"...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

24 February 2011

Periods, Junk Food, and Crying Out Loud

I asked God for the same favor this month that I have asked for the last several months: If I'm not pregnant, can I please not have my period?

Seems like a silly request, especially when you'd think I'd ask something like, "Can I please be pregnant this month?"  But why wait for the monthly slap in the face to reveal what you already know to be true, when you can request the gentle awareness of that fact instead?

The reality is that after seven years of never once having a positive result on a pregnancy test, the "can I please be pregnant this month" request fades into the background.  There's an unspoken understanding between God and me that the pregnancy request is always on the table.  And, after seven years, it can be a bit too painful to consciously ask, when I know he will grant that request when he's good and ready.  (Brings to mind images from childhood of asking and asking for something from my parents, who fully intended to give me that thing but were making me wait for it, with good reason.)

As for my period this month, it seems that my request in that area has been granted, which is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, I have the confirmation of a negative pregnancy test from my recent visit with the doctor, and on the other hand, I am questioning what reproductive repercussions will result from this granted request.  I may not have a single thing to worry about, however, as I have plenty of 45-48 day cycles under my belt, and I'm only on day 41 right now.  Regardless, I have a small break from the nuisance of a certain monthly visitor I have grown to regard with disdain.

As shocking as it may seem to some of you that I, (1) made the request I made, (2) believe my request was granted, and (3) am not freaked out by a 45 day cycle, what was shocking to me was my unexpected emotional response to the events of this week.  Call it a "freak-out" moment, a break down, or a good-old-fashioned cry, it surprised me and felt like it came out of nowhere.  (It's been a while since that's happened to me.)

Here's what happened:

  • My husband and I had the conversation I mentioned in my last post which took us out of a place of waiting and moved us into a place of action again (I promise I will eventually shed more light on that subject when the time is right).
  • It took a few days for me to become 100% convinced that we were making the right decision, so I was a little melancholy for a few days while I mulled things over in my mind and heart.
  • My husband and I both came to the aid of a dear friend whose husband is deployed and has three young children at home who was feeling a bit overwhelmed.  My husband kept the children occupied and I did chores around the house while my friend prepared dinner and took a moment to breathe deeply without children around her ankles.
  • The next day, that same friend asked if I could watch her two youngest children while she attended a school program for her eldest son.  I went over to their house and had a fantastic time keeping her kids.
  • Later that day, my husband came home and updated me on some happenings with our renters (and the timing of us moving out of our temporary housing and into our actual house) which were particularly stressful.
That brings us to the initial buildup before the shockwave of my emotions erupted in full force.  I responded to the stressful news about our renters with intensity, drama, and anger far too extreme for the circumstances.  Even I realized I was overreacting, but I felt compelled to respond that way and incapable of changing my attitude.  I informed my husband that this was the worst day ever and that I didn't want to go to our bible study and I didn't want to see people and I didn't want to talk to people and on and on and on.  (I had called him before he came home, and had indicated over the phone that I wasn't really up for being social, although I had no idea why.)

When I'm overreacting, it's pretty much a given that I will be super clumsy and end up with some kind of injury.  True to form, I stumbled around the tiny space we live in, tripping over cats, bumping into doors, and managing to get scratched by one of the cats while he was playing.  I got ready for bible study and demanded asked God to please change my attitude as I had a crappy one and I was incapable of changing it myself.

Did I mention I had grabbed a half pint of ice cream from the freezer to eat on the way?  Yeah, I was in that crappy of a mood.

We arrived at the house where our bible study group was meeting and I'm sure I was muttering any number of unpleasant statements about why it was a bad idea for me to be there, and how terrible Rice Dream Ice Cream tastes and why on earth would anyone want to make ice cream that tastes like a popsicle stick blah, blah, blah.  

And just as we were about to open the doors to get out of the car, I was overcome with emotion and had a ridiculous (yet horrifying to me at the time) thought that I had to share with my husband.  

I asked him, "Do you want to know what the worst part about this whole stupid day was?"  Cue the tears that render one speechless.  He waited.  I finally eked out that the worst part of the day was that I almost bought and ate a bunch of "crap food that I'm not allowed to have!"  Then I began sobbing. (Was I an emotional wreck or what?  Wonder if the 45 day cycle has anything to do with that.) 

Somehow, I went from that "revelation" to the realization that I had also allowed myself to believe that I would make a good mother.  At this point, I honestly didn't know what was truly bothering me.  I was beginning that emotional walk-through women sometimes often have to take to get to the heart of what is really bothering them.

I went on to explain that the day before, when we had helped my friend with her kids, and then again that day while I was keeping her kids, I was encouraged by our responses to her children and I allowed myself the luxury of believing that I would make a great mom.  

