We thought we’d have a baby by now.
My fiancé and I started trying to start a family last September – first naturally, then by thawing the 14 eggs I had frozen when I was 35 and finally with two rounds of IVF.
We were optimistic (okay naïve), figuring we’d be pregnant by the new year. Until then we didn’t want to plan anything. Not our wedding, not trips to see our families, not a vacation. If I was pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to fly after a certain point and if we didn’t know when I’d be pregnant we wouldn’t know when that point would be. It was better to be safe and not make any plans. We were trapped in a maze of our own making.
When we got the call from a nurse the day after Christmas telling us that none of my frozen eggs had turned into viable embryos, I felt like I’d been punched. Those eggs were my backup plan, my insurance policy. They were my guarantee that someday, somehow, we’d have a child.
Weeks of crying on our couch turned into months and finally we were ready to try again, this time with IVF. I spent two weeks shooting myself up with hormones in my stomach. I was bloated, uncomfortable, and depressed. And that was before the bad news came. The genetic tests showed that our two embryos were abnormal. We had nothing to transfer.
In April, we tried again. More hormones. More blood tests. More disappointment. No baby.
Meanwhile, my friends seemed to be getting pregnant (somewhat) effortlessly. Even the women I knew who were also doing IVF were texting me to let me know they’d gotten 10, 12, and 15 eggs at their retrievals. I’d gotten four, another reminder of my body’s failure, which felt more like my own failure as a human.
Friends, strangers, and even the Internet, told us that as soon as we stopped stressing about having a baby that’s when I’d get pregnant. But how could I stop stressing about such a stressful thing? I tried breath work, acupuncture, massage, talk therapy, anything to lessen my anxiety. When nothing worked, I had another thing to blame myself for – now we weren’t having a baby because of my out-of-control anxiety. My body and my mind were under siege.
I watched on Instagram as those I knew – and even those I didn’t – went on babymoons to have one last romantic getaway while they still could. And yet my fiancé and I had been through nine months of hell and there wasn’t going to be a cute, cuddly baby waiting on the other side. Or a pristine white sand beach. Where was our baby moon? Could we finally take a vacation too? Maybe what we needed was to reset and recharge, wipe the slate clean before we started trying again. And then like magic an email arrived in my inbox.
Nicole Fogel, a lupus survivor and the founder of Shift Mind Body Soul, had created a retreat for others to experience the healing and renewal that she found on Maui when she was going through the worst of her disease and reeling from her grandmother’s death. She harnessed her pain and grief into building this program. Did I want to go with her and a group of wellness experts on a retreat to Maui to focus on mindful awareness, holistic nutrition, spiritual healing, and fitness to turn around my life too?
I texted my fiancé. Should we go to Hawaii? Is anyone’s answer to that question ever no?
That’s how we ended up taking a babymoon without ever having a baby.
Our first night in Maui was almost one year to the day since we started trying. I walked onto the beach barefoot and stood in a circle holding hands with a dozen strangers. In front of us was Lei’ohu Ryder, a spiritual healer, who had brought traditional herbs and plants from her garden to bless all of us. She touched each of our heads and hearts to give us a special message, supposedly from the Gods. Although I don’t believe in God or any kind of higher being, in that moment I made a decision: I’d be open to whatever Lei’ohu had to offer.
“Breathe,” she said and we all took a deep breath before blowing whatever had been holding us back out toward the crystal blue water. Ha is the word for breath, she whispered to us, and I smiled to myself. Was this the universe’s idea of a joke? Breath, the building block of life, so simple and yet so difficult to practice doing well. I inhaled deeply for what felt like the first time.
A few seconds later, Lei’ohu whispered in my ear, “Go deep.” Here I stood with the wet sand sticking to the bottom of my feet thinking I had been going deep all along. But maybe I was still holding myself back? I inhaled again and let it all out, the sound of my exhale mixing with the crashing of the waves as a stillness settled all around me.
