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I’m super excited to have Josephine Atluri on today’s show. We’re talking about how to empower your fertility journey. Josephine is a meditation teacher, and she works with people to help them find a calmer existence despite the chaos that may surround them. She is also a coach who offers specialized fertility empowerment and mindfulness workshops and private sessions. She has a podcast titled Responding to Life: Living Reflectively to a Journey of Health, Fertility, and Parenthood.
Dr. Aimee: Welcome, Josephine. Thank you for being here today.
Josephine Atluri: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you for all the work that you do. I’d love for you to share more about yourself. Can you please share some of your personal fertility story with us?
Josephine Atluri: My journey began about 15 years ago. We knew going into it that we would have to begin straight into IVF ICSI because of an illness that my husband had back when we were dating that led to male fertility issues.
We began probably when I was around 25. We went on for two years with back to back cycles that, unfortunately, did not work. Then we decided to switch to another facility, and became pregnant with twins. The first trimester things were going great. Then all of a sudden, at 17 weeks in, water gushed out. The next thing I know, I’m in the hospital. Unfortunately, we could not save the twins.
It was at that point that I finally had time to not just grieve the loss of my twins, but just grieve everything. When you’re going through cycle after cycle, you really don’t afford yourself much time to really process everything, because you have to get back in and it feels so time sensitive.
It was at that point that my husband and I decided to really reflect upon our next steps, and we decided that families are made in different ways. They’re all born out of love. That’s when we decided to switch to international adoption.
A year later, it was a completely different journey from IVF. I traded in doctor appointments and procedures with paperwork and interviews. Then we brought our son home from Kazakhstan. I finally got to be a mother and it was amazing.
After a year in, it felt like a cloud had been lifted over us, such that I was ready to try IVF just one more time. We switched to a third facility. Lo and behold, we became pregnant with twins again. They threw the kitchen sink at me. I had a cerclage, where they closed up my cervix. I was on modified bedrest for the majority of the pregnancy. I carried the twins and delivered them. Now we were a family with three kids, and it was amazing.
During that process, we harvested and froze many embryos. I couldn’t carry a pregnancy again. But, when you work so hard for those embryos, they’re with you forever. We thought about surrogacy, and knew it was expensive. We saved up for it every year.
That’s why there’s this big gap between my middle set of twins to my little set of twins. When we finally could pursue that option, we paired up with this amazing woman who is forever in our hearts, and she carried twins for us. That’s how we ended up with five kids.
Our journey took 13 years from the start of IVF to the birth of my last set of twins. It covered IVF, miscarriages, international adoption, and surrogacy. Here we are today and here I am speaking with you about it.
Dr. Aimee: I got chills listening to you share your story. Thank you. If you were right next to me, you would see the goosebumps.
What inspires you to do the work that you do now?
Josephine Atluri: What inspires me to do the work that I do, particularly with fertility, mindfulness, and meditation, is the journey that my husband and I went through.
When we started out 15 years ago, we didn’t have the benefit of all of these resources that are available to people now, in terms of all these support groups, and online communities. When I look back at my journey, I remember feeling really alone, and beaten down in terms of my self-worth. It was hard on me mentally, emotionally, and physically. I believe it doesn’t have to be that way.
If I can help one person go through this process and feel like they’re a little bit more in control, feel a little bit more in tune with themselves, and a little less sad about the whole process, then it’s a win and I feel fulfilled.
Dr. Aimee: I feel like we’re a lot alike. I say to myself if I could have one thing that I do make one person out there shed less tears, then it was worth it for me. It’s pretty amazing that we’re like minded in that way.
Where do you get your strength and resilience from? I’m sure it didn’t just come like that. It must have been something that you trained yourself to do. Or maybe it is a gene that you have that we all need to know about.
Josephine Atluri: That’s a great question, Aimee. I get this question often. Where do I get my strength and resilience from? I see that it stemmed from that experience with my husband’s illness(at the time he was my boyfriend). It was a near-death experience.
