Whether you realize it or not, you probably know someone who is struggling with infertility. If you haven't been there yourself, if can be hard to know how to offer support and encouragement. I shared one take on how to approach the situation in an earlier post, but the good folks at Resolve have gone further by creating an "Infertility Etiquette" cheat sheet. I encourage you to read the whole document, but I have copied the headlines below for your reference:
While many of these seem obvious, I encourage you to think through what you might say to a friend or family member who shares their struggle with you. Simply showing that you care can go a long way toward providing comfort and healing, and investing a bit of time and energy in preparing will ensure you are ready if and when the time comes.
When you are struggling to start a family, none of the options is simple. Medical intervention is scary and fraught with spiritual and philosophical quandaries. The road to adoption is long and arduous. Deciding not to pursue parenthood after dreaming of it for so long can be devastating. It is easy to feel paralyzed, but you CAN move forward - it just takes courage.
The stories we have shared this week started from a place of fear. But these women and their partners dug deep and are finally living their happy ending.
We all struggle with fear: fear of acceptance, fear of failure, fear of disappointing others - or ourselves. But we can all move forward. Sometimes we need help from another. At other times we need to dig deep within ourselves. In every situation we need to saddle up.
What fear are you facing? What will it take for you to saddle up?
When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
When we made a decision to start trying. I went off birth control and after 10 months I still didn't have a cycle. My doctor recognized I needed to see a specialist. I was only 33 at the time, and we knew something was off.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
I have always felt connected to my body, but in that moment I felt very disconnected. It's very unsettling not to know why an otherwise healthy body wouldn't bounce back to a normal rhythm. That feeling of being out of control was upsetting.
What gave you motivation and confidence to move forward?
I would say my relationship with my husband. We kept saying to each other, "It's going to happen, just not in the time frame we expected." We supported each other, and he gave me pep talks. He was able to maintain a positive outlook.
Talking with friends who had struggled helped me realize I wasn't alone. When I first realized I was having issues, I felt isolated. It seemed like everyone around me was pregnant or already had kids. So being able to connect with them - having them say, "Look, I'm happy to talk about this with you because it happened to us too." I took them up on it, and that was crucial.
What types of therapies did you pursue?
We pursued medical intervention, but also other things. We worked with a reproductive endocrinologist who started us on medication, then moved to IUI, which we did twice before changing clinics. We did one IUI with the second clinic and became pregnant.
Along with the medical approach, I kept up my yoga practice. I have been practicing yoga for 10-15 years, and it was very, very helpful when I felt disconnected from my body. I also participated in the Yoga for Fertility workshop, which was amazing. I think it was my first experience being in a room full of women going through the same thing at that exact time. Outside of that environment I had been talking to friends who had been where I was, but they were past their struggles, and there was still a sense that their situations were different from mine. The workshop was very empowering in that way.
What factors helped you determine the path you ultimately chose?
We didn't have a lot of hesitation about going the medical route. Both my parents and my husband's parents are in the medical profession, so we had trust in the system. Also, I knew my mom had tried for three years and needed assistance to become pregnant with me, so that was helpful. Being able to talk to her about it normalized it.
Where did you find hope when the situation seemed most bleak?
Spirituality had a lot to do with it - believing this is meant to happen for us. Feeling like this is the process we were meant to go through. Accepting that this is our experience. The other part was giving myself permission to grieve for each of the failed attempts - allowing myself to be sad and upset. I also began to recognize a pattern after a few months of treatment. You start off a cycle with so much hope, and there's an ebb and flow. It was helpful in the sense that I knew it wouldn't last forever, and the hope would come back.
I also had to give myself space. We took a long weekend away between cycles to get away from everything and set the process aside so we didn't feel like it was running our marriage or our lives. The space allowed new hope to come back into our lives.
What was the most helpful thing you heard during your journey?
Hearing from friends that "There is nothing wrong with you - you are doing everything you can, and this is happening on the timeline it is supposed to happen on." That reassurance from family and friends was huge. I also received phone calls and text messages from people who knew where we were in the process after each treatment. They were there when it wasn't successful and when it finally was.
