by Angela Ferri, MA, LMT, Integrative Wellness Practitioner
As a practitioner and former instructor of the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy (MAT), I see many women for fertility issues. The populations I see most are in their 30’s and early 40’s. Two common stress factors affecting a woman’s ability to conceive and carry to term are Vataimbalance and boggy uterine tissue. The term “Vata” comes from the East Indian practice of medicine called Ayurveda. Vata refers to the air element, which is quick, of the mind, and changeable. My approach in working with these factors is summarized below, as is sharing herbs used to support fertility generally.
With younger populations in their 30’s preconception care includes self-care massage, which I teach during our first session together, as well as herbal support and nutritional awareness. In the area surrounding Washington, DC women seek me out when nothing that is covered by health insurance works. Consequently I see many women who are terrified of surgeries/pharmaceuticals and who are desperate: fear overlays the symptom picture.
Many of the women I see are in their early to mid 40’s. I find this population most often conceives and carries pregnancy to term when they are committed to a spiritual practice and self exploration; are receiving MAT and acupuncture, using herbal support, have awareness around nutrition and practices yoga in some form. They have financial resources and are committed to a holistic approach.
My 3-4 hr. sessions include an intake; usually lasting about an hour, though for some this can go up to two hours, depending on a woman’s history. During this time I am making notes about relevant herbs, supplements and nutritional factors that will build health for the client. I am aware of the diagnosis my client has been given before they arrive for their session. What I listen for during the intake is for unresolved trauma – physical or emotional; for nutritional habits that may be problematic; for the level of support they have in their lives; and for heredity factors, both physical and emotional. I am also paying attention to the physical/energetic constitution of the person in front of me: Are they lean and nervous? Do their tissues feel boggy? Is there a lot of fire or anger?
A client will receive the manual work of Maya Abdominal Therapy following the intake interview. This usually runs about an hour and a half. While they are on the table I teach them how to do the abdominal work for themselves. I give them a handout describing how to do the massage, which helps them remember the details when they get home.
Often the first formula contains blue vervain (verbena officinalis) and/or borage (borago officinalis)/hawthorn berries (crataegus oxycantha) to provide healing on an energetic level for shock and/or heartache in addition to the plants I use to support fertility. What follows is a summary of how I work with each constitution I have just mentioned, and then sharing of herbs I may use to enhance fertility.
If a woman is lean and nervous I first look at her diet to determine whether she is consuming foods and drinks that are contributing to Vata imbalance. I recommend eliminating the irritating factors and suggest substitutions, such as weaning off of coffee and instead drinking Yerba Mate, for example. I often suggest alternative sweeteners, and recommend decreasing sugar intake overall. If the client does not partake of caffeine or excess sugar, I may suggest chamomile (matricaria recutita) tea, and will include nervines in her custom formula such as passionflower (passiflora incarnata), motherwort (leonaris cardiaca) and skullcap (scutellaria laterifolia). If she avoids caffeine and sugar, and still presents as nervous and high achieving particularly, I recommend they test for progesterone levels.
With nervous and high-achieving women I like to rule out the possibility that they may have a genetic marker that prohibits them from synthesizing folic acid/vitamin B9, and consequently are not able to produce enough progesterone to carry a pregnancy to term. Apparently, this challenge is becoming more common. There is an expensive genetic test for this condition called MTHFR. A woman instead, for less expense, may have their progesterone levels checked a week after ovulation to determine whether this might be a factor. If progesterone levels are low at this stage of the cycle, supplementing with Folic Acid and B9 may help with this condition. Testing and supplementation for these women is very important because it reduces the risk of potential heart-breaking outcomes such as stillbirth and spina bifida.
Boggy Uterine Tissue
Some women who are trying to conceive present with boggy uterine tissue. The woman may have irregular and/or heavy menses, and/or excessive or abnormal vaginal discharges. It is important to understand factors that may be contributing to the symptom-picture. A common factor I find in this instance is that the client has had previous trauma to her pelvis, usually through an accident, from abdominal surgery, or from sexual trauma. This woman’s hips torque in some way. She may present with lordosis or kyphosis. This displacement of the skeletal structure often irritates nerves exiting the spine. The irritated nerves enervate end organs: bladder, uterus, bowel, and consequently the organ(s) become inflamed. Inflammation produces edema; excess fluids.
A physical trauma that has happened at any time of life, and has not been corrected through manual therapies is likely present in the posture of the client. If she has had abdominal surgery, the adhesions (scar tissue) that form often harden over time and begin creating strain patterns within the body. Not only is this the cause of structural misalignment, but it may also cause organs to adhere to one another, to the pubis; or the adhesions may entrap nerves, organs and other tissues. This is the source of much otherwise unexplained abdominal pain and pathology.
