Bruised but not Broken: Finding Gratitude through Infertility

November brings the celebration of our two year wedding anniversary and it marks two years of trying to conceive. November is also the month to give thanks. I want to take this moment to highlight 4 ways in which I hold gratitude for the experiences and the strength I have gained through this journey.

1. A Deeper Bond with my Husband

We have always had a strong partnership, no one has ever made me feel so supported and loved.

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Infertility has been shown to be the fourth most dramatic life event in a woman’s life. It has brought us new levels of sadness. It has also prepared us for any obstacles we have ahead of us. I am so grateful this amazing man. Whether we are crying or laughing, we are doing it together. Struggling with infertility has solidified what I already knew, which is that I chose the perfect person to have by my side.

2. A Cuddly Companion

After our second failed IUI, my husband agreed to let me adopt a kitten. On Labor Day weekend, Amethyst came into our lives.

Now let me be clear, Amethyst did not fill the baby shaped hole in my heart. She is not a replacement for the child we still long to have. She has however brought me so much joy and comfort. I did not know I would love her as much as I do. She has given me the strength of knowledge that I can be a caretaker.

3. Commitment to Yoga

14117909_10100273141045055_821642303518385962_nI began my yoga path before I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility. I am grateful that I already had my practice to turn to with every disappointment. Yoga has been my constant reminder that my body is still powerful and capable. That I can still have control. More importantly as a yoga teacher I have now been able to share the healing power of yoga with others struggling with reproductive loss and infertility. I love to create a space for folks to come together to find support and share, sometimes for the first time, about their experiences. I continue to be appreciative for yoga both it’s physical and spiritual offerings.

4. Building a Network

Through leading yoga workshops and writing about my struggles, I have connected with many individuals who share my story or other experiences with reproductive loss. Recently someone tried to use the vulnerability I have shown against me, which although cruel, luckily is rare. More often, I have received messages of support and solidarity. I have even found strength in relationships with folks in my life I may not otherwise have due to our shared experiences. This network has provided me advice and encouragement.

This process is still difficult, sad, infuriating. But it is possible to hold multiple truths at once, like wishing I had a child in my arms while still so blessed to have Amethyst snuggled in them. As many of us struggle post election to find joy and gratitude, I wanted to give boast those in my life who do just that.

 

Another Birthday Without A Child

Several weeks ago I celebrated by 34th birthday. 33 was not the year I had hoped for in a lot of ways. One of my 2016 resolutions that I failed miserably was wanting to write at least one blog post a month. I failed because I did not want to have to write only about infertility. I am more than that. So I didn’t write about my struggles but then nothing else came out or felt right. The process of trying to conceive is an all consuming one. At times all I can think about is the desire to be pregnant and the inability to be so. Each month watching my hopes swept away in a sea of red.

Unexplained Infertility is what the doctor said, which is medical speak for we have no idea. Although it is some sort of answer, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, the pain moved in and made a home. So many daily activities became harder. Watching TV meant dealing with those damn Clear Blue Easy commercials. You know the ones, where women find out they’re pregnant and cheer and cry. Every time it came on it was like a punch to the gut. A reminder of each moment I had looked down to see the words “not pregnant.” Facebook became unbearable. Pregnancy announcement after ultrasound bombarding my timeline. It seemed as though everyone around me sneezed and got pregnant. And then there are the in person interactions. The pregnant coworker I try to avoid so as not to see her growing belly and feel tears welling up. The party I have to leave early when a couple shows up with their newborn. The questions from strangers on whether or not I have children. Getting angry each time, not only because they were asking, but that it bothered me.

I want to say that deciding on a plan of action made things easier but it’s just hard in another way. Deciding to do IUI felt like admitting defeat. And because I chose very early on to be honest and open about this process in order to help others struggling, choosing IUI also meant having to explain IUI to family and friends. Explaining can be exhausting. Talking about it is hard. Not talking about it, is hard.

In two months it will officially be two years of trying to conceive. Two years may not seem like a long time but when you desperately want a baby, it feels like a lifetime. For me it is a lifetime. I have waited my whole life for this moment. I can only hope that a year from now, I will be celebrating my next birthday with a baby, a whole list of other hardships, exhausted, and with a smile on my face.

Getting Pregnant—Not As Easy As You May Think

Let me cut to the chase, getting pregnant is not easy, not even a little. For some of you this may not be news. And as a reproductive justice activist, I am fairly knowledgeable about reproductive health. I knew in the abstract that conceiving can be difficult. But I am very in tune with my body so I figured, how hard could this be.

