On Pins and Needles

Acupuncture as a treatment for infertility, who would have thought? Then again, who would have thought that I ever had a chance of becoming pregnant at all? At 12 years old I was diagnosed with a strangulated Dermoid Cyst. I was rushed to the hospital where I had a complete oophorectomy (removal of an ovary) on my left side and a partial removal on the right side where more cysts were found.  At around 21 years old, after many years of having a normal functioning partial right ovary, I was told that my right ovary was in jeopardy of strangulation due to another Dermoid Cyst that had developed. Aside of the fear from surgery, I was also terrified that I would lose the small piece of ovary I had left and therefore, never be able to have my own biological children.

After long hours in surgery trying to salvage my ovary, I awoke to the words, “We tried to save as much as we could.” To me these words were completely negative, instead I heard the words, “We took as much as we needed.”  Needless to say, I was left with a nonfunctioning remnant piece of ovary at 21 years old.  Essentially this meant goodbye to biological children, hello to hot flashes, osteoporosis, and estrogen replacement therapy. And yes, perimenopause stepped in and became a way of life for me all at 21 years old.

Over the next 10 years, I had never considered infertility treatment at all. In fact, I was under medical care for “maintenance”, that is, maintaining and treating my estrogen levels, osteoporosis, and hot flashes. During this time I became engaged and later married my high school sweetheart. By about thirty years old, my husband and I began discussing raising a family. It was at this time that I began to become very aware of pregnant women, menstrual cycles, babies and anything else that had to do with having a baby.

I was determined to become pregnant. I went to an infertility clinic and shared my story with the specialist. I was told that I basically had a zero percent chance of becoming pregnant. I would not listen to the doctor and insisted on starting fertility treatment. The bills started climbing, Pergonal shots, Vivelle patches, you name it I would try it. Unfortunately, nothing worked.

After my unsuccessful bouts with infertility treatment, my doctor insisted that I get a therapist to help me with my denial. I followed her advice but still never let up on the fact that I was not in menopause. To me not being in menopause meant that somewhere in my body I may have one egg, ONE EGG. In other words ONE BABY, and nothing would stop me from finding that egg.

While in therapy, I became very discouraged with my infertility doctor. I felt as though I was more of a nuisance to her and a hopeless case in her eyes. I decided to ask for a referral to a doctor who would take over for my estrogen maintenance. I was recommended to see Dr. Prudence Hall, a gynecologist in Santa Monica, California.

I remember my first visit with Dr. Hall. I could really feel her empathy for my situation. We discussed my estrogen levels and my medical history. Dr. Hall told me that she thought it would be a “rough road” for me to get pregnant but it was certainly worth the effort. Immediately, I felt the connection with Dr. Hall. Finally, a doctor that did not throw my hopes in the garbage. It felt wonderful.

Dr. Hall said that I was way too young to be loaded up on estrogens seeing that my estrogen levels were not outrageously bad.  She also said that putting me on estrogen maintenance surely was not the proper thing to do because the estrogen replacement therapy was also a type of birth control. Hello? Birth control?

Instead, the form of treatment that Dr. Hall suggested that I take was acupuncture. I could not believe that she said acupuncture. At this point I thought, “Well, maybe this is getting a little weird for me. First a doctor that actually was working with me to get pregnant, and then acupuncture?” I had to think about all this.

I went home and told my husband about my visit with Dr. Hall and the possibility of going to acupuncture. My husband said, “If you don’t try it, you may look back on it one day and regret it.” My husband was so right, so I decided to try acupuncture.

Per Dr. Hall’s recommendation, I went to see Dr. Daoshing Ni (Dr. Dao), a 38th generation Chinese Acupuncture Doctor in Santa Monica, California. As I walked off the third floor elevator I could smell the aroma of herbs and eucalyptus. The whole environment was so much different from all the doctors’ offices I had been to in the past. The whole third floor was the office. I walked into the waiting room. It was surrounded with a calming waterfall display and a wall full of literature on living a more healthful life like Tai Chi, Taoism and meditation. It was all new to me.

I heard someone call my name, as it was my turn to see Dr. Dao. I walked a long time until I reached Dr. Dao’s consultation office. The office was adorned with countless books written in Chinese.  I was amazed with the amount of books he had in his office. Finally, Dr. Dao came in and I gave him my medical file. After reading my medical file, Dr. Dao asked me to sit on what looked like a barrel and asked to take my pulse. Then Dr. Dao asked me to show him my tongue. I remember his words exactly, “ May I see your tongue please?”  I was completely perplexed. “Where’s the lab”, I thought “doesn’t he need some vials of blood to look at?”

Apparently not.  Dr. Dao said that from what he could see of my medical history my body has a very special way of attacking itself. From what I could see, Dr. Dao did not think that ovary strangulation was the sign of a happy body.

At this point Dr. Dao’s plan of action was to put my body in balance. That is, make things work in harmony with one another. Dr. Dao said that we should start on primarily treating my menopausal symptoms by putting my body in good balance and that working on getting pregnant would be the next step.

