I highly dislike needles. Shots, IVs, getting blood drawn — none of these scenarios turn out well. No matter how brave, mentally prepared, hydrated, or how long my veins have been hot-packed, it ends up the same: me laying down, bringing my mind to a white space, trying to breathe deeply, tears streaming and a medical professional (or two) holding my legs and arms down.
There's been three people in my 30 years that have gotten into my veins on the first try — and one of these got the blood they needed for testing. Otherwise, it's been a series of misses — even late into my pregnancy when blood volume increases by 50%.
So why would I even consider acupuncture?
Google defines this treatment as: "A system of complementary medicine that involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles, used to alleviate pain and to treat various physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is now widely practiced in the West."
Although the thought of allowing someone I barely know the freedom to stick numerous needles into my body utterly terrifies me, acupuncture has intrigued me for years. As a lover of holistic health, acupuncture's rich history and effectiveness has been something I've read, talked and mused about, but has gone largely unexplored in my life.
I've only heard rave reviews from those that receive acupuncture — so how bad could it be?
Thin hair-line needles plunge into strategic points for alleviating symptoms and balancing the body's systems. I've heard you don't feel the needles, and it can heal insomnia, depression, and stress — all intriguing prospects for an anxious insomniac like myself. Yet, when it came down to it, I couldn't give up the control, or reframe "pain" from the needles that would be stuck in my skin — until a few weeks ago.
I sat in a prenatal appointment in my 3rd trimester sobbing to a midwife about how tired I was and couldn't do this anymore. My mind began to do something it's far too proficient at — downward spiral into a slippery slide of knotted thoughts:
My entire pregnancy has been rough. I have felt nauseas, thrown up, been short of breath, passed out, been excessively tired, raged with insomnia, barely been able to ride in a car, and stumbled through brain fog. I've had constant barraging thoughts that my entire body has morphed into an unhealthy blob of saggy, stretch-marked fat deposits decorated with varicose veins, and that I am utterly destroyed. (Still working on that positive body-image stuff while my body becomes something I don't recognize.) I'm not keeping up with learning the languages I love. I'm missing weddings of people I care so much about. I'm missing SUMMER. And each day I expend more energy than I produce trying to be positive — when inside I'm exploding — wanting to not be so frustrated and "enjoy this time." Wanting to believe the choruses of women that say "It will get better" and "You'll forget all about this" and "Just distract yourself" and "It's worth it". I want to be that pregnant woman that sleeps, travels, and feels amazing — and I've tried — but I'm just not, and often have felt my body has failed me, or I it. What is wrong with me? Maybe I just need to suck it up more?
And then breaking the unhealthy mind swirl between crying gasps was the gentle, wise voice of the midwife across from me kindly handing me kleenex:
"Have you thought about acupuncture?"
Oh man, are we really going to add needles to this list, I thought. "Yes, many times, but I'm terrified of needles."
"I know. But it's different. They aren't taking anything from you. And you feel better after."
I sighed. More ugly tears. More kleenex.
"If it's something that pulls you, listen to that. And if you try it and become uncomfortable, let them know and they can stop and take the needles out."
Something about that conversation — of months of misery building — I suddenly had the courage to sign up for acupuncture. I became desperate for relief. In my exhaustion I let go of a little more control.
I came back a week later, stretched out in the zero gravity chair, said how scared I was, and put my trust into a woman who would soon be putting needles all over my body.
I breathed deeply, and exhaled, practicing the same relaxation techniques I'm supposed to use during labor as I reframe each intense contraction as progress. I panicked a few times thinking about all the needles, but I stayed in that chair. And then something miraculous happened: My arms went limp, my body relaxed, my mind stilled, and I felt more relaxed in those moments than I had in years.
All day I felt like I was on a gentle high. My mood was amazing, my limbs weak, my mind calm. I felt good and kind. I felt hope. Space for creativity in my life suddenly opened up. I felt unblocked.
Since that day a few weeks ago, I've gone back again — and have plans to continue exploring this new ground. I'm grateful for wise midwives, acupuncturists that are amazing at their work, and that my uncomfortableness drove me to another brink of letting go. That even during intense times of change, I'm capable of growth and trying knew things. That our brains can reframe pain into pleasure.
How Acupuncture Can Support a Healthy Pregnancy
At my first appointment I received a card about how acupuncture supports pregnancy. It is from Acupuncture Media Works. Some quick facts they list:
"1st trimester: Sets the foundation for a healthy pregnancy. It can alleviate morning sickness, vomiting, faitgue and headaches.
"2nd trimester: Offers relief and balances the body from common complaints. It helps to alleviate heartburn, hemorrhoids, stress, sleep problems, edema, elevated blood pressure, and weight gain.
"3rd trimester: Prepares the body for labor and delivery. It helps to alleviate sciatica, hip, joint, pubic and back pain."
All that being said, I'm still terrified of needles, but I've fallen in love with acupuncture. I am a believer in its benefits, in the journey of letting go, and the growth processes we continue to go through as humans — if we only let ourselves explore uncharted territory.