Acupuncture and reproductive health with Ece Yildirim of New Moon Acupuncture

After moving our scheduled meetup for tea twice because of babies (#unlessimatabirth), I finally got to sit down with Ece at Forge Baking Company and chat about birth, food, New York, reproductive health, holidays, body positivity, and those tiny little needles that acupuncturists use. When she showed up with books, I knew that we would get along — and that you all would benefit from her knowledge and skills as an acupuncturist specializing in reproductive health! Since our first meeting, I’ve gotten to know Ece and her practice (through some treatment of my own!) and she has graciously agreed to be featured here in a guest interview. Enjoy!

Interview with Ece Yildirim, LAc, of New Moon Acupuncture

How would you explain acupuncture to someone who is unfamiliar with it, both in philosophy and method?

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Acupuncture is one of 5 pillars in a complete system of ancient medicine, Chinese Medicine. There are also other treatment methods, such as moxibustion and manual techniques like cupping or bodywork, and lifestyle practices, such as Tai Ji or Qi Gong (mind/body exercise) and nutrition, which also includes herbal prescriptions. When you go to see an acupuncturist, you can expect to experience some or all of these as a part of your treatment.

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Chinese medicine is based on an energetic anatomy of meridians in the body, which interact with each other just like the different elements of a natural ecosystem. You can make a comparison to western anatomy as well — just as the thyroid, adrenal, pituitary, and other systems interact together to create the endocrine system, the Liver meridian of the body is made up of microcirculation, tendons, ligaments, and other body tissues and functions.

In all of this energetic anatomy there is the flow of qi. Correct flow of qi means that all the systems are working properly and in harmony. Incorrect flow does not necessarily mean illness, but it can show up in little annoyances like having an energy dip in the afternoon or getting a headache here and there. When these tiny bits of incorrect flow are allowed to continue, they may start coming up as issues like frequent illness, injuries, or infertility. By getting treatments such as acupuncture, you can work to correct and maintain the proper flow of qi in the body, keeping all the meridians balanced.

Can you explain the view of the body and health taken by acupuncture? How is it different from how our western medical institution views and treats the body?

Allopathic medicine (mainstream western medicine) gained so much of it’s valuable knowledge by closely inspecting the different systems of the body. Unfortunately, it sometimes forgets to “reconnect” those systems after studying them separately. Chinese medicine is all about looking at the whole person together. I can link your cold hands and feet, quick anger, headaches, menstrual cramps that start with your period, and high blood pressure to the same diagnostic system. Allopathic medicine would give you five different diagnoses and attempt to figure out five different treatments.

Chinese medicine also has a much more specific view of what ideal health is, meaning it is better able to truly prevent illness. What allopathic medicine calls prevention is actually early detection of illness — also very valuable but not the same! By treating tiny imbalances before they become illnesses, you can experience better long-term health with fewer treatments.

How did you come to this work?

I didn’t experience the best health growing up. Despite eating healthy home-cooked meals and staying active, I always seemed to have some kind of health issue — recurrent strep throat or mononucleosis infections, dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual cramping), vomiting and weight loss. Allopathic (western) medicine was wonderful at helping me through the worst parts of my illnesses with various medications. Unfortunately, it was unable to offer me anything to help prevent these issues, especially since none of my issues were severe enough to warrant a diagnosis.

I began to dabble in western herbal medicine, read health articles, and chat with friends about health strategies. A friend introduced me to his mother, who was an acupuncturist. I was fascinated! I quickly fell in love with this new and different type of science. I immediately planned an open-ended trip to Asia, and upon my return to the U.S. four months later, I applied to the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR, and was accepted to their four-year Masters in Acupuncture program.

What do you love most or find most rewarding about this work?

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One of the first assessments I do as an acupuncturist is to look into someone’s eyes to begin to assess their overall health. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a patient return after a few treatments and have a new glint in their eye and a spring in their step. I get so much joy from helping others and seeing them live their lives more fully.

What are your specialities or areas of particular passion?

I offer treatments to help with menstrual balancing, hormonal balancing, preconception, pregnancy, birth preparation, postpartum care (home treatments), and lactation challenges, as well as general health and more. My interest in this area of focus sprung from my own menstrual health issues, which were all tied together with my many other digestive and immune complaints.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about acupuncture?

As the general public becomes more familiar with acupuncture, it seems as though most people assume it’s only helpful in pain from various musculoskeletal issues, such as chronic joint problems, injuries, arthritis, etc., but it can actually assist with just about any issue! If you’re struggling with some health complaint, minor or major, well defined or “odd,” call or email your local acupuncturist. You may be surprised with what they can offer you!