I must admit, I was not very confident of acupuncture as a source of treatment for infertility. However, Dr. Dao made a very big impression on me, I really felt that he understood my body. The way he connected with my medical history, and me, made me feel a little more confident. But Dr. Dao and I both agreed that even though my estrogen levels were not horrible they also weren’t very good.

So, I decided to start my acupuncture treatment. I went twice a week for acupuncture. Dr. Dao recommended that I take herbs. I absolutely refused to take the herbs. I have allergies and was completely against the idea of taking herbs. Dr. Dao told me that the herbs act as a relay during the days that I am not in treatment. We agreed to disagree. I did not take the herbs.

After about three months of treatment, I told Dr. Dao I was having some discomfort where my ovaries used to be. Dr. Dao worked on those areas to minimize the discomfort. Well, he managed to minimize the discomfort but I still felt something happening in that area.

I had a funny feeling, “What if my ovary remnant is actually being stimulated?” So, I decided to go get an ovulation test. As I was driving to the pharmacy, I was laughing and crying at the same time. “What am I doing? Am I going to buy an ovulation test? Who am I kidding?”

When I got to the pharmacy I was completely overwhelmed by all the different kits they had for pregnancy testing, Clear Blue, First Step, Ept …. But then, I was more taken by how I felt about standing in front of these pregnancy and ovulation tests. I felt hopeful. When I got home, I tried the test that showed you a blue line if you were ovulating. After waiting a few minutes, I started to see a blue line appear. “What? I must have done it wrong.  I‘ll try the other one that was in the box… Huh, it’s still  blue?”

Luckily, the next morning, I had an appointment with Dr. Dao. I could hardly wait to see him. I waited impatiently, until finally Dr. Dao came in. “Look”, I said while shoving this thermometer looking thing with a blue line in his face.“Look, I’m ovulating”.

Dr. Dao suggested I go and take a blood level to see where my estrogen level was at. After my acupuncture treatment I was on my way to Dr. Hall’s lab.

I waited several days before I got the results. It was well worth the wait because I did it, I ovulated. I could not control the tears rolling down my face. Not only were my blood levels good, they were great. They were completely normal. In other words, the blood levels indicated no sign of perimenopause at all! I felt like a new person. I felt my age. Actually, I felt like I got the old me back. Nothing was going to stop me now.

Dr. Dao and I decided to work with an infertility specialist. Additional to the natural way of course, Dr. Dao and I thought that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would be the best method for me for fertilizing my egg. Seeing that I may have a lot of scar tissue and other complications from years of infertility, I would probably need the help of an expert to make a baby.

While meeting with the infertility specialist, I had an ultrasound. The doctor showed my husband and me on the ultrasound screen the egg and said that if I produce another egg like this one the following month, he would schedule me immediately for in-vitro. We were ecstatic.

I began counting the days till my next period. I was expecting my period to begin on Sunday. I waited and waited. No sign. No aches no cramps. So, I figured, “Forget it. It‘s not going to happen again.  It’s just a fluke”.  Then I thought, “Maybe I should take a pregnancy test.”

Once again, I laughed and cried, bought the pregnancy test and took it home. I took the test and waited several minutes before I looked at it. I was really scared to see what it said. I thought, if I wasn’t pregnant, all the effort was really a big waste of time and that I was spinning my wheels for nothing. Yes, I did ovulate, yes my levels were great, yes I could have in-vitro and try to get pregnant but the fact would ultimately be that if I do not have two pink lines in that little window then I would not be pregnant.

Three minutes passed, then five then ten. “Alright already”, I thought to myself, “Just get it over with.” I took the pregnancy test in my hand and covered the window. I slowly uncovered just the part of the window where the sample line was and saw a pink line.“Okay, great the test works,” I sarcastically mumbled to myself. Then I uncovered the control line. My heart started beating really fast, “Oh my G-d” I yelled, there were two pink lines.

I calmed myself down and walked over to my husband with the test. My husband looked at me in complete shock! He told me that I had to be pregnant; that these tests don’t make mistakes. So, we decided that I would take another test. I went in the bathroom and took the test again. There were two pink lines again. We were completely in shock.

In the morning we rushed over to the lab. Luckily it is open on the weekends. The lab techs all knew me and were also eager to find out if I was really pregnant.  They drew my blood and told me that would call me by 12:00 pm.

This was it. This is the day I had been waiting for. I would find out today if I were going to have a baby. I was going to find out if I was going to be somebody’s mommy. I was on pins and needles.

By 11:59 am I called the lab; they connected me with the doctor’s office, which was also open. I told the receptionist who I was and I was connected to the nurse. When the nurse picked up the phone she told me “You have us all baffled here. Congratulations Tara. You are pregnant!”

I couldn’t stop crying I was so happy. I can’t believe this day finally came. I can’t believe it was true. I was really pregnant. I was going to have a baby!

If I would have turned my back on Dr. Hall and not worked with Dr. Dao I would not have my beautiful daughter today. I thank them both for the wonderful new hope and faith that they have given me.