"What else should I be doing to prepare for birth?"
Our clients often want to know more about ways they can care for their bodies and their babies in preparation for birth. In addition to chiropractic care, we usually ask if they have considered acupuncture.
Many of our clients who have experienced long and difficult fertility journeys have already been working with an acupuncturist. More often than not, her name is Megan Joyce.
Megan's practice in Costa Mesa is known for being a haven of sorts for those enduring difficulties conceiving, experiencing uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms, or recovering from birth. People from all over Orange County trust her during some of the most trying times on their path to parenthood. And of course, her services are wonderful for those - pregnant or not - who are looking for additional support on their holistic health journey!
Megan was kind enough to share about her background, her practice, and the ways acupuncture and Chinese Medicine more broadly can offer support before conception, during pregnancy, and after baby arrives. We hope you'll learn as much from Megan as we did!
Tell us a bit about yourself, and what led you to become an acupuncturist.
Since high school I have been fascinated by the human body and wanted to pursue medicine as a career. I saw myself becoming an OB-GYN in hopes of supporting women through their journeys to motherhood and welcoming new babies into the world. Unfortunately, during high school and college I began suffering from panic attacks and severe depression. In my attempts to heal, I tried various forms of psychotherapy and was prescribed numerous medications.
Unfortunately during this period everything continued to get worse. I felt that I could no longer meet the demands of medical school and residency. At the same time, I grew disheartened by the current state of medical care. While shadowing physicians, I became frustrated seeing that they were limited to 7-10 minutes per patient, but had hour-long meetings with pharmaceutical reps.
In an effort to make a shift, I switched my course of study to Psychology. I started doing more yoga and receiving acupuncture. Slowly but surely, the panic attacks and depression reduced in frequency and intensity. I also started getting my period again, which had been mostly absent due to a hormonal imbalance that was later diagnosed as polycistic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
This personal healing began my journey in the study of Chinese Medicine. I learned the profound difference between trying to fix a problem and supporting people's bodies to generate healing. This difference became a new template for my life as well as my practice.
How can acupuncture help women throughout the journey of fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum?
One common misconception about my job as an Acupuncturist is that we only do acupuncture. In fact, acupuncture is only one modality (though an important one!) within the field of Chinese Medicine. As a women's health specialist, I use acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, as well as diet and lifestyle coaching to help women through the various phases of growing their families.
I work with both men and women in preconception/fertility support whether they are trying to conceive naturally, working with a fertility specialist and using fertility medications, or using assisted reproductive technology like IUI and IVF. We focus on doing very thorough evaluations of couples to find out why they are not getting pregnant. We then make lots of little changes in their physiology, mindset, and lifestyle to balance hormones, improve egg and sperm quality, and support the body to carry a pregnancy to term.
Going through infertility can be an isolating experience that is full of grief. I try to provide as much emotional support as I do physical support. My goal is to not only help couples in creating new life, but also to ease the pain and suffering of the process.
The same is true for pregnancy and postpartum support. It's amazing how one of the most exciting and beautiful experiences of our lives can also be filled with hardship. Acupuncture is a wonderful way to help women cope with the transitions into pregnancy and then into the postpartum period.
My goal is to not only help couples in creating new life, but also to ease the pain and suffering of the process.
We use acupuncture and manual therapies to help with various aches and pains often experienced in pregnancy, such as sciatica, back pain, swelling, and carpal tunnel. We also have specific protocols for labor preparation and labor induction. These can help reduce the time in labor and the need for chemical inductions.
In the postpartum period we use acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutritional support to help with general stress and healing after birth, as well as decrease postpartum depression and anxiety. These modalities can also help increase milk supply and decrease other complications around breastfeeding such blocked ducts and mastitis.
Is acupuncture something people should turn to when they are having a pressing issue, or is it more valuable to receive regular care?
Although most people come into my office when they have a pressing issue, Chinese Medicine works best when it is regularly used to prevent major illnesses and imbalances from happening in the first place.
Thousands of years ago, the physicians in China were only paid as long as their patients remained healthy. The culture and environment we live in now poses a lot of challenges for healthy living. Most of us are under some form of low grade stress all the time. Unfortunately our bodies are not built to handle continuous stress. This stress - along with pollutants and chemicals in our environment and food supply - creates the perfect storm for chronic illness.
In my own life I have seen how effective Chinese Medicine was in helping me heal from anxiety, depression and PCOS. Those things were all connected, even though my doctors never told me so. Now I use the tools in Chinese Medicine to moderate these issues and prevent them from becoming problematic. I love having the opportunity to do the same work with my patients: helping them overcome a major health issue, and then supporting them to continue to live happier, more balanced lives.
How do you support needle-phobic patients?
This is such a good question! A lot of my patients are scared of needles when they first come in to see me. As I mentioned previously, acupuncture is not the only way that I can help people. In severe cases when a patient does not want to even try acupuncture, I use acupressure instead. This involves massage of specific acupoints on the body. In these cases I may also rely more heavily on diet and lifestyle coaching, herbal medicine and and nutritional supplements.
