The year of 2012 had me completely in the zone. I had been dancing, running and Pilates-ing my way through the past 11 years of my life, I was the head of my successful Pilates studio and had began to reach a larger audience through blogging, online classes and professional presentations. My husband and I were planning to start a family and life felt aligned and right.
On paper, I was going to write a book, win a paddleboard race and hopefully become an Athleta Store’s Sponsored Athlete! I breathed in the Power to the She credo. I left it all on the mat. I took risks and inspired others to do the same. Behind the scenes, I worried a little that becoming pregnant would put my goals on hold. But when I thought of growing our family, I knew that I would sacrifice it all for the chance to be a mom.
As the months rolled by without a positive test, I simply continued on full steam, filling my schedule with workshops, client appointments and all of the Power to the She type activities I could get done before the positive test would come. With each month, I convinced myself that I had somehow screwed up the timing of my cycle or that I hadn’t done enough of any number of things–working out, drinking water, kegals–you name it. Sheepishly, I asked a few people how long it took for them to conceive and received answers like “Oh, he just has to look at me and we get pregnant. We’re really fertile.” I knew that it was normal for a couple to take between six months and a year to conceive, but I was beginning to get worried and more importantly, I was beginning to run out of distractions.
One fateful day that fall, while visiting the Chicago Athleta store for a Twitter party and some retail therapy, the staff approached me to reveal that I would be named the Chicago Store’s Sponsored Athlete. The serendipity of my belief in the store’s message coupled with their belief in me was a magical and instant distraction from all that was plaguing my mind. Little did I know how much Power to the She would mean to me over the following year.
At the start of the year, I began to teach classes at the store and gathered the courage to ask my doctor about our “delayed plans.” In the studio, I was the picture of positivity, doing the best I could to live up to my role. At home, I was dealing with the news that something was not quite right with my reproductive system, but we didn’t know what. By day, I taught and inspired, by night I cried and started oral medications that were sure to do the trick. Four months went by with nothing to show other that a new found bloating of my belly and a new sense of shame. What was wrong with me?
Familiarly, I turned to my physical practice. I wrote feverishly about my experiences in various sports. To miss my weekly yoga class was tantamount to a nervous breakdown. I reinvested into a vigorous Pilates mat practice and fielded what seemed like daily questions of “When are you guys going to start a family?” We were able to get an appointment with a specialist and after a barrage of blood tests, x-rays (that were more like acts of torture than pictures of my reproductive system) and what would be the start of one hundred ultrasounds, we were dealt with the news of my diagnosis: early menopause mixed with a side order of pre-mature ovarian failure. I was 36. Our chances of conceiving naturally were 5% and we had officially bought our ticket to the roller coaster ride that is infertility.
Just like any well-designed workout plan, fertility treatments tend to follow a warm up protocol. We were to start with IUI (intrauterine insemination) along with hormone injections to “beef up” my egg production. We began our protocol on the same night of my celebratory party at Athleta as the store’s athlete. The staff, family and friends all came out to support me in this new role, unknowing of the support they were truly offering me in at the beginning of this journey.
Now, actively engaged into my treatments, I felt more empowered and more positive. To be in control was a familiar comfort zone and I fully engaged into every aspect of supporting my body. Every aspect that is, except for exercise which was a no-no. Walking was ok, Pilates no. Breathing? Great! Weights? No. How the hell was I supposed to be an athlete if I couldn’t exercise? A new sense of shame set in.
My body had always been there for me from aerial performances in the mountains of Lake Louise to the final miles of my first marathon. She showed up when she was called on, asked for rest when needed and never put up much of a fight. Our first IUI cycle came and went as well as our second without results. I mourned the old beliefs that my body was capable and healthy. I taught a class for Moms and daughters at the store that May. No one could see sting of the tears I had become so good at hiding as I watched the bonding between generations. I cried it out in the privacy of my home and waited for our next appointment.
We had graduated on to the big leagues of IVF. In some ways, it made me feel like an elite fertility patient. I felt a renewed strength. I was back and this was going to work. My goals over the past year had whittled down to just one and nothing else truly mattered. I now felt guilty about my former worried thoughts of postponing my career goals or athletic endeavors because of a pregnancy but I pressed forward and resolved to stay the course. I bought a smiling stuffed animal uterus (truth!) and hugged her through more injections than I thought possible.
During our first IVF cycle, I began to reexamine the Power to the She persona that I had been so hell bent on upholding through physical fitness and creative accomplishments. I began to realize that the ability to pick myself up after each wave of bad news required more power than any race I’ve ever ran. The ability to keep going in the pursuit of my heart’s desire was the most “she” thing I’ve ever done in my life. The most important lesson came soon after our first IVF cycle failed. I realized that taking care of myself, mentally as well as physically and in whatever small doses I could manage, was the most important thing I could do in my pursuit of becoming a mother. I also realized that in many ways, I was already a mom.
After the cycle failed, we fought off the bitterness. My husband and I were still in it for the long haul, but we were tired and had adopted a sense of disillusion where there was once a sense of optimism. Truthfully, we entered into what was to be our final IVF cycle with an attitude of “meh.” We knew that if this didn’t work that our next step would be major and in the form of donor egg and/or adoption, but more than that, we knew that we were tired. We missed interacting with each other in a setting that didn’t involve rubbing alcohol or needles. We missed working out together and we missed our pre-infertility life. We pressed on.
Throughout the last few months, I’ve come to know the importance of the continued relationship that one has with their body. Just like any relationship, evolution and change is ever present. When I entered the fertility treatment process, I felt as though I was going into lockdown, handing my body over at the gates and holding tightly onto my heart. When I got my body back after our final cycle, it was dusty and needed a good cleaning but something was definitely different. Somewhere in the midst of dropping percentages and levels of hope, my Power to the She body had found the strength to incubate the smallest of miracles. She was tired and still had a long fight ahead of her that was full of hurdles and anxiety. This time, however, she had a little help from the tiny heart that had started to beat inside of her.
Now I sit, writing this story, a different athlete. I’ve gained 20lbs and lost the weight of the world on my shoulders. There is movement inside of me even when my body is at rest. And while I still have my weekly Pilates, yoga and busy teaching schedule, I now have a co-pilot to remind me that when my body seems to be lacking power on the outside, that rest is needed to fuel the power that is inside of me. I mourn the cycles that didn’t happen for us, but I’m also very thankful for the journey because without it, I may have stayed on a very fast track and missed the scenery along the way.
In 2013, I did write a children’s book, I didn’t win a paddleboard race and I was less “athletic” than I ever dreamed would be possible. I did however, with the support of my amazing husband, family and friends as well as the women of the Chicago Athleta Team, grow a little miracle that will debut his or her power in May 2014. If there is any gift I hope to give others as a result of my journey, it’s to remember that although your body may not exhibit power from the outside, the power is there someplace inside to help you navigate your journey, whatever it brings. I can say without hesitation that in the least athletic year of my life, I was the most Power to the She athlete that I’ve even been.
To those struggling with infertility, you are not alone. To those who support you, the most valuable gift you can give someone is a listening ear and an open heart.
Athleta’s Chicago store athlete of 2013, JENNA ZAFFINO, has danced, ran, written and “Pilates-ed” her way through a life of “moving experiences.” As one of the top teachers in the industry, Jenna’s passion shines through Pilates lessons that highlight the mind/body connection as a positive influence towards a balanced lifestyle. You can follow Jenna on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.