Ep #188: Infertility, Intimacy, and the Power of Self-Love with Dr. Erica Bove

The Midlife Sex Coach for Women™ Podcast with Dr. Sonia Wright | Infertility, Intimacy, and the Power of Self-Love with Dr. Erica Bove

Welcome to another insightful episode where we dive deep into the world of fertility, intimacy, and self-compassion. I’m thrilled to be joined by the wonderful Dr. Erica Bove this week. Together, we’re here to explore how intimacy and fertility are intertwined and offer some uplifting guidance for those navigating the challenges of infertility.

During this time, you and your partner may experience a rollercoaster of emotions, facing the uncertainties of fertility treatments, and wondering how to keep the spark alive in your relationship. Well, fear not my Diamonds! Dr. Bove and I are here to help you find your way through it all. We believe that understanding your values and identity is key to staying grounded amidst the ups and downs.

This week, join us as we share our own personal experiences, highlighting the importance of self-compassion and open communication. Lastly, let’s debunk a myth: your body is not a failure. Whether you’re exploring new avenues for intimacy or rediscovering pleasure, it’s all about honoring your body and embracing the journey.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:
  • Discover the connection between intimacy and fertility.
  • How understanding your values and identity can anchor you amidst the challenges of infertility.
  • Why practical strategies such as self-compassion and open communication with your partner are crucial.
  • How to maintain intimacy and connection with your partner during the infertility journey.
  • How to embrace the journey of infertility with resilience and self-love.
Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:
  • Get in touch with me: Email | Website | OYSN
  • Click here to find out more about the Sexual Intimacy Coaching School and to sign up for the waitlist.
  • Dr. Erica Bove: Website
Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to The Midlife Sex Coach for Women™ Podcast, episode 188.

Welcome to The Midlife Sex Coach for Women™ Podcast, the only show that combines a fun personality, medical knowledge, sexual counseling, and life coaching together. To create unique sex coaching that helps busy women awaken their libidos, address intimacy issues, and learn how to express their sexuality for the rest of their days. Here is your host, certified life coach and sexual counselor, Dr. Sonia Wright.

Hello, hello Diamonds, it’s Dr. Sonia. How are you doing today? Oh, my goodness, we have a special treat for you today. Something that I think is so important to talk about. And people don’t want to talk about it and especially when we’re on a podcast for women in midlife. We are going to be talking about infertility and the ramifications of that on sex and relationships and all sorts of things. And I have this amazing person, Dr. Erica Bove here and she is going to be talking to us.

We’re going to have basically a discussion. I think it’s so important. And I kind of reveal why I think that this is important over time, but we’re going to get started. I just wanted her to introduce herself. And then we’re going to start talking. Tell us who you are. Tell us all the titles that you have and what you do. And then we’re going to just start talking about infertility and sexuality and women, body image and everything else. So let’s do it.

Erica: Absolutely. So I am a lover of life. I’m a lover of learning. And I think the reason we connected is because I’m a fertility specialist and a fertility coach and we both went to the same life coach school, which is so exciting. But I love getting to wear two hats. My doctor hat, helping people in the office, directly doing IVF and embryo transfers and all of that.

And then also when I’m not in the clinic, I really saw a need for a space for women, professional women who were undergoing the fertility process, but they really were not getting their deepest needs addressed. And so there was all this regret, shame, grief, difficulty coping with bad news. And I thought, I don’t have time to address this in my work day. And yet there is this whole universe of people who are suffering. So why don’t I take my love of coaching and apply it to my patients? I can’t do both at the same time necessarily.

But I created a safe space called Love and Science. We do one-on-one coaching. And we do support groups on Friday nights as well. And really what I do in that capacity is, I empower professional women to thrive while building their families using self-compassion and empowerment.

