Balancing Life and Fertility Treatments: Podcast Episode #190
Kristin chats with Laura Fletcher, Author of The Grace in Grief: Healing and Hope After Miscarriage about tips for balancing life and fertility treatments. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello! This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat today with Laura Fletcher. Laura is the author of The Grace in Grief, and she detailed her journey through four earth-shattering miscarriages after the birth of her first daughter, Jolene, in 2012. Laura authentically shares the process of pulling herself out of years of grief to shine light on an experience that, to her dismay, happens to one in four pregnancies. After years of research, consultations, and inaccurate diagnoses from ten different specialists, Laura took control of her own infertility journey. It was a meeting with Dr. Jeffrey Braverman, a New York City based hero doctor, recommended via a fertility support group, that changed things forever for Laura. Within minutes of her first visit with Dr. Braverman, she had an accurate diagnosis, and her eight-month transformation journey began. Laura gave birth to her second daughter, Ella, in 2020. Welcome, Laura!
Laura: Thank you so much for having me! It’s such an honor to be here.
Kristin: I’m so thrilled to really have your vulnerability in sharing your story. So many women are struggling with miscarriages, infertility, and I feel like they don’t talk about it enough. So the fact that you have this book out there in the world as a resource for our clients is amazing.
Laura: Thank you. I agree. I think that people really struggle to talk about miscarriage. I think that they struggle to ask for the help and support that they need and deserve around miscarriage. I think that is a systemic problem that originates in our society and in our doctors’ offices, and then it carries into our day to day lives, which is so unfortunate. So that’s a big part of why I did write The Grace in Grief was to kind of challenge this stigma around miscarriage.
Kristin: Exactly, yes. So I know you obviously took control of your own fertility journey, found the doctor who really was there to believe in you and support your unique journey. So I would love to hear a bit more about how you found the right support after obviously meeting with so many different specialists.
Laura: Yes, it was a journey. Oh, my goodness. I saw, over the course of the decade, I think – I don’t remember the exact count, but I think it was somewhere to the tune of 12 different specialists. And all of them, same messaging. You’re perfectly healthy. You’re perfectly normal. This is a common occurrence. You are young. Continue trying. Everything will be fine. At one point, I even had a doctor say to me while I was having a mild mental breakdown in his office – he said to me, “Don’t worry. We’ll make the next one stick.” So just really, really horrific. But I will say that had those experiences not occurred, it would not have pushed me to align with the correct support team. It really, really pushed me and challenged me to find the right people.
Kristin: Yes, exactly. And so as far as your balancing – I know part of our goal today is to talk about balancing life and fertility treatments. So motherhood with your first daughter and going through the journey with conception all over again. So how did you balance things?
Laura: It was extremely hard, and I can tell you right now, it would not have been possible for me had I not had support within my family, within my immediate close friends, from my workplace. I think that it’s something that has to come from all angles, right? Because we have to balance so many things, even just the logistics of the doctors’ appointments. It takes so much time, and we can often find ourselves in a position where we don’t have a supportive workplace, or we don’t have a supportive partner, or we don’t have an understanding family member. Or maybe our friends can’t relate or empathize fully with what we’re experiencing, and it can feel really, really alienating. I think that the first step is obviously in our home. So aligning that support in our home and really expressing what we need and outlining exactly who’s responsible for what. So because I experienced secondary infertility, we had a living child that we were still responsible for raising and taking care of and giving a beautiful life to. So working with my husband to really say, okay, these are the areas in which you shine. These are the areas in which I shine. While I’m going through trauma and grief – and also him, right? He was also going through trauma and grief. How do we come together and still have a safe, honest, vulnerable environment that teaches our daughter about the realities of life that are age-appropriate?
Kristin: Yes. And how much did you share with your daughter? How was she involved in this process?
Laura: So the first few miscarriages that I had, Jolene was really young. So she was aware that I was sick. She was aware – I had hyperemesis with each of my first five pregnancies. All had hyperemesis, which for those of you listening, if you’re not familiar, it’s debilitating morning sickness. I was throwing up somewhere to the level of 20, 30 times a day. I was in and out of the hospital for intravenous drips to treat the dehydration. It was really, really horrific. So in addition to the anxiety of pregnancy after miscarriage, I was also really struggling with severe, debilitating morning sickness. And it wasn’t morning sickness; it was literally all day, all night. So she was very, very aware that Mommy wasn’t well. We did not go into the details in the first – when she was young, we really didn’t go into the details of what was actually happening, other than explaining that Mommy was not feeling well and that Daddy was going to kind of have to step up to the plate, for lack of a better term. Like I said, my mom, my brother, at the time my dad, was also very involved and very, very supportive, which was such a blessing. When we progressed into, you know, kind of the third and fourth miscarriages, Jolene was older, so we were sharing with her what was happening.
Kristin: Yeah, that makes sense. And then you had your daughter, obviously, during – you know, quite recently, so during pandemic times?
