My husband and I got married in 2010. I was 32, he was 29. Like many of us who believe we are ready to start a family immediately, we thought for sure we had hit the target during our honeymoon. When that didn't pan out we were confident again that the next month was it. This continued on for about 9 months. Around this time my mother had surgery, and we paused "trying" so I could care for her. When we resumed, I joined an online forum for women trying to conceive and a number of women on the forum eventually became part of my core support group.
A visit to my general practitioner propelled me to make an appointment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE). I remember her telling me in a very matter of fact manner, "Listen - if you are over 30 and its taking you more than 6 months to get pregnant make an appointment with an RE immediately. Forget waiting until you are 35." She herself had struggled with infertility and was currently pursuing treatment for her second child.
My husband and I were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Our RE recommended we start with medically assisted timed intercourse. After three months without success I was already emotionally exhausted and asked to move on to Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). After another three failed rounds, I was done! I switched clinics and decided to pursue In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
With IVF on the horizon, I felt giddy with expectation. At least four of the six other women in my fertility support group had become mothers, and some were starting to think about their second. The year was 2013 and I was 34. Our first IVF cycle seemed picture perfect, but it failed. I was devastated, and my husband went into shock. We pursued second and third opinions. I recall reading a blog about a mother who had struggled through many rounds of treatment. She wanted to give up, but her doctor encouraged her to stay the course, and she ended up having triplets. That story inspired me and gave me strength and perspective to continue as I finally came to understand that this journey we were on may be a very long one.
My second IVF cycle was, indeed, challenging, and I leaned on my core support group. One friend in particular called me daily to check in. As fate would have it, that was the cycle that worked and gave us our beautiful son.
The love and support from and for others is what gave me strength during the many bleak days of infertility. Not being consumed by feelings of "woe is me" because I became vested in other people's journeys became critical to my ability to carry on. Their successes became my successes. I was able to tap into their knowledge base and learn far more than I could have on my own.
The power of community is what sustained me throughout. I've since started a free program in Washington DC called Fertile Ground Growing Families as a means of giving back to others still in the trenches. The goal of the 8-week program is to both educate those trying to expand their families on all of the options that are available to them and create community. We go over the fundamentals of getting pregnant spontaneously and through assisted reproductive technology, and bring in speakers who've pursued other options such as adoption, fostering, and surrogacy as a means to grow their family. I'm currently in the second semester of piloting the program. My advice to those still in the trenches is to know you are not alone and that you do not have to walk this journey alone.
One of the biggest challenges of navigating infertility is the accompanying feeling of isolation and powerlessness. Despite the fact that one in eight couples struggle to start a family, those walking through the experience often feel as though they are alone. Finding a community with whom you can share your experiences, learn from theirs, and feel supported can be incredibly empowering.
Fortunately, in recent years, opportunities to make such connections have expanded dramatically. Below you will find a round-up of fertility-related resources in the D.C. area. Read on to learn more about these community-building offerings - and please share with anyone you know who might benefit! If you know of other opportunities to add to the list, please let me know!
New Beginnings Yoga: Monthly Yoga and Fertility classes take place the first Monday of each month at 7:30pm at the Viva Center. These drop-in classes 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. Seasoned yogis and newbies alike will benefit from a therapeutic asana practice, time for reflection, and the opportunity to create community. Details and registration are available here.
Heal from Within: Licensed acupuncturist Lisa Eaves hosts an infertility support group the second Sunday of each month from 9:30am-noon in the Tenleytown neighborhood. More information and a full schedule of meeting dates for 2019 are available here.
Jessica Burdge: Local photographer and blogger Jessica Burdge is hosting her second annual one-day retreat for women struggling with infertility. The event will take place in Lancaster City, PA on August 3. To register or learn more, visit her website here.
Fertile Ground Building Families: D.C.-based mama and fertility warrior Soundia Duche has developed an eight-week program designed to educate those trying to expand their families about all available options. Additional details about the program are available here.
When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
After trying for 6 months, I was not feeling myself and had put on some extra weight but was still very active. In order to better understand what was going on, I decided to go to the fertility clinic that my doctor recommended for a general assessment which revealed that I had a serious case of hypothyroidism. Thankfully there is a simple solution with a daily medication to treat it, however it can take some time to get the dosage and hormone levels in the optimal range for pregnancy so it took a specialist and some patience. A year later my blood work revealed that I have an autoimmune disease that led to the under-active thyroid. While it was helpful to find out the source of the problem, it was hard to add this news to the mix while trying tirelessly to get pregnant.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
The fear of the unknown was most difficult. I wasn't confident that I'd be successful or what lengths we might have to go to in order to get pregnant, if we could at all. It was also really tough to understand all of the information and terminology at first. We did a couple of IUIs to begin with but soon realized the chance for success was very low and I was disappointed we spent nearly 6 months on something that wasn't likely to work. Finding trustworthy sources to educate myself with was difficult at first.
