Traditional Vs. Modern Medicine: You Don’t Have to Pick Just One

No one style of medicine is omnipotent; this Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner can attest to that with her story of IVF.


When my grandmother was given two weeks to live at our local hospital, our family took her home and turned to Chinese medicine as a last resort to help ease her pain in her last days. When she fully recovered after three months of treatment, I went on to study Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture instead of medical school after university.

My mission was to have Western medicine embrace Eastern medicine and to prevent others from slipping through the cracks of mainstream medicine. Over the years, I have successfully treated many different conditions––from back pain and headaches, digestive, and menstrual issues to recurrent miscarriage and infertility––with Eastern medicine. But when I faced unexpected challenges of my own, I was led back to conventional medicine for help. This experience ultimately changed my perspective and altered my approach to caring for my patients at my clinic, ALIVE Holistic Health Clinic.

When it came to infertility, I had always encouraged women and couples to be proactive in their reproductive health. I guided them to eat and live a healthy lifestyle as they sought acupuncture treatments and Chinese medicine. From a Chinese medicine perspective, if you cultivate the soil before planting the seed, then life would come through you. In other words, when you balance your body physically, emotionally, spiritually, you conceive. This is in line with the new science epigenetics, which states that your internal and external environment impacts your body right down to its cellular level. This environmental influence can turn genes on or off and may affect your ability to conceive.  I used Eastern medicine as a way to foster a positive environment to optimize fertility naturally, through IUI (turkey baster technique) or IVF (fertilization in a petri dish). 

My Pathway to Pregnancy

I was healthy, never got sick, didn’t touch coffee or alcohol, and lived a generally healthy life. Both my grandmothers were 46 when they had their last child. By the time my husband and I began trying to conceive at 38, I assumed we’d get pregnant quickly and easily. When over a year passed with no pregnancy in sight, I was sure it was my husband’s issue. After getting tested at the fertility clinic, my husband was happy to find that he was a virile superstar. My initial blood tests and ultrasounds came back normal and healthy as well.  It wasn’t until I did a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) (an X-ray of my uterus and fallopian tubes) did I get diagnosed with hydrosalpinx, or fluid-filled and blocked fallopian tubes.

I remember that day clearly. I was lying on the exam table, feet in stirrups, utterly shocked to see how far gone my tubes looked on the screen overhead. They resembled two little snakes, engorged, and tortuous. Seemingly overnight, I went from being a practitioner to joining the ranks of the infertile couples I treated. I knew that no amount of acupuncture and herbs would be able to fix the state of my tubes. I found it to be a cruel and cosmic joke that I had blocked fallopian tubes, the one condition that was difficult to treat as a TCM practitioner who has helped countless infertile couples to conceive healthy babies.

I knew that the only way we could have a child through my own body was with In-vitro Fertilization, IVF, which is fertilization in a petri dish. My husband would have been totally fine either way. We had a great life. We loved to travel. We could come and go as we pleased. Yet, somehow I could not imagine my life without children. Although I had never taken an aspirin in my life, I decided to embrace IVF as an opportunity and a second chance.

Instead of remaining silent for fear of being judged, I allowed myself to be vulnerable. It was difficult when I first “came out” to my patients about my fertility challenges. But I felt it was necessary to step outside my comfort zone if I wanted to make a difference. After all, I am only human and not immune to fertility challenges. When I shared my journey with them, it was always met with gratitude. It made them feel less alone. I was more than a practitioner offering advice.

Fast forward to a few months later, and instead of undergoing one IVF as planned, we ended up doing six rounds of IVF (and looked at adoption and donor eggs in between) before finally conceiving our baby Zoe in 2012. All the while, I integrated Chinese medicine, acupuncture, lifestyle and dietary changes to help lower my stress levels and optimize my chances of pregnancy. Western medicine focused on quantity. Eastern medicine focused on quality.

I wrote a book about my experience and the experiences of others called Pathways To Pregnancy, and am telling you my story here for several reasons. One in six women and couples have fertility challenges in their lifetime, making it a prevalent condition. Let’s open up this conversation and dispel the shame and stigma that is still often attached to infertility.

What I learned and what I want to impart to you

Be proactive and take charge of your fertility early by getting tested and treated for health challenges that might compromise your fertility such as unhealthy weight, diabetes, Polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, fibroids, menstrual irregularities, thyroid insufficiencies, inflammatory conditions, and pelvic infections and STI’s (especially chlamydia). 

Take care of your preconception health by eating whole foods, living a healthy lifestyle and minimizing exposure to toxins. 

Never say never. I always imagined that I would conceive naturally but when eggs and sperm shall never meet, I surrendered to IVF. 

Be open. I had made it my life’s mission to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western medicine. I just never expected to have to embrace Western medicine myself. 

I now encourage others to be open to the benefits of both Eastern and Western medicines. No one medicine is omnipotent. We live in a world where we can access both, so why not integrate them to your advantage and respect each individual’s journey. 

I am grateful that we integrated both because without IVF technology, we would not have had Zoe and I would not have my story to tell. 

I have triumphed and want you to know that you can too. There is hope.

Mary Wong, B.Sc., R.TCMP, R.Ac, is the founder of ALIVE Holistic Health Clinic based in downtown Toronto, Canada. A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, Mary has been in practice for more than 20 years. She treats each patient as an individual – not just their diagnosis where she has made it her life’s mission to bring about change and improve people’s health by bridging the gap between Eastern and Western medicine. Her new book Pathways to Pregnancy launched on September 17, 2016.

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