How yoga REALLY helped me through infertility
“Don’t use the word infertile, your uterus will retract from the trauma. Remember, she hears you.” As it turned out, the Maya abdominal fertility massage alternative to other higher powers was not all that much more appealing to me. I determined early on the idea that one of my very own organs demanded I be a good little girl was NOT going to be a useful tool in my quest for a child.
“My uterus ain’t that dumb” happened to be my first ponderance on the issue.
“And if it is, some genius gave me the wrong one because my uterus would be able to handle the truth…..”
Plus, I had already played with that possibility, not using the word infertility for my first four IUI’s. FAILED IUI’s may I point out. I wasn’t about to label not getting pregnant as a problem until I knew it really was one. And now it was, and in the throes of being denied a baby it was also being suggested to me that I should deny myself my own reality too.
Not willing to believe that the bastardization of my very own truth was a necessary prerequisite for motherhood, I actually ended up using the word infertility more frequently. I took the cue from my yoga practice to look and feel inward in spite of the instability, sadness, grief, and confusion (we were still an unexplained case at this point) that was going on at the time, and discovered that using the word infertility actually felt good, like a proclamation or a coming out of the closet of sorts. And my uterus, well, it felt just fine. Especially – hey what do you know – after I got the endometriosis removed that was all over the front of it and behind it too. Endometriosis, a major impediment to fertility, can’t be affected by words last time I checked.
At around the same time in our journey I found myself assaulted with a baby picture plastered all over my computer screen after innocently opening an e-mail from the first yoga immersion group I was in. This unsolicited news was hardly the thing I needed what with my PTSD I did not understand ramping up like wild fire by the day, all on top of the fact I had already been tortured by the visual of my classmate’s burgeoning belly throughout the whole immersion. (Thank goodness she was a normal and even somewhat sensitive person who actually talked about other things, otherwise the torture would have been even worse). Given the adulated “do no harm” ethic in the yoga world, I didn’t give it a second thought as I emailed my polite request for no child pictures to the teacher, complete with a brief but clear explanation of my situation.
Lest we forget: I did not ask for advice on infertility. I just simply explained pictures of babies are triggers and that I could not receive emails like that right now.
And the response? An exaggerated version of what I’ve come to expect from the yoga world, especially from those with children. No acknowledgement, no empathy, no cooperation to make this a little less worse for those of us suffering through no fault of our own, heaven forbid. A thorough description of the yoga for fertility class offered by her studio (shocker) and a thorough description of the genius of the teacher (who probably doesn’t even know what an antral follicle is) as well as some extra detail about how the class helped her daughter (poor thing) through a whopping two IVFs and through her twin pregnancy (which was of course in part the result of the amazing yoga class).
And then, this little gem of dripingly patronizing horse manure: “I can take you off the list, but remember, that you truly embrace birth in your heart of hearts is important for your power to conceive.”
That actually happened. Thank you, yoga world.
(I know my fellow infertiles are stunned and are taking that sucker punch to the gut for me, loyal crew that they are. Thus I’m giving them a few sparse paragraphs so they can recover).
I’ve been left often wondering if she also holds rape victims accountable for their rapes. Does the untimely death of one’s spouse mean the one left was not embracing marriage in their heart of hearts? Do children get kidnapped because their parents were not truly embracing parenthood in their heart of hearts?
Surely embracing birth in MY heart of hearts will overcome endometriosis and its residual immune system components, no? If I embrace birth in my heart of hearts, the enzyme that typically doesn’t activate in the uterine lining of women with endo will just naturally start jumping for joy, right? Truly embracing birth in my heart of hearts will no doubt trump the unfortunate combination of my husband’s and my HLA allele genes that does not allow my body to create an immune tolerance to our embryos, no??
Instead of respecting my trauma and losses by not sending me e-mails with pictures of children, which would have been few and far between anyway, it seemed my only choice was to be removed from the list entirely, thus disconnecting me altogether from the group, my supposed kula as they called it (to this day I fucking hate that word). Apparently, the infertility portion of her professional yoga training (which no doubt 1) existed and 2) was I’m sure entirely non archaic) omitted the part about infertility being profoundly isolating. What her words and actions boiled down to: “You’re going to have to choose between isolating yourself from the group and exposing yourself to PTSD triggers, Namaste!”
In the holistic world, the “standard” of what makes a mother – appeasing, compliant, blindly accepting of something that must know better than she does, and never ever angry, is no doubt barfily patriarchal. Plus, the holistic world’s convenient lack of remembrance that women who abandon, severely abuse, and even repetitively murder their own children are just as fertile as the rest of the population is nothing short of amusing. (Referring you to the cases of Marie Noe and Diane Downs should you be wanting for examples. I’m sure you’ll find they both truly embraced birth in their heart of hearts). The inference that what I do or don’t say, feel, and embrace in my heart of hearts should discourage conception is both preposterous and abusive. Especially while in reality other women can even do away a couple of their kids and STILL keep getting pregnant.
