by Michele Weiss, LMFT
Realistically, I imagine that there were many factors that lead to where I am now 30 weeks pregnant. While I endured over 100 shots in my abdomen and butt, 4 frozen embryo transfers, and countless failures and disappointments, I believe it was something more than the medication and the needles that got me to a healthy pregnancy- or at least kept me going.
I want to share my story because after hearing the stories of many infertility warriors over the years in my private practice, I feel that we need to be open and honest about the real deal. I want to share my story not just so people who have no understanding (or misunderstanding) of infertility’s devastating reach can get a glimpse into our world, but so that those of us in this community of warriors can feel less alone, less damaged and less ashamed.
My husband and I are carriers of a Jewish genetic disorder that lead us to terminate a pregnancy. This is a choice that, I know, evokes intense feelings and convictions in other people. As a woman who longed for, prayed for, and tried mightily for a healthy baby, the choice just felt like a heart string being ripped from my chest. We decided to pursue PGD and IVF after this loss as our route to building a family. However, trying for a child at 38 years old via PGD and IVF proved to be longer and more complicated than we expected.
What helped me through it? There were the practical things like having a doctor and an acupuncturist whom I trusted implicitly and knew were 100% in the trenches with me (Thank you again and again Dr. Eve Feinberg at Northwestern and Kelly Lyons at Pulling Down the Moon). Acupuncture at PDtM was the only place I truly felt I could deeply and fully relax. In the midst of doctor appointments, my medication regimen, diet, meditation, etc., acupuncture helped me slow down and find my center. For me, the holistic approach to treatment helped me feel like I was doing everything within my power to get to a healthy baby.
There were 3 touchstones that kept me going–
1. Stay away from Should’s
2. Small Joys
It was a pretty simple formula, but enormously difficult to implement in the face of failure after failure.
Stay away from Should’s. I decided to keep going until my doctor kicked me out of the clinic. It can feel like insanity to continue treatment in the face of unending loss and trauma. I reminded myself that I still had options if I could just expand the vision of how my journey to baby “should” go. These are not the idyllic narratives recorded in baby books. They are our valid, messy stories of bravery and passion, nonetheless.
Small Joys. I decided that I would not let infertility rob me of all moments of joy that still existed- even when those moments of joy were teeny, tiny. I continued going to SoulCycle in between cycles because I felt happy on that bike. I cuddled in my dog’s fur. I went out with my girlfriends for water and wine (guess who drank what?). I spent way too much money on delicious teas. I went to see my favorite bands in concert, my needles in tow, and shot myself up with medication in First Aid bathroom stalls. I knew I needed to create joy where I could and to stay connected to the parts of my life that made me feel like “me” while living in the crazy world of infertility.
Hope. I am deeply Jewish in my beliefs and spiritual practices. To my own surprise, during my infertility struggles I found hope in an Evangelical preacher. I would listen daily to “my Christian Rabbi”, as I affectionately referred to him. And minus the Jesus part which did not fit into my Jewish value system, this preacher’s message helped me tap into hope in the face of hopelessness and strength in the face of vulnerability. I think that God understands that when we are in the eye of the storm, we need to be a little radical.
Then, there was the woman who checked me in for my daily blood work and ultrasound at the infertility clinic. I think she could tell that I was particularly beaten down one morning. After the standard registration procedure, she slipped me a small blue post-it note that read, “Thanks for always coming in with a warm smile. You make my day and I pray for your family to increase with a new baby. TRUST”. Her kindness touched me and reminded me to always cling to hope. I still carry her note with me in my wallet so that I can get a dose of hope if I ever need it.
Even though I am a therapist who specializes in infertility and perinatal challenges, I do not really believe in advice when it comes to these matters. I have heard enough stories to know that each one of us has our own very unique heartache and very personal struggle. All I can share is what helped me. I was fierce and radical as a means to keep going. I expanded my vision of family-building when it wasn’t going the way I thought it would or should. I sought hope in trusted professionals and strangers, alike (even in unexpected places). As I sit here with my 7 month bump, I feel grateful that mine was the messy, painful, beautiful story that it turned out to be. And I will soon be proud and humbled to write that story in my daughter’s baby book.
Michele Weiss LMFT 3166 N. Lincoln Avenue, Suite 202 Chicago, IL 60657 312-213-4690 email@example.com Monday, Wednesday and Friday appointments available www.mweisstherapy.com
by Amie Shimmel Handa, D.C., Dipl. Ac., L.Ac
People talk about stress all the time, and we all know that it is bad for us, but most of us don’t realize the long term consequences of chronic stress. It can impact our fertility, our nervous and immune system and even our gut. But what does that really mean to us?!
I am going to break down what happens during a stress response and hopefully the next time you start to feel stressed you can take some action before the stress starts to control you,When you experience any kind of stress, physical, emotional , or mental, your body processes it the same- through the adrenal glands. When you encounter a perceived threat, (could be a work deadline, something going wrong with your body or life, or even something your body ate that was detrimental, your hypothalamus, a tiny region at your brain’s base, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure. Cortisol alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system (fertility) and growth processes. Did you know that 70 % of your immune system is in your gut so when cortisol affects the gut it’s also impacting the immune system? Cortisol, long term is highly inflammatory. When inflammation is chronic and it’s been around for a while, it can even trigger an autoimmune disease. As a result of this chronic stress your body continuously cycles through periods of high inflammation, which can damage the gut lining and make vulnerable to pathogens like bacteria, yeast, and parasites and a suppressed immune system.
