Yoga for Men? Let's Discuss.

In March, Two Trees Yoga will host a Yoga for Men series. For many, including me, this can feel problematic. Let's discuss. 

I get it. In a time when the national consciousness of the breadth and power of sexism and patriarchy are at the forefront of our cultural conversations (FINALLY!) (#shepersisted), this type of class might seem way off base. 

One of the powerful things I've learned is that patriarchy hurts women and men, girls and boys. Patriarchy hurts everyone. Do men still benefit from their privilege? YES. Do they also suffer from the extremely restrictive idea of masculinity presented by patriarchy? YES. 

Just as many girls have been told that karate and baseball are for their brothers, many boys have been told that swimming and gymnastics are for their sisters. But, it turns out that anyone can move their bodies in any way that feels good to them. Thanks feminism!

I think, and I hope, that a truly feminist view of yoga in America, which is typically dominated by fit white women, welcomes everyone actively into the studio. Two Trees Yoga was created to make space for those of us who may not fit the Lululemon version of yoga. (Have you ever Googled "men doing yoga"? It presents a picture just as problematic as the typical portrayal of women doing yoga. See below.) We believe that a gentle, compassionate yoga practice can benefit anyone, and we strive to make our classes accessible to everyone who walks into our studio.

Keeping this in mind, maybe we can agree that

  • Some men feel body shame because they don't conform to the hyper-masculine image idealized by patriarchy.
  • Some men are looking for community.
  • American yoga isn't always accommodating and welcoming to ALL men, regardless of body type, physicality, ability, race, or gender identity.
  • Patriarchy has discouraged some men from exploring yoga. 

At Two Trees Yoga, we understand that gender isn't binary, and that making space by gender can be extremely complicated and off-putting to many. If you identify as male, this class is for you. Period. If you want to talk about this, please reach out to me. 

So, I want to try it. I want to set aside space once a week in March, for men to get together and try something new. Make space to feel the awkward, nervous energy and excitement, and to grow and stretch a little. I want men to meet other men doing yoga. I want there to be community around men practicing yoga. I want men to feel that they have a practice, even if they can't touch their toes. I want men not to feel they have to tell me "I'm really stiff." "I'm not very flexible." "I'm built like a refrigerator." (That last one is a quote from a real human.) I want you guys to just come on in, and see what happens.

This space is for all of us. 

 Nope. Nope. Nope. 

Nope. Nope. Nope. 

The Best of Beacon

Thus far, one of the very best parts of starting a small business has been creating opportunities to partner with other small businesses in the area. Beacon is fit-to-burst with generous, creative, talented, entrepreneurial professionals who seem excited to jump in and support yet another newbie. 

Here's a run-down of the fabulous folks I've had the pleasure to work with thus. Please take a moment to check them out.

Interested in partnering with Two Trees Yoga? Let's talk! 

Sacred Space
First and foremost, Sacred Space! My new home on Main Street, and the business of one Ms. Donna Brickwood. Donna has been on Main Street for seven years, is a genuinely skilled and caring healer, and a savvy business woman. Working with Donna has been inspirational and grounding, and I am thrilled and honored to share space with her. If you've never had a massage with Donna, do yourself a favor and book one today. I'm not kidding. 

Rabe and Company
Did you know that Beacon is home to an incredibly talented and successful design group that has an eye and a heart for supporting local businesses? Rabe and Co. has worked with businesses you know including The Roundhouse, Glynwood Farm, and Hudson Valley Compass. They welcomed me with open arms, brought their A-game to the design process, and absolutely slayed my branding and logo design. Not to be overlooked, Liz, Ken, and Leigh are also fun as heck to work with.

Jon Reichert
Speaking of sandwich boards... I had the pleasure of partnering with Jon Reichert to fabricate the sandwich board of my dreams. This amazingly talented local artist, and co-owner of Catalyst Gallery in Beacon, was ready and willing to listen to my vision and help bring it to life with simple, quality work. I am grateful for his skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail, even on the smallest of jobs. I also really like his donuts. 

Fabhaus 
Fabhaus is home to another incredible artist and maker supporting local businesses by taking the time to create incredible, unique pieces. Ricardo at Fabhaus jumped in to help out with creating the custom-cut vinyl lettering for the sandwich board, and it couldn't have come out better.

(Ok, ok. Here's a picture of the damn sandwich board.)

Hudson Valley Fitness
Keith at Hudson Valley Fitness is another Beacon Main-Streeter with a solid history, fantastic reputation, and quality services. Keith helped me get my start by hiring me to teach yoga classes for his gym members. Since moving around the corner, Keith has been super supportive by partnering with Two Trees Yoga to offer discounts to his members when they're in need of a good stretch. 

LocoMotive CrossFit 
Similarly, Two Trees Yoga is proud to offer discounts to the members of LocoMotive CrossFit in Beacon. We're here when folks need a good, deep stretch on a day off from lifting tires and climbing ropes. Self-care and fitness are full-spectrum endeavors in this town, and we're thrilled to open our doors and welcome in aching muscles and sore joints. 

 

 

Personal Practice.

When yoga teachers get together, inevitably someone will ask “do you have a Personal Practice?” The Personal Practice is A Thing. (With a capital T.) Typically this refers to a time that you dedicate on a daily basis to do yoga by yourself, probably at home. Many teachers say that they teach from their personal practice—this is where they find inspiration and moments of insight that they can bring to their classes. The personal practice has always seemed to be this nearly-holy experience (which, honestly, it is meant to be) where one can connect to oneself and the universe. It feels private, deep, creative, almost soulful. It’s intimidating as hell. 

When I started practicing yoga in my tiny Rochester apartment it was just me and a Rodney Yee VHS tape. Within a year, I had upgraded to DVDs, and was consistently practicing for 30 minutes each morning. It was glorious and grounding. I felt renewed and centered and remembered marveling at how strong I felt from this simple practice. 

After moving to Brooklyn, I started practicing at a studio. Once the initial intimidation faded, I was able to find teachers who I felt connected to and trusted, and got into a routine of attending class once or twice a week. Going to class became something entirely different than practicing on my own. In class, I could give myself over to the experience. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to drive. It felt freeing and welcome.

In class, you don't know what to expect; only the teacher knows what's coming next. At home, I did the same two DVDs for years and basically memorized the sequences.  In class, you learn to go with the flow and trust your teacher and yourself. At home, I would second guess myself. In class, I might push myself to work a little harder, or to take extra care of myself. At home, I might lay on my mat and watch Gilmore Girls. In class, I felt motivated by the presence of others and learned to let go of competition. At home, I stayed in a comfortable routine. 

I don’t have a personal practice right now, and it's become something I struggle with. It’s something that I want, and more recently, truly need. And yet, I can’t get past the fears and barriers between me and my yoga. This month I’ve been talking about it more, attempting to practice on my own, and really digging down into how I feel about this thing called a Personal Practice. I found a couple of things...

I don’t want to be alone. Being in a quiet room, with the door closed, on my mat, alone. That’s heavy. It’s hard. It’s, frankly, terrifying some days. I desperately don’t want to feel lonely. I miss my community. I need my teachers. I can feel my heart yearning for that connection, and then I am left with stillness. Sometimes, it feels overwhelming.

It's so easy to be lazy. If you know me, you know I am a pretty motivated individual. I don't back down from a challenge and I'm happy to take on a big project and see it through. But with my personal practice, I let things slide constantly. I will sit and gently stretch when I know I need more. I'll spend five minutes on the mat and then check my email. Without structure, I flounder.  

