When I first started practicing acupuncture 15 years ago, I didn’t set out with an intention to work with couples or individuals struggling to bring a child into their lives. But in my first month on the job, a new patient brought me a study done in Germany detailing how using acupuncture before and after the embryo transfer of an IVF procedure raised its success rates. She asked me to come to her fertility clinic and replicate what was in the study. When you’re first starting a practice you say yes to everything, so of course I was happy to help. Thankfully, her physician was amenable and open minded enough to let us take up space in their office for something that was brand new in their world.
That study spread both among patients and the fertility doctors and suddenly I found patient after patient asking me for this type of help. Interestingly, there was also some evidence that acupuncture would be helpful for those who were just trying on their own or doing things that were less complicated than IVF like IUI or artificial insemination, so a lot of patients started coming in before they even made it to IVF. Still, almost every week I would get a phone call (always the day before because they never got more than that amount of notice) and I would wake up earlier in the morning then I normally would and go to one of the fertility clinics and do some acupuncture.
Here’s how it would go: at the clinic I’d meet my patient and often her husband or partner. The three of us would sit together in the waiting room until one of the nurses would come and tell us that they had space for us to do acupuncture. Then, the woman and I would go back to do the treatment. Afterward, I would sit in the waiting room for what could be twenty minutes or three hours. Once the procedures were finished I would go back into the room to do a slightly different acupuncture. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time waiting in clinics. I often read both the book I brought and every magazine possible. (There was no handy internet in the pocket then).
This was such an intimate moment I was privy to. It was also extremely intense, as the procedure they were about to have was often the culmination of a lot of effort, time, money and emotion that they had been putting into trying to conceive. These treatments gave me a first-hand view as to what the couple's relationship was like. Some were what I’d consider healthier than others. Sometimes they fought on the morning of and sometimes it was the most loving and caring thing I've ever seen. Sometimes there was no relationship because it was a single woman trying on her own or her partner didn’t show up (for reasons I didn’t always get to know).
To add pressure to everything the woman had to have a full bladder for this procedure. This always lead to a classic scenario: I was sitting with my acupuncture case, the woman sitting next to me had her legs crossed three times around like eagle pose in yoga and the partner was sitting next to her just twiddling his/her thumbs waiting for everything to be over. The nurse would come out and tell us that they were running a little bit behind and the woman would squeeze her legs together even tighter (because she already had to pee and was both nervous and getting even more uncomfortable). Then, almost without fail, the partner would stand up and say “Ok, I'll be back, I have to go to the bathroom.” To which the woman would always just roll her eyes and laugh and I would look incredulously at someone who clearly didn't understand the concept of solidarity.
Over the next decade and a half there have been so many moments and so many little things that were both hilarious and heart wrenching sitting there with all of these patients. I realized that their stories are so intense and emotional and yet no one outside of that room knew what they were going through. I thought I would write a book and to try to tell their stories the best way I could...adding in some anecdotes and things that had happened to me along the way. But after hitting so many walls writing, I realized that I was trying to tell a story that wasn’t mine. I was trying to tell their story and that would never work because I didn't have all the information. I don't know what came before and what was to come afterwards. I didn't always know how things turned out... Sometimes I only got to see them in that one intimate moment and never even found out if the procedure worked.
I decided the best place to hear that story was from the patients themselves. Waiting for Babies was born.
Pregnancy and miscarriage, IVF and artificial insemination are not actually new concepts to our American society, but given how little it is talked about it you would think differently. When it comes to medicine, we are so intensely private. Did you know that in America there's really no ritual or common healing practice for someone who's had a miscarriage? Many other cultures have them to at least offer a playbook as to what to do when this happens, but we miss that in America. Most of the time people bottle it up and keep it within the partnership, which often doesn't help either of them. And it’s so much more common than you think– as is this whole field.
One in eight couples or individuals trying to get pregnant struggle with infertility. Most likely someone you know has either been through it or is going through it right now. I wanted to open that conversation and get all of this information out there to show just how human this whole process is and what some people are going through. I wanted to shed some light on how hard it is when something that for everyone else takes a very quick momentary interlude in life, but can take those struggling years and years.
It’s time someone shared their stories, as there are so many more who are still waiting for their babies. To listen to the podcast, or to learn more about Waiting for Babies, visit our website here.
Steve Mavros, L.OM. has been an acupuncturist and herbalist since 2001. Though he treats a wide variety of conditions, he has been focusing on female and male fertility since his first month in practice. Working hand-in-hand with reproductive endocrinologists and even treating on-site at fertility clinics, Steve has helped pioneer the acupuncture for fertility field in Philadelphia. In 2006, he co-founded The Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, a holistic complementary care center that brings together allopathic and complementary medicine disciplines all under one roof. After working with over a thousand couples and individuals to help conceive, he realized their stories needed telling.