As my daughter neared the end of her first year of preschool I began anticipating Summer. Channeling my own schoolgirl days, I envisioned lazy afternoons at the pool, picnics in the park, and other simple joys that for too long have long taken a backseat to the demands of work, parenting, and keeping up with life. Full of ideas and enthusiasm, I declared this year would be different!
With our mornings free from the constraints of a school schedule, there were adventures to imagine, play dates to plan, sights to see, and camps to consider. I did my due diligence and crafted a schedule that I thought would provide the perfect balance of structure and spontaneity.
Meanwhile, our evenings and weekends slowly filled with visits from family and friends, connections with members of our D.C. tribe, and our own planned escapes from the heat and humidity of the nation's capitol. It wasn't until a dear friend reached out to suggest a family outing that I realized our first free date was in SEPTEMBER and I knew something needed to change.
Despite being enthusiastic about everything I had placed on the calendar, I began to regard the flurry of activity with dread. Summer had yet to begin and already it seemed over.
We want so much to create the "perfect" experience that we find ourselves driven by a (false) urgency to fill every moment - even though we know better. Research has demonstrated what our hearts tell us: what kiddos (and grownups) need most is freedom and space. Unstructured time to play and relax. The boredom that breeds creativity and spontaneity.
So as we enter (what is actually only) the second full week of Summer, I am changing course. Instead of asking, "What fabulous activities can I find?" I am looking for opportunities to pull back - to create space and time in our lives to just be.
As you dream up your own perfect Summer, I encourage you to scale back your ambitions and give yourself the gift of freedom. Let's embrace less so we can experience more.
At the beginning of last month I was scheduled to undergo a relatively minor surgery. A few weeks prior I had experienced a severe pain, about which I visited a doctor, who referred me for tests, which led to an appointment for surgery.
Along the way there were many surprises. The first test ordered by my doctor revealed a mass in my abdomen measuring 11 centimeters. A subsequent test suggested the growth was only 8 centimeters. In a follow-up appointment, a specialist determined it was not a mass at all, but instead a torsion. He recommended surgery to resolve the issue, remove any damaged tissue, and stabilize the area so it wouldn't happen again.
As I considered the series of events it occurred to me how fortunate the outcome was. From the initial pain to the determined course of action, the process seemed to deescalate. Not only had the pain abated, the prognosis downshifted from something potentially ominous to a relatively minor inconvenience.
I informed my clients I would be unable to teach for a few weeks, made arrangements for family, friends, and neighbors to help transport the babe back and forth to school for a few days, and arrived at the hospital at the appointed date. I felt comfortable with the plan and ready to move past this little bump in the road.
When I awoke after the surgery, my husband was waiting for me. "You're not going to believe this," he said... "When the doctor got inside, the torsion had already resolved itself. Everything is back to where it should be. You're good to go."
This could have been an opportunity to reflect on the miraculous power of prayer - or perhaps the efficacy of a consistent yoga practice. I would like to tell you my response was, "What great news! I'm glad there were no issues."
But instead I was livid: "You mean he operated for no reason?"
"He didn't know it had happened until they were inside."
"But wasn't he supposed to do something to make sure it won't happen again??"
"He said he didn't want to remove or potentially damage perfectly healthy tissue."
"So this was all for nothing???"
Despite the positive outcome, I fixated on the negative. Had everything gone according to plan, the inconvenience of recovery would have been overshadowed by the knowledge that all was well. But the awareness that it could have been avoided filled me with indignation.
It has taken nearly a month for me to let go of the frustration and acknowledge that what transpired was the best possible outcome. My recovery was no different than anticipated, and I avoided the potential complications from a more invasive procedure. But between then and now I wasted precious energy and countless opportunities for joy.
When we encounter the unforeseen on our journey, we can question and complain, or we can invest the time in navigating our new route. Next time life presents you with a bewildering detour, I encourage you to pause, survey your new landscape, and explore what it might offer. Let's learn to embrace the unexpected.