Please don't misunderstand!  I have never truly believed that I would make a terrible mother.  But, as a coping mechanism on this journey, I have allowed my many shortcomings as a homemaker and keeper of two cats to become greater in my mind than they actually are, so that I could put a "reason" on why God was not allowing us to have kids.  I know it's not reality, and that that's not how God works, and that there are a lot of things about me that exude motherhood.  But it helped me keep hope at bay so I could hunker down for the long haul.  And those two days with my friend's kids, combined with our newly forward progression, breathed life into that hope again, and it was painful.

Through many tears and several minutes during that time in the car before bible study, I unravelled the chaotic, tangled threads in my mind and found the starting point.  Gradually, I realized that I was really simply grieving another failed fertility treatment.

For an entire year I had strictly adhered to a diet, a lifestyle really, that I genuinely hoped would put an end to our infertility.  And that day, as I was shopping for toiletries, I passed by junk food (the sight of which usually makes me sick) and I not only craved it, but I almost justified buying it and eating it.  More than once in that store, I was tempted to buy many things I'm allergic to, as well as things I avoid out of common sense.

So, even though the past year has not involved countless doctor visits, strict timing of certain activities, pills, shots, and sonograms, once we decided to move forward out of this place of waiting, the efforts of the entire year became a failed fertility treatment.  Which means we are essentially back to square one.

Thankfully, I have the most patient and understanding husband in all the world.  He loves me through my times of chaos and mood swings.  He waits for me to form thoughts and words around my tears.  And he didn't mind that I made us late for bible study while I sobbed about junk food in the car.  Because he allowed me to go through that process un-rushed and unhindered, I was able to grieve the thing I needed to grieve and move on.

The layers of this journey seem endless, but I am so thankful for the partner God blessed me with to walk with me through it.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)
Definition of "hope: to desire with expectation of obtainment" (Merriam Webster Dictionary, m-w.com)

17 February 2011

Where We Are

It all started with a conversation.
Or did it?
Perhaps it all started long before that conversation.
Perhaps it all started with a question.
Or maybe it started with an observation, which then launched a desire, which birthed a dream.
It seems like there have been so many starting points along this road.  No wonder it took us so long to realize we were even on it. 
Starting points.  New beginnings.  A dream that will not die.  
It’s difficult to know where it began, and difficult not to wonder if it will ever end.
And the stories!  The stories never end. 
Two years, four years, eight years, nine years, twelve years....The length of time some people I know have waited without seeking help before their dream was fulfilled.
Should we keep waiting?
One, two, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, fourteen....The number of attempts I know of that failed for others with the most sophisticated, expensive help available before the dream became a reality.
Should we charge ahead?
The starting points never end.  Or is it that there was really only one starting point and there are just many forks in the road?
I had grown comfortable on this journey, secure in waiting, relieved to not have to think about making decisions.
And now I find myself at a starting point again.  For my husband, it is just a fork in the road.  For me, it is a place to begin again.  Perhaps it’s at a higher elevation on this journey, as if I climbed some stairs.  Progress and growth of my spirit and character was not lost.  I’m definitely farther along in those areas than I’ve been before.  
And yet, there’s something very familiar about it all.  
I have definitely faced this decision before.  Many, many times, in fact.  But I have always faced it from a new place on this road, so it always seems I am starting all over again.
I am aware of so much more, so the decision should be easy this time, right?
In many ways it is an easy decision.  In fact, the decision has been made.  Phone calls have been made.  Plans are set in motion, and tomorrow marks the first step on this “new” path before me.
But am I ready?  
I don’t feel a sense of dread.  I don’t have any trepidation.  I don’t sense that there’s anything wrong with moving forward.
Instead, I find that it’s very much like waking up in a warm, comfortable bed on a cold, wintery Saturday morning when I know there are things that need to be done, but I feel like I’ve got the whole day to do them.
It seems that I have milked staying in the warm, comfortable bed for all it’s worth, and it’s time I attended to what needs to be done.  There are no clanging bells of an alarm, no shouting voices telling me to get out of bed.  There’s just the realization that I’ve been there long enough and that laying there any longer is something I would regret.
I am thankful to be in this place, but I find that my countenance is somewhat subdued.  The air is a bit colder out from under those figurative covers.  My figurative clothing is much less comfortable than those cozy pajamas worn for resting.  I am having to adjust to this change, but it feels good to be moving again.
Have you been there?  At the very least, have you had one of those real Saturday mornings?
I am looking forward to what’s ahead, but it’s a bit of a shock to my mental and emotional systems right now.
I have grown used to being blind-sided by statements from well-meaning people and questions from curious strangers.  I have not, however, grown used to being blind-sided by a change in direction, or a change of plans.
I was blind-sided by the conversation...the pivotal conversation with my husband that planted a starting line right in the middle of the road again.
But this is good.  And it will be good.  
I look forward to sharing more details in the future, but for now just know that the familiar ground I’m treading upon is taking some time to get used to again.  If you’re one who prays, I would sure appreciate your prayers as I, as we, move forward together in hope.

