From Issue 4 of Life's News
What the Numbers Won’t Tell You
The 1-2-3s of Numbers, Fertility and Health
by Nicole Lange Lic.Ac. MA.OM. Dipl.Om.
Any woman who is struggling with fertility is likely to have dozens of numbers on her mind: bbt temps, sperm counts, follicle counts, uterine lining, estrogen, FSH, HCG, dosages of medications, age, numbers of cells, percents of morphology, success rates for clinics, success rates for procedures, days till ovulation, days till the next test...the list could go on and on.
Unfortunately, all too often these numbers become an identity for what a woman believes is her future. I cannot say how often I’ve heard a woman summarize her situation by saying something like:
“Well, my FSH is 30.”
“But my luteal phase is only 8 days long.”
“The numbers aren’t doubling.”
“I’ve got a 10% chance with my own eggs.”
These statements seem like simple facts, but they often signify so much more: I’m afraid, I’m too old, I’ve waited too long, There’s something wrong with me, There’s nothing I can do, I’m waiting to have a miscarriage, My heart is breaking, I don’t think I’ll ever be a mother. Somehow, in some clinical way, the numbers make it easier to say.
While this sort of jargon may be routine in Western medicine, it is often not helpful from a Chinese medical perspective. Here’s why:
1. Numbers change: Although Western medicine will tell you that you are only getting older (and imply you will only be worse off the longer you wait) this simply is not true. FSH can be high one month then low the next for many reasons. BBT charts can be erratic and anovulatory one month and steady and biphasic six months later. With Chinese medicine and a holistic view it is easy to see why. Acupuncture, herbs, eating well, decreasing stress, breathing, in short, getting more balanced will always improve the numbers! Even FSH over 100 has been known to reduce and lead to a subsequent pregnancy with Chinese medicine.
2. Numbers can be misleading: Although numbers can provide a general guideline for what is ideal or “the norm,” they are by no means the bottom line. It may be ideal to have more follicles in an IVF cycle, but many cycles are successful despite having fewer follicles and many cycles do not result in a confirmed pregnancy despite having high numbers of follicles.
Pregnancy tests are another great example of misleading numbers, it may be “the norm” for HCG (the “pregnancy hormone”) to double every 48-72 hours, but in 15% of normal pregnancies it does NOT!
3. There is so much more to health and fertility than the numbers: One of my greatest challenges as a Chinese medical practitioner is getting patients to let go of the numbers and listen to what their body is telling them. When you follow your body’s wisdom instead of a book, test, doctor’s order, or advise column you are much more likely to be on the right track.
A woman in her 40s might listen to her body and say, “well, I feel good, my energy is good, digestion is fine, I sleep well, go on walks, have little to no PMS, and my emotions are even.” With all this information, her age is just a number and she can know she is fertile. On the other hand, a woman in her 20s might listen to her body and know she is very out of balance. She may feel anxious and nauseated, tired all the time, irritable with PMS, not sleep well, and have chronic migraines. Despite her age she might know that she needs to do some work to improve her fertility.
So, the next time you want to focus on just one number, ask yourself, what does that number really mean to me? Be honest with your emotions and express them. Check in with yourself and see how you are feeling overall (does it match the number or not?) Remind yourself that numbers can be misleading, and know that numbers can change. Then, take a step back, look at the big picture and let those numbers go!