Guest blog by Erin McCollough, Founder of Fertile Hope Yoga.
If you have known the struggle of trying to conceive, you may have walked a very lonely fertility journey. What seems to come easy for so many people feels elusive, as your heart breaks over yet another failed cycle, or yet another pregnancy or birth announcement splashed on social media. Your fertility journey may be a private matter, as it is for so many. If you do share your struggle, you’re often met with well-meaning but unhelpful “advice” from friends and family who just don’t understand. Efforts to reach out can sometimes leave you feeling even more lonely and isolated.
Over my 10+ years of working in a fertility clinic and supporting women on their fertility journeys, I’ve watched many support groups pop up either in person or on social media. Navigating these groups can be a bit of a minefield. I’ve seen too many unfacilitated groups devolve into toxic environments that fuel negativity and hopelessness in those trying to conceive. Sometimes these groups become venting grounds for fertility failure. I absolutely understand the need to express fear, disappointment and sadness. I also understand the need to not stay there and the need for women to lift each other up so that they can keep going.
That is why I decided to not only create a yoga for fertility program but also a community, or kula, which is a central but often overlooked tenet of yoga.
Kula is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “community,” “clan” or “tribe.” This word is sometimes used by the yoga community to denote the sense of inclusion and belonging that can be cultivated through yogis coming together to practice yoga.
This kula, or community, of yogis is considered sacred because it is a group of people who come together freely, with intention and a shared sense of purpose. In this way, the traditional idea of yoga as a personal and individual practice can be expanded to include more social aspects and experiences of connection with others as well as the self.
What does this community at Fertile Hope Yoga look like in practice? It looks like women who’ve “been there” coming together to support one another. We have weekly meetups on Zoom and a private facebook page where we check in with one another regularly. These spaces are facilitated by myself and another trained fertility coach to make sure that everyone gets the support that they need. We also have affinity groups which are smaller circles of women who choose to walk together and these groups are based on similar fertility stories (recurrent pregnancy loss group, trying naturally group, fertility after 40 group, or IVF group). There is certainly space to commiserate with others who know the unique challenges of the journey, but we also care about one another enough to not allow each other to stew in misery. Inspiration is shared and ignited. Breathing is contagious and so is self-advocacy, dedication to self care and a commitment to keep going.
Kula also looks like holding a common purpose and intention. Each month we have a theme and group activity that is designed to support the mind-body connection. While everyone in the program is working toward the goal of getting pregnant and having their longed-for baby, these monthly activities give us another shared goal. These mini goals are more immediately attainable which boosts confidence, energizing us all to keep working on the bigger goals. Yoga and gratitude challenges, book clubs, mindset practices, and lifestyle resets are some of the shared group practices that members can choose to participate in. There is healing and growth momentum that builds when we do these things together, not to mention accountability!
One of our sacred community rituals is graduation. When women who have conceived and successfully make it to 10 weeks of pregnancy, they “graduate”. They share their fertility story with the group. They also pass along the hard-earned wisdom that they have gained along the way. Pregnancy announcements from women who understand the struggle of infertility have a different quality and are often less triggering to those who are still in the wait. They serve as a beacon of hope. These stories are tucked away in a Wisdom Chest that is accessible to the community so that those who need an infusion of inspiration or encouragement can get it whenever they need it.
Community is often the missing piece that women didn’t know they needed on their fertility journey. Most women who join Fertile Hope Yoga come for the yoga but when I ask them what they appreciate most about the program, they often mention the valuable connections they have made with others. They stay for the community.
Cairy is a Fertile Hope Yoga graduate who wrote,
Fertile Hope Yoga was my saving grace. At first, I was skeptical. I wondered if telling other people about my struggle would really help me feel better. I wondered if hearing about other people’s struggles and successes was really what I needed. I had never done yoga before and I had my worries, but I became so attached to this group of courageous women. Connecting with others on the journey became the highlight of my week and I have made some life-long friends as a result.
I am proud that the Fertile Hope Yoga kula is committed to being a safe and positive space, through building each other up, reminding one another of the importance of self-care, and encouraging each other to keep going. I hear from participants time and time again that even though they may have been hesitant to join at the beginning, they can’t imagine how they ever could have navigated their fertility journey without this sisterhood of support.
Learn how yoga can support your fertility and all about the IGNITE Your Fertility Membership.
Erin McCollough is Founder of Fertile Hope Yoga, the world’s first online fertility yoga studio allowing women to practice from the comfort of their living room floor. For more than a decade, Erin has been leading the industry with her in-person yoga fertility program at the CNY Fertility Center. She is the Co-Creator of The Fertile Secret book and has helped thousands of women reach out and hold their baby after they had been told they could never get pregnant.
She calls upon her 20 years of training and practice in the healing arts: yoga teacher trainings, licensed massage therapy, Reiki certified, Doula trained, myofascial release, Arvigo Therapy certified to name a few and uses the modalities to change how women approach motherhood .