14 February 2011

Wait, You Mean It's Not Just Us?

When I first started this blog, seven years into our journey of infertility, I had no idea how many other blogs and websites there were devoted to the subject of infertility.  Believe it or not, I actually believed I was launching something "new".  Sure, I figured there were some blogs out there, but infertility is not something that's talked about regularly in most public venues.  I've actually been surprised at the amount of press infertility has received this month.

I will admit, I'm fairly new to the world of blogging in general.  I've heard about blogs for years and have been reading personal blogs of friends and family for a while.  It wasn't until I googled the word "gluten" the day I found out I had to be gluten-free that I discovered there were blogs out there with a purpose beyond updating friends and family about life.  (No, I haven't been living under a rock, I'm just a bit slow to embrace some things about technology.)

I began this blog with the intent of reaching out to others on this journey, hoping that somehow they would stumble across it and be encouraged that they are not alone.

For the first few years of this journey, my husband and I felt like we were the only ones in our age bracket struggling to have children.  I knew couples older than us who had been unable to have children, but none our age.  Sadly, at the time, I wasn't willing to accept comfort from the older couples I knew in our situation because I was determined that we would not be in their shoes at their age.  I've said it before, but it's interesting how we think we have so much more control over things than we actually do.

Regardless, it would have been nice to know at the time that there were others our age going through what we were going through.  A shoulder to lean on, an ear to vent to, another couple to hang out with that didn't have kids already, or the promise of one on the way.

We were surprised three years ago when our paths crossed with three other couples on this journey in the same town, at the same church.  I chalked it up to God's divine hand bringing us together with others in our circumstances so that we could all encourage each other.  While I have no doubt that is truly the case (seriously, we could have ended up NOT meeting anyone in the same circumstances), I realize now that the reality of infertility is much different than I perceived.

Imagine my surprise when, having finally learned how hash tags on Twitter work, I came across a plethora of blogs written by women on this same journey.  Imagine also my surprise when I came across statistics in several different articles that indicate that the number of couples struggling with infertility is 1 in 8.  One in eight!  That's staggering!

Here we were, on this journey for seven years and I only just learned of that statistic in the past month.  How is that even possible?

I have never been one to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself, so I would talk about our infertility with anyone that was interested, provided I was in an emotional place to handle it.  I was surprised to discover that there were people suffering through the emotions silently.  Now, although I shared our situation, I still felt extremely alone and isolated because most of the people I shared our story with had no idea what it was like to walk in my shoes.  

It makes sense to me now why people going through this are hesitant to share with others what they're dealing with.  I have experienced judgement from others, not only regarding our decisions, but also about our circumstances as a whole - believe it or not, there are people out there that think a lack of children is a sign of judgement from God.  I've been advised and counseled by well-meaning individuals to the point that I can finish their sentences when I encounter other well-meaning individuals.  I've been misunderstood, misheard, had my statements completely ignored, experienced pity (which can be a pitiful thing), and been told that what I had decided to do was ungodly.  I've had questions asked of me that if I had been the one doing the asking might have gotten me a slap in the face.  I've been the recipient of looks, stares, sneers, and had friendship withheld because I walk down this road unashamed.

So, yes, I can imagine why some people choose to remain silent.

I discovered, roughly two weeks ago, as I was reading an article about the silence of infertility, that there is an annual awareness meeting in DC for infertility.  The organization that arranges this gathering is disheartened by the lack of attendance each year, and was even chastised for it by a congresswoman who was there to support them.  I think that an awareness gathering could be a great thing for the many suffering through these circumstances.  A problem I see is a lack of awareness among the very people they are trying to help.  

I find it strange that a couple, actively engaging the culture around them, with access to the internet, savvy about the latest in politics through the news, could walk on this road for seven years and never hear one thing about an organization dedicated to helping infertile couples, never know of one blog or website available with resources to help them through this journey.

I am thankful to have stumbled across these resources and this information.  It has caused an upheaval in our lives on this road, but it has been good.  It's as if a deserted road we've trudged along, taking each challenge head-on by ourselves, suddenly has call boxes, mile markers, and informative billboards and road signs along the way. 

I've linked to the articles I mentioned in this blog post.  I advise that you read them with a grain of salt.  I'm still mulling over some of the points, but they're worth reading to be informed.

It is difficult to break the silence, and it's something that should be done with caution.  But I believe it is worthwhile to do so.  Not only can it help in dealing with the myriad of emotions  and decisions we face, but it can also be very helpful to others.

08 February 2011

Knowing When to Hold Them

I'm in a different place emotionally now than I was just five years ago.  My husband and I both are, although our paths to this place have not been identical; but that's another blog post.

