Collective Knowledge: What Experts Want You to Know About Infertility

Collective Knowledge: What Experts Want You to Know About Infertility

 As World Infertility Awareness Month comes to a close, we want to share some resources — because this issue is not confined to a single month of the year. For many women, fertility is a long and life-changing journey.

At Chiyo, we believe in whole-person care. We want to help spread the word about the broader community of practitioners, coaches, and educators to consider for support on your fertility journey. These practitioners can offer new kinds of care and expertise, alongside your doctor.

This week, we checked in with several women's health practitioners who are members of our Chiyo Collective, to get their advice on infertility care.

     Here’s what they shared: 

     

    What is a fertility coach?

    A fertility coach offers supplemental lifestyle support to women trying to get pregnant… this can be anything from diet and sleep, to managing stress during the IVF process. — Kate Potvin

    More than anything, a fertility coach exists to help ease the profound burden of infertility… We fill that gaping hole left between the clinical approach of doctors and the well-meaning, but frequently off-the-mark input from friends and family. All this means that there are so many decisions to be made. A Fertility Coach will help you navigate each and every one of these decisions, big, small or otherwise… This includes distilling down information so you don’t waste countless hours with Dr. Google, and asking the type of questions that quickly get to the heart of the matter, leading to decisions and choices that bring confidence and hope. — Abbe Feder

     

    What is a fertility awareness educator?

    I am trained to teach individuals or couples how to understand and use Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) for family planning and reproductive health. I offer a full spectrum of women's health medicine, supporting women through all cycles of life. I am passionate about helping women build an intellectual understanding of their hormonal cycles by educating them on anatomy and physiology and how to observe, chart, and interpret their ovulatory menstrual cycles. — Ruth Sie

     

    What are some common misconceptions about infertility that you encounter in your work?

    While cortisol may play a role in someone's journey, it is not the same for everyone. Another misconception is that you have to go through this process alone. This is one of the most emotional, stressful, and unstable time in your life, you will need support beyond what the doctor's office is giving. — Quanisha McGruder

    The reality is that ⅓ of infertility cases are because of an issue with the man, ⅓ because of the woman, and ⅓ unexplained. And, half (50%!!) of all miscarriages are because of a sperm issue too — we don’t talk about that enough.  Abbe Feder

    Some common misconceptions about infertility that I encounter when working with clients include the belief that it is solely a woman's issue, that lifestyle alone can always fix it, that it is rare, that it is something to hide and feel ashamed about, and that seeking help means giving up. These myths can create unnecessary guilt, sadness, isolation, and delays in seeking proper treatment. — Josephine Atluri

    Either you're fertile and getting pregnant is easy or you're infertile. I like to think about fertility as a continuum. Many women are actually sub-fertile, meaning their bodies just need a little extra support to boost their fertility. Whether you're trying on your own or doing IVF, sometimes giving your body some extra resources can shift you on that continuum just enough to conceive. Kate Potvin

    Another common misconception centers around secondary infertility, which means those who were able to have a child/children initially but are now having trouble conceiving the next child. People often say, “At least you have one,” and suppose it mitigates the pain. But the grief experienced is as painful as for those struggling to conceive their first child. Wendy Obstler + Deborah Anderson

     

    What was the most surprising or upsetting thing you ever heard from a patient/client re. infertility?

    I recently had a client tell me that her doctor took a look inside her uterus and said “wow, your uterus looks obliterated.” When she told me, my gut cringed. I was thinking about how that must have felt as someone already sad that she isn’t pregnant, unsure of what to expect from this procedure where they looked inside her body, and the shame she was already feeling about her parts not working as they should. Needless to say, she and I worked together to move her to a different clinic. Abbe Feder

    That they almost lost their church family over the decision to use alternative methods to get pregnant.  Quanisha McGruder

    For me personally, it always pains me to hear a client say that their infertility and/or pregnancy loss is their fault. Having gone through my own infertility journey for so long, it is sad to hear another person experience a similar pain that I went through. As a fertility mindfulness coach, I offer my clients that supportive space to validate all of their feelings while also empowering to see their journey from a different lens so they can utilize strategies to support their mental and emotional wellbeing during such a difficult time. Josephine Atluri

     

    How has your personal journey with infertility inspired your work?