When the digestive system is compromised and harmful bacteria or yeast multiply and grows, the neurotransmitter “Serotonin “production is lowered and it is your “feel good, well being” hormones so your mood and happiness is reduced from this stress response. We know in holistic medicine the connection between cortisol (stress) and fertility. “We know now that stress hormones such as cortisol disrupt signaling between the brain and the ovaries, which can trip up ovulation,” says Sarah Berga, MD, an infertility specialist and vice chair of women’s health at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The good news is you don’t have to live with chronic stress. There are numerous actions you can start today to reduce your stress. One of the best ways is through regular acupuncture treatments. Each time you receive acupuncture, especially ear acupuncture, you are stimulating the parasympathetic system the “rest and relaxation” system. Other great action steps are massage, yoga and meditation. My best piece of advice for stress is being kind to yourself and knows you are doing a great job!
Try an Initial Acupuncture Consultation in April and get a follow-up session for FREE ($95 value)! Call us to learn more at: 312-321-0004 or book online today with the promo code BOGO19!
By Brooke Laufer, Psy.D.
Motherhood, Not What You Thought
Mental health issues are among the most common complications related to childbearing, and yet it is still a topic that is largely misunderstood. A conversation I had with my dentist recently reminded me how little the general public knows about perinatal mental health issues. “Oh,” she said, “I just thought women cried a little bit, but you know, they’re usually just so happy to be mothers, right?!” We want to believe becoming a mother is an absolute joy. Motherhood is expected to be a fulfilling time for a woman, when a woman is in her most natural role–the role she was meant to play as suggested by film and other media–when her true purpose is determined. In reality, having a child is a profound, frightening, and exhilarating experience at the boundary of life, from which one comes back a transformed person. Most women bear this monumental transition to motherhood with some hardship. Experiences range from tearfulness, exasperation, and nervousness to more extreme feelings of obsessiveness, helplessness, and even murderous fantasies. While many women will have what is labeled the Baby Blues, 20% of women will have a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, a debilitating psychological experience that interrupts their lives. With a growing amount of research and education, we begin to clearly see what distinguishes a true Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder from the non-clinical experience of the Baby Blues.
10 years ago I was as unaware as my dentist of what could happen to a woman’s state of mind when she was faced with childrearing, so after my daughter was born I learned in a shocking and destabilizing way–the way most women learn–what a Perinatal Anxiety Disorder was. For me, it started with anxiety attacks while in my third trimester. I shook uncontrollably in the evenings and experienced an overwhelming sensation of claustrophobia during the day. I found a good psychiatrist who helped me understand that taking an SSRI (the one I’d gone off when I got pregnant) would relieve my anxiety and would not hurt my baby. Then after a fairly uncomplicated birth, I was supposed to be thrilled, but I had a new baby who didn’t sleep well. I loved her, but I wasn’t completely attached to her; I was also ragged and jumpy. When she was 4 months old, I started having intrusive thoughts that deeply disturbed me. At first they were like small blips on a radar, like thoughts from the periphery of my mind that I could barely hear. But then the blips grew larger and included images. I could clearly hear thoughts telling me that harm would come to the baby. I could see my baby being sexually violated. I had thoughts that my husband and I would be the ones to sexually harm our baby daughter. I could barely tolerate these thoughts as they began popping in with greater frequency. Luckily, my psychiatrist answered his phone the day I called beside myself in tears. He calmly told me that what I was experiencing was Postpartum OCD, he told me about Karen Kleiman’s book This Isn’t What I Expected, and he raised the dosage of my Sertraline. I was a therapist, a clinical psychologist, and I was learning for the first time what a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder was; this was not the Baby Blues. I recovered from my Postpartum OCD, but my life was changed forever. Since that time I have done what I can to research perinatal mental health, to immerse myself in the literature and new information we have on this condition, and to talk about it. Talk to women, to friends, to family, and especially to my clients, letting them know they are not alone, they are not crazy, and they can still be the mothers they want to be.
The term ‘Baby Blues,’ first used in Nicholson J. Eastman’s 1940 best-selling baby care book Expectant Motherhood, is an umbrella term referring to any emotional experience a woman has in the period after bringing home the baby. It is no surprise this massive life transition, along with sleep disturbance, disruption of routine, and emotions from the childbirth experience itself will contribute to how a mom feels. Her experience is also affected by the hormone changes that occur first during pregnancy, and again after a baby is born. The levels of progesterone and allopregnanolone rise during pregnancy and plummet after childbirth, and this drop is thought to contribute to emotional dysregulation. These short-term postpartum symptoms include weepiness or crying for no apparent reason, impatience, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue, sadness, mood changes, and poor concentration.The informal diagnosis of Baby Blues requires that these symptoms last no more than 2-4 weeks, occurring for a few minutes up to a few hours each day, and typically going away with rest, support, and time. Baby Blues rarely get in the way of daily life or need intervention from a medical provider.
