A diagnosis of 'infertility' is made when a couple have been trying to conceive for 12 months, have had regular unprotected sex and yet have not achieved a successful pregnancy. Infertility is not only about whether someone can conceive, it is about the ability to have a successful pregnancy; if someone is having recurrent loss, they would also be officially diagnosed with infertility.
The very word 'infertile' is loaded with extremely frightening, world-destroying meaning'. Hearing it spoken by a doctor, or seeing it written in a doctor's letter feels like the most damning diagnosis, the worst moment ever. For many couples, it can feel like the bottom just dropped out of their world. What is rarely made clear is that for the majority of couples, infertility is a transient state; it is a diagnosis made on the basis of what has happened in the past year, it is not necessarily a prediction of what will happen in the coming year.
How Common Is Infertility?
A significant proportion of couples struggle to conceive, approximately 1 in 8 couples in the UK will be diagnosed as infertile at some point, though fewer than half of these couples ever seek medical help (Datta, J et al, 2016).
Is 'Unexplained Infertility' a Worse Diagnosis?
A sub section of the infertile population have 'unexplained infertility', a diagnosis given to a couple if they have been trying to conceive for 12 months and there are no known causes for the lack of success. I work almost exclusively with couples with infertility, many of whom have unexplained infertility, and I know for a fact that it is not usually a permanent state. It would be more accurate, and kinder, to diagnose someone with 'subfertility', which would suggest more clearly that it is a state of fertility that can often be improved.
How Is Fertility Assessed?
For a woman, fertility is assessed through a mixture of tests.
Blood tests are used to check your basic menstrual hormones.
You may be tested for chlamydia which is a sexually transmitted disease that can have a negative impact on fertility.
An ultrasound may be used to check your ovaries and uterus.
You may be offered a test called a hysterosalpingogram which will check that your fallopian tubes are intact and clear.
If you have any history of pelvic inflammatory disease, or symptoms that suggests endometriosis you may be offered a laparoscopy so they can take a look inside to check everything looks ok. (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/)
For a man, fertility is usually assessed through a shorter list of tests:
A basic sperm test.
You may also be checked for chlamydia as that can impact male fertility too. (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/)
What If All Those Tests Are Clear?
If all these tests are clear, then I would urge you to seek out someone like me! Fertility is not a switch, someone is not fertile, or 'barren', there is a sliding scale of subfertility in between and that is where we come in.
What Difference Can Fertility Acupuncture Make?
When I start working with someone, I take in so much information - past medical history and fertility investigations all provide some useful information, but there is so much information to be gleaned from the state of the menstrual cycle, from digestion, sleep, emotional climate and so many other aspects of health that form part of the Chinese medicine diagnostic system.
I hunt for anything that can be improved in order to move my clients into a more fertile state. I work to support the body to improve the health and vitality of a menstrual cycle; clients will report a reduction in pain symptoms, improvements in the colour and consistency of the menstrual flow and a reduction in symptoms of hormonal imbalance. I work to support improvements to digestion, sleep, immune health and mental health which are all important aspects of the foundations of fertility.
Why Choose A Fertility Support Trained Acupuncturist?
As a Fertility Support Trained acupuncturist, I have a particularly integrated way of working with western medical tests and diagnostic tools.
If I feel a blood test is necessary to further our understanding of what is going on, I will help you to arrange it.
If you have had the blood tests and been told everything is 'normal', I will cast an eye over the results - 'normal' is not the same as 'optimum' when it comes to fertility.
If your case is particularly complex, I will discuss the situation with a team of expert peers, a group we fondly refer to as the 'Hive Mind' and we can collectively determine the best course of action.
With some of my clients, I find gentle, nourishing fertility support is all they needed; in other cases I uncover issues overlooked in their previous fertility investigations (hyperprolactinaemia, Hashimoto's, iron deficiency etc). Most of my clients see me in the clinic for fertility acupuncture, though I also work with a growing number of clients remotely to guide and support them on their journey. In all cases I strive to create a safe, nourishing space so that I can support the emotional strain that comes as part and parcel of fertility struggles; how you feel about the journey you are on is as important as the journey itself.
I am one of a small, dedicated army of practitioners out there who are devoted to making a difference to people whose lives are blighted with fertility issues. If you are struggling to know where to turn and what to do about it, reach out.
Alexandra O'Connor LicAc MBAcC
Prevalence of infertility and help seeking among 15000 women and men
J.Datta, M.J.Palmer, C.Tanton, L.J.Gibson, K.G.Jones, W.Macdowall, A.Glasier, P.Sonnenberg, N.Field, C.H.Mercer, A.M.Johnson, and K.Wellings
Human Reproduction, Vol.31, No.9 pp. 2108–2118, 2016 doi:10.1093/humrep/dew123