What I found is that an experience like that really changes your perspective. If you’re lucky to come through that experience on the other side of things and you’re lucky enough to really apply it to your life and not just that first year, then it really colors everything that you do in your life.
It made us realize how precious life is, and it confirmed the strength of our bond and our relationship. During all of the low points of all of the cycles, I knew that I always had my husband right next to me and that he would lift me up when I couldn’t lift myself up.
Dr. Aimee: That’s great. I married my hero. He gives me a lot of strength and resilience, too.
You run a workshop called Empowering Your Fertility Journey. Tell us about it.
Josephine Atluri: Yes. It is a 90-minute workshop. The goal of it is to teach the essentials of meditation and mindfulness, so that you can incorporate it into your fertility journey. It offers you support and empowerment. Essentially, you learn different techniques, such as breathing techniques, how to scan your body, how to use a mantra. Then you learn other techniques that are helpful for you along the way, such as affirmations and journaling.
Plus, it’s a great way to meet in a safe space with other men and women who are maybe not in the same situation that you are in, but who completely understand what you’re going through. You’re in it together. A lot of the women from the last workshop still keep in touch with one another. We did a reunion sort of meditation together, and we were all able to see where everyone was at in their journey.
It is great. You’re able to walk away with actual tools that you can use for yourself on a daily basis.
Dr. Aimee: I love it. How often are the workshops?
Josephine Atluri: I’m doing them every quarter.
Dr. Aimee: Great. So, there is one coming up soon. Right?
Josephine Atluri: Yes. The next one is coming up on November 14th at 11:00 AM PST. It’s over Zoom, just like everything else. Like I said, it’s 90 minutes long.
Dr. Aimee: Okay. I have my mantras that I share with my patients, so I know how important and valuable this kind of mindset is for people. You guys, join her next workshop.
I’d like you to share with us some of the things that you learned during your journey that you think can help people.
Josephine Atluri: The top three things that I learned are:
I’m not defined by the outcomes of my journey.
As you’re going through the cycles, you become very wrapped up in what’s happening. You start to internalize everything that’s happening. This is difficult because you may have negative thoughts, and in reality infertility isn’t your fault and you’re completely worthy of becoming a mother. You are enough.
As you’re going through it, you’re wondering, “What am I doing wrong? What’s happening in my body that’s not allowing this to be?”
As women, we are tied to this idea that we are the ones who are supposed to have children. It took me a lot of time to work through this. Towards the end of it that I really started to understand that I’m not defined by the outcome of my journey. It can take time to get there. That’s something I would have reminded myself back in the beginning.
Learn to let go of things that I can’t control, and there are many of those things. Trust whatever process you’re in.
There are many things that you can control in life and there are many things that you can not. I learned a lot through IVF, adoption, and surrogacy. While many things were out of my control, I could control my breath and I could control my mindset. And, I could control many other aspects of my life, like my nutrition and my fitness.
I decided to shift my mindset just a little bit, and change my focus on something besides the things that were wearing me down and wearing me out. I knew I was fighting it all because I couldn’t control it.
Instead, I focused on the things that I could control. Just that change really helps you immensely, because then you’re just letting go of all the worry that comes with all that other stuff.
The power of the pause
Back when I had that second trimester loss, I was forced into a pause. If that didn’t happen, I could very well imagine myself having just kept going through the whole process. Instead, I had to take a break. That’s when I realized how important it was for us to take mindful moments of rest.
It doesn’t need to be a long time for it to be effective. It can really just be a couple of minutes a day where you pause from everything and give yourself the time for rest and reflection. That also gives you a moment of, perhaps, reflection on where you are in your journey, to reevaluate, “Can I keep going on like this? Is it time to maybe pursue other options? Is it time to have a discussion with my doctor about maybe something else that we haven’t tried?” Because you can get into a cycle and mindset of “let’s just keep going, let’s just keep trying because time is of the essence.”
Those are the top three things that I think really made a difference as I progressed through our journey.
Dr. Aimee: I love all of those things. Thank you for sharing. I think of reset, regroup, reconnect, those are the three things that I think are a great way of thinking about what you’re saying about pause.