No matter how streamlined and efficient we aim to be, waiting is an unavoidable part of life. We stand in line at grocery stores and coffee shops. We idle in doctors' offices. We await updates from prospective employers and admissions offices.
As I shared last week, I am in a waiting pattern of my own. And despite the opportunities I have had to flex these muscles EVERY. DAY. OF. MY. LIFE. I am woefully out of shape.
I know I am not alone in this. Students often laugh when yoga teachers suggest savasana (final relaxation) is the most challenging element of the practice, but it is true. While no great strength, flexibility, or balance is required, being completely still requires tremendous mental and physical resolve. We are conditioned to instead "use" the time to review today's "to do" list, map out tomorrow's logistics, or consider how to most quickly roll up one's mat and make a speedy exit from the studio...
In my private sessions, I can anticipate the fidgets, adjustments, and sighs of my clients before they begin. And I understand exactly where they are coming from. No matter how many studies demonstrate the importance of stillness , and no matter how many times we have acknowledged the need - perhaps even a sincere desire - to create more space in our lives, sitting in silence is an uncomfortable place for most of us to be.
But I would like to suggest there is much to be gained from these moments of discomfort. Acknowledging and accepting that we are not, in fact, master of the universe frees us from the burden of investing precious energy and brain power trying to control every element of our existence. Paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise when we are forced by outside circumstances to be still can provide powerful insights into our desires and our character.
At the end of the day, we cannot escape traffic, grocery stores, or medical appointments. Rather than allow yourself to grow frustrated by these inevitabilities, I encourage you to be still and open yourself to the valuable insights they can provide.
Next time you are find yourself waiting, can you stay present with whatever arises? Can you be still and learn the lessons these moments hold?
I was honored to be a featured contributor for Dr. Emma Basch on her column for Psych Central. Regular readers of this blog know I am a strong advocate for the benefits of yoga - especially as they pertain to infertility. I am glad to be able to share this message with a wider audience on this important week and offer a step-by-step practice for those who wish to give it a try on their own. You can read the full article here.
If infertility itself is something of a taboo, the more difficult ethical questions surrounding various treatments are positively unspeakable. My own journey left me with far more questions than answers. I am grateful to the Huffington Post for publishing my article about one of the more difficult decisions we made along the way to building our family. I hope its message offers encouragement to others in a similar position and opens the door for an important dialogue in the broader community:
Huffington Post Essay: Are you My Mother?
Walking through infertility is bleak. You question why you are unable to attain a desire that seems so simple and ubiquitous. You ask what is wrong with you. You wonder why you are being "punished." Many spend hundreds of hours in doctors appointments - others research alternative therapies - still others invest tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of this elusive dream. And they all wait - hoping desperately for an outcome they can't control.
If you had told me in the midst of my struggles to "cheer up" or "find the silver lining," I would have assumed you had no idea what you were talking about. And I don't expect anyone who is currently facing this struggle to embrace this encouragement wholeheartedly, but I offer it nonetheless.
In retrospect, I can see that the painful wait and the heartbreak and disappointments along the way were invaluable to my journey to motherhood. The lessons I learned gave me a far greater appreciation for the privilege of parenting and a greater compassion for those who struggle. It opened my eyes to the many unconventional ways families can be created. And it provided a platform for some of the strongest friendships I have ever experienced.
Whether you suffer from infertility or are facing an entirely different storm, I encourage you to dig deep and look into the rain. I pray you will find your rainbow.
When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
I discovered that there might be an issue while I was looking for a new OBGYN. I also understood that I should schedule a pre-conception appointment if we were trying to get pregnant, which we were at that point. So all of this aligned at the same time, and it wasn't until I heard myself explain my age, and how long we had been trying that it became obvious that a more focused effort was needed.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
The most challenging aspect of the diagnosis was the bleakness of the outlook, and the limited options. My tubes were blocked. One could go through the process of having them unblocked, but that would take a significant amount of time in terms of the recovery period to start trying to conceive again. In addition, it was possible that the tubes could re-block during the post-op period.
