Peloton's Jess King on Her Pregnancy Journey: “I Had No Idea What I Was Up Against”

John Shaughnessy / Courtesy of Jess King

John Shaughnessy / Courtesy of Jess King

When my partner, Sophia, and I first embarked on this adventure in March 2021, we didn’t realize exactly how difficult this process might be. We didn’t even really have the intention of getting pregnant immediately; we really just wanted to understand both of our fertility and be proactive about planning and understanding our bodies.

For me, it started with egg retrieval. With the eggs that we (hopefully) got from the process, we planned to do a cycle of in vitro fertilization (aka IVF) or freeze my eggs. But the first retrieval was unsuccessful, so we did another one. This time, thankfully, it yielded three eggs – they weren’t perfect, but we decided to fertilize them and freeze them as embryos anyway, just in case. Next, I decided to see what my body would do with intrauterine insemination (IUI), a fertility treatment that involves inserting sperm directly into a person’s womb. We did the first round of IUI, but it was unsuccessful. So we did another IUI, but it was also unsuccessful.

By then, it was August or September, and I was starting to feel discouraged. A friend of mine recommended getting a saline ultrasound to look at my uterus since it can help detect polyps, which are pretty common. (Uterine or endometrial polyps are growths, usually benign, that attach to the inner wall of the uterus, and they can impact fertility.) We did one, and my doctor found something that may or may not have been a polyp. So we decided to go through with endometrial scratching, a procedure where they essentially scrape the inside of the uterus. The thought is that this should make the inside of the uterus super sticky – and my doctors said that, a lot of times, implantation is successful once that’s done.

Then, we decided to try implanting the embryos that we had frozen. Based on my doctor’s recommendation, we implanted all three. That’s kind of risky, because if all three implant, then you have triplets, but I guess he didn’t have a lot of hope. And, he was right: none of them took.

When Trying Becomes Too Much

This all founds pretty pragmatic and methodical, but the emotional journey was treacherous. I was feeling incredibly fatigued and also very disconnected from what is a spiritual process, a miraculous process. I felt like I was on an assembly line. I was one of many people in the waiting room every time I went in – which was like every day, to get blood drawn and do an ultrasound. And my body was rejecting the experience – obviously, as evidenced in the lack of success, but also, I was angry every time I had to go in. My body would shake. I was crying. And it just didn’t feel right. So I took a pause from all the treatments and procedures and sought to reclaim what I could control.

I was feeling incredibly fatigued and also very disconnected from what is a spiritual process, a miraculous process. I felt like I was in an assembly line.

At this point, it was around the holidays. We went to a party – one of those ones you really don’t feel like going to, but something tells you you have to. It was at the Museum of Ice Cream, and there were probably 200 people there. We were all moving through the experience, and at one point, 30 to 40 people got shuffled into this one room. They instructed us to blow up balloons and write our hopes and dreams for 2022 on them. Sophia and I did it, and they asked if anyone wanted to share. Out of nowhere, Sophia shouted, “Babies! Babies! We want babies! That’s all we want, are babies!” My immediate reaction was “Oh-my god.” I hadn’t publicly announced that we were trying to have a baby, and now it was out there, and in a room full of strangers – but those thoughts quickly dissipated, because the whole room erupted with cheers. It was overwhelming.

Right after that, a woman walked over and said, “Hi. I want to help you.” I felt like I could cry. In the end, this is when things changed. She’s the one that connected me with all the other people who helped to make this pregnancy happen.

What I’d Been Missing

That night, I shared my story with this woman, and she said, “I’m a womb massage specialist, and I facilitate the relationship between women and doctors and healthcare professionals from a holistic standpoint, and I would love to help you. I would love for you to feel supported.” It felt like, finally, I had someone who cared, who was not only going to be a medical adviser, but also a friend along the way.

I started going to her for a womb massage, and then she recommended me to this acupuncturist and herbalist. I started acupuncture treatments with him, and he put me on a bunch of herbs and supplements to support this process and my egg quality as well – the latter of which I intuitively felt like I needed to focus on. From there, I also got my hands on this book called “The Egg Quality Diet,” which is all about eating foods that support your egg quality.