What are some reasons that people come to see you, especially as related to reproduction?

I see just about everything related to reproduction! There are the more common complaints, such as menstrual cramps, emotional PMS, or some of the “normal” pregnancy-related concerns like nausea or round ligament pain. Then there’s the unusual ones — the ones that you may have brought up with your doctor and they dismissed, the one you may have gotten treated by physical therapy or chiropractic care and you still have that odd sense of tightness in your pelvic bowl, maybe aggravated by penetrative intercourse or menses. There’s also conditions in pregnancy that your OBGYN may have said that you’ll just have to monitor, such as placental abnormalities. Or perhaps you just haven’t felt the same since giving birth or experiencing a loss. Acupuncture may be able to help with these conditions.

When during their reproductive journeys do you recommend people see an acupuncturist?

Anytime is great, and earlier is always better! Whether or not a menstruating person plans on ever getting pregnant, the menstrual system is an indicator of health of the entire body. Even for someone not currently menstruating, menstrual history can give clues into the deeper systems of the body. Treatment for minor or major symptoms (irregular cycles, cramping, PMS, endometriosis, PCOS, etc.) can affect long-term health whether that is plans to get pregnant next month or in a few years or planning for good health into old age.

During pregnancy is a slightly different story. If everything is well, the only time that it is recommended to seek treatment is at week 37 for birth preparation treatments, done once a week until birth. Otherwise, seek treatment with symptoms big or small. Some individuals choose to continue weekly or bi-weekly treatments for stress reduction and emotional support or to manage existing pain conditions. Others come in as various symptoms/conditions, such as “morning” sickness, high blood pressure, breech, etc., arise.

What should a patient expect from an initial visit? And a follow-up visit?

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My initial visits last between an hour and 90 minutes. I prefer to do a lengthy intake in person rather than on paper, as I find I pick up on details better through conversation. During this time, I gather a health history as well as current health conditions. No detail is too small! When I ask about your sleep, I want to know how easily you fall asleep, if you wake up during the night, how frequently, if you have to use the restroom overnight, if you dream vividly, and how you feel upon waking in the morning. All these minutia allow me to really understand your system and craft your treatments accordingly.

Following the interview, I have the patient get on the treatment table. I may request that they take off various clothing items, such as tight pants, and I will provide drapes to maintain privacy. If someone is uncomfortable taking off clothing, I can work around it with a secondary treatment plan. Once the patient is comfortable, I’ll talk them through the next diagnostic phase which involves palpating some of the channels (typically legs and arms, though sometimes abdomen), taking the pulse, and sometimes looking at the tongue. Again, all of this is done to the patient’s comfort level.

Next is the treatment, which typically involves acupuncture needles which are very thin, sterile, single-use, surgical stainless steel. For those afraid of needles, I find most people overcome the fear quickly when they find how tiny acupuncture needles are. I have also done treatments with no needles, though individuals seeking no-needle treatments are best suited seeing a pediatric acupuncturist (pediatric treatments are typically non-insertive and can be done on adults as well). I may also use other techniques such as moxibustion, cupping, or manual techniques. I may also give nutritional or lifestyle recommendations to extend the results of the treatment.

Follow up visits are under an hour and consist of a quick check in on health goals and results from the prior treatment(s), then a treatment. I have two types of follow up treatments. One is a bit more comprehensive, typically appropriate for those early on in their treatment, and usually involves both a front and back treatment and/or other treatment modalities. For those well on their way to treatment goals, typically a simpler treatment plan is appropriate — either front or back treatment with just a moment or two of a second modality.

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What does a typical trajectory with a client look like?

Without an interview to understand what is going on in their health and body, I tell most people to expect 10 weekly treatments. Many immediate issues can be resolved in much less than that (3-5), though it may be nice to address some of the root issues that lead to the current condition. For those with a more chronic condition, 10 treatments can typically get you to a point with marked improvement and to a stable point in your treatment trajectory. What this means is that while you may need more treatments to truly treat the problem, it is possible to “take a break” from treatments at this point. This can help mitigate “treatment fatigue” (getting tired of doing a lot of health homework) or allow you to build up more finances for the next round.

I’m also usually able to work with individual’s finances to help find an effective but affordable treatment frequency. I see some people as infrequently as once a month, though in order to affect health change they have to be diligent about their homework — maybe a diet overhaul or some lifestyle changes like meditation or exercise.

