Unbelievable Hope: Julia Indichova’s Low-Tech Infertility Cure
by Bethany Saltman (Reprinted by permission of Vitality Magazine & Bethany Saltman)
Louise Lawson had her first miscarriage at 40. After months of failed attempts to get pregnant, she became so despondent that she couldn’t sleep. Eventually, Louise began attending a Mind/Body fertility support group, which helped her insomnia, but not the infertility. Someone she met in the group told her about an Over 40 fertility study looking for subjects, and she signed up. After her first free round of IVF, she became pregnant, but then miscarried again.
All in all, Louise received 5 free rounds of IVF and had three miscarriages.
Feeling deeply discouraged, she stumbled upon Julia Indichova’s book Inconceivable: A Woman Triumphs Over Despair and Statistics (Broadway Books 2001), which she says offered, “unbelievable hope.”
It wasn’t long before Lawson attended one of Indichova’s workshops at her Fertile Heart Studio in Woodstock, NY. Immediately, Louise knew it was “a life-changer.” When Indichova announced to the group that infertility is a gift” Lawson recalls, “my friend looked at me like, this woman is nuts. But I got it.”
A few months after the workshop, Louise conceived naturally. Her son Daniel was born nine months later when she was 44 years old.
Infertility affects some 7.3 million people in the U.S., It is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of unprotected, “well-timed” intercourse. Because confronting the possibility of never having a child is so painful, women and men who have been given this diagnosis go to any lengths to overcome it. And so, the infertility industry’s medical solutions are difficult to resist.
Sadly, these seemingly sure-fire solutions don’t always work. In fact according to the most recent report by the Center for Disease Control, the IVF success rates for women under 35 is 41%, and plummets to 12% once a woman turns forty. Still, these poor odds don’t keep women from getting hooked on the promise of the quick fix.
Indichova, a pioneer on the low-tech road to parenthood says, “Luckily for me, my diagnosis was so bleak that high-tech was not an option. Otherwise I, too, might not have been able to resist it.”
The wake call
The fertility chapter of Indichova’s story didn’t begin until she was 42 years old. She was living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband Ed, walking around with her baby strapped to her body, eating bagels in that slow mommy-baby time warp, checking out double strollers, and gearing up for Baby #2, who was sure to arrive any day. After all, she and her husband had conceived their daughter Ellena on their first try. The fact that things were taking a little while didn’t scare them.
Just for good measure Indichova made an appointment with her OBGYN who did the usual workup, discovering her Follicle-Stimulating Hormone of 42, which the doctor described as an indication that her “ovaries are not working as well as they should be.” He added, “With an FSH of 42 there is not much I can do for you. You’ll need to see a fertility specialist.” The first specialist they called wouldn’t see her, the receptionist explaining that the doctor, “doesn’t think he can help you.” The next specialist recommended IVF with donor eggs, or adoption. The psychologist in the practice told the couple that, “there is no documented case of anyone conceiving with those numbers.”
“Not that smart”
News like this is not unusual. In the high-stakes field of fertility, patients want answers, and, for better or for worse, often receive them. However, Dr. Jamie Grifo, Director of the NYU Fertility Center, says that, “A doctor who uses the word ‘never’ is overstepping our bounds. We’re not that smart.” When talking to patients, “We use data to play odds, while managing expectations. We want patients to be optimistic, but realistic. The person who doesn’t listen feels victimized. When you’re a victim you never recover.”
And that is at the center of Indichova’s work: to ensure that people dealing with infertility don’t become victims, and that this becomes a life-affirming mission no matter what.
Going deeper in FHS (Fertile Heart Studio)
During Indichova’s personal fertility journey, she introduced herself to what we now consider widely-accepted “alternative” fertility treatment such as yoga, acupuncture, exercise, cleansing, and, attention to diet, and continues to encourage making smart choices in these areas.