All those baby bumps and newborn photos on Facebook would lead anyone to believe that you decide to get pregnant and voila baby. I realized there is no way I am the only one struggling with this. These status updates could not be the whole story. But where are the stories? The journeys? All we ever see on social media is the end result. This is quite a juxtaposition from the road to marriage which is documented from engagement to the last dance or a to term pregnancy that we see from sonogram to birth photos. I wanted to hear stories, so I started asking questions.

Turns out it isn’t just me. The more people I spoke to, the more I heard similar struggles. Many more people in my social circle than I could’ve ever imagined experiencing difficulties, infertility, miscarriage and more. Often times I’ve found that folks are more willing to discuss their difficulty conceiving publicly only after a healthy pregnancy or birth. I understand this need to wait. Most people want to hear the happy ending. I may be in the minority but I want to hear it all. In case there are others out there who feel the same, this post is for you.

It’s been one year since my husband and I began trying to conceive. It’s been a roller coaster ride of emotions. It began as fun, what with all the “trying” and all. And a little exciting waiting to see if this month would be THE month. I decided to just go with the flow at first. Several months in, the frustration began. Be patient they said. Patience, my friends, is not one of my virtues. Nonetheless I pressed on. At about 6 months in I went into “TTC” mode (starting with learning what TTC meant). This included basal body temps, an ovulation app, teas, meeting with my doula friends, and acupuncture. It was exhausting. All consuming.

By month 7-9, I felt defeated. It was during this time that I really started talking to people outside my tight friend circle about my struggles and in return hearing stories back. It was such a relief to finally hear other people give voice to what I had been experiencing. For about a month after that I felt a boost of confidence. You can do this body! NADA. So I made my appointment to see an infertility specialist. As luck would have it , it was scheduled on my 1 year wedding anniversary. Almost a year to the day we started this process.

And then I took a break. A break from trying. A break from thinking about it. Spending the last few months enjoying our final moments as newlyweds. The appointment happened on Monday. Now I head into another stage in this journey; tests to figure out if there’s any medical basis for infertility or just more time needed. Or that maybe I need a bit of modern medicine boost. I’ll keep you posted. I just want everyone out there struggling to get pregnant, whether it’s been a few months or years, to know you’re not alone. It’s not just you. And yea, this is hard!

*Throughout this post I use mostly “I” instead of “we.” Although my husband and I are going through this together, this post is just about how I am feeling and I do not speak on behalf of us both. He has his own voice and experience of this process.

 

My Pelo

I recently chopped off all my hair. I had let my hair grow for the past 5 years and after my wedding I cut off over 12 inches. It wasn’t enough, so then several months later I went to my stylist and asked for the “Gwyneth Paltrow from Sliding Doors.” He nailed it.

I have never been more complimented on a hair cut. It’s pretty cool since I have done all sorts of cuts and colors since the age of 12. I received a lot or “wow”s and “what made you decide to do that.” But the response my hair elicited the most was “you’re so brave!” It immediately rubbed me the wrong way. Brave?! I wasn’t brave just for cutting my hair. Brave is folks standing up for justice or a Disney movie about a red headed princess. Not me. And certainly not because of a haircut.

It happened so often that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The more I thought about it, the more it became more complicated. We live in a society that dictates beauty standards from the moment we’re born. Barbies have long hair. Disney princesses have long hair (remember that Brave movie I mentioned earlier?) Anyone considered conventionally beautiful typically has flowing locks. Not much has changed in the media in my short 33 years. Conventions of beauty and femininity have stayed rather stagnant. One of the many reasons I became a feminist in the first place.

When I was younger I was known for my long hair. It was down to my butt. My mom wouldn’t let me cut it. She did however let me color it which was the compromise. I rocked a bad ass blond streak in 6th grade. So naturally the second I got to high school, I cut it. My favorite was junior year when I did the “Claire Danes from Mod Squad” cut. Rebelling from my childhood I kept it relatively short for the next ten years. After college I started to let it grow again. In law school, I cut it again. You get the picture. But then I found myself single for the first time in 6 years. I would be lying if I said I didn’t start to worry that maybe I needed to keep my hair long in order to be seen as more attractive. Isn’t strange how lots of hair on a woman is seen as unattractive unless it’s on her head? Even as a feminist I am not immune to society’s pressures. So I kept it long. And it was fun for a while but also a lot of work.

Thinking about all this made me realize, maybe cutting my hair is brave. Anytime you step outside convention it’s brave. Anytime you do something to disrupt the patriarchy, it’s brave. It might just be hair but I’m a believer in tiny revolutions.

brave!

BRAVE!

 

 

 

My Relationship to Yoga

As I enter into the next stage of my yoga journey, through yoga teacher training, I want to take a moment to reflect on the 2 and a half years of my practice and its impact on my life.

