The Fertile Realm of Acupuncture

Karen Costin interview by Victoria Mary Clarke, 2002

A heavily pregnant lady with an alarming array of needles sticking out of her legs waits quite contentedly, in reception.  I can’t help feeling squeamish.  ‘Don’t worry,’ says Karen Costin, a slender, vibrant blonde with a firm handshake.  ‘She’s just being induced.  Acupuncture is wonderful for inducing labour.”

Karen decided to become an acupuncturist after her mother ‘A woman of enormous wisdom” took her daughter to be treated by Ireland’s only acupuncturist, when she was a girl of sixteen, in Cork.  The fact that she herself specialises in treating women who are pregnant and women who are having difficulty getting pregnant is, she says, coincidental.  But the problem that she was treated for, as a girl, was an irregularity in her menstrual cycle, which was successfully sorted out.  And today she runs a highly successful practice in Dublin and sixty percent of the women who have come to her have so far been able to conceive and give birth, despite having had no success with conventional medicine.  Several of the people who I spoke to described her as something of a genius.  Genius, she says, runs in her family, but not the kind she deals in.  Her father was a famous racing car designer and everyone else in the family is mechanically minded.  But Acupuncture is not mechanical, far from it.  Western medicine, Karen says, is too mechanically minded and therefore can’t get to grips with a system which treats the spirit as being the source of all illness and therefore addresses the spirit, first of all, in a treatment.

The system which Karen practices is called ‘Five Element” Acupuncture,  “Which is the system that was used to treat the emperors, before China became communist.  It deals with the body, mind and spirit.  By treating the spirit, that then heals the emotions, which then heals the body.  So the body is the last place to heal.  In our society, we have doctors who specialise in all the different parts of the body and other doctors for the mind and the priest is the one who is supposed to treat the spirit, God love him!  So we don’t have spirit doctors, which they have in other cultures.”

But the spirit is so ephemeral, I say.  How do you even define it?

‘I define the spirit as that part of you that makes you get up in the morning and say ‘It’s a beautiful day!’  Or ‘What a crap day,’ even if the sun is shining.  The internal experience.  Everybody’s spirit is unique, so everybody’s perception of reality is different.

When my father was dying, it looked as if he was shrinking, as though something was leaving his body and when it was gone, he was smaller.  Even though it is intangible, the spirit is still apparent.”

It is difficult to describe how Acupuncture works, she says.  It’s not like describing the mechanics of a car, even though that is the way most of us think of the body.  As a machine that breaks down, occasionally, and has to be fixed.

“I once had to give a lecture about Acupuncture to a group of doctors, never again!  They just couldn’t understand that you can have a bladder meridian that starts in the eye and ends in the toe!  People ask me what I do and when I tell them, they say ‘Oh, Acupuncture, does that work?” And I say Of course not, I’ve only been doing it for twelve years and it still doesn’t work!”  It is frustrating, she admits, but she persists because having practiced for twelve years, she has been encouraged and rewarded by the successes.  And if it is working, maybe people don’t need to understand just how it works.

The means of diagnosis is, itself, highly complex.

”I use the colour of the face, the sound of the voice, body odour, emotion and the pulse”, she explains.  She sniffs me and asks if I’m wearing perfume.  I am, I confess.  Is it horrible?

“Yes, I do tell people not to.  To come in with no make-up and without using any products.  Because you can’t get an odour through a waft of Chanel!”

Thankfully, I am not here because I want to get pregnant, but most of the women that Karen sees have been diagnosed as having ‘unexplained infertility’.

“That’s an issue that’s getting bigger in Ireland and IVF is becoming more prevalent, but it’s very toxic.  And the success rate is very low.  Your chances of getting pregnant are between five and fifteen percent. And apart from the aftermath of all the chemicals in your body, it’s still quite a taboo.  People feel that they are supposed to be able to have children and that if they can’t, there must be something wrong with them.  The husbands feel impotent, too. I’ve counselled a lot of people through break-ups, as a result of it. They feel like failures and they become obsessed with the fact that they aren’t getting pregnant.  They become obsessed with their age, and quite desperate.”

So what can Karen do for them?

“The first thing that we do is to calm their spirit, so that the obsession goes.  You can’t possibly expect your body to perform, if you are that obsessed.  And all the women that I’ve worked with say the same thing, that after two or three sessions, they might not be pregnant, but they are no longer obsessed.  They start to think about things like going on holidays.  Which they would have never dreamed of doing!”

I spoke to Fiona, a client of Karen’s, who had been trying for five and a half years, to get pregnant when she discovered Karen.

”I had had IVF and had miscarried five times, always very early on in the pregnancies.  I had every possible test done, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with me.  Karen was able to detect that my levels of oestrogen and progesterone were too low for me to be able to sustain a pregnancy and with the aid of Acupuncture and herbs, after a year of treatment, I am five months pregnant and feeling great!  Without her help, I don’t think there is any way that I would have got to the stage I am at, because Western medicine wasn’t able to detect the problem.”

Fiona says that she was told about Karen by two friends who also managed to have children after having been diagnosed with unexplained infertility.  It makes sense, she says, because the Acupuncture strengthens your body from within, so that your health improves and therefore your chances of conceiving are increased.

For people who are already pregnant, Karen designs a programme that sees them through to the birth and afterwards.

“Acupuncture is wonderful for treating all those symptoms that you get when you are pregnant, like oedema, high blood pressure, back problems, not being able to sleep. There has been a lot of research done, in China, into the effects of Acupuncture on pregnant women.  With breech births, for example, they have eighty five percent success rate with turning babies around, which means that the woman doesn’t have to have a caesarian section.”

During the final weeks, Karen is on call, twenty-four hours a day. It’s a big commitment, she says, so she can’t take on too may people.

”And it’s a big commitment for the women, especially the ones who decide to have a natural birth.  No drugs!  Just breathing and Acupuncture.  But it’s quite amazing.  It’s especially amazing to be able to empower women so that they can take an active role in their pregnancies.  People are far too frightened of childbirth, and they really don’t need to be.  It’s supposed to be a natural part of life.”