However, her Fertile Heart OVUM method goes deeper than that. Developed over years of counseling and teaching, and documented in her second book, The Fertile Female: How the Power of Longing for a Child Can Save Your Life and Change the World (Adell Press 2007), the carefully crafted tools of the Fertile Heart practice include brief visualizations, movement sequences, food recommendations and other mind body techniques, designed to reveal the hidden obstacles that might be blocking conception on a physical or emotional level.
The program, validated by an increasing volume of mind-body studies, is meant to empower each person to fully engage in their own treatment process. Sometimes the barrier is pain linked to the person’s own birth, or a belief such as, “I don’t deserve to have a baby.” Other times, it’s endometriosis, or impaired thyroid function that inhibits a full term pregnancy. Regardless of the nature of the problem, the Ovum work is about choosing the most health-enhancing path toward parenthood.
This is powerful medicine, which, as in the case of Lawson, and hundreds of others, has succeeded where the medical model has failed. In the Fertile Heart retreats Indichova’s compelling combination of earthiness and wit makes it clear that this material is serious, but the mood in her workshops is often light, and even funny. And, hopeful. In one New York City support circle of 13 women, 8 conceived after years of failed attempts. In another workshop, 8 out of 11 women conceived within five months of attending.
Watching a group of women and men in the Fertile Heart studio in Woodstock standing in a circle, eyes closed, swaying from side to side as they sing one of Indichova’s many original tunes—a lullaby—to the child of their dreams, is like seeing an energy that knows no bounds. Dr. Christiane Northrup, the author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, in her Foreword to Inconceivable, describes what can happen when we learn to listen to our own deepest truth. She writes, “All the rules change. And so does our biology. Statistics no longer apply to us. We enter the realm of possibilities.”
Amy Smearsoll, who traveled from Switzerland to attend one of Indichova’s all day workshops, was diagnosed with early menopause at the age of 38. “I was told that my only chance at motherhood would be through egg donation or adoption. Every doctor seemed to give me a fruit analogy…the apples at the bottom of the barrel. The bad berries that stick to the basket.” Smearsoll, like Indichova, had not even qualified for IVF, her eggs so unviable. The physicians she worked with “gave me no hope.” But after attending Indichova’s workshop, her view of the diagnosis changed. “Everything I learned that day felt right to me. I said, this is it, I am not a statistic. I didn’t know if it would happen, but after the workshop I felt that pregnancy was possible for me. ” Three months later she conceived naturally. A year after the workshop, at age 39, Smearsoll gave birth.
An Israeli study reported in the 2009 issue of Fertility & Sterility showed that women who “let go” and “relinquish their control” during their IVF cycle are about twice as likely to get pregnant as women who are less able to deal with the pressure of treatment. True as this may be, it doesn’t amount to much more than the infuriating advice to “just relax. Julia Indichova and her Fertile Heart work can help those wanting a baby to learn what it is they need to let go of and how to do it. But more than that, she offers the women and couples who seek her guidance a path to fully live their longing in a way that leads to fruitful lives regardless of how they resolve their fertility challenges.
And what if it doesn’t work? What if the baby just doesn’t show up? For Michelle Jasmin Sanders, a pediatric nurse who birthed her family through adoption, the “Fertile Heart work was strong and ongoing through the adoption journey and a path of allowing the truth to unfold has been a blessing.” Suzanne Guest, a London based psychotherapist who has participated in Julia’s international teleconferences puts it this way: “No matter what, I will keep birthing myself and using my fertility and mothering in other ways in my life. I have grown and learned so much through Fertile Heart and continue to embrace this challenge with every part of my being. At the end of the day I feel incredibly lucky because not everyone gets to live their fertility journey in this way.”
Bethany Saltman www.BethanySaltman.com is an editor and writer whose prose, poetry and interviews can be seen in national magazines and journals such as Parents, The Sun, Shambhala Sun, Whole Living, Witness, NY Quarterly, and many others. For permission to reprint contact Bethany at BethanySaltman@gmail.com.
This piece was originally published in VitalityMagazine.com. Thank you, Bethany Saltman and Vitality Magazin for permission to reprint!