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Breathing Through

Hope Delayed asked a question on the last post about when you know that it’s time to leave Wandingland, or whatever otherness you are experiencing: “It begs the question, when is it enough? Where is the line between chasing your dreams and risking everything else in the process? How long can we stumble around in “Wandingland?”  How did Alice know it was time to come home, or did she even make a conscious choice — didn’t she just find herself out of Wonderland just as inexplicably as how she found herself in Wonderland?

I think about this all the time: how do you know how much you can withstand?  Do you only know the limit when you hit it, when you have a breakdown or are shattered?  Or can you see the limit ahead of time and pull back?  And then we hear things such as humans are resilient, we can adjust to anything.  Is that really true?  Can we adjust to anything?  That doesn’t sound quite right as an umbrella statement, though perhaps it is perhaps true on the individual level.

I went to a yoga class last week where we spent about a half hour doing dragons.  I had nothing but time to think because you hold the same pose for two or three minutes.  When we’re doing prana flow — or continuous movement yoga — I find that I’m thinking about nothing because I’m so focused on listening for the next movement.  Whereas during this yin class, I usually end up daydreaming even though she tells us to clear our heads and concentrate on our breath.

It should be noted that I’m not fantastic at following that direction.

But a bunch of my recent blog posts have been written mentally while I’m on the mat.

One of the things my teacher talks about a lot is pain vs. intensity in yoga.  There should never be pain — and if there is, you should stop what you’re doing — but there can be intensity.  In fact, there usually is intensity.  It is a strange body that can get through three minutes of a dragon pose without feeling the burn.  Her other point she repeats is this need to breathe because when we hold our breath in pain, it creates a fight or flight sensation in our body.  We stop breathing, so our body thinks, “I need to get out of this position so I can breathe easily again.”  But if you remember to breathe, you should be able to hold the pose for the full three minutes.  Again, there will be intensity, but if you can breathe through it, you can maintain the hold.  Her solution is always to “release the heat” by releasing your breath out your mouth vs. trying to push it quietly through your nose.  Make a little noise while you breathe and you can hold the position longer.

I spend a lot of time wondering if what I’m feeling is pain or intensity.  If she hadn’t given me two options, I would have described it as pain.  My hips are burning, I am trying hard not to vomit as my head tucks down against my forearms.  It is not a sensation I feel neutral about — it hurts.  And yet if I spend the three minutes saying to myself over and over again, “anyone can endure pain for three minutes if they know the pain will be over in three minutes,” I can get through the pose.  Is that impressive or stupid?

Can you see the problem here: where is the line?  I know it’s personal, but the point is that we can always talk our way around it until we can’t.  And perhaps that is the real position of the line: when we can’t talk our way around it anymore.  And it’s why no one else can define our line for us.  Every person has a marking labeled “enough” on their beaker of life, and where that line falls on the beaker is both personal and meaningless.  No one gets to the end of their life to discover there is a prize handed out for being willing to endure beyond their personal breaking point.*

This is what I thought about when Hope Delayed asked that question: when do you know enough is enough?

While dragon may be incredibly painful for me, I can see from the expressions of other people in the class that they are mildly uncomfortable and there is one woman who cannot get down in them at all and she lies down in child’s pose.  And that is why it is impossible for anyone to tell you when it is time to step back from family building.  Because it is such a personal thing, unique to each individual or couple.  Some people can never get themselves into treatments or adoption, and some can do it for x-amount of time, and some can do it until they have reached their goal.  And there is no right or wrong; no want-it-enough or not-want-it-enough.  Just as we cannot change our bodies and what they can do, we also can’t change our emotional make-up.

Family building with infertility is intense.  It might bring you to your knees, make you feel as if you’re going to vomit, make you hold your breath.  I think it is the rare individual who experiences infertility and doesn’t have it affect them intensely.  So the line then that marks where keep going ends and stop begins is pain.  For me, pain is something that blots out the rest of life whereas intensity is something that allows life to still remain visible at least on the periphery.

The difference, let’s say, between holding a dragon for three minutes and breaking your hip.

But every person needs to come up with their own definition of pain so they know where the line is.