Sonia: So cool. So let’s talk about this. I’m not sure how many of my Diamonds know this, but I have been on an infertility journey at one point. Not anymore, let me tell you, I’m not having any more babies at 57. But in my early 40s, I had finished residency, and I realized I wanted one more child. I had Julian, my oldest in medical school. And so when I finished residency, he was 10 years old. And at that point I realized I wasn’t through with motherhood. I didn’t want that to be my only child. And I honestly didn’t want him to be on this Earth alone without another sibling.

So I myself went through the infertility journey. And I think specifically for doctors, we have a tendency and probably other professional women and just women in general. We’re so focused on the goal that we push down the feelings, the emotions, the shame, the everything. And we just keep going and doing this again and again, cycle after cycle. It impacts our body and our mind, our heart, our spirit and we don’t take the time to acknowledge it. And honestly, it impacts our relationships as well.

And the reason I have doctor Erica Bove on this call is because I actually coach a lot of Diamonds now and they tell me that a lot of their sexual intimacy issues started during infertility treatment. And so I asked her to come on this because I really wanted to delve into that. And for those of you that may be past the infertility journey, but I know it’s had some impact on you at some point in time because I coach a number of women that tell me now that they’re not having sex, they’re in a sexless relationship.

It caused a lot of stress with their partner as such that if their partner doesn’t enjoy it, he or they get anxious. And I have to say, I was in a relationship, same sex relationship at the time I was doing my infertility treatment and it still impacted. So this is not just around heterosexual lives. This is just anybody going through an infertility journey. So how do you help? How do you help?

Erica: Yeah. So we have a whole process and I think in the beginning it really starts with figuring out what do we value. So what are our values and what is our identity? And I mean identity in the broadest sense. What gives our life meaning so that we can really tune in and get that clarity so that anything that comes our way, we can start to filter that through our values and our identity, understanding they can shift over time.

But I think when we’re clear about who we are and what we desire, everything has to start from there. Then we move on to feeling our feelings. And my running joke is that I’d rather clean a toilet than feel my feelings sometimes. I’m getting much more adept at it as I get older, as I really see that if I don’t take time to feel my feelings then they have power over me. And I want to be the one who has the power. I don’t want my feelings just to kind of run the show.

Sonia: I think also our armor cracks, we’ve been given a containment where we can contain our emotions to a certain extent and then we get to the place where we can no longer hold that all in.

Erica: Yeah, it comes out sideways. And sometimes we’re like, “Why?” I have a lot of professional women clients who are like, “Why am I just so irritable all the time? I have this low level irritability.” And then when we get under the surface, maybe it’s grief that’s just coming out sideways. And so I think we have to understand the complexity of our emotions. We have to understand that we can have two competing feelings at the same time. And it’s one of those both and things, not either or, and it’s very nuanced and I think it’s fascinating.

Sonia: So when you start your infertility journey, you’re usually in this place of excitement. You’re like, “Okay, now something can actually happen.” And how do you balance helping your clients with that excitement but also wanting to be like, “Hey, this could take the emotional toll at the same time. And in some ways it would be better to prepare you and so you realistically know what this is about.” But you don’t want them to lose their excitement.

And almost in a lot of ways, because you’re a doctor I can say this. When you talk to a pre-med and they’re really excited about going into medicine and you’re like, “Hear me.” And at the same time you love your career but you also know what’s ahead for them.

Erica: That’s such a good question, yeah.

Sonia: So how do you help them with that?

Erica: And so I think whether it’s a patient or a client, because I wear my two hats. I really take the time in the beginning to create a good foundation and a good relationship. I need to understand who that person is so I can understand what they value, what’s important to them, where they’re from, how many kids they ultimately want. So what the dynamic in their relationship is like if they have a partner because it’s that bond that is going to create the foundation for us together to navigate the highs and the lows.