What book(s) or other resources were most helpful?
The book, Fully Fertile, by Pulling Down the Moon, Also, I also looked into the RESOLVE website. I didn't attend any of their support groups, but the information there was helpful.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
Find what you are looking for in a doctor. You are not obligated to stay with one practice if you don't feel it is working for you. It is easy to feel powerless when you are surrounded by medical professionals who you think know everything. When I look back on it now I realize that you know your body the best. You can listen to the doctors' advice and all the knowledge they have, but if you don't feel comfortable, that can contribute to stress, which I believe delayed my body's response.
What encouragement can you offer someone who is struggling with infertility?
Be kind to yourself. Trust that you and your partner know what is best for your body and your unique situation. Do whatever makes you feel like you and will help you feel connected to your body throughout the journey
Among the questions I hear most often from women who are struggling to start a family is, "How do I know what I am supposed to do?" The diagnosis of infertility carries with it so many complicated choices. Medical intervention brings along physical, emotional, and financial stress - not to mention moral dilemmas. Researching complementary therapies can be overwhelming. Pursuing adoption seems fraught with an impossibly long timeline and so many unknowns... We all want a miracle baby, but how does that happen?
If you find yourself in this position, let me be clear: yoga is NOT a miracle. But there are significant tangible benefits in reducing physical and emotional stress, connecting with others who are facing similar challenges, creating a healthy relationship with your body and gaining an appreciation for what it CAN do, and learning tools to help you through this complicated and challenging process. Over the past four years I have experienced and seen firsthand how yoga can be an incredible source of healing for women who have been unable to conceive and/or carry a baby to term, and I am pleased to again be offering a Yoga and Fertility workshop series beginning Tuesday, June 7.
This Yoga and Fertility workshop 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 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. If you live in the DC area, I invite you to join me. If you are live outside DC or are otherwise unable to attend, send me a note. I would be happy to connect via Skype to help you develop a healing home practice and tap into a virtual community to support you along the way.
When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
My husband and I knew we would start trying soon after our wedding. Both in our 30s, we’d been together for a long time and we were eager to get the baby show on the road. We tried casually for about six months before starting to worry. About a year in, my gynecologist suggested we see a reproductive endocrinologist and get some tests done.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
After a full battery of tests we got the unhelpful and frustrating diagnosis of “unexplained infertility." All normal and in excellent working order; pregnancy just wasn’t happening for some reason. While I’m grateful in many ways that there wasn’t a medical problem per se (e.g. low ovarian reserve or sperm count or motility), it also meant that fixing the issue was elusive and unclear. How do you figure out what to do when you don’t know what the problem is?! We are both very logical, action-oriented problem-solvers. See problem, identify root cause, find aligned solution, solve problem. The solution of, “well, we’ll just have to try some things and see what might work” was really hard; especially when you’re feeling a clock tick.
What types of therapy/ies did you pursue?
For three years, we tried a combination of measures that combined the work of our reproductive endocrinologist with more natural solutions. I continued practicing yoga (including a few rounds of the Yoga for Infertility workshops at Tranquil Space – highly recommended!), saw a therapist regularly to manage the anxiety associated with the whole process, tried multiple diet changes, and saw an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility. Simultaneously, with the endocrinologist, we did multiple rounds of IUIs, natural cycle IVF, and then finally, when none of those things worked, turned to stimulated IVF with PGS.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
Looking back, there is plenty we wished we’d known before starting down this path. Infertility is a common challenge for many couples but one that is so rarely talked about which is part of what has inspired us to share so openly. Here is a list of things that were important to us throughout this experience.