With that said, 99% of my patients find that acupuncture is nothing like having their blood drawn or receiving a shot. The needles we use are tiny - about the thickness of a hair on your head. These needles create sensations that are not usually painful. The release of endorphins from acupuncture also makes the experience so pleasant that people forget that needles are even being used!
Are there any common misconceptions about acupuncture that you want to clear up?
The biggest misconception is probably that it is painful. While there are styles of acupuncture that can be painful, the form of acupuncture I practice focuses on gentle stimulation of the body. Treatments are effective, but still incredibly relaxing.
Walk us through a typical visit with you. What can a new client expect for their first session?
Initial visits with me last about an hour and a half to two hours. We spend lot of time talking about the physical or emotional issue going on. We also review the patient's entire family and medical history. Often in complicated cases, the answer is in the details so we try to get all the details possible.
After a long period of discussion, we do a physical evaluation. This starts by looking at patient's tongue and feeling his or her pulse. Intrinsic in Chinese Medicine is a very detailed way of evaluating internal issues by looking at different characteristics of the tongue. Although seemingly bizarre, this form of diagnosis gives us a lot of information on the levels of blood and body fluids. It can also tell us about digestion, inflammation, and circulation within the body. When we take the pulse, we don't only pay attention to the rate. We also consider the quality of the pulse, which can say a lot about how the nervous system is working and what organ systems may need extra support.
After the evaluation, a patient will have an acupuncture treatment, in which we insert anywhere from 3 to 20 needles into specific points on the body. Then the patient rests for about 25 minutes. This period is deeply restorative and many of our patients fall asleep or go into a meditative alpha state.
After the session, we prescribe any necessary herbal medicine or supplements and discuss any necessary dietary or lifestyle recommendations. Then the patient (usually) leaves feeling relaxed and rejuvenated!
What other modalities compliment acupuncture? How can parents combine them during pregnancy for optimal wellness?
I've already discussed a number of other modalities we use to complement acupuncture. A few others are moxibustion, cupping, and e-stim.
Moxibustion is another way to stimulate the acupoints that doesn't involve a needle. In moxibustion, we burn an herb called Chinese mugwort near specific acupoints on the body to increase energy circulation, and reduce pain. The most common usage of moxibustion is to help encourage breech babies to flip into an optimal position for birth.
Cupping is another method for increasing energy circulation and reducing muscle tension. It was recently made famous by Michael Phelps during the Olympics, when he competed with strange purple circles all over his back, shoulders, and chest. The cups are basically suction cups that are applied to specific areas on the body. They deprive the muscle belly of oxygen so that it is forced to relieve its contraction. The purple circles result from the increased blood flow in the area, causing superficial bruising. Although it looks weird, it feels wonderful.
E-Stim involves the use of a very gentle electrical impulse with acupuncture to increase the stimulation of the treatment. This is also very relaxing. E-Stim is typically used for pain relief, in certain fertility protocols, and sometimes to help induce labor.
Acupuncture is an ancient healing tradition, but are you seeing any new discoveries or technologies in your profession?
Another amazing question! Acupuncture has been in practice for at least three thousand years. It remains in practice today despite all the changes in our understanding of modern medicine. Although the philosophy and efficacy have not changed much, the application has.
For example: acupuncture is based on the theory that our bodies are full of circulating energy. Problems arise when that energy isn't circulating properly, or becomes deficient. Needles are great conductors of energy, and are inserted at specific areas to release the stuck energy or to promote the energy that is deficient. This explanation does not fit into our current understanding of anatomy and physiology. However, thousands of studies using modern technology such as ultrasound, PET scans, and functional MRIs show how acupuncture sends specific messages to the brain to perform different healing functions.
For a woman who is having trouble conceiving for example, she may be prescribed a medication to increase ovulation called Clomid. Unfortunately, Clomid has a side effect of reducing the uterine lining, making implantation more difficult. We can use acupuncture to increase blood flow to the uterus, mitigating this side effect and increasing her chances of conceiving.
Of course, there was no mention of Clomid or uterine linings in the original Chinese medicine texts. But we have been able to take the basic principles and apply them to modern medicine to create a more holistic and effective approach to a problem. This junction between western medical technology and the fundamental principles of Chinese medicine is a true passion of mine. In combining the strengths of all the tools we have on hand, we can provide exceptional care to our patients and find solutions for even very complicated cases.
I am constantly inspired by the strength and resilience I see from my patients.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The greatest blessing of my work is fostering such close relationships with my patients. In many cases, I get to work with people through many phases of their lives, often supporting them through some of life's most difficult journeys.
Being such an intimate part of these stories is an honor and privilege. I am constantly inspired by the strength and resilience I see from my patients while they work to overcome their fears and sometimes even process through tremendous grief. The majority of the time, I have been lucky enough to celebrate some of life's greatest joys with them too.
This human connection is a balm for my soul and gives my work, and time away from my family, great meaning.