And so what I do is, I take my time. I spend a full hour with people, at least in the beginning. So that I can really listen and understand who they are and what they want out of this. And I’m a straight shooter. I always approach my clients and my patients with love. It doesn’t mean I sugarcoat things. And so I say, “There are going to be highs in this journey. There are going to be lows in this journey and I am committed to you guys for all of it. So let’s talk about what you need and what support you need to put in place proactively to handle all of it.”

Sonai: Okay, so I’m going to ask you. Thank you for that. And I’m going to ask you, perfectionism. It sounds like you’re dealing a lot with these women that are high achieving women. Perfectionism is one of those things that we’re always striving for, even though realistically, we know it’s not possible but at the same time we’re still striving for it. How do you handle the people that are used to achieving well?

And fertility is not for the weak at heart. It’s one of those things where you don’t have control over it like you do your other things. If I just study harder, I’ll get an A on this test. It doesn’t work that way.

Erica: No. So I think there’s two answers to that question. And so one is a very practical answer and the other is very embodied, and it’s part of the beautiful aspects of what I do. So I think the first thing in any situation is expectation setting.

And I might say, “Okay, you are this many years old. This is your AMH. It may take you four or five cycles to get to one baby, if that’s in the cards for you.” And so I think in the beginning, I say, “Infertility is a disease. This is not your fault. This is what we have to work with. These are the facts that lead to authentic hope. These are the things I’m worried about.  And so this could be harder than just applying yourself to the task and working hard, you’ve achieved every other thing in your life. There’s a lot more things that are out of your control. And so let’s think about the long view. Let’s think about maybe other options for family building from the beginning just to understand that there’s not only one way to create a family.”

And so I think from the very beginning kind of taking a broader perspective, I think can be very helpful.

Sonia: Yeah, I have to say, this is where I’m going to share a little bit of my journey, Diamonds. So in my early 40s I decided that I wanted to have another baby and we first tried the IUI route. And then we realized that my tubes were actually blocked and so that was not going to work. An IUI is where they put the semen into the uterus and it’s supposed to float up through the tubes and get to the egg and fertilize and bring it down but my tubes were blocked. So that was just not going to be an option at all.

And so then the next option was, okay, it’s time for IVF. So I went through all the things for IVF and we tried to do the cycle and found out I was barely putting out one egg. Forget about 12 or 20 eggs. I could barely pop out one little dead egg. So that was not going to be part of my journey either. So then I was at a point where I had planned to do one IVF baby and then also adopt. And so then I had to go through that point where I was like, what are your thoughts about donor egg IVF? And I was very set that I wanted to have a pregnancy experience.

I had been pregnant with Julian, my oldest during medical school. And I spent a lot of that time just really stressed out, you’re in medical school and you’re pregnant. So I had wanted to have another pregnancy experience. And so I decided ultimately that I wanted to do donor IVF. And so I went through the whole process of donor IVF and I actually got pregnant. And unfortunately, I lost that baby at 12 weeks. So it wasn’t that I lost the baby close, I was through the first trimester.

I was supposed to be in the place where it was okay and it was going to be a safe journey from this point on. And that’s when I lost the baby. And it had genetic abnormalities too. It was just everything that I had wanted and it was a nightmare in the middle of all this. And so I went into a dark place and I was just like, “What did I do wrong?” All those things. And just the loss of a child just in general and then you question yourself. And should I have been on this journey or whatever? So there’s a lot that’s there.

And that whole process impacted my relationship. It negatively impacted the relationship at the time. And it negatively impacted the intimacy in that relationship. And so every infertility journey is different, but to some extent it may impact intimacy. And I see this with my own clients that come to me 10 years’ later after the infertility and they’ve had their babies and that’s all been wonderful. But the impact of their sexuality has never been the same. The sexual intimacy has never been the same.

People are stressed out when it comes to having sex because they remember when they had to be on a schedule and perform on demand. So performance anxiety comes in. So there’s definitely impacts that can happen. And for my Diamonds that are listening to this call, if this was you in any way, I need you to understand that you’re not alone. And this is the wonderful thing about coaches and doctors like Dr. Bove who can see both sides and help us.

