As those of you who’ve been following along already know, we’re now several installments into our Normalize This Series. We’ve opened up about our journeys, and fostered connection and community through heartfelt conversations. Each month we shine a light on a different “taboo” to provoke thought, spark conversation, and, as always, inspire ideas for how we might all contribute to our own wellness.
This month, we’re excited to talk about holistic medicine. In the US, so much of our view on health has been defined by “Western medicine” and a heavily regulated “MD-centric” approach upon which our healthcare system is built. While there is a growing appreciation and understanding for how alternative therapies can be incredible complementary means to achieving more holistic wellness, it is still largely uncharted territory for most women.
We are thrilled to be speaking with our very own Alexandra Fennell, Attn: Grace Co Founder, on this topic as she shares her personal journey with holistic therapies and how it’s impacted her commitment to holistic care for our community.
Alex, when did you first become interested in holistic medicine?
I was 35 and had just started trying to get pregnant for the first time. I got pregnant easily but miscarried around eight weeks, not long after we had seen the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It was heartbreaking. It was also, unbeknownst to us, just the beginning of what would be a long and tumultuous road to building the family we have today.
A close friend of mine suggested I try acupuncture to support healing from that first loss, and to prepare my body to try again.I started doing some research and I remember just being blown away by how much information was out there. It was like this whole new world I had never known existed just sort of opened up to me— not just around acupuncture but around holistic medicine more generally, and all of the incredible ways that our minds and bodies are interconnected. It’s really when my passion for women’s wellness took hold, as I experienced the many stages and aspects of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood. As I think happens for many women, it was a time in my life where I was really exposed to how multidimensional wellness is, and how it’s really incumbent on all of us to take charge of what proper care means to us as individuals, with our own unique and often complex needs.
What has your experience been like incorporating holistic therapies into your own health and care?
It’s been really powerful. I didn’t know it at the time, but that first miscarriage would be just one of many over the next several years that it took for us to build our family. So acupuncture ended up being a pretty consistent part of my routine for many years. And because I was getting pregnant through IUI’s (and later, IVF) I would see actual, quantifiable impact that it was having on my body. For instance, I could track how much my ovarian follicles had grown in the 24 hours after an acupuncture treatment vs. how much they would grow in the same time period without the acupuncture. Or how thick my uterine lining was on day X of my cycle pre- and post-acupuncture, and that sort of thing. It was incredible, because time and time again there were just such clear correlations between my body performing more optimally when I had had acupuncture as compared to the metrics I would see without those treatments.
Reiki also became a source of support early on, when I could find the time to fit it in and could justify the added expense in my mind. Which leads to another point I wanted to make, which is that I remember feeling on many levels like getting acupuncture was an indulgence, like it was a luxury and that I needed to almost defend my commitment to it somehow. I felt that way even though I was doing the treatments very specifically in connection with trying to get and then stay pregnant, and as I was navigating what ended up being six miscarriages and more chemical pregnancies than I could count. But the sad truth is that holistic medicine still is a luxury, by and large, in our culture. It’s not perceived in the same way as, for instance, going to the dentist or getting your annual pap smear, or even going to the chiropractor on a regular basis. And of course, along with so many other aspects of proper healthcare, it’s not nearly as accessible as it needs to be.
When it comes to our changing needs as we age, what role do you think holistic medicine plays?
It doesn’t play nearly as prominent a role as it should right now. While holistic medicine has gained more acceptance and understanding in recent years, there’s still a really long way to go.
Using acupuncture as our sort of poster child here for holistic care, it is a modality that can be targeted to very precisely support different parts of our bodies in different ways at varying points in time. So for instance, in my thirties and early forties, it helped us (really against rather considerable hormonal odds) to have four healthy, amazing children. I have a close friend who is finding acupuncture to be her best defense against the rollercoaster ride that is menopause for her right now. I spoke to a woman the other day who is finding that acupuncture helps with her arthritis.
From acupuncture to reiki to nutritional science and many other modalities, the opportunities to create a more integrated, holistic approach to our care -- particularly as we age -- really are endless. I’ve also seen first hand how powerful holistic medicine can be when used in conjunction with traditional western medicine. My hope is that ten years from now, taking a more integrated, holistic approach to our health and wellness (both physical and mental) will really be table stakes.
When it comes to bladder leaks and urinary incontinence, on average it takes women 6 years to seek diagnosis for their condition. Tell us about what Attn: Grace is doing to help close this gap.
This statistic was really eye-opening for us. It quantifies the disturbing and, really, heartbreaking reality that UI has historically been so stigmatized that it’s been swept under the rug. It’s a source of embarrassment for so many women that they rarely bring it up to their loved ones or their healthcare providers. There is this paralyzing dichotomy that often leads to inaction -- the under-appreciation of how common this issue is, and thus we don’t feel freed to raise it with our doctors to get help; as well as resignation to it being an inevitable part of aging, and thus it’s just something that we just have to put up with. We believe that it’s part of our responsibility, as a brand that’s disrupting the category with empathy and better solutions, to not just provide healthier products to help women manage their bladder leakage, but to also help raise awareness, provide information, and facilitate taking the next step.
This week we launched our Resource Library to do just that — to create a safe, trusted space for women to learn more about urinary incontinence, and to search a directory of specialists with whom they could explore what treatment might look like for them. It was important for us to think about healthcare providers in a holistic way, including Pelvic Floor Therapists and Acupuncturists in our directory as well as Urologists and Urogynocologists. We hope that our Resource Library will help people better understand what’s causing their UI, seek help, and take steps toward improving their condition. We know how much stress and anxiety bladder leakage can cause, and we hope to help women get the help they need and to improve their quality of life. They deserve that. We all do.
Want More on Holistic Medicine?
More from our Normalize This Series