“A baby opens you up, is the problem. No way around it unless you want to pay someone else to have it for you. There’s before and there’s after. To live in your body before is one thing. To live in your body after is another. Some deal by attempting to micromanage; some go crazy; some zone right the hell on out. Or all of the above. A blessed few resist any of these, and when you meet her, you’ll know her immediately by the look in her eyes: weary, humbled, wobbly but still standing. Present, if faintly.” Elisa Albert, After Birth (2015)
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
When a disturbing emotional state lasts beyond 2-4 weeks, clinicians should start to assess for a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Formerly referred to as Postpartum Depression, or simply “postpartum,” we now use the term “Perinatal” because the symptoms can occur not only one year postpartum, but also during pregnancy, or after a pregnancy loss. We say “Mood and Anxiety Disorders” instead of “depression” because it more accurately covers the range of experiences women have. These include major depression, generalized anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and postpartum psychosis.
Although there is no clear indicator of who will experience a PMAD, previous mental health issues, trauma, and lack of resources are some of the risk factors. Important to note: PMADs do not affect just biological mothers. Growing research shows us that men experience postpartum anxiety and depression. In fact a client of mine came in a few weeks after her baby was born and reported that her husband was acting strangely: yelling a lot, throwing pillows at the wall when the baby cried, uncontrollably crying, and openly fantasizing about leaving the baby out in the snow. We were able to get him in for a session with her and help him understand that he needed help. The couple was surprised that he was having postpartum rage, while she was adapting well. He actively resented his child for destroying their former life, while she’d become protective of the child. Eventually, with months of treatment, he was able to love and attach to his daughter.
Similarly, adoptive parents may report symptoms of PMADs: it can be particularly confusing to resent or feel disconnected to an adopted baby whom you wanted and planned for and possibly spent much or most of your savings on. Likewise, LGBTQ families who may have worked for years on fertility treatments or with a surrogate to finally bring home a baby are also vulnerable to PMADs and should not be ignored as a population worth assessing.
Perinatal depression mimics that of a major depressive disorder but with certain symptoms specific to mothering. A woman may be withdrawn from the baby and her family, not want to hold the baby or have difficulty bonding, have a flatness of facial expression and voice, exhibit excessive tearfulness, or severe self loathing. She may have a belief that she can’t handle motherhood or be a good mother, she may be unable to enjoy most of her life, or she may believe her family would be better off without her.
A client of mine described feeling like she couldn’t see herself in the family picture. She vacillated between dissociation and depression. This mom had twin baby girls with whom she was not bonding. She felt like a machine part going through the mechanical motions of caretaking. After her first session of unburdening herself of the sadness and shame she carried, she was able to start to locate herself. Her experience points to the invisibility some women feel as mothers. The erasure of self to motherhood is well noted by the poet Alice Notley:
“For two years, there’s no me here….
Two years later I obliterate myself again
having another child” (1972)
Perinatal Anxiety and PTSD
Perinatal anxiety, or anxiety during and after pregnancy, has received little attention compared to its well-known cousin, postpartum depression, yet anxiety symptoms are more frequently reported. Worrying, of course, is a normal part of new motherhood–checking that the car seat is secure or that the baby is still breathing, for example–but if it interferes with a woman’s life so that she cannot think about other things or take care of herself or her baby, then it verges on mental illness.
For women who are prone to anxiety, the information-saturated era we live in is loaded with potential stressors about conceiving, being pregnant, and parenting, requiring women to be vigilant about what information she is exposed to. An anxiety disorder can be spotted in the repetitive fears and questions moms have, in extreme over-protectiveness such as not letting anyone hold the new baby, or in the too well put-together mask some moms wear, hiding an internal world out of control.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the perinatal period refers to past trauma resurfacing during the perinatal period, including flashbacks and nervous system responses (freeze, flee, fight) that can interrupt caring for a new baby. What many doctors do not realize is that women who have experienced sexual trauma may have fear of a baby coming out of the vaginal canal, a fear of male providers, and/or a fear of being alone with baby.
Perinatal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorders are possibly the most insidious of the postpartum conditions because they include the intrusive thoughts that haunt many mothers. Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that happen frequently and randomly, feel uncontrollable, and are often disturbing. These disturbing thoughts, or obsessions, can lead moms to engage in repetitive behaviors, or compulsions, to try to ease their anxiety. Many moms with OCD are plagued by repetitive fears of harm coming to their babies, possibly due to the extreme helplessness of a newborn baby. It is horrifying for mothers to have uncontrollable thoughts and images of their baby tumbling down the stairs or falling out a window, or images of themselves smothering the baby or sexually abusing their own child. Because of the disturbing nature of these thoughts, it can be the most difficult disorder to admit, yet, as was my experience, by breaking the silence women can find tremendous relief in the normalization of Perinatal OCD.
Postpartum Psychosis is the most rare of perinatal conditions, occurring in .1% of moms, but it is the most dangerous. Psychosis is a break from reality that can happen over time but can also become a medical emergency very quickly. As with Postpartum OCD, a mom may experience intrusive and paranoid thoughts, but instead of being disturbed by them, she may begin to identify with them. For example, a new mother may have the thought that someone is going to steal her baby, so she acts on it by hiding the baby or running away with the baby. Unfortunately, it is typically after a postpartum psychotic episode has ended badly that the media gives it attention. Just a few years ago a woman who I know from my hometown was arrested for the death of her 14 month old boy. After months of working full time, bad day care experiences for her baby, an unstable partner, and increasing symptoms of OCD and paranoia, she came to believe she and her son would be better off dead. After she suffocated her baby she attempted to overdose on medications, but she survived. Even though the she had an expert forensic psychiatrist diagnosed her with Altruistic Filicide, deeming her Not Guilty By Mental Defect, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Unfortunately, there is still little understanding or mitigation done for mothers convicted of infanticide, resulting in excruciating treatment and excessive sentencing.
