Motherhood is a journey like no other and each of us has a unique story with its own twists and turns. We were lucky enough to have a chance to interview Josephine Atluri both about her own fertility journey and how she now coaches women meditation and mindfulness to navigate their own journeys.
An Interview with Josephine Atluri
Can you tell us about your journey to motherhood?
Due to a life threatening illness my husband overcame while we were still dating in college, we had to go straight into In Vitro Fertilization once we were ready to have children. Despite starting in our mid-twenties and not having any other existing conditions to impact pregnancy, we went through many rounds of unsuccessful IVF cycles over the course of two years. When we did become pregnant with twins, we lost them in the second trimester.
It was during this low point in our journey that I came to the difficult conclusion that I could no longer pursue another IVF cycle again at that time. So after grieving our loss, we pivoted our path to parenthood and eventually adopted our first son from Kazakhstan. After those trying years, we were finally parents! We took time to enjoy life with our son and eventually mustered up the courage and hope to give IVF another chance. We switched facilities and became pregnant once again with twins. We threw the kitchen sink at this pregnancy as our previous loss was unexplained. Thus, my cervix was closed via a cerclage and I was put on modified bed rest for the majority of my pregnancy. After a very long and nerve racking experience, I successfully gave birth to boy-girl twins!
During that last IVF cycle, we had some frozen embryos remaining. After working so hard to make these beautiful embryos, we knew we had to give them a chance at life. This meant we had to save up for almost five years in order to work with a gestational surrogate to carry our twin boys. Every time I look at my little ones, I think about our surrogate’s selfless act of generosity.
And that is how we came to be a family with five kids born via IVF, international adoption and surrogacy. There are many paths to parenthood and ways to create a family with no one way being better than the others. When it comes down to it, what binds us all together and makes us a family is love.
How did you find meditation? What inspired you to help other women through meditation and mindfulness?
I was actually introduced to meditation by a dear friend. I was looking for a missing piece to my overall wellness and she insisted I give it a try despite my concerns of not being able to turn off my busy Type-A kind of mind. I acquiesced and tried a meditation app and instantly became hooked. It was the first time that I had given myself permission to pause and just be still. Up until that point, my go-to self-care routine was exercise. Yet, my exercise didn’t address my need for mental wellness and emotional self-care. Once, I tried out meditation and instantly noticed the benefits in both myself and my relationships and productivity, I knew I had to share this with the world.
I’m the type of person that always takes things to the next level. Thus, a personal meditation practice wasn’t enough for me. I needed to level up! I eventually became certified to teach and began teaching corporate clients because my business background seemed like a great way to align my past career with my current passion. As I began writing about my infertility journey, however, I realized that my meditation teaching was needed more by those trying to conceive. When I was in the midst of my own infertility journey over a decade ago, I didn’t have any resources for dealing with the trauma of trying to conceive. Eventually, after years of burying and avoiding my emotions and the pain of infertility, it manifested itself into bulimia. What I learned as I healed from my eating disorder was that I had not properly dealt with the issues of failure, control, self-worth, and so many other underlying issues that I had not addressed while trying to conceive. Thus, I am on a mission to help other women who are in the midst of their path to parenthood feel less alone, more in control, more empowered and better able to handle the emotional and physical challenges brought on by infertility via mindfulness and meditation strategies.
What advice would you give someone who is going to try to conceive after 2020 derailed their plans?
The advice I would impart on someone walking into 2021 trying to conceive is this – it is okay for you to live in a world of hope mixed with anxiety brought on by uncertainty. Navigating infertility is so traumatic, physically, mentally, emotionally. It brings up a whirlwind of feelings that can be overwhelming, isolating, and sometimes debilitating. We often feel the burden of trying to be positive as we go along our path to parenthood so that we can then have positive outcomes. Yet, it is exhausting to uphold hope and positivity all the time, especially when you just feel sad about your situation. Thus, it is important to remember that your feelings are valid and important and should be acknowledged. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. You don’t owe it to anyone to have explanations for how you feel and you certainly do not have to rush the process of healing and feeling your pain and sadness. There will be days that the hope will start to bubble up again and when that happens embrace it, all the while remembering that your process of healing is not linear. So give yourself some compassion and love as you move through those ups and downs.
This last year has been so stressful, especially for women navigating infertility, how do you recommend reducing stress while trying to conceive?