In many ways, the rest of the yoga world is not all that much more palatable for the infertile. Truthfully, I have struggled and still do in a community that often proclaims compassion and humanity but is no more understanding of the disease of infertility and of the life crisis it entails than is the outside world. In a community that tends to believe fertility issues are fixable, and in a community that is quick to offer info on yoga for fertility classes but is all too often absent with hugs and “I’m sorry for your losses” and “How are you doing’s?” when fertility treatments fail. In a community where some even have the audacity to believe in the blame the victim philosophy that infertility is manifested by its recipient, and that one’s attitude will affect the outcome of trying to conceive. In a community whose mostly well – meaning teachers have independently chosen to take on the subject of infertility while failing to make the IMPORTANT DISTINCTION between maximizing one’s fertility and treating infertility – two very different things. In a community where teachers mistakenly receive students trying to conceive for years who have endured repeated failed fertility treatments as merely someone trying to get pregnant, not as the grief stricken traumatized individuals most human beings are under such circumstances. And in a community whose unsolicited advice on infertility generally involves no digging or carefully asked questions, but typically involves a barrage of assumptions about one’s second chakra. Funny thing with our case is that endometriosis is primarily an immune system issue, which I believe would be the fourth chakra, not the second. With only seven main chakras, the yoga world couldn’t even get that major point on infertility right. And the chakra that governs the unfortunate combination of my husband’s and my HLA allele genes? Well, I’m still waiting for the verdict on that. Anyone? Bueller?
I was recently at a trauma workshop where we were doing some physical exercises with a partner. My partner generally knew about my infertility (like in that it exists) and gleefully proclaimed during one of our exercises – “Oh this one’s for the pelvis, it’ll be good for YOU!” The fact I had enjoyed meeting this woman in practically every other way immediately vanished as I promptly hissed “My pelvis is just WONDERFUL. Our issues were immunological and genetic!!” Yep, I’ve received enough based on absolutely nothing assumptions about my pelvis from the yoga world to last a life time. So, I’m a little touchy. Probably will be for a while. In the end, the pelvis vagaries directed towards infertiles are just another desperate attempt to slap common denominators on a disease for which there aren’t any.
And let’s not forget that much of the conversation during yoga class bookends is about children and grandchildren. This is a normal part of life that shouldn’t necessarily change but, I often wonder, did anyone ever give ANY thought to what it might feel like to, after working harder to conceive than everyone else, be rendered childless and stuck in the middle of parent banter day after day after day? When all you’re trying to do is put one foot in front of the other, give yourself an authentic grieving process, and take care of yourself by going to yoga class. What might that feel like?
The yoga world is not all that much different from the world of reproductive medicine in that it markets mighty claims as far as helping to achieve pregnancy, yet offers not one iota of proper professional protocol to support – or heck even acknowledge – those of us who don’t. I have had a couple of yoga teachers (notably, those without children) make independent efforts to support me in and through my crisis. It is not my wish to discount their inclusiveness, however the collective of my yoga experience leaves me with a feeling of always having to look over my shoulder and anticipate having to advocate for myself. How ironic that it is my very yoga practice that has helped me, as an infertile, to tolerate the yoga world.
In the end, I mostly did the right thing on our quest to conceive when it came to the holistic stuff. I explored, delved, persisted, and kept an open mind until I finally realized all that the holistic modalities are not. And I still appreciate their benefits and what they do have to offer. My only regret is that I worked too hard (putting myself into yoga, massage, Maya abdominal fertility massage, reiki, Ayurveda and acupuncture) as I had too much faith that they would help us to conceive. My scars from that run deep and are going to take a long time to heal.
But, I always protected my yoga practice. Although I did much restorative yoga throughout trying to conceive, and was generally conscious of poses to increase blood flow to the pelvic region (although my natural blood flow to the pelvic region was so fantastic it practically measured off the charts) I refused to do yoga classes for infertility. I wanted the challenge and knowledge that can be gleaned from mainstream classes, and at the time I wanted my life to go on as it would have without IF. I never did poses specifically for fertility and always centered my practice around my own health and well – being, not around the outcome of a pregnancy. And when, three years, seven doctors, 5 IUI’s, one surgery, two IVFs and nary a pregnancy into our journey we finally had what I believe to be a complete diagnosis and I learned yoga never could have helped overcome our issues, I was so glad I had trusted my instincts and used yoga just for me. I hadn’t wanted yoga to become one more thing I gave to trying to conceive, just one more thing I was angry at for letting me down. It was too important to me. I didn’t want it to become just one more thing I laughed at with my infertility support group members. We were more than busy enough making fun of Reiki anyway.
Ironically, excessive utilization of the holistic modalities can all too easily lead one to a feeling of un-wholeness. Between this and the process of reproductive medicine, it’s no wonder most infertiles battle gargantuan feelings of unworthiness, self-blame, and inadequacy. I believe it was the skills honed from my yoga practice that allowed me to observe when I started walking around with the perpetual belief I needed to be fixed, as it was only then I could start pulling myself off of the “let’s throw something at the wall and see if it sticks” diagnostically impotent holistic modality hamster wheel. As I said before, 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.
