Saturday, 7 November 2015

Journey to parenthood

Every so often, a friend would ask me about getting pregnant. Very recently, I met someone who failed her third cycle of IVF and we had a discussion on the role of TCM amid "western" treatments. I thought perhaps I should write down everything I know based on my experience and reading...

So we first started on this journey when we got married in late 2009. Nothing happened for months. We weren't too consistent as I was very busy with work - Sito was then quite free as he was on a long course at work. Nonetheless, once you want a kid, you want it NOW! So I was anxious. Not getting any younger.. Then I recalled Jo's advice on pre-conception check-up and called the gynae.

Gynae found a polyp in my womb that could obstruct fertilisation so I took that out. I meant, he took it out :p That was the first time I underwent twilight anesthesia - I fell asleep at the surgery seat and woke in a bed some time later. The second time was for my second miscarriage - I asked the nurse who told me that she told me to walk to the bed myself! No I didn't remember a single thing though the second time, I thought I woke a bit to check the time. Anyway...

So after that, still nothing. And off to the US we went in 2010. With all the time I had there, I did some research on conceiving and decided that a little more help wouldn't harm. So when I came back to Singapore at the end of the year for my Montessori exam, I saw two TCM doctors - I didn't quite like the first one though he referred me to do a hormone test at Raffles near his clinic; talk about complementary! - to 调, as they say.

I brought Sito's semen analysis which he did at the same time I went for the pre-conception check-up - just as well. My gynae gave him some vitamins then as the motility was slightly low. The second TCM doctor's words were gold - I've never seen Singapore men with good SA.

Happily, I got pregnant in two months but I really couldn't tell whether it was the treatment or it was just my time. The happiness didn't last long, unfortunately. And then I had some cervical complications discovered at the PAP smear done at a pregnancy visit. A colposcopy diagnosed me with CIN-2 so I went for a LEEP procedure.

When I was given the all-clear, I went in search of TCM in Chicago. Mum helped me buy medicine from my TCM doctor and Sito carried it back when he was in Singapore on a school trip, but that was running out, and I thought it would be good to keep at it while we tried to conceive.

It took me a while. I realised that the term TCM was not widely used in the US. It was more acupuncture. And many acupuncturists were local. I prefer - or could only trust? - a Chinese. And as luck would have it, I found one! She was from Beijing and a very nice lady. So I went to her regularly. She gave me a very similar diagnosis as the one in Singapore - I forgot exactly what, haha! - and advised me to go through two to three months of treatment before trying again.

I like acupuncture :) But the medicine, no. All TCM powder tastes like shit! But no choice.... Anyway, this time, with regular acupuncture and medicine, I could really feel the difference - the next couple of periods came with clots, probably purging the bad stuff?

Along the way, I had various conversations with friends and on mummy forums, and read like crazy. And I learnt a lot about conceiving. A tried for two years without success and finally went for a HSG to check if her tubes were blocked. The procedure might have unblocked her cos she got pregnant that cycle and is now mum to a pretty girl named after a flower. T had thyroid problems that hindered pregnancy so she was on medication. It took her some time but she's now expecting a second kid. E just somehow got pregnant after trying for five years.

TCM is often used to complement invasive procedures like IVF. My doctor in Chicago was telling me that she would go to patients' place to do acupuncture the morning before egg retrieval. But there's one cause of fertility challenge that's tricky - when the female body treats a fertilised egg as a foreign body and attacks it. That's what's happening to the someone in the opening para. There are medications to help but it's not 100%. And that is sad.

Anyway, surprisingly, we found ourselves pregnant two months into the treatment! Based on my tracking of ovulation and temping, it was an "old" egg at about 39 days old! The textbook age is 14. But the doctor assured me that it was fine.

I continued going to her for acupuncture and medicine as they were still beneficial - she just poked me for different things and gave me somewhat different medicine. But when morning sickness hit real bad, I had to return her medicine - they were in individual sachets so she could accept returns. And she helped relieve morning sickness with acupuncture though the effect lasted only long enough for me to get home on the bus without puking. I stopped going for acupuncture when I returned to Singapore. By then, I was 32 weeks in with ZK :)

So to summarise:
  1. See a gynae for a pre-conception check-up. For the female, it's generally an ultrasound to check the insides, and for the male, semen analysis. PS: It's not unmanly to do SA!
  2. If no luck, go for hormone testing. Generally for the female.
  3. Some TCM may be beneficial. Why shortchange yourself if you have already tried for some time without success?
  4. If no luck, check for blocked tubes. Ask your doctor about HSG. It's somewhat invasive - reviews range from painless to very painful. Two friends got pregnant the very cycle they did HSG but no guarantee!
  5. By now, you should be actively tracking ovulation using ovulation sticks - order online, cheaper than the store type. If possible, temping will help you pinpoint ovulation too.
  6. After a year of trying to conceive naturally, max two if you're young, it may be time to consider ART. 
Finally, have faith - even if all is fine, it takes effort and lots of good timing and luck too!

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