You are right, there’s that pressure to just keep going. Then if you keep going and you’re not listening to your brain saying, “Wait, something is just not right,” then there is a disconnect. You really have to just make sure your brain, your heart, and your uterus and ovaries are all on the same page as much as possible.
What are some steps that someone dealing with fertility can do or take right now to help with serenity and mindfulness?
Josephine Atluri: It’s all in our power to be able to tap into this inner calm that we have. That’s a message that I always let my students know right from the get-go. The biggest tool at your disposal is always with you, which is your breath.
The number one thing that I always teach people to be able to get into a state of mindfulness and serenity right now is to incorporate some breathing techniques.
When you’re in a state of stress, you’re in this fight or flight state. Part of your nervous system is split into two and you’re in this sympathetic nervous state. If you want to switch over to this rest and digest, the parasympathetic nervous system, that gateway is through your breath.
When you take a deep breath, especially if you can get it in from your belly and work you up, you are sending a signal to your brain that you are not in a state of stress, you are not being attacked by that tiger, or being attacked by that email that you just received and set you off.
Instead, you are going from a state of stress and into a state of calm. You’ll start to feel your heart beating less, you’ll start to feel your blood pressure slow down. And you can do all of this with mindful breathing.
Let’s say you’re waiting to get your blood drawn, or you’re lying there getting your ultrasound taken and no one is speaking to you because they’re busy doing their scans, and you’re just getting worked up because you’re thinking about all of the things that happened in the past that didn’t work out. If you in that moment can utilize a breathing technique, then you can bring yourself down into that state of calm that you have inside.
Then you’re able to be present, and hear what the doctor says because you’re actually there. You’re able to process that information versus having them talk to you. I know this has happened to me sometimes, a doctor would be speaking to me but in the moment my mind was elsewhere, ruminating on negative thoughts.
Practicing helps build up a connection to your inner calm. The more you practice it, the stronger it becomes and the easier it becomes for you to get into that state of calm that you need to when you get triggered. And you become more mindful, because now you know what those triggers are.
One quick one takes 16 seconds. You breathe in for four seconds, then hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold your breath for four seconds.
The beauty of that breathing technique is that you can’t think of anything else while you do it. You can’t think about that meeting or that grocery list. Imagine then if you can do that in a moment where you’re actually stressed out. Then you can really tap into that calm in that moment.
That would be my number one takeaway for anyone who is trying to get into a state of mindfulness and serenity and doesn’t really know how to do it.
Dr. Aimee: I like to do quick surveys whenever I’m in groups of people. My current favorite is one I do in the operating room when doing surgery. I just ask everyone in the operating room — there’s an OR tech, an OR nurse, anesthesiologist — and I say, “How many of you have taken a mindfulness class or a meditation class?”
I’m just shocked that sometimes I’m the only person that has done that. I find it’s like a life skill. I feel like people should not be graduating high school without this life skill, especially now. So, thank you. I just am so grateful that the universe brought us together.
It was actually the Motherly article that you wrote. I loved that article last month, How to Reduce Stress While Trying to Conceive. Please share what you wrote in that article with us.
Josephine Atluri: Yes. I love that we were connected, it’s so great. It’s true what you say about mindfulness. They’re actually starting to teach it in my kids’ school. Every time they are forced to learn it, they always begrudgingly come over to me and tell me that they had to do mindfulness today.
With that Motherly article, I talked about how to essentially set a foundation of support and strength for yourself as you go through your fertility journey. I offered four key points for that.
Communicate with your partner
I didn’t realize what it really felt like to be in my husband’s shoes until I was going through surrogacy, because I was finally standing on the sidelines. She was the one carrying the babies and I basically stood on the sidelines waiting to hear what she needed from us and how I could support her.
Then it clicked. I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is what my husband went through all those years of going through IVF.” It sucks, by the way. It sucks because you want to help this person, you love this person, but you simply don’t know how.