What gave you motivation and confidence to move forward?
My faith in God and the support from my husband. While I was really anxious and scared throughout the year and a half long process, I kept having an overwhelming feeling that God made me who I am for this very reason. I'm a focused and driven person and I truly believe that these qualities helped me persevere, along with the unwavering support from my husband. While he certainly couldn't fully identify with how I was feeling, he never made me feel badly for the struggles and he always agreed with my choices as we navigated the options. I know without a doubt that I could not have seen infertility to the other side without God and my husband.
What types of therapy/ies did you pursue (reproductive endocrinologist/acupuncture/yoga/herbal therapy/etc.)?
YES! I did it all. I relied heavily on my endocrinologists and even sought out second opinions for my thyroid and my fertility. In hindsight I'm glad I asked tough questions, went looking for other opinions and didn't stop until I felt like a plan was developed that felt right. While acupuncture was a nice way to force me to take a break during the workweek, I truly believe that yoga helped me to listen more closely to my body, to feel comfortable with myself during an unpleasant time physically, and to exhale the negative thoughts that would creep into my thinking at the least helpful times.
What is the best piece of advice you received during your journey?
Someone I do not know personally but had a strong inclination to reach out to via social media kindly wrote me and shared that it's overwhelming to think of the process from start to finish. Instead, she recommended that I have a plan for one step ahead. For me this meant having a game plan should the thing we were about to do not work out. That way I could give myself some time to grieve but then would be able to dust myself off quickly and get back in the fight. I truly believe it is a journey of endurance. You really find out how strong you are when you are going to almost daily doctors appointments and receive repeated test results all while trying to juggle your career and trying to appear like you have it together. I now realize that IVF was great preparation for being a mom because the challenges and exhaustion never ends!
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
I wish I would have reached out to people who had experienced infertility and tackled IVF, successfully or not, sooner. I waited for some reason but it helped tremendously once I had developed a nice circle of people who were willing to share the nitty gritty of their journey, listen to my worries/fears, and allow me the space to be upset whenever I needed. It was a lot for my husband to constantly hear about my thyroid problems and the IVF process so having others to vent to was crucial for him and I both. I think it's important to take some pressure off of yourself and your partner in order to get through the journey.
What encouragement can you offer someone who is struggling with infertility?
One of my dear friends who also struggled with infertility and ultimately chose adoption said to me, "Jamie, if you want to be a mother you WILL be. You will be a mom one way or another and you have to remind yourself of that." At the time I found it hard to understand how she could be so certain but she was absolutely right. I repeated this to myself once it sunk in and it was a mantra that really helped me stay positive. And here I am today writing this as a new mom to a little girl who is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
Each year during National Infertility Awareness Week, we devote a week of content on the blog to sharing stories, encouragement, and resources for women and men experiencing infertility - and those who support them. This year's theme, #InfertilityUncovered, seeks to highlight awareness of the significant lack of access to family building options and emotional support for the millions of women and men struggling to build a family.
Throughout the week, I invite you to visit the blog to hear from individuals who have chosen very different paths en route to parenthood, as well as tools for those who continue to struggle. Please also feel free to reach out to share YOUR story and the resources helping you navigate your own journey.
No one chooses to be infertile. We don't desire drama, hardship, or unfulfilled longing in our pursuit of a family. No friend or client has ever confided that they are glad to have found so many obstacles standing between them and their dream.
While I never would have opted to experience infertility, it has taught me a great deal: compassion, humility, resilience, and an awareness that it is impossible to know what silent struggles other people are facing. I have discovered that maintaining a positive perspective is easiest when my time and energy are directed outward. I am learning to be patient with myself and others and to stop clinging to the illusion of control.
Wherever you may be in this process I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and the way in which your story is unfolding. There is no singular path to parenthood: our journeys are as unique as we are, and each struggle holds valuable lessons. As you travel, you will learn and grow - and perhaps have an opportunity to be a light to others who are struggling. We are all on this journey together, and there is much to discover.
Can I ask you a question? Is reading this newsletter just one more thing on your to-do list? Is it adding to your already unmanageable inbox overflow? Are you just plain over it? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I encourage you to unsubscribe. Truly. It won’t hurt my feelings. I promise.
But that hasn’t always been the case...
When I launched this newsletter nearly five and a half years ago (?!) I sent it to an assortment of family, friends, colleagues, and students. The response was warm and supportive (as one might expect from a hand selected audience) - and I was encouraged.
Over time, the audience grew as members of that initial group recommended the writings to people in their network. Others stumbled onto my website and found the content a good match. Members of the infertility community, new students, and complete strangers reached out to say they found value in the offerings, and it warmed my heart.