And, of course, I’m putting too much pressure on it. I have this expectation that I will unfurl my mat, close my eyes, and suddenly this gorgeous, soulful vinyasa will innately flow from my mind, heart, and body. I will move with grace and fluidity, and achieve amazing poses. I will work on headstand and fallen angel and forearm balances and full wheel and reclined full lotus. I will have moments of discovery and meditation. My pranayama will build fire. IT WILL BE AMAZING. I mean, that’s what happens to everyone else, right? RIGHT? 

Probably not, I guess. 

So, for now, I am going to try to be ok with simply getting on my mat every day. Well, almost every day. Most days? Some days. Whatever. I’m going to get on my mat. I am going to release myself from expectations of what that is supposed to look like. I will build comfort with stillness. I will find a place where I feel safe challenging myself. I will remember that I am enough and my practice is enough. I will practice practicing. 

Last night I was on my mat with Gilmore Girls on the iPad and texting my friends to stave off the lonely feelings. That’s not a failure. But it is a crutch. And right now I need a crutch, and that’s ok. I will have faith that I am enough, and that this will evolve. I will practice aparigraha (non-grasping), satya (truthfulness), and ahimsa (non-harming) with myself. Because I deserve that care and discipline as much as my students do. I will try to stay strong and face my fears in a gentle, loving way, and allow this Personal Practice to unfold.

 

 

 

Two Trees Yoga and Retreat House

I am delighted (like, jumping-out-of-my-yoga-pants delighted) to officially announce that I am starting a business. I AM STARTING A BUSINESS! 

Two Trees Yoga and Retreat House (details below, keep reading!) is the result of the conscious evolution of personal and professional work over the past decade, and I couldn't be happier to share the results of my efforts with my community, family, and friends.

As many of you know, I live with endometriosis, a chronic disease that impacts my health, my relationships, and my life on every level - physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. Over the past five years, in struggling to manage my health I have found one tool that has supported me, challenged me, and healed me beyond any others. Yoga, of course. The physical and philosophical practices of yoga have helped me climb out of some deep, dark places, and transform my body and my life into something stronger, healthier and more whole than ever before. This journey into yoga, combined with my entrepreneurial spirit and natural disposition for teaching have brought me to an amazing place, for which I am deeply grateful and exceedingly excited. 

Over the past year, I've been working my way towards creating supportive spaces for people to come together to heal, explore and evolve. Two Trees Yoga and Retreat House will be the culmination of many tiny little dreams that were fed light rather than pushed aside. These dreams were supported by many people, and now I am finally able to breathe them into life and share them with all of you. I am blessed and happy and scared and excited to make this giant leap!

Below are the broad strokes of what Two Trees will offer. I can't wait to share more with you over the coming months as these spaces take shape, and I really cannot wait to see you at Two Trees!

If you're interested in learning more about Two Trees Yoga and Retreat House and getting updates from me, please sign up for the mailing list

 

Two Trees Yoga at Sacred Space, Beacon, NY

Starting in December 2016, Two Trees Yoga at Sacred Space will offer Kripalu-style yoga classes, including Gentle Yoga, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga and Kripalu Basics. Classes will run Sunday through Wednesday, and will be taught by Kripalu-trained instructors, including myself. (More on these phenomenal beings, soon!) Two Trees Yoga is dedicated to providing simple, honest yoga that is designed to support everyone living and working in our modern American society, and is grounded in yoga philosophies that have helped people move through life with grace and clarity for thousands of years. 

Two Trees Yoga is committed to supporting people with all manner of physical limitations and needs. If you are recovering from surgery or injury, living with chronic illness, experiencing the effects of an aging physical body, or recovering from trauma, our staff and our gentle approach to yoga will accommodate your individual needs, while challenging you to transform physically, mentally, and spiritually. If you've tried other yoga classes and they weren't for you, try Two Trees. If you can't do down dog, try Two Trees. If your joints hurt, try Two Trees. If you want to learn to be kind and gentle and loving with yourself, try Two Trees. 

 Sacred Space, 436 Main Street, Beacon, NY 12508

Sacred Space, 436 Main Street, Beacon, NY 12508

I am thrilled to partner with Donna Brickwood at Sacred Space in Beacon, where all of our yoga classes will be held. She's been running a business on Main Street for seven years, and offers massage, energy, craniosacral, and nature therapies. Sacred Space provides the opportunity to nourish healing and connection on all levels of the mind, body, spirit, and earth relationship. I've personally worked with Donna over the past two years. Her support and her touch have helped me through some of the toughest times in my life and left me feeling inspired, clear, whole and held. I am honored to be partnering with her to offer yoga at Sacred Space. 

 

Two Trees Retreat House, DeRuyter, NY

This past weekend, I bought the house next door to the house I grew up in, in central NY. This is something I've been dreaming of for years, and the timing couldn't have worked out better. (It's sort of amazing how things fall into place sometimes.) Over the next year, I will work with my parents to transform this little, country home into a tranquil retreat house nestled between hills and fields. Two Trees Retreat House will be a space for people to come together to work, play, rest, celebrate, explore, grow, connect, and heal. 

 Opening the doors for the first time! In my pajamas! Because I couldn't wait to get dressed! 

Opening the doors for the first time! In my pajamas! Because I couldn't wait to get dressed! 

Two Trees Retreat House is slated to open in Fall 2017. The retreat house will of course host yoga retreats. And so much more! Nature retreats, writing retreats, photography retreats, women's and men's retreats, spiritual retreats, retreats for women with infertility -- the sky is the limit. If you have an idea for a retreat you'd like to host at Two Trees, please be in touch! 

Two Tree Retreat House will provide an intimate space for up to 10 people to connect in a retreat setting. The house will also be available as a vacation rental via AirBnB, and day rentals for events. Jen will teach community yoga classes there throughout the year, as well.

I hope you'll follow along as we transform this house into something truly spectacular. Watch it all unfold on Instagram!

 

Podcast Recommendations by Jen

This post is not about vaginas!

But, it is about people - some with vaginas (not that I've checked) - who make amazing podcasts in which they sometimes talk about vaginas. So, we're still on-brand. Don't fret. 

This topic comes up in my life every now and again, and it turns out that I am super passionate about listening to podcasts and always happy to give recommendations. Not into podcasts? Haven't tried them yet? I imagine that they're basically what the radio used to be like before it became all commercials and announcements and Justin Bieber. (Did you know that Biebs deleted his Instagram account today? I heard it on the radio. Blech.) Podcasts are so much better than radio. Or TV. (But not better than Netflix. Let's not get carried away.)

People tell stories on podcasts. People discuss things on podcasts. Podcasts will teach you about incredible and interesting things. Podcasts are crazy funny. You will feel less lonely and bored when you listen to podcasts. I listen every day--it's a steady stream of awesome in my life. So, here's a wonderful list of wonderful podcasts by wonderful people who keep me company throughout the day and teach me amazing things and make me laugh a lot. (In no particular order.) 

You can search for any of these on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts, so I'm not linking. Also, I'm in a hurry. 

