In a Small Window of Time, My Acupuncturist Changed My Life
And then, the author explains, it closed.
In 2017 I wasn’t in a good place. I’d been trying for a baby for almost two years without success. Nothing had happened, in fact: no false positives, miscarriages or late periods. Just month after month of transactional sex and pregnancy tests to nowhere.
My husband and I went for tests at the fertility clinic and were told he had some motility problems with his sperm. He wasn’t infertile per se, but the doctor confirmed that it was going to be harder for us than most. We were offered in vitro fertilization, aka IVF, through the National Health Service (NHS).
I found a fertility acupuncturist for help in preparing for the IVF treatment. Rebecca had this aura about her: open, honest and no-nonsense. Her super-short hair struck me as perhaps a feminist statement—a declaration that she dismissed vanity.
When I met Rebecca, I was nowhere near her self-assurance. Anxious, sad, angry—I was a mess of raw, unbundled emotions when we began. She helped me so much. As I prepared for treatment, she advised me on how I could holistically increase my chances of conceiving with a good diet and by avoiding caffeine, alcohol and stress. And the acupuncture treatments helped create a balance and harmony in my body. Acupuncture has been shown to greatly improve IVF success rates by helping to regulate stress hormones and by triggering the release of endorphins that naturally relieve physical and emotional pain. Together this helps embryo implantation (the final stage of IVF) and increases blood flow to the uterine lining.
Rebecca was brilliant at explaining every step of this. During our conversations and our laughter at each session, I got to know more about the selfless person she was. I noticed that anger was a trigger for Rebecca. If I spoke about feeling resentful or negative, she became visibly upset. “It’s not good for you to harbor anger,” she’d say. “The body really hates it.”
She Knew From Experience the Dangers of Stress
Years earlier, Rebecca explained, she’d had breast cancer and survived with a double mastectomy. Her diagnosis had come after she became pregnant with her second child and as she discovered that her husband was having an affair. Not only that, but his (until then) secret girlfriend was also pregnant.
Devastated and furious, Rebecca went on to have the baby, whom her husband got to visit every other weekend. After the stress of such a traumatic betrayal, an inevitable divorce followed. I couldn’t believe someone so lovely could suffer such a terrible sequence of events or that she could emerge from it so compassionate.
After hormone injections, an invasive egg retrieval operation and an embryo transfer, I finally got the result I’d longed for: I was pregnant, and absolutely over the moon. Rebecca was one of the first people I told. At my eight-week scan, I rushed to her house to show her the grainy photo of my growing baby. It was a lovely day. The sun streamed through a large back window that overlooked her garden. “I’m so happy for you,” she said. “But I’m afraid I have something to tell you myself and it isn’t good.” She leaned back on the sofa and rubbed her head. “The cancer has come back,” she said. “And it’s everywhere. All over my liver and spine.”
I will always be disappointed in how I reacted. My instincts told me to reach out and hug her. Instead, I told her I was sorry and asked her some horribly practical questions. I left, got in the car and burst into tears. She meant so much to me and was such a positive force in my life. Now I was unsure where to place my feelings. That transaction between therapist and patient is a professional one, but incredibly intimate as well. This person, I believed, had helped me get what I wanted more than anything—a baby. And now she would be gone. In a matter of weeks.
During that time—while on her deathbed—she ordered me a diffuser with natural oils to help me with my terrible morning sickness. When it arrived she texted to invite me to her house to collect it. When I arrived a forlorn friend opened the door. “I can’t let you in,” she said. “Rebecca is doing really poorly. She isn’t up to seeing anyone.”
That was the last time I went to Rebecca’s house. Two weeks later I was told she was admitted to hospice, where she died. She was 49.
Her Life Overflowed With a Love That Resonates Even Today
At her funeral, the chapel overflowed with mourners. Some spilled out of the doors; others sat on the floor to make room for everyone. I’ve never been in a room more filled with love. Her friends and two children arrived wearing color head-to-toe—a request, I’m sure, made by Rebecca. The look on her young daughter’s face will never leave me. I don’t think she’d had any idea until that day just how loved her mum really was.
Her ex-husband aptly described Rebecca as the kindest person he had ever known. Her friends spoke fondly of their travels together and funny memories that they held dear. It was a perfect sendoff for a special woman.
This year, with our baby growing into a toddler, my husband and I decided that we wanted to try for another baby. We booked IVF treatments from lockdown. It all felt slightly rushed and surreal, coming into our appointments just as everything had been on hold for months. Then just like that, I was on my meds again, preparing for another embryo transfer.
The treatment was successful. I was pregnant. This time, I didn’t cry or make emotional phone calls to my family. Something felt amiss. Then, just before the five-week mark, I had a miscarriage. I sat on the toilet and saw that precious embryo fall away in front of my eyes. I felt numb. I’d barely had time to process that I was pregnant yet. And still, it was taken away from me.
In the weeks since, I have thought often of Rebecca, wishing more than anything that we could talk again. Beyond my grief and regret, I’ve discovered a new emotion lately: gratitude. I’m thankful to have stepped into Rebecca’s life during those precious final months of her life. And I’m thankful that she made me stronger. The lessons she taught me about resilience and positivity are ones that I’ll draw upon for the rest of my own life—especially right now, as I prepare to start my IVF journey for a third time.