I spent last weekend in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. I love California. So much, in fact, that it’s gotten to the point where I nearly cry when it’s time to leave. Okay, maybe that’s a little bit dramatic but it IS true that I am always super excited to travel there and sad to leave. I have to admit though that I was really nervous about this trip and while I was happy to enjoy the beautiful scenery, meet up with friends, and visit some favorite establishments, I was NOT looking forward to what I was going there to do. Attend a retreat with Xtraordinary Fertility’s Renee Waggener, to “revive my baby making mojo”.
It was nothing against Renee. She’s fun, vivacious, and as I said, I was looking forward to seeing her again. We met at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association’s Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. in May, where she first told me about the retreat. My first thoughts were, “Hey, Renee seems cool, and it’s in the Redwoods, I’m in!”
Shortly after returning from D.C., she asked if ART of Infertility would be willing to present a workshop during the retreat. I couldn’t say no. However, as the time to fly across the country came closer, my anxiety was building. I was going not only to lead the attendees in making prayer flags around their infertility journeys, I was going to be participating in Renee’s Fertilicious Living Program myself.
I was finding a few problems with that. One, I’m not currently trying to make any babies. Renee is pretty clear that she broadly defines “baby making”. It could be literal, but it also could be moving on to adoption, or finding and nurturing some other passion, something like ART of IF, which I definitely consider my “baby.” Still, I’m at a weird point in my journey. Not trying to conceive or adopt. Not resolved to live child free. I’m just kind of hanging out. While there are others hanging out in this space with me, it can still be lonely in the broader infertility community.
It seems there are so many resources for those who are shooting up with Lupron and Menopur or dealing with background checks and home studies and not so many for those living without children after infertility or on extended breaks, living in the limbo land of still figuring out where this journey will take them. I was worried about spending a weekend surrounded by people who were still in that world of “trying”. How would it make me feel? How it might make them feel to hear my story, learning that I am 6.5 years in and not yet resolved? I’m often immersed in the world of infertility but this felt different. Almost like I might be invading their space.
Another problem was that I was finding Renee’s message about the retreat to seem a little too much like a get rich quick message of magical thinking. It seemed to me like I was going to arrive and be told that, if I was just positive enough, unblocked myself, and practice envisioning my spirit baby, I would achieve my dreams. While that’s fine for some people, I’m totally not into that. I’m a realist. I’m into science. I don’t even like the messages, “don’t give up!” and “follow your dreams”. I’m much too practical for that. I don’t think I’ve always disliked those messages but infertility has taught me that there are some things in life that just aren’t possible and sometimes we have to redefine our goals as a result, and that’s okay!
However, the biggest problem is that there are some things around this infertility experience that I just having a hard time really talking about and dealing with. Not only is it hard, I’m totally out of practice talking about it in the infertility community on a deep enough level. I host a peer-led infertility support group and I’ve interviewed dozens of men and women about their own experiences for the project but I’m so used to being the one who is listening that speaking out has become much harder than it once was. I’m now used to being the one, in a group setting at least, who is making sure no one monopolizes the conversation and that it moves along. The one who is silent so that others can talk their hearts out. I knew that, as a participant in the retreat, I would be in a very vulnerable place. A place that, frankly, I’d rather not go at the moment because I’m afraid of what I’ll find.
I was pleasantly surprised by how different the reality of my experience at the retreat was than I imagined it would be. While the others at the retreat are still pursuing medical treatment, I felt I easily fit in. They are an amazing group or strong, insightful, compassionate women who made me feel at home, even though I’m at a different point in the journey than they are.
It’s true that Renee’s message is ultimately positive. However, it wasn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and magic like the website made me believe it would be. Instead, it was much more profound. She offered a safe space and really asked me the tough questions I needed to be asked and, not only asked them, but held a space for me to answer them. To really get to the bottom of why it was I didn’t want to answer them, or to understand what my answer meant to me. She’s pretty amazing at what she does, and, even though It was as hard as I thought it would be to go to a space of such vulnerability, maybe even harder, by the end of our time together, I felt more peace and clarity than I have in a very, very long time.
I’m glad I chose to attend the retreat, opening myself up to entering a space that I knew wouldn’t necessarily be fun, or comfortable, or relaxing, so that I could really dig deep, answering questions and learning tools that will help me get closer to resolving my infertility. The experience, and Renee, reminded me that these feelings of pain and discomfort are temporary, and that by allowing myself to feel them, I can find so many paths to, and opportunities for, feelings of peace and happiness.
So, I encourage you to step outside of your own comfort zone to do something this weekend that allows you the same opportunity. Whether it’s something big, or small, you might be surprised by what you find.