  1. Stuff You Missed in History Class: I LOVE THESE WOMEN. They are incredibly smart and witty and charming and entertaining, and damn can they tell a good story. Please please please listen to this podcast. I listen to it when trying to fall asleep because their intelligence soothes my very soul. 
  2. The Moth: True stories told by real people. Moving and amazing and perfect. I listen to this when I'm exhausted and can't do anything else, because it is deeply human and emotional and beautiful. 
  3. This American Life: Ira Glass is one of the best humans ever. 
  4. The Splendid Table: Obviously, I listen to this one while cooking. Endlessly fascinating bits about food, cooking, and eating. My three very favorite things. 
  5. Death, Sex & Money: Anna Sale is heaven. The interviews are intriguing and she takes on the topics that most of us push to the side. Super engaging and interesting. I listen to this one when the kiddo is napping and I can ponder a bit. 
  6. Lady to Lady: Three LA comedians telling it like it is, and hosting hilarious guests. If you're in the mood to max out on girl talk, this is the podcast. I listen to this one in the bathtub. For real. 
  7. 2 Dope Queens: An incredible comedy podcast by Pheobe Robinson and Jessica Willaims who are funny as hell all the time. Recorded in Brooklyn, each episode features stand up comedy sets by their hilarious friends. I listen to this one alone while cleaning kitchen. 
  8. Judge John Hodgman: The Judge tries cases submitted by listeners such as "My wife won't stop wearing Crocs in public" and "My boyfriend doesn't like Star Wars." Josh and I listen to this one when we have time to hang out and do nothing. (So, never.)  
  9. Serial: If you haven't heard about this one, maybe check out the internet sometime? No seriously, season one swept the nation last year, and is worth a listen or a re-listen. I awaited each subsequent episode with utmost anticipation and have been known to put the kiddo to bed early so I can listen. 
  10. There Goes The Neighborhood: A fascinating and important series that looks at realities of gentrification in Brooklyn, specifically through a racial lense. Such important work and listening. Please make time for this one.
  11. Josh Rutner's Album of the Week: Pure. Musical. Genius.
  12. Witch, Please: This is obviously about Harry Potter. I just started it today, and I am pretty delighted so far. I can listen to this one with the kiddo in the room, and answer adorable questions about what "Hogwarts" or "reducto" means.

How Making Friends on the Internet Changed My Life

I was 29. I was trying to get pregnant. And it wasn't going well. 

If you've been there, or are there right now, you know how lonely this feels. A few friends knew that we were trying, and they were too. And then, they were pregnant. And I still wasn't. Fear and shame started to spiral. Anxiety and depression started to kick in. I was talking to doctors, peeing on sticks every chance I got, trying very hard to "just relax," and worrying constantly.

I don't remember what made me do it, but I started Googling and found some blogs online written by brave, honest women who were talking about the exact experiences I was going through. I remember sitting at the desk in the second bedroom of our Brooklyn apartment - the room that was meant to be a nursery - reading about some woman in England having her first HSG. She wrote about being terrified, feeling alone, how it hurt, how she cried. I sat there and read and cried and read and cried. 

Then I noticed that she had a Twitter account. I had a Twitter account, too, but had never done anything with it. So, I went over to Twitter and starting playing around. What I found there changed my life. 

It turns out that Twitter is not just for fashion bloggers and politicos. It's also full of real people sharing the experiences of their everyday lives. For many, it's a safe place that they can turn to to share the struggles they face every day. Twitter, surprisingly and thankfully, was PACKED with women Tweeting about infertility. Can you even believe it? I know. 

Women's lives have been marginalized throughout history; our narratives pushed to the side, hushed, and even silenced forcefully. We see it everyday and we live it every day. But, with Twitter, we can take up as much space as we want to and need to. (Well, within 140 characters...) We can tell our stories. We can speak our truths. We can heal ourselves and others. We can build community. We can be the full, powerful forces that we know we are.

Once I made my Twitter account - anonymous of course - I was hooked. I was connected to hundreds of women who were TTC, waiting to POAS, dreading AF, grieving a MC, having an HSG, praying for a BFP, and making our ways through IVF. (Yes, that is Twitter short-hand. Don't worry, it's easy to pick up.) I made friends. They listened to my virtual tears and very real fears. They sent hugs and kisses and #hope and love. They cheered me on, answered medical questions, checked in, gave invaluable advice, but mostly they listened. And that's what we all need so very much. Twitter gave me a safe space to leave all the thoughts that were swimming through my head. To process everything that was happening to me. To grieve my losses without being alone. Twitter became my lifeline. 

It's been seven years since I started Tweeting about my vagina and it's happenings. In that time, I've met many of these women from the internet IN REAL LIFE. We have brunch and horrify bystanders with stories of putting our feet up in stirrups. We meet up when we travel for work or pleasure. We go out of our way to connect in person for a few hours to give hugs with our arms, not just our phones. We've even gone to Capital Hill together and talked about our uterus' there. (We also talked about legislation, don't worry.) These women are near and dear to me. They are always a Tweet or text away, and they always reply. I know I'm never alone, because we've built this community together, we've each felt the power of it, and we know we couldn't have gotten through this alone.

If this sounds like something you need in your life, keep reading - there's a step-by-step guide to finding your community on Twitter.

 In Washington DC, ready to share our infertility stories with lawmakers. Beautiful, strong, amazing women!

In Washington DC, ready to share our infertility stories with lawmakers. Beautiful, strong, amazing women!

 

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND TALK ABOUT YOUR UTERUS ON THE INTERNET

Step 1: Sign up. This first step might sound super scary, because omg you don't want people you know IN REAL LIFE to see what you might Tweet about your vagina. I get that. This is why people make super-secret-sneaky anonymous accounts. I tweeted under an anonymous handle for years, and eventually when I "came out" as an advocate for infertility, I switched over to using @jenrutner. But, that's for later. Right now, anonymous is safe and good and easy. First, make a new email account to use to register for Twitter. (I like to use Gmail.) Second, go to Twitter and register an account, using a hilarious handle like @alittlebitpregnant @bustedkate @the2weekwait @gotnosperm @brave_IVF_mama @mylazyovaries. <-- These are all real women, Tweeting anonymously about infertility. You will also have a chance to write a brief description of why you're on Twitter in your profile. Be honest - if people see that you're dealing with infertility, they'll know why you want to connect, and they'll be more invested in talking to you. Here's mine:

Step 2: Explore! Start doing some searches, find your crew. Use hashtags. (If you don't know what this means, watch a tutorial online about how to use Twitter. There a bunch of them on YouTube.) Try #infertility #IVF #endometriosis #miscarriage #BFN ("big fat negative"). If you have a diagnosis try that - maybe #endo or #PCOS. Start reading tweets, get a feel for how the conversations flow, read some interesting stories. If you feel like branching out, follow a fashion blogger or a comedian, just to lighten the mood. 

Step 3: Connect. Once you find your people, follow them! They'll probably follow you back. Twitter is cool like that.

Step 4: Tweet. Woah, right? Take your time here. It's ok to just listen for a while. Maybe reply to a few tweets that pop up in your feed. Or maybe, dive in and start talking about the doctor's appointment that you had this morning, and the test results that you got yesterday, and the period that you're expecting tomorrow. This is your new platform full of people who HEAR YOU. We want to hear what you have to say. 

That's it! You're ready! Get out there and tweet, ladies! Remember that every time we open up, speak out, share our stories we are helping ourselves heal and manage, helping others learn and connect, building community, and changing the world. I'm not kidding here - we are changing the world. 

One last thing - you can always follow me! (Or not, because you don't want me to know what's happening with your vagina, and I respect that.) @jenrutner

 

The Conversation Changes TODAY

Over the past year, I’ve spoken to too many women who, despite years of medical treatment, are only now having their endometriosis addressed in a meaningful way. They’ve been in the trenches of infertility. They’ve done IVF. They’ve lost pregnancies. They’ve lost organs. They’ve lost hope. They’ve tried everything and more. They’ve done their absolute best, given their circumstances. They’ve fought and fought and fought. Some of them are still fighting. Some of them have children. Some of them don’t.

