It can be hard to admit you are struggling - let alone ask for help, but when you decide you are ready to flip the script of your infertility journey, a wealth of resources await! I am particularly excited about two offerings taking place in D.C. next month:
On Monday, May 7, I am thrilled to launch the FIRST weekly fertility yoga class in Washington D.C. These weekly offerings will bring 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. Sessions will combine a therapeutic asana practice, time for meditation and reflection, and an opportunity to create community. Registration for these small group classes is available online.
On Wednesday, May 16, 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.
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.
Together we can flip the script!
We all have regrets. And most of us spend a fair amount of time wondering what life would be like if we hadn't made that big mistake...said that hurtful thing...missed that great opportunity. Or we dwell on the other side of the equation - assuming things would be better if only we had taken that job...accepted that date...went on that trip.
When working with infertility clients, I often ask them to write down the facts of their journey so far. Some make lists of procedures, results, and disappointments. Others produce poignant reflections on the pain they have experienced. Most often, each person concludes their work with a sigh. We spend time processing the emotions that surfaced as well as any new discoveries or ideas. And then I remind them that what HAS happened in the past does not define what WILL happen in the future.
Yes - most of us could have made better decisions at different points in our lives, but the only decisions that matter moving forward are those that lie ahead of us. Today is the only day we can begin taking better care of ourselves and our loved ones. Right now is our only chance to tell our family and friends how much we appreciate them. This moment is our best and only opportunity to do things differently.
There is benefit in reflection and learning from the past, but our time and energy is better spent looking at what lies right in front of us and responding in the most kind and loving way we know how. Next time you catch yourself looking backward, pause and reset your focus. Shift your gaze and your attention to what lies ahead.
Sarah Hummer didn't let her experience with infertility define her. Instead, she drew from what she learned and flipped the script of her entire life. Read on to learn how Sarah turned adversity into an opportunity to encourage others and create a life she loves.
About this time two years ago, I spent many mornings at the fertility clinic as I underwent IVF treatment--my last hope for getting pregnant after nearly four years trying other unsuccessful avenues. The waiting rooms were filled with anxious-looking women (me included) and some men. I always left thinking how isolating infertility and the treatment process felt, but also confused by this, considering so many others were in the same boat.
Infertility is a tricky thing. While millions of women experience infertility—6.1 million says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))—it is a private issue that generally is not talked about openly. It is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting, compounded by uncertainty and pumping hormones into your body multiple times a day during treatment. This is a journey that requires a support system, preferably with those who’ve been there before or who are going through it, too.
At the time, I was a healthcare consultant and taught yoga in the evenings and on weekends. Yoga was my refuge. It helped me stay healthy, strong, calm, and connected with myself through the stresses of infertility, work, and life in general. While I also received support from my family, friends, and acupuncturist, I didn’t have anyone to talk to who was in or had been in my shoes, which would have been incredibly helpful.
Fast forward to today, we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday on March 25. Yoga is now my full-time job. Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I started Yoga with Sarah Hummer, specializing in fertility, prenatal, and postnatal yoga. I also continue to teach workplace yoga, one-on-one yoga, and hatha yoga classes at Yoga Del Sol in Georgetown. Practicing and teaching yoga has been critical in helping me through my journey to and into motherhood and I feel empowered and obligated to share my experience with other women. I have candid conversations regularly with women who are trying to get pregnant, undergoing fertility treatment, or pregnant through fertility treatment, helping to provide that support system I was seeking.
Women’s bodies and minds go through the gauntlet from infertility treatment through the child’s first year. National Infertility Awareness Week is a great reminder that there is too much that is not talked about, maybe because it’s uncomfortable or personal, but this leaves women to feel isolated and suffer alone. This does not have to happen. We need to look out for and help each other when we can, simply by sharing our experiences.
One question I hear often from my clients who are struggling with infertility is what they should - and shouldn't - be eating while trying to conceive. I am SO excited to share the following advice from Kendra Tolbert, a registered dietitian nutritionist and all around beautiful soul! Her intuitive, commonsense approach to how we nourish ourselves offers wisdom whether or not you are trying to conceive. Read on to learn what she thinks is the most important ingredient you should be adding to your mealtime routine...
One of my earliest and fondest memories is that of my Nana bringing me a bowl of chicken noodle soup when the flu left my body too tired and weak to go to school. You probably hold a similar memory near and dear. That bowl of soup warmed me and strengthened me. And not just by imparting heat through its steamy broth or protein and calories to fuel my recovery. But also through, or maybe more so through, the love it symbolized and the way it delighted my taste buds.
That memory often comes to mind when I’m chatting with a client about the ways nutrition can support her on her journey to motherhood. Food has always been and will always be one of the most powerful allies we have in this life. It offers micronutrients and comfort. Macronutrients and delight. Both tangible and intangible sustenance. All equally important to our reproductive and overall health.
Most of the nutrition advice for fertility you’ll find is skewed towards the more utilitarian aspects of food. We tend to focus on the specific biochemical components that make a food “good” for our fertility. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s woefully incomplete. Fertility enhancing foods are not just a tool to load up on vitamins and minerals (though they’re great for that too.) They’re also a tool to practice self-care, kindness, and compassion. It’s a way to support your body as it undergoes rapid changes during treatment. And a way to comfort yourself on trying days.
We’d be wise to pay attention to both the physical and emotional forms of nourishment food provides. In fact, we have research that suggests the pleasure a food gives contributes to our health as much as the food’s nutrient content. Plus, there’s research that suggests pleasure actually improves nutrient absorption. Those nutrients serve as the building blocks that our bodies use to create the hormones that govern our fertility, as well as build, repair, and nourish our reproductive organs. So anything we can do to help our bodies be more effective at taking them in benefits our fertility and wellness.