1. Identify and build a strong support network. We had no idea when this all began how challenging it would be. It’s emotional, lonely, exhausting, painful (physically and otherwise), and just plain hard. You’ve got to figure out who your people are going to be and then lean on them. Help them understand what you need and also what you don’t. Nothing is worse that the well intentioned “Just relax! It’ll happen.” For some couples it actually will not ever happen and there is no time that you are more acutely aware of that than when you’re jabbing yourself with your third injection of the day after four other failed IVF procedures. You’re riding on hope and hormones and you’ll find that having people who really understand what you’re experiencing—and know what to say and what not to say—will matter an awful lot. From family, to friends, to my bosses, we had really exceptional support from so many people. There were some really difficult moments when it made all the difference in the world.
2. Don’t forget about your partner. My husband was a superhero throughout this process in so many ways. The bulk of fertility treatments fall typically to the woman (or to the partner who intends to be the biological mother). My husband couldn’t take the shots or give the blood or do the ultrasounds. But hell if he wasn’t there nearly every single time I did. He came with me to appointments even when they were at 7:00am, lasted just 15 minutes, and all they did was take my blood. He sat right next to me, held my hand, and made sure I knew that we were in it together. Talk about what you need with your partner and speak up if that changes. You might say initially that you don’t need him or her there with you each time but if, once you’re in the middle of it, you change your mind then say so. Also remember that while this is hard on you, it is also probably really hard for your partner. At least you are able to actively do something. While the treatments were difficult, it always felt like I was accomplishing something and working toward our goal of becoming parents. It can feel helpless to not be able to actively contribute so recognize what is difficult for him or her and make sure they know that you’re grateful for everything they are doing.
3. Practicalities matter. When you’re picking things like a practitioner, think practically. Of course things like success rate matter, but if the endocrinologist you select is a 45 minute drive away with difficult parking you are sure to question that decision later. There were periods where we were going to the doctor five days a week at 6:30am. It’s already difficult having blood drawn that many times a week; don’t add insult to injury by making it a marathon to get there if you can avoid it.
4. Know that very few people actually know and understand infertility treatments. Ignore the haters. Man. The hurtful things people say about fertility treatments. The judgment! The misunderstanding! Just know that very few people seem to actually understand the medical process and the decisions you will have to make. Take time to learn them yourself and, if you choose to, share with others that want to know. Things like pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) really send people into a judgment spiral. Real article comment about PGS: “If you have to custom choose your embryo then you aren’t ready to have a baby. You just want to have a pretty accessory.” OR maybe some people are just trying to make sure their embryos are normal and will actually result in a viable pregnancy rather than a miscarriage…but yes, please tell me more about my new handbag baby (eye roll). Understand your options, decide on your plan, and stand by your decisions. They are no one’s but your own.
5. Try to focus on yourself and prioritize being grateful. This is SO HARD. But try. As I used to regularly say to my loving, tattletale pre-K students, worry about yourself. Things like Facebook pregnancy announcements become surprising painful. You’ll want to be happy for people but may find yourself feeling really bitter and resentful. “They’re having another one?!” And then you’ll feel awful and so guilty because you feel that way. Take it easy on yourself. Try to focus on your own journey and all that you have to be grateful for. Among many other blessings, we were incredibly privileged to have access to excellent medical care, be able to afford the endocrinologist alongside things like acupuncture, and had such wonderfully supportive employers who made the process easier, not harder. There is plenty that we all have to be thankful for. Write those things down if you need to and revisit them often.
It’s been a long road but we’ve learned and loved a lot along the way. Our miracle baby, a little girl, will arrive in May and even now, just feeling her move around and kick, we know it has all been worth it. In many ways, before she’s even made her debut, she’s already the very best thing we have ever done.
Every day people with infertility are asking questions. “Why is this happening to us?” “Can we afford these treatments?” “How on earth can I explain to my boss all these doctors appointments?"
Questions also abound for those who love and support someone who is struggling to become pregnant. "What is the right (or wrong) thing to say?" "How can I be most helpful?"
These are all questions worth asking and are the inspiration behind the theme for this year's National Infertility Awareness Week. The New Beginnings blog is thrilled to pose some questions of our own to women who have navigated the treacherous journey of infertility and are on their way to living their dream of being parents. Check back every day this week for interviews, inspiration, and encouragement. And start asking...