And it helps to remember to breathe out your mouth instead of neatly breathing out your nose; to release the heat, as my teacher would say.  To honour that intensity, to recognize it.  It works somewhat in yoga.  Two minutes into the pose, I usually hear myself let out a sigh (okay, it’s more like a grunt) and I do feel somewhat better afterward for a few seconds.  And what do we do to release the intensity of dealing with infertility knowing that we can’t neatly breathe out our noses in polite quietness?  We make some noise.  Cry.  Scream.  Throw plates against the wall.  Fight with our partners.  Write on our blogs.  Go to Resolve’s Advocacy Day and make our views heard.

Breathe through.

I hope that made sense.  Sometimes the thoughts that make sense on the mat don’t really translate well when I actually go to write down the post.

* I will obviously eat my words if I find out in the afterlife that there really are accolades given for enduring more.


1 serenity { 03.19.12 at 12:15 pm }

I look at it similarly – except I relate it to running and rehabbing following my Marine Corps Marathon – tendinitis. Since October 29, I have not had a pain-free run. However, the pain I have now is discomfort: tension, tenderness, near-pain. I KNOW when I feel the bad pain – it’s enough to stop running and limp my way home.

That’s sort of how I feel about family building, especially as we think of going for our 3rd fresh cycle since having Lucky. I’m SO close to that bad pain, where it’s more than just intensity – far more than I was the first time around.

But it’s not QUITE there yet. So I think I have it in me to try again.

And the one thing I’ve discovered, the salve for my otherness, is this community. For a long time I felt that otherness even here; so many of my community the first time around has gone on to have two or more children. But making connections again, really focusing myself, helps more than I thought it would.

Great posts. Really gorgeous.


2 Liana { 03.19.12 at 12:16 pm }

This makes total sense. In fact, I just finished a post about, well, about this exact thing. About knowing my limitations in trying for a second child.

3 b { 03.19.12 at 12:24 pm }

Thank you for this post. You articulated exactly what I have been feeling lately. I think I might have reached my line, and that’s ok.

4 Cristy { 03.19.12 at 12:53 pm }

I needed this post today, Mel. I needed it because today is a hard day. I was actually crafting a similar post in my head on the way into work today. But you added an element I hadn’t thought about, which is distinguishing pain from intensity. And the reminder to breathe is an important one during intense times. Thank you for that reminder.

5 Kate { 03.19.12 at 12:57 pm }

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this whole “when enough is enough” issue a LOT lately. I don’t have any answers, but your thoughtful blog articulated very much how I feel and put into words better than I could my own questioning. Thank you for your insightfulness and the clarity it has provided.

6 Chickenpig { 03.19.12 at 1:10 pm }

This is a very good question. IVF is intense, for me, but not painful. The not having and the losing is the painful part. I just have to keep reminding myself to b..r…e…a…th…e.

7 sharah { 03.19.12 at 1:20 pm }

I love the comparison to the different responses of people in your yoga class. It’s a lovely visual of how different people respond to the same stimulus in very different ways.

8 Lora/ still hoping { 03.19.12 at 1:34 pm }

Thanks for writing this Mel. It makes total sense.

I need to sit down and get all these thoughts out on paper (my blog) and clear my head, I just haven’t had the energy.

You’re right as I think “enough” is different for everyone. I’m not sure we’ve hit that point yet, mainly because we do have two “snowbabies” waiting on us. I was sad however, after catching up with a good friend recently to hear her say they weren’t sure they could ever try ivf again. It had consumed every part of them. So I guess that line truly does vary for everyone. There’s no right or wrong plumb line.

I’m meeting with a dear friend tomorrow who has been there for us through this whole process and I’m looking forward to clearing my head with her. I think those outlets are a vital part of this journey.

Thank you for verbalizing this for me and sharing your thoughts.

