Archive for April, 2010

-FROM A MOTHER OF THE WOMB TO A MOTHER OF THE HEART

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Our children are not our children because we have given them our genes, our children are our children because we have had the audacity to envision them.
—Anonymous

For some of us, life “after all else fails” may still include children, if we’re willing to let go of a too-narrow definition of motherhood. I see many women who are pursuing genetic parenthood at all costs. Even when medical science offers them little or no hope, they refuse to consider surrogacy, donor eggs, even adoption. While I understand the visceral desire to carry life within oneself, in some cases women are creating even more pain because their sense of being a mother is so limited. Letting go does not have to mean letting go of motherhood–simply our TV sitcom vision of it.

RESOLVE, the national infertility association, suggests that couples take the following steps in reaching decisions about alternative forms of parenthood. Begin by having each partner:
• Write a list of your options: to continue with infertility treatments, to stop and remain childless, to seek other means like surrogacy, donor eggs or sperm, adoption, etc.
• List what appeals to you and does not appeal to you for each option. Note any options that are completely unacceptable, and write a brief explanation of why.
• Prioritize your options in order of their importance to you.
• Itemize what you would have to do, and by when, to make your top choice a reality. Do the same for the remaining options, even if they do not appeal to you at the moment.
• Discuss your options together and create a plan to make your choices become reality.

If you choose to make children a part of your life, either through adoption, carrying a baby conceived from donor egg or sperm, or using a surrogate mother, then you must be comfortable with the fact that this child is not related to you genetically or biologically. I believe when we choose to accept a child into our family, we are related to him or her on a far deeper level than genetics or biology. First, we are related by choice. One of my patients once said to me, “Our children will always know they were wanted because we worked so hard to bring them into the world.” This is equally true of the children we choose to make part of our families through adoption, surrogacy, donor egg or sperm and so on. But in a spiritual sense, I believe the connection is even deeper. These children are ours because they want us as their parents.

When I was studying Chinese medicine, for a short while I felt a sense of a “presence” with me all the time. I noticed it especially in those moments between sleeping and waking. I had this sense of life wanting to express itself when the time was right. This feeling stayed with me until I had my son, Lars. While I can’t say for sure whether this feeling and the birth of my son were related, on a deep level I believe that the presence I felt had something to do with his soul wanting to be part of my life. And, if it’s possible that our children choose us as parents, then I wonder if it matters to them whether they’re born of our bodies or someone else’s.
 
However these children come to us, be it by our own eggs or assisted reproductive technologies or adoption, matters less than our tenacity — what we have gone through to make these children part of our lives. I believe the most important aspect of parenthood is letting our children know where they fit in the world, giving them a sense of belonging, no matter how they come to us. If they come from us, if they come through us, or if they come to us, being a parent means holding them and letting them know, “This is where you belong.”

When I work with women who are reaching the end of their pursuit of natural conception, I counsel them and support them with treatments designed to help them handle their emotions. I also ask them questions like, “Do you think if a child wants to be part of your life that he or she will care where its genetics come from? What do you think is more important in terms of your expressing your motherhood: creating a child who has the genes of your ancestors or giving a child all the love a mother can give?” And, “Are there other ways you can use your maternal energy? Can you give your time to children who are needy? How can you mother in a totally different sense, without it having to be a baby?”

In Chinese medicine, menopause is described as the transition from our reproductive years into the “time of wisdom.” At this point, the energy that has been pouring into our uterus through the Penetrating Meridian is redirected. And since the Pnetrating Meridian connects the Uterus to the Heart, that is where our reproductive energy moves. We change from being mothers of the body to being mothers of the heart, where wisdom resides. Whether we are biological mothers or not, all women have the ability to be mothers of the heart. We can choose to offer our love and maternal energies by creating a family with children, or we can choose to mother children, adults, groups or organizations. Louisa May Alcott once wrote, “…fatherly and motherly hearts often beat warm and wise in the breasts of bachelor uncles and maiden aunts, and it is my private opinion that these worthy creatures are a beautiful provision of nature for the cherishing of other people’s children.” You never know what place you will fill within the universal plan, but I do believe with all my heart that the love that makes us want to be parents was not meant to go to waste. The Tao Te Ching says,

The Tao is called the Great Mother: empty yet inexhaustible,
It gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.

When you become a mother of the heart, you tap into the “Great Mother” that lies within you. That love is always there. And when you offer it to the world in any form, it will never go to waste.

If there is a divine plan and we are placed on this earth to learn and grow, then perhaps the our souls’ lessons are taught through those that are put–and are not put–in our lives. Those we love come and, yes, they go. Some, even those we want most desperately, never come at all. Ultimately, however, we must recognize that the children we want so much and have done so much to bear are not really ours to begin with. As Khalil Gibran wrote:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with his might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

The pursuit of a child is borne of a deep longing of universal life to evolve—and isn’t it rather grandiose of us to believe that we have any control over the requirements of universal evolution? We can only manipulate our physiology; we can’t control the expression of life itself. I believe that for God to breathe life into the developing cells which become fetuses and babies and human beings, harmony must be created in our physical environment, our physiologic condition, our mental, emotional and spiritual state. When these conditions have been met, then we must accept that if we are to become parents, we will.
 
