Do you feel a subconscious weight of self-worth attached to your ability to reproduce? While there's nothing wrong with it, I wasn't one of those little girls who dreamt of her big wedding and the day she would become a mother. Then I hit 31, and something strange and primal seemingly washed over me. It felt as though I was suddenly aboard the longing-for-a-baby-express, although no one had prepared me for the ride. There was no warning with my ticket, no "buckle up ladies because this journey is exhausting and full of grief and disappointment." There was no disclaimer to inform of the feelings of longing and hope that become more potent and terrifying as you approach 35.
For a long time, the age of 35 has been notoriously deemed as some kind of fertility cliff. Hit this terrifying number, and you're officially of "advanced maternal age" or a "geriatric mother."
The process of trying to get pregnant after 35 can be stressful and full of judgment. Women are given grim warnings about the difficulties they may face and their pregnancy is often labeled "high-risk" and subject to extra monitoring. For me, the journey has been profoundly challenging and isolating. I have only one fallopian tube and a uterus that is most likely covered in endometriosis, a condition which can lead to infertility. I have experienced the loss of multiple babies due to an ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage. I share my story not for sympathy but to help others understand the emotional toll of this journey.
The first word that comes to mind when I think about my experience is "triggering." Despite my efforts to let go of my deep desire to become a mother, the longing to hold my baby in my arms is visceral and tender. It's virtually impossible to curate a world without triggers, and every day can feel like a battlefield. I know that losing two babies and not yet being pregnant does not mean that I am failing, but emotionally it can be hard to not feel this way. A common game among women trying to conceive (TTC) is "spot the preggy women," which can be both a hindrance and a trap.
One of the most challenging parts is sharing the journey with friends who may not fully understand. People mean well, but unless they have experienced the physical pain of losing a baby and the all-encompassing disappointment of each cycle, it's difficult for them to empathize. It's important to remember that a fertile woman cannot comfort an infertile woman.
I've realized that I lose my mind between ovulation and my menstrual phase and begin to regain sanity again around day two of my bleed when I grasp the fact that although I'm still not pregnant, I have not yet died of a broken heart.
Last month, I took eight pregnancy tests in the lead-up to my period. My period wasn't even a day late, but I still like to think of myself as a rational person!
Perhaps this isn't a sign of insanity, but merely a beautiful and profound desire to become a mother. One thing is for sure, though: hope is a motherf**ker. Without the support of women going through a similar struggle and their incredible willingness to be open and vulnerable, I don't know how I would have managed. Because of this, we've now opened up my fertility support group to everyone within Looni's Geneva community.
In addition to the fertility group, Looni Cycle Sanity is an inclusive and intimate community of people with periods looking for a shame-free space to become more in tune with their cycles. We encourage menstrual literacy and bodily autonomy. Whether you have a chronic condition like PMDD or endometriosis or want to discuss taboos and periods, come and check out our rooms.
🩺 SCIENCE AND SPIRIT 👁️
🧑⚕️ from Looni’s medical adviser, Dr Stephanie Colantonio
A lot needs to happen for a pregnancy to occur. The ovary must release a healthy egg, the cervix needs to produce fertile fluid, and the sperm must be strong and numerous enough to swim through cervical mucus until they reach the egg in the oviduct. The egg and sperm must then fuse, and cells must divide to create a blastocyst, which then burrows into the uterine lining. This is just the beginning, and even more coordination is necessary to sustain a pregnancy.
When this sequence of events goes awry, it can be deeply painful and frustrating. Unfortunately, it happens often. In the U.S., about 1 in 5 couples do not conceive after one year of trying, and about 1 in 4 have difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. Too often, people feel shame and blame for something so common. The natural human pain of not conceiving or losing a pregnancy is often compounded by societal pressures and expectations of women. The stigma attached to fertility problems doesn't help.
Of course, it is disappointing when your body isn't doing something that you're told it is supposed to do, and you see others succeeding. It is triggering to see glowing pregnant bellies when your heart and womb crave the same. It is okay to feel this way, so give yourself permission.
Everyone's fertility journey is different. Some are straightforward, while others may zigzag or move in different directions. If you have been trying for some time and feel like you're hitting a wall, it is okay to ask for help. Fertility doctors, acupuncturists, other healthcare providers, and healers can all provide support.
It is okay to be hopeful and exhausted, angry, sad, or any combination of emotions. If blame or questions of self-worth start to arise, please forgive yourself. Forgive your beautiful body and womb. As Lily Tomlin said, "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a better past." Although we can't change what has already happened, it doesn't mean there isn't hope for something new to come.
A Mindfulness Practice for Emotion
This is a mindfulness practice that I often use for myself and offer to people I teach or consult with. It is based on a practice called RAIN taught by mindfulness teacher Tara Brach.
- Start by finding a comfortable position where you can relax the body. If it feels safe to close your eyes, you may do so. Take a few deep belly breaths.
- Recognize the emotion that is present. Simply name it. Anger, sadness, grief, fear, anxiety, boredom, joy, happiness. Emotions are complex; often, there is more than one at a time.
- Allow the emotion to be with you. Ask yourself, can I be with this right now? Sometimes the answer is no, and that is okay. If the answer is yes, start to explore it.
- Investigate. Scan the body. Where is the emotion present? Head, throat, chest, belly, pelvic bowl, hands, feet? What are the sensations? Tight, open, numb, tingling, heavy, light.
- Nurture. Offer yourself words or images of comfort. Thank you. I love you. You are enough. I am here with you. Perhaps there is a loved one or spiritual figure whose image may be comforting for you. Whatever you need to feel safe and supported.
Her nervous system had been through so much. She decided to spend the rest of her life calming the inflammation. Thoughts, feelings, memories, behavior, relations. She soothed it all with deep, loving breaths and gentle practices. The softer she became with herself, the softer she became with the world, which became softer with her. She birthed a new generational cycle: Peace.
Jaiya John from Fragrance After the Rain
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Last reviewed March 1, 2022). Reproductive Health: Infertility FAQs. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/