Growing up, I always thought I was special, and when I was 27, I found out I was right. I have premature ovarian failure, which means that at even though I feel and look like your average 31 year old, my reproductive pieces are more like 61 — lightyears ahead of the rest of my body. While this may explain my love of bingo and The Price is Right, doctors have no medical explanation as to why I don't get my period and can't get pregnant without significant medical intervention.
I'm lucky to live in at a point in history and area of the world where advanced reproductive technology is available, and as a result, there are two little creatures wiping their noses on me as I type this. But it’d be nice to know what it feels like to get pregnant the old-fashioned way, or even to have Aunt Flo drop by for a visit once in awhile.
There are tons of old wives’ tales about women who cured their infertility through unconventional means without the help of a doctor or medication. With nothing to lose, and a potential baby to gain, I decided to test out a few of these methods to see if they could help kick start my snoozing lady pieces. I tried acupuncture, vaginal steaming, a fertility diet, a menstrual cup, and mediation, all coupled with plenty of good old-fashioned sex, in an effort to cure my infertility. Here’s what happened.
The Claim: Acupuncture is the insertion of thin needles into the skin on specific parts of the body to create changes in how the body functions. Acupuncture can help treat infertility by increasing blood flow to the uterine lining, improving ovulation and regulating an overactive or underactive thyroid. So I signed up for a month’s worth of weekly sessions to see if it’d help my condition.
The Results: Having undergone numerous blood tests to get diagnosed with infertility in the first place, I wasn’t looking forward to the idea of having even more needles put into my body — or to doing so willingly. But to my complete and utter shock, I actually loved acupuncture. Getting the needles placed under my skin didn’t hurt at all. There was calming music, pleasant smelling herbs and candles, and I really felt like my acupuncturists cared about what she was doing. She seemed invested in my condition, which wasn’t always the case with my doctors. She never appeared to be in a rush during our appointments and remembered who I was without having to consult a chart. She took the time to ask me how I was feeling emotionally about my infertility, something my OB has never, ever done.
Trying acupuncture was also cathartic for me; I left feeling loose and relaxed just like after a yoga class, and I even cried out of the blue during one session, which my provider said was a pretty common response from the release of tension and stress. The best part was that it actually worked a bit! A couple days after my second acupuncture session, I had a very light, but still very, real period. I don’t know that this will lead to me getting pregnant, but a few months of sessions can’t hurt. Baby-making side, the the quiet time and stress relief is enough to keep me going back.
The Claim: The reason why some women can’t get pregnant is simply because their vaginas need a deep cleaning or so says vaginal-steaming enthusiasts. By mixing certain herbs with hot water and hovering over the brew sans underwear, vaginal steaming is supposed to open the pores of your private tissue and allow these healing herbs to be absorbed into your body. There are premade herb satchels for sale on the internet, but I went with this DIY blend of rosemary, lavender, oregano, marigold, basil, and rose petals instead. My partner was bummed when he found out I wasn’t making soup.
The Result: Perhaps I was a bit too skeptical going into this, but vaginal steaming did not give me my period or result in me getting pregnant. I have friends who’ve tried it without success but I was still hoping I might get lucky. However, it did have some surprising hidden advantages. It was fun to make the concoction — I did this right around Halloween and put on Hocus Pocus to watch while I steamed so I could pretend I was Winifred making her magic brew.
The steaming did yield physical changes. For starters, the steam made my skin super soft. I got into the shower after my steaming and shaving my bikini line was really easy. I had fewer ingrown hairs afterwards than I usually do. Also squatting over a giant metal bowl for 20 minutes in my bathroom gave my legs a really good workout, so it was a nice excuse to skip the gym and watch Netflix that night.
The Claim: By inserting a menstrual cup right after ejaculation, or by coating one in sperm and keeping it inside you for six hours after sex, sperm will have a better chance of getting to the egg, making it more likely that you’ll get pregnant. My best friend gave this method a whirl after nearly a year of trying to conceive naturally, and whether it was the cup or just really coincidental timing, it worked for her. Since everyone seems to be trying menstrual cups for their periods and I don’t get to join them, I figured this was my chance to see what all the fuss is about. For two weeks, I stuck it to the cup right after we had sex.