I am reminded of the prayer, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The things we must accept are our genetic constitution: there are certain aspects of our physical state that are not amenable to change. We cannot change the past and we cannot change anybody else. We can, however, change our health and our environment in the present—what we put into our bodies, how we experience stress, and our mental and emotional states.

We at The Fertile Soul endeavor to help you take control of everything that might possibly help you to have a child. But, after you have done all that you have control over, you must remember to breathe, to recall that you still have this present moment where you can allow life to express itself through you, however it may. This is a courageous stand and not an undertaking for the weak of spirit.

Perhaps the final lesson from our struggle to bear children is to find peace inside ourselves no matter what. I do know that finding that place of peace is the greatest gift we can receive. Those that we love come and go. Some don’t come at all. But no matter what, we are whole and at peace. May you find that place of peace within yourself. May you find happiness. And may that happiness be unconditional.

THE INFERTILITY MYTH

Friday, April 30th, 2010

By Randine Lewis, L.Ac., MSOM, Ph.D.

It can be frightening, this yearning for a child—it’s hard to fathom the desperate urgency.
Wendy Wasserstein, award-winning playwright, first-time mother at age 46

The maternal instinct—the most intensely motivating human force there is—begins where the cell meets the soul. While the question, “When does life begin?” has been debated throughout the ages, one issue that is virtually undebatable is the intense desire of women to bear children. Kahlil Gibran says our children are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. Life doesn’t “begin” within us, but is allowed to manifest through us.

Young girls jump rope singing, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Susie with a baby carriage!” Our mothers prepare us to follow in their footsteps—they obviously succeeded in having children, so they assume their daughters will do so too. Even those few girls who show no interest in babies, baby-sitting or younger siblings while growing up still assume they possess the capacity, if not the desire, to have children themselves.

However, when children become teenagers, the focus shifts to not having babies too soon. Most adolescents in the United States are well-schooled in preventing pregnancy through condoms, birth control, abstinence and so on. Subconsciously, we assume that when we are ready to have a baby, it will happen. Until then we must do everything we can to avoid getting pregnant. Certainly, this is an important message for our teenagers, but what happens to women who, when they are ready to have babies, find that it’s not as easy to conceive as they were led to believe it would be?

The increasing incidences of infertility diagnoses are neither a small nor an isolated problem. Fertility issues affect one in five couples in the U.S. The American Fertility Society states that a marriage is to be considered barren or infertile when pregnancy has not occurred after coitus without contraception after one year. I define “fertility issues” a little more broadly, as the inability to conceive and carry a child to term. These statistics mean that every month, seven million U.S. couples experience the pain and disappointment of yet another period or go through the trauma of miscarriage. The causes of infertility are wide-ranging—sexually-transmitted diseases, hormones thrown off-kilter by environmental stresses, immune problems, age-related factors, mental and emotional issues, biological incompatibility between partners and other. Unfortunately, couples usually don’t know there’s a problem until they want to conceive, and then they’re thrown into what can seem like an endless spiral of diagnosis, treatment, trying to get pregnant and failing, more diagnosis, more treatment, more failure, and on and on.

Since you have found our website, you are probably one of these couples who is struggling to conceive. You may know that many others have traveled this well-worn path, yet you still feel desperate and isolated when yours are the feet that are treading from one uncertain step to the next. I want to assure you, you are not alone on this journey. As a medical practitioner specializing in fertility issues, I know firsthand the desperate hunger of couples who want to conceive and bear children. And as a woman, I know personally the pain of wanting to conceive and failing. I too have suffered through miscarriages and unexplained infertility. I traveled around the world to make my dream of having children come true, and I have experienced the unbelievable miracle of holding my own child in my arms. I know your journey and your pain, and I can feel your desire to create new life. If you will walk with me, I will show you a path that may lead you to both healing and hope.

Motherhood at Any Cost
Oh, what a power is motherhood, possessing
A potent spell. All women alike
Fight fiercely for a child.
Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, c. 405 B.C.

For a couple, the diagnosis of infertility can be difficult, but for a woman it can be devastating. The ability to bear children is at the core of what makes us female, and being told you are infertile is like being told your body has failed its very reason for being. Throughout the ages a woman who was “barren” was considered extremely ill-fated. The Old Testament gives us several stories of women who prayed day and night to God to be given a child. Rachel, Jacob’s wife, went so far as to ask Jacob to impregnate her servant girl so she could then claim the child as her own. Fairy tale after fairy tale (Rumplestiltskin, Thumbelina, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) describes the hunger of all women, queens and peasants alike, for children. And from the earliest recorded times, women have resorted to anything and everything—from prayer to magic to strange sexual positions to timed intercourse to herbs and drugs to surrogacy—to enhance their fertility.

While a woman of any age can experience problems with conceiving, it is also true that women are waiting longer to become mothers, often after they have become secure in their professions. The average age of marriage both for women and men has been rising steadily since the 1950s. We are not marrying until we’re in our late twenties or thirties, and we’re postponing having our children until later than that. But we believe that since we can have children anytime between menarche and menopause, why not wait until everything is just right with the rest of our lives?