Mis-alignments are sometimes held so long in the body without resolution, that the mind becomes numb to the signals of pain. Once a physical misalignment is resolved, often the client is able to make better nutritional and exercise choices. Her mind is not distracted by her physical discomfort. Maya Abdominal Therapy addresses the structural misalignment and adhesions directly, enabling the body to begin healing itself. The nerves are no longer chronically irritated, and the tissues of the end organs are no longer receiving inflammatory signals from the nerves. The body reabsorbs the excess lymphatic fluid (edema) and pathology resolves. Herbal allies I use to support this process include astringents such as shepherds purse (capsella bursa-pastoris) or yarrow (achillea millefolium) in the initial fertility support formula. I also consider dietary components that may be aggravating boggy tissues, such as excess sugar consumption and possible food allergies.
Eclectic Herbs for Fertility
Raspberry (rubus spp.) leaf tea is a staple uterine tonic for all stages of life and particularly throughout pregnancy. It is useful after birth also, as it has extraordinary toning affects upon the uterus and the entire pelvic area. Both wild and cultivated varieties are beneficial. If you are able to pick the leaves of the wild variety (be sure they have not been sprayed), dry them or use them fresh. As Rosemary Gladstar has said “The wild variety is considered more potent and carries with it the indescribable, yet discernable, strength and vitality of things that belong to the wilderness”.
The following are herbs I most often use in my formulas for fertility. These suggestions are also applicable to the man in the family.
- 2 capsule of dong quai three times a day, except during menstruation. (Men should take 2 capsules of ginseng every day.)
- Take Liquid Floridix with Herbs regularly, following dosage recommendations on the bottle.
- Take the following fertility tonic daily; ¼ teaspoon 3 times a day:
4 parts rehmania (rehmania glutinosa)
1 part dong quai root (angelica sinensis)
2 parts false unicorn root (chamealirium luteum)
3 parts wild yam root (dioscorea villosa)
1 part vitex berries (vitex agnus castus)
2 parts partridge berry (mitchella ripens)
1 part ho-shu-wu (polygonum multiflorum)
- Drink ginseng tea daily or take ginseng capsules. Ginseng is most helpful for fertility issues relating to weak or cool sexual organs. Ginseng increases heat in the pelvic region and helps remove blockages.
- Take sitz baths several times a week for several months. This increases circulation in the pelvis.
- Use acupuncture in conjunction with these recommendations
- Try homeopathic remedies. Consult a homeopathic physician for an appropriate remedy.
- Belly dance!
When you begin to use herbs, awareness develops around our undeniable interrelationship with Gaia, our earth. In this formula I am aware that false unicorn root is extinct in the wild. A new level of awareness and learning is developing around using sustainable, effective substitutions. In this way using herbs is healing on many levels. As they give us their gifts they make us more mindful of our place in the web of life.
The following links offer more information on using herbs to support fertility:
The indomitable Henriette Kress’s article Trying to Get Pregnant?looks at stress, tight jeans, model-thin proportions and discusses going off of carrot seed or taking lily and peony.Kristena Haslam at Dreamseeds Organics has written a tribute to Exotic, Erotic Damianaand even has a picture of the (in)famous Mexican Liqueur bottle shaped like a sitting pregnant woman.Gail Faith Edwards of Blessed Maine Herbs has had 25 years of women bringing their red clover babies to her and writes Red Clover Is Not Just for Healthy Women Who Want to Conceive, It Is for ALL Women Who Want to Conceive.She recommends that men with low sperm count smell roses too. Note you must have Facebook access to read the piece.Karen Vaughan has written Staging Herbal Formulas to Enhance Fertility, taking the stance that the yin and yang parts of the cycle deserve different formulas, since women have cyclical tides of hormones and discusses how menstrual charting can be used for more than finding fertile days.Rosalie de la Foret’s very comprehensive Holistic Herbal Perspectives for Challenges With Fertilitydiscusses preparing yourself for conception, nutrition, dosing and herbs.Angela Ferri’s piece on Herbal Fertility Support Within A Mayan Abdominal Practicediscusses herbs for vata imbalance and boggy uterine tissue. She brings the experience of a body worker who looks at physical connections with the internal chemistry.Darcey Blue of Gaia’s Gifts wrote Nutrition for Pregnancy which looks at nutrient dense foods and micronutrient requirements from a combined Paleo-diet and modern nutrition perspective.