"...Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
Romans 8:24b-25

23 December 2010

The Happiest Place On Earth

No, we did not buy this ;-)
It's been a lot longer than I intended since my last post. It turns out that Internet at the Disney resorts costs quite a bit of money per day.  Since we are at Disney in the first place, we are already splurging a bit on the cost of food (for the sake of convenience) and also just buying things we don't need, like lattes, treats to eat, and souvenirs. It is, after all, a vacation. We budgeted for those extravagances. We did not, however, think we'd need to budget for wireless Internet in our room. I would (and did) assume that a resort would include it as one of the amenities offered to guests during their stay. Thankfully, I remembered my smart phone is smart enough to provide me with Internet access wherever I happen to be.
Cinderella's Castle
decked out for Christmas

And I happen to be at Disney World, "the happiest place on earth."

And we are very happy! I didn't know how I'd feel being here just after my monthly smack in the face that I'm not pregnant, especially since Christmas at Disney is one of the busiest times of the year. I knew there would be kids running all over the place, even more adorable than usual because of the magic of this place. But it's actually been quite fun, for both of us.

As close as I could get to
capturing the "happy" moments ;-)
We find the tantrums from exhaustion slightly adorable, the kids in costume completely precious, and the frantic adults pushing weary or sleeping children in strollers all over the park absolutely hilarious! :-)  I've been working on capturing an image to depict "the happiest place on earth" in all it's glory, but I haven't been fast enough with my camera.

My favorite missed moment was the image of a family standing in line for a ride, their little boy hanging on one of the rope-links used as a divider with his mouth chewing on the rope while his older sister stood screaming and beating her dad's legs as the dad looked helplessly ahead, willing the line to move faster. It was priceless. It made me smile.

Now, before you go jumping to conclusions, I don't delight in these scenarios out of spite or malice. Trust me, I've watched enough kids on my own and experienced plenty of those moments of desperation to know that it's neither pleasant nor fun. But I've been there and survived. Granted, the kids were not my own, but I'm looking forward to the day they are. And if that day never comes, I can still appreciate the situation when I see it.

So many parents bring their kids to Disney in anticipation of the great time that will be had by all. They want to experience all the sights and sounds, and they try to squish all the activities into a period of a few days. It's not cheap to come to Disney, remember. So the kids get exhausted, miss their naps, eat more junk food than usual, and conk out or freak out.  Then the parents either scold them with threats of taking away prized treasures and promised excursions, or else cave in helplessly with a look that says, "Why did we come here?"

Little princesses!  :-)
So, when I see a meltdown here at Disney, I try to let my countenance show that I'm not bothered or negatively affected by the situation, hoping that will encourage the parents to extend a bit more grace than usual, since it's supposed to be the happiest place on earth.

As for the precious moments, they steal my heart. We've seen so many tiny princesses and Tinkerbells running around with an air of royalty and daintiness that I feel I should curtsy and call them "your majesty" with a smile. We've seen young pirates, space rangers and cowboys, eyes wide in wonder of the things they see around them. One young boy, while standing in line for food, turned to his dad and said emphatically, "This is the BEST day EVER, Daddy!" Like I said, it stole my heart.

This is one of many of my favorite moments observed
My husband and I walk around, observing these scenes, and hope to one day have the opportunity to bring our own children here to experience the magic of Disney. As it is, I'm extremely grateful to be able to walk around with the feeling of a newlywed on a honeymoon, and I'm also as thankful that my frame of mind is such that I can enjoy living vicariously through the parents I see here. Here's hoping the mind-set lasts :-)

Merry Christmas!

13 December 2010

Gluten Free??? Me? Why, yes! Yes, I am.

(This post is dealing with what was right for me.  This is not an advice column.  I am not a physician or medically trained.  Please consult your physician about any major diet changes.)

I love to bake.  I love scooping, and measuring, mixing, and stirring.  I love rolling out dough, shaping it, cutting it, smelling it, and baking it.  I love the smell of yeast bread rising and baking.  I love the feel of pie dough, cookie dough, and bread dough between my hands.  The very act of kneading bread or cutting shortening into flour with my hands for pie dough is equivalent to an hour long therapy session.  I love it!  Aprons, rolling pins, measuring spoons, whisks, mixers....these are the things I get excited about seeing in catalogs and store windows.  Give me a gift card to a William's Sonoma or Crate and Barrel and I'll probably swoon (or squeal with glee and nearly strangle the giver with a huge bear hug).