That really helped me with coaching people. I realized that you actually need to tell your partner what you need, because they can’t read your mind and they don’t know what you’re going through physically, mentally, or emotionally. Your partner wants to help you. You need to communicate what you need in that moment. Don’t wait for them to do it, because you’re in the driver’s seat. You’re the one who is having all the shots and doing all of the procedures, and hopefully eventually carrying the babies.
Find your support network
It’s really key to find your support network. It’s great right now, because there are so many different communities available out there. If one isn’t working, you can try another. Find a group of people that understand what you’re going through and that can be there for you if you need to vent or if you just need someone to listen.
I found that my friends weren’t experiencing the same things that I was going through. Some weren’t even trying to have kids at that moment. Those that were, they were not having any trouble. I felt so alone.
You don’t want to feel alone. You shouldn’t have to. If you can even just find one person that is going through this that can be your buddy, all the better. Like I said, if you go on social media, there are so many different people. Dr. Aimee has her Instagram. Everyone has Instagram or Facebook. Even if you’re just watching from the sidelines, at least you get some comfort through that.
The third point was to set boundaries. This was really key in terms of not getting triggered. It’s that step of stopping any issues from happening if you can, as much as possible. Then you’re not putting yourself in a stressful situation. Sometimes things come out of left field and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s when all these mindfulness techniques are really beneficial.
Examples of boundaries: You don’t have to talk about what’s happening on your fertility journey. Your partner can help with that, especially when you’re going into the holidays. Maybe your partner can let everyone know that you’re not comfortable talking about it, and ask that they not to bring it up. One idea is to offer up other things to talk about, and even give specifics. That’s what I mean about setting boundaries.
You can set boundaries for yourself. If you know that you’re just not in the right space, maybe don’t go on social media because you don’t want to be triggered.
Create a self-care toolkit for yourself
Then the last tip was to create a self-care toolkit. It’s great that self care is something we’re talking about more these days. Things like the breathing technique, mindfulness, doing meditation are all examples of self care. You might also include other things like going for a walk, or journaling, or doing affirmations.
You really need to have a good amount of stuff in your toolkit. Some days, especially those that feel really heavy, might require more self care. Sometimes one day you’re not feeling the affirmations, and with some variety in your toolkit, you try something else.
Dr. Aimee: I’m so excited for all of the things that you’ve shared with us. You’ve shared so many great ideas. If someone has a fertility binder, it’s my hope that they will print this article out and keep it with them for future reference. That way, if they ever forget the things and the tools that you’ve brought today to this show, the article will be a reminder. Thank you. We’ll also include a link to the Motherly article as well.
You mentioned affirmations. What are some affirmations that are your favorites that you use during challenging times?
Josephine Atluri: For anyone that doesn’t know what an affirmation is, it’s a simple phrase that you repeat to yourself, again in that same vein of offering yourself strength and support.
Examples of my favorite ones, especially right now with everything happening in the world, is, “I am safe. I am healthy.”
If you are on a fertility journey, you might try this, “I am worthy. I am enough. I am strong. I am brave. I am resilient. I am courageous. I am enough. I am loved.”
You can use your mantra in meditation, and you can also use it when you’re waiting for an appointment. If you’re about to go in for an appointment and you can feel yourself getting all worked up and fidgety, you can repeat the words to yourself instead of scrolling on your phone.
Some people ask me, “What if I’m saying those things, but I don’t believe what I’m saying?” That’s okay. I do affirmations with my kids and with a lot of clients, and they don’t believe it at first. That’s okay, because what you’re doing is you’re giving yourself just another pathway in your brain that you can cling onto.
When we feed ourselves negative thoughts, that’s what our brain has. If we feed ourselves these words of strength and support, and words of positivity, then our brain has something else to hold on to. Eventually, over time, your mind will want to go there and you will start to believe it. That’s the simplicity of affirmations.
Dr. Aimee: It’s funny that you say that, because I tell my patients, “You are strong. You are resilient. Now go make magic happen and keep sparkling.” You say the same thing. I think it’s really important to say that to yourself. If patients need a reminder, I often remind them, too.
Often, people read these articles because they’re trying to learn about infertility for a family member or a friend.
