A kiss in wine country
With apologies to Justin Timberlake for hijacking his term, we’re bringing sexy back to fertility.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say we’re bringing sexy back to the Lower Jiao.
What is the Lower Jiao? In Chinese Medicine, the Lower Jiao refers to the organ systems below the belly button, including the reproductive organs, the kidneys and the urinary bladder. It is one of three Jiaos, each of which comprises specific organ systems.
The Lower Jiao can also be compared to the Second Chakra.
In Chinese Medicine, an imbalance in the Lower Jiao can lead to all kinds of problems with Reproductive Health, whether the person is male or female, straight, gay or bisexual.
Acupuncturists treat a lot of infertility.
I specialize in Chinese Medicine for reproductive health and the childbearing cycle -I see teenagers with painful periods, pregnant women, new grandmothers going through menopause, and everything in between – but in recent years, my practice has seen more and more patients seeking answers for primary infertility, secondary infertility, sub-fertility and sterility.
In the USA, 1 in 10 couples is diagnosed with infertility.
Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after having unprotected sex for 6 months to a year, depending on the woman’s age. This does not mean these women will never be able to get pregnant, but it can put a lot of stress on a relationship.
No matter their age, anyone who has tried to get pregnant and found it is a little (or a lot) harder than they thought, tends to suffer from Fertility Fatigue.
Trying to Conceive (“TTC”), with or without fertility problems, can be exhausting. For many couples, baby-making sex becomes a chore, without any of the spice that sex had when they were trying not to get pregnant.
The Lower Jiao suffers from an identity crisis, as it was ignored for decades and now is suddenly being called on to Make a Baby Already!
Getting pregnant can be (not always) even more challenging for women and men who have experienced early childhood trauma, which gets imprinted in the Lower Brain and has a strong effect on the Lower Jiao. I will address this in another post, later this month.
Many women who have spent cycle after cycle actively trying to conceive a baby complain of losing their mojo. They feel depleted, fat and ugly. Sex has become rote and boring, just a means to an end, with no end in sight. They want to be pregnant yesterday, and they’re not accustomed to finding something so hard to control: successful, intelligent, clear-thinking women who are accustomed to putting their mind to something and making it happen can be particularly triggered by how hard it is to get pregnant. They have spent their whole fertile life trying NOT to get pregnant, and now suddenly getting pregnant isn’t so easy. This can make her feel helpless, anxious and out of control.
Some women whose mojo is doing fine (no libido problems) become distressed when their partner suddenly can’t keep it up. Or he keeps it up for a few days and then as soon as she reaches her fertile window, he can’t ejaculate. (He’s not used to having this problem.) Quite a few men have told me they feel their wife only wants them for their sperm; they start feeling helpless and that makes Performance even more difficult. It’s too much pressure.
After a year or more of actively TTC without a BFP (Big Fat Positive), couples will often start to argue more. One partner loses interest. Maybe he doesn’t want kids after all. She starts to worry it’s never going to happen. They forget about Dan Savage’s Fuck First rule (always do it BEFORE dinner/movie/wedding ceremony!), and only have sex with the intention of getting pregnant. That gets old real quick.
One lesbian mom I know who conceived via in-home self-insemination (i.e. the Turkey Baster Option) has advised some of her straight friends to just get the guy to hand her his sperm sample in a cup so she can save him the stress of having to perform at the same time every month. She said it’s pretty nice to be able to separate the Getting Pregnant Part from the Making Love part. I think this is really cool.
Clearly, there are a lot of Lower Jiaos that need re-tuning.
So, how do we bring sexy back to the Lower Jiao?
Here are 9 things you can do to bring sexy back to your Lower Jiao. (9 is a magic number in Taoist thought. I like 9.)
1. GET ACUPUNCTURE & TAKE HERBS
Room 3 at FLOAT: Chinese Medical Arts; Photo by Samuel Morgan Photography
Of course I’m an acupuncture junkie: I’m an acupuncturist. I love getting it, I love giving it. There’s nothing quite like an Acu-High.
For so many reasons, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are very effective at enhancing fertility and preventing miscarriage. Among other functions, acupuncture relieves blockages of Qi and Blood in the uterus and ovaries, increases follicle count, boosts the uterine lining, makes IUI and IVF work better (increases the rate of take-home babies), reduces drug side effects, and combats stress.
Acupuncture is also great for helping women and men reconnect with the sexual, reproductive energy located in the Lower Jiao (and in the body in general).
There are many, many points that acupuncturists use to treat infertility patterns, but I’ll give examples here of just a few points I use frequently:
Ren 4 / Conception Vessel 4 (Guan Yuan): this point is translated as “Gateway to Original Qi,” or “Gate of Origin.” It’s located between the navel and the pubic symphysis, on the midline of the body.
DU4 / Governing Vessel 4 (Ming Men): this point is translated as “Life Gate.” It’s located below the spinous process of the second lumbar vertebra. It is the #1 point to nourish the Kidney Yang, and it’s also great for lower back pain.
ZiGongXue, or “Palace of the Child.” This is my favorite point location name. This point is used to treat any type of problem in the uterus, including painful periods (dysmenorrhea), infertility and uterine prolapse. I also find it helps to regulate ovulation.
Give yourself a belly massage. Gentle massage in clockwise circles on your lower abdomen can help to circulate energy in the Ming Men (also known as the Dan Tien), and stimulate many of the acupuncture points in that region. This is something you can do by yourself or with your partner. It’s best to do in the proliferative phase of your cycle, not in the luteal phase (when you may be pregnant). Use a nice organic massage oil and maybe some of my favorite lavender essential oil.
Qi Gong is also a terrific practice for removing blockages in the Ming Men and the Lower Jiao in general.
