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Success Stories
East meets West in Severna Park: acupuncturist’s business on fertile ground
By Karen McLaughlin
For The Capital

Katherine Simpson of Davidsonville was running out of options.

She was 35, unable to get pregnant, and her fertility clinic had not found any obvious reason why. According to her doctors, the only thing had left for her to try was IVF or In Vitro Fertilization, a costly procedure that Ms. Simpson didn’t feel was right for her.

“They told me they couldn’t do any more,” Ms. Simpson, 36, said.

Then she looked into acupuncture.

“I thought, ‘even if it doesn’t work, I feel better,’” she said. After working with Severna Park acupuncturist Nicole Withrow for six months, Ms. Simpson became pregnant with her son, who is now one year old.

Licensed acupuncturist Nicole Withrow has shifted from general practice to exclusively treating clients struggling with infertility. Some women have suffered recurrent miscarriages and some are simply unable to conceive. Although the business change has meant an overall decrease in clients, Ms. Withrow did it because she saw a need—treatment for women and men who are navigating through a tough journey of frustration, fear and loss.

“There’s a failure aspect, especially with unexplained infertility,” said Ms. Withrow, 33. “Women often feel like failures.”

In Ms. Withrow’s practice, clients might receive acupuncture treatments, nutritional recommendations, supplements or herbs, or some combination of therapies. Ms. Withrow said she often recommends lifestyle changes like yoga, meditation and tai chi.

Her approach seems to work. Ms. Withrow said she’s seen a 70% success rate in clients struggling with infertility. That number includes patients using acupuncture to complement their assisted reproductive treatments and patients seeing Ms. Withrow as their only fertility treatment measure.

One of the things she’s noticed is how painful and difficult infertility can be, so she wants to help patients work through treatments and options.

“That drove me,” Ms. Withrow said. “Just seeing the need and how deeply at the core it rocks people. I got a lot from helping women conceive, but also from helping women find balance during their journey to conceive, enabling them to do so.”

Kelly Parks, 41, of Annapolis came to Ms. Withrow’s office more than a year ago after a failed IVF procedure. She had heard about Ms. Withrow from a friend and decided to give the alternative method a try, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to optimize her chances of success.

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“I thought, if I am going to spend $10,000 (on another IVF procedure), I might as well try this to see,” she said.

Dietary changes made a big difference for Mrs. Parks, although it was something she hadn’t really considered before.

“I was eating sweets, healthy stuff too, but a ton of sweets,” she said. “The biggest challenge was cutting out all the sugars.”

Mrs. Parks, who had also struggled with regulating her thyroid ever since her 3 year old daughter was born, added that the dietary changes were tough at first,  but by the second and third months, she said she felt better than she had in a long time. She continued to work with Ms. Withrow and on New Year’s Eve, she took a pregnancy test—it was positive. She now has a two-month old baby boy.

She said that the balanced approach really made a difference for her.

“(Ms. Withrow) really seems to understand both Eastern and Western medicine,” she said. “I never felt like she was pushing anything.”

After earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona, Nicole Withrow earned a four-year Traditional Chinese Medicine post-graduate degree from Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles California. Her education has included internships at clinics and offices in California, clinical experience at UCLA and an internship in Beijing, China. Ms. Withrow worked in an acupuncture office in the Los Angeles area for four years before coming to Maryland.

She began working locally at Anne Arundel Medical Center, assisting the hospital with its integrated medicine program. Then, four years ago, she started her own practice in Severna Park. Her first patient was a woman undergoing IVF at a local fertility clinic. Using acupuncture and nutrition to complement the procedure sparked an interest and a career path.

“When she got pregnant, it was amazing,” Ms. Withrow said. “I began studying apprenticing, and buying every book, Western and Eastern to help these women.”

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Her study included work with Randine Lewis, author of the book, The Infertility Cure. Next year, Nicole Withrow will attend a training program with Jane Littleton, a nationally recognized leader in the uses of Traditional Chinese medicine to treat infertility.

A combination of acupuncture, dietary changes, Chinese herbs and yoga helped Katherine Simpson.
“Nicole is so personable,” Ms. Simpson said. “I thought, ‘I like her, I like this approach; it meshes with my personal views of caring for myself.’”

Ms. Withrow’s use of acupuncture and the dietary changes and herbs she recommends are personalized to each client. That also meant a lot to Ms. Simpson.

“I didn’t like being treated as if I was anybody else,” Ms. Simpson said, adding that she had experienced some unpleasant reactions and side effects to the conventional fertility medications.
Currently, Ms. Withrow is working on a mind-body workshop which will be offered to patients at Shady Grove Fertility in Annapolis in January 2007. She might even write a cookbook that emphasizes dietary changes that aid fertility.

To help manage her new business focus and her studies, Ms. Withrow practices yoga and meditation. But the passion and joy she gets from helping other women is what keeps her going.

“It’s simple,” she said, “ but joyful.”

Karen McLaughlin is a freelance writer in Severn.

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My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for about two and a half years before I went to see Nicole. We had three early miscarriages followed by almost two years without getting pregnant. Fertility specialists had told us we were healthy, so we just waited. Month after disappointing month, I started my period and tried to stay optimistic.

One day a colleague suggested acupuncture with Nicole, so I called her office. I was surprised by the seemingly unconventional methods of diet modification, herbs and acupuncture, but kept myself open. Nothing had worked so far using western medical methods, so I had to give this my all. I felt at ease with Nicole, and enjoyed our weekly chats. I found myself looking forward to my acupuncture days, relishing the hour of rest and meditation while the needles did their thing. I also felt healthier on the new diet, and confident that this would help me.

Then it happened. I got pregnant! I was elated but scared. After suffering three previous losses, it was hard to stay positive. I started spotting, and Nicole fit me in for an 'emergency' visit. She also gave me herbs and emotional support. I don't know if the spotting was nothing to worry about, or if the herbs and extra session did the trick, but I am due any day now with my first baby. I know that Nicole was an integral part of my ability to finally get and stay pregnant. 

-Actual Withrow Institute Client

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