Women may find it difficult to reach out for help, as it is taboo to admit you are unhappy or unnatural at motherhood. To the extent that women in our society are still seen as playing their most natural role as mothers, to acknowledge unhappiness or discomfort may have high stakes relating to women’s own identities and how others may see them. A mom may fear being seen as a “bad mother,” which would ostracize her from mainstream society. With more education and awareness around the frequency and epidemiology of perinatal mental health issues, much of this silencing can be alleviated. What is essential to understand is that a woman herself should not be blamed–not by her providers, her family, or herself–for a perinatal condition. We often have little control over the occurrence of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, but we can do much about its treatment.
Psychotherapy and Medication
With a proper diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, good treatment can support a full recovery. The best form of treatment is individual psychotherapy that reduces stigma and shame and normalizes the client’s experience. Besides reassuring women that it’s normal to feel ambivalent during pregnancy and motherhood, I also educate each woman about her particular diagnosis. Women often feel desperately alone and deeply ashamed when they experience PMAD symptoms, especially ones that are less talked about like rage or intrusive thoughts. I reassure my clients that these inner experiences don’t indicate their worthiness as mothers but are instead treatable symptoms of common disorders. Women express tremendous relief when they realize that their scariest and most shameful symptom is something others also experience–and something we know how to treat. Helping women accept all the parts of themselves will reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. One important goal I look to when working with PMADs is helping women regain a sense of self. It may not be the self they knew before the baby but a new self that emerges in the transformation. Questions we consider: How does having a baby disrupt a mother’s sense of who she is, of her body, her understanding of life and death, her relation to the world and to her sense of independence, her experience of fear and hope and time, and the structure of her experience altogether?
Therapy may include the new baby, so that I can support a secure attachment and help the mom experience the infant’s behavior without insecure projection and negative interpretation. I may recommend infant massage or, inversely, setting the baby down for an extended period. Therapy may also include the partner or other family members. Marital disharmony is the most commonly cited non-biological cause and consequence of PMADs, so by bringing in and educating the partner on PMADs, a mom is more able to be understood and get her needs met at home. Group therapy, such as a moms support group, can be an excellent way to reduce shame and isolation, as it can provide universality, catharsis, socialization, and good information.
Additionally, psychopharmacology is an effective form of treatment for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Current research and an updated classification system (no longer the A, B, C labels for medications that were often misleading) suggest many medications are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There is still damaging stigma around medication and pregnancy that needs to be fought with accurate information. Reducing a previously prescribed medication for pregnancy or changing a medication during breastfeeding are potentially misguided recommendations that can put a women at risk of relapse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association agree that treating the mother’s health is the priority; the trace amounts of medication that a fetus or nursing baby will receive should not keep a mother from the medical treatment she needs.
Although public awareness of postpartum depression has increased in recent years thanks to celebrities like Brooke Shields and Serena Williams, many people–including therapists–are still learning that PMADs are serious and pervasive experiences. When I started talking about my Postpartum OCD experience one of my aunts told me the story of my grandmother, who had three children in four years. The day after they brought home the third baby my grandfather got in his car to go to work, as he started to pull out of the driveway my grandmother came running outside and threw herself on the hood of his car. She spent the next 7 months in a sanitarium, a nicer version of an asylum in a neighboring state, and came home to her children who were being cared for by a strict German nanny. It’s possible my grandmother was experiencing depression or anxiety or even psychosis, they sent her away and no one discussed it. Although awareness and treatment have improved since the harsh days of my dear grandmother, perinatal mental health is still overdue for the attention it deserves, considering women are doing some of the most laborious and important work of our world.
Brooke Laufer is a Clinical Psychologist who has been practicing psychotherapy since 2005. Brooke began her clinical work in psychiatric wards and then in schools with adolescents and their families. After having her first child Brooke had a disturbing Postpartum OCD experience, which inspired her to begin researching, understanding, and specializing in the treatment of perinatal mental illness. She has a private practice in Evanston, where she continues to treat adolescents and adults, specializing in perinatal mental health issues.Brooke Laufer, Psy.D.
By Cathy McCauley, LMT
Spring arrives this month, and with it, more cold days (perhaps even snow)! But March also brings the promise of new life. I love this time of year. The ground starts to smell fresh and ripe. Small green buds begin to swell from the earth reaching up, up, up. Birds chatter in the trees. The sun stays in the sky a little longer each day. After a long, cold winter of hibernation, spring restores nature’s beauty.
Spring inspires us to restore ourselves, too and these self-care techniques will lead you to restoration of mind, body and spirit.
—Hydrate. Drink a glass or two of water first thing in the morning. Keeping yourself hydrated helps boost your mood, improves brain power and protects you against disease.
—Make a gratitude list. Spending just a few minutes a day writing down what you are grateful for can dramatically shift your day. The more gratitude you have, the more open to abundance you become.
—Breathe. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice breathing. There are so many benefits! Among them, diaphragmatic breathing alleviates stress, reduces pain, strengthens internal muscles and moves blood to organs and tissues. If you’re not sure how to get started, schedule an Open the Breath (™) massage to receive some hands-on breath work coaching.