So if I were to come to you, how would you be able to help me, 10 years? So I should finish the story. So I lost that baby. While I was grieving I ended up doing the adoption paperwork and actually I actually had a baby in my arms before I would have had the other child. And so it worked out perfectly but I still grieved that other child. And I think anybody that’s had a pregnancy loss or a loss of a child never stops grieving that. How do you help us 10/12 years later with that process?

Erica: Yeah, I would love to share. And I just want to thank you for sharing. I know our own stories are so personal to us. And I think you have such a beautiful relationship with your Diamonds and you are a Diamond. You were the queen Diamond. And I just, I think when we share our own stories then we empower other people to feel less alone and to be connected because we all have stories of grief. One in four female physicians has a story related to infertility.

And I think your story in so many ways is so beautiful. And that one thing I believe firmly is that people who want to become parents will become parents. It’s just it may not be the strong plan A. And if you even go to the extent of, you even went to getting an egg donor, which for many people is the solution, and even that for you. But you did not give up. You said, “I want this. I know this is my birthright. I know this is what I’m meant to do in this world.” And you kept on that path.

And so I think for anybody who’s listening who’s been in the valley, they feel discouraged. Listen to Dr. Sonia here because she has got a lot of wisdom, a lot of persistence and a lot of that clarity in terms of knowing your purpose. And then living that out in the decisions that you made. So I just want to say kudos and may we all be inspired by what you did.

Sonia: I think 10 years ago, I was very much, I’m going to do this, but I don’t know if I would do that now.

Erica: Interesting. We do change. We do change. One question I have for you is, how has self-compassion been a part of this process? Because I think especially for us women professionals, that is a missing element that we are never really taught early on. So then when we get to the infertility journey, it’s work harder, work stronger, push the feelings out, blame yourself, just persevere.

And then 10 years out, we find that because we have split off so many parts of ourselves for the sole purpose of parenthood, we split up our sexuality. We split off our ability to just let our hair down and be on the couch in our pajamas and not have a purpose in that moment. And I think this is reintegration but when you asked about perfectionism, I think self-compassion is the antidote to perfectionism. And if we can plant the seeds early, that’s fantastic. If we haven’t had those seeds planted early, it’s never too late.

And I mean, I think self-compassion and gratitude and authentic gratitude, not pie in the sky gratitude, I think those are kind of, if I can live my life that way and throw in a little bit of curiosity then I think I’ll be set.

Sonia: I always love, curiosity and self-compassion are definitely things that are important. And I’m just thinking about my Diamonds that have experienced infertility in the past and they’re dealing with the ramifications now. And I think that’s still true, the self-compassion and communication. I have coached a person that her and her partner had to bring back their sexual intimacy from a place where it was non-existent because of the impact of infertility. And they’re lucky enough they had their children, but it really had a damaging effect.

And coming back and not trying to go back to the past, but okay, we went through this journey. What does our sexual intimacy look like from this point forward? We’re going to create something different. It may not look like it did. It might not be as spontaneous as it was previously. But what do we want? Do we still want the touch? Do we still want the discussion, the communication, the pleasure? Do we want to be more intentional about this? We’re not going to focus as much on the end result. We’re going to focus on the touch and the spending time together, the quality time.

So we get to look at this and we don’t have to say, “This happened and so it’s going to impact this journey and it’s never going to be the same again.” You can change and work with it. But I think that compassion for yourself, compassion for your partner. And our partners go through a lot. And there probably is some sort of place for them as well, but they see us suffering as we’re going. Not everybody suffers through this, but a lot of us do, physically, emotionally.

And there’s a sense of helplessness. They can’t do anything specific to help us and that impacts them greatly. So I think that we also need to understand that our partners have been through a lot as well.