You are not alone. Your pain is real. Your story is important. Your health is important. I see you. I hear you.

Chances are, you’ve not been diagnosed properly.
Chances are, you’ve got more symptoms of the disease than you realize.
Chances are, you were demeaned and marginalized when you tried to speak up and find help from a doctor.
Chances are, your doctor is not treating your disease properly.

Chances are, you live with pain every day.
Chances are, nobody knows this.
Chances are, your endometriosis was not/is not considered in the treatment of your infertility.
Chances are, your endometriosis is worse after medical treatments for infertility.
Chances are, you are struggling more now than ever before, even if you successfully conceived and delivered a child.
Chances are, you feel alone and scared.
Chances are, you feel helpless.
Chances are, you’re familiar with depression.
Chances are, you can’t find the tools and support you need to get the help you deserve.
Chances are, you can’t afford the surgery that you desperately need because most surgeons don’t take insurance.

I am done with any discussion that assumes that women with endometriosis have been diagnosed with their disease. I am done with discussions that assume that women have access to proper care and treatment for their disease. I am done with discussions based on old, ignorant medicine that hurts women. I am done with discussions that don’t include patient voices.

We cannot talk about endometriosis without talking about misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and misogyny. We cannot talk about endometriosis without understanding how privilege and finances play a role in the treatment of endometriosis. We cannot talk about endometriosis without demanding that everyone - EVERYONE - do better.

Anything less than the latest research, the top experts, centers for excellence, and a stance that empowers women to understand their disease and demand better care, is not enough. Anything short of justice is not enough.

And, I won’t accept it anymore.

Walking With Fear

I've been lucky enough to facilitate an infertility support group in my town for the past two years. It's a small group, and we usually have only two or three women attend each month, and we meet in a local yoga studio. I like the intimacy that this lends to the group. It's a quiet, private environment that feels safe. Everyone is able to share and support. There's always a box of tissues in the center of our circle because we bring big big feelings to this place. 

In this time, I've been struck by a theme that has emerged in our discussions. While we talk about the ins and outs of our cycles, diagnoses, and treatments with relative ease, we often come back to the fears that haunt us throughout this journey. They are deep and dark and relentless; and we feel we cannot escape them.

The fear of never being a mother. As time progresses, and we experience more and more failed cycles and negative pregnancy tests, it's only natural to wonder - "will I ever get pregnant?" Maybe for a few months we can stay positive, knowing we're still in the "normal" zone and can try again next month. But, at some point, and the negative pregnancy tests pile up and the fear creeps in. Maybe you sense that something isn't quite right with your body or with your partner. Maybe you see your friends and family getting pregnant easily; a little too easily, even. "Why isn't it happening for me?" As time moves on, maybe doctors enter our lives, drugs and procedures and surgeries and treatment cycles; with each one the stakes increase, and the fear grows. "Why isn't this working? What do I do?" We feel the reality that time and resources (emotional, financial, physical) are not infinite, and that at some point, we will have to stop. Baby, or no baby. 

As horrifying as this fear of never being a mother can be, I've noticed it is a speakable fear. As hard as it is say the words "maybe this won't happen for me," at some point, most of us do. We share our fear, and hopefully, find people who understand it, and can hold us during these hard times. The fear of losing a partner; however, lurks in deeper, closed of places. It is unspeakable for many of us. (I know I never spoke about it until I was in support group.) If we are the ones diagnosed with the medical condition that results in infertility, we might feel broken. We might feel like it's our "fault" that we can't get pregnant. We might feel less-than. We might even tell our partners that they should leave us for someone who is fertile and escape this pain. (But, we really really don't mean that. We are just very very scared.) Deep down, we fear that we are so flawed and broken that we can't be loved. That the love we give our partners isn't enough to stand up to the loss of having biological children. We fear that our partners will leave us. And that they will have biological children with someone else. And we will be alone, and empty, and broken; forever. 

Even if we do manage to get pregnant, we are not free of fear. The fear of losing a pregnancy haunts many of us for those 9 months. We are robbed of the daily joy of watching this miracle unfold within us, as we are possessed with the fear of losing it. We watch nervously as our betas rise. "Is it rising ENOUGH?" We panic if it seems that pregnancy symptoms are waning. "Why aren't I puking anymore??" We wait anxiously for each ultrasound, fearing the worst. We buy home dopler machines so we can check on the baby every time we feel the fear - where is the heart beat? We don't announce our pregnancy to family and friends in the ways we once imagined we would - what if it's gone tomorrow? We don't set up registries or a nursery. We shut down; paralyzed by the fear that what we've worked so hard for - sacrificed so much for - can all be gone in a moment. We wait and we wait and we wait for the pregnancy to be over, for this fear to cease, and to hold our babies, alive and wailing. 

And recently, I found another fear triggered. The fear of losing my child. A member of my community recently lost their son, who was 14 months old. It was an unspeakable tragedy that struck everyone I know deeply, as we came together to support this family as they grieved a terrible, terrible loss. But, as an infertile woman and an adoptive mother, this loss triggered me in other ways. My motherhood was hard won, after four years of struggle and loss that changed me in every way imaginable. And, though I'm now lucky enough to parent an amazing little girl every day, the fear of losing her still lives deep within me. 

We went through a year of loss when we realized that we could not get pregnant on our own. Then there was the loss of realizing that fertility treatments were not going to bring us our baby without a fight. The loss of miscarriage. And then, after our daughter was born, the fear that may not stay with us. We were asked to parent her from the day of her birth by her birth mother, an incredible gift that I still cannot describe. However, during the first five days of her life, while we held her and fed her and discovered every little thing about this beautiful new human, we had no legal claim to her. She was not ours, and we could have lost her at any moment. After her birth mother signed the papers releasing herself from parenting, we had another eight month phase before we would be legally secure in our family. While we were relatively confident that our family would stay in tact, the fear that it could all fall apart was ever-present. (This is not a criticism of the legal process, which I believe in and support. Biological parents need to have every opportunity to make the best decision for themselves and their children. That said, the emotional tole this takes on adoptive parents should not be overlooked.) I remember waiting for every court date, every update from our lawyer; counting every day until we could be secure and let go of our fear. 

All of this adds up to a parenting perspective that is decidedly different than those who conceive without intervention, carry pregnancies to term, and deliver live, healthy babies. In the midst of grieving for our family friends, and honoring their son, I was suddenly struck by my persistent fear of losing my daughter. That moment where I realized, "oh, this is different for me" was intense. I was standing in my kitchen making lunch, and everything stopped. That's when I hit the wall and just sobbed. And later that week, at the memorial, when I saw another adoptive mother that I know, I sensed that she too was carrying a slightly different grief than the rest of our community. I could feel her fear, too. I hugged her a little bit longer, a little bit tighter. 


I wish I had some sage words of advice to offer to everyone who is sitting with these fears, who are trying every day to walk through the world with these pains and burdens and wounds throbbing. I don't think there is an answer, and there is certainly no reassurance to be offered. The truth is, we don't know if we will ever be mothers until we are. We don't know if our relationships will survive infertility in tact. We can't know, G-d forbid, how long our children will be with us once we have them. We don't know how it's all going to end. And, some of us will learn that our fears were justified, and we will grieve those losses. 