—Stretch. Five to 10 minutes of stretching in the morning increases energy levels, enhances circulation, reduces injury and centers your mind. Even better is a regular yoga practice. Pulling Down the Moon’s yoga classes can give you a jump start!
—Eliminate something from your diet that isn’t serving you. Instead of overhauling your entire diet, start by taking out one food that doesn’t nourish your body. Replace it with a different item that supports your desire for restoration. Learn even more by working with a nutritionist!
Do you have ideas on how to restore yourself or tips for others? Please share them! I look forward to seeing you in the center. Many wishes for a beautiful spring!
by Christine Davis, Acupuncture Director LAc MSOM Dipl OM
February is American Heart Awareness Month. In western/traditional medicine, the heart is obviously a very important organ! If you have concerns about your heart, see your doctor!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Heart is the most precious of all the organs. It is considered the Emperor/Ruler of the body and all other organs contribute energy to make sure that it can function as best as possible. The Heart is responsible for circulation of blood, but also stores the Shen (Spirit) which generates qi (pronounced “chee”) and is the root of life. The Heart is associated with the element of fire (remember in the English Patient when Hana reads “The heart is an organ of fire?” It’s true!), it’s flavor is bitter, it’s direction is South, it’s emotion is joy, it’s season is Summer, and it’s color is red.
Your acupuncturist is excellent at seeing how the Heart (in TCM physiology) is functioning. Changes in color, texture or coating on the tip of the tongue tell us about Heart health. The pulse that is felt on the left wrist right at the crease is the Heart pulse. It should be not too weak and not too strong, not too fast and not too slow. Like Goldilocks, the Middle Path is the way to health.
Here are some ways to keep your heart healthy:
- Laugh often. The Heart in TCM is associated with the emotion of joy. While too much joy (mania) can injure the heart, it is usually a great idea to laugh and smile as much as possible. Try Laughter Yoga – it’s a way to “fake it ‘til you feel it” to bring back joy to the moment.
- Place your hands over your heart and feel it beat. Say “thank you” to your heart and express gratitude toward yourself. It will feel silly at first, but the more you do it, the more you will see how powerful loving yourself can be.
- Daydream! Allowing your mind to wander at bedtime or other quiet moments can clear the spirit and heart of emotional & mental junk that can clutter your mind and muddle your ability to manifest your desires.
- Take long walks. This is good exercise which is great for your heart and clears the mind. Try clasping your hands at your low back as you walk to open the chest/heart area to the energy around you and brings the tips of the fingers, an area associated with the heart, together.
- Break a sweat! Getting your heart rate up (check with your doctor before starting a new routine) is the best way to keep your heart strong.
- Reduce sugar intake. Sugar has been strongly associated with increased rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other major health concerns.
- In an emergency situation involving the heart, while you are waiting for help to arrive, try opening and closing your hands making sure your fingers completely curl in and touch your palms. Open and close for at least 5 minutes or as long as possible.
by Cassie Harrison RYT RYPT
February. Romance is in the air…or is it? Students in my Yoga for Fertility class audibly groan at the mere mention of sex. Especially if I suggest they have more of it. I get it. When trying to conceive, more often than not, sex becomes a chore. A root canal, really anything, is preferred over seeking passion in the bedroom. Mind you, this suggestion isn’t just about sex, it’s more than that. It’s about regaining an intimate connection with each other. Reminding each other that we are not just pawns in the bedroom, but two people (who are both struggling and who need each other more than ever) to regain trust, love, and compassion. Join me on on a journey to find more quality time in the bedroom.
Let’s go down that rabbit hole to open your minds to the thought of sex. The folks over at SexLoveYoga said “We don’t leave room in our mind for sex. It’s filled with other thoughts, but none devoted to sex, not sexy sex anyway.” This begs the question, what kind of thought comes to mind when you think about sex with your partner? Wait, am I being presumptive? Have you even thought about it, that is, outside the window of time to reproduce? Let’s start there. Now that you thought about it, what came to mind? Still having trouble, maybe this webinar, Sex Kitten from Tami Quinn, Co-Founder of Pulling Down the Moon, and Dr Shameless of Vibrant will help remind you what sexy sex is, and no it’s not what you’ve been doing!
Now that you’re thinking about sexy sex again, let’s tap into desire. It’s there, but it’s buried under all the other stuff that’s entered your life recently. Doctor appointments, medications, shots, ultrasounds, you have literally placed your sex life in a petri dish, not sexy! In order to get back on each other, what I mean is, no I meant that! Desire will not happen on it’s own, you must create it. Kissing. Touching. Snuggling. Spooning (my personal favorite). Effort will need to be made by both of you to receive the other. It’s easy to take each others role for granted during the fertility process. If your sex talk resembles “It’s time, hurry get in here, now perform!” Add pressure to that and then…nothing, mood killed by pressure, followed by disappointment, because it feels like an opportunity missed. This doesn’t have to be your story. Repeat, this doesn’t have to be your story. Hold each other, then write or name out loud a sexy sex bucket list. Should that fail to get your desire flowing, there’s always partner yoga. You can do it anytime, anywhere according to https://www.badyogi.com/.