9 Tigger { 03.19.12 at 2:18 pm }

When I was getting ready to start our first treatment, my mother told me a story about a friend of hers who was $100K in debt by the time she got pregnant with her twins via IVF. I was floored at that because I couldn’t imagine going through that much to have a child. I still can’t, but I know there are women out there who do – for whom that line hasn’t been reached. For me, it took one treatment and I was done. I couldn’t do it again, not with the odds we had. I had to wrestle with myself for a while, because at the same time as we were doing ours, another blog friend was doing HER treatment with worse odds…and it succeeded. I played the “hers worked, ours should work, I just have to do this again” game with myself. I finally realized: I couldn’t. There was too much heartache, too tiny of a chance to pin my hopes on. There was my line in the sand. It took another 4 years for me to fully come to grips with that.

10 Christa { 03.19.12 at 2:33 pm }

Tigger, I can completely relate. I remember saying when we first started treatment that we wouldn’t be one of THOSE people who spend $70+K just to have a kid. And yet here we are. How the hell did that happen? I remember giving up on fertility treatments and feeling completely and utterly at peace with it. I can’t remember if I chose my stopping point ahead of time or not but I do remember the point when I said enough is enough. But unfortunately at that point we still had two embryos on ice so we felt somewhat obligated to continue with that last FET. We did, got our usual BFN and so when we stopped we knew we would never look back. Because we had gone farther than we felt we could go.

With adoption, I don’t really know where to draw the line. Is it a financial limit, a time limit, or no limit at all? Which makes me feel…uncomfortable. I’m afraid I’ll just decide on a whim to give up on adoption and then regret it later, unlike with the fertility treatments. I’ll feel like I’m giving up too soon. Maybe because adoption’s more of a certainty, who knows. But I do feel more and more weary these days and I wonder if it’s just not meant to be.

11 HereWeGoAJen { 03.19.12 at 3:03 pm }

For me, I think I’ll hit my limit when I can picture stopping. Right now, I can’t conceive of stopping yet.

12 Alexicographer { 03.19.12 at 3:33 pm }

It’s a perplexing problem. I recently read a published study about pursuing infertility treatment one of the conclusions of which (if I remember this right) was that one should decide before starting the point at which one would stop pursuing treatment. Having gone through this, I think that’s about the silliest recommendation I ever heard; if there’s one thing infertility has taught me (and there is) it’s that you just don’t know until you’re there what is right for you.

I did find it helpful when debating whether to continue treatment to ask myself whether if I tried X and X didn’t work, I’d regret having tried it. For me, that decision rule worked, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

13 Jendeis { 03.19.12 at 5:19 pm }

I resonate with the talking to yourself in order to get to the release (that “anyone can do something for 3 minutes” mantra). When I was in labor, I knew that I could endure that contraction because it would end, I was getting there, here it comes, the crest, and now down. When I started double-peaking, I got really scared because it became unending pain with no “light at the end of the tunnel.”

I think IF is similar. I often read (and have said myself) those who write that if they knew the endpoint, if someone/G-D could just let them know that all this stinks, but at the end of this you would definitely have a child, we would walk through fire unceasingly. But how many times can you do that without that promise?

Now that we are on this roller coaster again, all of the old fears have come back. Hearing that tiny voice: what if this doesn’t work? Are we really going to tear ourselves inside out again? Can we last through that again?

Ultimately, I agree with you: when you know, you know.

14 eve { 03.19.12 at 5:52 pm }

Beautifully written. At first, I was thinking “did I have that moment of knowing it was the end” ? And as I read everyone’s responses, I realized that the end for family building came very clearly, so clearly that I forgot that we truly had to make the choice to stop…I really didn’t have to weigh the options and the odds of success…I just knew that we were done. And the relief that came with getting to step out of the ‘ttc’ life that we had been living for a decade was soul-refreshing. I have learned a lot about what I can endure during my journey, and I do believe that God can provide peace even in the darkest times. And my heart is hurting for all who are still in the thick of it.

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.19.12 at 5:57 pm }

It’s so helpful to point out the subtle difference between “pain” and “intensity” because I used to be prone to calling anything uncomfortable “painful.” I was therefore not able to endure much.

But perspective (and yoga) has added nuanced vocabulary. This is yet again another fantastic analogy.