I recently ran a 7-day meditation challenge with women who are trying to conceive as a way to kickstart the new year in a calm and mindful way. The feedback I received from the challenge was so wonderful because it was more proof that practicing meditation and mindfulness while trying to conceive is so beneficial. Some participants reported improvement in their sleep quality and ability to fall asleep. Others were better able to handle their injections and the side effects of their medications. Overall, the women who took part in this daily meditation challenge reported feeling less stressed, anxious and out of control and more at peace with themselves and their situations.
By meditating daily for as little as three minutes a day, you’ll instantly feel the effects such as decreased stress, anxiety and negativity and an increase in calm, positivity, focus, productivity and
present moment awareness and appreciation. Plus, fertility mindfulness helps you take back control of a part of your life by giving you the tools to respond to stress on your terms. This is a great benefit because infertility robs us of that feeling of control over our lives. Thus, practicing fertility mindfulness and meditation can have profound effects on many aspects of our well-being.
For the women who have experienced loss, do you have advice on how to begin to heal and move forward or a word of encouragement for them?
First, I am sorry for your loss and the pain that you had to experience. Despite the alarming statistic that one in every four women experience miscarriage and loss, we still feel so alone and ashamed when it happens to us. The advice I share with women who are grieving the loss of a child, a pregnancy, and the expectation of a life is based on what I experienced when I grieved my own loss of twins in the second trimester and that is to take all the time you need to feel the full expression of your loss and emotions. You deserve to feel however you want to feel and not feel pressured to speed up the process to feel positive or to start again. It can be frightening to be vulnerable to your feelings because you may think that it can overwhelm you. However, it is really key to experience what you are feeling so you can truly heal and move on.
By taking the time to experience the full range of your emotions, you’ll then begin to understand what your mind, body and spirit needs in order to feel better. You’ll know in your gut and your heart when it’s time for you to move on to the next step and begin again.
One other piece of advice is regarding hope. When you experience loss, it can be hard to find the energy and the courage to have hope again. Hope is exhausting especially when you’ve experienced numerous unsuccessful attempts. After I gave myself the time I needed to grieve and began the process of trying to conceive again, I found that allowing my mind to stay present rather than dwelling on the past and worrying about the what-ifs of the future helped me to cultivate hope. It’s helpful to note that hope will certainly wane over time and be affected by your experiences, but it is still possible to find some modicum of hope each time. It’s also important to remember that hope can coexist with apprehension. Through it all, it’s essential not to set expectations for yourself and how you’re supposed to feel. Instead, allow each day to unfold for you and afford yourself some compassion for whatever happens and however you feel that day.
Can you teach us a quick breathing exercise that mamas can do even in the midst of the chaos?
Breathing techniques are my favorite go-to stress reduction tool because you can utilize it anywhere and everywhere. The beauty of a breathing exercise is that it instantly moves you from a state of stress and overwhelm to one of calm. How can the simple act of breathing accomplish this seemingly difficult task? The breath is our gateway from the sympathetic nervous system or as most people know it as the “fight or flight” response to the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the “rest and digest” state. By slowing down your breathing, you are sending a signal to your brain that you are no longer in a state of stress and are moving into a calmer state. Physically, you’ll feel the effects instantly such as your heart beating slower and you’ll stop sweating.
An easy breathing pattern to follow is the box breath. Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then repeat this 16 second count of breath for as many times as you need. You’ll find that being mindful of your breath and the pattern of your breathing prevents you from thinking about anything else, particularly whatever was stressing you out in the first place.
Where can we find you?
I’d love for you to check out my website www.jatluri.com where you’ll find links to my free video meditations on YouTube, articles, and interviews I’ve done speaking about my paths to parenthood, fertility mindfulness and general meditation tips. Also on my site are links to episodes on my podcast, “Responding to Life: Talking Health, Fertility, and Parenthood.”
Interested in booking a 1:1 or group meditation for infertility, motherhood, or general meditation? You can also do so via my website! Looking forward to connecting with all of you!
About the Author:
During this time of extreme isolation and anxiety, Josephine shares practical stress management tips including tools to help ground yourself via the free meditation videos on her site www.jatluri.com. For a free monthly video meditation and wellness tips, be sure to sign up to receive her monthly newsletter on her site. For daily inspiration, be sure to follow her on Instagram!