How yoga REALLY helped me through infertility
I’ve gotten back into the Jason Bourne movies as of late. That I’m a glutton for action films featuring loner male protagonists is something for which I have no explanation. My attraction to the underlying themes of the Bourne trilogy is less mysterious; Main character meets severe obstacles in finding his way home after traumatic experiences, is forced to seek his true identity while combatting sketchy organizations that create false realities and insist that he be something he innately isn’t. Hmmm…..what infertility survivor wouldn’t be down with THAT?
In taking a moment to clarify the appeal of the Jason Bourne character, I came up with the following. 1) The character is skilled enough to survive within the system, 2) Intelligent enough to always be steps ahead of it and 3) passionate and courageous enough to seek the truth outside of it, no matter what it takes and no matter how dark some of it may be.
And I can certainly learn from and be inspired by that.
It has been said the purpose of yoga is to connect one back to their true nature. I often say, “Thinking for myself is nice. Yoga taught me to FEEL for myself”. Either way, we humans are a delightful and confusing compilation of, among other things, emotions, thoughts, skin, bones, muscles, energy, spirit and consciousness, and I venture to say yoga is the practice of studying, observing, honoring and working with ALL OF THAT. Yikes. And venturing through that as an infertile – a million times yikes.
You think, feel, observe, breathe, pause, and work. Some sessions are more limber than others, some sessions more yielding than others, some days you have more presence, some days less. Going back to this process again and again invites an infinite unfolding that, while not making me any less innately clueless or moronic than your average human being, forges a deeper connection and respect for all parts of self while gently suggesting a connection to something broader. Though the path is often bumpy, the dividends for me as an infertile, mainly in the form of survival skills, have proven to be important. But perhaps not quite what one might expect.
Being a few years into the practice cycle of thinking, feeling, observing, breathing, pausing, and working, I had started to notice some things. Although I hadn’t observed any notable deficiency with my second chakra (the yoga world’s point of obsession when it comes to infertility), I did observe and feel a clear disconnection between my lower and upper body, and sensed a warm abundance in my second chakra that had been cast off and left to fend for itself. Wanting to reunite with my emotional and creative self, I went to work on it in my yoga practice. And although I’m sure my efforts were highly lacking and far from perfect, I’m also sure that over time I made progress and became a more integrated human being. Was that helpful as far as becoming pregnant, as many in the yoga world would be prone to believe? Of course not. Becoming more energetically integrated will likely not overcome most cases of real infertility. It was however, extremely helpful in navigating the all too often untold path of fertility treatments.
The tense hustle and bustle of the procedure room was underscored by the uninterrupted hum of the electrical equipment. The whole of both my legs were bent in straight jacket like stirrups, my private parts mere inches away from a strange man’s face as I anticipated my first embryo transfer. Having been through five IUI’s and one laparoscopy surgery, this was hardly my first rodeo. As far as having a catheter rammed up into my uterus while not anesthetized, this was my tenth as a matter of fact, but it was my first receiving real live growing embryos, precious mixtures of me and my beloved. I was used to the regular exam stirrups, the kind that, as I would always duly note before any exam or procedure, left me free to kick the doctor if I ever needed to. But not this time.
Strong focused momma that I am, I was determined to welcome our embryos into my body with love and receptivity, not with tension and resistance. Had I only known at the time the blatant powerlessness of that intention. Though I had gotten an idea by IVF #1 that getting pregnant seemed to have little to do with anything I did or didn’t do, I didn’t want to look back and wonder if I could have done something more or better.
Five or six medical professionals in white coats inhabited the now dark room, some having assumed position, some still scurrying around – it takes a village to transfer embryos, apparently. And I, fully connected and relaxed enough in my pelvis as my cervix was dilated with a speculum and as the catheter began its uncomfortable journey. Staying in touch with my breath, I really felt my yoga practice paying off. I had no idea how much it was paying off until the embryologist eagerly appeared on the scene, pointing my attention up to the screen and launching into a description of our embryos in a loud and somewhat frantic voice.
New to the whole embryo grading thing, it was too much for me and I turned to my husband to tell him to pay attention while I simultaneously was reminding him to grab my hand, all while staying present in my body and breathing into my pelvis. After asking me to state my name and birthday a few times the embryologist launched into a description of the embryos AGAIN, at which point I spoke up….
“Dude, BAD timing,” I said as the doctor continued to steer the catheter up inside me. “I can’t take all of this in right now.” We infertiles unfortunately are used to receiving medically and emotionally consequential information while something is being shoved up our vaginas and beyond, but this was a little much.
“I’m trying to take your mind off of what’s going on,” the embryologist said rather rapidly.
There are moments in the infertile experience where it’s as if someone flipped a switch and then everyone around you started smoking really bad weed. This happened to be one of them. Take my mind off what’s going on?? Are you kidding me.
“Well that’s not going to happen” I said matter of factly. I needed to keep my mind on my body sensations so that I wouldn’t tense up. I was using my mind in tandem with my body to allow an environment of receptivity, and given the circumstances I needed to concentrate in order to pull that off.
At a loss the room got quiet.
“I just need to breathe” I directed. And with that, the neurotic, distracting energy in the room immediately dissipated. No one in the room said anything else as our embryos traveled into my body accompanied by glorious silence. Having once been so lacking in integration, I now could not even so much as entertain an invitation to abandon any part of myself. Thus, the infertile woman on her back with incapacitated legs and a protruding hooha was the one calling the shots, as it damn well should be.
