Overcoming the Struggle of Infertility

A yoga teacher struggling with infertility gets a glimpse of the miracle that is life.
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A yoga teacher struggling with infertility gets a glimpse of the miracle that is life.
pregnant woman doing yoga

As the early-morning light trickled in the window, I sat in the bathroom crying. Another month had passed, and my body had failed me once again. The weight of my sadness, confusion, and distress felt almost too much to bear. I couldn't see clearly enough to accept my present circumstances, and the idea that a larger picture existed seemed out of the question. A single thought dominated my mind: I was not pregnant.

I had wanted to have a baby since my early 20s. Ever since I can remember, I avidly read books on pregnancy and happily baby-sat my friends' kids. When I was 29, I attended the birth of a friend's son; the shocking, raw beauty blew me away. After that I became even more convinced of my destiny to be a mother.

By that time, I had a strong yoga practice. I had taken up yoga to help heal my chronically sore lower back and had quickly noticed that it started feeling better than ever. I also realized that yoga's spiritual component offered valuable tools to help me work through the fear and confusion that had haunted me throughout my life.

I became a yoga teacher and began to teach prenatal yoga. As both my yoga practice and my dreams of motherhood grew, I started to see similarities between birthing and yoga. Both require breath awareness and trusting the process of life. It wasn't until later, however, that I realized I could call on the tools I learned in yoga to get me through the challenges obstructing my path to motherhood.

Just before I turned 31, I met my future husband, Brad. Finally I was emotionally healthy enough to choose a partner who was good for me. We began trying to conceive on our honeymoon. But months passed—three, six, and then nine&mdash:with no pregnancy. I had assumed we would get pregnant right away; I couldn't believe it was taking so long.

Baby Fever

By the time we passed the one-year mark of trying to conceive, I was obsessive about my menstrual cycles and about timing our intercourse accordingly. Brad called it "baby fever." It became challenging to practice things I taught my yoga students, such as observing one's thoughts. I was hostage to my thoughts, all of which centered on getting pregnant. This state of longing and emptiness felt eerily familiar to me. But instead of investigating the return of obsessive tendencies, I marched on in my quest to get pregnant.

Eventually my obstetrician said she'd helped us as much as she could and referred us to an infertility specialist. Brad and I were both poked with needles and prodded by fingers. We had our bodily fluids analyzed and got ultrasounds on various body parts. Doctors injected dye into my fallopian tubes to see if there was a blockage. They found nothing irregular in these tests, and so we were diagnosed with "unexplained infertility." The treatment we received was a combination of two approaches: having a well-timed intrauterine insemination (IUI) and taking a drug that would stimulate my ovaries to release more than their one cyclical egg. The IUI, done during ovulation, would place my husband's sperm deep inside my uterus, thus increasing the chance of fertilization. We decided to go for it.

A Ray of Light

The cost of each treatment was considerable, and I became more stressed. During the fourth treatment, the nurse, sensing tension, encouraged me to focus on my breath and relax as she put the catheter in an uncomfortable but not painful procedure. I had learned over the years to rely on breath awareness like a trusted friend, but now it seemed I had forgotten how. I noticed the irony of a nurse having to remind a yoga teacher to breathe.

As the nurse threaded the catheter inside me and released the sperm, my uterus cramped down hard and sent the sperm right back out, rendering that cycle's procedure useless. I knew that my stress levels were causing my body to react unfavorably to the treatment. But instead of calling on a soothing yoga or meditation practice, I submerged deeper into worry.

Things got worse. The next month I had an excruciating ovarian cyst that halted that month's treatment. My cycles became painful, and menstruation was more unpredictable than ever. I felt alienated by my reproductive system and, in turn, became angry at it. I spent endless hours analyzing my cycles and scoured the Internet for information on infertility and how to cure it. It seemed that the more I worried about not being able to become pregnant, the more my body betrayed my wishes. On top of that, I continued to teach yoga—but had completely abandoned my own personal practice.

One evening I went to dinner with my friend Erin. When Erin dropped me off at home, I broke down in a torrent of tears. I bared all of my frustration and anger that I had been trying to keep from family and friends. I shared with her my feelings about my body's betrayal and the deep, dark fear that I would never become a mother. Erin held my hand and listened attentively to everything I had to say. When I was finished, we sat quietly for a moment. Then she said, "Have you considered that maybe the timing of your conception isn't only up to you? Perhaps there is the spirit of the baby to consider. Who is to say that he or she doesn't have some say in all of this?"

I felt shocked and humbled by her words. I realized how isolated and single-minded I had become. I saw that I had a choice about how to continue on my journey into motherhood. My yoga practice had always encouraged me to have faith that things were as they should be. But somehow, while trying to conceive, I had chosen to abandon this essential belief, instead becoming lost in my fear.
I recognized my talk with Erin for what it was—an important signpost on my path. From that point forward, I chose to see things through the lenses of faith and trust instead of fear and hopelessness. About a week later I was resting on my bed, and the late afternoon sun was peeking through the moving branches and leaves of a tree. Together, the rays of light and the movement of the tree created a dappled glow on the sheets of the bed. Gazing at this soft, dancing light, I couldn't help but think of a baby's spirit.

Open to Possibilities

In the weeks before my last IUI, I started practicing yoga again, mostly the meditative practices of Yin and restorative yogas. Having spent much of the past year sending my reproductive organs messages of fear, I now sought out exercises that offered quietude and healing. I practiced relaxing my cervix, the bottom of the uterus where the catheter would be placed during the upcoming procedure. I visualized an elated meeting of sperm and egg, an easy pregnancy, and a wondrous birth. I'd garnered many skills over a decade of practicing yoga; as I put those skills back into use, my heart overflowed with appreciation for all that I had—rather than longing for what I did not have.

With this renewed spirit, I went to the next appointment. Lying there with my feet in stirrups waiting for the procedure to begin, I noticed a piece of paper taped to the ceiling. "Everything happens at precisely the right moment," it read. Despite having been in the same room on the same table in the same position several times before, I had never noticed this note. I held Brad's hand and sent loving, easy breaths into my reproductive organs. When the procedure was finished the nurse commented on how well it had gone, and I agreed. As Brad and I drove home, I felt confident. Not confident that I was pregnant, but confident that whatever was meant to happen would happen. Brad and I had invited the miracle of life to come to us. Our daughter, Chloe Grace, entered the world nine months afterward.

One year later, Chloe toddled over to a patch of sunlight reflected on our kitchen floor. She bent down in a perfect toddler squat and touched the light, saying "baba," her word for baby.

Cory Sipper, CYT, specializes in therapeutic and prenatal yoga. She is currently finishing writing her book, Yoga for Conception. Learn more at corysnipperyoga.com