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...
As a child I LOVED to perform. From school plays and assemblies to dance and voice recitals to various sporting events, if there was a chance be in the spotlight, I was the first to volunteer.
Fast forward a few decades, and that couldn't be further from the truth. I still love performance, but I am far more comfortable in a supporting role - or the audience. As a Congressional speechwriter, I learned how to help others shine and share their message. My favorite part of the process was the performance of the finished product - which I enjoyed from my anonymous, out of the way perch.
So when an opportunity recently presented itself to appear ON TELEVISION to share the benefits of yoga for women experiencing infertility, my first instinct was to politely decline. As much as I love helping women who are struggling to start a family, television means lights, cameras, and an audience far larger than the small group and one-on-one settings in which I usually present such information...
As I began to dismiss the offer, a little voice within whispered, "Yes it's scary, but are you going to let a little stage fright get in the way of reaching people who need help? And would it be so bad to gain a new skill set?"
So I said yes, and the next thing I knew I was discussing timelines and talking points with a producer. While I was excited about sharing tools and resources with a new audience, I remained terrified by the prospect of appearing on screen. As the day approached, I began to second-guess my decision, but when I arrived at the studio, I took a deep breath, walked onto the set, and gave it a try.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I survived the experience. And while it wasn't perfect, it also wasn't a disaster. It may have even been somewhat...fun. More importantly, minutes after the segment aired, I began to hear from women who were eager to learn more and others who were grateful for the reminder they are not alone in their struggles. While I am not seeking to repeat the experience anytime soon, I will be that much more prepared should another opportunity present itself in the future - and I am glad to have pushed past discomfort and experienced a little growth along the way.
Opportunities to grow often appear quite frightening, but we have much to gain by summoning the courage to try. Next time opportunity knocks, can you answer the door? You might be surprised by what you discover...
Last week I sat down, put pen to paper, and reflected on the closing of another year. 2018 was full of adventures, memorable travels, professional achievements, and personal growth. I traveled to areas of the world I had never seen, brought hope and healing to new communities of women facing the heartbreak of infertility, peacefully navigated a challenging relationship conflict, welcomed my daughter into her fifth (?!?) year of life, and inched closer to a milestone birthday of my own. Yes - 2018 was a year worthy of celebration.
No - you didn't catch me in a typo (though I'm sure that has happened...) - nor did I lose track of the year (though that often does happen...). I simply closed my eyes and anticipated how I want to feel about the year we are just beginning. The exercise was both inspiring and instructive.
If you are anything like me (and I would wager many of you are), despite your best intentions for a positive outlook, your mind is susceptible to being pulled into incessant, unrelenting, unhelpful chatter. You circle back to conversations you wish had gone a different way, fret about future events over which you have little (or no) control, and attempt to micromanage the minutiae of your daily existence. These thoughts have the power to cast a dark shadow over even the best of days - and they threaten to throw us off the course of the fully realized life we want to lead.
What if you instead filled your brain with enticing snapshots of a life well lived - and allowed those desires to not only brighten your perspective but also shape what comes next?
The lovely Lisa Eaves from Heal from Within, describes an exercise called "Skillful Imagination" that can serve as a framework for your efforts. To start, choose a point of time in the future: perhaps next year, five years from now, or even 50. Envision your future self reflecting back on the year or years that have passed. What did you experience? Where did you go? With whom did you spend time? What did you discover?
When you have answered these questions consider how these experiences made you feel. What was most meaningful or rewarding? Where was your time best spent? Even if it feels a bit silly, I encourage you to jot down a list of the highlights and hold onto it. Refer back to it on regular intervals - or use it to re-energize yourself when you are feeling mired in the details of daily life.
Allow your answers to these questions to guide your actions, decisions, and priorities in this moment. What decisions do you need to make today to ensure you arrive where you want to be? Create a vision of the life you desire, then turn anticipation into reality. Your future self will thank you...
Over the holiday break I had the opportunity to connect with a few dear friends I hadn't seen in far too long. During our conversations, they each asked, "What's next?" The question made me smile. At the outset of another new year, I have been thinking a lot about what lies ahead, and I have found myself downright giddy about the possibilities...
And I know I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Research has long validated the power of anticipation to affect our outlook and overall wellbeing. A study released in 2010 argued the pleasure of anticipating an upcoming trip surpassed the enjoyment of the travel itself. Author and life coach Valorie Burton goes so far as to say anticipation is a critical first step toward living a happier - and better - life.
