Family practice doctor Erin Murfey never imagined she would have trouble conceiving a baby. Like many women, she delayed having children until she completed her education and was established in her career.
"I was about 32 or 33 when we first started, decided to start trying," said Murfey. "There was no fertility issues in my family. I wasn't thinking that was going to be an issue."
But it was.
"We tried for about 6 months, were unsuccessful, and then we went to my personal OB/GYN," said Murfey.
Murfey and her husband tried medications for a couple more months, then decided to visit a reproductive endocrinologist.
"We didn't want to waste any more time," said Murfey.
Doctors did a battery of tests to see if Murfey and her husband were physically able to conceive. A blood test revealed Murfey had a very high FSH level, a hormone that usually indicates becoming pregnant would be nearly impossible.
They told me I wasn't going to be able to have children, so I figured we were done and that we had no other options," said Murfey. "We were just devastated."
They started talking about donor eggs and adoption, but out of frustration, Murfey also started researching non-traditional approaches to infertility.
"I didn't have much experience with alternative medicine, but at that point we were out of options," said Murfey. "I did a lot of research and found acupuncture was one of the key parts of this treatment of infertility."
She turned to Gary Merel of the Acupuncture Center of Ann Arbor.
"I guess what I try to do is help restore a woman's normal reproductive cycle and increase her fertility potential as best as naturally can be done," said Merel.
"I felt like I was going crazy - like here I was looking for acupuncture. I never thought I would be using acupuncture for anything," said Murfey. "He said, 'We'll give it a try, and we'll do 6 to 8 months, and we'll see where we go from there.'"
Murfey received acupuncture treatments and supplements every week for 6 months. Because she's a physician, she had the unique opportunity to actually monitor her progress.
"I had the benefit of being able to check my blood work every month. I could check my FSH. I saw it progressively declining. Things were starting to get back to normal. I felt like my cycles were getting back to normal."
"I'm trying to treat the whole person. If you help a woman restore their normal healthy function, the rest will take place on its own," said Merel.
For Murfey, it did. At the six month mark, she was pregnant. Her son Parker is now a happy one-year-old.
"I don't really think there's a lot of question about the scientific validity of if acupuncture works," said Merel. "There's not been a lot of research about how it works."
Merel is confident in what he does, but acknowledges there are limitations. Problems like blocked tubes or internal scarring can't be overcome by acupuncture. Experts stressed that's why it's important to get thoroughly evaluated at the start of any fertility difficulties.
"I'm not a doctor, I don't pretend to be a doctor, and I don't have the diagnostic tools of a doctor," said Merel.
But his success has opened at least one doctor's eyes to the potential of alternative medicine.
"It's just like solidified my belief in that alternative medicine definitely has a role in treatment," said Murfey. "I of course think it's in addition to modern medicine, but I would definitely do acupuncture again, no doubt about it."
To visit the website of the Acupuncture Center of Ann Arbor, click here.
To learn more about acupuncture and infertility, click here.