At twenty-eight, I knew I wanted to have a baby. We’d gone back and forth about it for a few years – was it the right time?, Were we ready? – but by the time I turned twenty-eight, we were decided. I had gone off the pill a year before, as my doctor had instructed me to do, and we began to use the Fertility Awareness Method, charting temperature and cervical fluid, to help us conceive. There was only one problem: my cycles were long. Really long. Like 84 days long. According to my charts, I was ovulating – there was a clear temperature shift each cycle, followed by my period fifteen days later, which meant that every cycle we had a clear chance to get pregnant. But if you ovulate once in 84 days, you have a lot fewer chances in any given year to get pregnant than if you ovulate every 28 days.
After six months of these long cycles, I decided to meet with a FAM specialist, who examined my charts and thought my super-long cycles might be due to one of three things: stress, thyroid function, or low progesterone. She applauded me for my healthy lifestyle, supplements, and good diet, but she implied that stress might really be working against me. “But I don’t feel stressed,” I said. And it was true. I felt like I always did: busy with the million and one things life threw at me. At that point in time, that meant dealing with a move from Europe to New York and starting a new job, stressful but not overly so. I was overjoyed to be living in the States again and excited about starting a family.
In the end, the FAM specialist recommended acupuncture to regulate the cycles. I had wanted to find an acupuncturist to help me with my lifelong IBS problems as well, and I thought I might be able to kill two birds with one stone. As I started my new job, though, I got busy and stopped looking for a practitioner. In the meantime, I got pregnant. On about the eighth day after I’d ovulated, I knew I felt different, and every day thereafter I started to feel more and more pregnant – sore breasts, tiredness, incredible thirst, and heightened sense of smell. When I saw the positive home pregnancy test smiling back up at me twelve days after ovulation, I couldn’t believe it. My husband and I were in happy shock. All day long I felt like I was walking around, carrying this secret. I was thrilled and a little scared by the changes it would all bring.
I went to my PCP for a blood test to confirm the home pregnancy test. While the doctor told me I’d have to wait a day or two for the results, he assured me that the home tests are never wrong and I was definitely pregnant. It was a beautiful October day and I drove home with the windows down, singing along to music. But the next day, the doctor’s call brought us only confusion, not confirmation. The blood results indicated neither a pregnancy nor an absence of one. I’d have to repeat the test in a few more days. Meanwhile, my temps stayed high and I felt more and more pregnant, so I tried to relax and wait for the blood confirmation. But that one also came back indeterminate, and the next morning I woke up and felt funny – as if suddenly alone. “I don’t feel pregnant anymore,” I told my husband. Sure enough, the next day, I got my period.
I was disappointed but not shattered – after all, I was thrilled to learn we could actually conceive. And I knew from family and friends that miscarriages were relatively common and that it was likely a fluke. But this time I did set out looking for an acupuncturist; I wanted help regulating my cycles. I knew I had some sort of imbalance and wanted to right it, for my health as well as to optimize our chances for pregnancy sooner rather than later.
Through a happy coincidence, I was referred to Angela Le, and I fell in love with her approach from the minute I set foot in her office. She informed me that the body usually takes about 90 days to recover from a miscarriage and get back on track, and so I should expect a few months before getting pregnant again.
Over the first weeks I went to see her, she listened to me with such patience and interest, allowing me to talk as long and often as I needed before we even started acupuncture. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to talk until I saw her regularly, and then it was as if I couldn’t stop talking – all my frustrations about trying to get pregnant were pouring out. It felt wonderful to have someone to share with who wasn’t my husband, another woman who really saw this stuff first hand day in and out. I began to look forward to our weekly appointment; I’d leave her office feeling relaxed, energized, soothed, and as calm as can be after the acupuncture. Over the first month, she started giving me reading recommendations, yoga video suggestions, meditation CDs – it was as if she was giving me little hints here and there, all the while knowing that I’d love what she was introducing me to, but she never forced anything on me. The treatment she mapped out for me included fertility supplements, allergy treatment, and acupuncture.
While I loved the appointments with her, I began to grow frustrated with my own body. After a month or so, the acupuncture didn’t seem to be helping regulate my cycle and my stomach seemed worse than ever with the supplements she had prescribed. I felt constantly sick and we decided that we’d hold off on the fertility treatment until she could get my stomach strong. After six weeks of twice-a-week work on my stomach, which improved some after stopping the supplements, we got back to fertility work.
In the meantime, more and more of our appointment time was spent talking. I was less and less inspired by my teaching work and felt great regret at not being a full-time writer, a dream of mine put on the back burner as we tried to save money for a home. Week after week, I’d come to Angela’s office and describe how burned out I felt, how I just wanted to have enough money to write and stay home to raise my children; I hated the thought of leaving a baby to go back to work after three months – the policy at my workplace.