So, I was getting womb massages and acupuncture, I started eating differently, and I also started working with a sound healer. She plays bowls, and she has a fertility program that moves through the chakras.

What was so special about this part of the process is that it was an intentional time of my day and week where I was communing with the spirit of my baby and with my body, and really starting to develop a sense of being a mother, of inviting this life force in, and bringing in the spiritual component of this process. That’s what had been missing for me in the past.

Then, the womb massage specialist connected me with this doctor who calls himself a “fertility detective,” Dr. Sami David. He’s a medical doctor, but he did things a little differently than the clinic I’d been going to – for example, running tests the first clinic I’d visited hadn’t, which led him to uncover and treat some possible issues that had gone unnoticed until then, such as the fact that my sperm donor had a bacterial infection. He also only did IUI, not IVF. Working with this doctor ended up being a major shift and probably one of the most important decisions that I made in my journey.

At this point, it was February, about three months since I’d stepped away from the first clinic and started implementing all these new changes. I finally felt ready for another IUI. Lo and behold, it worked on the first try.

It’s hard to know exactly what did the trick. I think Dr. David’s techniques could have made a difference. But also, the experience overall felt so much less clinical and more personal. I just turned 37, so this is technically called a “geriatric pregnancy,” which seems so negative. It really brought me down when the first doctors I was visiting would say, “Well, the statistics for people your age . . .” I thought: “Can you just stop with how it’s been for the average person and focus on me, as an individual?” And that’s what I feel like I finally got with Dr. David, which I think made a big difference in my perspective going into this stage of my journey. Also, Sophia was allowed to be much more involved in the process than before, so I felt so much less alone. This time, it felt like it should: I was with my partner, and we were doing this together.

I definitely believe that it was because of this team, all these people helping me, that I am where I am now – and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity and means to access all these resources. I know that so many people don’t have the ability to just switch doctors, see all these specialists, or experiment in the way that I could.

Finally finding out that I was pregnant was the kind of moment where everything stood still, and I felt at peace. I felt so much gratitude that I wasn’t going to have to experience that despair again, that I was saved from having to plummet into that valley. I was so terrified of that valley, and I was just so grateful that I got to stay suspended in this peaceful, loving feeling.

Sophia and I were elated. We held each other. We cried. We jumped up and down. We shared the news with a very small handful of people who have all been very vested in the process. For a couple of weeks, there wasn’t even much focus on, “Oh my god, I’m pregnant. What now?” It was just like, “Wow, the hardship of the last year is over.” For a couple of weeks, I was floating.

When I finally announced it to the world, it felt like a beautiful release, since I’m good at keeping other people’s secrets, but terrible at keeping my own. And the amount of love I received was overwhelming. I was just telling a friend the other day: I handle trauma better than I handle receiving that amount of love. I cried the whole day as if something terrible had happened. It was so beautiful, and I feel so blessed, but it’s a lot. I think most of the Peloton instructors are so good at giving love, extending love, giving energy to this community. Just endlessly pouring it out. But when it comes back, it’s a little shocking. It chokes you. It choked me, anyway.

A Lesson in Humility and Empathy

I never expected I’d need to go through this much to get pregnant. I was so humbled by the whole process. I felt like a very healthy person; I take extreme care of myself. In my head, I thought, “I have all these things working for me. My fertility should align with all of this.” But what I learned is that fertility doesn’t necessarily align with your health, vitality, or well-being in the ways we otherwise measure it.

Looking back, I had no idea what I was up against. It sounds naive, and maybe it was – but the first time that the egg retrieval came back entirely unsuccessful was such a shocking moment. To think that I injected myself with needles twice a day for two weeks, I went under anaesthesia, I had strangers swimming around in my insides, and none of it worked? There wasn’t one thing to show for it? I remember I was on the way to a workout with Andy Speer when I found out, and I just came to the gym and collapsed in his arms, sobbing, because I was in such shock.