2. AVOID FERTILITY FATIGUE.
Don’t, for goodness sake, have sex every day all month, or even every day for two weeks. This drains your Kidney Qi and Jing, and that of your partner.
The Kidney system is one third of the three main organs of female reproduction: Kidney, Spleen and Liver. We need the energy of the Kidney, Spleen and Liver Organ systems to be flowing freely in order for conception to occur. Too much sex with the pressure to get pregnant can end up backfiring by exhausting your partner’s sperm and depleting your receptivity to said sperm.
It’s also not so effective to have sex only once per cycle and expect to get pregnant. Although this is certainly how a lot of Bonus Babies are made (oops!).
So when should you do it? The Fertility Awareness Method (charting your cycle) can help you and your partner figure out when to do the Baby Dance.
Become familiar with how to understand your cervical fluid. The days that really count are the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. Printing your chart and showing it to your fertility acupuncturist is helpful in allowing him/her to see patterns according to Chinese Medicine, and time your treatments and herbal regimen accordingly. But I do have some patients for whom charting the cycle causes a lot of stress. Listen to your intuition and follow it.
Find something that works for you and stick with it on a regular basis.
Qi Gong, Tai Qi and Yoga are great ways to circulate Qi between acupuncture treatments, or if you’re unable to find an acupuncturist in your area.
Exercise increases blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, boosts serotonin levels, helps you shed unwanted extra pounds, and just makes you feel good.
I know it’s really hard for moms with one or more kids at home (who are struggling to conceive again) to find time to exercise. Barter babysitting with other moms, or bring the kids to a gym that has free childcare. Just make it happen.
4. GO ON VACATION.
My family on vacation in Lake Tahoe
How many couples do you know who were struggling to conceive and as soon as they finally “took a break” and went to Cabo, they got pregnant?
The reason for this is often because when we detach from outcome –when we stop wanting it so much – we get out of Fight-or-Flight mode (Sympathetic Nervous System) and get into Rest-and-Digest mode (Parasympathetic Nervous System).
If you can’t afford a vacation, take a Staycation. Even one day off work at the end of a weekend can allow you and your partner time to shut off the phones, email, social media and catch up on sleep and conversation. Imagine that!
When the hormones of stress stop surging in your bloodstream, it allows the hypothalamic/pituitary/ovarian axis to work better, improving your chances of getting pregnant.
5. ADDRESS THE SHAME.
We all have shame. Brene Brown, the brilliant researcher and storyteller, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” (Watch her ground-breaking TED talk, “Shame and Vulnerability,” here.)
Brene Brown also says that “shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
I think this can be applied to the fertility journey.
The transition of going from being an independent woman (married or not) to a mother involves the most massive change you will undergo since you were born.
Becoming a mother again – if you have other children – is also an enormous change. Trauma from a previous birth (surgical or vaginal) can affect fertility. The challenges of caring for young children and simply trying to find time to have sex with your partner, let alone deal with fertility issues, can be a major trigger for anxiety and stress. It can also trigger PTSD and bring up what I clinically refer to as Shit From the Past.
It is crucial that we trust we are capable of the change involved in getting pregnant and becoming a parent. (Note: there are of course many ways of becoming a parent- becoming pregnant is only one of them – but the biological parenting part is what I’m discussing here.)
Many women have sublimated shame from the past, which may be lodged energetically in the Lower Jiao.
Talking about it, writing about it, praying or meditating about it, seeing a therapist, getting acupuncture, are just a few of the ways we can address shame.
To borrow the words of John Bradshaw, let’s start the process of healing the shame that binds us (in this case, binds our Lower Jiao) in order to open ourselves up to conception, a healthy pregnancy and ecstatic birth.
Me, my second child, Lucy, and my husband, about 1 minute after Lucy was born at home.
This is not to say that you must have totally recovered from shame or trauma in order to conceive. Not true. But it can be helpful to bring these issues to your awareness so you can let go of some of it.
Ask yourself what works for you?
6. PRACTICE DETACHMENT.
Stop trying so hard. Really. You’re having sex in your fertile window, eating well, exercising, resting at the end of the day, refusing to work on the weekend (you’re doing that, right?), taking your herbs, getting acupuncture and charting your cycle, meditating…
Just writing that list is exhausting.
“What more can I be doing?” is a common question my patients ask.
“Detach,” I say.
It will happen when it happens, and you truly have no control over when that will be.
Even if you’re doing IVF, there is no way to select the cycle during which you will get pregnant.
Detach, while still encouraging your body to be a garden ready for the new plantings.
Use mindfulness techniques, meditate, try self-hypnosis.
Take Chinese tonic herbs to calm your Shen (ask your acupuncturist).
7. EAT REAL FOOD.
This is a blog post for another day – if you’ve met me, you know I have a lot to say about food! – but for now I’ll leave it at this:
Eat local and organic whenever possible, and prepare your own food.
Food is love.
Two excellent books on eating well are “Real Food for Mother and Baby” by Nina Planck and “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon.
Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night, whenever possible.
If you have a toddler and/or older children at home, this is a tough one.
I can relate: my kids are 2 years apart and I’ve been breastfeeding for 5 years straight.
As my friend and fellow acupuncturist Luke says, “Sleep is my drug of choice.”
Whatever it takes, prioritize a good night’s sleep.
9. FIND YOURSELF SEXY.
This may seem silly, but find ways to enjoy yourself – not only so you feel sexy to your partner (if you have one) but so you seem sexy to yourself.
Enjoy the process of opening the Palace of the Child.
So go do it already.
Get your sexy back.
Post by Abigail Morgan, L.Ac, owner of FLOAT: Chinese Medical Arts. Photos by Abigail Morgan, Dave Clark Photography, Samuel Morgan Photography, and Sara Pereira. All rights reserved.