Yoga brings so much to me. Blog posts (yours and mine) being just one of many things 🙂

16 Kelly { 03.19.12 at 5:59 pm }

I think I’ll know what my enough is if I get there, which could be very soon (but I’m hoping this one is IT). I’ve always said I’d do as many IVFs as my insurance would “pay” for, which is 4. Now that I’m looking #4 in the eyes, I can say that I know for certain I won’t do another egg retrieval. I. AM. DONE. What I still struggle with is FET, and how far I’ll go with that (I don’t think it will be far, but we will see-maybe 1. Possibly 2.). As much as I want a baby, certain intense situations have just made getting to my enough easier; honestly, it’s made it a no brainer. Not an easy one for sure. But I feel it around me, and know I have to get through it if that is the option I’m dealt.

17 a { 03.19.12 at 10:32 pm }

I’m reading How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, and it’s interesting. His initial premise is that although pure logic and reason are the vaulted ideals of decision making, we are incapable of making decisions without emotions. I’m too lazy to figure out how this relates, but it feels like it does (hahaha).

18 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 03.19.12 at 11:14 pm }

I don’t ever stop in yoga, unless I’m in half moon and I fall down or something.

I would never have stopped with treatments unless something external absolutely forced me to stop: money, health, time… Even if it would have been prudent to stop, I would have pressed on indefinitely.

19 Barely Sane { 03.20.12 at 12:42 am }

I actually wrote a post about this back in May of last year. I clearly remember the day we made our decision to walk away from ttc #1 and move on to adoption. It was just something that hit me like a ton of bricks while I was watching other kids with their parents. We walked away from ART with 9 embies on ice but of course with the “back up” plan to keep trying if waiting took long. It didn’t – we were matched & home with a baby less than 3 weeks after our home study was complete. The funny thing is, my heart wasn’t in the last IVF cycle. Perhaps that was the sign we were done and it just took the official BFN and a trip to lick our wounds for my brain to catch up with my heart.
The decision to not pursue #2 was more difficult. It took a long time for the scars to heal enough for us to even consider using the frosties but every time the conversation came up, we still were not ready to walk that path again. Eventually, last year, I realized I was truly happy with the status quo of our little trio. I realized I didn’t feel like I had given up my dream so much as I wanted to help MG realize her dreams. It took a long time for me to feel complete but my goodness, it felt good to finally have that monkey off my back. The only thing I haven’t addressed is exactly what to do with the frosties. Despite the fact they will never be used by us, I can’t quite give the “ok” for them to be thawed and well…. I just haven’t been able to do it.

20 luna { 03.20.12 at 1:48 am }

but you nailed something here. you could hold the intensity, pain even, if you knew you just had to last for 3 minutes. the thing about family building through infertility is that you don’t know HOW or WHEN it will end. that’s what makes it especially unbearable — ie, the unknown, the uncertainty. it’s merciless.

21 stinkb0mb { 03.20.12 at 2:54 am }

i knew it was time to stop, give up the dream of having children and move on to living childfree when it had started consuming me and stopping me from living the amazing life i currently had.

i wasn’t living because i was holding out for that one last jigsaw puzzle piece to slot into place in our life and for it to finally begin.

i realised that 12 years was long enough to put our lives on hold, long enough to wake up with hope every single day and go to bed with it dashed, long enough to suffer through too many miscarriages to count.

it was long enough to realise & come to terms with the fact that my arms may never have been destined to hold a babe in them but they were destined to be flung wide open and embrace life in all it’s fabulous glory and that’s now just what i intend to do. nothing is planned in our world now, the world is our oyster and we’re going to the moon and back because baby, my life is just beginning……

great post Mel


22 Mina { 03.20.12 at 4:22 am }

I started commenting yesterday, but somehow managed to botch it.
See, I have this friend, who is infertile. Both FFI and MFI. It took her two year to find out, even though I pushed her constantly to go have tests, make appointments, call the nurses, at a certain point it felt like it mattered more to me than to her. Than she did two IUIs, which did not work, and then she said she had enough. IVF was never on the table, because she feels it’s like playing God and it’s against her belief. Now she thinks she wants to adopt, but has no idea how and what to do and so I helped her with an update of legal matters and she takes h sweet time thinking about it. It all started four years ago and she is 38 and her husband 42. And she still thinks there is plenty of time. She has full insurance and a lot of benefits, so this is not what stopped her getting further treatments. It was just her threshold which is obviously very different from mine.