What gave you motivation and confidence to move forward?
I felt like the diagnosis was very clear, and I didn't have issues with producing eggs. This was positive news in a pretty bleak situation. Trusting God to take care of the rest is actually what gave me confidence and motivation.
What factors helped you determine the path you ultimately chose?
We moved forward with seeking out an infertility clinic specializing in IVF treatment as this was the only option that was viable.
Where did you find hope when the situation seemed most bleak?
I found hope in how God had showed up in very dark situations in my past. I thought surely, if He could carry me through the dark valleys I had already experienced, He could get me through this. It was most important for us to try to see what could happen.
What is the best piece of advice you received during your journey?
I can't say that I opened myself up to advice. I really held things close. I was very discerning about who I brought along on this journey. I specifically chose not to tell close family members for fear that they might say the wrong thing or simply ask too many questions when I wasn't up for it. In addition, people often like to identify with your situation by talking about all of the people they know who are living with infertility. In many cases, you don't want to hear their story whether the outcome is positive or not because there is so much uncertainty as every situation is a unique one.
I didn't share what my journey had been until I was pretty far a long in in my pregnancy. I was blessed to have a former colleague who was willing to share her journey as well as someone I met at my husband's college reunion. These were individuals who were available, but not people I would run into on a regular basis. I also connected with a ministry called Sisters of Hannah which meets at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. This was a place where I could be with people who were in the midst of the same issues.
What book(s) or other resources were most helpful?
As I mentioned, Sisters of Hannah was a great resource. For one day out of the month, I could sit with other women who were in similar situations, and I could share as much or little as I wanted. I also focused on words and music that kept my mind positive. I was very intent on keeping my spirit free of negativity when it came to the IVF cycle and early pregnancy. Miscarriages are common even during natural conception. Because it was a high-risk pregnancy, I didn't allow myself to focus on what could go wrong.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
It can take your spouse a lot longer to digest the reality of the situation. It probably would have been helpful for me to understand that it was going to take my husband more time to accept the situation. It was a lot easier for me to think through strategies and action steps. It took him months to come to the reality that natural methods would not be an option for us. Even after we had our son, he still questioned whether we could get pregnant naturally.
What encouragement can you offer someone who is struggling with infertility?
As difficult as it might be, it is important to seek out community. It doesn't have to be a formal group, but you need at least a couple of friends that you can be transparent with over the long haul. People who know you well enough to understand what you need without you having to ask.
Dannielle leads a group called Shiloh, where women who are living with infertility and pregnancy loss find community in their journey. The group meets every other Thursday at 7:30pm in the Capitol Hill area. Please reach out to her directly for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Jessica shared in her beautiful post yesterday, infertility can be awkward to discuss, so we often choose not to. By making this decision, we not only forgo relationships that could provide a valuable source of support, we also miss out on opportunities to learn about tools that are helping others. In the coming weeks, two great events are taking place that are designed to help women forge connections and tap into services and resources available for the often lonely infertility journey:
On Wednesday, May 17, I am honored to again be part of the Pathways to Parenthood event at the DCJCC. This community-wide event will bring together experts in fertility, adoption, mental health, and more for a discussion of the different pathways to becoming a parent. It will also provide an opportunity to connect with others who are in similar circumstances. Online registration is available but not required.
On Monday, June 5, I am pleased to again partner with Tranquil Space to offer my Yoga and Infertility workshop series. This four week series brings together women who are sharing the infertility journey - from those who are beginning to explore their options to those who have been struggling for years. Seasoned yogis and newbies alike will come together to learn from one another and help facilitate the healing process. The combination of a therapeutic asana practice, time for meditation and reflection, and an opportunity to create community has helped dozens of women find healing and release from the burden of infertility. Registration for this small group event is available online.
