CLEVELAND — It's estimated between 10%-15% of couples experience fertility issues. The reasons can cause stress and certainly impact well-being.
A year ago, University Hospitals Fertility Center surveyed patients about what they felt were their unmet psychosocial needs. The survey found that 80% of survey participants wanted to use acupuncture in their journey and 70% desired health, nutrition, stress, exercise, and supplement guidance.
The results helped launch the Vitamix fertility support program after the Vitamix Foundation gave University Hospitals Connor Whole Health a $200,000 grant to help patients with more integrative options focused on holistic health.
"There's actually a lot of research around specifically acupuncture and IVF treatment. It's been studied for, I want to say, over 15 years now. And we continue to see success with adding acupuncture to IVF protocols. I take it a step further and also add the lifestyle medicine piece to the fertility journey, because I think it's important to focus on nutrition, stress management, sleep, exercise because we see a correlation to helping fertility as well in the research.
So our our Vitamix group is really focused on learning all of those tools and then having the support of a health coach to implement those healthy habit changes that are often hard to do on your own. And incorporating that with other modalities like acupuncture, massage, chiropractic that we offer here as well," said Christine Kaiser, DACM, LAc, LCH, FABORM who is the Connor Endowed Director of Reproductive Well-being and Clinical Manager of Acupuncture at University Hospitals Connor Whole Health.
Meghann and Cristian Croitoru of Strongsville have been trying to start a family for two years. The couple went through fertility testing and Meghann underwent numerous procedures, but so far hasn't had success.
Meghann was offered a spot in the pilot program, an eight-week course designed to teach lifestyle medicine and health coaching to UH fertility patients.
Acupuncture was one of the first things she tried, although she was skeptical.
"I didn't believe in it, if I'm being completely honest. I thought, that's not going to help you get pregnant. It's medicine, it's science, but I was desperate," she said.
Meghann learned things she didn't expect. She was educated on nutrition options that may help fertility, as well as exercises, stress management, yoga, meditation, sound baths and breathing techniques. She embraced the concepts and started to notice a difference.
"I used to be somebody who ate like bacon, eggs and toast for breakfast. Now I'm eating avocados. I didn't really work out. I'm working out at 6 a.m. every morning. They they just advocated for you to take care of yourself and your body first," Meghann said.
She also noticed she lost a few pounds, her skin looks brighter and she has a better sense of well-being. The eight week course ended in December and she says while none of the participants are pregnant yet, she believes the change in mindset will help her in other facets of her life too.
"Whether or not this gets me pregnant, it's making me a healthier person, which, you know, you only get one body in this life. So you want to you want to protect it and take care of it," Meghann said.
She also plans to continue getting acupuncture with the hope that the 10,000-year-old practice may help with fertility. While some studies have shown acupuncture may have benefits regarding fertility, much may depend on the condition causing the infertility and age of the patient. It's also critical to see an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility issues.
Meghann shared her personal perspective as well and hopes it may help others dealing with infertility.
My husband and I got married in June 2021 and because we did not live together before marriage, we took the first seven months to enjoy married bliss. We then decided we were ready to try for children in February 2022. We went in with high expectations we would be pregnant quickly as neither of us had any existing medical conditions.
We tried for nine months with no success. We requested a semen analysis for my husband since I was told by my OGBYN we had to wait one full year of trying before any testing for myself could be done. To my delight, my fertility doctor started testing me right away as well.
Over the course of our two years of trying, I have had bloodwork testing, a Sono HSG, nine rounds of Letrozole, four failed IUI’s, two trigger shots, multiple ultrasounds and Laparoscopic surgery where to our surprise, found and removed stage three Endometriosis. Recently I started fertility acupuncture and fertility massages. For my husband, he has had a semen analysis and we both did genetic carrier testing. Aside from the finding (and removal) of my Endometriosis, all of our testing has come back “normal” and we still have not been pregnant once so we fall into the unfortunate category of “Unexplained Infertility”. Neither of our health insurance companies cover infertility treatments so we have paid $10,000 out of pocket thus far with no results.
We are in the process of our fifth and final IUI and we were told by our current clinic if that fails, IVF is now our only option and we were quoted $20,000+ that needs paid upfront. We are seeking a second opinion at a different fertility clinic but we are on a six month wait list to get in.
Holistic Approach to Fertility
While science and modern medicine hold a very special and important part in society, undergoing a holistic approach can also be just as, if not more powerful to combat infertility. I wasn’t someone who was hyper focused on aspects of my health such as nutrition, exercise, stress management or supplements. After being asked to be a part of a new program at UH Connor Whole Health at my heaviest weight and darkest mindset, I quickly learned that if you are not healthy from the inside out, you won’t be healthy once you get pregnant and thereafter.
This program really encourages you to take a look at your current routine and make small adjustments that make a larger impact. Since completing the eight week course, I now workout everyday, eat better and have continued with my fertility acupuncture. My mind is clear and refocused, I’ve noticed a positive difference in my skin, weight and overall health. I highly encourage anyone (not just those struggling to conceive) to take a step back and small make changes that can only help you. You’re only given one body in your lifetime, you need to take care of it.
What People Need to Know About Infertility
Much like any other medical diagnosis, infertility is cruel, unforgiving and relentless and is much more common than people think. Many couples do not share they are experiencing infertility and giving anyone who does share their story unsolicited advice is not appropriate.
We are all going to the ends of the Earth trying to conceive and telling someone “Just get drunk” or “Go on vacation” is the absolute worst things you can say, “Don’t stress about it” is not only hurtful, it is ignorant. Unless you have or are experiencing infertility, do not say anything or simply say “I am thinking of you at this time.”
My Advice to Those Experiencing Infertility
Advocate for yourself because nobody else will. If you do not like the pace of how things are moving or you are not satisfied with the testing your doctor is ordering, speak up. If you feel you’ve reached the end of your options, seek a second opinion at a different clinic. Keep fighting for your future babies.