There are so many ways we can make our meals more pleasurable. Here’s a list of ten to get you started.
Couple enjoyment with nutrition science and you have a winning combo to nurture yourself along your journey to baby.
What image pops into your mind when you hear the word "infertility"? Perhaps a hardened, career-driven woman in her 40s? Or someone who has suffered from cancer or another debilitating disease? While age and health are two factors that can affect our reproductive ability, these stereotypes don't provide an accurate picture of the condition - or the millions of individuals who are currently suffering.
During this National Infertility Awareness Week, the New Beginnings blog is joining others from around the nation to "Flip the Script" and change the conversation about infertility. Because infertility doesn't discriminate. It affects men and women, rich and poor, urban and rural, gay and straight, old and young. And chances are you have a family member, friend, or colleague among the one in eight couples who face this challenge.
I invite you to check back throughout the week for resources and stories from individuals who are rewriting their own scripts and working to provide hope and healing. If you have a story to share or a question you would like us to answer this week - or in the future - send me a note. Together we can flip the script!
Beginning at an early age we were conditioned to answer questions about ourselves. From teachers to new friends to strangers in the grocery store we learned to converse by responding to simple queries: What is your name? How old are you? How are you doing?
As we grew, the questions become more complex - perhaps even requiring some introspection: What is your favorite subject? Why do you want to attend our university? What makes you the right candidate for this job? While they may at first have generated some anxiety, over time we learned to anticipate them, prepare a response, and deliver it with confidence.
At some point along our path, we also encountered questions we didn’t want to - or felt we couldn’t - answer. Questions for which there was no automatic response. Questions that may have been asked with the best of intentions. But they nonetheless triggered fear, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy: How are you still single? When are you going to get a "real" job? Are you sure you want that dessert? And rather than investing time in considering how to respond, we instead learned how to avoid the people and situations most likely to introduce the undesirable query.
Eventually - and usually when we least expect it - someone or something discovers a way through the fortresses we build to protect ourselves, and we are faced with the questions (and feelings) we fear. I found myself in such a situation recently while spending time with a dear friend in a houseful of rambunctious little ones (including my own). Standing in the middle of the chaos, she smiled and asked,"Aren't you glad you only have one to deal with?!"
It was a simple question. Posed without malice. But I went silent. Turned inward. And extricated myself from the situation as quickly as I could.
Later, in the comfort and safety of solitude, I seethed. I surrendered to the internal drama: Do you have any idea how many times I have dreamed of soothing sisterly squabbles or refereeing a wrestling match between brothers?! Do you know how much I mourn the opportunities my daughter misses for spontaneous silliness because she is stuck with me as her primary playmate?! Do you not realize I blame myself EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for my inability to grow our family?!
After the torrent subsided I was able to gain much-needed perspective. While my pain was (and is) real and valid, it wasn't caused by my friend - or her question. But I needed to give myself permission to experience the full force of emotions in order to move past my pity party and prepare for the inevitability of the next time I am asked a similar question.
With the clarity of hindsight, I recognized that an appropriate - and honest - response could be as simple as, "Yes." Because I am grateful - even if not for the reasons the inquirer assumed. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of a smart, sweet girl. For perspective. For the tools to be present and soak up as much as I can of the incredible opportunity I have to parent.
Whatever your state in life, chances are you have been asked tough questions - and more than likely, you have realized you can't avoid them forever. Rather than will the questions away, can you allow yourself to sit with them and the emotions they evoke? I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on what lies beneath your resistance. Consider how you can respond in a way that is authentic and kind - to the questioner - and yourself...
When my husband Brad and I first started this whole “Let’s Have a Baby!” project back in September 2014, I didn’t tell many people. I naively thought this would be a short-term secret and we’d reveal our pregnancy in a cute, totally viral-worthy way.
Ha. Ha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, so naive.
As this “project” began taking longer and longer, it started seeping into all the other parts of my life. Physically. Financially. Emotionally. I began turning to my friends for emotional support as the fear and anxiety surrounding my infertility started feeling way too heavy for me to carry alone. The support I got from my friends was a mixed bag. While many of them tried to be there for me, it was hard for them to truly empathize with my struggle. They had no idea what to say... In the summer of 2016, I hit an emotional low after our first cycle of IVF failed. While the cycle yielded two blastocysts, after genetic testing we learned both were abnormal, leaving us no healthy embryos to transfer.
I was heartbroken. No one understood the unique flavor of pain and shame I felt. Well, not NO one...I learned that a select group of people did understand: other fertility warriors who had once been where I was, but were now safely on the other side. They were the only ones who could offer me the support, understanding and perspective I so desperately craved.
It was then I had the idea to create Fruitful, a free fertility mentorship program that connects individuals struggling through infertility with a mentor who has been through it firsthand and is now on the other side.
Brad and I got right to work. He’s a web developer and I’m a copywriter, so together we used our skills to make Fruitful Fertility. We proudly launched the site for National Infertility Awareness Week on April 23 and we could not be more excited about this new project and its potential to help others like us.
To sign up to receive a free mentor or to volunteer to become one, please visit www.FruitfulFertility.org. Or if you just want to follow along, check out our Instagram account @Fruitful_Fertility.
Remember, you are NOT alone.
Elyse Ash is the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility. She and her husband Brad have been trying to conceive since September 2014 and live in Minneapolis with their cat, Puck. Elyse loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce and pretending she’s into yoga.
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.