The stillness was short-lived though. The next morning, we had to be downstairs at 3:30 a.m. so we could watch the sunrise over Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, and according to those who believe in such things, the heart chakra of the world. Standing there as the purples and oranges and blues burst over the crater was certainly mind blowing, although by then my lack of sleep had caught up with me and I found myself guzzling three cups of coffee. It wasn’t even 6 a.m. I tried to remember the last time I saw the sunrise, but no memories came to me. My fiancé and I watched sunsets regularly from our rooftop in Brooklyn, but sunrises were fleeting. I remembered Laohu’s words — “go deep” — and inhaled the warmth of the sun before we were corralled into the car to drive the windy road back down to civilisation.
Our next stop was Lumeria Maui, a retreat centre filled with crystals and Buddhas, and most importantly, a labyrinth. A labyrinth is different than a maze because it has only one path that leads to the centre, while a maze has many different paths and directions. As I stepped into the labyrinth, I closed my eyes and put one foot in front of the other, trying to feel my way around the circle. Yet I noticed something. I kept opening my eyes to look ahead instead of remaining in the present and focusing on my breath. Was this the lesson I needed to learn when it came to baby making too? Stay present. Be grateful for what I had in the moment. Stop looking ahead.
The next day my fiancé and I woke up early to the sun and shared a quiet cup of coffee on our balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean, far away from the New York City (where we live) hustle and bustle. Each morning began by going downstairs to eat breakfast together, where we wrote down our favourite moments from the day before in a journal and discussed what we were looking forward to that day. We’d barely finished eating when he raced to a meditation workshop and I scrambled to reiki.
The week was chock full of other workshops too —from a sound bath to mindfulness training to a nutrition workshop. But it was something so ordinary, something I almost didn’t participate in, that changed the way I looked at myself, and the world around me. Paddle boarding.
Let me start by saying that I’m terrified of anything that makes me feel out of control. I can’t roller skate, ice skate, or even ride a bike. So, paddle boarding was out of the question in my mind. Until, Lori, an event strategist with the Shift Mind Body Soul team, gently peer-pressured me into it. Paddle boarding was easy, she assured me. Blaze, the instructor, would be with me the whole time.
Lori was right. Blaze Velcro-ed the rope around my ankle – and helped me push the board just beyond the waves. When we finally got to the place where the water looked like glass, Blaze said encouragingly, “It’s time to stand up!”
I looked around me. By now, everyone else was standing on their boards effortlessly (or so it seemed). Nicole paddled over to let me know that she had been terrified too, but now she was standing there calmly in mountain pose with a no-big-deal look on her face.
“No way,” I said, my voice shaking.
Blaze didn’t budge. Nicole didn’t either. Just put both feet in the center of your board with your paddle in front of you, he explained. I did what I was told. “Good,” he said. “Now stand up.”
No, no, no, no, no, the conveyer belt in my mind kept repeating. But then, softly at first, I heard another voice: You came all the way to Maui for a change. You wanted to reset, reconnect, push through your fears. What’s the worst that could happen?
Suddenly, the voice shifted: If you can’t have a baby with your eggs, you will try using donor eggs or adopt. Right here, right now, all you have to do is stand up on the paddle board. If you fall, the water will be there to catch you. Sure, there are probably sharks, but you can’t think about that right now. Just stand up.
And stand I did.
I heard Blaze clapping first followed by everyone else I’d spent the last week with. I was standing on a paddle board on my own. I had done what I thought was impossible. It felt good to trust myself again. To feel alive. To let myself feel unstuck for one moment. As I sat back down on the board, someone pointed to two turtles swimming toward me, close enough for me to reach out and touch them. Before we had even gotten on the plane I had told my fiancé that other than relaxing and spending time together, all I wanted was to see turtles. Now my wish had come true.
The next day my fiancé and I walked along the beach looking for a place to snorkel. We talked about the last week we had spent swimming in the pool, watching the sunset, and unwinding. We put on our masks and dove into the ocean, letting go of the feeling that we had bodies at all. And then, right there in front of us, were a school of rainbow-coloured fish, yellow, blue, striped, and polka-dotted. We looked at each other through the salty water and I could see a smile on his face as we gave each other a thumbs up. Everything was going to be okay.