But my very favorite thing to bake has always been bread.  To give you an idea of how much I love baking bread, let me share that I once received a very expensive bread machine as a gift, and I was a little sad.  I didn't want to hurt the person who gave it to me, so I kept it for a while, and I used it twice.  I eventually gave it away to a friend who needed to make her own bread and had neither the time nor desire to do so. The person who gave me the machine was unaware that the reason I loved home-made bread so much was for the simple act of making it.  It is just short of heaven for me to be in the kitchen making bread.

When the whole idea of "going" gluten-free  first came to my attention, I was not kind.  I did not have any real details.  To me it sounded like another fad diet that was coming from somewhere out West for celebrities to sound important.  I did not know that there is a real illness that is actually quite serious attached to gluten, as well as various levels of sensitivity that can affect health to a lesser degree.  I certainly never dreamed that living without gluten would ever impact my world directly.

My husband and I had been rolling along the path of infertility for several years, and some health issues I'd had for what seemed like forever were getting worse and making life rather difficult.  I had been to doctors many, many times throughout my life because of my various symptoms, and I was always tested for the same things: diabetes, thyroid issues, and anemia.  Always, without fail, my test result came back "within normal limits". 

As I got older, more symptoms started to surface and I was tested for Autoimmune Disorders with the suspicion of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Again, everything came back normal.  No doctors could account for why I was having the issues I was having, and I was growing frustrated.  I knew I wasn't crazy, that the symptoms were real, but there was nothing that anyone could do allopathically.  The idea of seeing someone who could treat me with acupuncture came to mind, and I put it on a back burner.

We went through our various fertility treatments over the years, and came to a place of waiting for the next step.  I was more miserable physically than I'd ever been, I was emotionally spent, and the hormones had wreaked havoc on my body.  I asked my husband if we could use some of the money we'd saved for fertility treatments to focus on getting my body better.  He agreed, and was fully supportive of me going to a naturopath, because he knew nothing could be done for me in the allopathic world beyond pain management.

We went to see a physician who had been highly recommended by a close friend of ours.  He tested me for various different sensitivities to food, and one of the many that I had was sensitivity to gluten.  Gluten, sugar, milk, and eggs were my major ones.  I was disappointed, to say the least.

So, I went home, Googled "gluten" and was greatly encouraged by the blogs I found.  I wasn't looking for blogs, but I found them to be the most helpful sites with the most useful information.  My fears of never being able to bake bread again (or even bake pastries) were laid to rest.  There are indeed many pioneers who love to bake as much as I do that forged ahead and paved the way for others to have ample recipes, resources, encouragement, and support to join the ranks of gluten-free bakers.  (If you're looking for some, go here.)

As for my health, the plan was to do an elimination diet.  But for me it was a lifestyle change.  Although I loved baking, I did not enjoy cooking in the least.  If it wasn't fast, easy to prepare, easy to clean up, and yummy, then it wasn't an option for food at our house.  I will say, a lot of that stemmed from the fact that I was tired all the time, had very little energy, and was usually in pain.  (And, yes, the question, "Can I really handle being a mom if I feel this way all the time," had entered my mind many times....that was part of my case for getting my body better.)

I was armed with determination to feel better, a game plan, a list of things I absolutely could not eat, and some menus for each progressive week with recipes.  I was ready to embrace this thing in full force.  The first week was a fast (which involved drinking a specially formulated shake five to six times a day and eating no food but drinking lots of water).  After the third day, I felt better.  By the end of the week, I was eager to cook.  