Throughout the process, there was this simultaneous need to dig into my resilience and keep going because I knew we wanted a family – and I knew it was possible – but at the same time, trying to have so much grace, compassion, empathy, and tenderness for this unknown experience and how it was unfolding.

Embracing a New Narrative

During this journey, my mental health suffered. For me, I need to move my body. I need to go to the gym. I need to be in this setting, or I start to spiral mentally. So, between the fluctuating hormones and taking the extended time off from working out so many times (since you can’t exercise for a couple of weeks around some of these procedures), it was quite intense for me.

Not to mention, the way my body holds weight and gains weight, I was also confronted with some insecurities, which was my own personal work, like, “OK, Jess, we’re not here selling body. That’s not the point of this.” But I had to work hard to embrace that narrative for myself as well.

And that only amplified once I became pregnant. I’m gaining weight, I’m bloated, everything’s changing. I resisted in the beginning because I was just so attached to looking like an athlete and feeling like an athlete and having access to power and movement. It comes naturally to me. I’ve had to learn to surrender to the process, physically.

At the same time, throughout this whole fertility process, I was careful not to feel like I was working against my body. Years ago, I created this non-negotiable that I am my own best friend. And as part of it, I refuse to condemn my body. I knew that in a shame cycle, and in fear vibration, my body was not going to yield the results that I wanted.

Instead, I had this awareness of feeling disappointed, feeling defeated, feeling confused, but also accessing this higher voice within myself to call me into love, to call me into a higher vibration, knowing that if I sat too long in this valley if I shamed my body for whatever it’s doing – which I had no control over – that it wasn’t going to get me what I wanted.

I couldn’t suppress how I felt, though; I had to be honest. When we found out that a procedure had been unsuccessful, I was flooded with rage. Flooded.

I’m fortunate that I process things super fast, though, so I might be angry or enraged for an hour, and then I’m like, “OK, what’s the actionable item? Right now, I’m feeling defeated. What can I do?” And the answer was to be compassionate, tender, and mother. Mother yourself. That was a huge mantra for me: I am my own mother. I needed to learn how to mother myself through this process in preparation for the experience of becoming a mother to someone else.

I grew so much through this process, as a person, as a woman, into the mother I will be, and hopefully she continues to grow.

What’s Next For Our Family

Really, from when I started this process back in March 2021 to now, I am a completely different person. As painful or uncomfortable as it was, it was necessary for me. My body wouldn’t be in the place that it’s in and my mind wouldn’t either, nor my heart, had I not gone through that. I don’t know if I would’ve ever had the same empathy for other people who are experiencing a similar situation, or the understanding of what it actually feels like to be so disappointed in something.

It also confirmed to me that I deeply want this – to be a mother – as opposed to it feeling like, sure, I eventually want to have a kid one day. This experience brought me face to face with how deeply invested I was.

I needed to learn how to mother myself through this process in preparation for the experience of becoming a mother to someone else.

I also recognize that one year isn’t a long time when you hear the stories of people who have been in it for three, four, or seven years. It wasn’t working for me on this linear path, and I was able to pause, take inventory, look around, and find another way to keep going – but I know that this isn’t possible for everyone.

If I could say anything to someone experiencing this, it’s to reclaim what you can control – because it feels like you’re totally out of control – and just never give up on your healing.

I’m thrilled to become a mother. I have no doubt that Sophia and I are going to be rockstar parents. I’m now in my second trimester – about 20 weeks along – and it’s going well. My body is happy. I feel like it’s definitely heavier and slowing down a little bit. But, the body’s a beautiful thing. It continues adapting, and I’m really grateful to be surrounded by so much wisdom and support. There’s a lot of love around me everywhere.

And really, throughout this whole process, I knew I wasn’t alone, because so many members share their stories with me. Countless people go through this process and are vulnerable enough to share it. There’s a whole Peloton tag for #FertilityWarriors. They’re all out there, and they support each other. And now I’m one of them, too.

-As told to Lauren Mazzo

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