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Desperate Housewives Actress Brenda Strong Talks Infertility with Infertile Naomi
a blog by Infertile Naomi, June 24, 2010
I recently had the extreme pleasure of interviewing actress Brenda Strong, who, in addition to being the voice of the deceased Mary Alice Young on the hit show Desperate Housewives, is also an experienced yoga practitioner, the creator of Yoga4Fertility™ and has experienced her own personal struggle with infertility. I chatted with Brenda about her experiences with infertility in Hollywood and her growing work within the fertility community. Brenda currently lives with her husband and son in Los Angeles.
“I tell them if they truly want to be mothers, they will be. The only mystery is “how” that baby will come to them.” – Brenda Strong
Infertile Naomi: Most people know you as that fabulous actress who appears on Desperate Housewives and many other award-winning television shows and films. But your other passion is helping women struggling with infertility as the creator and yoga instructor for Yoga4Fertility™ and the National Spokesperson for The American Fertility Association. How did your own experience with infertility lead you on this path?
Brenda Strong: My journey in the world of fertility came when I was in my early thirties and had difficulty conceiving. I saw a specialist who diagnosed me with “unexplained infertility” after a series of tests. At that time, I was doing yoga and saw a Chinese medical doctor for acupuncture and herbs and was able to conceive and carry my son full term. While I was pregnant, I became a yoga teacher and became certified in pre-natal yoga. But my real difficulty came when I tried to conceive again and experienced secondary infertility. That was when I got serious about using yoga as a way to heal myself and others on this path.
Naomi: You’ve been very open about your struggle with secondary infertility and miscarriage. As an actress, did you find it difficult to disclose your struggle in Hollywood and what was the reaction?
Brenda: It’s funny. It never occurred to me to hide my struggle. I knew too many women who were going through reproductive difficulties and needed my support to consider my own risk of exposure and the impact it may have on my acting career. In fact, I realized that there was such a stigma of shame and depression associated with reproductive difficulties, that I wanted to shed light on it. I wanted to show people that it was important not to hide, but to ask for help and get that needed support, and not to go through it alone. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening to me too. The reaction by my team was tepid at best. I think they were worried that if I was known as a spokesperson for infertility that it would make me less desirable as an actress. I haven’t found that to be the case however.
Naomi: As a woman going through infertility myself, I often say that I feel very lucky to have experienced this journey because it has allowed me to help others in my situation. You once said in an article, “I realized that the second child we were supposed to have was my birthing this important work – helping women through fertility issues. It was meant to be this way.”
Do you feel similarly in that infertility can be a blessing in disguise which has allowed you to inspire others?
Brenda: Absolutely! Look at the good you are doing by sharing your challenges in this blog in order for others not to feel alone and have hope! Any adversity in our life offers us an opportunity to grow, to discover an internal strength and capacity to overcome obstacles that make us more interesting and compassionate human beings.
The women I work with find a deeper trust and connection to themselves in their ability to cope with stress, to love themselves when things aren’t going well and embrace what “is” as opposed to what “should be.” The women who come out of my workshops are more aware of their feelings, their bodies, their environment, and their diet. They feel empowered to follow the path and see where it leads. They learn that they may not have a choice as to what happens to them, but they have a choice in how they respond.
I tell them if they truly want to be mothers, they will be, the only mystery is “how” that baby will come to them. If they are committed to going on the journey to discover that, it can actually be quite magical. This journey can make them become more capable as future parents as well.
Naomi, I love that you say “you are a mother, you just haven’t met your babies yet.”
Naomi: Tell us about your role as the National Spokesperson at The American Fertility Association.
Brenda: The AFA is a wonderful organization that helps couples who are experiencing reproductive difficulties understand what their options are in their family building journey. They have amazing online webinars, STD education programs and medical advisors available to assist you with questions in addition to emotional support groups. They are a great touchstone for quality blogs and information dissemination. I have been involved with them since 2005 and am honored to serve on their board as well as act in a spokesperson capacity.
Naomi: You created the Yoga4Fertilty website to help empower woman before pregnancy, during and afterwards. Can you tell us about your website, and your product offerings including your new Yoga4Fertility DVDs and Fertility Ball.
Brenda: I wanted the website to be a place where women could come at any age or stage of their lives to get good information whether in the form of my blog, the top five fertility enhancing poses, poses for pregnancy, how to ease the symptoms of menopause or how to avoid harmful environmental toxins that impact fertility and overall health.
They can purchase products that will help empower them on their journey. There is also a class schedule and teacher training program for yoga teachers who want to learn how to teach Strong Yoga 4Fertility.
Being able to offer the Fertility Ball has been exciting for me because it puts healing in the hands of women no matter where they are in the world. They will be able to enjoy the benefits of yoga and acupressure to help stimulate their chances of conceiving through these two powerful modalities of healing. Many women don’t live in urban environments where they can get to a yoga class or acupuncturist, and this will help that problem, in addition, women who do live in urban environments will have more frequent stimulation of the conception points to sustain the benefits without the high cost.
Naomi: How does yoga help women going through IUI or IVF?
