Nearly a year ago, I found myself sitting with a new patient, Jenny. Her reproductive endocrinologist had made a referral to our office for additional support while she was going through her egg freezing process.
Upon meeting Jenny you get the immediate impression that she has everything one could want and, more specifically, she has achieved these things on her own terms. Her decision concerning motherhood could easily be accepted as another self-directed aspect of the full, beautiful life she’d built for herself.
Behind the veneer of success, though, like many women that come to see me, Jenny was struggling.
Within ten minutes of our first appointment we both knew that she was here for reasons that delved beyond her desire to have a child.
For years I have been a guide and a witness to women that are facing the hardest truths they have encountered in their lives - the grief of not being able to conceive, of procedures in place of nature, or even beyond this, the realization of deeper, unhealed pain that is brought up during one’s own path to motherhood.
Those are normal feelings for anyone, but for Jenny, they were entangled with her trauma of childhood sexual abuse, and they were even more palpable at this time of year, when we see our families and connect with the people who raised us. More often than not, these days can bring up many conflicting feelings of joy mixed with loss and pain. Perhaps it is the shame of not being able to come home with positive news, or simply because the family dynamic mirrors challenging truths and realities we often don’t want to acknowledge.
I truly believe that there is nothing more courageous than looking honestly and soberly at your own emotional state and honoring that you deserve to feel whole. From my experience, every single one of us out there in the world has healing to do. It’s so important to be aware of this, especially during the holiday season, when celebrating might feel more like pressure than enjoyment.
Fortunately for Jenny, the call of motherhood and perhaps that time of year sparked a process that only one year later, has been nothing short of a complete transformation.
The real question for Jenny when she entered my office that day, and for months to come, was not only about how to get ready for egg freezing. It was how she could heal from something she’d worked a lifetime to distance herself from. Aren’t we all conditioned to distract ourselves to exhaustion, to succumb to pressures and expectations, rather than to feel pain?
After that first session, Jenny chose to put aside immediate fertility goals and instead focus on taking time and space to finally heal. Over the next year and still today, her experience and journey was no longer about a goal. Rather, it was a path to learning who she was and opening up to the abundant love in her life. With her full permission and encouragement, we share this story to offer help to anyone experiencing painful feelings this time of year.
Brene Brown said, “The dark does not destroy the light: it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
Naturally, when Jenny first stepped into her healing journey it was in the typical New York fashion that she had always found success with - by doing and fixing. As a consultant, she was an expert on this approach. So she started to purge her space, to seek out the best doctors and healers, and to detoxify her body. Each time the feelings of pain from her childhood rose to the surface, she tried to DO something to get rid of them. When she came to my office she seemed exhausted from this cycle, and she clearly was - no matter what she tried.
In some ways it seems absurd to think that we can fix ourselves as if we are broken. That mindset assumes that our painful emotions are not natural and need to be eliminated or ignored. But to feel an entire range of emotions in response to life’s experiences IS natural and healthy. In fact, these emotions are powerful messengers that point to what requires our attention. Jenny was dealing with many feelings - shame, anger, fear, and grief that shouted worthless and unloveable beliefs she’d lived with her entire life. They were constant wounds blocking the vital energy she needed in order to heal.
The hardest part in the beginning of our work was to help Jenny to become comfortable with her own feelings. She was still in the achieving mindset. She wanted to achieve her healing too, and move on. Helping her embrace her process and accept all the parts of herself that were being revealed was our work.
Slowly, Jenny gave herself permission to experience the full spectrum of her emotions. She had coped her entire life by disassociating from them, and so it felt counterintuitive to let the pain in, walk with it and allow this part of her to have its own sanctuary in her heart. It was in that embrace however, that she became her own savior, the bearer of love for her own experience. She began to learn that healing itself is not a destination, but a practice to take care of one’s heart as she delved deeper and uncovered more to feel through.
With her continued practice of self acceptance, a critical breakthrough became evident to Jenny. It was the distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is an unavoidable part of life, however suffering is our resistance to pain, and to our life’s circumstances and conditions. Honoring and integrating our pain is the key to rediscovering our wholeness.
An integral part of her journey was also spending time to truly explore what motherhood meant beyond her own childhood examples. She became aware that to mother herself with compassion was now her new standard and a critical prerequisite in order to extend that gift to a child. Motherhood was no longer a destination, it was a commitment to unconditional self-love, achieved through the stillness of listening to oneself.
When you are on a journey that is so radically different from what you’ve known, it also requires being at peace with parts of your own past and letting go of certain things to make room for the new. After several months of working together, Jenny had grown ready to connect with others on a new level and to start finding her tribe. We worked to help her begin to build a more consciously connected community, including an informal women’s group. As she connected and shared her story with others, she began to truly shine like I had never seen her. No one judged her, instead they celebrated Jenny and their alliance in beauty but also equally valuably, in pain. Jenny was learning to hold both extremes with an open heart - ever more whole with increasingly more meaningful relationships.
Today, Jenny is one of the most deeply grateful people I know with more love and compassion for herself and everyone around her. In her own words, "I appreciate the value of surrender. I appreciate my courage to heal and to discover the truth of who I am, and lastly I appreciate all the people who supported my healing journey along the way."
I cannot echo her sentiment enough in sharing her journey and witnessing the groundbreaking shift that has taken place in her life. This story is dedicated to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with the emotional stress of this holiday season. It is important to be tender and loving with yourself, no matter what emotions or difficult experiences you encounter. I’ll offer that the key to true healing springs from appreciating our life as it is, and the more we can embrace this truth, the more we will discover authentic peace, wholeness and shared compassion.