Secondary Infertility and East Asian Medicine

When a woman who has gotten pregnant before has trouble getting pregnant or going to term with a pregnancy during a subsequent try, the experience can be frustrating and disheartening. Secondary infertility is generally defined as the inability of a couple to conceive after a year of unprotected and appropriately timed intercourse when one or both partners have previously conceived children (1). Several issues may be involved. The woman may be with a new husband or partner, or there may have been many years between her first pregnancy attempt and the current one. Possibly, she may compare her struggle with that of women facing primary infertility (i.e., women who have never given birth and have had trouble conceiving), and she may end up feeling ungrateful or guilty to want another child when she is already a parent; she may think to herself that so many people with challenges to their fertility are not parents, so how can she be “greedy”? Another scenario can occur when the male partner has had a previous vasectomy and decides to have it reversed (the reversal surgery is called a vasovasotomy). The longer the time between vasectomy and vasovasotomy surgeries, the less ability he will ultimately have to reproduce (2). Maybe it was difficult for the couple to achieve or maintain a healthy pregnancy the first time, and they dread going through the process again. Alternately, a couple may simply be anxious about the amount of time it seems to take to get pregnant during a subsequent attempt as compared to a previous time. In addition, recurrent pregnancy loss may be considered a form of secondary infertility (3). Regardless of cause or the particular circumstances, secondary fertility can present its own set of challenges to those affected by it.

In terms of acupuncture and East Asian medicine, the approach to secondary infertility is similar to the approach to infertility in general. The goals of treatment are to increase blood flow to the organs of conception, to promote efficient utilization of the body’s hormonal system (with or without the influence of fertility-enhancing medications prescribed to the woman by her reproductive endocrinologist or her gynecologist) and to promote relaxation and overall balance. For any type of problem with fertility, there will be an attempt to reach these general goals as a result of treatment. Specifically in cases of secondary fertility, however, both the patient and the practitioner are aware that pregnancy has taken place successfully before, and therefore, the body’s memory can be invoked in the healing response. There are some ways to address this kind of body memory through acupuncture treatment. This mechanism can also be summoned by means of treatment with moxibustion on certain acupuncture points (i.e., external herb application with heat), and, in some cases, as a result of conversations between patient and practitioner about how acupuncture and other healing modalities can have a positive influence on the outcome of their attempts to achieve a healthy pregnancy for a second or subsequent time. Often, the anxiety created by secondary infertility can be dealt with effectively in addition to and outside of the acupuncture treatment by discussing its special nature with others who have experienced or are experiencing the same issues, as in a support group or on fertility message boards and chat rooms. Secondary infertility constitutes a small but relevant slice of the infertility pie, and its importance should not be minimized. Rather, patients who have gotten such a diagnosis should be encouraged to get treatment, share their stories when appropriate, and take heart.

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(2). “Vasectomy Reversal”.
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Kerri Winston, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Atlanta, Georgia's Buckhead area. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you or your loved ones, please call 404-949-0550 or send email to [email protected].