A little over five years ago, my younger sister had her second child - a precious baby girl.  At the time, we were only two years into this journey, only having one year of knowing we were infertile under our belts.  I can't remember if we were in the process of moving or if we had flown in for a visit, but we had the rare treat of being able to see a newly born member of the family just a few days after birth.  

I was excited!  My sisters started having kids when I was in college, and I have treasured every moment I have been able to spend with my nieces and nephews.  I was a professional when it came to doting on them and making sure I got plenty of time to hold them.  I could not wait to meet the newest addition to our family.

My husband has always had a way of stealing some of my cuddle time with babies.  I don't know how he manages to do it, but one minute I'm holding a baby, and thirty seconds later the baby I just took from the mom is in his hands.  We've had many discussions on how he needs to wait his turn, so I made sure to reiterate to him how very important it was for him to let me hold my new niece.

When we arrived, we were greeted with much joy, and my brother-in-law graciously and generously brought my niece to me right away.  I was so excited!!!

As he placed her in my arms, I had scarcely held her for a moment before I almost lost it.  I can still feel her in my arms as I write this over five years later.  She was perfect. Her little body was all snuggled up like an Anne Geddes baby model, and she was the most relaxed baby I had ever held.  Her body seemed to melt into my arms as the wonderful smell of "newborn baby" filled the air.  Holding her was everything I had imagined holding my own baby would be.

The moment was perfect...except I couldn't bear to hold her.

For once in my life I was thankful for my husband's habit of taking babies from my arms.  I immediately turned to him and begged him with my eyes to take her.  I couldn't do it.  I had been longing to meet her, to hold her, to rejoice with my sister over her, and I couldn't do it.

I was shattering inside.  With all of my strength I attempted not only to maintain my composure, but to also express to my sister how happy I was for her.  But in my mind's eye it seemed that the walls were falling down around me, like so many pieces of glass.  I had not expected this to happen.  I couldn't separate the pain of holding her from the pain of not being able to hold her.  It made no sense to me and I was heartbroken.  My arms were empty.

I feared that my sister would see the pain in my face.  By this time our family knew we were struggling to have children.  I did not want her to think that I was not happy for her, because I was exceedingly happy for her.  I did not want her to think that I did not love her daughter, because I loved her more than I could bear.

Looking back now, I wonder if a part of me might have thought God was not being fair.  I honestly don't remember the thought processes that unfolded after that because I was bombarded with new emotions on this journey almost daily early on.  But I wonder if I thought that it was unfair of God to not only keep me from knowing the joy of having children of my own, but also to keep me from knowing the joy of holding my sister's child.  I doubt it was a thought that took form, but sorting through the emotions of that moment in this moment, I find myself thinking that it wasn't fair.

My husband holding
a friend's son
Many months passed before I could hold her.  I praise God that my husband was in a different place emotionally than I was.  I was content to let him hold her as I looked on in awe and wonder.  After that experience, I seldom held newborn babies.  If I did, it was on my own terms.  More than once I heard myself respond with a contented, "No," or "No, thank you," to a mom who asked me if I wanted to hold her child.  I always smiled, to make it known that I appreciated the offer, but that I was content to look on.

Now the times are seldom that it hurts to hold an infant, but I find that I still decline many of the offers to hold them.  I found that I get a better view when I'm not the one holding them, and I am also able to take photographs to pass on to the parents.

My niece on her 5th birthday
I had the privilege of seeing many of my nieces and nephews this past weekend.  What a joy it is to see them all growing up!  They are great kids with great parents.  Five years ago, I couldn't bear to hold one of those precious children.  It just so happens she was born at a time of deep emotional pain in my life.  Today, I can't bear to pass by her without kissing her on the top of her head, or throwing my arms around her in a hug, or flashing a great big smile her way.

God has redeemed the time I lost with her.  He held me the way I longed to hold her, and he has allowed me the privilege of many joyful moments with her.  That experience was one of the most painful experiences I have had on this journey, and it's the only time I clearly remember not being emotionally able to hold an infant.  The fact that it was family impacted me deeply.  The fact that God held me in the midst of that pain impacted me even deeper still.

If you're reading this in a state of infertility, it is my hope that you will be encouraged that holding babies and being around children will not always be painful.  It's okay to decline holding babies.  Use your discretion in those moments.  You know where you are in this journey. 

If you're a friend of someone struggling with infertility, know that it's acceptable to ask if they want to hold your baby, but that asking is much better than simply handing them the baby.  Not everyone has a difficult time holding babies, in fact there are times when it is helpful and can ease the pain of infertility.  But be prepared to hear a "no, thank you" and know that it's nothing personal.  Also be prepared for a flood of tears, and know that that's not personal either.  A silent hug, an "I love you" or an "I'm sorry" (as in, I'm sorry you're in pain) is appropriate in that moment.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 
2Corinthians 1:3-4