Erica: Yes. And I think that communication piece is helpful. I think a lot of us hold these emotions in our bodies. That’s one of the reasons I love yoga because it helps me release emotions that are physically stored in my body. And so if there’s shame, say the fertility journey did not work out and somebody feels immense shame about that, we live in our bodies. And if we think of our body as literally a baby making factory and I hate this word, but my clients and patients use it all the time, that my body failed. I always say, “The science failed you. You did not fail. The science failed you.”

But I think if we have that personal sense of failure, if we have that shame and we just think about our bodies in that one way. We talk about this sort of Madonna-whore complex and we can’t sort of hold both at the same time. Our sexuality is so integral to who we are. And so much of the time during the fertility journey it is just squashed because we have this function.

And so, like you said, I think it’s sort of thinking, what do I want my sex life to look like? Do I want there to be mystery? Do I want to have date nights? Do I want to maybe try something that we’ve never tried before to spice things up? Like you said, focus on the process, not necessarily on the end result and that intimacy and that connection, which sometimes has really taken a big hit in the process of trying to build a family.

And I mean, I will say for those people for whom it does work out and they do build their families, having young kids in and of itself can squash that whole aspect of life. So if the goal is to make a family and you’re like, “Hooray, we made our family.” Well, guess what? Spoiler alert. It’s going to nose dive your sex life for a while unless you really are intentional about it.

Sonia: Exactly. So you finally get what you’ve been wanting and then don’t ever actually go back to what it was because your body looks different than it looked previously. We haven’t even talked about body image and how that could impact. But definitely there’s so many things that happen and it’s a domino effect, it’s like boom, whether or not you end up on this fertility journey with a baby at the end.

Yes. So in all those different ways, I think that it’s definitely important to understand. For any Diamond that’s still feeling shame or blame or somehow their body didn’t do what it’s supposed to do or somehow you were not right or perfect or whatever. We’re giving you permission to release that in whatever way you need to. Because you did exactly what you were supposed to do. Your body works and works really well. I love how you say that it’s a science that failed or has not been able to catch up with what’s going on with our body. And we need to understand that.

And as I sit there looking at, I’m a mother of four children and they all came to me in very different ways. I say Julian came the traditional route. And then my 16 year old just came to me as a 16 year old adoptee. And then my 12 year old was adopted at birth. And my 11 year old is my bonus child from a second marriage. So it’s all okay. And it’s so funny because a lot of times I forget that I only technically gave birth to one.

I often think, what was my pregnancy like for child number three? And then I was like, “Oh, wait, yeah, no.” Because they become, they’re your children no matter what. And the joy that you have, no matter the way that they come to you. But sometimes it’s so hard because we deal with that perfectionism and thinking how it should be. So I love that you could come and tell us that it’s okay and to have compassion. Any last thing that you want to focus on and make sure that we know and understand?

Erica: Oh gosh, yeah. I mean, I think it gives me permission to experience pleasure. I think that is one of the gateways back into saying, “Okay, my sex life has not been what I would like it to be this last 10/15 years. And at the same time, pleasure is my birthright. And I’m going to reclaim that.” And so even, I’m sure you talk about this a lot, in small ways how to access that pleasure. First maybe by oneself, then maybe with a partner, but just realizing that pleasure is our birthright and it’s okay to have pleasure that has no function other than pleasure itself.

Sonia: Yes. And I love that, I spend time and my Diamonds know, I’m like, “Okay, the clitoris only has one function. And that one function is for a woman’s pleasure.” It’s not tied to any other function in the body. It’s not required for pregnancy. It’s not required for anything, but it’s still on your body, which means that pleasure is 100% your right. It’s just supposed to be part of who you are and you get to experience pleasure.

Erica: That’s right. And I also wanted to add, when I hear your story, I think, oh, my goodness, the trauma that you went through in all of those steps. And I think we really do store trauma in our bodies. And until we can understand, what is hypervigilance? What is a trauma response? How does trauma still affect how we experience the world and how we are in relationship with our partners? I think once we can release that trauma, then we can be truly free to live our life on our own terms.