And can I just say: I had no idea how much fun cooking could be!  I had no idea how many vegetables existed that I had either never heard of or never tried!  I had no idea that a recipe with only four ingredients could be spectacular (even my husband liked it...it wasn't just b/c I was "starving")!  I had no idea how therapeutic chopping vegetables, onions, and mincing garlic could be!  It was as therapeutic as kneading bread :-)  I was happy.  My husband was encouraged because he noticed a difference in my countenance, in how I felt, in my energy level, everything.  He said the biggest thing was that I didn't mention the pain in my joints anymore.  That's because there was no pain!  It was great!  :-)

(Now, it's important for me to note here that the pain in my joints is definitely explained by certain foods.  As I was allowed to reintroduce foods to my diet, I did encounter joint pain.  In fact, I am typing right now with joint pain throughout my body because I tried to add coconut back to my diet a few days ago (I really miss coconut).  So, since I strictly avoid gluten and am not ever attempting to add that back to my diet, I cannot say whether or not I get joint pain from eating gluten.  I can definitively tie it to milk, potatoes, and coconut.  And I suspect processed sugar may also be a culprit, but I avoid processed sugar rather strictly as well.  However, joint pain wasn't my only concern, and it's not the only symptom that is gone.)

Somewhere along the way, I realized that getting pregnant was not, and could not be, the end all-be all for me.  I could not allow my desire to get pregnant and to be a mom to consume my life.  I praise God that the pain and my other symptoms became intense enough that my health took precedence over trying to get pregnant.  I cannot imagine having an infant or a toddler while trying to cope the way I was having to cope.  But now we're at a crossroads.  There's an opportunity to get put on a waiting list for In-Vitro (our next fertility treatment option), but my PCOD symptoms have improved dramatically in the last three months.  I do not want to undo all the positive progress by putting myself through a rigorous round of hormone therapy, not to mention the stress involved with that procedure.  Add to that an upcoming deployment in our military future and we've got quite a lot to think about.

We are approaching this decision the same way we have each of our other fertility treatments, with much prayer and discussion.  Deep down, I'm hoping the dietary changes I have made will prove to reveal the cause of our infertility.  But I've been on this road long enough to know that there are not always explanations or answers.  So, part of me wants to move forward, so we don't miss our window of opportunity.  Part of me wants to wait and see if the next three months will be any different.  And beyond all that, there is the part of me that whispers continuously, "God knows what He's doing.  He is the one who opens and closes wombs. Nothing you do, or do not do, can make you pregnant if it's not His timing."

Some days, those thoughts do not bring me comfort.  Some days I like to believe that I know better than God does what's best for me.  My four short years in college are enough to remind me that that is truly not the case.  So for us, it's currently about trusting and waiting.  Sometimes it's about us trusting and moving forward, but at the moment it seems we are being asked to wait.  

10 December 2010

Status Update Overload...Losing Perspective

The other day, my husband asked me, “Did you see Newly Pregnant Friend’s Facebook status this morning?” I usually check Facebook via my mobile phone before I even think about getting out of bed (I have somewhat of an addiction, both to my mobile phone and to Facebook).  By God’s grace, this morning I had not even thought about Facebook.   

“You will want to block her so you don’t read it,” was his next statement.  

My husband and I had been considering “hiding” this particular friend ever since her Facebook status heralded to the world that she was 10 weeks pregnant.  We don’t “hide” every pregnant friend, but this particular friend gets pretty wrapped up in whatever big thing is going on in her life, almost to the point of obsession.  We had predicted (and rightly so) that her continued status updates would become difficult for us to bear after a while.  I’d been able to handle her updates thus far by reminding myself that part of the joy of being pregnant is sharing that joy with others.

I asked my husband a couple of questions to get him to spill the beans on what was written, but all I could get out of him was that it had something to do with her complaining about being pregnant.  And I finally got him to assert that part of it was to do with morning sickness.

Now, my husband and I have had a pet peeve for a while on this journey.  We cannot stand to hear moms-and-dads-to-be complain about any aspect of the pregnancy.  And by “complain”, I mean “whine” or “bemoan” in a “woe is me” kind of way.  

Initially, when we couldn’t get pregnant, it never occurred to us that we would swear off complaining if we were blessed with pregnancy.  In our minds, it was only a matter of time before we got to ride the same ride as everyone else and react the same way all our friends reacted.  We still perceived ourselves, and our circumstances, as normal, and we fully expected to get to behave “normally” eventually.  

But after a few years it became CRUSHING to hear people complain about all the things there are to complain about in regard to being pregnant.  All we can think when someone complains about the fact that they’re not wanting a/another child is “We’ll take your baby!”  All I can think when I hear a woman complain about the pains and angst of pregnancy is, “I hope to be where you are one day, and I hope when I am that I rejoice at every wave of nausea.”  And that’s a big deal for me because I HATE to vomit. 