But we can talk about it. We can share it in safe spaces, like our blogs and twitter accounts. In therapy. At support group. And, then, maybe once the fears have eased a bit, and once we feel just a little bit safer and more secure, we can share it with the world. So everyone can understand what it means to experience infertility and how it changes everything about us. Hopefully, by speaking out about our fears, we can bring a little light into those dark spaces, hold hands with those who understand, and keep walking. 


Her-moans

I recently went off my NuvaRing (hormonal birth control via a vaginal ring, rather than a daily pill) for about ten days, and things are kind of a mess. I went off it initially to have baseline blood work drawn with my new doctor (which we got on day 4 of my "cycle"). Then, due to a series of events that included my insurance company, doctors, and general life stuff, I didn't get to pick up my prescription until a week later. Meaning I was off hormones for about 10 days, total.  

By then, I was in pain. Everything in my abdomen felt tight and swollen. By day 9 I was starting to feel the same symptoms I used to when I was menstruating (which, of course, I don't do anymore). Cramps, heaviness in my abdomen, bowel discomfort, joint pain, muscle tiredness, urinary pain. I could feel my ovaries tingling in a way I haven't felt since I was taking fertility medications. My right ovary hurt

It's really remarkable how many of my pain symptoms were *not* from my uterus, but from all of the other organs and tissues affected by the endo. I knew this would be the case, and that removing the uterus was not a magic solution to my pain. But, after a year of continuous hormonal suppression via birth control, I was shocked to feel these symptoms back in my body.

Mostly, however, I feel grateful. Grateful that my surgeon insisted that we continue to repress my hormones via birth control in order to quiet and attempt to control the growth and development of more endometriosis. I had no idea how I would feel off the hormones, and was curious to see how it would be. It's not good! My her-moans are evil!  I will stay on NuvaRing!

Now, we wait for the blood work results.

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SURPRISE

Last week, I went to the gynecologist. Now, most of you know that "going to the gynecologist" for me is neither easy nor simple. I've been searching for that special-unicorn-doctor who understands endometriosis (like, really), understands hysterectomy, understands surgical and early menopause, and is interested enough in these things to actually actively manage them with me over time. And maybe is also nice to me. Special, special unicorn, right?

Well, thanks to another life-saving tip from Casey Berna, I saw a doctor who just might fit the bill.  She primarily works with women with gynecological cancers but has taken a real interest in working with and supporting endometriosis patients in recent years. Very exciting. 

This post isn't about her though. (And, the jury's still out on the Doc. I'll report back later.) This post is about the super special surprise that we discovered during my appointment. 

Are you ready?

 Drum roll, please, Lane....

Drum roll, please, Lane....

I HAVE TWO OVARIES. 

It took about 20 minutes to find both of them via a very thorough transvaginal ultrasound; but it's true, there are two ovaries inside of me. Now, if you remember just last week, I diagramed my lady bits for you all. There was one ovary on the diagram. Because that's what I thought was in there.

I was wrong!

This isn't actually completely unexpected, and I'll let you in on the details. Going into surgery, the plan was to remove one ovary (we anticipated removing the right one, as all signs pointed to it being the most damaged), and leave one in (probably the left one), so I wouldn't go into early menopause. Now, once my surgeon was actually on the inside, things were much messier than she expected. Here's an excerpt from the surgical notes:

I was able to free adhesions of the ovary [on the left] and the tube off the ovarian fossa and the midline pelvis. Though on the right side, the adhesions were far greater than on the left. The fallopian tub was knuckled around and encompassed in peritoneum overlying the course of the right ureter. It was very difficult to distinguish the right ovary from the right fallopian tube. They were completely scarred together. 

[Later in the report...]

On the right side, it was much more difficult because the right fallopian tube and the right ovary were indistinguishable. This took much time, but eventually I was able to remove the right fallopian tube and sent it off to pathology. It was difficult to even tell if there was a right ovary or if it was part of the specimen I had removed. Throughout the entire surgery there was some constant oozing from all of the fibrotic endometriosis.

(That last sentence isn't really about the ovaries, but it's my favorite part of the report. Constant oozing! Gross!)

Now, my surgeon was always very up front about the disastrous state of my right side and her inability to really know what the heck was happening in there. I don't blame her for this. She is a very good surgeon who performs this type of surgery many times a week. Endo makes a remarkable mess of everything; she did great work and I trust her as a surgeon. In the end, we both assumed/hoped that the right ovary had been removed, as that was our intention going into the surgery.

But, it turns out that maybe it wasn't removed. Or maybe it was partially removed and then it grew back. (Ovaries are crazy like that.) Regardless, there are two ovaries inside of me. One of them may or may not be a zombie ovary, back from the dead. Heres' my new inspiring diagram of the current state my insides:

 Zombie ovary comes back from the dead!

Zombie ovary comes back from the dead!

Now, what I am annoyed at is that my surgeons office did no follow-up as part of the post-op to understand the current state of my anatomy. Performing a follow-up ultrasound so we can know how many ovaries are in there is not that hard, and should frankly be a part of the process. No excuses. No surgeon is perfect, but there are far too many women walking around not knowing exactly what's in and what's out. And that's unacceptable.

Moving forward, I'm not really sure what this means for me, or if it matters at all. My estrogen levels are being retested (and I was off the NuvaRing this time), and I will get those results, along with other blood work in December. I also, for the very first time, was given a cortisol testing kit to illuminate my stress levels and their impact on my overall health. In seven years of seeing doctors about infertility and related diseases, this is the very first time anyone has suggested that stress levels might be impacting my body. I obviously have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but I'll save those for another day.

In the meantime, welcome back from the dead, Rightie! Try not to fuck things up too much, you little zombie. 

The More You Know: What's A Hysterectomy?

Since having had a hysterectomy, I've realized that 1) I was sort of fuzzy on the details of the surgery before I had mine, and 2) most people are in the same boat. Because the surgery involves lady bits, it's usually discussed in hushed tones by our mothers while they are in the middle of a hot flash. There's not always a robust dialogue surrounding hysterectomy, at least in my world, and of course I think there should be. So, this post is a simple introduction to hysterectomies and related surgeries. Which organs come out? Which stay in? What does it all mean?

 

First up, what's our starting point? (Note: If you are a person who is offended by my referring to our reproductive organs as "Your Junk," you can just skip the rest of the post.) Do we all remember 6th grade health class? That might be the last time someone asked you to diagram and discuss your reproductive organs. Let's review. From the bottom up: vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries. And, just like any other organs in our body, these ones can get sick and need to be removed.

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The second thing you need to know, is that a hysterectomy only refers to the uterus. ONLY THE UTERUS! Many women have a Supracervical Hysterectomy, which means that the uterus goes, and the cervix stays. Sometimes, only part of the uterus is removed, depending on the reason for the hysterectomy. Typically, the whole thing is removed. 

But, what if the cervix goes, too?

Then, you've had a Total Hysterectomy! Good-bye uterus and cervix. This is the type of hysterectomy that I had. 

Often, when women are diagnosed with a gynecological cancer, they'll undergo a Radical Hysterectomy. This involves the removal of the uterus, adjacent tissues, cervix, and perhaps part of the vagina. The raddest, baddest, cancer-beating bitches I know have had Radical Hysterectomies. 

So, we've still got tubes and ovaries to deal with. These may be removed in addition to a hysterectomy, or they may be left in place. Or they may be removed independently, not as part of a hysterectomy surgery. Many women with endometriosis who have a hysterectomy have tubes and ovaries removed, in some combination. 

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The removal of one or both ovaries is referred to as an OOPHorectomy. I really like this word because it includes the sound "oof," which is the sound of the air leaving my body as I learn that yet another friend has had to have her organs removed because of some crappy-ass disease. 