Laura: Yes, just to add to the trauma of my experience, my daughter was born as COVID was kind of just hitting its initial peak here in Florida, and I kind of look back now and laugh a little bit because my mom had been telling me, like, oh, have you heard of this COVID thing, and I kept saying to her, oh, it’s nothing. Don’t oversensationalize. It’s not a big deal. It’s just similar to the flu. And the next thing I know – we may get into this later in the show, but I was – because of my recurrent pregnancy losses, part of my treatment included suppression of my immune system, so that obviously can be really scary during a worldwide pandemic that nobody fully understands.
Kristin: Oh, absolutely. Yes.
Laura: So it went from this conversation with my mom where I’m saying, oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. To the next day, my immunologist out of New York, Dr. Andrea Vedali, calling me and saying, hey, I don’t mean to worry you. You know, I know you’re about – I think at the time, I was around 36 weeks pregnant. And she said, I need you to self-quarantine immediately. And I thought – you know, I was kind of like, what? How do I do that? You know, I have a job. I have maternity leave coming up that I have planned for, and I have a daughter who goes to school and all of these things. But I did; I had to self-quarantine with the exception, obviously, of emergency medical appointments until I gave birth.
Kristin: What a journey. Yeah, I led fertility support groups virtually across the US during early COVID, and a lot of the women had to halt some of their – if they were early in the journey, had to halt treatments, so I’m glad that you were able to continue, and you were already expecting by that point. So it was a struggle for a lot of women.
Laura: It was. It was a really terrifying time for so many reasons, and I have so many close friends who had to completely cancel, whether it was egg retrievals or transfers or reproductive immunological protocols. They had to put them on hold indefinitely, and it was really terrifying because a lot of women, after they’ve had multiple miscarriages, they are kind of feeling like they’re up against the clock, right? Because a miscarriage, that takes a quarter of a year out of your reproductive window because you obviously are pregnant and then you are miscarrying and then you have to recover from the miscarriage. So it can take a hefty chunk out of a year in which you feel like you’re already up against the clock. So to then additionally have people saying, oh, well, we’re canceling all non-emergency surgeries, whether that’s egg retrievals or egg frozen transfers or whatever it may be, it was really, really traumatizing for a lot of people.
Kristin: Yes, for sure. So how did you navigate your emotions with prior losses and obviously navigating the pandemic? How were you taking good care of yourself emotionally?
Laura: That’s a really beautiful question. Thank you for asking that. I’d say that I had to do a tremendous amount of healing before I committed to getting pregnant again. So after my fourth miscarriage, I took a long break in which I really committed to my overall wellness. I focused on healing in every aspect, so whether that was mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and I really went all in. And I prioritized myself for probably the first time – possibly ever. And it was very empowering. First, it was really scary. It was hard. As the woman who is used to taking care of everybody and everything else, it was hard to say, hey, no, I am going to prioritize myself. It felt in the beginning very selfish and unnatural. But as I leaned into it, I recognized that I was able to be a much better partner, a much better mother. It was really enlightening for me.
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Kristin: That’s beautiful. As mothers, there is a lot of guilt, but we have to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of anyone else. So I’m glad that you took the time and focus. So when did you begin the book writing process?
Laura: I began the book writing process when I had my first miscarriage. And at the time, I didn’t think of it as writing a book. At the time, I thought of it as kind of jotting down my visceral reactions to what was happening in my life. As I continued to have miscarriages and as I continued to meet people that were experiencing similar tragedies, I felt more compelled to build out the support piece within the book. And as I continued to learn and I educated myself, I became certified as a fertility doula and then a birth and labor doula, and I felt like there were a lot of things that I didn’t know that could behoove individuals that are trying to get pregnant, regardless of whether or not they have had a miscarriage or experienced infertility. There were so many gaps in my care that I identified kind of retroactively. So that was really a driver for me, as well as the cathartic process, obviously, of writing what I was experiencing. But also to educate people that have not experienced miscarriage because I was on the wrong side of a lot of well-intended but brutal commentary and advice. And I thought, these people do mean well. Their intention is in the right place. But often, they don’t know how to support people going through something so visceral and so overwhelming as a miscarriage.
Kristin: Yes. So as a fertility doula, then, you – do you accompany your clients to appointments, or is it more focused on resources? How do you walk with your clients through their fertility journey?
Laura: It depends on where they are. If they are local to me, I absolutely would love to attend appointments with them and help them advocate for themselves, help them ask the right questions, and really just have a hand to hold. It can be really scary to kind of go toe to toe with your doctor. But if they are not local to me, I do a lot of my support virtually. I would say, you know, 95% of what I do is virtual, and that looks like resources. It looks like a lot of education, a lot of preparation in advance of their appointments, around what their lab work should be, what their results what should be, what supplements they should be taking or considering or talking to their doctor about, and what their next steps could potentially be. A lot of women are ushered directly into IVF when that’s not necessarily always the right path. So we talk a lot about what are the correct next steps for you based on your history, based on where you’re at currently in your life, based on what your goals are. And yeah, it’s a lot of them texting me when they’re at Whole Foods saying, hey, should I buy this or this? Is this going to be supportive to me? So it’s really beautiful. I’ve developed some really phenomenal, supportive relationships. And to be honest, friendship within this community, which has been a blessing.
