Fertility and Acupuncture: Could It Be Right for You?

Karinn Gallagher provides free acupuncture for members every Tuesday at 4pm.

Grace Wilcox Photography

Every Tuesday at 4pm you can find Karinn Gallagher working her magic at The Assembly. For two hours each week, Karinn provides free acupuncture in our community setting. For some members — including me — this is a chance to experience acupuncture for the first time. On a recent Tuesday, I held my breath as Karinn strategically placed three needles in my hands and head. Lying down, I proceeded to close my eyes and rest easy for 15 minutes. Needles weren’t so scary after all. Actually, I could barely feel them.

Following this experience, I wanted to know more about acupuncture. So I visited Karinn’s practice at Retreat Acupuncture Services, located at 1801 Bush Street in San Francisco. Immediately, I realized she — and acupuncture in general — had even more to offer than I’d first anticipated. As a California licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, certified massage therapist, and Reiki practitioner, Karinn customizes her work to each individual. She sees patients for a wide variety of conditions, but often treats fertility issues with acupuncture.

What Happens at an Acupuncture Appointment

During my visit, Karinn took the time to get to know me. I told her I had given birth six months ago and had some breastfeeding issues I needed help with. Karinn explained how acupuncture could be used to help address my postnatal concerns. After an hour session that included some massage, acupuncture, and a nap (remember the six month old?), I left feeling completely refreshed.

Before meeting Karinn, I heard that acupuncture was a good option for women’s health issues. Now that I had an expert available, I wanted to learn more. Read on for our conversation. It might help you decide if acupuncture is right for you.

Q: What types of fertility issues can acupuncture address?

Gallagher: “Helping women achieve a normal cycle after sometimes decades of birth control is something I regulate often. Incredibly painful conditions like endometriosis and PCOS offer a variety of challenges and can be relieved through needles and bodywork. The largest chunk of my patient population is IVF and assisted fertility. The side effects of fertility hormones are super exhausting and lifestyle altering to say the least. Acupuncture and massage greatly calm these symptoms.”

Helping women achieve a normal cycle after sometimes decades of birth control is something I regulate.

Q: Do you have an success stories you can share?

Gallagher: “Success is subjective with fertility. Patients come in wanting to conceive and oftentimes become pregnant. But also sometimes their circumstances don’t lead to a conception because life is really complicated and messy. I wish I could understand more why some couples or individuals can’t procreate. But my patients find strength in the support of their communities and the meaning extracted from the experience. To overcome these challenges with all the rest of life happening is a success. My patients are the strongest people I know. I cry a lot at the end of the day sometimes, but it feels good.”

Q: How does acupuncture work alongside other medical fertility treatments?

Gallagher: “Thanks to clinics like Spring Fertility we’ve been able to merge with our western friends to make this process wholly comprehensive. It’s incredible the technology out there and the ways in which we’re communicating with MDs. For example, medications that help enrich the uterine lining can make women incredibly irritable. These women also have to act nice at work, which is like the opposite of how many of them feel inside during this process. Massage and acupuncture is so great at regulating that stress and producing those feel good and relaxing hormones. Any reprieve from the western fertility process for women is a win honestly.”

Q: How can a woman who is thinking about having a child know if acupuncture is right for her?

Gallagher: “Retreat Acupuncture is an insurance based clinic, meaning most anyone with a PPO should have coverage. It’s easy to come in for that reason, but of course our level of care is where we shine. I feel that I can improve each patient I see in some way, every time. But it’s my obligation to honestly assess each case based on what my patients are looking for.

I always want the things my women want, pregnancy and babies, but if something is presenting that’s more structural or hormonally challenging, we do have to move forward together in a gentle but specific way. I can’t say this enough, shifting from our daily fight or flight to a rest and digest state can lead to great physiological outcomes: eight hours of sleep that night, a calmer evening with family and kids, a kinder internal voice at the end of the day. So many positives from blood flow circulating your internal organs and spine for a bit.”

Q: How do you help women after they have a child?

Gallagher: “I’m an abdominal massage therapist, so I will preach that you should please come see me after you’ve given birth. Working with the belly heals cesarean scar tissue that can create significant pain and structural changes in the long term if not physically worked with. The hormonal experience is too great to quantify in a few sentences. But the gut being a massive producer of serotonin and dopamine, I can help recirculate chemicals that bring some ease and relief to this. Also post birth is great time to address allergies. Some women have been able to make healthy changes that reduce the sensitivities that were with them before.”

Q: What makes your work special?

Gallagher: I’m always myself. It’s my job to understand where my patients are and to meet them there. But it’s rare that we don’t connect somehow in a more personal way. I’ve never been afraid to get to know my patients and I adore all of them. Secondly, I do a lot of massage as part if my treatments. For me it’s easiest to diagnose by touching, and I also feel that people need non-sexual physical touch. It changes your body chemistry for the good, and aren’t our necks and shoulders so sore? We all need a little more massage love and I’m happy to give it.”

Q: How do the values of your practice align with The Assembly?

Gallagher: “When I walk into The Assembly, I immediately want to give a big hug and hello to each member! That’s because the sum of what Molly, Carnet, and Mary have put together is the perfect space for women to connect in a vulnerable way. Practicing Acupuncture in a beautiful clinic space where I can help women take a break from their lives and heal is a privilege. It’s the family struggles, challenges conceiving, early divorce, coworkers, new projects, and anything else that’s happening under the hood that we celebrate here. That stuff that we’re scared to talk about in the real world is the engine that keeps my practice going.”

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