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By Jessica T

Mindfulness and infertility

Uploaded: Nov 21, 2013

My bout with infertility is painful and personal to write about. It seemed interminable. But it was a defining moment in my journey. I always wanted to have three kids. The number three was a personal secret and one of the reasons that my husband and I had our first child at 26. I hoped to be done with my childbearing by that dreaded 35th year (which may not actually lead to fertility trials.) My husband and others simply knew I wanted multiple children. And I was devastated when that didn't come to pass for many years.

Infertility, regardless of one's situation, is immensely isolating. When you already have one child, people question why you can't focus on the joys of the one you do have. In some ways, I wanted more children because I didn't feel I was able to spend enough time with my first daughter early on. I've grown out of that notion - having a ten year old provides a lot of perspective, lasting memories, and bonding opportunities. But my inability to have another child for so long rocked my identity completely - going all the way back to my childhood dreams. (And this I suppose is what "adulthood" is really all about - how you cope when life doesn't turn out like you expected.)

About a month ago, I had dinner at a neighbor's. For the first time, I learned that she, too, struggled with infertility. For years, we lived so close to one another without being able to share our pain and frustration. And that would have made all the difference. She told me that someone had once told her, "It's so hard when you know your family isn't finished." And that's exactly how I felt.

Two incidents restored my hope that I may one day have the family I wanted. One was a conversation with my sister over the holidays. She's a midwife and was there every step of the way during my twin pregnancy. I still need to thank her for telling me, "It might just happen one day." In that moment, I became buoyant with hope, replacing the despair I often felt.

The other thing that happened occurred after my seventh devastating miscarriage. I remember thinking, "I cannot miscarry at work ever again." I had reached the end of mourning alone in an industrial bathroom stall. I contacted a wonderful nurse named Penny Donnelly at Stanford REI who invited me to participate in a ten-week course on Mindfulness and Infertility. I met a group of amazing women in the process, and as we shared our stories at our first meeting, I had the physical sensation of stress melting from my body. Within weeks I was pregnant again (this pregnancy at last stuck), as were several others in the class. Among many things, we practiced meditation, which was a saving grace during the first weeks of my twin pregnancy. Beyond that, it was helpful to have a venue to speak to others about their struggles (and my own). I am still in close contact with many of the women from the group.

If someone you know is grappling with infertility, the most helpful thing you can do is listen and offer your compassion. You need not bring it up all the time with them, but having the ears and empathy of others made all the difference for me. The holidays can be a particularly tough time for couples struggling with infertility - if they let you in on their secret, please be kind to them.

Have you or someone you've known struggled with infertility? What were your experiences?