As much as I want to be a “believer”, I’m a skeptic about most things. I think it’s because I believed in Santa until I was 13 and was crushed when my parents finally had to break the news.
Anyway, when Dr. IVF told Mr. T and me that acupuncture has been shown to improve IVF success rates, I nodded but had already decided that kind of “kooky” medicine wasn’t for me. After all, if I wasn’t a “believer,” the magic wouldn’t work for me, right? And this whole process already cost so much time and money- I didn’t want to throw even more down the drain.
Mr. T on the other hand, is a believer. He didn’t believe in Santa as long as I did- but he has faith in things he can’t see or understand- from ghosts and UFO’s to the Loch ness Monster. And as far as he was concerned, if we going through this whole effort, I might as well try the acupuncture.
I gave him my stubborn “I’ve already made up my mind” look and changed the subject.
But as I spoke to others who had been successful with IVF, every single one of them claimed the acupuncture made a difference. I was starting to feel like the only kid on the Polar Express who couldn’t hear Santa’s bell. Maybe there was something to this after all.
I called my insurance company, and was surprised to learn that that acupuncture was included in my plan for ten visits. OK- let me get this straight- infertility is not covered by my policy, but this “kooky” medicine was? If the insurance company was a believer and I was not, there was something wrong with me. I might be a skeptic, but I couldn’t let the insurance company be more of a believer than me.
I made an appointment. My first session was scheduled for the week before my first IVF protocol meeting, and the day before my 7th (and likely last for some time) marathon.
Sitting down with Dr. Acupuncture at that first appointment, I explained my story.
“So, I’m doing IVF. My husband has Congenital Absence of the Vas Defrense, so there’s no way for the sperm to come out. I’m healthy as far as I know, but I’ve heard that acupuncture can help success rates.”
“Yes, I’ve worked with many women who do IVF, and have babies,” she assures me.
“Oh, and I’m running a marathon tomorrow- so if you could just make me a little faster too, that would be great.” I smile and say it as if I’m kidding, suddenly embarrassed to have asked for so much- a baby and a fast marathon- especially when I wasn’t even a believer.
She nods kindly and smiles, without saying much. Then she began asking me all sorts of questions no doctor has ever asked me before. Some questions my husband has never even asked me before, come to think of it.
“What temperature do you like your drinking water?” (Cold, no ice)
What season do you like best (Late summer/ early fall)
Are you typically cold or warm? (almost always cold.)
What is your energy level like? (good)
The questions went on and on.
I wondered how important it was to get these right. (Did I like summer and fall? Or did I like spring too?) Anyway, I was confident that she would see how zen I was, and that I really didn’t need any alternative hokey-pokey to make me better.
She took my hands in her lap to feel my pulse.
“Hmm. Not a very strong pulse,” she peers into my face.
“Not strong?” How could that be? I’m a runner. Of course I have a strong pulse. Every other doctor I’d ever seen before had been suitably impressed with my pulse.
“Maybe it’s because you are a runner.” she says, as if she’s reading my mind. “Or maybe it’s something else…have you been stressed?”
“Well, maybe a little about this whole IVF process… but typically I think I manage it pretty well.”
“Hmm. Do you like things to be perfect all the time?” She looks at me again in a way that says even if I’m not honest, she’s reading my mind and knows the truth anyway.
“Well… I like things to be done well…” I say. “But I don’t think I’m obsessive.”
“I see you are very stressed,” she tells me, as if that settles it.
Finally we get to the needle part. She shows me the needles, making sure I’m ok with those. They are tiny, feather-like needles- nothing to fear there. Certainly nothing like a PIO needle. I lie on the table and she puts in the first needle in my wrist.
“Do you feel a pressure?” she asks.
I wonder what I’m supposed to feel- because I’m not feeling anything but the pressure of her hand lightly resting on mine where she’s inserting the needle.
“Umm… yes? I think so. It feels fine.” I say, trying to pretend I hear that Polar Express bell ringing.
This goes on for some time. She inserts a needle in my hand, my leg, my tummy, and asks how I feel. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel, but I don’t feel anything.
“It feels fine,” I say. I hear my inner skeptic saying, “I knew this was silly.”
Then she sticks a needle in my foot, and a lightning bolt shoots through my leg, up through my middle, to my head.
“Wow- I felt that!” I say excitedly.
“That one is connected to stress.” She tells me. “If you are holding stress inside, that’s where it goes.”
Ok. So I get the message. I may not be as zen-like as I imagined. But in my glee to feel anything at all, I don’t mind. Maybe there was something to this after all.
She finishes and dimming the lights, lets me rest for a half hour, coming in to adjust the needles at one point. I try to rest and relax, but can’t quite figure out how I feel, or how I’m supposed to feel. But I enjoy the quiet and the inability to do anything other than lie very still with needles in me.
I leave happy, already looking forward to the next visit. I had felt something. I really and truly did. That had to be a good sign. Maybe I could be a believer.
It’s been six months since that first visit. In that time I’ve gone through fresh and frozen IVF cycles, with four perfect embryos that resulted in two miscarriages. You’d think by now I would have given up on this hocus-pocus. But instead, these visits are the one thing that keep me calm through all the heartbreak, the one time I can let go of everything. Dr. Acu looks at me like a whole person, the sum of all my parts instead of just a uterus and a set of ovaries. Each little needle feels like a vent that releases my anger, my frustration, my sadness. When she dims the light and leaves me, I can almost see all those stresses rise out of me, mingling with the wisps of incense in the air.
Anyway, I’ve come to realize that this whole IVF process is a leap of faith. I can’t control any of it. I just have to believe. God it’s hard.