When it comes to getting pregnant, NYC women may have special challenges. (And not just because we tend to wait until our 30s and 40s.) “We are evolutionarily programmed to be less fertile during war and famine. And in New York, thanks to our unbalanced go-go lifestyles, we fake war and famine very well,” says Jill Blakeway, LAc, who’s the city’s leading acupuncture-fertility specialist.
What Blakeway means is that the body doesn’t know the difference between a state of stress due to brutal deadlines, high-pressure business transactions, and the constant firing of Blackberries and a real battlefield. “Women hear that stress is bad for them and that they just need to relax to get pregnant. But it’s quite ingrained in our lifestyle as well as our body chemistry,” says the Harlem resident and mother of one.
More and more medical studies support acupuncture’s role as fertility-enhancer and as an IVF-supporter (by 42.5% according to Fertility and Sterility, a peer-reviewed journal). Patients who visit Blakeway’s YinOva Center in Union Square often go on a three-month fertility-enhancing bootcamp that’s part needlework and part (gentle) lifestyle changes. The goal is balance, says Blakeway, who oversees a team of specialist acupuncturists.
Patients get a thorough health intake with gynecological history and are given a fertility type—tired, dry, stuck, pale, and waterlogged, which correspond loosely to the five Chinese medicine types. These help guide the course of treatment. (Blakeway goes into these revealing lifestyle types in her new book Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility.) But generally speaking, acupuncture reduces inflammation, a boon for those with endometriosis; increases blood flow to the uterus, which “nourishes the follicles and creates a smooth, healthy endometrium;” and Blakeway and Nicole Kruck, LMT, a specialized practitioner at YinOva, assess for blockages caused by the position of the uterus. (Look for our story on Thursday on the solid theory behind the woo-woo–sounding Maya Abdominal Massage.)
Blakeway may also use hormone-balancing Chinese herbs to help improve the regularity of short or long periods. “I speak ‘doctor,’ so I can confer with my patients’ traditional Western fertility specialists about exactly what I am prescribing and why, and point them to certifying organizations, if they wish. The acupuncturists who can’t or won’t confer with Western docs just further their mistrust of Chinese Medicine,” says Blakeway.
Her success rate is high, about 75 percent, though Blakeway doesn’t toss that number around, since it includes women who “come to get in optimal reproductive shape and would probably get pregnant in time with or without my help, as well as those using conventional medicine interventions,” so she’s careful not to take all the credit. But her stats also include women that have blocked fallopian tubes or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, like Marisa, a Brooklyn teacher, who was told she had less than a 1 percent chance of conceiving by several doctors and now has two children.
While Blakeway encourages women to “keep things loose” during the treatment process, for many this can feel like a tall order. Some women who have been trying for a very long time come to YinOva with strict, prohibitive ‘pregnancy diets,” says Blakeway. “I had to promise one patient that eating spinach of all things would not compromise her ability to conceive. She’d read an article about iron toxicity in pregnant women, so she’d cut the beneficial greens right out.” Admittedly it’s hard to stay flexible when working hard to get pregnant, but that’s the mindset Blakeway’s going for.
One big reason? Stress isn’t just a feeling. It’s also coursing through our veins. “The elevated stress hormones like prolactin and cortisol give the body the impression that it’s just too under-resourced for reproduction right now; that this is not the time nor place to have a baby,” explains Blakeway. “It’s quite primitive.” In other words, your body’s not at its serene baby-making best when it’s under fire.
Changing your stripes and your body chemistry takes time—not just a strong will or weekly yoga classes. Some women find benefit from support groups, hypnotherapy, or fertility coaches, services which Blakeway helps facilitate. But a handful of die-hard workaholics find it hard to swap their Blackberries for silence, even during acupuncture—a must, says Blakeway. “Shutting off your Blackberry for 20 minutes of acupuncture is part of learning to make space in your life for a baby.”
Yinova Center, 80 E. 11th St., at Broadway, Union Square, 212-533-2255, www.yinovacenter.com
Have you ever tried acupuncture for fertility? If so, please share your experience, here!