Angela C. Wu Helps Couples Overcome “Infertility” the Eastern Way
Interview by Rob Sidon
It used to be that one out of six couples in the United States experienced difficulty in conceiving. Now, one out five face fertility challenges. As the so-called “infertility epidemic” grows, so has awareness about traditional Chinese medicine as an alternative therapy. More couples than ever are discovering acupuncture and Chinese herbs to replace or enhance more pharmaceutically oriented and invasive Western practices.
The leading practitioner of this new treatment — at least new to Western cultures — is Angela C. Wu, doctor of oriental medicine and founder and director of San Francisco State University’s Chinese Healing Studies program. After nearly 30 years of practice and with the release this month of her book Fertility Wisdom: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help Overcome Infertility, Dr. Wu is fast becoming the leading figure in this country for Eastern fertility treatment.
Her clinic, Wu’s Healing Center, is located on Clement Street “in a bustling neighborhood of dim sum restaurants, Asian grocery stores, herb shops, and Chinese bakeries,” as her book says. Thanks to her appearance on an episode of the KQED-originated PBS television program “Healing Quest,” Wu sees people from all over the world at her Richmond District office, helping couples conceive and carry their babies to term.
She spoke with Common Ground’ s Rob Sidon.
You have been called “The Fertility Goddess” by patients, and even by some Western reproductive specialists like Dr. Victor Fujimoto, who wrote your book’s preface. How do you feel about that?
I’m flattered, of course, but also humbled and a little bemused because there is a fertility goddess behind all the successful pregnancies of our program. In our clinic we keep a small statue of Quan Yin, the Goddess of Wisdom, Compassion and Courage.
Your clinic in San Francisco, Wu’s Healing Center, is home to your Welcome Babies program, and the walls are covered with pictures of children. What happens there?
Many men and women come to our clinic struggling with fertility. My goal is to restore their hope and provide them with tools and support to enhance their fertility. But fertility isn’t the work of one woman or one Goddess. Through the skills of our staff, people are able to access resources and attitudes previously beyond their reach.
You’ve helped many couples conceive — assisting women and men who were otherwise deemed fertility-challenged or even “infertile” for one reason or another. Science loves statistics, any you can share?
Absolutely. At Wu’s Healing Center, we see up to 200 new clients a year. Last year, our clinic helped 79 women become pregnant — 39 with support from Western reproductive technologies, and 40 naturally. Twenty-nine of our female fertility clients were over the age of 40, and 14 of these women conceived naturally. Most wondered if they would ever conceive at all.
Would you consider yourself first and foremost an acupuncturist?
No. I would say I am a coach in healing and a spokesperson for babies. Acupuncture is just the tip of the iceberg of my Chinese healing techniques, which include counseling, chi gong exercises, herbs, and eating and drinking guidelines, to name a few.
How does Taoism fit into your work?
Taoism is the foundation of my practice. Through the years, I’ve been able to incorporate practices from many other sources to develop my own approach to innovative Chinese medicine. Still the basic concepts of Taoism are at the core.
Rodale Books just published your new book this month, Fertility Wisdom.
The book is a practical step-by-step program that can be used alone or, most advised, to enhance traditional Chinese medicine. Fertility Wisdom is also a complement to Western fertility enhancement. It tells how to tap all of these resources to create your own strategy. The book also introduces a whole new way of looking at health — one that delivers benefits across a lifetime.
Fertility Wisdom shows people how to maximize their ability to have children naturally and enables people to take fertility into their own hands. It also emphasizes the importance of being in alignment as a couple. Fertility is really about whole-person health — body, mind and spirit. Those who follow this program reap benefits beyond fertility. It’s hoped, too, that the book will open minds about what it means to be fertile in our lives. It’s not just about getting pregnant.
How did you become interested in fertility medicine?
In part through my own health challenges. I did not know I was pregnant for the first time until one day, while climbing a tree; I jumped, rolled down a hill and began to bleed. I was having a miscarriage. When I became pregnant again, I gave birth to a girl who only lived 42 days. A year later, Devin was born four weeks overdue. One year and one week after him, Robyn was born, and I almost didn’t survive. I became aware of myself floating in the room with my body below me, and above a beautiful white light beckoned. Then I heard my own voice say, “I’m not ready yet.” Although I returned to my familiar body, my life would never be the same. In the process of healing myself, I found my mission: to use traditional Chinese medicine to help others.