But there’s a lot of things that subconsciously hold us back that we’ve got to shine a light on them. That’s one reason I love coaching so much. Even though it’s not always easy, there’s so much under the surface that we just don’t even see. But when we actually have the awareness of it then we can say, “This is why I do x, y, z. How do I really want to do this? How do I want to feel?” And then we can set ourselves free. So let’s remind ourselves how much trauma is involved in the fertility process, but we don’t have to be bonded to it forever.

Sonia: Yeah. And we don’t, but I think that you bring up a really important point, which is, honor your body. If you’re on an infertility or fertility journey, your body has gone through a lot. And so I think of that, I’m like, “That was from the age of 41 to 45 on all different aspects of my journey.” It’s time to honor my body and give it what it needs. If it’s yoga, if it’s healthy food, if it’s meditation, if it’s sleep. I get to acknowledge that did happen to my body. And how amazing that my body went through all of that and still is here today.

And I didn’t even mention that when I adopted my daughter, I mentioned to you, I adopted my daughter. And then I wanted to breastfeed because for me that was something important. So then I went on medication to create hormones in my body to make breast milk basically.

Erica: Which I’m just going to say for the listeners who do not know, this is harder than running a marathon, it really is. I mean, the commitment and dedication and I bow down to you Dr. Sonia because I am just so inspired that you were able to do that. That is just one of the hardest things I can imagine doing is breastfeeding from scratch. So I just want to say kudos.

Sonia: Well, I was gifted with these big old things so I might as well use them for something.

Erica: They serve many purposes. They don’t have to serve a purpose, but they can, yeah.

Sonia: But I have to say that I’m just a person that just loves breastfeeding babies. And for me, that is a closeness and a connection that I wanted to have with my little girl and it worked out fine. But yeah, that’s more medication in my body on top of all the other stuff. And so it definitely impacted my body, I have to say. And so now is the time that I’m spending being kind to my body, asking my body, what is it that you need? You deserve a rest. You deserve relaxation and exercise and whatever else that you need, good healthy food.

So for all my Diamonds on this call, honor your body. Whatever way you’ve chosen to become a mom or not chosen to become a mom because, hey, not everybody needs to be a mom. I know plenty of women that are like, “Hell no.” And that’s okay too. But in either case, honor your body because I think that honoring your body is something that’s really important for honoring your sexuality as well.

So thank you so much for being on this call. Thank you for bringing to light that this can impact relationships later on. Definitely at the time and still 10/15 years later, it can impact relationships and you can choose to do something about it at any point in time. So thank you so much. Now, where can my Diamonds reach out and get in contact with you if they need to?

Erica: Yes. So thank you so much, Dr. Sonia. It’s just such an honor to be here today. But the most comprehensive place is my website, loveandsciencefertility.com. I’m also on Instagram, Love and Science Fertility. Facebook, same name. If you want to get on my email list, you can absolutely do that. And if you heard something today that you’re like, “Oh my goodness, that is what I need. I’m going through the fertility process. I need more support.” Book a free discovery call with me and I would love to see if working together would be important and helpful for you.

Sonia: So, good. Thank you for providing this service. I wish that it was available at the time. It probably was by somebody else, I just didn’t know. But thank you so much for the work that you do. And thank you for coming. on the podcast and talking to my Diamonds.

Erica: Yes. And thank you for the work that you do. I am so inspired by you. It’s so important. And I can’t wait for further collaborations.

Sonia: So good. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Midlife Sex Coach for Women Podcast. If you enjoy Dr. Sonia’s fun and caring approach to sexual intimacy, head to soniawrightmd.com to learn more.

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Sonia Wright MD

Hi, I’m Dr. Sonia Wright and I’m YOUR SEX COACH! I’m on a mission to end the pain and isolation associated with sexual difficulties and to help women create satisfying sex lives.

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