The Results: There is nothing romantic about pushing your partner away from you the second sex is over to grab for your menstrual cup, and it’s even more clinical to have to collect his sperm and lube up the cup before inserting. Without going into specific detail, let's just say that slippery fluids and silicone surface of the cup mean you really have to want this to make it happen.
It felt like a lot of work that I didn’t want to do immediately after sex, and unsurprisingly, I didn't get pregnant. That being said, if you already own a menstrual cup and you’re having trouble getting pregnant, it’s a pretty low cost and easy option to try and boost your chances of making a baby. No promises that it’s a guarantee, though.
The Claim: Being stressed can produce certain hormones that result in negative effects on your ability to ovulate. Mediation can help you relax, which will in turn, get you pregnant.
The Results: Anyone who’s ever struggled to get pregnant has probably received the annoying unsolicited “just relax!” advice from a well-meaning friend or family member. And as a woman with twin toddlers who tries to work from home, I’ll admit my stress levels may be higher than normal. Even if meditating didn’t get me knocked up, I was hopeful that adopting the practice in general would make me feel better overall.
For two weeks, I listened to this guided fertility meditation every night before bed. I envisioned my eggs traveling down a straw-like tube to my uterus, and thought of my uterus opening like a flower to accept them. I took deep calming breaths and tried to relax. And I hated every second of it.
I love yoga and Pilates, so I was really looking forward to trying mediation, but choosing one that was focused on infertility was probably not a smart choice in retrospect. It wasn’t calming. It felt like being reminded 20 minutes a day that my body doesn’t work the way it should. Dwelling on the issue made me feel worse and way more stressed than I was before I even started.
All that effort didn't even earn me a single drop of period blood, let alone a positive pregnancy test.
The Claim: Eating full-fat dairy, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, wild yams, berries, and fatty fish can boost your fertility by increasing your chances of ovulation and regulating your reproductive hormones. Other foods, like high-mercury fish and trans-fats, can decrease your chances of getting pregnant. For two weeks, I followed this fertility “diet” created by What To Expect. Avoiding high-mercury fish and trans-fat was pretty easy, and I especially loved that it encouraged me to eat dairy, berries, and complex carbs. Oh, and let’s get real: Any “diet” that includes cheese is a lifestyle I want to base my life around.
The Results: Of all the methods I tried, I had the highest hopes for this one. We hear so much about how what we put in our body impacts other aspects of our health, like how alcohol affects the liver, so it didn’t seem outlandish that eating could also affect my reproductive organs.
I wasn’t really expecting to get pregnant just by changing my diet, because if the solution to infertility was that simple, I’d think my doctors would have suggested I try it long before undergoing more invasive treatments, but I was hoping it could cause me to have one of my rare periods. If it had, I would’ve taken it as a sign that I really was doing something positive for my health by adopting this diet.
Following a fertility plan didn't put a bun in my oven or cause me to have a period, but it did make me feel healthier overall. Swapping out bread for complex carbs like yams gave me more energy. I was more patient with my kids and I got hungry less during the day, which makes me wonder how often my bad moods are caused by changes in my blood sugar levels. But when the experiment was over, I was pretty thrilled to dive face-first into a platter of tuna rolls.
When It Comes To Baby-Making, Does Alternative Medicine Know Best?
Although none of these unconventional infertility treatments worked for me, that doesn't mean they won't work for anyone. Everyone's body and circumstances are different, and as none of the things I tried were harmful, there's no reason not to give them a go. As long as you can manage your expectations, trying an unconventional infertility treatment can be a fun way to distract yourself while you wait for test results from your doctor.
I was surprised to find I wasn’t as upset over the lack of success from this experiment as I thought I would be. Before trying these unconventional routes to pregnancy, I really thought I wanted another baby. The first time I went nine rounds with the infertility monster, each negative pregnancy test felt like a physical blow that took time to recover from. The fact that I was able to take the failure of this experiment in stride tells me that while I’d like to have another child and experience what it’s like to get pregnant without intervention, I’ll also be able to have a full and happy live if that never happens. No matter what, I’m still extremely grateful for the family that I do have. Typical sex may never be the route to me getting pregnant, but I still plan on having plenty of fun trying.
Images: Courtesy of Megan Zander (6)