I am someone who thinks. A lot. And often in rapid succession.There are not many things that can get my mind to slow down. Not even sleep. In fact I’m writing this at 6 am on a Saturday after a sleepless anxiety-ridden night. I can frequently be heard sighing loudly in my office to oxygenate my brain after what may have been many minutes of shallow breathing, if at all. Yoga has helped me to breathe. To connect that breath to my body and to my mind. If I take that moment to pause, breathe; I can take stock of what my body is doing and consequently that my mind is connected to it. It’s still an ongoing process in my daily life off the mat. But on the mat, it makes sense. It’s not so much shutting off my wandering thoughts, but turning on my mind to just my body and my breathe in order to remind myself who I am, what I want, and why I am here. It’s this time to reflect on my complete self that has made yoga invaluable.

My first attempt ever to lead an asana sequence.

First attempt ever to lead an asana sequence. I am far left. 

This past year in particular the connection to my body through yoga has been especially important. For the past year my husband and I have been trying to conceive. It has been a very hard and disappointing process. One that frankly I did not expect and was not ready for. Trying to conceive can make you feel like you’re not in control of your body. You want it to do something and it won’t. It feels as though it’s not working properly somehow. Yoga has helped me feel in control of my body during this difficult time. I get on my mat and say “body twist this way,” and it does. It may not be perfect in every pose but I am in control of placing each limb in a shape and letting my body melt into a pose. I say when I push, I say when I rest. This control over what my body can do, if even for just 90 minutes, has given me a sense of validation that my body is mine. That it works. It is a reminder to be patient (which I have never been good at) like with any difficult pose that takes time.

This is one of the many reasons I am so excited to begin my journey of teacher training. I want to help others find what yoga means for them. To find peace with who they are, if even for a moment. To connect their bodies and their minds, especially at times when that is the most difficult. I’ve never seen TTC yoga being offered. Is that a thing? If not, maybe it’s time I made it one.

With a Little Help from Our Friends

Last Fall my partner and I got married. We truly wanted it to be a community event, a chance to share our love and commitment with those we love the most. Part of creating a community through our wedding was to include as many friends (and friends of friends) in helping us achieve our vision. We are quite lucky in that we have so many talented people in our lives. I wanted to give these folks a public shout out and show you all their amazing work.

First, our photographer Jordyn Rozensky is a close friend of my husband. She did our engagement photos and also shot our wedding (along with her shooting partner and fiance Justin Hamel). Her work is wonderful and having her know us and understand us as a couple, made a difference.

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Our invitations were created by my friend Kate Ziegler and her partner Jack Romano , who run Union Jack Creative. They blogged about the process of creating our invitations here. They also did the lettering for our escort cards. Kate and Jack not only listed to our music/concert themed ideas, but added personal touches that we hadn’t even thought of, like a silhouette of a chuppa and our venue on the invitation that we loved.

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I knew before I was even engaged that I would not be doing a veil. For me it was one of those antiquated anti-feminist traditions that I couldn’t (wouldn’t even try to) reclaim. I wanted a flower crown. I asked my friend Caity MacLeod (her husband plays in a band with mine), who I knew through her instagram was super creative whether it was through her photography, her lettering or other crafts. When I first asked her, she admitted she had never done one before but was confident she could do it. And she nailed it. It was everything I wanted. Another bonus, she gave me extra flowers and berries in case any fell off the crown, instead I ended up using the extra pieces in my brideswomen’s hair.

I wasn’t the only one with a custom headpiece. My husband’s Best Man’s mother, who has known him since he was a child, hand painted the kippot for the wedding.

Jake & Brenda _JRRozensky (224 of 700)

Our beautiful chuppa was designed and created by our friend Leora Mallach. Leora owns BBbatiks where she creates original batik textiles. We met with Leora and she explained the batik process to us and we chose colors and patterns that spoke to us. The final piece was exactly what we had in mind. We love it so much that we chose to keep it up and eat under it during the reception.

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Our other judaica piece that we had especially designed for us was our ketubah. Luckily we were introduced via email to Jennifer Kaplan through our mutual friend Lindy. Jennifer creates one of a kind paper cut art. We corresponded and told her we wanted to incorporate the tree of life both for it’s spiritual significance and to symbolize our environmentalism. We also asked that music be incorporated somehow as that was a running theme throughout our wedding. The design she came up with was more that we could have imagined. We are excited we have this remarkable piece of art to display in our home. You can see all her work at Jennifer Kaplan Designs.