If you live in the D.C. area, I would love to see you at either - or both - of these events. If you are live outside DC or are otherwise unable to attend, send me a note. I would be happy to help you identify resources in your area and/or tap into a virtual community to support you along the way.
I am so very excited to share the following essay with you and beyond grateful to Jessica for opening up about her ongoing struggles with infertility. Most people who are willing to talk about infertility wait until they have become parents to share their story. In the following essay, Jessica Burdge speaks honestly about her grief and shares some of the tools that are helping her work through it. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about Jessica and her beautiful photography to visit her website.
Infertility. It's a subject that makes people feel awkward and is just so personal that we don't talk about it much. A few years into waiting for a baby I started searching the internet for other women who struggled with the same thing. Most of the stories I found were woman who talked about it after they had children. I desperately wanted to hear from someone who was in the struggle now, to help me understand my feelings and show me how to work through it.
I'm still in the middle of waiting and sorting through it all but I wanted to share a few things that have helped me understand infertility in hopes of letting some woman out there know she isn't alone in the journey.
1. Grieve. I think this is one reason infertility is so hard to know how to relate or react to because there isn't anything tangible to see that you lost. But it is a loss just the same. And just like any other grief you will have days that you are totally ok and think you have mastered it and the very next day the helpless feelings wash over you. Just recently I was having a particularly great day when out of the blue 3 friends all texted me (within the same hour) that they were expecting. It was all I could do not to crumble in a heap on our bed. Like I said, good days|bad day. It's ok.
2. Give. I have found the best way of overcoming the tempting feelings to pity myself is to give. I'll be honest, when a friend tells me how exhausted she is with all her littles running around the desire to pity myself and compare is so tough!! Try to find a way to give. It takes the focus off of yourself and gives you passion and purpose. What are some talents or things you are good at? You could even offer to babysit for your friend. I know that sounds like the exact opposite of what you may be feeling but it would be an incredible blessing to your friend and even more to yourself. Try it sometime!
3. Gratitude. Make a list of two things a day you are grateful for. You will be amazed at what it does to your attitude. Once again, getting your focus off of yourself. If you haven't read 100 gifts, you defiantly should. Such beautiful words and message!
4. Grace. People will reach out but still say hurtful and offensive things. Take the positive and leave the hurt. I know I have said the wrong things in the past with the most genuine intentions. It takes a lot of braveness to reach out. It can be really scary...be graceful and forgive. I know I would prefer someone caring (maybe with not all the right words) to not saying anything at all.
5. Go on. This is when I wish I could be talking with you face to face. Then you could see and hear that I care so deeply and not just see words on a screen. This is probably the hardest part of infertility for me. Life moves on and so will others. Most of Daniel's and my friends have little families now. While we can still stay up late and go out to eat last minute; they are juggling sick babies and early nap times. This can make you feel like you are in different worlds and become distant. Keep up with those friends. Some of our closest friends have kiddos (we even go on vacation with them) that we get to love on and we wouldn't trade it for the world. We may be in the same place one day; but even for today...those friendships are invaluable!
Hopefully this has helped you understand your friend or possibly yourself a bit better. I'm thinking about sharing a few things and words that have helped a lot from friends to encourage me over the past few years. If you are interested in hearing them, let me know. I may write about it.
Take joy Friends,
Today marks the beginning of National Infertility Awareness Week. I am excited to again participate in this important effort to raise awareness about infertility and those who are affected. This year's theme is, "Listen Up!" In the days to come, Resolve, the national infertility association, aims to give a greater voice to the 15% of American couples who suffer from infertility and the challenges they face.
Throughout this week, I encourage you to "Listen Up" by checking back for inspiring stories from women who have a first-hand knowledge of what it is to struggle with infertility, practical tools for those currently suffering, and encouragement.
If you have specific questions or a topic you want us to address this week - or in the future - please send me a note. We love to listen to you too!
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!