I know it is not my life and I did back down after I saw that I was pushing too much. But I feel she is running out of time and she will regret it. And I know all so well about setting smaller targets on the wayto the big one, and I has always worked for me. But how can you persuade someone else they can take more? They know their limits better, even if they are considered wimps by others, it’s not the others who have to take the toll. I think I would have done a whole lot more if I had been on her shoes, but point is I am not, and never will be, and my beliefs might be coloured by my current knowledge (of how great children can be).

I am still trying to reconcile reason with feeling on this one. She is a dear friend and she would make such a great mother – but she has to be the one to make it happen. And if she had enough, no matter what I think, and she is at peace with her decision, why does it bother ME? I can’t put my finger on it. Is it just because I can’t help thinking of what I would do in her place? Why can’t I just let it go and focus on MY life, since I have everything I desired and should mind my own darned business?!

Still mulling over that one. Your post helps me a bit move on. And for that I thank you. Again. 🙂

23 Justine { 03.20.12 at 7:06 am }

I’ve never done dragons (or yin yoga of any sort), but it sounds challenging. As far I can tell, discomfort in yoga is something you *can* get through … pain is something you can’t. (Though sometimes it *is* hard to tell the difference!) There’s been a lot of talk lately about yoga being detrimental to your health, and it’s because of teachers who don’t pay attention to this very fine line … and people getting hurt.

Great analogy, though. For lots of things … I’d never thought about it that way before.

And glad you’re liking (?) yoga more … 🙂

24 marwil { 03.20.12 at 7:08 am }

Okay, I need to get back to yoga but am afraid since it can be very intense emotionally. For me it brings up and releases all the ‘junk’, which is good but scary.
I second Chickenpig: IVF is intense, for me, but not painful. The not having and the losing is the painful part.
That’s exactly how I feel right now. I think you just come to a point when you know you have another try/path in you or not.

25 Chickenpig { 03.20.12 at 8:43 am }

Alexicographer made an excellent point. I can remember the nurse psychologist person my husband and I had to talk to during our first IVF intake process asking us for our ‘plan’. It involved thinking about how much money were we willing to spend, would we consider selective reduction, what were we willing/not willing to do to have a child. I think that having a long term plan is good, but you have to be flexible and be willing to adjust your plan as you go along.

26 Gail { 03.20.12 at 8:44 am }

Maybe I’m reading too much into your post, but I got the feeling that you are getting close to your own “enough” line. This was a hard moment for me and I still struggle with it, even 6 months later. But, just because I’ve had enough of treatments and drugs doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to look into other ways of becoming a mother.

Just know that whatever you are going through, we are here to support you and listen when you need us to.

27 loribeth { 03.20.12 at 10:01 am }

This is a fabulous post, Mel, and I am loving all the comments. Many people have asked dh & me how we knew it was time to stop. Like you, I’ve emphasized that everyone’s line in the sand is different, & that you know, deep down, when you’ve reached it.

We saw a counsellor prior to plunging into treatment (first clomid & then IUIs with injectables), and she encouraged us to set a limit up front — even if we wound up re-evaluating at that point & going further. After the three IUIs we had agreed upon, I was a physical, mental & emotional wreck. I knew if I pushed dh, he would probably agree to trying at least one IVF — but I also figured if I was this much of a mess already, how was I going to handle the even greater stress involved? We took a good look at all the factors involved — my sanity ; ) our various diagnoses, our ages, our bank account, the likelihood of success — we knew we were done. I know some people probably think we were foolish for walking away without having tried IVF at least once. But for us, at that point in our lives, it was ultimately the right decision.

It’s one thing to decide you’re “done” when you’re in your 20s or even 30s, because a lot of things can change over the next few years that might suddenly make the idea of ttc appealing again. But when you hit 40, you know there is not a lot of wiggle room left. Your options and your chances of success really do start to narrow.

I suppose if you are truly determined to become a parent, you eventually will, somehow, some way — but the question is, at what cost? (And I’m not just talking money.) It’s something that everyone has to decide for themselves.