Brenda: Overall, yoga in general is excellent for toning the muscles, reducing stress, balancing hormones, regulating ovulation and increasing overall health of the body. Strong Yoga4Fertility specifically addresses the reproductive organs on a physical and energetic level. It also is designed to bring your intention and your attention, into alignment, which from a quantum physics standpoint, can make a huge difference in the body’s ability to heal. I created the Four Fields of Fertility™, a four week workshop that teaches women how interconnected their thoughts, feelings, bodily function and fertility are linked together in a delicate balance. Essentially the goal is to create awareness of how thoughts and emotions impact our endocrine function and how yoga and diet can create a “fertile soil” for us to work with to boost fertility and lower stress.
Managing stress, depression, shame, and the negative cycle associated with fertility struggles is an important part of the fertility journey and being able to love yourself through the ups and downs that accompany the ride is essential to your self esteem and health.
I am a great believer in acupuncture, acupressure, massage, and sleep. Restoring the body’s natural fertile state is the key. Eliminating the things that interrupt our natural fertility potential is important as well. Not smoking, reducing or eliminating sugar, exposure to plastics and chemicals at home and work and, overall, becoming more aware of the patterns that cause stress and exhaustion are all keys to enhancing your body’s natural ability to conceive.
Naomi: Do you have any recommendations for men dealing with male factor infertility? (My husband could use some advice on this subject!).
Brenda: Male factor fertility is something that isn’t talked about enough, in my opinion. It has nothing to do with masculinity, yet men can feel “less than” when they find out the difficulty rests with them. I always recommend that a board certified reproductive endocrinologist first check a couple to make sure that all systems are firing. If male factor is an issue, get a recommendation for a well-reputed urologist and address it right away. Valuable time can be saved with the advice of those professionals equipped to solve simple to more complex situations.
I also recommend that a couple do partner yoga together to maintain the emotional intimacy in the relationship as sometimes conflicts can be avoided if there are issues of shame, anger, disappointment or frustration between the couple. This helps them cope with the stress infertility can cause and keeps them in a positive state of togetherness.
Naomi: Couples dealing with infertility hate hearing the advice “Just relax and it will happen” (because they do relax and guess what? It doesn’t happen!). What is your best advice to help women cope with unwanted pregnancy advice?
Brenda: “Just Relax! It will happen!” I’m sure everyone has heard the story of the countless couples that have adopted after years of trying only to get pregnant naturally right away. . .
The key is to simply understand that people giving advice generally are uncomfortable with your suffering and want to fix it. I have found that, as infuriating as the advice is, if you can hear what they are truly saying, it’s ”I love you and I just want to help.” It allows you to simply say “thank you”, smile, and let them feel good about themselves.
Resistance is futile because it only stresses you out more.
If you must say anything, you can say, “I so appreciate your concern, I’m sure you can imagine how difficult this is for us, and we just need to listen to our doctors.” That usually works to stop them from going further and yet invites them to be compassionate.
Naomi: What is your advice to women struggling with infertility issues and who feel very alone in their journey to motherhood?
Brenda: This can be an extremely lonely path if you choose to isolate yourself. It can be deeply transformational if you can find other women and couples who are going through this to share and learn from. The only cautionary tale is not to get wrapped up in the drama, focus on the positive and uplift each other along the way. Join a support group, learn coping tools, meditation, yoga, nutrition, green your environment, etc. But beware of the the group focused on simply unloading sorrows; this can be detrimental in the ability to sustain the journey. There needs to be safety to release, but also support to sustain and grow through the process.
Naomi: Has infertility made you look differently at your life?
Brenda: I love these questions! They are so insightful.
Yes. Infertility has colored my view of life. I tend to be more grateful for life in a way that I didn’t before infertility. I have more compassion for others, and I am grateful every day for the ability to share my life with my family, not as a birthright, but as a privilege.
Naomi: Does secondary infertility leave you feeling over-protective of your child?
Brenda: I can’t believe someone knew to ask this! I recently had a conversation with my husband and teenage son about skydiving. It scares the “bajesus” out of me to think of my son taking unneeded risks! Losing him would be unfathomable. I don’t know if I could go on if anything ever happened to him. My knee jerk response is to try to protect him at every turn and keep him from danger. And then, the yogi part of me kicks in and says, “All there is, is now, enjoy, relax and know that this body is not who we are. This is his life and you can’t protect him from it.”
I guess, it all boils down to trusting that everything in life, and I mean EVERYTHING, is for us. I just have to trust that I have done the best I can to prepare him for life and to know that he has free will and will have his own lessons to learn.
So yes, I am more protective, but I try not to be.
Naomi: What's the one thing you wish people knew about infertility?
Brenda: What I wish people knew about infertility is that it’s on the rise! Infertility can happen to anyone, but it’s not the end of the world, rather the beginning of a journey. There are such wonderful scientific treatments now, both natural and medical, and if you seek out people to support you, it can actually be the beginning of an amazing adventure.
Naomi: Thank you, Brenda for your fantastic advice and your work in the fertility community. It will most definitely help other women and couples feel less alone in their own fertility journey.