I realize that this is a rather one-sided point of view.  I mean, how can I possibly know how difficult it will be to not complain?  How can I possibly know what it's like to be pregnant?  And my response (at the moment) to that is that the other point of view is one-sided as well.  

And that’s my point. 

It’s expected, when a couple makes a surprise announcement to their Sunday morning bible class or their small group at-home bible study that they are expecting a baby, that everyone in the room will be happy and joyful and share in their joy.  It’s a given in the social world.  

Yet in the last three small group bible studies, and in the last three Sunday morning classes (in three different places of residence) that we’ve been a part of, there has been at the very least one other couple besides my husband and myself that is struggling with infertility.  The last two places there has been more than one other couple.  Our current one is split 50/50 on couples dealing with infertility and couples who are having kids.  

And yet it’s expected that a “surprise” announcement, even in those scenarios, is an appropriate course of action.  

Those of us who are infertile, the ones grieving each and every month, the ones reminded by surprise announcements that they’re not “normal”, are expected to be as joyful and happy as every other person in the room for that couple.  When honestly, although we may be very happy for them, we are trying to regain our composure and deal with the deep hurt that comes from not being understood.  Because if they had truly understood, they would have had the thoughtfulness to pull us aside before the announcement and share their news softly with us, making us aware that they’re about to announce it, so we can be prepared for the announcement.

And those of us who are infertile are not off the hook here.  We can’t go around with a chip on our shoulders expecting everyone to cater to our needs.  The scenario I’m describing is one of a close-knit group of friends joining together in fellowship, accustomed to bearing one another’s burdens.

I don’t want you to think that there’s no room in my heart to hear my friends complain, that I never expect that they will not need to vent their discomfort.  I don’t want you to think that I never want my friends to share their joy.  I DO!  I am elated when they come to me personally to tell me they’re expecting!  It blesses my heart.  It also blesses me when I realize that they thought about me, that they remembered my pain and were loving enough to tell me personally instead of in the midst of a group.  

As for the complaining...here’s how I put it several months ago when I was in the heat of a moment:  (the ... are pauses, not a deletion of text here)

“By the way, pregnant moms...I know that I have no way of knowing how horrible morning sickness and/or exhaustion is while growing a baby inside of me...and I despise puking so much that I have rendered myself incapable of vomiting when it would actually make me feel better...but I am certain that I will rejoice in my circumstances of puking if ever I am so blessed with the privilege of growing a baby in my womb...so PLEASE, don’t complain to me about your vomit, your weariness, your woe over your plight.  Feel free to tell me about it, and I will pray for you to endure and that your pain and discomfort will be eased, but when you’re tempted to complain and wallow in self pity in my presence, consider the fact that I would trade shoes with you, vomit and all, in a heartbeat.”

It’s the “woe is me” and wallowing in self pity part that really gets to me.  If I’m uncomfortable, I talk about it.  It’s part of what brings validity to how I feel.  The same with love, joy, enthusiasm, and fear...expressing it brings out the fullness of it.  It’s part of life.  I understand the need to complain.  But there’s a difference in mentioning pain and discomfort and the struggle with dealing with that, and whining incessantly like a child.  

As for this friend’s post, I have no idea what it said.  I trust my husband.  He knows me extremely well and he had good reason in keeping me from seeing it. 

Just as it is my hope that talking about this journey with my friends will help them be more aware of, and more sensitive to, those dealing with infertility, it is also my hope that I will be aware of and sensitive to my pregnant friends and friends who are parents.  Just as it bothers me to hear a mom-to-be moan and groan and whine like a toddler not getting her way, it bothers me to think that I might be as blinded and one-sided in my own circumstances as they are.  

Yes, I am infertile.  But that’s not who I am.  

I do not want to be defined by my infertility, so I need to make sure that I take ample time to focus on, and talk about, other aspects of my life.  Do I believe it’s important, even healing, to talk about infertility with others?  Absolutely!  But there are times and places, and even certain people that it’s appropriate for, and others that it’s not.

08 December 2010

How We Realized We Were Even On This Road

All my life, since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother.  Oh, sure, I would tell people I wanted to be a veterinarian or an astronaut, because that's what you were supposed to say.  But when I imagined myself "all grown up," I imagined myself as a mother.

