MY FERTILITY STORY
AND WHAT IT TAUGHT ME
It took me four years to conceive the first of my three children. It felt like an eternity. But those years set me off on a beautiful journey that I am still on. Here's my story.
I came off the Pill aged 32, expecting life to conform to my plan and for me to be pregnant within months. But it was two years before I was rejoicing - and that was only because my period had finally returned. It took me another two years to conceive the first of my three children - with the help of Chinese and Western medicine.
Stress, pollution and the Pill - a toxic cocktail.
I had been living in China for nearly 10 years when I stopped taking the Pill. When my periods did not return, I first turned to Western medicine for help (I had little knowledge or interest in Chinese or other forms of complementary medicine at that point).
It was only after an array of tests and several courses of drugs had no effect that I started to consider alternative possibilities, which led me to make big improvements to my vegetarian diet, to start practising Yoga and eventually to decide to give Chinese medicine a try.
A friend recommended her Chinese doctor. Big Beard was not your average doctor in a clinic, but an extraordinary character of undecipherable age, with an enormous beard that concealed most of his face, even bigger dark glasses and a long main of thick black hair that hid the rest, crooked fingers and Chinese medicine in his blood going back for many generations.
Big Beard had me brew up strange, stinking and odious tasting herbal potions (that he insisted must be made and drunk before dawn to be effective). And, as a master acupuncturist, quickly got me over my life-long fear of needles and had me hooked on his treatments.
I was also lucky enough to find Doctor Li, a blind ‘tuina’ massage therapist who connects with the world through her powerfully sensitive and strong fingers. She caused me scream-inducing ‘good’ pain twice a week.
I quickly became aware how much my 24-7 job running my own catering business in a super-polluted city (along with years of taking the Pill and other lifestyle factors) had taken its toll and undermined my health and vitality. I was skinny and my naturally thick curly hair was thin, lank and straight. I was always rushed, stressed and short-tempered, and felt constantly overwhelmed, exhausted and irritable.
The road back to health and fertility
My periods did not return immediately with my new regime, but my hair quickly started to refind its thickness and curl, and I began feeling calmer, less tired and more balanced, so I was confident that I was on the right track. My periods finally returned two years after coming off the Pill, just as we were leaving China to move to central Italy.
The contrast in my way of life could not have greater. From my stressful life in fun but frenzied, noisy, crowded, polluted, grey Beijing, I moved to the wild and beautiful hills of Umbria, surrounded by stillness, spaciousness, greenness and clean, clean air. I continued with my Yoga practice and my well-balanced no-meat diet, and found a Chinese acupuncturist for weekly sessions.
The continued improvement in my overall health and energy convinced me that natural medicine, personal responsibility and a patient commitment to gradual change held the key to truly good health. This prompted me to embark on a four-year course in naturopathic medicine. Naturopathy looks precisely to the healing power of nature and to empowering individuals to heal their whole self from the inside out to achieve and maintain a dynamic state of optimum health.
The pressure of my ticking clock
Despite my improved health, my periods remained rather irregular, making timing for conception very hard. So, hearing the tick of my fertility clock and feeling that I had by now done everything possible to nurture and prepare my body well for conception, I returned in Italy to Western doctors for further (inconclusive) tests. I also decided to try a round of assisted conception, using hormonal stimulation and interuterine insemination (IUI) - while continuing to rely on natural medicine to help minimise the mental and physical side effects of the treatment.
That one IUI attempt took several months, with the doctors aborting the cycle a couple of times because the level of hormonal stimulation had not been quite right (too much and too little) and once - this being Italy - because it was around Christmas and they were not going to be working the day the IUI procedure needed to be performed! Their poor bedside manner did little to ease the stress, frustration and feeling of isolation of those months. But, when they finally got the hormones levels right and were available to work on the right day, I conceived with IUI - just one month after starting my Naturopathy studies.
My body - nurtured by years of good diet, natural medicine and Yoga - was ripe and ready for this baby. I enjoyed the most glorious, problem-free, vital pregnancy. I was blown away by - and started learning to trust - my awesome body’s natural capacity to do exactly what was needed at just the right time. This feeling of awe was intensified during the fast and quite magical natural birth of my much-longed-for daughter, Gaia.
Gaia did not turn out to be an only child. During the 5 years that it took me to complete my studies in Naturopathy, I conceived (naturally, quickly - and rather unexpectedly) my other two children, Luca and Viola. Again, I blossomed in pregnancy and again I was awed by the innate wisdom of my female body as it easily and efficiently grew and then birthed my babies in the comfort of my home.
What I learned along the way
My own fertility journey turned me from a natural medicine sceptic into a believer in nurturing the natural forces within us as the only way to achieve truly good health (not just the absence of disease). Quick fixes give, at best, just a temporary illusion of good health.
I believe my periods may never have returned without the help of Chinese medicine. And I am quite sure I would not have conceived so easily and healthily in my first round of IUI, have had such a joyful pregnancy and birth, have created such a healthy child and have found myself to be so much more fertile and full of energy aged 40 than I was at 30 if I had not previously taken the time to nurture and restore my tired and depleted body and mind.
But my fertility journey also taught me the value of Western medical tests and treatments in helping couples to overcome conception difficulties. It drove home in a very personal way the reality that many women who, just like me, feel up against their fertility clock will - despite its cost, its stress, its invasiveness and its toxic side-effects - turn to Western medicine for assistance.
I advocate an integrated approach that takes the very best from both Western and complementary medicines. But I strongly encourage women to take active steps to give nature a real chance to restore balance before going down the assisted conception route (IVF etc) - which too many people are being pushed down way too quickly.
If IVF feels does ultimately feels like the right route, I urge women to take at least a few months first to nourish and prepare themselves well in body and in mind to give themselves the very best chance of success.
I bring all the painful and joyful memories, the lessons and the gifts of this personal experience to my work as a therapist supporting other women to nurture their own health and well-being.