By Anna Miars
Michelle Lara, 39, has been happily married for eight years. She and her husband, Zhang Yong, own an apartment in Falls Church, Va., and have a dog, Sadie. The only thing missing in their otherwise picture-perfect life is a child.
Lara and Yong met in Beijing, China, in 2003. Lara had spent the previous two years teaching English in Shanxi province before moving to Beijing in February 2002 to work at a Chinese-run magazine editing English language translations. Lara, born in Washington, D.C., and a first generation Guatemalan-American, met Zhang, born and raised in Beijing, through a mutual friend. They fell in love in a matter of months and were married in May 2003 in Beijing in a ceremony that combined Chinese and American traditions.
Zhang returned to the U.S. with Lara in 2004 and they settled in Falls Church, Va., near Lara’s parents. They bought a two-bedroom apartment with the idea of starting a family. If not right then, sometime in the relatively near future.
Lara and Zhang have been actively trying to get pregnant for nearly three years.
“We haven’t not been trying for about five years,” Lara said.
Lara wants to exhaust the possibility of getting pregnant naturally before considering in vitro fertilization (IVF). She is pursuing Chinese medicine as a next step after trying without any aid because of the continuing cultural influence of her husband and the time she spent in China and as well as a personal preference for homeopathic remedies.
“If you have an underlying problem that hasn’t really been found or solved, it’s not really addressed when you do IVF,” Lara said.
Traditional Chinese medicine, as practiced by Lara, has three parts: acupuncture, herbs and diet therapy. Each component seeks to strengthen the body and prepare it for pregnancy.
Acupuncture is timed around a woman’s menstrual cycle as are the intake of herbs. Lara sees Kerri Westhauser, L.Ac., for an hour treatment approximately three times a month. Westhauser also prescribes the herbs that Lara takes in liquid form six days a week. A pharmacy in New York City, Kamwo, mixes the herbs, vacuum seals them into two-serving packets and sends them to Lara via mail.
“The herbs have no redeeming qualities,” Lara said. “They’re really hard to take. The only good thing is that you take it in two doses. You divide it, half in the morning half in the evening. I think that’s probably the thing that makes it bearable.”
The diet Lara must adhere to is very restrictive. She can only eat small amounts of sugar, dairy and starch. Also, nothing cold, so everything, food and drink, must be warm, if not hot. She said that she finds it difficult to prepare a meal that meets these requirements when she’s in the workplace.
In just a few weeks, Lara will have been going to acupuncture, taking Chinese herbs and keeping a limited diet for a year, the amount of time it usually takes for traditional Chinese medicine to be effective. Lara will soon have to decide if she wants to move on to Western methods to conceive.
“If the desperation really gets to me I think we might try IVF,” said Lara. “I feel like I would do it just once. I’ve already had some fertility treatments, so I know what it’s like and I know how stressful it is, especially on your relationship. We have something really good and I wouldn’t want ruin it just because I want to have a child.”
Even so, Lara sometimes finds herself comparing her life to the lives of her friends and family. Despite her positivity and hopeful nature, it is difficult for her not to wonder “why me, why is this a problem for me?”
Lara continues to believe that she will eventually have a child one way or another.