Fast forward twenty some-odd years.  My husband and I had been married a year and were living an adventure (courtesy of the military) in a foreign country, when we suddenly felt very strongly we needed to stop trying to prevent pregnancy.  That is a story in itself for another time, but we both agreed that, even though we weren't "ready" to start having kids, we felt strongly that we were being led to stop preventing pregnancy.  It's interesting how much we think we actually control.  

Each month we were relieved to discover that we had not yet conceived.  But by month number 6 of not preventing pregnancy, I began to wonder what was wrong with us.  You may be thinking, "If she was on the pill then it could take up to a year to get pregnant after getting off the pill."  I wasn't on the pill.  Had never been.

We didn't really become too concerned because we weren't actually trying to become pregnant.  But I had begun to notice that we were among two camps of people in that country.  There were friends of ours who had many children, and there were friends of ours who were unable to have children.  It's been my experience in life that God introduces us to people for a purpose.  I was beginning to get a little unsettled about the fact that some of the people he had introduced us to did not have, and could not have, children.

After a year, we talked to a physician friend of ours who told us not to be worried and encouraged us to keep trying.   My husband encouraged me to quit my extremely stressful job (which I did gleefully and with abandon), thinking perhaps the stress was interfering with things.  After the second year of not preventing passed, when our siblings were expanding their families, we were made painfully aware that we had a problem.

I don't know how many infertile couples actually go through a period of denial, but I'm guessing it's most people caught off guard by their infertility.  I was caught off guard.  Even with the head's up of having a couple of friends who were infertile, with the prompting to stop preventing pregnancy, and with the recollection of my husband asking many times while we were dating what I would do if we were infertile, I was still caught off guard.  (By the way, my response to his question was, "Do you have something to tell me?"  He did not.  We still don't know why he felt compelled to ask me that question a dozen times while we were dating.)  Looking back from where I am now, I can see the divine preparation of my heart and mind for the news.  But at the time, I was in denial.

We moved back to the United States (to Texas) and began to settle in.  I think, in my state of denial, I had hope that if we just waited long enough (like another year?) that we would just naturally get pregnant.  

One morning, well into our time in Texas, I awoke with major cramps.  When I say "major," I mean debilitating, nausea-inducing, passing-out-from-pain-down-to-the-ankles, cramps.  I was well acquainted with those kinds of cramps.  I had been enduring that kind of pain (and passing out from it) since junior high.  But it had been a couple of years since I had had an episode, and I was hoping that I had just outgrown them.  (I don't know, our bodies are always changing.  It made sense to me.)  Keenly aware of the fact that I had not outgrown those types of cramps, I called my physician who told me to come in after my period was over.  When I went in, tests were run, sonograms were done, and I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Disease.  I was told the birth control pill would take care of it and make my periods more bearable, but then I told them we wanted to become pregnant.

With that news, they offered a second course of action.  See a fertility specialist.

I don't know what I expected from seeing a fertility specialist.  I think I was hoping they could just get rid of my PCOD so I could have normal periods and that maybe I wouldn't have to see them to get pregnant after that.  Whatever the case may be, the fact that we wanted to become pregnant significantly narrowed my options, so I went to a specialist. 

Three moves, and two specialists later we are farther down this road than we ever thought we'd be.  And before you get too sad for me, I would like to tell you that I wouldn't trade a minute of it.  Sounds crazy, I know.  Would I have ever asked for the pain, the uncertainty, the grief, the unfulfilled longing for children?  No.  Would I have ever looked forward to walking down this road?  No.  Has it been easy for us?  Not in the least!  But I would not be the woman I am today, and our marriage wouldn't be what it is today, if we had not travelled down this road together.  There have been countless opportunities for me to help someone carry their own burden of infertility, for us to encourage couples at various stages on this journey.  I have learned more about myself, my faith, my husband, and my God, all because of this difficult path.

Few people go around looking for a difficulty to weave into life.  Most of us would like to have things be easy and pain free.  But I believe that God uses trials and hardship in our lives for our good.  And my husband and I are choosing to view this road that we're on as a learning opportunity, an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to be strengthened.  Life is too short for us to waste it wishing things were different.  We are living this life that we have been given, the way it has been given to us, and we are excited to see where, and who, we will be when it's done.

So, yes, my womb may be barren and seemingly dead at the moment, but my heart is alive.