If your loved one is dealing with fertility challenges, what steps can someone take to effectively support them?
Josephine Atluri: I love this question.
I’ve thought about this question and I thought about a friend of mine who was going through infertility. When I was first speaking to her, I wanted to give her all this advice based on what I had gone through, and share tips.
I noticed she’d gone silent, I just stopped talking, too. I realized that she wanted to talk, maybe to offload whatever she’s feeling, and she wanted to do that without hearing about all of my stuff and what my advice for her was.
That would be my number one suggestion for someone who is trying to support a loved one who is going through it. Remember that what the most likely want and need is a safe space, to be able to release and let go whatever they’re holding onto, whatever weighing them down, and to know that you aren’t going to judge them, you aren’t going to try and just talk them through some sort of self-help thing. They really just want to be able to let go of it.
I think that’s the best thing that you can do. Hold off on giving advice. If they do ask, “You went through it, what is your advice,” that’s when you can offer your advice. But really just wait for that moment.
Dr. Aimee: And, I might add that patients tell me that they have friends and family Google stuff and share articles with them that have nothing to do with what they’re going through. This is also not helpful. They’ve already done that on their own.
Before we end today’s show, I would just love to hear what your favorite quote is and why.
Josephine Atluri: My favorite quote is by Lao Tzu. He wrote, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” There are so many different interpretations of this quote. There are two ways that I like to look at it. One, it brings me back to the idea of being mindful and being present, because we’re caught up in this idea of what we “should” be.
And you can easily apply this to being on a fertility journey. You’re caught up in this idea of, “I should be a mother. It should happen this way.” You can get so fixated on that. Then when things don’t happen in the manner in which you thought they should, it brings up a lot of emotion. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with it because you’ve piled so many expectations on the outcome.
If you can just let go of all of that (maybe it’s just during your meditation or just for the few moments that you’re doing your breathing), and let go all of your expectation, it is so freeing. You give yourself space to just be who you are in that moment. Practicing getting to that point where you can just have that feeling of freedom, will give you so much space.
The other way I like to look at that phrase is the idea of being present in the moment is that we’re so caught up in thinking about the things that happened in the past, like who I was in the past, that you’re not thinking about and experiencing who you are in this moment.
And having that mindfulness is important when you’re trying to do all of these assisted reproductive therapies. It’s easy to get caught up in everything that didn’t work out, or in all of the cycles that you’re about to do, that you’re not living this moment and this time. Albeit frustrating and hard, I’m betting there are some moments in it that are just worth appreciating and being mindful of.
That’s why I love that quote, because there are just so many different ways that you can interpret it and apply it to one’s fertility journey and just life.
Dr. Aimee: That’s very similar to my favorite quote, which is, “If you take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.” It can be so overwhelming when you’re starting on a path and you want it to be a path, but it turns into a journey. It can be quite overwhelming to be like, “I’m here and I really want to be there,” and then you think of all the steps that it’s going to take to get there. You just have to center yourself and literally just live in the moment. That’s pretty fantastic that you shared that quote with us today.
Thank you, Josephine. Let us know again where can people find you, your Instagram handle and your website? Please share it all right now with us.
Josephine Atluri: I love your quote, by the way. Thank you so much for the opportunity today.
People can go to my website which is JAtluri.com. There, you’ll find there’s a fertility meditation. You can find just general video meditations that you can practice.
You can also find me on social media @JosephineRAtluri, as well as on my podcast called Responding to Life where I talk about my journey as well as other peoples’ fertility journeys, and we talk about mindfulness on there as well. I hope to see you on one of those different avenues.
Dr. Aimee: Awesome. Be sure to check out her website for her meditations as well. You do have some free meditations that are fabulous. I hope people will reach out to you and learn just as much as we learned today and more.
Or, you can get 25% off sessions by using the code NETWORK on her site.
Josephine Atluri: Thanks so much.
Dr. Aimee: Thanks, Josephine. Have a great day. Thank you everyone for joining us on today’s show. We’ll see you back here next time. Have a great day everybody.