Even in the grieving process I feel like a fish out of water. I’ve found holistic practitioners of all kinds are not observant of the fact I’m a bereaved, traumatized, and yes, healing individual. Today, even in the hands of those who are supposed to take care of me, I’m forced to advocate for myself.
But I still stand by what yoga has given me as I continue to acknowledge every last space on this double edged sword. It gave me the ability to stare the undeniable randomness in this universe directly in the eyes with a persistent smirk. It has allowed me to be at ease in my flawed, imperfect, imbalanced self, to be absolutely certain I would have been an amazing mother both because and in spite of these things, and furthermore, to know who and what I am in no way contributed to our infertility. Without a doubt, we are so much more than what happens to us in this world. Often, we are not what happens to us at all. The awareness I’ve gained through yoga has helped me to stand my ground in countless conversations on the subject of infertility, refusing to budge when others wanted me to say and believe something else, often for their own emotional convenience. Most importantly, it has allowed me to faithfully bind myself to the innate ability to grieve and process loss I believe is inside all of us at a time when I have faith in little else. Without yoga I’d still be even more in my head, unable to surrender to the intelligence of my emotional gut and let it take the wheel to steer me through healing.
And it is here where I must take pause. I know this is where the “meant to be” crew breaks out their cheer leading pomp poms, where the “everything is perfect” tribe eagerly commences the assembly of their victory parade to make the charge that it was all “worth it”, that it all “happened for a reason”. But it is here and now I need to say I find the notion (that is all too often brought to my attention) that there was some good reason for the loss of my children, or that something will come along to make up for that loss, offensive. Not to mention utterly ridiculous.
I know for those who do not have it imposed on them, evolvement can be a coveted luxury, the notion of finding “deeper meaning” glitters in its allure and mystery. But there is no mystery in necessity. Nor is there glamour. For those of us who have truly lost evolvement and deeper meaning are meager hard fought for consolation prizes both cheap and frigid. They are a tank top to cling to for warmth in subzero weather, ineffectively covering the gaping hole where my children should be.
I don’t believe in absolutes and I’m not always so into “best” and “most” and things of such a black and white nature. I would go so far as to say though that connection to and integration of self is a necessary ingredient for surviving infertility. I’d like to think there are many valid paths to this place, for me it was yoga. I’m still a flawed and wayward human, yoga allowing me to be a slightly more balanced and aware flawed and wayward human is what got me through.
The potential yoga has to increase one’s fertility pales in comparison to all it can do to support someone through the hell of when they can’t get pregnant. The tricky trail of trying to conceive and then grieve when you don’t is rife with landmines of nonsense. Western medicine is oblivious to the patient’s participation and potential influence over their situation, eastern medicine turns an all too blissful blind eye to that which we don’t control. Which, as I’ve had to learn the hard way, is PLENTY. You are perpetually told by both what you SHOULD be doing, thinking, feeling, believing, seeing and trusting, most often by those who could never really know. All in the midst of the tragic irony that the prerequisites for having a baby in this world under normal circumstances are hardly illustrious. Yoga helped me to stick to my own truth, which is much better to step on than a landmine any day.
I certainly didn’t come out of infertility whole – I don’t even know if that’s possible as I do know a part of me is underground never to return again with the pictures of our twenty four beautiful embryos. But no doubt my yoga practice helped me come out in pieces big enough to put back together, and yoga facilitated for me ground functional enough upon which to grieve. And maybe, just maybe when I’m ready, yoga will help create space in which the parts of me that are now so hurt, destroyed and just plain empty can begin and create anew.
“Meanwhile, mystery surrounds the fate of David Webb, also known as Jason Bourne, the source behind the exposure of the Blackbriar program. It’s been reported that Webb was shot and fell from a Manhattan rooftop into the East River ten stories below. However, after a three day search, Webb’s body has yet to be found.”
SHOW DON’T TELL/RUSH
How many times do you hear it/It goes on all day long/Everyone knows everything/And no one’s ever wrong/Until later…./Who can you believe?/It’s hard to play it safe/But apart from a few good friends/We don’t take anything on faith/Until later…..//Show, don’t tell/Show me don’t tell me/You’ve figured out the score/Show me don’t tell me/I’ve heard it all before/Show me don’t tell me/I don’t care what you say/Show me don’t tell me//You can twist perceptions/But reality won’t budge/You can raise objections/I will be the judge/And the jury/I’ll give it due reflection/Watching from the fence/Give the jury direction/Based on the evidence/I, the jury……../Show me don’t tell me/Hey, order in the court/Show me don’t tell me/Let’s try to keep it short/Show me don’t tell me/Enough of your demands/Show me don’t tell me/Witness take the stand/Show me don’t tell me/I don’t care what you say/Show me don’t tell me/Let’s see exhibit A
**Love these lyrics, but check out the music too. Alex’s deliciously ornery guitar riffs and Geddy’s sometimes unsettled bass line perfectly represent the intelligent turbulence that arises inside of us when we know that which is being said does not resonate and thus we must turn to our own feisty natures to establish our ground.