Finally, the tubes. The tubes can be removed independently, as is often the case with a tubal ectopic pregnancy, or in combination with the ovaries, as is often the case with a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. When all of the tubes and ovaries are removed it's called a Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy. Fancy, right? 

So, what does my hysterectomy look like? Here's a picture:

I had a total hysterectomy with a partial oophorectomy and both tubes removed. Which means, I have my vagina and one ovary floating around in there. 

What does your hysterectomy/oophorectomy/tube removal look like? I want to see! Draw your surgery and send me a pic (@jenrutner on Twitter is easiest, but email works, too.) I will share drawings of Your Junk on my blog. Because I actually believe that people need to see this. Infertility is complex. Endometriosis is complex. Surgery is complex. Healing is complex. Let's help make it all a little bit clearer by speaking out about the reality of our bodies. 

If you want to learn more about hysterectomies and the women who have them, or if you are going to have one yourself, I highly recommend the website hystersisters.com. It's where the cool girls hang out to talk about surgery and their lives post-hyst. 

My Other Job: Endometriosis

A lot of women in the endometriosis community, especially those who live with chronic pain, talk about how managing their disease is a "full-time job." I couldn't agree more. For the past three years, while my disease symptoms have been most acute and I've gone through surgery, I've been lucky enough to not be working. (Yes, I know, I "work at home" as a stay at home mom. But it's just not the same thing as going to an office every day. For me.)  I cannot imagine not having the space and time to heal and adapt and cope. I need time to focus on my body, my disease, and all the things that go into getting through the day.

And, I need the time to work with my doctors. This is something that I am actually really great at avoiding, because it is such a nightmare. This is the part of managing my disease that stresses me out, drains me, and triggers me. There are too many layers, too much history, and frankly, too many doctors.

Here's a list of all of the doctors I need to help me manage my endometriosis*:

  1. Primary Care Physician (This seems relatively irrelevant at this point, but right now mine is managing all of my prescriptions. God bless her.)
  2. Gynecologist (Who understands endometriosis, chronic pain, menopause, pelvic floor disorder. Basically, this person is a unicorn. If you have one that does all of this, please contact me immediately.)
  3. Endometriosis Surgeon
  4. Colorectal Surgeon (There's endo ALL over my bowels. This surgeon was just as critical as my endo surgeon.)
  5. Uro-gynecologist (Interstitial Cystitis)
  6. Gastroenterologist (Celiac Disease)
  7. Nutritionist (See all of the above.)
  8. Social Worker/Therapist (Feelings much?)
  9. Psychiatrist (To prescribe and manage meds.)
  10. Pelvic Floor Therapist (Vagina therapy!) 
  11. Pain Management Specialist
  12. Body Work, ie. acupuncture and massage

Are you having a panic attack just looking at this list? Because, I am. 

Note that I said "I need," not "I have." Right now I have a PCP, a suite of surgeons, and a boat load of therapists. As for the rest, I am in the process of identifying someone who can work with me or finding the time to see another doctor or therapist. For the most part doctors are not willing to admit that they don't truly understand endometriosis, how it affects my body, and how to treat it. This leaves me in the position of essentially interviewing them to be my doctors. The one who said "Yes, any gynecologist at our practice can treat endo." was immediately crossed off the list. She doesn't get it. The entire process is mentally and emotionally exhausting. And, after years of being ignored, belittled, dismissed, misdiagnosed, and mis-treated by doctors, I have some very real PTSD surrounding interactions with medical professionals. 

So, why aren't there Centers for Endometriosis which consolidate all of these medical professionals in one place so they can provide comprehensive, coordinated care for women? (Rhetorical question! Ha ha!) If endometriosis affects an estimated 1 in 10 women (citation), there are a shit load of women out there who are struggling every day to find good doctors to address all of their medical needs. This is a lot of burden on a lot of people. This is really unacceptable. 

I was talking with my dear friend and endo-inspiration, Casey Berna, about this, and she was *on* it. (Duh.) She's talking with physicians in her area about expanding their practices to look more like a comprehensive care model. We talked about how these centers need to look and function like the big cancer centers around the country. While endo is clearly a very different disease, the way it impacts patients physically and emotionally is very, very similar and many patients need a similar care model.** 

Maybe this is another opportunity for many of us to put on our advocacy pants and start questioning our doctors and speaking out about what we need in our care. My endo surgeon, who is a spectacular surgeon, works completely independently. Meaning, she has an office with a desk and an exam table. No nurse, no blood work, no ultrasounds, no social worker. I went out of office for everything, which meant that I was dealing with five additional doctors offices, and the related insurance bullshit, for one surgery. We can do better. They can do better. 

 

*Everyone's list will look different, as our disease and pain can affect multiple organs and manifest in different ways. Also, because most doctors don't really understand endo, we often have to reach for those who work with other diseases (most often in the cancer community) to see if they can work with us. 

**This also all needs to be covered by insurance. Which right now, it definitely is not. But that's a whole other blog post.

"The Change"

Last week I went for my first post-op physical. I, thankfully, found a PCP who listened to me, who didn't assume that she knew everything about me and what I needed, and who heard my needs and said she could help me. We've discussed what she can help me with, and what I will need to work with specialists on. The physical was pretty basic, but we agreed to do a full panel of hormone tests, just to see where I'm at. They would call if anything came back abnormal. 

They called.

Over the phone, the nurse told me that my estrogen was low and that I should see a gynecologist. "What does low mean?" "Hang on, let me look. Your estrogen level is 6.1. Do you have a gynecologist?" "Not really. But I will find one."

Commence Googling. Turns out that typical estrogen levels for non-menopausal women are somewhere over 100, depending on where you are in your cycle. Menopausal women who are taking hormone replacement therapy are typically between 40-50. Women in menopause who are not taking hormones typically fall somewhere between 10-20. Mine is 6.*

Six.** Well, that explains a lot. If you Google "menopause symptoms" I can run my finger down the list - check, check, check. Sleeplessness, moodiness (not so much, but sure), hot flashes or night sweats, dry skin/eyes/mouth/vagina, lack of sex drive. I've definitely had a feeling that this was coming. But, I was not prepared for "six." 

This was not the plan. The plan was to do excision surgery, remove any sick organs that were causing me pain, and do no harm. Going into the surgery, I knew that I would keep at least one ovary, specifically to prevent me from going into menopause.  During the surgery, my surgeons realized that the endo was much more extensive than we anticipated, and did their best to correct as much as they could. One ovary was so covered with scar tissue and endometriosis that it couldn't be clearly identified, and was removed. One ovary was cleaned up, put back in place, and left there. The intention was that it would do its job, and my "normal" hormone cycle would reset itself. I would not go into menopause.

Clearly, no one told my ovary about this plan. Yet again, my body has let me down. It's not cooperating. And, I know that it is sick, and there's very likely nothing I can do to help it at this point. But, I am so frustrated and so disappointed, yet again. My periods were excruciating, I couldn't get pregnant, I was in pain every day, and now this? Menopause??!! For fuck sake. 

I've been having familiar feelings of hopelessness since I found out. Of exhaustion, and woe-is-me. I can't believe I've another obstacle to face. I had been feeling so well the past few months, I thought I had turned a real corner with my health and my relationship with my body. But, now I am here again. In this place where there is a problem. I need to figure it out. I don't fit the mold/story/path of other women, and feel that I have to forge my own path. Who will show me how to do this? I feel alone. I feel frustrated. I feel sad. Really sad. I don't so much feel sad about the loss of my fertility - that's been grieved time and again. It is mostly behind me. But, I feel a different loss. Of something deeper and more womanly. Of a way of feeling and being that will simply be different now. Not so much the health complaints, but the sensuality and sexuality and feeling like a woman with desire and who is desired, which right now feels so linked to this one hormone - estrogen. 

