Finding Fertile Ground
Where do you turn to find your sense of direction on a complicated path? Your inner strength to continue on? An answer to your question of why? For women and men navigating fertility challenges, these questions are abundant. Why aren’t we getting pregnant? Why me? Why us? What is wrong with me?
Oh, the hours and hours spent pouring over blogs and articles hoping someone has found the magic formula to conception and it is buried deep in the comments section by some random woman in middle America. Obsession. Frustration seeping from the pores, sadness at every birth announcement, tears when you see another ultrasound picture as a Facebook profile - everywhere you go, this is all you see - pregnant bellies, newborn babies, smiling happy new moms. Obsession. If one more person ‘jokes’ about when you might have kids (because, haha, you’re not getting any younger), you may just punch someone in the face. But you won’t - you will smile and gently laugh and save the tears for private. Because hey - isn’t reproduction a private matter (except for those making jokes about yours!)? I know these thoughts and obsessions because this was me.
Making Babies is not always as straightforward as your sex ed teacher scared you into believing. Egg meets Sperm: A baby is born. In Actuality, 1 in 6 couples have fertility issues and in the Boston area the rates are higher, maybe even 1 in 4 couples because of the demographics of the area. If we factor in same-sex couples, single mothers by choice, and surrogacy, the number of people utilizing Assisted Reproductive Therapy (IUI, IVF) is even higher. Throw into the mix that Massachusetts health coverage is mandated to cover costs of Assisted Reproductive Therapy and some of the best IVF clinics in the world, more people are likely to step into this world.
My journey began with a visit to the Fertility Clinic. I was 35 (of ‘geriatric’ maternal age) and had been really trying for 6 months with no luck. Begin the snowball effect here - multiple IUIs, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, IVF cycles, chemical pregnancies, more loss. All along in the background, Tick Tock Tick Tock. We decided to take a break after 3 emotional years of counting days, tracking ovulation, getting hopes up and then have them crash down. We paused, took a breath and re-evaluated why we were doing this. Did we think babies would make us happy? Were we just pushing through because we got caught up in the whirlwind and thought that more we worked at this, the more likely success would be? We had lost sight of our present for the hope of the future.
And then I hit the yoga mat hard and more than ever before. And not for a physical practice: my body was tired and soft, hormonally volatile, injured from the poking and prodding, and heavy with blame. I came to the mat in a gentle, nurturing way - to heal and to come to peace with our situation. Yoga was my mother and she nursed me back to health.
The stress associated with navigating fertility challenges ranks up there with the death of a loved one or loss of a job. Depression, anxiety, hostility, insomnia, and fatigue are common conditions found in women in this situation. Dr. Alice Domar (of the Domar Center here in Boston) cites from her research that ‘it has been shown that women who participate in mind/body programs in conjunction with treatment from their physician have significantly higher pregnancy rates than women who receive medical treatment only.’ The theory is that life is stressful and infertility is adding more stress to life. With all these stress hormones, our bodies are in the sympathetic nervous response (fight or flight), sending oxygenated blood to the heart and limbs (instead of the reproductive organs), because we are being threatened and it is more important to survive than to reproduce. When we access the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) through mind/body practices and the relaxation response, we are reversing the effects of stress and allowing the bodies to recover and heal - bringing the oxygenated blood back to the reproductive organs.
We need to relax. But we don’t know how anymore.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a yoga class just for fertility, just as there is for prenatal and postpartum? A place to come and relearn how to relax! A Sangha of women supporting each other? Fertility supporting poses? Yogic Philosophy to carry us through life with a sense of ease and calm? A place to heal from countless losses? I thought Yes. And this is where Fertile Body Yoga was born.
When I tell people that I teach yoga to support fertility in women, I generally get the same reaction: ‘oh! I didn’t even know that was a thing!’ It isn’t common, and not a lot of studios in the US run a regular weekly class. So what makes fertility yoga different from other yoga classes?
As other restorative classes, we spend time in supported poses to elicit the relaxation response (out of sympathetic and into parasympathetic). Gentle slow flow is incorporated to bring blood flow to the pelvic region, and to feel good in our aching bodies. I check in with each student and offer poses to support where they are in their cycle: whether it be natural or assisted. On a more subtle level, we get the energy gently moving - encouraging the nurturing prana to flow and release blockages. Yogic philosophy is woven throughout the class to provide tools to take off the mat. And above all, the thing that makes this class different than any other is the community of women who are all taking different paths to the same destination.
If we think of the body as the soil in which we’d like to plant our precious seed, and if that soil is stressed and doesn’t contain the right nutrients, those seeds are less likely to flourish. If we tend to the soil, feed it with sunshine and nutrients, the soil is as fertile as possible. The chances of that seed growing into something bigger is more likely. Allow your body to be as fertile as possible. Support your fertility efforts (whether assisted or natural) with nurturing mind/body practices.
With continued practice, obsession slowly turns to tempered curiosity and dedication to having a child, without it controlling every waking moment. You feel good in your body, and you have tools to walk through life with grace and gratitude. You have your people, your Sangha to support you along the way.
And more often than not, those babies arrive in this world. They did for me and countless others.