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We had two musical contributors to the festivities as well. One of my husband’s groomsmen Thom played the processional music on guitar. And my friend and bandmate Mike played guitar while I serenaded my groom during the reception. My husband proposed to me with a song so I thought it only fair that I return the favor.

This is Thom serving double duty as musician and groomsman.

This is Thom serving double duty as musician and groomsman.

The final addition worth mentioning is not a friend or even a friend of a friend but certainly worth noting none the less. Part of keeping our wedding green, I decided not to have flower bouquets. Instead I found an amazing alternative on Etsy. My paper flower bouquets were made from sheet  music of our first dance song. Dana’s Paper Flowers is a unique alternative to a traditional bouquet. They were a huge hit and bonus I have it as a keepsake.

Our wedding was such a fun day. We are so lucky we got to spend it with so many wonderful people. We knew that our wedding wasn’t only about us but everyone in our lives, and I think we made that clear through our choices.

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When A Sexist Tradition Would Mean The World To Me

I am having a feminist wedding. Some may say this is an oxymoron since marriage itself is an agent of the patriarchy. My response is that some of us, interracial interfaith couples, have not always been allotted that right, but that’s a different post. So far we both have engagement rings, I will not wear a veil, and I have a best woman and brideswomen, no maids to be seen. I also will not have my father walk me down the aisle. Not because it’s a sexist tradition that treats women like property but because he died when I was 14.

Brenda and Papi Scan

When you lose a parent you immediately think of all the things they will not be around for. At 14 those things included high school graduation, learning to drive, attend and graduate college and in the far off distance, my wedding. All those other milestones and many more have passed. I was sad but worked through them. For some reason this feels different. Getting engaged was so wonderful but his absence became immediately present. And quite frankly I’ve barely been able to talk about it.

My father was the funniest person. Ever. This is a man that after a very long day of painting houses created a game with the 5 of us (often times more since the neighborhood kids all considered him Papi and would be over) called the Dark Game, which was basically hide and seek in the apartment in the dark while he wore a glow in the dark skeleton mask. He loved to sing and dance. He was the life of the party and we always had a packed apartment because free time meant time to be with friends and family. This is all to say, a wedding would have been a perfect stage for him. He would have loved the large group, the music, everything. I can’t even imagine what sort of silliness would have ensued during the ceremony itself. I just picture him wearing a kippah, because he would want to try it and dancing like a wild man during the hora. He would have probably tried to lift me in the chair all by himself. He wouldn’t have given a speech but probably heckled all of them. The father/daughter dance would have probably been a Gypsy Kings track. At the end of the night he would have had enough beers to pretend he was drunk and throw one dollar bills to all the grandchildren.

A father walking his daughter down the aisle and “giving her away” traditionally views women as property being transferred from one man to another. The history, as with most wedding traditions, is a sexist mess. If my father were here, would I have participated in this tradition? Knowing me, probably not (and he would have been totally cool with it, btw). But I don’t get to make that decision. Instead my sisters will walk with me down the aisle. What’s more feminist than the bonds of sisterhood on display at such a momentous occasion? Although I am excited to share that moment with my sisters and to be gaining two dads on my wedding day, I would give anything to have him there. It’s hard to have a strong feminist stance on something when the choice has been taken away.

Passover Reflections

This year, for the first time in the three years since my partner and I have been together, I observed Passover with him. It has taken me a month to put to words what this experience meant to me.

Passover is my partner’s favorite Jewish holiday. He loves the symbolism, the message and most importantly the gathering of family and friends. Last year we hosted our first seder and it was amazing to watch him lead our group of Jewish and non-Jewish friends and family through the rituals. His passion for his faith and culture are one of the many reasons I fell in love with him in the first place.

This year since we are planning our wedding, we decided not to host. Although I had known for a long time that I would be spending the rest of my life with him, getting engaged made me think even more about our future and what it truly means to be in an interfaith relationship. While reading The New Jewish Wedding, we came upon the chapter on creating a Jewish home and quickly realized we had already done that. We keep a fairly kosher kitchen, we have mezuzot on door frames and our kiddush cup makes an appearance on the dining room table on Fridays (when we can). But with Passover approaching this year, our first as an engaged couple and our last before we’re married, I started to think more about what it means to create a Jewish life for us and for our future children.

I decided to observe Passover this year for several reasons. I wanted to stand in solidarity with my partner. To him, Passover is more that just a week of eating matzah, it’s a week to reflect on the excesses in our lives. I wanted to experience being mindful of what I eat, when on the daily I have the privilege of not having to. I also wanted to be able to share with our future children that just because Mami isn’t Jewish doesn’t mean she can’t be a part of everything they experience as Jews.

