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.
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!
On a Wednesday afternoon in early June I received a message from Stephanie Roth, a D.C.-based fertility coach and blogger who thought our shared passion for helping women achieve their dreams of starting a family might provide opportunities for collaboration. We sat down shortly thereafter, and I knew she was right! I was inspired by her own story of triumph against the odds and excited by the opportunity to work together. To learn more about how Stephanie is helping others - and how the birth of her son changed everything, read on...
Last week a student from a previous fertility yoga workshop reached out to announce she and her husband had welcomed a beautiful baby girl into their family. Each time I learn of another miracle baby fulfilling the hopes and dreams of someone who struggled to become a parent I am filled with joy and reminded of what a privilege it is to walk alongside these women and provide encouragement during their journey.
Whether through birth or adoption, dozens of women I have met through my workshops have become parents. While each individual and each story is unique, they have all found comfort in connecting with community during the otherwise isolating infertility journey. Doctors, therapists, yoga teachers, and others can play an important role in facilitating healing, but something important happens when women are able to connect with others who are facing the same struggles. That is why I am thrilled to again partner with the D.C. Jewish Community Center and the Red Stone organization for their Pathways to Parenthood event, which takes place tomorrow, May 18 at 6:30pm.
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 or someone you know is seeking guidance or encouragement related to building a family, I encourage you to check out this important event.
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!