Weekday mornings in the New Beginnings household unfold according to a very precise and particular schedule. I leave the house before sunrise to meet my first client of the day while my husband gets himself and the babe ready. We swap roles an hour and a half later and move forward with our respective days.
The time leading up to my departure is also very consistent: I take time to physically prepare myself for the day and spend time reading, reflecting, and praying. I can't say this rhythm always results in remaining calm and measured as the day unfolds, but it does help me establish an appropriate perspective for whatever lies ahead.
Occasionally, I will find myself with a "free" morning on which a client is unable to meet. In these cases, I find joy in heading out the door for an early morning run. I love these pre-dawn jaunts around my city. Passing beside eerily empty downtown streets before the office lights are on. Navigating sleepy neighborhoods whose residents are only beginning to stir. Nodding a greeting to the monuments in their stately silence.
But too often, I find that when I walk back in the door I begin immediately scrambling to catch up. The morning responsibilities and timelines haven't changed, but all of a sudden, I am laser focused on speed and efficiency - usually at the expense of relationships. I caught myself in one of these mornings last week. Instead of slowing down to sit with my daughter and really listen as she expressed anxiety about being left with a babysitter later in the day, I quickly assured her all would be well and encouraged her to finish her breakfast. Rather than stop to hear what my husband was sharing about his upcoming day, I nodded assent and kept right on clearing and washing the breakfast dishes. I transitioned immediately from a runners high to a wound-too-tight ball of stress, and it was nobody's fault but my own.
When I don't start my morning with intention, I lose my grounding, and my day suffers. Rather than allow this trend to continue at the expense of the life I want to lead, I am recommitting to starting my day wisely and well. Next time I find myself with a free morning, I will still go for a run. But not before I pause to prioritize what is truly important.
How do you start your day? Does it leave you settled and ready for what lies ahead or do you need to revisit and reboot?
A dear friend and fellow blogger recently shared an article outlining productive ways to use unexpected free time. Several of the recommendations were appealing - including indulging in some leisure reading or self-care, but the one I most appreciated was playing "To-Do List Roulette."
Whether or not you choose to write it down, we all have a running list of tasks we need to complete but never seem to get around to: Returning a library book, cleaning out the closet and dropping off unused clothes at the local shelter, getting the car washed, or scheduling a dental appointment. Often the tasks are inconvenient, sometimes even unpleasant, making them likely to continue to slide down our priority lists or pushed off for some undetermined time in the future. But most take no more than a few minutes, and it can feel SO. GOOD. to cross them off the list.
For those of you who don't keep a physical list of things you need to accomplish, start one. Write the items on a post it note, jot them down in your planner, or type them into your phone. And next time you find yourself with an unexpected block of free time, close your eyes, point to an item, and tackle it. Then reward yourself with a little self-care. You've earned it!
When Jonathan Shradar was first featured on this blog, he had left his career in public service and moved across the country with his wife and daughter to begin the journey toward full-time ministry. Shortly thereafter, he completed seminary, and he and his wife moved to Washington State, where they added a beautiful son to their family.
But he didn't stop there. Since then, they have moved yet again - this time to Southern California, where he is now a lead pastor, and he and his wife are preparing to add a third child to the family! Read on to learn about how and why Jonathan kept pursuing New Beginnings...
We all encounter resistance in the course of our daily existence - whether from a family member, co-worker, or fellow commuter. And in our "me first" society, rather than turning the other cheek, it is tempting to stand firm: digging ourselves in deeper and deeper.
We want to defend our point of view. We want the other person to acknowledge that we were right. We want to win the argument. Minor disagreements become major altercations. An insensitive observation escalates to a family feud. We find ourselves completely overwrought, only vaguely aware of how the argument began or what it was about, and no one emerges the victor.
How would it change our interactions if - instead of clinging to a rigid point of view - we softened our resistance? What if we let go of the need to be right and tried instead to be kind?
Next time you encounter resistance, can you allow yourself to respond with empathy and compassion? Can you be soft...and strong?
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!