Conceiving, sex and love making, what do these three have in common? Intimacy! According to Google, sex is an intimate act (convenient!). You can also show intimacy through closeness, rapport, and companionship just to name a few. These literal textbook definitions form the foundation of your relationship, deep stuff… my point is you might not be ready to have sexy sex, but by opening yourself to intimacy, the kind that starts by touching in the kitchen, a kiss before running out the door, and sharing your feelings (open book is my philosophy!). This just might allow for a deeper connection between you and your partner, something I imagine is needed now more than ever.
If you can do anything for each other this Valentines day, more important than giving a box of chocolates (I can’t believe I said that…) is giving your time to each other. Try a free couples massage, acupuncture, essential oil, and aphrodisiac snack included Date Night event at Pulling Down the Moon! Try this fertility-friendly Dinner for Two at home! In all seriousness, remember to make time for each other, give each other a break (you are a team after all) and get back to your sexual roots and reconnect. Start, by thinking about sex again…now make it sexier.
*Visit Cassie in Buffalo Grove on Feb 28th at 6pm for the FREE “Yoga for Fertility Intro Workshop“! Learn breathing and relaxation techniques featuring Q&A with Dr Alison K Rodgers of Fertility Centers of Illinois!
by Alison Lautz, LCSW, CYT
Hi all! Happy February aka the ‘Love Month’ or for all my friends living in Chicago the ‘Get me the Heck Out of this Frozen Tundra Month’. I come to you not as a fellow fertility patient, but as a therapist, yoga teacher, support, and girlfriend.
It’s no secret that trying to conceive can take a real toll on your sex life and relationship. Struggling to have a baby when you want one can transform sex from a fun and pleasurable activity to just another task within our very busy lives. Mix in the complex emotions that infertility can cause for both partners, and it’s not a shock that many find their relationship adversely affected by the feat of getting pregnant. The co-founder and owner of Pulling Down the Moon, Beth Heller, once told me “A strong partnership can survive even the most difficult of fertility journeys”. Please take a moment to think about what that means to you. Then take some more time to think about some of the moments when you have felt stress or tension build with your partner during your journey to conception.
The stellar news is that you don’t have to let infertility destroy your sex life or negatively impact your relationship. You can keep your relationship strong, no matter what the outcome of your infertility treatments are, by putting your love and friendship before anything else. Don’t neglect the spark or butterfly feelings that you’ve always had in your relationship, that ‘tingle’ that made you want to commit yourselves to only each other. Keep having sex just for fun, respect your partner’s privacy, and look for other ways to cultivate intimacy and fun between the two of you.
- Keep the Fun in Sex
Many couples who are trying to conceive get so wrapped up in the baby-making logistics of sex (ovulation strips, basal body temperature, supplement regimen, fertility friendly positions) that they don’t remember that they actually used to enjoy sex before they decided to try for a baby. Even if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby for years, you should still have sex just for fun. Make a clear distinction between sex that you’re having for procreative purposes and recreational lovemaking. Reserve specific positions for procreative sex, or only have procreative sex when you’re fertile. Spice things up by having recreational love making in other rooms in the house and leave the procreative sex for the bedroom
- Respect Your Partner’s Privacy
When you’re experiencing any major life struggle like infertility, it’s healthy and normal to want to vent with your friends, co workers, and family. Please proceed with caution as sharing with your personal support networks could lead you to divulge aspects of your sex life or relationship that your partner wants to keep private. First of all, talk to your partner before you talk to your friends or loved ones. Ascertain whether your partner is uncomfortable with the thought of others knowing the details of your fertility struggles. You should still be able to talk about your frustration, sadness, guilt or other feelings about infertility, without divulging private details that could potentially embarrass your partner.
- Put Your Relationship First
Whether or not your fertility treatments are successful, you and your partner still want to stay married and happy, right? That won’t happen if you don’t put the relationship first. Of course, becoming parents is important, too, but you should make nurturing your relationship the main priority throughout the course of your infertility treatments. Continue to bond over trying new things together, taking trips (but avoiding the Zika), cuddling, cooking together, or just a much needed date night (try the FREE Valentine’s Day Date Night at Pulling Down the Moon!) on a regular schedule.
- Have some fun with something like a ‘Spontaneity Jar’
What does this mean? Each partner lists ten fun, random, yet still attainable things that they enjoy on slips of paper. When you have a free hour, it’s one partner turn to draw out of the jar. These “activities” can be as simple as go on a neighborhood walk for a glass of wine (I will be hosting a yoga & wine night March 7th!) or ice cream, massage each other (here is a how-to couples massage video!), watch a stand-up comedian on Netflix, or take a yoga class together. Or you can get really goofy, the possibilities are endless.
- Self Care
What does this mean to you? Please don’t neglect your body and mind during your fertility journey. You may need time with your girlfriends, a hot bath, an hour of quiet reading, a ‘sick day’ from work, a massage or spa day, a regular yoga practice, a support group (Shine is great), or talk therapy with a therapist outside of your inner circle who can offer unbiased insight and support.
Want to explore taking care of yourself with therapy or a regular yoga practice? Alison Lautz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Yoga Teacher (including Yoga for Fertility and private yoga at Pulling Down the Moon Chicago) in private practice in River North. Alison has over twelve years of experience working in healthcare settings in the areas of perinatal mood disorders, adjustment to parenthood, loss, grief, infertility, anxiety, depression, chronic illness, sexual assault, domestic violence, life transitions, and relationship shifts. Here more from Alison on staying connected with your partner while TTC at this FREE Shine Together: In Person Meet-up with Shine Fertility at Pulling Down the Moon Chicago on Feb 12th!
