When the normal, natural things we assume are our birthright elude us, we tend not to like it – we react. Rather than take it on the chin, “keep calm and carry on”, we see it as a set back, a challenge to our survival and sink into disappointment. We have feelings of sadness, anger – self-pity. But once we’ve had a good moan, licked our wounds and hopefully got ourselves back up off the floor – our reflex is to work out why. Why didn’t I get what I want? What’s wrong with me? Whose fault is it? Who can I blame? What can I do?
This reaction to right a wrong is hardwired into our thinking and whereas only a week before, this thing we wanted was a given, a normal gift of life, it’s suddenly become a goal that seemingly requires effort, resolve and even a plan.
A woman getting pregnant for most human beings is one of these ‘givens’. Women and men spend years trying to prevent this assumed inevitability, so sure are they that without prevention the greater forces of nature will prevail and an untimely baby will arrive to compromise their life. Yet come the day the person or couple are ready to become procreators and it doesn’t happen (the very thing they once feared) – a dark cloud gathers and a host of mental health issues emerge.
I am now in my 30th year of working with this patient group. I even see the children of my early patients now hoping to have children of their own. Patients come to our clinic hoping that the acupuncture treatment will boost their fertility but by the time many of them arrive at our door – it is their mental health that is the more pressing issue. Has anything changed in those years? Surely with advances in reproductive health the mental health of my patients struggling to have a baby must have improved? From my perspective – the answer is sadly no. If anything – I would say it’s worse.
Are today’s prospective parents less fertile than 30 years ago? Do all the scare stories about deformed sperm choking in oestrogen-laced tap water and rotten old eggs hold true? What has happened? Is it even true that stress, anxiety or depression reduce one’s fertility?
The most recent tranche of patients I see in our clinic diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’ are for the most part okay but suffer from a shocking case of misinformation, impatience and fear. As technology turns up the heat and pace of life and instant gratification reaches levels never seen before – Nature’s seemingly sloth like time clock is considered out-dated – a thing of the past and something to be ignored and/or feared.
‘Infertility’, ‘secondary infertility’, ‘unexplained infertility’ are all labels that say very little other than that something is supposedly wrong. The natural outcome of sperm meets egg and an embryo is born is considered a no go for these patients and for the most part – no one knows why. This mystery is fine fodder for the devilish mind that loves to play with puzzles and loves nothing more than a conclusion – even if it freaks us out and comes too early.
Our mental heath cannot be separated from our fertility. We are human beings composed of a body, a mind and a capacity to experience life as sentient beings with a wealth of complex emotions. For each of these different levels of our being to function at their optimum surely, it makes sense that all three levels are fighting fit and aligned. Our body is designed by nature to do things – to give us a very earthly, human experience. We eat food and digest. We breathe air and oxygenate. We expel waste. We have the capacity to leap from the ground to snatch an apple from a tree and we are sexual beings that engage with each other and reproduce. Meanwhile our mind busily computes every experience, building a library of knowledge from sensory input and gives instructions that support the body’s functions. But we also need a sense of meaning and purpose – and that is what the ancient Chinese believed to be crucial to our health and understood as ‘spirit’, describing our existence as “spiritual beings in human form”.
So how does this ancient wisdom help us stay well and cope in a fast moving and chaotic world when all we want is something as natural and as normal as having a child?
Most of us are blessed with the blueprint and plan for a long and healthy life. We’re designed and created by Nature – a part of Nature and governed by Nature’s laws. We are blessed with the ability to move freely around our physical world benefiting from its abundance and enjoying its beauty. We also form intimate relationships with each other, love one another and create new life. If we realise this reality and live our life under the guidance of ‘Father Heaven and Mother Earth”, how ‘on earth’ could we get ill or become depressed?
This ancient wisdom is very simple and teaches us that everything we need is contained within us. The ‘blueprint’ or inner intelligence held deep within us holds the answer to every question and the solution to every problem and gifts us with the capacity to return to balance and self-heal. This wisdom is known as ‘Taoism’ and is the philosophy that informs the style of acupuncture I practice but it also gives an understanding of our inner and outer life.
The ‘Tao Te Ching’ is an ancient text that describes the very source of our existence and ‘The Way’ of life and in the opening line we are confronted with a stark truth.
“The Tao (The Way) that can be spoken of – is not the Constant Tao”
Roughly translated: Health and happiness is a permanent state. However everything produced by our thoughts is impermanent and it is this inconsistency that produces the negative emotions we’d rather not have. Essentially this text teaches us to step back from ‘thinking’ and to embrace ‘being’.
When I meet patients for the first time I need to get to know them. Why have they come for help? What is their medical history and what is the story of their life? How do they think? My curiosity and openness is essential to the process of diagnosing how they have become imbalanced and what is blocking their capacity to self-heal. Patients coming to me for help with their fertility are often in reasonably good physical health. Yes – they have the odd symptom here and there but on balance they are well. However very early on into the consultation, a raw nerve is hit and the fragility of their mental state is revealed. Frustrations at work, sadness around loss, fears around not getting pregnant, resentments to partners, are all quickly revealed and much to their surprise, rather than have a nap on the treatment table with a few needles inserted to plump ovarian function or kick start sperm, we are confronted with the real issues that now fill the room.
For many people this awareness alone is enough to affect a shift or change. For others a course of acupuncture is needed to bump along the natural, organic process of change in each one of us that keeps us sane and well.
If too much thinking is our problem and a Zen-like state is our cure-all, how can we shift our attention away from our troubled mind and over to this pure source of wisdom and power that lies within?
Ancient wisdom teaches us that our God given senses (to hear, to see, to feel, to smell and to touch) keep us anchored in the ‘real’ world. Our senses are the vehicules that align us with Nature’s way to restore balance and heal. But modern life distracts us. We habitually default to ‘thinking’ and take actions based on mental calculations rather than a sensory and instinctive response to the people and the world around us. But when we consciously shift our attention from incessant thinking to the simplicity of our senses, we start the process of ‘being’ rather than ‘thinking’ and rather than be led around by our minds like an untrained dog on a lead – we are free. Nature’s innate power to heal and create is reinstated as the dominant paradigm within.
‘Meditation’, ‘Mindfulness’, “living in the moment” and “being present” are the zeitgeist of preventative health, promoted to help people break free from the tyranny and dis-ease of social media and habitual thinking. Most of my patients who come for help with fertility are (when pressed) looking for help with feeling balanced, happy and well – and why not? These three natural human states support Nature’s work – to maintain health and to create new life.
Do we have an infertility time bomb on our hands? Should egg and sperm freezing in young people become compulsory? I don’t think so. But if the trend of having children later in life continues, we have a responsibility to care not only for our physical health but crucially our mental health. Anxiety and fear, frustration and despondence wear heavily on a person’s being and for many people it is the weight of their own mental reactions to their own lives that seem to be the stumbling block to getting pregnant.
Five-Element Acupuncture is a fast-track treatment that has the capacity to realign the body, the mind and the spirit and wake us up! Once our senses are awakened, our internal processes naturally reset and our mind recalibrates back to “factory settings”. Equally – the DIY version is for you to create a new habit of shifting your attention to your senses by consciously smelling, listening, touching, seeing and feeling everything in your daily life. As you re-engage with the sensory reality of your existence, the greater life-enhancing forces of nature transform your life – and your fertility.