So, now I've got a lot of questions. As usual. What is menopause? Am I "in" it? Is surgical menopause different? What happens to women in premature menopause? What risk factors do I need to be aware of now? Are my bones ok? Does this count as surgical menopause, since it's really that my ovary failed? Can I take hormones? What do I do if I can't take hormones? (Here's a fun twist - taking estrogen is recommended for most women in early menopause. Estrogen feeds endometriosis. Women with severe endometriosis are often discouraged from taking estrogen. Haha!) Which of my symptoms are meno and which are endo? How do I manage my symptoms? Where on earth (literally) am I going to find a doctor who can help me with all of this? Who can see a 35 year old woman who has severe endometriosis, other chronic conditions, a hysterectomy and surgical menopause? Where is my tribe?  

I need some time to sit with this. Feel my way through it. Reassure myself that I am ok, I will be ok, I can find some of the help that I need. And mourn the losses that I'm feeling. Sweatpants and Gilmore Girls, anyone? 

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*I am not a medical professional. I just use the internet. Please ask your doctor if you have questions about your estrogen levels, endometriosis, or menopause. 

**Yes, hormone levels can fluctuate. No, I don't think mine are really going to fluctuate enough for me to feel like "Hey! I'm not really in menopause!" There's something going on here. 

We Are Hannah

Last week I had the honor and privilege of speaking during Rosh Hashanah services at my synagogue, The Beacon Hebrew Alliance. I'm sharing the text of my speech here. 

I want to thank Rabbi Brent Spodek for his incredible support and understanding in lending the bima - a sacred space - to the voice of Hannah and all of the infertile women in our tribe. And, special thanks to everyone in the congregation who has since shared their own story with me. We are not alone. 

Every year on Rosh Hashanah we read 1st Samuel.

The story of Hannah.

A story that I dread every year. And a story that I need every year.

Hannah’s story is my story. I was diagnosed with infertility at the age of 29. Like Hannah, I longed for children but had none. Like Hannah, my womb was closed - because of severe endometriosis. Like Hannah, I have been questioned by my peers, I have felt mocked, I have been ignored as a childless woman, and I have cried in public. Oh, how I have cried in public. On the subway. At my desk. In shul. At the bodega. I’m pretty sure that I cried in public so much that some people in my neighborhood thought I was a drunk. Just like Hannah.

I never thought that I would dread Rosh Hashanah. What’s not to like? It’s sweet. It’s the new year! Apples and honey, right? But in the midst of our darkest days of trying to start our family, hearing about Hannah’s struggles overwhelmed me. I knew it was coming. I could see the families and babies all around me in shul. I could feel the tears building. Even today, with my own darling daughter running around, I feel a pang.

But then, every year, I remember that I am not alone in this. My story is literally a tale as old as time. Women have been longing for, praying for, working for the blessing of having children for as long as we’ve been a tribe. I guess this is why this scroll (the Torah) has triumphed over time, and why we read these stories year after year. Our life experiences and struggles are here in these pages. Even the story of the barren woman. Yes, hearing this story has hurt me, but it has also healed me. Instead of ashamed, I feel awed. Instead of alone, I feel accepted. Instead of crushed, I feel comforted.

One in eight adult women who try to get pregnant will struggle with infertility. One in eight of us is a Hannah. As we welcome the new year, let’s make space for all of the Hannah’s in our midst. See that their pain and grief are real and true, and pray for only sweetness for them this year. And if you see her crying, ask only for forgiveness if you do not understand her tears. 

The One About My Dry Cleaner

Every week, I drop a bag of clothes off at the dry cleaner, and every week, I am confronted with my infertility head on. How is it possible that this mundane errand can be painful trigger? Because the woman who works at the dry cleaner thinks my child is adorable. And, that I should definitely have more. 

“Only one?”

“Yes, only one.”

“One is no good. You need more.”

**Taps my fingers on the counter and grins.**

Every. Damn. Time. She is nothing if not consistent with her opinions on my family planning.

We all know that in our society, it is somehow acceptable to inquire about another person’s reproductive choices. “When are you having kids?” oh so quickly becomes “when are you having another?” It feels inescapable and oppressive (because it is). I could go on for days…

There’s another perspective on these interactions that I want to talk about. The part where we shut our mouths and grin. Make excuses. Tell little white lies. And try to get out the door as quickly as possible. 

Why is so hard to speak our truth in these situations? Why can’t I say “well, no….” Why do I stay silent?

Shame.

That’s why.

We don’t want to tell our secrets. Because they are secret. And they hurt. Because we feel other, and less-than. Because we feel vulnerable after our losses and “failures,” and don’t want to open ourselves to another attack. Because we cannot make all the babies, nor plan how far apart they’ll be spaced, or if their birthdays will be in November or December for school admissions. We can’t have sex and get pregnant. We have no control over the adoption process that takes years and costs us thousands of dollars. We feel broken and out of control. We feel different and ashamed.

So, we stay silent. We smile. We make jokes. We dodge questions artfully. Then we go cry in the car. Because we don’t want to make everyone uncomfortable by saying “I don’t have a uterus, so it’s not that easy.” In the case of my dry cleaner, I think this would have required a translator, and I seriously considered asking someone in there to help be make it perfectly clear for her.

Instead, I changed dry cleaners. 

Next time? Next time, I need to strap on a pair of boxing gloves and open my mouth. And, it’s not just as simple as saying the words. Speaking my truth is a radical act in some ways. It takes guts and heart and strength. (Which we’ve all got in spades, by the way.) I can’t be afraid of the reactions or follow-up questions or emotions. I can’t feel guilty that I took the conversation to an unexpected place, or made someone uncomfortable for a few minutes. I need to get my advocate on, and get in there. Every time we speak, we teach. And that’s how we change things. One dry cleaner at a time.

Yoga Times: New Body

About four months after my excision surgery and hysterectomy, I decided it was time to go back to yoga. I was certainly not 100% healed at that point - far from it. But I was feeling scared and weak and disconnected from my body. Even before the surgery, I was in terrible physical pain and could not go for a walk, let alone get through a yoga class. The surgery and recovery hit me hard - I knew it was going to be a long road to recovery, but I was stunned at how weak I was, and how much strength and endurance I’d lost. I don’t think I’ve ever been so physically vulnerable in my life. It was nothing short of terrifying. 

I’ve practiced yoga on and off for about ten years. I have always liked yoga. I liked the stretch and the flow and the strength training. It was always a struggle to settle my mind during classes, which is part of the work. It was challenging, but I never really pushed myself very hard to try new things. Yoga was great, but wasn’t exactly my “thing.” It was a thing, and it worked for me sometimes. However, given my circumstances post-op, I knew it would be my path back to strength and peace and calm. 

Thankfully, I was already connected with an incredible teacher and healer in my community**. S and I met over a year ago when she agreed to let me host a monthly infertility support group at her studio for free. She’s one of the good ones. Going back to physical activity, I knew I needed more than just physical support. I needed someone who would understand the fear and the doubt, and who would help build all of me back up, not just my core strength. 