Alison specializes in helping clients through life transitions, relationship shifts, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and self esteem issues. She has a passion for working with women experiencing perinatal mood disorders, infertility, high risk pregnancy, perinatal loss, and adjustment to motherhood. Prior to starting her own practice in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, Alison worked for many years with pregnant and postpartum women at Northwestern Medicine’s Prentice Women’s Hospital.
Alison uses her warm personality, training, and experience to help clients find peace and success. This allows them to become the best version of themselves. She uses a client centered approach combined with a variety of therapeutic techniques including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Mindfulness, and Strengths Based Therapy. She strives to create a comfortable space which allows for individualized growth and change.
Alison is a Psychotherapist, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, an Accredited Case Manager, and a Registered Yoga Teacher. Alison obtained her Bachelors of Arts from University of Iowa followed by her Masters in Healthcare Focused Social Work from University of Illinois at Chicago. Please reach out to learn more about how Alison can help support you on your journey to parenthood.
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by Elizabeth DeAvilla RD
When it comes to setting goals for the new year, especially nutrition goals, there’s some tricks of the trade to keep in mind to help ensure success.
Making Positive Goals
When I set out to make goals for myself, I always get excited. it’s a new opportunity to take steps in health, education, fitness, emotional health, all for the better. One thing that I do try to keep in the back of my mind is what can I add to my life. I find that positive goals work best, not deprivation goals. Think of the feelings that you have when you make the goal of exercising for 20 minutes/3 days a week. I get excited about new workout clothes, about positive body image. Now think of the goal of giving up pizza. Not the same warm fuzzy feelings! Even as a registered dietitian, that “goal” sounds awful. Know that while we’re all trying to move in a positive direction, when we talk about giving up things that are commonly staples, even if just weekly staples, this can have a negative impact on our views, especially when it comes to food. If it’s something that weighing on you, maybe change that goal to incorporating more vegetables as pizza toppings, and everyone wins.
Making Smart Goals
We’ve all asked ourselves what can I do to give myself the best chance of achieving what I’m setting out to do? Start with changing the goal you’re setting. When our goals are ones that are commonly called Smart Goals, this can provide us with the structure to make even the most difficult tasks, a bit easier.
Specific: What is the exact goal that you’re looking to accomplish? When people come to me with the end goal of “being healthy” I have to take a step back. As a practitioner, my ultimate goal for patients is always health, but that is such a broad term. Is it achieving a healthy BMI? Is it lowering a certain laboratory value? Is it to finish a 5k? by setting a specific goal, this will help you and your team of experts devise the best game plan for success.
Measurable: Lets go back to the goal of “being healthy.” What does that even mean? Is it fitting into the pants we wore in high school? Bringing our blood pressure down to a healthy number? Take what you would like to achieve and put a number to it, a time line, give yourself some accountability. By this February 28th, I will have incorporated breakfast into my daily meals at least 5 days a week. Small supportive actions such as purchasing a calendar to track all the successes would make your successes even more visible.
Attainable: I once had asked a small child what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said a unicorn. Now in her head, as a 6 year old, this was totally attainable–in my current lifetime, not so much. When setting goals, we need to make sure that what is desired is actually something that we can accomplish, and do so in a healthy manner. Is it obtainable for me to grow 5 inches and become the next big super model, probably not, but achieving a healthy weight loss goal of 10lbs over the next 3 months? Totally do-able in my case.
Time Bound: Sometime in the next year, I’m going to run a 5K. We all remember how long a year is, right? 365 days to make a change, and lets be honest, “Tomorrow” is a pretty common date when we’re trying to make some changes. By changing that date to April 30th, this then allows for us to make that plan, and take the steps necessary with respect to time to allow for success.
Making Permanent Goals
They say it takes 2 weeks to make a habit, right? Well… sort of, first we have to get to where we want to be. In terms of that breakfast goal, yes, after a few weeks of incorporating that first meal of the day, your body will adjust, and you’ll being to feel those hunger cues bright and early. That “being healthy” goal? We’re going to have to establish a new baseline first. By taking the small steps that we outlined earlier, this will have the best chance of becoming a success. Lets start with incorporating more vegetables on our pizza, then maybe adding in those workouts a few times a week, then voila, we ran that 5k in April, and by May, we’re proud of our success! But it doesn’t end there! We need to keep up with our new health(ier) lifestyle, and this means maintenance. Maybe this would be continuing with the workouts (try a FREE Yoga for Fertility community class!) as we would with any other appointment that we make, by adding more vegetables to our grocery list every time we shop. Pretty soon these are all going to be more habitual and for that we all deserve a pat on the back.
by Marie Davidson, Ph.D.
As I write this it is actually the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated in Christian tradition as the day the Wise Men arrived from the East after the birth of Christ, led to their destination by a star. The Merriam Webster Dictionary also offers these definitions of epiphany: “A sudden perception of the essential meaning of something;” an intuitive grasp of reality through something simple or striking;” and “an illuminating realization.”
