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Your Health: Meet my acupuncture baby; Paula Price, 35, yearned to be a mum - but after years of tears and failed high-cost fertility treatments she really got the needle.

Byline: WORDS: KERRY McCARTHY.

She loomed over me, needle in hand. Even though I knew it wouldn't hurt, I screwed up my eyes and braced myself.

`Relax, I promise it won't hurt,' the woman soothed. It was easy for her to say - her stomach didn't look like a porcupine, needles bristling all over it.

I forced a smile, but inside I couldn't help wondering what I was doing. Would a Chinese herbalist really give me the baby I'd been longing for? It was October 2002, and my husband Mark, 35, a programme manager, and I had wanted a baby for more than three years...

In March 1998, we'd bought a three-bedroomed house in Southampton, confident we'd soon have kids to fill it. But a year on I still wasn't pregnant, so my GP ran some tests.

`Your blood tests show you're not ovulating,' he said, and prescribed me some pills. Great - if a pill could fix me, I'd be pregnant within weeks, I thought.

There was still no sign of a baby when Mark and I married on March 24, 2001. As soon as we returned from honeymoon in Lanzarote, we went back to the doctor.

`I'm sorry, but you'll need IVF treatment to conceive,' he said.

I stared in shock at the doctor, reached out and took Mark's hand. He squeezed it.

The doctor added: `I'm afraid it might not work the first time, and it's not cheap...'

I was devastated. I was 32, most of my friends already had kids, and watching them was torture. Through the tears misting my eyes, I looked at Mark and he nodded. We didn't talk, we knew what we had to do.

`We'll try IVF, or whatever it takes,' I told the doctor. The first cycle of IVF, where hormones are injected to stimulate eggs, is the most painful and the most expensive.

Just the first cycle cost us about pounds 3,500, all our savings. I was allowed to carry on working at my job as an admin assistant for a software company. Mark works in the same office and we kept quiet about our IVF. We didn't want everyone talking about it if it didn't work, and only told our families and a few close friends.

We started our first cycle in January 2002. Hormones are injected into the mother to stimulate eggs, which are then taken out of the body and fertilised with the father's sperm.

A few eggs are then put back in the woman's body, but some are kept and frozen for future cycles, just in case it doesn't work first time.

Between the hormones being pumped into me and the pressure for the treatment to work, I felt stressed and emotional. I'd burst into tears over nothing, like losing my house keys or forgetting to buy some milk.

As I sat on the bed crying over something silly, Mark held me tight. He's always calm, the perfect person to have around in a crisis.

`You need to calm down,' he soothed, stroking my hair.

`I know...' I started.

`Hey, everything's going to be OK,' he whispered and kissed me.

I tried to take Mark's advice, but the hormones took over and no matter what I tried, I couldn't relax.

Five weeks later I discovered that the IVF had failed. I wasn't pregnant. Mark and I were devastated.

`I'm never going to be a mum,' I cried.

`It's only our first try,' he said. `This isn't going to beat us, we'll just have to try again.'

He was right - we couldn't give up after just one try. Doctors advised we wait three months before trying another cycle of IVF. We did as we were told. Once again, it was unsuccessful.

The second cycle had cost us pounds 500 and we were running out of money, ready to give up. But as usual Mark kept me going.

`Let's try once more. If it doesn't work we'll have to re-think then,' he said.

My parents helped out financially, and we decided to give it one final go. Everything depended on this. I thought I'd been stressed out during the other treatments, but it was next to nothing compared to what I was feeling now.

The three months until we could try again dragged by. I was so tense my muscles ached. Every TV advert seemed to be for nappies, everywhere I looked there were kids playing, or pregnant women. It was awful.

One day my mum and dad popped round. `We were watching this programme about natural ways to get pregnant,' said my mum Hazel, 61. `Have you thought about trying acupuncture, love?'

I hadn't but I was willing to try absolutely anything. A friend recommended a Chinese herbalist her husband had used for back trouble. So, in early October 2001, I went to the Centre for Chinese Medicine in Southampton and explained my situation. `We can definitely help you. We can treat your stress and your fertility,' said Dr Quing. I wrung my hands, too scared to hope, but the doc smiled.

`Please don't worry, you'll get pregnant,' she said.

I started having acupuncture twice a week. It was an awful lot cheaper than IVF, but still quite pricey at pounds 20 a session for one hour, but I immediately felt much more relaxed and less tense.

Needles were placed in my stomach and head, but it never hurt. I had two sessions a week for about two months, about 16 in all, and when Mark and I finally started our third and final IVF cycle, in November 2002, I wasn't anywhere near as anxious as I'd been before.

I even had acupuncture a few hours before my embryos were implanted, and felt utterly calm and in control.

Just a few days later I began to feel different. I felt sick and my breasts were tender. I told Mark. `You must be pregnant!' he grinned. I went straight to hospital, where they did a test. I couldn't wait to hear the result, and paced around like a caged lion.

`Let's go shopping, take your mind off things,' said my mum. But as I walked round the supermarket I could only think: `If this doesn't work, I'm done for. I'll never have kids.'

Suddenly my mobile rang. It was my doctor. `Congratulations!' she said. `You're pregnant.'

`Thank you!' I cried.

I put the phone down, and in the middle of Sainsbury's car park in Salisbury me and Mum jumped up and down, crying and screaming. People must have thought we were mad!

Then I called Mark, who was completely ecstatic.

After four years of trying, I finally became a mum on August 13, 2003 to a healthy 6lb 10oz baby.

My daughter Libby is my little treasure. Our dreams of a family have come true - and I'm convinced it was the acupuncture that clinched it. Mark and I still have some frozen eggs so if we want another baby they're all ready.

If we do try for another baby I'll have acupuncture again. Who knows? It might make all the difference."

Acupuncture: the facts

What is it? An ancient Chinese form of healing dating back 4,000 years, the aim of acupuncture therapy is to promote health and alleviate pain through stimulating problem areas called acupoints by using slender needles.

How does it work? Acupuncture stimulates the nerves in skin and muscle, and increases the body's release of natural painkillers - endorphin and serotonin. Today, as well as needles, acupuncture can involve herbs, magnets, electricity and lasers.

More info: Find out how acupuncture can help you from The British Medical Acupunture Society: www. medical-acupuncture.co.uk or call 01606 786782 for a local practictioner. Alternatively, ask your GP for a recommendation.

CAPTION(S):

PHOTOS: SOLENT NEWS AND PICTURES BRIDE AND GLOOM: Paula and Mark desperately wanted a family, but they had almost given up hope of having a child until, at last, their `little treasure' Libby (left) came along; THIRD TIME LU
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jul 18, 2004
Words:1332
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