It wasn’t an easy week. Meal planning was crucial and I definitely ate more fruits and nuts than I ever thought I would. I made it though the week. And that slice of pizza and first sip of beer after it was all over was truly amazing. In the end Passover wasn’t about giving anything up. It was about gaining a new perspective of what my life will be like going forward. And just one more reminder that I made the right decision when choosing my life partner.

A Girl and Her Mat

Today marks my one year yogaversary. I had taken a few yoga classes here and there throughout my adult life, but last April I decided to make a commitment to my body and my mind. I had always been intimidated by yoga, the twisty seemingly gravity defying moves and also the appearance of yoga as a pastime for the wealthy and thin. Yes, some yogis are more experienced and can crow like nobody’s business. And yes, some of my fellow yogis are thin and probably wealthy (studio is located in Back Bay after all) but it is not the exclusive club I once thought it was.

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I was surprised to see that first day, and every day since, many other newcomers. I was also pleasantly surprised to notice women and men of all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds. I know that not all studios reflect this level of diversity but I feel lucky to have found one that does. The instructors that I have had the pleasure of practicing with have always made me feel good about what I could do and helped me modify what I cannot. I have also found a community of yogis online with bodies like mine and socially conscious approaches to the practice.

As an activist I am constantly trying to change the world. Changing the world takes a LOT of time — the patriarchy is no joke ya’ll. As many activists know, finding time for yourself can be difficult. Making a commitment to yoga has meant making a commitment to me time. A time to reflect on my body, my mind. A moment to just breathe (which I forget to do sometimes). A space to let my body do what it can, no judgement.

I still fall out of poses sometimes and occasionally my mind wanders to the sounds on Boylston Street. But it’s only been a year. Who knows what my body will be able to do a year from now? I can’t wait to find out.

Doin’ Thangs

It’s been three months since my last post. The new year hit and away I went. For the past three months I have been quite busy. With each new adventure I vowed to blog about it and yet here we are three months later and zero posts to show for it. So in order to wipe the slate clean I’m giving you a good old fashioned roundup.

January:

  • I attended my very first Con, Arisia. Arisia is said to be “New England’s largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention.” Now since I have never been to a Con, I can’t say whether this is the most diverse in the area. But if it is, that’s not saying much. Don’t get me wrong, although that was disappointing I did attend some amazing panels. I attended panels on zombies, vampires and Hunger Games-some of my favorite things. A few others that I really enjoyed were shame on slut-shaming and race and Identity in fandom. The feminism panel let much to be desired since it consisted of 3 white women and a white male, none of whom knew who Kimberle Crenshaw is (I reminded them from the audience). My favorite panel was on respectability politics. Not only did I get introduced to Daniel Jose Older, but I got to meet Mikki Kendall in person!!! All in all it was a pretty cool three days. I got to let all my nerd hang out and I was left thinking: how do I get on a panel next year?
  • I became an abortion doula. I first heard about abortion doula work in 2007 while living in NY. I knew immediately it was something I wanted to be a part of. I have been a reproductive justice activist for many years. Being an abortion doula seemed to be an important and much needed way to put my activism into direct action. Several months ago at the New England Women’s Center Conference during a self care workshop, the facilitator mentioned that she was starting the Boston Doula Project and I knew immediately this was my chance to get involved. The training was great. It gave me an opportunity to meet a wonderful group of people who felt as strongly about issues of reproductive justice as I did. The organizers made the distinction between reproductive rights, reproductive health and reproductive justice. This was a really important distinction that set the framework for the remainder of the training. I feel lucky to be a part of this organization from the ground up. I look forward to helping people and doing outreach in Boston about this work as part of the Public Programs team.

February:

  • I found my dress. I won’t go into too many details since my fiance will likely read this. It was a pretty easy process in that I had a clear vision of what I wanted. Some stores were better than others (nicer than others) but I refused to be swayed from my vision. In the end I found the one and it gave me the feeling I was waiting for. The moment I saw myself in the mirror I burst into tears because it was exactly how I want to look on my wedding day. It may be more traditional than one would expect from a feminist (yes, it’s white), however it is 100% me and that’s all that matters.

March:

  • I attended the Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference. I attended this conference as a presenter, co-leading a workshop as part of the Hollaback! Boston team. It was a fantastic weekend. There were many engaging speaking including Tristan Taormino and Jiz Lee. The panels were really engaging. My two favorites were Queering Pregnancy and Media Representations of Queer Women of Color. Although the whole weekend was great, hands down the best part was the performance given by Darkmatter. Their slam poetry made me laugh and cry. I managed to grab a clip for you.

Needless to say I have been quite a busy bee. What have you all been up to in 2014?