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.
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,