During my first class with S I told her my about my surgery, about my pain, about my recovery. I cried. And cried. And cried. We laid on the floor and I tried to learn how to breath again. We worked on releasing tension and recognizing fear and how it affects my body. We talked about my pelvic floor. A lot. I didn’t do one single downward dog, and honestly, I probably couldn’t have. One of the things that S helped me see what that we all have stories about our bodies and how they feel and what they can do. Post-op, I was dealing with New Body. We don’t know anything about it. We are learning. New Body is hurting, but it will recover. Don’t judge it, and don’t form perceptions about it just yet. Don’t carry over past perceptions about what Old Body could or couldn’t do. I learned to identify when fear was talking and when truth was being spoken. I learned that my abs were strong and my quads were not. I learned how to breath into my belly. I learned how to cry it out and come back to focus. It was exhausting.

After a few more private sessions, my confidence grew. New Body hadn’t completely disconnected from Old Body. Ten years of yoga were still in my bones, and things started to come back. I learned how to protect myself, how to push myself when I could, and when to say “I don’t have to do this right now.” And I cried. And cried. And cried. At first S didn’t understand why I was walking out of the studio at random times during classes. I needed to step away and let the tears out, and move through my grief, and then come back to the mat. Finally, I made it back to regular classes, and I’ve been practicing and practicing for six months now. 

I have learned so much in these past few months through my yoga practice, emotionally and physically. I truly believe that yoga has saved me and healed me. I am stronger than I have ever been in my adult life. DID YOU HEAR THAT, ENDO? I AM STRONGER. I am working on doing head stands unassisted. I spent ten years saying “nope” to headstands. Now I feel giddy when we practice them, and I beam when I pop my legs up over my hips, and over my head. 

I know that I have limits, and the reality of my disease(s) means that I am not 100% every time I come to my mat. Endo always comes with me. Fatigue comes, too. Today, an IC flare followed me there. Most of my teachers know my story and where I’m coming from. But that doesn’t impact the way they teach me. I’m not coddled or accommodated. But we know my hips are tight as hell, and we know why. And that helps. 

The dharma side of yoga has helped, too. Talking about truth and impermanence and struggle and pain and joy and practicing how we live have all helped me cope with my healing, my grieving, my new reality, my New Body. 

I’ve been thinking about this post for months now, and there’s so much I want to share here about my yoga practice. I hope to have more blog posts about it coming soon! I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on building a connection with my body. And, after being so incredibly broken, I am so incredibly thankful for the tools and the teachers that have helped me get here.

Namaste.

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**I practice at Shambhala Yoga Center in Beacon, NY with Shannon Brandt

PS. Yes I know I sound like a big freaking hippie yogi right now. Believe me, no one is more surprised about this than I am. 

PPS. I am also aware of how lucky I am to have had the support and space and time to do so. much. yoga. Blessed. 

NIAW: You Are Not Alone. Then Why Am I So Lonely?

In all of my advocacy surrounding infertility, telling others “you are not alone” has been a central motivation. It’s why I blog. It’s why I tweet. It’s why I sometimes talk about my lady bits on Facebook. It’s why I run a RESOLVE support group in my town. It’s why I went to Washington DC to tell Congress about infertility. So, this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week theme got me excited.

The reason this message is so important is because the experience of infertility can feel overwhelmingly isolating. From the first BFN, we start to wonder - Am I different? After all, we know people who got pregnant on their first try (or even without trying). And, it just gets worse from there.

Hopefully at some point along the way, we find community. “IRL” and online, connecting with other people struggling with infertility certainly saved my sanity, and helped me feel less alone. But, not completely not-alone. After seven years in this amazing club of incredible women (and men), I still feel alone sometimes.

For those of us who have “been around the block,” who have done the treatments, chosen adoption, accepted child-free living and are doing our best to live our lives “after” infertility, things can still feel awfully lonely at times. For instance, today at play group, there was a group of five moms, all pregnant with their second, chatting away. I’m not part of that group. I don’t think I could bear to be part of that group for five minutes, even with my own little kiddo running around alongside theirs. It was a little bit lonely, for a minute. A reminder of how I’m different. (We ended up playing with some dads and their kids. Could have been worse, right?)

And, even among “the infertiles” I sometimes feel lonely. First, I didn’t conceive via fertility treatments, and instead chose adoption. (Break.) I am parenting. (Break.) We are not pursuing another adoption, and chose to have one child. (Break.) I had that pesky hysterectomy last summer, and am now barren. (Break.) There just aren’t many people who’ve walked this same path. There’s no judgement here at all -of myself or anyone else - and this is definitely not a “woah is me” moment - but it can feel lonely at times. I know this is something many of us struggle with.

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I do think there’s a difference between feeling alone and being alone, though. For those of us who are lucky enough to have found this community, maybe we should try to keep that in focus more. (I know I should!) We are not alone here. We are so, incredibly lucky. (All it takes is one support group meeting, and welcoming a woman who has been trying to have a child for 13 years and is just now reaching out to other women for support, to remind me.) If you are reading this blog post, you are not alone. Yes, we’ve walked some long, winding roads and are wearied by the journeys. Some of us are still waiting to see what the future holds. There isn’t always someone to turn to who completely understands where we’re at and what we’ve been through. It is truly lonely at times. But, we are not alone. 

Now, let’s hold hands and skip.


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It's Not Me. It's You.

The other day I was having a pretty good conversation with someone (an acquaintance, so not someone who’s intimately familiar with my intimates), about my endometriosis and recent surgery. I say “pretty good” because she seemed to get it, was trying to relate from her own life experience, and was sympathetic and kind. She shared some stories about a friend of hers who also has endo, and how it has been hard for her to see her friend struggle with the disease and resulting infertility. It felt good to share. 

Then she said “I don’t know why doctors aren’t better about this. I guess women just have to speak up more." 

And then my head exploded.

I have spent my life speaking up about my pain and my disease, and I have spent my life being dismissed and belittled by medical professionals. It started when I was eleven years old and my mother brought me to a gynecologist because my periods were so heavy and painful and frequent that I was missing school and wearing mattresses for maxi pads. We were both terrified. They tried to put me on the pill (which I refused because I was *eleven* and completely creeped out), and that was it. Conversation over.

Symptoms crept in and out of my life consistently for over two decades. I never once had a doctor say "I think you have endometriosis. This can be serious. I can see it’s affecting your life in a significant way. You should see a specialist.” Eventually I was diagnosed by a friend on Twitter (yes, you read that correctly), and finally got the nerve up to call a specialist on my own. Her diagnosis changed my life. Why? Because twenty-plus consistent years of having my symptoms ignored - including infertility that required medical intervention and IVF - left me literally feeling like I was crazy. Maybe my pain isn’t real? Maybe my infertility isn’t real? Maybe I just need to relax? What the hell is going on? 

Just before I finally met with the endometriosis surgeon for the first time, I was telling my therapist about how nervous I was. Actually, I was sobbing because I was terrified that the surgeon wouldn’t believe me, and then I’d have no one who could help me. My therapist said “Why wouldn’t she believe you? This is her job, to help you.” Oh. Lady, you so don’t get it. You do not get this. And, apparently, you’ve not seen other patients who’ve been through this type of… I don’t even know what to call it… neglect? Neglect. Who have been through this type of medical neglect. I mean, even my therapist didn’t recognize what was happening. Talk about feeling helpless… 

I guess my point is that this is real. Our diseases our real. The ways in which our medical care has been mishandled is real. The neglect is real. And, it’s not our fucking fault. (Sorry, I’m pissed now.) Yes, we need to continue to speak up. But, I think we also need to start insisting. And, people - doctors - need to start listening.