In late January, after not having ovulated since the previous miscarriage in November, my temperatures spiked– I finally ovulated. I felt so happy. I was even happier to find out twelve days later that I was pregnant again. “Girl, you really can get pregnant!” Angela said at our next meeting. She began to do pregnancy support acupuncture, and I felt that I was in caring hands. This time, my blood tests were normal and the levels of HcG increased with each test, so it was official. But by week five, I started to get nervous. What if I had another miscarriage? I shared my concerns with Angela at our next meeting and she gave me some strategies to cope with the fear. I remember one thing she said very clearly: “When will the fear end? Twelve weeks? Six months? Birth? Because I have to say, I see this all the time, and there’s never an end to it. Once you hit twelve weeks, you won’t relax because you’ll worry about the birth; once he’s born, you’ll worry that he isn’t healthy. Once he’s healthy, you’ll worry that something will happen to him.” She had seen right through me to the core: I was a total nervous Nellie. I worried about everything, and I saw in an instant that she was mapping out my fate if I didn’t learn to handle my fears.
A few days later, I decided to stop charting so I wouldn’t worry about the temp going down each morning. On a beautiful Saturday morning, I woke up, thrilled to be near the six-week mark. A few hours later, I started feeling cramping, cramping that did not feel good. I lay in bed and tried to relax, but it hurt more than any period I’d ever had, all down my lower back. I tried to be brave. When I went to the bathroom, though, I passed tissue. When I came out of the bathroom and saw my husband, I collapsed in his arms and just sobbed. I called my midwife, who suggested I get an ultrasound that day, and I did. There was nothing to see on the test at all – whatever had been in the womb was already gone.
I cried for a day and felt like a zombie for about five more. I didn’t want to speak to anyone at all. I was unprepared for how hard the miscarriage would hit me. The first had been a fluke, but the second seemed like a cruel joke. Like a sentence handed down. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of negativity and self-hatred; so many demons from the past bubbled up so quickly that I was shocked. Hadn’t I dealt with them years ago? It was as if this second miscarriage had ripped off the scab of adolescence, making me feel like a self-conscious, awkward, unsure twelve-year-old again. It was truly as bad as I’ve ever felt in my whole life.
After five days of this, I had a thought that made me start to see the light: my life’s dream was to be a mother. If that was the dream, not getting pregnant, than the dream could easily be fulfilled by adoption. If there was something biologically wrong and I were never able to carry to term, then it didn’t mean I couldn’t be a mother. This discovery was obvious, but to me it was profound. It changed everything in my mind. Everything. Suddenly, I wasn’t anxious about getting pregnant or regulating my cycles. In fact, I didn’t want to get pregnant anytime soon. Just knowing that I could be a mother anytime I wanted to, via adoption, soothed my wounded, nervous heart. In fact, for the first time in months, I poured a big glass of red wine, put my feet up on the couch, and just relaxed. I decided that my husband and I would spend our time enjoying all the fabulous things that pregnancy wouldn’t allow us: wine, eating the many foods we love that pregnant women should avoid, vigorous exercise, travel to international destinations. Just the thought of not having to think about pregnancy anymore made me smile. I’d found my joy again.
At my appointment the following week, Angela remarked on how incredibly strong I was to have such a positive outlook on a traumatic event only a week after that event. I hadn’t realized it until she said it, but I did feel strong. I also felt glad about the decision not to try to get pregnant for a while.
Interestingly, that month, my cycle dropped to 42 days and my stomach did not have one flare-up. I felt better than I had in fifteen years. It was as if every cell in my body relaxed when I decided to stop trying to get pregnant, and each one was saying thank you. I hadn’t realized how stressed my body was, even when my mind didn’t seem stressed.
Throughout the next few months, Angela’s guidance and treatment helped me through the aftermath of the miscarriage, unexpected surgery for an ovarian cyst, and the decision to quit my job and write fulltime – the hardest decision I’ve ever made because of the fear involved. My stomach continues to be healthier than I’ve seen it since I was twelve, and my cycles are now completely regular, about every 32 days.
In one of my last meetings with Angela, I acknowledged aloud that maybe I had been so anxious to have a baby because what I was craving was creativity, that space in my life to be a writer and do the work I am best at and love. Angela nodded wisely at me, as if she’d known this all along.
It sounds funny to say that I saw a fertility acupuncturist for a year, and the end result was the decision to not get pregnant, to be a mother to myself before I am a mother to a child. But it’s true. I went to Angela desperate to get pregnant and have a baby. Along the way, her treatment and counseling helped me see that what I really needed was to listen to what my body was telling me. I wasn’t listening – I hadn’t been for years – and Angela helped turn the volume up. What it was telling me was to be a writer, to calm down, to let go, to give up fear – even when fear was the most familiar coping mechanism I had. Babies will come; I know they’ll come, and I’ll be ready. Because this time I am listening.
Thank you, Angela.