Kristin: That’s beautiful. And then as a birth doula, to continue that relationship. So that’s how we feel at Gold Coast with birth and postpartum support. We do become friends, and having that journey from conception through the first year is so lovely.
Laura: You know, I honestly can’t think of a greater honor than somebody allowing myself or any of us to be part of their conception, part of their pregnancy, part of their birth. I mean, those moments are some of the most sacred moments that we will ever experience, so to be even a very small piece of that is so humbling and so beautiful and truly the biggest honor of my life.
Kristin: I feel the same way. It’s so beautiful.
Laura: It is.
Kristin: So as far as top resources that you’re sharing with your fertility clients virtually or in person, are there any support groups or resources that our listeners who are either talking about conception or have struggled with miscarriages and are ready to try again?
Laura: Sure. I mean, they’re welcome of course to join me in the communities that I have cultivated through my website. But also, I do want to say, there are communities that exist in the world, whether on Facebook or any other platforms. I just want to caution people because I’m part of a lot of those groups, and they can be rampant with the wrong advice.
Laura: Every now and then, I see a golden nugget, and I think bravo, fabulous, wonderful. But I would say, very often I see things that I’m like, oh, my gosh. You know, no. Please don’t do that. I really wish that there was – not, obviously, my place to jump in and pooh-pooh other people’s advice, but I would just say be very cautious where you’re getting your information from.
Kristin: Exactly. 100% agree. Those mom groups – I mean, people may be well-meaning, but they’re not experts.
Laura: Sure. And a very small example is often when clients come to me, they are often on, like, 15, 20 supplements, and they’ll say to me, oh, well, I saw in this mom group that this worked to improve egg quality, and I saw also that this helped this random thing that I’m experiencing. And I’ll say, okay, that’s fantastic. I’m super glad that worked for that individual. But let’s make sure that we’re supplementing based on your actual physical body, your actual lab results. Let’s make sure that we’re not just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping that something sticks because really what we’re doing when we’re taking 15, 20 supplements, aside from the financial load of that, which obviously, supplements are very expensive – we’re also really overloading our bodies. We’re potentially creating gut dysbiosis. We’re not allowing for our bodies to properly absorb the nutrients that we’re spending a tremendous amount of money to put into our bodies. It just ends up becoming a vicious cycle, and then we start to almost feel resentful, right, because taking 15 supplements a day takes a toll.
Kristin: It does, no doubt.
Laura: So that’s something I always like to try to squeeze in. Let’s make sure that we’re doing things that are appropriate for us as individuals, not just what has worked for the masses, potentially.
Kristin: Perfect. Thank you, Laura. So as far as the journey to work with you virtually, since many of our listeners are all over the US and the world, how would they begin the process? I mean, you mentioned your website. And you’re also on social media.
Laura: I am. Yeah, I’m on social media. I’m very accessible via social media. But also I offer a free 15-minute consultation call. So if you’re wondering if you are the right fit or if I’m the right fit for you or if you’re wondering if this type of support is sensible in your case, then you can schedule on my calendar a 15-minute consultation. We can kind of get to know each other a little bit, kind of talk a little bit about your history, and see whether or not it makes sense and potentially identify some next steps for you.
Kristin: Great. And then as far as your book, The Grace in Grief, how can our listeners find the book?
Laura: Thank you. The book is available via my website, but also via national book retailers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, things of that nature. Amazon is probably the easiest.
Kristin: Yes. Excellent. So any final tips for our listeners, Laura?
Laura: I’d love to close with the concept that we are all very capable of healing. I think that fertility, whether it’s a beautiful experience or a challenging experience, it still can involve trauma. So I think that acknowledging that the trauma exists and not sugarcoating the experience of preconception, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum allows us to heal whatever those wounds are for us. So talking about it and acknowledging it and taking away the stigma, but also acknowledging that we as individuals are so incredibly powerful and so incredibly capable, and with the right support, we can really move mountains.
Kristin: Yes, so true. So one thing I forgot to ask is we had talked a bit about partners also having trauma. Are there any good resources for partners to seek support in their own healing journey?
Laura: Often, I recommend for couples to truly engage in couples therapy with a therapist that both individuals connect with. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that a lot of this work cannot be done on our own. It does require a level of professional support, and that’s absolutely okay. If you don’t feel like that level of support is necessary, there are great books out there. You know, my book, of course, has a lot of resources around grief, a lot of resources. I do talk very candidly about the impact of miscarriages and grief on my marriage. Yeah, I would say really do consider getting that professional support because often it is extremely helpful and absolutely warranted.
Kristin: Thank you. Well, I appreciate the time today, Laura, and thank you for the important work that you’re doing.
Laura: Thank you so much. It’s been an honor talking with you. Thank you for the work that you’re doing, as well. It’s incredible.
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