This is IVF… How Yoga Helped Me Through Infertility Trauma

Nov 23, 2021 | This is IVF...

Words by Helena Zeitler | @ambayoga 

My husbands and Is journey began in late 2018. We had talked about having children together for a few months and we thought that if we actually did start trying, we would get pregnant right away. My husband is 24 years my senior. Back then he was 45 and I was 21 years old. He had two healthy children from before we met, and I had grown up with the belief that if you only look at a woman the wrong way, she will fall pregnant immediately. This was especially due to my experience with sex education in school, where all they focus on is how to prevent getting pregnant and never the actual difficulties you might face if you want to conceive.

In the beginning trying for a baby was a lot of fun, but as the months went by it started to get more serious, methodical and planned and less passionate.

I am a flight attendant and thought that maybe my work had screwed with my biorhythm so much, that it was “my fault” that each test ended up being negative.

This is IVF by Helena Zeitler

Still, I listened to my body like I never had before. On the plus side I got to know it the way each woman should know her own body, on the downside I gave attention to my premenstrual tension for the first time and ended up mistaking it for early pregnancy signs during the first few months of trying. This made the negative tests all the more surprising and harder to digest.

I dragged my husband to a fertility clinic after only 6 months of trying. He thought I was being overly cautious and impatient, but my gut was telling me that something was not right. We were lucky to get an appointment right away. The first impression of the clinic was good, it was modern, clean and efficient. The first meeting with our doctor went well, although it felt a little cold and she did say right away that we were only trying for such a short period of time, so why the rush? (My fellow TTC Ladies know that those months passing you by feel like your whole life is on hold and like you’ve been going through this for an eternity. A physician specializing in that field should know this as well!)

We came back 2 weeks later. In the meantime nobody had bothered to pick up the phone, our meeting had been rescheduled and when we arrived we had to wait for two hours, only to be told that our doctor was not available and we would be speaking to the doctor on call. After some more waiting a young doctor rushed in, barely looked at us and started flipping through our files (obviously he was looking at them for the very first time then and there). He looked at me and told me everything looked great – I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders – and proceeded to flip through my husband’s file saying “Yes, everything’s in order… Oh no, wait. You’re infertile.” This cold, uncompassionate way of telling us the diagnosis (and not bothering to explain it in any way) hit us like a ton of bricks.

Why my husband? What happened after his first two naturally conceived kids? And was there anything we could do to improve the odds of conceiving without ART?

My husband took less time to digest the diagnosis. I was using all my time to look up everything I could find about male factor infertility and treatment options. I buried myself in this task to hang on to the feeling that I was in control of our situation, when in reality the circumstances were controlling us.

I scheduled appointments at our family doctor, a urologist, two andrologists, my ob-gyn and even a human geneticist. Each of them told us the same thing: My husband’s sperm quality meant that we had to consider IVF, ICSI to be precise. I read up on those methods and ended up being confused why those treatments would always include me being the one receiving shots and hormone stimulation. It took some time to accept that those are the only available medical options as of now.

The next blow came when we talked about our insurance covering the cost of the treatment. Here in Germany insurances are mandatory and usually they must cover the cost of fertility treatments. We were shocked to learn that this official regulation is a lot more discriminating than you’d think on the first glance: Same sex couples, non-married couples and couples where one partner is younger than 25 or the woman is older than 40, or the man is older than 50 are exempt. Therefore, we would not get financial aid because I was “too young”. Once I would become 25, we would only have a very short time frame before my husband would turn 50 and thereby be “too old”.

I really let myself go after learning this news. We were about a year into our TTC journey and I knew that we could not afford the procedure at that time. For a few months my husband and I drifted apart. My constant crying and sadness were draining his energy and his ability to just deal with the situation made me feel as if he did not want it just as much as I did. My weight gain made me feel unsexy and he felt like sex had become something timed, a means to an end, and nothing where I actually wanted him.

Once we realized what had happened to us, we started really working on our relationship. We made time for date nights, started taking the pressure off our sex life and he committed to asking me more about my feeling, while I committed to practicing regulating my emotions more.