If you’re ever unsure of what acupuncture can treat, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your acupuncturist. Most (including myself!) offer free consults to chat things over, and it may be possible to get help in just a few treatments. I’ve had success with helping pregnant individuals turn their breech baby with just one treatment and 10 days of homework by the patient!

What are some of the things you do in your practice to be affirming to all bodies, identities, social locations, and needs?

同病异治,异病同治

Tong Bing Yi Zhi, Yi Bing Tong Zhi

One of the main reasons I feel so deeply in love with Chinese Medicine is that it celebrates our differences. There is a famous phrase that describes our core treatment principles: “same disease, different treatment; different disease, same treatment” (written in characters and pinyin above). On a simple level, it’s describing how two people coming in with premenstrual irritability may receive different treatments, while two people with completely different illnesses may end up with the same treatment depending on their root imbalances. On a deeper level, it describes how we are all so very different and should be treated according to who we truly are. You know your body and mind the best out of anyone else, and can tell where you feel like the best you, regardless of what any medical chart or legal document says.

On a practical level, I ask all my new patients for their pronouns and preferred names (although legal names and pronouns may be required for insurance). As acupuncture treatments involve a fair amount of touch, I frequently check in to make sure my patient feels safe and feel comfortable asking for an alternative or refusing a particular type of assessment or treatment if they do not want it. I offer home treatments to those who may have limited mobility — including during the fourth trimester (postpartum) when rest and warmth are so important! At this particular moment I can only offer limited discounts on treatments, but I plan on offering scholarships for those with limited finances as funds become available. My one regret is that I currently have an office up a flight of stairs, in an older building with no elevators, so I am unable to serve those with limited mobility outside of home treatments.

A doula gets acupuncture

I had never been treated with this modality before meeting Ece, but after being offered an initial treatment, asking some questions of my wife (who has been treated for sinus/allergy/airway issues in the past), and frantically googling “what to wear to an acupuncture treatment” (just FYI: wear loose-fitting clothes that allow you to expose your limbs, if you’re comfortable with that), I set up an appointment and made my way to Ece’s bright and cozy space in Watertown. First, Ece and I had a conversation about my health, habits, and feelings in my body. I was surprised by how holistic this was! Much less “what do you weigh” and more “how do you feel in your body,” “tell me about your cycle,” and “when do you feel energized” — questions I had to think about, as Ece encouraged me to reflect on my overall sense of embodied self in ways that no doctor ever had!

I was pleased to find our conversation very body positive and gender- and queer-affirming — Ece made no assumptions about anything, and instead, she asked me open-ended questions that let me describe myself in my own words. (I was also worried that she would be alarmed by my roller derby bruises, but she assured me that she was trained in how to tell injuries related to abuse from those related to consensual activities like BDSM and contact sports.) After chatting for awhile, Ece asked to do some hands-on work to identify how we might proceed with my main concern, which was severe reflux and its attendant issues like anxiety and sleeplessness. Once I was lying on the table, Ece explored my pulse in several areas that were associated with the meridians most related to my issues, asking for consent all along the way and discussing where she would like to place the needles. Once she had a few needles inserted, she left the room and encouraged me to relax into the sensations. I did my best to pay attention to my breathing and the stillness of my body, but I worried I wasn’t “calm” enough. Ece assured me that it wasn’t a test (#typeAprobs) and helped me to get in tune with my body. She also proposed some cupping on my back, which was a very new feeling for me and did more to release my tension than massages usually do!

Of course, I had a million questions about the process, which Ece answered with patience and knowledge. She paired a few strategically-placed cups with some more needles on my back side and left me to relax again. After we had concluded treatment, Ece gave me some “homework,” which included dietary adjustments and some mini-needles to insert myself and wear throughout the day. She let me know what sorts of feelings to expect as my body responded to the treatment and then followed up with me the next day about how I was doing. Because the experience was so affirming and because I’m confident that Ece can help balance out some of my current issues, I’m already making plans to see her again! 5/5 stars; would recommend.

I am proud to have Ece and New Moon Acupuncture as a valuable and compassionate member of the birth work community here in Boston and one of All Bodies Birth’s community partners. (Meet some others and read past interviews!) Ece teaches a rotating set of workshops, including Basics of Hormone Health, Cupping for Health at Home, a Partner Workshop for Labor and Birth, and more! You can connect with her practice, New Moon Acupuncture, on Facebook or by signing up for her newsletter. If you’re interested in how acupuncture may be able to help your health, book a free consult!

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