    We know that infertility changes us, but it has truly altered my life forever... It was a life purpose I didn’t know was calling, until it was. What’s exceptional about more and more women entering the medical field is that we’ve been through it, and for those of us who struggle, we know there has to be a better way. Abbe Feder

     

    What is a beautiful or joyful moment that you witnessed during your time as a practitioner?

    Nothing brings me more joy than when a patient who has been struggling to conceive shares the news of their positive pregnancy. Even better is hearing about an "uneventful" pregnancy and a smooth delivery! The “ah-hah” moment of a client learning how to read their body, when signs of ovulation have clicked for them. Ruth Sie

    We have seen the gamut over the last two decades: in some cases, as our client above, individuals became pregnant after being given grave odds, and we’ve also seen magical transformations where those who are initially attached to a specific outcome have been able to shift to a place of acceptance using donor eggs or sperm, surrogates, adoption or embracing being childless (and mothering or fathering in other ways). Wendy Obstler + Deborah Anderson

     

    Why is patient advocacy so important when dealing with infertility?

    We don't know what we don’t know. This can be one of the hardest parts of any medical journey because we take the advice and guidance of our medical professionals to heart, and we are a in vulnerable, high stakes frame of mind. We tend to assume medical professionals know everything, and sometimes they do, but following your instinct or questioning a decision or a protocol can be invaluable. And it is crucial to choose the right fertility doctor and clinic so that you feel supported in your advocacy and self-determination. Abbe Feder

     

    What is the role of empowerment in your practice?

    Empowerment is huge in my practice! I want to empower women to understand and listen to their own bodies, and have agency in their fertility process. I think body literacy is really lacking in our society, and my hope is that by teaching women how their bodies work, they're empowered to make choices that support their fertility and health. I also like to remind clients that it's their fertility process and they get to choose what that looks like and what pace they want to move. Helping them feel empowered around voicing concerns or needs with their doctor is so important too. Kate Potvin

     

    Can you walk us through a mindfulness practice that you recommend for women who are struggling with fertility issues?

    When women are struggling with fertility issues, I often hear that they feel like a science experiment with no control over their body and their treatment plan. They feel they are at the mercy of their doctor’s office. I can attest to feeling that same way after undergoing many years of IVF treatments myself. Thus, a mindfulness practice that I often recommend is a breathing exercise because of its many benefits... I like the extended exhale. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds and then breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8 seconds. During the extended exhale, I like to imagine I am breathing out something that no longer serves me in that moment such as a negative thought or some stress I am holding in my body. Josephine Atluri

     

    What is an affirmation that you might offer to patients/clients who are facing infertility?

    "I love and trust my body." Fertility can often make us feel like our bodies are the enemy or they've betrayed us somehow, but re-establishing trust with our bodies is so important--not just for fertility, but for pregnancy, birth, and beyond.  Kate Potvin

     

    How can massage therapy support women struggling with infertility?

    Massage therapy can help people with infertility by increasing blood flow to muscles and reproductive system. also by bringing the body into a low stress homeostasis so the endocrine system can work without influence of cortisol interference. — Quanisha McGruder

     

    How can yoga support the fertility journey?

    The practice of yoga helps with both the physical and emotional challenges of trying to conceive. On the physical level, yoga generally increases blood flow and oxygen, removes toxins, releases endorphins, and helps to release tension held in the muscles and fascia. Fertility yoga takes it “up a notch” by additionally focusing on poses and acupressure techniques that honor where you are in your menstrual cycle and support and feed the reproductive organs/hormonal systems. — Wendy Obstler + Deborah Anderson

     

    What are some of your favorite resources around infertility?

    I love Dr. Aimee, aka The Egg Whisperer, for providing people with guidance on where to begin their infertility journey or egg freezing. I also love Fertility Out Loud because they have a database that you can search for providers and get information on insurance coverage and treatments. —Josephine Atluri

    Social media can be a pit of doom, but it can also be a source of joy, empowerment, and a starting point of information. Some great instagram accounts:

    • @Hellorescripted
    • @Incirclefertility (of course!)
    • @Donoreggbankusa
    • @Fertilityrally
    • @Hopefulmamafoundation

    There are a ton of infertility podcasts out there now as well which I find so helpful. Mine is called The Fertility Chick. I love InfertileAF, The Egg Whisperer Show, As a Woman, Maculate Conception to name a few. I also love Resolve.org to keep me updated on legislation around IVF. —Abbe Feder

     

    Was this Q&A with women's health experts helpful for you? Comment below — we want to know what you think!

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