That’s when yoga came into play for me. I had been practicing yoga long before I met my husband, but during those difficult TTC months, I did not take the time to do something for myself.

I committed to my practice and bettering my lifestyle and dropped 40 pounds. I found joy in taking care of myself and suddenly the wish for being a mummy did not dominate my life as much. The sadness was still there and that tiny amount of hope at each ending cycle, but at least my life did not revolve around when we could finally start the treatment anymore.

I decided in order to do something just for myself I would attend a yoga teacher training. That was one of the best decisions I ever made! I did learn yogic philosophy and how to teach asanas but more importantly I learned not only to accept my body, but to love and trust it. I actually started to marvel each month what my body was capable of doing, that it was showing me that it was ready to conceive and that my period was not something to cry about, but a sign of health and renewal. That the female body is so unbelievably strong and willing to tell you so much if you are just willing to listen.

That’s when I decided to become a certified fertility yoga teacher. Once again, one of the best decisions of my life! The training prepared me for what was to come during my first round of IVF, made me listen to my body even more and made me realize that I had to share this with other women of the TTC community.

Then it was finally time to start the treatment! By now more than 2 and a half years of TTC had gone by. We were ready and excited. Right before the start of our ICSI in June 2021 I became quite sick and got diagnosed with Covid. The virus kept me isolated and ill for one whole month. It became clear that in order to hope for a good outcome and healthy pregnancy I had to give my body time to heal.

Right after recovering I started preparing my body, working out, practicing yoga and eating healthy. But I also started a project which had become a matter really close to my heart: I started Amba Yoga (Amba means mother), where I share my story and try to support women struggling with infertility by producing free fertility yoga content for YouTube (I’m actually about to publish my very first videos this week!). Even though I would not wish this journey on anybody, I am grateful that it has taught me the value of women sticking together and supporting and uplifting each other.

This kind of community really helped me when my treatment finally started in October 2021. Coincidentally this month marked our 3 year “anniversary” of trying for a baby. The symbolism of that really spoke to me.

Although I hate needles with a passion, administering my morning and evening shots somehow became a routine I enjoyed. Thinking of my baby and the possibility that its follicle might be growing inside of me as I type these words fills me with so much hope, joy and anticipation. Each side effect, each wave of nausea or pain in my lower belly, is something I welcome and cherish right now.

The egg retrieval is right around the corner and I feel more hopeful than I have felt since the diagnosis.

I can feel that it’s my time to finally become a mom.

I am a flight attendant and thought that maybe my work had screwed with my biorhythm so much, that it was “my fault” that each test ended up being negative. Still, I listened to my body like I never had before. On the plus side I got to know it the way each woman should know her own body, on the downside I gave attention to my premenstrual tension for the first time and ended up mistaking it for early pregnancy signs during the first few months of trying. This made the negative tests all the more surprising and harder to digest.

I dragged my husband to a fertility clinic after only 6 months of trying. He thought I was being overly cautious and impatient, but my gut was telling me that something was not right. We were lucky to get an appointment right away. The first impression of the clinic was good, it was modern, clean and efficient. The first meeting with our doctor went well, although it felt a little cold and she did say right away that we were only trying for such a short period of time, so why the rush? (My fellow TTC Ladies know that those months passing you by feel like your whole life is on hold and like you’ve been going through this for an eternity. A physician specializing in that field should know this as well!)

We came back 2 weeks later. In the meantime nobody had bothered to pick up the phone, our meeting had been rescheduled and when we arrived we had to wait for two hours, only to be told that our doctor was not available and we would be speaking to the doctor on call. After some more waiting a young doctor rushed in, barely looked at us and started flipping through our files (obviously he was looking at them for the very first time then and there). He looked at me and told me everything looked great – I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders – and proceeded to flip through my husband’s file saying “Yes, everything’s in order… Oh no, wait. You’re infertile.” This cold, uncompassionate way of telling us the diagnosis (and not bothering to explain it in any way) hit us like a ton of bricks.

Why my husband? What happened after his first two naturally conceived kids? And was there anything we could do to improve the odds of conceiving without ART?