But some early members decided the content wasn't relevant to them. Others determined after joining that the material wasn't what they needed or wanted. They unsubscribed. And my little heart hurt. EVERY ONE one of those rejections felt personal and consequential.
I began to fixate on the attrition. What did I do wrong? Was the most recent posting too personal? Not personal enough? Did it fail to connect? Was I merely spouting derivative drivel? Even when the losses were more than offset by new subscribers I was convinced my efforts were futile. Who was I to think I had anything to say?! I should really just stop wasting everyone's time...
But little by little, I found myself less distressed. When I let go of my fear of rejection, I became better able to enjoy the process. I decided to reduce the frequency of my output to a level that felt sustainable and allowed ideas to steep a little longer. I gained greater confidence in discerning what I wanted to say and knowing the message would reach the audience who needed/wanted to hear it. It took time, but the transition was immensely freeing. And I think it has applications far beyond newsletter readership.
Rejection is part of the journey for us all. People enter and leave our lives for reasons as diverse and varied as the individuals themselves. And while these transitions can at first feel uncomfortable, we have a choice: we can allow rejection to send us into spirals of self-doubt, or we can try to learn from it.
Consider your current relationships. Is fear of rejection causing you to second-guess yourself or try to be someone you are not? Try letting go of your need for approval and instead invest that time and energy in relationships and endeavors that encourage you to be YOUR best self. Or maybe you are reluctant to part ways with someone because you fear the effect of your rejection on them. Consider whether you can do them - and yourself - a favor by flexing your rejection muscle (gently), thereby enabling them to grow on their own terms.
Every rejection we experience creates space for growth and a fresh perspective. It also frees up time and energy to invest in those few, rare, enduring relationships and endeavors that ground us and provide true value. As we enter a new month, I encourage you to explore the idea of rejection and consider what lessons it may hold for you...
It has been an emotional week in the New Beginnings household. I celebrated a milestone birthday over the weekend, and I felt all. the. things.
I fully recognize I am neither the first nor the only human to enter a new decade. This is not uncharted territory. I have been privileged to witness firsthand as family members and friends navigated this shift - setting beautiful examples of graceful transition. Some were intentional and proactive: declaring bold goals and embarking on new adventures. Others took it in stride: acknowledging the day as nothing more than another step on their journey.
Until last week I was in the latter camp. Life is moving forward - and it’s good! I have an incredible kiddo and a wonderful husband. I enjoy what I am doing and have bandwidth to explore my interests and invest in my community. Another decade of the same seemed like a perfectly lovely continuation...
But as we bid farewell to the latest of our series of houseguests - sandwiched between a flurry of fun weekend jaunts both near and far - I took a deep breath. And as my body and mind truly settled for the first time this quarter, I was seized by panic: I’ve done no planning! I’m not prepared! I’m missing a huge opportunity for intentional living here!
How can I achieve goals I haven't even set?! How can I fix everything that is wrong if I don't identify it? I've read the books and listened to the podcasts: If we want to be successful, we MUST be prepared! We MUST retreat, reflect, envision, and execute! And we MUST document the process and pristine outcome with an effortlessly flawless photo on social media!
As strongly as I felt the pull to wallow in regret for this missed opportunity, life's rhythms didn't accommodate a distraction-free retreat to figure it all out. Instead, the routine events of the week propelled me forward. I found joy in helping a friend with a project, gained confidence by pushing myself out of my comfort zone professionally, and reveled in the presence of a not-so-tiny-anymore miracle who will be celebrating a birthday of her own next week.
I also folded laundry, washed the car, paid bills, and stocked the refrigerator. And I was reminded that as much as we may crave some externally defined ideal, we live in a real world where sometimes the steps come out of order - or late - or not at all. The earth continues to rotate and revolve, kiddos continue to grow, lists and to-dos continue to accumulate - and this cycle is its own version of perfection.
Every one of our inconveniences, unremarkable experiences, and complicated relationships are part of life. And all carry within them the potential to help us grow in wisdom and grace - expanding our perspective beyond ourselves and the microscopic corner of the universe we inhabit.
At some point, I will take time to consider whether I could benefit from simple changes to my rhythm in this new chapter. But in these opening days of a new decade, I am resolving to conclude that life - with all its imperfections - is exactly as it should be. Whether you are in the midst of transition or a period of stability, I encourage you to explore the idea that your life - just as it is in this very moment - IS perfect. Won't you join me?
Those of you who know me can attest to my love for planning, order, and organization. The same is true for my husband. And - for better or worse - we have passed these traits down to our daughter. After returning from the second of two back-to-back weekend vacations, our daughter announced at the dinner table, "Isn't it so nice to get back into routine?!"
As much as her father and I love travel, we couldn't disagree. Reliable rhythms are important to us. Weekends, in particular, follow a schedule that bring us great joy: Poetry Saturdays, Dance Party Sundays, and relaxing afternoons with neighbors in the courtyard are something to which we all look forward.