I would maneuver my way through four more embryo transfers, each time lovingly pulling on the reigns of our body’s built in capacity to protect, preserve and survive that I so revere, as I called forth my ability to yield and open. Like an artfully engaged yoga pose, I became able to negotiate for balance in the pelvic area while dealing with other shit I learned was inevitable during these procedures. During the transfer for IVF #3 I multi tasked between my pelvic situation, tuning out all of the jibber jabber in the room while grading our embryos my own damn self and the absence of my husband. He had to go feed our parking meter when the transfer began and I was used to gripping his hand with the tension that would otherwise be in my pelvis, but I handled it like a pro as I know all infertiles do in our many less than ideal situations. A couple of times the yoga world and how clueless it is as to how yoga really helps with infertility would even cross my mind. If only they knew…..
And this, all this work and focus and heart, led to absolutely nothing. It is near impossible to describe what this absence of cause and effect so common in the lives of infertiles is like. All I can really say is that, after working so hard and giving so much to be met with only loss and not even a tiny echo from the universe time after time after time, the nothingness is decimating.
But yet in another sense the way I chose to do things mattered. It mattered that I was able to gain some control in a situation where I practically had none. It mattered that I was able to minimize the traumatic impact to my body, which already at the time of transfer had endured 4 weeks of drugs, countless needles and vaginal sonograms, and the egg retrieval two days prior. But most of all it mattered that I was able to connect with and be present in my own experiences, no matter how unsettling. I was in control of little and robbed of much, but the result of staying present is that my story is mine to keep.
And everything I used to get myself through these situations better, yoga taught me. Yoga taught me the richness of being present, especially when the going gets tough. Yoga taught me to restrain from judging my own emotions. Yoga taught me that connection to any part of myself is not something to fear, and that alignment of our inner and outer selves is power. Yoga taught me to be a little bit sharper at recognizing the truth, and gave me the skills to be in it once I’ve recognized it. Yoga taught me that my being and what is going on around me are two different things. Yoga and all of my yoga teachers taught me. Yet, the ways yoga is touted to help one through infertility I learned are questionable at best, mostly useful in much less acute cases. The ways yoga actually helped me through infertility were, notably, never presented to me as such.
The truth is, once one is denied the grand gift and privilege of easy family acquisition and steps foot into the world of reproductive medicine, one is most often met with an all too conveniently manufactured version of reality. A version that, if they are paying attention, likely does not reconcile with their own. At the end of my fourth fresh IVF cycle in nine months, I was crumpled up a few miles from the finish line of my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional marathon, too beaten to a pulp on every level to even care if I crossed it.
After confirming, in a world of patients seemingly desperate to do anything, that I was not emotionally up for any more IVF, it was suggested to me I attempt a pregnancy via egg donor with the usual detachment of the recitation of a grocery list: Milk, bread, have a child that’s not yours genetically, butter, eggs……And then my doctor (who in the greater scheme of them was not so bad) said of our last six embryos, “I’ll put ‘em in next cycle”.
Come again? “Uh, I’m rather tired” I pointed out. The world of reproductive medicine needs a lot of things, an in house Captain Obvious at every clinic apparently being one of them. “Plus, I’ve got some liver cleansing to do, I’ll call the office in a couple of cycles” I said as I gathered my things to exit, feeling the toxins from this past cycle crawling through my skin. At this point I was used to such reproductive medicine delusions – my last doctor had pushed the idea of doing our first round of IVF the very cycle after I had stage three endometriosis surgically removed, which is kind of like standing on your hands the week after wrist surgery. Truth is, when you take part in fertility treatments no one thinks you are doing anything, not even your own doctors. This does not bode well for anyone ever understanding why, after one surgery, ten failed fertility treatments and actively grieving the loss of our children, I am no longer in awe of pregnancy and childbirth. Under normal healthy circumstances it’s a tea party relative to what I’ve been through.
A month before our final transfer, my husband and I were settling up money matters with the clinic office manager, a mother of three who talked quite excessively about her children especially considering her line of work. “So, we’re really going to give this one our all, huh? Pull out all the stops.”
“Yeah, like as if I haven’t been going ape shit balls to the wall with this baby making thing for the past three fucking years straight, ya freakin dipshit” was what I wanted to say. Admittedly, I’m a person who really should be censored much of the time. Miraculously, I was able to come out with “You mean just like we did on the last four (cycles)” accompanied by a disgruntled deadpan stare right in her eyes.
And of course I just had to mock that drivel all of the way home. “Hey, honey, maybe we should start putting some EFFORT into this trying to conceive thing……we’ve been totally LAME over the past NINE fertility treatments and one surgery. Time to kick it up a notch. Not like we’ve done EVERYTHING UNDER THE GOD DAMN BURNING SUN or anything…..”
Ahh, yes. A yoga practice cultivates the tool of your own internal GPS – you are always able to access where you are. Even when no one else is. So I know at this point all of the western medicine averse folk are chomping at the bit with the presumption I didn’t try any of their supposed magic fertility bullets. Some may even have holistic modality drool seeping from their mouths, thinking of all the great things acupuncture and energy healing could do once I wane myself from those evil evil drugs (You know, the drugs that were prescribed to address our immunological and genetic issues holistic modalities LACK the capacity to even identify? Yeah. Those drugs). Oh, but not so fast, cowboys. Like the female infertile version of Jason Bourne, yours truly is a few steps ahead. Just because I didn’t get pregnant doesn’t mean I failed at anything. The disconnection with physical self and personal truth the reproductive medical world imposes is well rivaled by the emotional and spiritual shaming of infertiles put forth by the holistic modalities.
TO BE CONTINUED…….