28 Emily { 03.20.12 at 11:00 am }

I find it amazing how by just switching out a word, painful to intense, it makes a world of difference. It lifts some weight. Makes it a little easier. Thanks for this post.

29 Jo { 03.20.12 at 11:39 am }

Good God, I wish I knew how to tell when enough is enough. I’ve pushed that boundary so many times in the last decade (with my marriage just as much as with treatments) that I couldn’t possibly even tell you where my line is today.

Every time I think I’ve set a hard line in the sand, it becomes blurred, and gets pushed back once again.

I guess I just keep hoping if I go just a little bit further, I’ll finally get what I’ve been searching for.

30 kat { 03.20.12 at 1:21 pm }

What’s amazing too is that the line can shift due to outside forces beyond our control. Like when a “drink me” bottle appeared to Alice and she could finally fit thru the small door, leading her further into wonderland, I really only was able to try IVF when I did because of a change in insurance that paid for it. And now the strange otherness is stronger than ever, but at the same time my line of pain had been pushed further out.

31 geochick { 03.20.12 at 2:12 pm }

I think you make perfect sense. I find hip openers in yoga to be verrry intense, and my threshold is when I feel like I’m going to throw up. It usually doesn’t take long to get there. 🙂 As far as family-building, I drew a line in the sand and didn’t even make it to the line (5 IUIs) before my state of mind screamed ENOUGH. Sometimes, our bodies know more than we do.

32 Eve { 03.20.12 at 3:16 pm }

We made a plan before our IVF…we could only afford one fresh cycle so that wad it. We planned to pursue adoption thereafter. We Also decided we would donate embryos we were unable to use. It wad good for us to have this plan – it made me feel like I had some control or say in an otherwise uncontrolled process. Best laid plans do not always come to be – but it helped us.

33 Journey Girl { 03.20.12 at 7:06 pm }

When we were ttc#1, we weren’t going to stop. After donor eggs in Thailand it would have been surrogacy in India or South Africa (I was researching), if that didn’t work we would foster, we just wanted a baby/child to take care of. During that time, I didn’t really recognize the difference between pain and intensity. Since TTC#2, many friends and family have made comments that it might be time to accept that JBB might be our only child. I know that we might have to accept that in the future but we are not there yet and I get very upset. Though, now that we are TTC#2, I recognize that there may come a time in which we say ‘enough’. That concept was completely foreign to me before. Thank you for this post, it was though provoking and also reminded me to get back to my yoga! 🙂

34 Trisha { 03.20.12 at 9:03 pm }

Pain vs. Intensity. That gives me a whole new way to look at things. I’ve so often thought of what I have been going through as indescribable pain, but intensity is an interesting way to think about it. There are a lot of times that I need to remind myself to just breath through…that this pain will pass. It is intense. Everything about this is intense but it is also painful. I guess I need to learn how to distinguish between the two.

35 Glitter&Rainbows { 03.21.12 at 2:15 am }

Ahhhh, thanks for this. It made me tear up a little. I have been wrestling with this when-is-enough-enough thing in the last couple of months. I know now that I must take a break, for who knows how long, but even though I know that I have reached enough for right now, I struggle with the emotions of letting go. How does one let go of the dream itself? Just deciding to stop doesn’t make the feelings go away.

36 Shelli { 03.22.12 at 9:45 am }

I’ve been thinking about this A LOT. So much I have written and re-written a blog post in my head but just can’t bear to write the words for fear of inviting in the boogey monster.

It’s been 8 years for me… unsuccessful family building years. The heartache of 5 miscarriages, failed IUI, IVF, IVF with donor eggs, and our foray into waiting adoptive parents. I fear I just an tired of waiting. That my dream is starting to fade not because of the wait, but because my heart just can’t tolerate it anymore. I’ve seriously considered just stepping off for good, and every day it seems that answer is becoming more real. I just can’t bear putting that nail in the coffin and walking away for good. But yet I want to…. and that is scary.

Oh, Mel, you just made my heart flutter. Is it crazy that your post is a almost a personal sign to ME….my secret thoughts??

37 Roccie { 03.24.12 at 3:26 pm }

What a post.

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