My first menstrual cycle arrived when I was in middle school, and because of the degree of pain that I was in and the amount of bleeding, my mom took me to the ER. The following cycles didn’t go much better. I commonly bled through my clothing causing embarrassment at school, had horrible cramps, and struggled greatly for years.
When I was in high school, my cycles became so bad and my pain so debilitating, that I eventually landed at Stanford Hospital with a specialized doctor. He was the first to diagnose me with endometriosis, which back in the early 90’s wasn’t recognized by most medical doctors. After laparoscopic surgery and diet changes, I was much better. And then I wasn’t, and my symptoms started to come back. During my first few years in college, there were many times that I could barely maneuver off of the couch. In addition to my endometriosis symptoms, I was also developing huge ovarian cysts that caused massive pain and limited my physical activity. So, off I went again. I had yet another laparoscopic surgery and diet changes. And I was better, again. Fast forward a few more years to my early 20’s, and my symptoms started to come back worse than before. I was days away from scheduling my third laparoscopic surgery, when I stumbled into my first real yoga class. I was hooked pretty quickly, because within a few months after starting yoga, my endometriosis symptoms started to go away. And I kept practicing, and I started to get better. I cancelled my surgery, stopped seeing the fancy specialist doctors, and dove deeper into the practice of yoga. Yoga changed my life.
I met my future husband at the beginning of my yoga journey, and also at the tail end of being really sick. He was beyond amazing in dealing with a girlfriend who dealt with pain during sex and the other debilitating symptoms of endometriosis that I was still experiencing. I had also been told for many years that having children might be very difficult for me due to my endometriosis. This fear was always in the back of my head, especially as I was falling in love with my partner.
A few months after we were married, we experienced our first miscarriage. We lost the baby pretty early on, at about 8 weeks. Of course it was devastating and we grieved our loss. But we were determined to keep trying, and after trying for two years, we went to see a fertility doctor because I wasn’t having any success getting pregnant again. He diagnosed that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and because I wasn’t ovulating regularly, I wasn’t able to get pregnant. He ran many different tests, I started a medication to help treat the PCOS along with a change in my diet, and pretty quickly we got pregnant again.
Our second baby miscarried at about 10 weeks. This time the grief was harder to recover from. After our loss, I also discovered that I was suffering from, low thyroid, specifically, Hashimoto's disease. Once we were able to get my thyroid levels healthy, I was able to get pregnant again.
Our third baby miscarried at about 16 weeks. The baby was removed at the hospital, and was tested this time for any genetic issues. The doctors discovered that she had a genetic mutation and wasn’t healthy. After our grieving period, we were both tested for any genetic issues. We discovered that I had the MTHFR gene mutation, and would need to supplement my future pregnancy with more folic acid and vitamin B.
Our fourth baby was delivered at 21 weeks. I went into pre-term labor, but didn’t know that I was in labor because the cramping was so mellow compared to my experience with menstrual pain. When I arrived at the hospital, we were rushed into get an ultrasound and found that the baby was alive and well. There was nothing they could do to stop my labor. I delivered a perfect baby girl on January 8, 2011. She weighed 7.8 ounces and was 9 inches long. She was alive when she was born, but died just moments later. I held her on my heart for as long as I could, and then kept my hands on my heart for weeks. She was cremated, and we had a funeral service at our home with our parents. The darkness, sorrow and grief took a really long time to get through. I felt alone and deflated and didn’t know how to continue. I had my yoga practice, and eventually found my way back. Her little spirit is in my heart and in my mind always.
Our fifth baby, Juniper Lou Williams, just turned five years old.
Here is the story of Juniper:
On Valentine’s Day, 2012, my husband, Ted, and I went in for a routine ultrasound to check on the status of my cerclage (cervical stitch) and my baby girls progress. The good news is that my cervix was fine after the surgery three weeks prior, the bad news was that the baby hadn’t shown growth in the 3 weeks since my last visit, my amniotic fluids were low, and my blood pressure was rising. Ted and I went straight to the hospital, and were told at first that I would be on extended bed rest in the hospital. By the time Ted returned to the hospital with all of my things from home, the situation had changed and we were told that I had severe preeclampsia and that the baby was going to have to be delivered soon. The next three days were pretty horrible. I was steadily getting sicker, and the doctors and nurses were trying their best to keep me stable so that the steroids they gave me would have enough time to help mature the baby’s lungs before she came. I wouldn’t have made it through those days without my amazing family; from the cold washcloths on my head to the constant love, encouragement and massages from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. My blood pressure was rising each day, and my liver and kidneys were beginning to fail. It was a really scary time.
Juniper Lou Williams was born by cesarean on Thursday, February 16th at 5:13pm. Ted was with me in the operating room, and we both heard her come into the world by giving a few little cries. She was tiny, 1 pound, 1 ounce and 11 ½ inches long. She weighed about ½ of what she should have for her 26 ½ weeks, a result of the preeclampsia. She was roughly 7 months old and 3 months early. She had her own team of 4 standing by ready to whisk her off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Reno. Ted was able to see her right away and watch as the team of nurses and doctors helped stabilize her. He then stayed pretty close to both of us, running back and forth between his new baby girl and his post-operative wife.
Because of the preeclampsia, I had to continue taking this horrible drug called magnesium sulfate for 24 hours after surgery, which required me to stay in bed and I wasn’t able to meet sweet Juniper until the next evening. But when I was finally able to rest my eyes on our baby, it was amazing. She was so tiny, but so perfect and beautiful. She had Ted’s toes :-) She was a fighter, moving and wiggling and eyes open from the first moment.
I was in the hospital for 4 more days, and when I was finally released I milked that hospital room for all it was worth, leaving at 7pm instead of 1pm. The thought of leaving Juniper at the hospital then, and every day, was one of the worst things for a new mom and dad to feel.
Juniper was in the hospital for 99 days. These were the hardest days of my life. It felt as though my heart was being ripped out every time I had to leave her, and I cried every time I left the hospital and many times during the night when I was away from her. Our time in the NICU was extremely tough, frightening and exhausting, and I could write pages about our experience. When Juniper finally came home, she weighed 6.6 lbs. and was on oxygen 24 hours a day for the first 6 months, and then at night for another 6 months. This was a frustrating and scary thing to face as a new mother, but I had my perfect baby, and would have walked through hot coals for her.
Juniper is five now.
She’s healthy, vibrant, smart and absolutely amazing. We are blessed beyond words for her health and that she chose us to be her parents.
Yoga has been a refuge for me. The practice has helped me to dive deeply into all of my experiences, and has given me more clarity, patience and understanding. It has taught me how to breathe deeply, even on the hardest of days. The practice has helped me to grieve, to let go and to acknowledge the beauty of life and the gift of each day.
My sincere hope is that I can share my knowledge of yoga, and my experiences of women’s health issues, infertility and loss, to help bring more ease to the women of my community. My wish is to share the gift of yoga with other women that are going through similar struggles, so that they can find peace and ease in their bodies, minds and hearts.
Many women, like me, have lived through immense loss, infertility, pain and sickness. And most of the time we aren’t aware of what our fellow sisters have gone through. The path of fertility and infertility is not commonly discussed and I think that this should change. My hope is to offer a safe place to be in community with each other, to share our stories and to learn how to discover the freedom and peace that can be found through the practice of yoga.