Fertility issues

Q: How long should women wait before seeking help with fertility issues?

A: Not achieving a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex is the World Health Organisation’s definition of infertility. But if you’re over 40, I’d recommend seeking support straight away. Get tests done to assess your hormone levels (an FSH and AMH check) and a follicle scan. Your partner’s and your own history is also important, e.g. if you have blocked tubes. And your mother’s, especially if she had an early menopause. Remember that IVF isn’t always the most appropriate treatment if you’re older. If the quality/quantity of your eggs is poor and you only produce one, then your chances of a baby are still low with fertility treatment.    

Q: How can couples optimise their health to increase the chance of pregnancy?  

A: Either they’re told by clinics that there’s nothing they can do to improve their odds. Or they falsely believe what the wellness industry and Instagram overpromises them. For example, ‘if I eat all the right foods and think positive thoughts, I’ll achieve my goal’. This is toxic wellness, in my opinion. It feeds into the myth that we’re broken and need fixing. Much depends on the individual, so my approach is very balanced. Stress and diet are factors worth considering, and being both overweight and underweight. What’s important, though, is not to promote perfection. If you’re feeling burned out, a strict eating regime could increase anxiety levels. My role is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. 

Q: What are the most common psychological barriers they face?  

A: Around 30% of infertility is unexplained. That may suggest something else is at play, yet unknown or unidentified. Trauma and psychological issues may have an impact. Stress comes in different forms. I categorise stress as either the type we cannot avoid or of our own making. Unreliable information and poor communication from clinics are among the many obstacles couples face on the IVF journey. However, some negative experiences can be avoided, e.g., not making comparisons with others. The common belief that we’re broken and somehow not enough is often formed early in life. Some women overcompensate by trying to be always in control in order to achieve. They apply this approach to fertility by striving harder when they don’t conceive. But this reopens buried trauma about inadequacy and triggers deeply held beliefs. There may also be a conflict between wanting motherhood and not wanting to lose control. It can come from a sense of not feeling safe in the world or being under threat. My view is the immune system alerts the body that it’s not safe to conceive. Sometimes I ask women why they don’t want a baby, not why they do. It can be very revealing.  

Acupuncture and fertility

Q: How does acupuncture improve fertility for both men and women?   

A: There’s evidence showing the technique increases blood flow to the ovaries and uterus lining. On a psychological level, acupuncture involves surrendering. You receive the needles into you like an egg receives a sperm. And there’s a sense of being listened to and being heard during the session. Women today are frequently in combat mode, but they can feel secure by letting go of internal conflict. In this calm state, you produce happiness hormones (endorphins) which tell the body it’s safe. On an evolutionary level, being safe would have been a requirement for conceiving.   

Q: Are there any stories you can share of women over 40 you’ve helped?  

A: There have been so many over 25 years. But one special to me is a patient who’d stopped IVF aged 45 because she wasn’t producing any embryos via IVF. After sessions with me and accepting her childless life, she conceived naturally. I remember us dancing around the clinic when she became pregnant. I always remind women in their 40s they’re still fertile if they’re having periods.  

Q: What’s the single most important piece of advice you can give?  

A: Do what makes you feel powerful. Some forums cultivate a sense of victimhood that doesn’t serve women. Be compassionate by allowing yourself to heal. Just because you’re not ill, it doesn’t mean you’re not suffering. Most people mean well, yet we often project negative meaning onto situations or comments. One patient told me she was a failure in her job – and as a woman – because her intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatment wasn’t successful. Try not to let your attempts to get pregnant undermine your self-belief.  

Emma Cannon has been supporting individuals and couples for over 25 years on the path to starting a family. A published author of five books, Emma often gives her opinions in publications including TheTelegraph and Huffington Post.