My husband took less time to digest the diagnosis. I was using all my time to look up everything I could find about male factor infertility and treatment options. I buried myself in this task to hang on to the feeling that I was in control of our situation, when in reality the circumstances were controlling us.

I scheduled appointments at our family doctor, a urologist, two andrologists, my ob-gyn and even a human geneticist. Each of them told us the same thing: My husband’s sperm quality meant that we had to consider IVF, ICSI to be precise. I read up on those methods and ended up being confused why those treatments would always include me being the one receiving shots and hormone stimulation. It took some time to accept that those are the only available medical options as of now.

The next blow came when we talked about our insurance covering the cost of the treatment. Here in Germany insurances are mandatory and usually they must cover the cost of fertility treatments. We were shocked to learn that this official regulation is a lot more discriminating than you’d think on the first glance: Same sex couples, non-married couples and couples where one partner is younger than 25 or the woman is older than 40, or the man is older than 50 are exempt. Therefore, we would not get financial aid because I was “too young”. Once I would become 25, we would only have a very short time frame before my husband would turn 50 and thereby be “too old”.

I really let myself go after learning this news. We were about a year into our TTC journey and I knew that we could not afford the procedure at that time. For a few months my husband and I drifted apart. My constant crying and sadness were draining his energy and his ability to just deal with the situation made me feel as if he did not want it just as much as I did. My weight gain made me feel unsexy and he felt like sex had become something timed, a means to an end, and nothing where I actually wanted him.

Once we realized what had happened to us, we started really working on our relationship. We made time for date nights, started taking the pressure off our sex life and he committed to asking me more about my feeling, while I committed to practicing regulating my emotions more.

That’s when yoga came into play for me. I had been practicing yoga long before I met my husband, but during those difficult TTC months, I did not take the time to do something for myself.

I committed to my practice and bettering my lifestyle and dropped 40 pounds. I found joy in taking care of myself and suddenly the wish for being a mummy did not dominate my life as much. The sadness was still there and that tiny amount of hope at each ending cycle, but at least my life did not revolve around when we could finally start the treatment anymore.

I decided in order to do something just for myself I would attend a yoga teacher training. That was one of the best decisions I ever made! I did learn yogic philosophy and how to teach asanas but more importantly I learned not only to accept my body, but to love and trust it. I actually started to marvel each month what my body was capable of doing, that it was showing me that it was ready to conceive and that my period was not something to cry about, but a sign of health and renewal. That the female body is so unbelievably strong and willing to tell you so much if you are just willing to listen.

That’s when I decided to become a certified fertility yoga teacher. Once again, one of the best decisions of my life! The training prepared me for what was to come during my first round of IVF, made me listen to my body even more and made me realize that I had to share this with other women of the TTC community.

Then it was finally time to start the treatment! By now more than 2 and a half years of TTC had gone by. We were ready and excited. Right before the start of our ICSI in June 2021 I became quite sick and got diagnosed with Covid. The virus kept me isolated and ill for one whole month. It became clear that in order to hope for a good outcome and healthy pregnancy I had to give my body time to heal.

Right after recovering I started preparing my body, working out, practicing yoga and eating healthy. But I also started a project which had become a matter really close to my heart: I started Amba Yoga (Amba means mother), where I share my story and try to support women struggling with infertility by producing free fertility yoga content for YouTube (I’m actually about to publish my very first videos this week!). Even though I would not wish this journey on anybody, I am grateful that it has taught me the value of women sticking together and supporting and uplifting each other.

This kind of community really helped me when my treatment finally started in October 2021. Coincidentally this month marked our 3 year “anniversary” of trying for a baby. The symbolism of that really spoke to me.

Although I hate needles with a passion, administering my morning and evening shots somehow became a routine I enjoyed. Thinking of my baby and the possibility that its follicle might be growing inside of me as I type these words fills me with so much hope, joy and anticipation. Each side effect, each wave of nausea or pain in my lower belly, is something I welcome and cherish right now.

The egg retrieval is right around the corner and I feel more hopeful than I have felt since the diagnosis.

I can feel that it’s my time to finally become a mom.

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