What It’s Like to Be a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Struggling with Infertility
“You have absolutely beautiful ovaries!”
I bet you tell all your patients that, I think. I’d like to see the pictures that prove it—my ovaries next to a few less attractive ovaries.
I’m sitting in an exam room, naked from the waist down with nothing but a blue paper covering my lap, my panties balled up and hidden under my bag in the corner of the room. I’ve been here for two hours, led from one room to the next and told several times to “undress from the waist down.” My blood pressure reading was high (it’s never been high before) after I had to explain my reproductive history to a nurse (again): My healthy and beautiful three-year-old daughter. The miscarriage I had seven months ago (yesterday would have been my due date, actually). The unusual spotting I’ve noticed ever since, which convinced me I might be dying during the entire three months I had to wait for this appointment (thanks, WebMD!). This was not on my bucket list.
My blood pressure reading was high (it’s never been high before) after I had to explain my reproductive history to a nurse (again).
“And you have lots of high-quality eggs left. You’re young, and you’re healthy. You’ll get pregnant again.”
I give her my best blank stare. I was never very good at hiding my emotions. I am not sure I believe her. I’ve tried everything from yoga poses that promise to boost fertility to changing my diet and taking herbs. I drank the fertility tea, damn it! It feels like a lost cause.
“You know, sometimes stress can be a factor, too.”
No shit. She’s going to tell me to do yoga, isn’t she? That would be just perfect. All I need to do is spend more time doing yoga. Why didn’t I think of that!?
I nod, trying to look serious. I remind myself that I came to her for help. I try to keep an open mind.
“Your body goes into fight-or-flight mode and it just shuts down the reproductive system. It makes sense if you think about it, because that’s probably not the best time to have a baby.”
Sigh. “You know I’m a yoga teacher, right? I teach prenatal yoga.”
“Oh! Well, then you know exactly how to calm yourself down!”
“So…were you going to write me a prescription?”
“My name is Erica. I’m not pregnant, but I’d like to be!”
This is how I’ve introduced myself to the last five prenatal yoga class series I’ve taught (I teach them in six-week series, so it feels like I've been saying this for a loooong time). Most of the time I get a warm smile and a knowing nod in response from the eager moms-to-be staring back at me. I’m usually pretty reserved about my plans to have children, but this feels like a safe space. I don’t know most of the women in this room yet, but I do know that a majority of them have felt the way I feel—a nagging yearning in the pit of my belly that screams: Hey Lady, it’s time to put a baby in here! And I mean NOW!
I’m usually pretty reserved about my plans to have children, but this feels like a safe space.
As my students introduce themselves, I can practically tell by the looks in their eyes whether this has been an easy, carefree journey for them or if they, too, have struggled to land where they are. I can see that some are a lot like I was the first time I got pregnant—excited, of course, but maybe taking the whole thing for granted just a little bit. They’re probably nervous about their births or their ability to juggle everything that mothers juggle these days, but they’re not worried that something could go wrong with the pregnancy. Maybe it hasn’t even crossed their minds. I hope they never have that worry.
The mamas who have struggled to get pregnant or have had pregnancy losses (for those who like statistics, one in five of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage) have a different look in their eyes—like they’ve been holding their breath for weeks, maybe months, afraid that if they make one wrong move the whole thing might come crashing down around them. I empathize. I also know that no matter how many times I suggest that they breathe deeply, slow down, soften, relax, savor the moment, they might not be able to breathe a real, genuine sigh of relief until they have that baby snuggled in their arms.
That won’t stop me from trying, of course.
I congratulate them one by one as they share how far along they are and why they’ve decided to try prenatal yoga. I am thrilled for them. Yes, I can be happy for others, but sad and disappointed for my own loss and my own struggles at the same time. I know my students are in for one of the most amazing and fulfilling experiences of their lifetimes, and the thought of it makes my heart indescribably happy.
“Bring your hands to your belly. Take a few seconds to connect to that sweet little life within, that little being that you already love so much. Breathe in. Breathe out.” I put my hand on my own belly and, for just a second, the thought crosses my mind, What if there’s a little life in there right now. I snap myself back into the present and commit to focus on helping the mamas in front of me feel as good as they can for the rest of the class, for the rest of their pregnancies. I look on as they rest in a supported supta baddha konasana—I call it goddess pose—toward the end of the class. Their round bellies are all protruding in the most lovely way, all different shapes and sizes. We are all unique, but we are all the same. I watch their chests rise and fall with each long, relaxed breath—grace in motion. They are so blessed. And I know I am, too.
I put my hand on my own belly and, for just a second, the thought crosses my mind, What if there’s a little life in there right now.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity to carry another child, but I know that even if it doesn’t happen for me, at least I can play a very small part in the lives of these women and their babies—I know that both moms and babies will forever change the lives of so many through their unique experiences. I can help other mothers understand that taking care of themselves, being kind to themselves, and loving themselves no matter what, are the best gifts they can give to their families, and to the world. And I’ll keep reminding myself of that, too. Beautiful ovaries and all.
Erica Rodefer Winters is a writer, editor, yoga teacher, and mama who lives in Charleston, SC. Her current obsession is reminding other moms—and herself—that self-care in all its different forms can transform the busy, stressed-out mom life into a more manageable, more enjoyable, and even more productive way of being. She blogs about yoga, motherhood, and everything in between at SpoiledYogi.com.