscarriages and unexplained infertility. I traveled around the world to make my dream of having children come true, and I have experienced the unbelievable miracle of holding my own child in my arms. I know your journey and your pain, and I can feel your desire to create new life. If you will walk with me, I will show you a path that may lead you to both healing and hope.

Motherhood at Any Cost Oh, what a power is motherhood, possessing A potent spell. All women alike Fight fiercely for a child. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, c. 405 B.C.

For a couple, the diagnosis of infertility can be difficult, but for a woman it can be devastating. The ability to bear children is at the core of what makes us female, and being told you are infertile is like being told your body has failed its very reason for being. Throughout the ages a woman who was “barren” was considered extremely ill-fated. The Old Testament gives us several stories of women who prayed day and night to God to be given a child. Rachel, Jacob’s wife, went so far as to ask Jacob to impregnate her servant girl so she could then claim the child as her own. Fairy tale after fairy tale (Rumplestiltskin, Thumbelina, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) describes the hunger of all women, queens and peasants alike, for children. And from the earliest recorded times, women have resorted to anything and everything—from prayer to magic to strange sexual positions to timed intercourse to herbs and drugs to surrogacy—to enhance their fertility.

While a woman of any age can experience problems with conceiving, it is also true that women are waiting longer to become mothers, often after they have become secure in their professions. The average age of marriage both for women and men has been rising steadily since the 1950s. We are not marrying until we’re in our late twenties or thirties, and we’re postponing having our children until later than that. But we believe that since we can have children anytime between menarche and menopause, why not wait until everything is just right with the rest of our lives?

I wish it were that easy. Far too many of us are discovering that when we’re ready for children, our bodies are not. According to some statistics, a woman’s fertility peaks in her early twenties, then starts to decline as early as age twenty-seven. By the time a woman is thirty-five, her chances of conceiving are decreased by 50 percent, and they shrink to 20 percent by the time she hits forty. While these statistics may be valid, the premise of our program is that there are many ways a woman of any age can increase her fertility. The reproductive systems of both men and women become depleted as we age, and this is complicated by poor diet and stress. Even though we may exercise regularly and think we’re eating right, our bodies are often ill prepared to accept the burden of conceiving and carrying a healthy child to term. Month after month our hopes rise, only to fall again with yet another negative pregnancy test or onset of menstruation. Yet we are tenacious. We don’t give up on our dream of children that easily—especially since Western reproductive medicine has provided some of the best-publicized miracles of modern science.

The “infertility epidemic” has spawned a huge biomedical industry specifically targeted to treating those who want children but seemingly can’t have them. And indeed, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have given options and hope to many women who never could have borne children otherwise. But the costs—physical, emotional and financial—of these treatments are very high. Women spend every penny they have and borrow more for cycle after cycle of in-vitro fertilization(IVF). They subject themselves to drugs that hyperstimulate their ovaries, turning them into egg-producing, hormone-raging madwomen. Women have sex, don’t have sex, have sex on schedule, have sex all the time—whatever they’re told will work. They allow their eggs to be harvested with a needle, fertilized outside their bodies and inserted into their uterus with a catheter, hoping against hope that at least one egg will “take.” They resort to surrogate mothers or using someone else’s eggs. Many of us will literally undergo almost any kind of procedure, no matter how dangerous or humiliating, in our desperate hunger for motherhood. Yet all too often the results are devastating, and we end up broke and heartbroken, our arms empty and our bodies exhausted.

We hear a great deal about how Western reproductive medicine has helped women conceive. Unfortunately, we hear a great deal less about the pain, expense and statistically low success rates of such procedures. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research for her book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, even young women using IVF techniques have only a 28 percent chance of conceiving--at a cost of more than $10,000 per attempt. The chances fall to 8 percent for women age thirty-nine, and 3 percent for women age forty-four. On average, women go through seven cycles of IVF before they either conceive or quit, spending upwards of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in their attempts to have children.

Western reproductive medicine has created a great deal of false hope. Fortunately, it has also galvanized the determination of some couples to seek out non-Western methods of fertility enhancement. Many are discovering healthier, more holistic ways pf treating their bodies and their minds. Traditional Chinese medicine can enhance both women’s and men’s fertility and improve their health—treatment that can be used in conjunction with the most cutting-edge Western reproductive medicine to increase the chances for conception. It also can help a woman move gently and naturally to a state of health and wellbeing that will allow her body to do what it is meant to: conceive and carry to term a healthy, living child.

The clients who find their way to our program arrive discouraged, disheartened and hoping against hope there might be an alternative that will allow them to have a child. It is our blessing and our responsibility to be able to offer them new options -- hope from the other side of the world that they, too, can feel a child quickening within them and one day hold that child in their arms. My work with fertility issues began as a result of my personal struggles. Now we treat couples who are trying to get pregnant full-time. Though we share the heartache of each new friend we meet, we also get to experience the elation of new mothers who had previously been told they were infertile, had no hope of conception, were too old, had poor egg quality, “unexplained infertility,” multiple failed assisted reproductive techniques, or recurrent miscarriages, and as a result of our treatment, they became pregnant. It is my greatest desire that we share what we have learned and seen with would-be parents everywhere.

If you have been told you are infertile, I have one message for you: There is no such thing as infertility. It is a myth! Rarely have I met a woman or man of childbearing age with all of their reproductive organs intact who wasn’t capable of bearing offspring. As long as the anatomical structures are present, a medical diagnosis of “infertility” is often a fallacy. The real issue is getting your reproductive organs to respond. Many factors can cause a couple to have difficulty conceiving, but once these factors are overcome and your body restored to health, conception can occur naturally. The focus of our program is to remove obstructions to conception, thereby allowing the expression of life through us. The stories of our patients you will read on this site are not unusual. Women and men around the world are finding more natural means to overcome their fertility barriers. Yet there is an inherent timing to all the processes in nature. Natural treatment allows conception to occur rather than forcing it. Your job is simply to be ready for the occasion when the universe says, “It’s time.”

Devour all the knowledge you can about fertility. Take control of your own health and trust yourself. No one is in tune with your body like you are. The ability to reproduce is inherent in your nature. Become your own best advocate; after all, the program that succeeds has to be one you can live with. Learn to trust your instincts until the solution for you emerges.

Above all, know that you are not broken; you are not deficient. No matter what the outcome of your personal journey, you are whole. There is an inherent wisdom in the universe. Bringing a new life into the world is not merely a physical event. Our job is to prepare—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—to connect with forces greater than us.

You can conceive. You will conceive. It may take more motivation and perseverance than you ever thought possible. But Nature is on your side. With her gentle help and support, your child will come.