Many years ago, as measured in ordinary time, but not all that long ago as measured in emotional impact, I experienced an epiphany that made all the difference to me as a suffering fertility patient. I dwelled in distress much of the time, my thoughts haunted by the many challenges of treatment, the succession of disappointments, and, worst of all, the complete absence of any certainty about how this fertility drama would turn out.
One morning, my moment of epiphany arrived quite suddenly. No wise men or wise women arrived, and no guiding star appeared, just a swiftly dawning realization of what I was really going through—right now—in my life. To this day I cannot say for sure what brought on this intuitive grasp of reality at that particular moment. I suppose it was the result of many, many months of efforts to not embrace my situation. My distress had served to only highlight my sadness and anger and to keep me from moving past that. It was just no longer a reasonable option to keep this exhausting process going. So, I had a serious, mildly humorous chat with myself.
This is what I said:
“OK, Marie, this is what’s going on in your life right now—you and your husband have been in a battle against infertility (and against each other, truthfully.) Infertility sucks, but it’s what you’ve got. You didn’t cause it, and you may or may not overcome it in the way you hope. You don’t know the end of this drama you are in because the screenplay isn’t finished. But there is something you can do, and that is to accept the role you’ve been assigned and act it out as skillfully and graciously as you can. Inhabit the script! Be the star in your own drama, dammit!”
Or something like that, it’s pretty close to the internal conversation I had. I definitely know I made a conscious decision to star in my own story. I would be the guiding star leading me to my unknown destination.
My life improved after that. Far from wonderful and still plenty of stress and anxiety, but I had a peace of mind that had eluded me for a long time. I rather think I excelled in playing myself—the woman who happened to be an infertility patient; the woman who accepted her inability to control the next act in the play I was starring in; the woman who was now able to experience the other parts of her life without the dark film of infertility blocking the view.
I did not know then that my life’s work would be a career counseling fertility patients. What a privilege it has been. A number of years ago, I met a woman who had come to talk about family-building options. She’d been through a lot of treatment with no success. I noticed how even-keeled she was as she spoke of her history and I commented, “You seem to be handling all of this pretty well.” She said, “Well, you should have seen me a year ago, when I was a complete basket-case.” I asked, “So, what happened?” Her answer was, “One day I decided to accept the basic background reality of my life.” I smiled. “You had an epiphany.”
Over the years, I have found it very useful to apply the same kind of epiphany to other life situations—the ones you can’t control but must live in and through. Whatever it is I struggle with, I try my best to be as skilled and gracious as I can be, even if I won’t win any Golden Globes. Strangely, the experience of an infertility journey can give you a valuable perspective on how to deal with the inevitable brick-bats of life.
Marie Davidson, Ph.D.
Fertility Centers of Illinois
Dr. Marie Davidson is a licensed clinical psychologist and patient educator. She specializes in counseling individuals and couples who are coping with infertility, and has provided counseling services to patients, donors, and surrogates since 1992. Dr. Davidson earned her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois in 1988. She facilitates patient education seminars on numerous topics such as considering egg donation and cracking the door to adoption, leads several women and couples support groups, and is widely published in the fertility field. She has been an invited speaker at many professional meetings.
Her personalized care and detailed understanding of the treatment process have been a welcome and supportive resource to many couples and individuals as they seek to grow a family.
By Cassie Harrison, Yoga Team Lead RYT, RPYT
A new year, new you! We often make a New Year’s resolution at the start of a new year in hopes of making changes to improve our lives during the coming year. What starts off as a optimistic plan for the future, Go to the Gym More (i.e. You’re Not in Shape!) or Call Mom and Dad More (Guilt!) comes from a place within us that says we are not good enough and rarely works. What starts off a noteworthy concept, instead becomes a list of our faults. What about instead trading in those old and (albeit) familiar ideas instead for an intention or Sankalpa. A yogis new year’s resolution.
Sankalpa is an intention formed by the mind and heart, it’s what’s behind the emotion of the traditional new year’s resolution. To make a Sankalpa is to make an intention or to resolve (a resolution). A sankalpa allows you praise your effort rather than focus on what you are doing wrong. This is a change from how traditional new year’s resolutions tend to leave us feeling guilty and mad at ourselves for breaking them. Release yourself from holding onto the past and instead create an intention full of possibility for the future.
Start by looking at you resolutions (I know you already made them!) and note how they make you feel (anxious, mad, jealous!). You might need to journal about these feelings over the next few days before this last step. When ready, ask yourself how would you like to feel this year and turn those results oriented resolutions into something that will give this years journey more value.
Here are some suggestions of sankalpas given by Satyananada Saraswati in his book “Yoga Nidra”:
-I awaken the spiritual potential.
-I am a positive force in the evolution of others.
-I am successful in all that I undertake.
-I am more aware and more efficient.
-I achieve total health
Or from Catherine Guthrie at Yoga Journal:
-May I be Happy and Open to What Life Brings Me.
Be gentle on yourself, these changes don’t happen overnight. Make your intention/sankalpa a part of your daily ritual to remind yourself what you will accomplish this new year.
Join the Moon in any of our yoga classes to explore and support your sankalpa. Learn more about our free community classes (in Chicago and Highland Park), our Yoga for Fertility series (in Chicago, Highland Park, and NEW Long Grove option near our Buffalo Grove office!), how our Prenatal Yoga is unique and more! New additions are added to our Calendar every month!
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