Your book’s dedication is “For my miracle babies, Devin and Robyn.” How has having children of your own influenced your work with fertility?
Having my own children…makes me more aware that fertility is not just about getting pregnant, but about a rewarding relationship with a child that will last a lifetime. It is through having my own children that I embrace the idea that conception is something we can prepare for and welcome, but ultimately, it is not ours to control; our children choose us.
You grew up in Taiwan where you were a soap opera star. What was it like to be an actress and widely admired for your beauty?
I enjoyed it. I got to experience many lifetimes through the roles I played, and was quite well known on television and in movies. When I was growing up in Taiwan, females were not valued at all, so [acting] helped boost my self-esteem.
With all that going for you, what prompted your transition to becoming a traditional Chinese medical doctor?
I realized that as an actress, as I grew older, my popularity and success would decline. When I chose traditional Chinese medicine, I chose a career that I knew would last a lifetime.
Western medicine suggests that today’s “infertility epidemic” results from couples postponing having babies. Do you agree?
Yes, but other factors also contribute, including the stress in our lives, and some common misconceptions that Westerners have about health. For example, Western thinking may tell us, “More exercise is always better,” or “Eating raw foods all the time is beneficial.” From an Eastern perspective, neither is true. And the connection between body, mind and spirit is often not recognized.
Is your book written for women?
Yes, in that women are usually the ones to initiate fertility enhancement. They assume it’s a “woman’s problem.” Although the book is written with women in mind, it urges women to involve their male partners. Fertility takes male and female, the yin and the yang, which must be in balance. I always recommend that both partners assess their fertility. For example, we once saw a patient whose husband insisted that his fertility wasn’t the issue and refused to be tested — only to discover that the health of his sperm was the real issue.
Might you share an extraordinary story from all your experience working with women?
No one story sums it up. It’s really about the variety of stories. On any given day, women in our clinic are overcoming everything from previous surgeries and fibroids to high FSH [follicle stimulation hormone] and unexplained infertility. We celebrate the diversity of our clients, coming from all walks of life, all cultures, all kinds of couples, and all kinds of Western diagnoses. What they all have in common is their willingness to embrace a new way of thinking.
Is there any final message you would like to share?
I encourage everyone to be grateful for fertile blessings in any form, whether it’s a baby or a bright idea, and to recognize that although we may not choose the physical vehicles that carry us through life, we can change our life’s journey at any time simply by choosing a different path — and choosing to travel with a smile.
She received her degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine in China and subsequently worked at various medical clinics there before coming to the United States in 1976. She started her clinic on Clement Street in 1979, and in 1981 began to specialize in fertility issues. She has served on numerous state and federal committees.
In her book, “Fertility Wisdom,” released in 2006, Wu writes that in 2005 alone, her clinic helped 79 women with fertility problems become pregnant, 39 with support from Western reproductive technologies and 40 naturally.
“Many of these women wondered if they would ever conceive at all,” she said.
Wu asserts that clients who adhere to her concepts – which include a mix of acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, and meditation – increase their chances of full-term pregnancy.
“If we tend our bodies, minds and spirits with an awareness of the laws of nature, we improve our chances of welcoming the gifts of Quan Yin, the fertility goddess,” she said.
Her regimen starts with practicing acupressure and acupuncture on both the prospective mother and father in the preconception stage and requires that they adhere to a strict diet of specific foods and herbal remedies. Once the woman becomes pregnant, she continues the treatments during the first trimester. After the baby is delivered, a combination of herbs and acupressure is prescribed to help speed recovery, prevent post-partum depression and strengthen the body.
“They have more energy, vitality and suffer fewer mood swings, and their babies are calmer, have more regular sleep patterns and fewer health problems,” she said.
In a bow to the skeptics, Dr. Victor Fujimoto, a reproductive specialist, conceded in the preface of Wu’s book that it can be challenging to merge Western and Eastern mindsets.
“There are things that Western science simply cannot explain,” Fujimoto said.
During a session at Wu’s Healing Center, Devin Wu, L.Ac., P.T., asks Kim Phan, 40, about her hip pain. Phan is pregnant with her first child, conceived after she joined the clinic’s “Welcome Babies” fertility treatment. Wu, the son of the clinic’s founder, Angela Wu, uses a fusion of western and eastern methods in his practice.