On a recent weekend, the weather prevented a courtyard outing, so we brought the playdate into our home. While my daughter and her friend invented their own imaginary worlds, I started preparing dinner. An hour later, the friend's father arrived, with his son in tow, to pick her up. The girls pleaded for "five more minutes" to finish up their latest adventure, and we offered our neighbor a glass of wine. Not much time had passed when his wife arrived, wearing their third child, to check on the status. As I poured her a glass I heard myself say, "Would you all like to stay for dinner?"
I didn't know whether to be delighted or terrified when they accepted. What followed was utter chaos as we attempted to stretch our three-person menu to accommodate our new party of eight. Mixing bowls and cutting boards cluttered the countertops. Dishes piled precariously high in the sink. Energetic kiddos ran rampant at volumes rarely heard in our home...
But the spontaneous nature of the gathering overrode the pressures of perfectionism. We hastily threw together a snack plate to keep everyone sated while we worked. Our neighbor disappeared and returned with cheese and wine to share. Laughter filled the air.
When everything was ready, we sat down to a table set with mismatched plates and napkins. By the end of the evening, the floor was littered with crumbs. But a lovely evening was enjoyed by all. One spontaneous invitation yielded a wonderful opportunity to connect with people whose company we enjoy and offered a glimpse into a different way of being that felt at once both exhilaratingly novel and surprisingly comfortable.
At the forefront of a new year, I am aiming to experience more of this. To be more spontaneous. To extend - and accept - more invitations for impromptu connections. To leave more uncommitted windows in our family calendar and let go - if only occasionally - of the plans and routines that ground us.
How about you? What would it look - and feel - like to let go of the tight grip you wield over your schedule? To extend an invitation before mapping out a menu? To accept a last-minute offer of a glass of wine or cup of coffee? Can you allow yourself to explore spontaneity?
A new year. A blank slate. A fresh start. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Something embedded deep within us craves the chance to brush ourselves off and start over. And at the outset of a new year, the possibilities seem endless.
In the New Beginnings household, the year ahead is brimming with potential. We will celebrate a milestone birthday and a significant anniversary. We will help the babe navigate a major transition. We will attend more (?!?) weddings and embark on an epic family adventure. In between, we’ll pause to acknowledge some quarter birthdays and (hopefully) settle into a life rhythm that serves us well. Along the way there will undoubtedly be unexpected delights. There will be moments of monotony. There will be disappointments. We will rejoice, we will rest, and we will grieve.
And as these experiences arise - from the marvelous to the mundane - I am embracing a spirit of exploration. Welcoming the opportunity to fully experience each development - whether good, bad, or indifferent. To relish the thrill of soaring, learn the lessons that come from falling down, and absorb the replenishment of the quiet interregnums. To enter situations both new and familiar with curiosity.
How about you? What do you want to explore in the year to come? Is there a destination you want to visit - or revisit? Is there a skill you want to learn - or refine? Is there a person you want to meet - or get to know better? What is holding you back?
Whether a new activity, new relationship, or new continent - I invite you to join me in a year of exploration. Let's see what we can discover...
Next week marks a major milestone in the New Beginnings household: Our daughter turns five-and-three-quarter years old. You read that correctly - not five years old (been there and done that) - not five-and-a-half years old (checked that box too) - but five-and-three-quarter years old. And there will be a celebration!
Now before you roll your eyes and bemoan the way modern parents are raising snowflake babies who need constant adulation, let me scale back your vision of excessive indulgence. We are not hosting a party. She will not receive gifts. There will not be a cake (though a candle may find its way into something on the plate...). This tradition simply provides an opportunity to come together in the midst of an otherwise unremarkable day to reflect on the passing of time, share smiles, and enjoy each other's company.
I think we need more of this in our world right now.
Yes, we are in the midst of the "most wonderful time of the year" - full of festivities, family gatherings, and faith traditions. Celebration is never on more prominent display than during this five-and-a-half week stretch. But for many, the holiday season generates far more anxiety than joy - perhaps highlighting physical and emotional distance from family and friends, triggering painful memories of a lost loved one, or drawing attention to a lack of material resources enjoyed by seemingly everyone else.
But even these very real and deeply felt challenges do not preclude the ability to find and appreciate small, simple pleasures. It could be the release of a new book you have been eagerly anticipating. Tiny signs of improvement during a long and slow recovery from an injury. Eggnog appearing in the grocery store cooler (or is that just me?). The magnitude of the occasion and how you choose to commemorate it are less important than the simple act of celebration - making way for the holistic shift that occurs when you intentionally reorient your mind to the good that surrounds you.
Whatever your feelings about this period of pomp and circumstance, I encourage you to identify one reason to celebrate today. The exercise just might spark sources of joy you didn't know existed. Anticipate celebration - and watch as the opportunities for more continue to grow...