Hi all! Please welcome Nadine Kenney Johnstone, author of a powerful memoir, Of This Much I’m Sure, to the Whole Life Blog today. In preparation for my next book, I’ve been researching the physical and emotional impacts of infertility and infertility treatments. When I learned of Nadine’s work, I asked her to join us and talk about her experiences as a yogi trying to conceive. Her tips are relevant for individuals living through any kind of trauma.
I was taking a lot of heated vinyasa flow yoga classes before I started infertility treatments, and I always walked out of the studio feeling detoxed, strong, and calm. One of my favorite instructors was always there to adjust and support me into a deeper extension of a pose. At the time, I was living in Massachusetts, 800 miles away from my mother, sister, and friends in Chicago. So, this nurturing yoga environment was incredibly important to me.
When I started my fertility injections, my doctor stressed the importance of a stable core temperature, so heated yoga was off-limits. My studio didn’t offer non-heated classes, so I replaced my practice with solo walks around the neighborhood. This only furthered my isolation and gave me too much time to mentally obsess about all of the things I couldn’t control–if the injections were working, if the procedures would be successful, if I’d get pregnant.
Unexpectedly, after my egg retrieval procedure, my left ovary never clotted, and I had severe internal bleeding. I was rushed to the hospital and into emergency surgery. The recovery was even worse than that of a c-section. I was out of work and couldn’t drive for weeks. It was the loneliest time in my life. Though what had gotten me into this situation was the longing to be a mother, it left me wanting to be mothered.
On the first day I could drive, I knew exactly where I needed to go. I went to my favorite yoga studio, and though I couldn’t do 90 percent of the poses, the instructor gave me such healing support that I nearly wept. She felt like the mom, sister, and friend I didn’t have in Massachusetts.
When I did finally get pregnant–naturally, by some miracle–I found unheated classes and did yoga throughout my entire pregnancy, which might be why our son is a natural yogi!
I wrote about my experiences in my new memoir: Of This Much I’m Sure. While reflecting, I learned that trauma, in any form, can be incredibly isolating, and as I look back, here are the things I wish I had done more of to help me stay centered:
Keep up with your yoga practice.
Stress can make you feel incredibly isolated. You need the company–the emotional and physical support from others. The poses and the breathing will give your monkey mind a job other than obsessing over things that you can’t control. If you are going through infertility treatments, go to an unheated class and talk to your doctor about any poses that might be off limits.
Train others to be good listeners.
Most people don’t know how to react to stories of other people’s struggles. Some will talk about the silver-lining; many will tell you to just relax. None of this advice will heal your pain. Choose a few trusted people and prep them about how to react. Tell them, “Listen, hug, repeat.”
Grab a notebook and time yourself: 10 minutes. Make note of your physical, mental, and emotional status that day. Note what’s irritating you. Note what you’re grateful for (both of yourself and the outside world). What have you learned about yourself today? And, finally, Were you able to speak your truth today? If not, why? Unspoken truth becomes a heavy weight that burdens you until you free it.
Nadine Kenney Johnstone is author of Of This Much I’m Sure (She Writes Press, 2017), a memoir of her experiences struggling with IVF and illness, and the healing power of hope and love. Her work has been featured in Chicago Magazine, The Month, PANK, and various anthologies, including The Magic of Memoir. Nadine, who received her MFA from Columbia College in Chicago, teaches English at Loyola University and doubles as a writing coach, presenting at conferences internationally. She lives near Chicago with her family.