Intuitively the principle makes sense. When we are looking forward to something, we not only reap the benefits of a positive perspective, we also become more willing to do the work necessary to achieve a desired result. Think of your own goals and resolutions for 2018. Perhaps you have committed to implementing a new fitness routine, eating better, or beginning a meditation practice. Whatever your aims, I am willing to guess you are fueled more by the anticipated outcome than the intervening steps. Is anyone truly excited about the prospect of sore muscles, more spinach, or waking earlier in the morning?!
Of course, like most things, anticipation is not exclusively about sunshine and rainbows. We all know the discomfort that comes as we prepare for a dreaded but unavoidable obligation, learn of an unwelcome medical diagnosis, or endure a seemingly interminable wait for a deeply desired outcome.
In our ongoing pursuit of living a more full and fulfilling life, I want to explore the power of anticipation in all its forms. I am eager to see what lessons we can learn as we consider - and wait for - what's next. Won't you join me?
THIS will be the year we learn a new language! Organize our closets! Write more letters! Run a marathon! Or perhaps your desires are more consequential: you want to realize your long-held dream of becoming a parent - meet your life partner - attain your dream job.
And you may!
But you may not... Because as much as we plan, prepare, and pray, we control (at most) only a small part of our lives, living instead in the messy midst of family, community, and a higher power whose designs are far beyond our capacity for understanding.
Instead of the outcomes you desire, the new year may present you with events and experiences you didn't expect - or want: the loss of a loved one, the diagnosis you feared, the phone call you never imagined. Or you may achieve your goals only to discover they fall short of your ideal. Parenting is hard work. Your partner is as imperfect as you. Your dream job isn't so dreamy...
But balanced betwixt our desires and fears is life in all its richness and beauty. A major disappointment might put you in a position for an unexpected opportunity. A loss could free you to embrace something even more fulfilling. Boredom may inspire a depth of creativity you didn't know existed.
In this final month of the year, go ahead and plan. Prepare carefully. Pray earnestly. But also allow yourself to walk forward with eyes and arms open and ready to welcome the myriad of experiences you can't anticipate. The outcomes you didn't choose. Allow yourself to embrace whatever is next...
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.
Late last month I traversed the country to visit a dear friend who had recently relocated to the Golden State. We planned our weekend rendezvous around a yoga retreat that would provide an opportunity to reconnect and recharge far removed from the demands of daily life.
I was eager to see my friend and begin my first [!?!] yoga retreat. We kicked off the weekend with a Qigong class (a wonderful discovery!), booked massage appointments, and entered the first yoga session relaxed and ready to learn. The teacher under whose guidance we would be practicing and studying is considered a master in the field - with decades of experience in teaching and training teachers. I was sure he would provide insights that would enrich my practice and my teaching.
After a brief introduction, we began to move, and he offered an alignment cue I found puzzling. It seemed at odds with what I had been taught during my own training - and counter to what I have been teaching for more than a decade. At first I wondered whether I had misheard, but the instruction was repeated several times during the practice. I found it unsettling but tried to dismiss what was, in reality, a minor discrepancy.
As the weekend wore on and the information was repeated and reinforced, a seed of dissent lodged itself in my mind. This doesn't sound right and it doesn't feel right. Attempts to ignore the instruction left me physically tense. I found myself feeling defensive and agitated.
During a quiet moment between sessions I stopped to consider the source of my discomfort. Why was I so resistant to something so simple? Hadn't it been my intention in studying with a new teacher to try new things?
It wasn't long before I realized that at its heart, my resistance stemmed from fear: If he is right, then I am wrong. And if my understanding is off base, then I have been misleading my students...
In that moment of humility I recognized I owed it to my students - and myself - to set aside my ego, listen, and learn. I entered our final session with an open mind, and for the next 90 minutes I simply explored. Slowly I began to see how this alternative approach complemented - rather than conflicted with - the principles I have been practicing and teaching. I left the weekend with a deeper understanding and more balanced approach to share with my students.
How many times have you seen similar patterns play out in your life? How often do we reflexively reject an idea because it is unfamiliar or uncomfortable only to later see its merit? How much time and energy could we save by instead approaching new perspectives with an open mind?
As we tiptoe toward the impending holiday season, many of us will find ourselves surrounded by family and friends with whom we do not see eye to eye. In these environments, we can choose to shut down and refuse to engage, put up our defenses and prepare for battle, or take a deep breath and enter into the conversation with grace.
Listening to another perspective needn't threaten our own values a beliefs - and a sincere exchange may serve to enlighten all sides. Next time you encounter a conflicting point of view, set aside your ego and listen carefully. Allow yourself to be open to the possibility of discovery. Give yourself an opportunity to to learn and grow...