I wish it were that easy. Far too many of us are discovering that when we’re ready for children, our bodies are not. According to some statistics, a woman’s fertility peaks in her early twenties, then starts to decline as early as age twenty-seven. By the time a woman is thirty-five, her chances of conceiving are decreased by 50 percent, and they shrink to 20 percent by the time she hits forty. While these statistics may be valid, the premise of our program is that there are many ways a woman of any age can increase her fertility. The reproductive systems of both men and women become depleted as we age, and this is complicated by poor diet and stress. Even though we may exercise regularly and think we’re eating right, our bodies are often ill prepared to accept the burden of conceiving and carrying a healthy child to term. Month after month our hopes rise, only to fall again with yet another negative pregnancy test or onset of menstruation. Yet we are tenacious. We don’t give up on our dream of children that easily—especially since Western reproductive medicine has provided some of the best-publicized miracles of modern science.

The “infertility epidemic” has spawned a huge biomedical industry specifically targeted to treating those who want children but seemingly can’t have them. And indeed, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have given options and hope to many women who never could have borne children otherwise. But the costs—physical, emotional and financial—of these treatments are very high. Women spend every penny they have and borrow more for cycle after cycle of in-vitro fertilization(IVF). They subject themselves to drugs that hyperstimulate their ovaries, turning them into egg-producing, hormone-raging madwomen. Women have sex, don’t have sex, have sex on schedule, have sex all the time—whatever they’re told will work. They allow their eggs to be harvested with a needle, fertilized outside their bodies and inserted into their uterus with a catheter, hoping against hope that at least one egg will “take.” They resort to surrogate mothers or using someone else’s eggs. Many of us will literally undergo almost any kind of procedure, no matter how dangerous or humiliating, in our desperate hunger for motherhood. Yet all too often the results are devastating, and we end up broke and heartbroken, our arms empty and our bodies exhausted.

We hear a great deal about how Western reproductive medicine has helped women conceive. Unfortunately, we hear a great deal less about the pain, expense and statistically low success rates of such procedures. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research for her book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, even young women using IVF techniques have only a 28 percent chance of conceiving–at a cost of more than $10,000 per attempt. The chances fall to 8 percent for women age thirty-nine, and 3 percent for women age forty-four. On average, women go through seven cycles of IVF before they either conceive or quit, spending upwards of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in their attempts to have children.

Western reproductive medicine has created a great deal of false hope. Fortunately, it has also galvanized the determination of some couples to seek out non-Western methods of fertility enhancement. Many are discovering healthier, more holistic ways pf treating their bodies and their minds. Traditional Chinese medicine can enhance both women’s and men’s fertility and improve their health—treatment that can be used in conjunction with the most cutting-edge Western reproductive medicine to increase the chances for conception. It also can help a woman move gently and naturally to a state of health and wellbeing that will allow her body to do what it is meant to: conceive and carry to term a healthy, living child.

The clients who find their way to our program arrive discouraged, disheartened and hoping against hope there might be an alternative that will allow them to have a child. It is our blessing and our responsibility to be able to offer them new options — hope from the other side of the world that they, too, can feel a child quickening within them and one day hold that child in their arms. My work with fertility issues began as a result of my personal struggles. Now we treat couples who are trying to get pregnant full-time. Though we share the heartache of each new friend we meet, we also get to experience the elation of new mothers who had previously been told they were infertile, had no hope of conception, were too old, had poor egg quality, “unexplained infertility,” multiple failed assisted reproductive techniques, or recurrent miscarriages, and as a result of our treatment, they became pregnant. It is my greatest desire that we share what we have learned and seen with would-be parents everywhere.

If you have been told you are infertile, I have one message for you: There is no such thing as infertility. It is a myth! Rarely have I met a woman or man of childbearing age with all of their reproductive organs intact who wasn’t capable of bearing offspring. As long as the anatomical structures are present, a medical diagnosis of “infertility” is often a fallacy. The real issue is getting your reproductive organs to respond. Many factors can cause a couple to have difficulty conceiving, but once these factors are overcome and your body restored to health, conception can occur naturally. The focus of our program is to remove obstructions to conception, thereby allowing the expression of life through us. The stories of our patients you will read on this site are not unusual. Women and men around the world are finding more natural means to overcome their fertility barriers. Yet there is an inherent timing to all the processes in nature. Natural treatment allows conception to occur rather than forcing it. Your job is simply to be ready for the occasion when the universe says, “It’s time.”

Devour all the knowledge you can about fertility. Take control of your own health and trust yourself. No one is in tune with your body like you are. The ability to reproduce is inherent in your nature. Become your own best advocate; after all, the program that succeeds has to be one you can live with. Learn to trust your instincts until the solution for you emerges.

Above all, know that you are not broken; you are not deficient. No matter what the outcome of your personal journey, you are whole. There is an inherent wisdom in the universe. Bringing a new life into the world is not merely a physical event. Our job is to prepare—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—to connect with forces greater than us.

You can conceive. You will conceive. It may take more motivation and perseverance than you ever thought possible. But Nature is on your side. With her gentle help and support, your child will come.