Natural fertility treatment
More couples are discovering the benefits of natural fertility treatment. Meet Clare and Mike Gibbon, proud parents of twins.
Clare Gibbon was 42 when she and Mike - her husband and partner of five years - made a concerted effort to get pregnant. Clare wasn't worried about her age. Her own mother had given birth to Clare at 42 so there was definitely a family disposition for late arrivals. The couple gave baby-making their best shot, while determinedly carrying on their fun-loving lifestyle, working hard, exercising regularly and socialising lots. After a year, they wondered if something was amiss and sought help from a fertility clinic. There was nothing physically wrong with either of them but the fertility specialists cast a shadow over their hopes for a baby, pointing out that Clare's advanced age meant it was unlikely she would conceive.
From there the couple tried IUI (Intra-Uterine Insemination) twice, with Clare taking the drug Clomiphene, and then they moved on to a round of IVF, which Clare hated as it made her feel terrible. The IVF failed and the pair took a break for a few months to get themselves together. They were both feeling low. It was then Mike heard about Loula George at Mother-Well in Auckland, and her success with couples trying to conceive."
I said, 'If a fertility expert can't help what good is this going to do?'" says Clare. "I was quite cynical."
Yet when the couple had their first appointment in June 2010, Clare instantly warmed to Loula. "The difference was that she was positive. She said, 'There's no reason why you can't conceive, but there's obviously something not right, otherwise you would have already.'"
Loula offered no guarantee that Mike and Clare would get pregnant but at the start she told them that, if they followed her advice and stuck to their treatment regime, there was no reason why they wouldn't have a healthy baby.
Clare was put on a regime involving taking her body temperature daily, no caffeine or alcohol, eating organic meat, lots of fresh vegetables and fish, filtered water, rice milk, plus a range of supplements and fenugreek tea.
The couple had monthly visits to Loula and Clare also underwent acupuncture. Loula had noticed a drop in Clare's body temperature around day 21 of her cycle and sought to address that first.
By September Clare was down in the dumps. There was still no sign of any pregnancy, she was crying a lot and feeling ill and despondent.
Loula advised abandoning the daily temperature monitoring to help take the pressure off. Clare began to feel better and by the time of their last appointment in October the couple was back on track and looking forward to their trip to the UK to see family in December.
This trip was to be a consolation prize as originally Mike had set a conception deadline of the end of 2010. Yet by the time the pair boarded the plane they hadn't given up hope. Loula told them to enjoy themselves and when they returned she would get them back into good shape to try another round of IVF.
By this stage they had spent around $3000 on appointments, vitamin and mineral supplements and acupuncture treatments. This compares with $15,000-$20,000 on IVF, IUI and associated costs they had spent at the fertility clinic.
Clare was expecting her period on the day they few out but its non-arrival was put down to an upset body clock on account of changing time zones.
A few days later, though, she secretly bought a pregnancy test and visited the loos at a local department store in Birmingham. An innocent shopper washing her hands was the sole witness when Clare burst out waving a urine-soaked stick and shouting "I'm pregnant!"
After hugs and congratulations, Clare went in search of Mike and, in the old pub from their courting days, she presented him with an early Christmas present, all wrapped in Christmas paper. The tears and the beer flowed, for Mike anyway.
But it was early days. Clare was only nine weeks along when the couple returned to New Zealand. Still, not too early for a scan.
At the radiology clinic, the technician said, "Can you count?" She pointed to the fuzzy grey screen: "How many babies?"
Two, as it turned out. Mike and Clare were over the moon.
"For two or three days we floated around, we couldn't believe it. It was something we'd never dared to dream of."
Clare delivered two healthy boys, Rhys and Matthew, by Caesarean section at the age of 44. The sex of the babies was announced by Mike as each one appeared in the operating theatre.
As expected, the first few months were hectic, especially with family on the other side of the world. But neighbours and friends were fantastic.
As older parents, Mike and Clare are even more committed to staying fit and healthy - particularly when the boys get to an age for soccer and chasing balls.
Chance of success
As for Loula George, the Gibbons are huge fans, so what's her success rate?
Loula gives a ballpark figure of 65% after looking at her caseload over a two-year period. She emphasises the figure is not definitive: "It's not evidence-based medical statistics."
Yet around two-thirds of her clients have delivered healthy babies - a figure IVF practitioners must envy, surely?
Success often depends on the level of commitment from each couple to her preconception programme, says Loula. It generally involves following a fairly strict diet, lifestyle changes, daily monitoring of body temperature and other changes. Loula also looks for underlying medical problems, such as hidden infections, thyroid or auto-immune issues which may be causing implantation problems.
Loula, a naturopath and medical herbalist, has been offering natural fertility treatment for 16 years and the number of clients is growing - up to 100-150 new couples each year. Yet her work is not recognised in the medical world.
"Our two systems have completely different ways of looking at things. They offer a treatment that over-rides any causal factors and we try to work out why it [the fertility problem] is happening."
"Couples who come say, 'Why didn't we know about this?' after having gone through multiple rounds of IVF. They say, 'Why weren't we told about this before?"
And Loula wonders why GPs and fertility clinics don't refer couples on for natural fertility treatment while they wait for conventional procedures, as getting healthy can improve the IVF success rate.
"I'm not saying I can help everyone who comes in but the whole thing about unexplained infertility is such a myth. If you look hard enough you can find out why."
A woman's reproduction age may be different from her actual age (as in the case of Clare) and Loula says a 45 year old may have just as much chance of getting pregnant as a 35 year old, but it may take a little longer.
"I've actually had lots of 45 year olds get pregnant but each case has to be assessed individually."
A healthy body is a fertile body, and if everything is looking good Loula has no qualms about giving couples some hope.
"People who come to me are often crushed by the experience of trying to get pregnant and hope can be an incredibly strong medicine."
Yet, the news might not be quite so good if tests show a woman's eggs are looking less than healthy and her ovarian function has slowed.
There are many other reasons why Loula's programme may not lead to a baby. Sometimes the problems are so multi-faceted it's too hard to put things right. Sometimes the cost factor gets in the way or the couple struggles to commit to the necessary life and dietary changes, and other times there are emotional problems or stress that can't be resolved.
Fertility expert Dr Richard Fisher from Fertility Associates says he's not opposed to natural fertility treatments, saying they are likely to increase the chances of couples getting pregnant. Most of his patients need to look at their diet and lifestyle but he's more likely to refer them to a dietitian than a naturopath.
The problem is there's no evidence to support naturopathic treatments, he says. "I don't think you can claim a cause and effect relationship because there's no data to suggest it."
He refers in particular to supplements recommended by naturopaths and is surprised so many patients will happily take these pills when they are often suspicious of conventional medications.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 18 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW