I'm Still Here, Just Different

It has been a minute since I posted, about two months actually. Are you still here?

I am.

How are you?

I'm different...

I've spent the last two months traveling around the country offering my Rising Ever Upward workshops and intensives. Oh the stories I have...but you'll have to wait for that book to come out! I've met some incredible people, grown this tribe, visited super cool cities, and eaten my fair share of amazing food! I believe in this work more than ever and am honored to continue to offer it and live it.

I wanted to stop by with a few updates:

  1.  I booked a TEDx talk!!! Actually 2! I am speaking at TEDxDearborn October 13th and TEDxLaSierraUniversity November 10th. I will let you know if these events will be livestreamed, and of course, share once they have made the TED website!
  2. More workshops and intensives are coming soon! Make sure to check here for future dates.
  3. My next book, The Complicated Gray, is in final edits as we speak! And, I am in development for the next one too!
  4. This fall I am launching a 3 part video series based on my workshops and intensives for network marketers.

Now for the different... I have done a lot of work and growth this year, especially in changing my relationship with my pain. This has enabled me to reach more people and build what is slowly but surely becoming an empire. While my team (I have a team guys, small and mighty, yay!) and I get our barrings, especially in figuring out what this looks like starting first with a one stop, all inclusive new website, I'd love to share a series I have started on my Facebook page called #TherapyThursdaywithJustine (TT). Each week we will post a new TT video for you here. If you don't want to miss them live each Thursday, make sure to like and follow at www.facebook.com/justinebfroelker.

Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for the continued support, love, and prayers. There are really big and exciting things coming, and I can't wait to share them with my community here.

For now, here was a bonus TT (for FREE,  accountant Chad always likes to add) I did this week about judgment...

 
 

The Bounce House

A germ infested warehouse filled with bigger-than-life rainbow colored bounce houses, and we have the place to ourselves!  Stomach-dropping fun for every child, a place of refuge for their tired parents, and a place of nightmares for most infertile couples. But not for us.  We worked our way out of the nightmare to be the exception.

Some call us “childless.” Some even say we will never know true love.

My heart, full of a mother’s love, albeit longing love, begs to differ.

The soft structures breathe an undercurrent hum behind the happy squeals of the only two other children who are already there. Baby Ben is sleeping in his car seat.  McKinley kicks off her Crocs, my husband Chad unties his shoes, and I unzip my boots, racing to see whose stocking feet can hit the bright red vinyl floor of the bounce house first. We both run after McKinley as she hurls her tiny, not-quite-three-year-old self into the soft structure.

“Wait for us!” I yell, already immersed in breathless excitement.

All I can hear are her giggles. I fall into the sides a few times before I have my bearings, but quickly, because McKinley is attempting to scale a wall that is way too big for her.

Her smile and laughter burst brighter than the colored world we are stumbling in. She flings her body in complete abandonment, jumping so high that our faces cramp from smiling so much. For an hour we trail behind her, playing, helping her up the ladders, so she can climb walls that are too big for her tiny arms and legs.

“Hold onto the straps so you can pull yourself up,” I say.

“Come on, McKinley. You can do it!” Chad says looking down at her from the top.

“Okay,” she assures me with a nod of her tiny head, grabbing the strap.

This small teaching lights a spark under her as she races up the ladder at double the speed. My knees ache as I try to catch up to her.

All three of us perch precariously at the top of a slide that is much bigger than I anticipated, as McKinley shouts, “Race!”

My stomach drops at the steepness of the slide and a laugh escapes my smile so loud I even startle myself.

“Again, again!” McKinley shouts.

“Okay!” I shout back in a high pitched goofy voice, much to her delight.

“Myself,” she states back, brimming with threenager attitude.

This time I wait for her at the bottom, my arms open for her. Her blonde hair sticks straight up as she catches wind on the way down, her face shining with unbridled joy like only a toddler’s can.

My thirty-six year old back is telling me I need a break, so I go over to the bench where my friend Casey is holding Ben. I take Ben out of her arms with a smile silently saying to her, thank you for letting me love your children, my chosen children.

At only eleven weeks old, he has the new baby smell that fills my nose with maternal love. His eyes light up and he cracks a huge smile imitating back to me my joy. I nuzzle him, smile at him and feel his warmth in my arms, making sure to soak in every scent, smile and snuggle that I can.

Casey asks, “Want me to take him back so you can go and play again?”

“I’m good for now,” I say.

“Need a little break, huh?” Casey asks, as if to say, we are getting so old aren’t we?

She assumes my body needs a break but it’s my heart that needs one most. I glance back at Chad picking up McKinley to help her make a shot in the basketball bounce house. They are both giggling and jumping everywhere. The thought creeps in ever-so-slightly, just like it usually does.

He would have been a great dad.

God, I wanted them so badly.

Two back surgeries and a year in a body cast annihilated the first rendition of our parental dreams. A couple of failed rounds of  In Vitro Fertilization with a gestational surrogate, tens of thousands of dollars and three lost babies later we ended our journey without the desired, hoped for, dreamed of and paid for outcome of our own children.

Instead, all we have left of them is a black and white picture of their eight cell embryo beings.

In our world’s most accepted definition of the word “parent,” we will never meet the criteria. I will never birth a child and we are not adopting one.

But childless we are not. We are childfull parents, birthing a rare kind of parenthood. We must seek out, ask for and remain open enough to receive the gift of being involved in our friends’ children’s lives, our chosen children. This love will be our legacy, left not in biological children we raise but in our chosen children’s lives.

My mind wanders to a scene not long ago when two sisters walked into our home with the bright eyes of children who know they are getting an awesome gift. Hannah, the oldest, handed me a handwritten note with my name spelled wrong, yet phonetically right, that read, “Thank you for the costumes Justiene.”

“Can we try them on now?” she asked.

The house was filled with the familiar smells of Thanksgiving dinner, our first with our new friends and their three daughters. “Let’s eat first, then we will have the most awesome fashion show ever,” I said.

After lunch, we all rushed to the basement. Hannah and her younger sister Maya squealed with excitement at the site of the huge trunk filled with a lifetime of my dance costumes.  “We can have all of them?” Hannah asked.

“You can! But only if we make up dances and have a recital when I come over to play.”

“Thank you,” they both said without being prompted by their mom.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

I helped the girls try on all the costumes for the next hour, tap shoes, tiaras, tutus and all. I looked at their mom Izzy with gratitude, Thank you for letting me love your daughters.

All while thinking, God, I hope we’re always allowed to be such active parts of our chosen children’s lives.

“How old is he?” a very blonde mother asks, interrupting my thoughts. I notice quickly she is playing on her phone while her two kids run and bounce away.

I give myself permission to think the first thought that comes as the woman who can’t have kids, Play with your kids, lady. You get to have them.

I know all-too-well how little time and care most mothers provide for themselves, especially as a mental health therapist. Most of my work with mothers consists of teaching them how to take better care of themselves, so they don’t end back up in my office in their fifties lost and completely empty. I quickly practice my empathy and think, I’m so glad moms have places like this to entertain their kids a bit so they can get the occasional break.

“Eleven weeks,” I smile and reply to her question.

“Oh my gosh, you look aaaamaaazing!” she exclaims.

“Oh no, he isn’t mine. We’re in town visiting.”  I point to Casey and say, “That’s his mom, my friend Casey.”

“Oh, well, you look great too!”

We all exchange obligatory smiles and I walk away before she can ask me where my own kids are.

Shit, Justine, don’t get sad. Breathe! Stay present.

Standing with Ben in my arms, I shift my focus back to Chad and McKinley bouncing away, as I allow the sadness to well up inside of me. Some days it comes in waves like this, waves of sadness triggered by thoughts like, It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Other days it is the longing for my three children who never took a breath of this earth’s fresh air.

Always, I acknowledge the thoughts and the feelings, giving myself permission to feel them all.

I am simply too afraid not to, because then it is like they never existed, and they are our children. Even if the only thing we have left of them, besides our longing hearts and changed lives is a picture from our infertility clinic.

I fight to take a breath and look down at Ben. He is a true miracle in my life. I take another breath, deeper and more knowing, and look back at Chad and McKinley jumping like crazy in the bounce house together. With yet another deeper breath, a space begins to open up within me, allowing the sadness to move just enough to grant space for another choice.

I am so grateful.

I am grateful for this life.

I am grateful we were given our never-to-be babies. I am grateful we were chosen as their parents if only to love them from afar.

Because they are what we have.

And, don’t we love what we get at the end of the day?

 
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Those three babies, who I never got to meet, made me a mother; a mother who loves endlessly and who loves well.

A love with lifelong wonder of who they would have been and who we could have been as parents. A loss, I must choose, every damn day, in how it defines me for the rest of my life. Because who I become because of them is how I choose to honor them.

McKinley runs full force past me into another bounce house as Chad takes the baby from me. “Go play for a while,” he says as he kisses the top of my head.

“Thank you,” I reply allowing him, and only him, to see my eyes glistening with the slightest of tears. I run to catch McKinley headed up the ladder to the big slide. We reach the top together, Chad waiting at the bottom for us holding one of our many chosen children. I feel the pull of my forever longing and my gratitude, all at the same time. We make eye contact to silently say to one another, It is okay. We are okay. And, this is amazing still.

I hold McKinley’s hand tight, throw my head back, let laughter explode from my gut and fill my soul, as we slide down together one more time.

~~~

I wrote this piece over 8 months ago, in fact baby Ben just turned one year old! After working with my friend Laura Munson editing it and submitting it to well over 20 platforms and magazines, I decided I had been rejected and waited enough. Because I love this piece and I love these children. So I brought my bounce house home to Ever Upward, where it has belonged the whole time.

To the Invisible Mom Crying in Church

I work on my phone on the twenty minute drive to church. There are two months a year I am very busy as an infertility and loss thriver and advocate: April (National Infertility Awareness Month) and October (National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month). I feel the car slow and glance up to notice the string of cars with brake lights illuminated for as far as we can see. Pumpkin patch.

Damn pumpkin patch (at least for this woman who can't have babies).

It is that time of year that every week on our way to church we will pass the biggest and most popular pumpkin patch in St. Louis. I will look to my right every single week for about six weeks and see the orange pumpkins of every size with children crawling all over them while their parents try to get the annual picture.

A reminder, again, that I will never have that experience with my own children.

This Sunday is different though as I work on finding and saving pictures about pregnancy and infant loss on my phone to share each day of the month. It is different because of what I know is waiting for me in the service this week in church. I sigh and look over at Chad just as the traffic begins to pick back up to normal pace,

This is literally an infertile woman's road of hell. Passing the pumpkin patch full of kids at a slow pace as if to rub it in even more while on the way to child dedication day at your church.

He half laughs with a sigh. I know he both gets it and doesn't.

We walk into the enormous auditorium just as the first song plays. This is late for us, we are usually here early and have our butts planted in our front row center seats at least ten minutes before the service starts. I knew this week I would not want to be in those seats.

Front row center to the dream that will never be yours...no thank you.

The usher sees us trying to find a seat and motions us to our right, I immediately notice the chairs are marked "family section". I shake my head and feel my heart rate rise as I make eye contact with Chad. The usher motions again to the same section. I start to feel the panic rise inside of me, Seriously God?

I look at Chad and try to get him to hear me when I say,

I am not sitting in the family section on child dedication day.

He makes the connection and follows me as I bolt to the opposite side of the auditorium and we finally find seats in the upper part of the auditorium.

The music swells and we are taken to church, just like every Sunday. After one song the lights come up and I see the families being led to the front of the stage with their babies.

Here we go.

Chad puts his hand on my leg and I clasped my hands tightly together as if the pressure will keep the tears in this year. My own grief is a tiny bit subdued this year because we have two sets of friends at the front with their adorable daughters. I am able to focus on them for the most part which means my own longing awakens inside of me just a bit.

Until I see her.

I can only see her orange shirt, her dark hair pulled into a ponytail and how tightly her husband is holding her. Her husband's arm is wrapped around her and I know it is serving multiple purposes, to both hold her up and in and love her. She wipes tears from her face the entire ten minutes that our pastor talks about us as a congregation supporting and loving these families and these children in their walk with Christ.

My own tears escape the rims of my eyes to fall onto my cheeks. Chad puts his arm around me for only a second knowing that if he lingers too long I will lose it myself.

The music swells up. I see her take a deep breath just as her husband's fingers interlace with hers behind her back.

She wipes more tears.

I wipe my own.

I see her.

I am her.

I only wish there had been an open seat next to her because I would have gone down to sit beside her and grab her hand while we both allowed tears to flow down our cheeks.

Last year at child dedication I was overcome by breath stealing sobs. So much so, I had to sit down in the dark during the song to try to calm myself.

The thoughts and feelings that go through a woman struggling with any version of the infertility or loss story during a child dedication runs the gamut:

Why them and not me?

Will I ever be a mother?

I will never be up there.

I am supposed to be up there this year.

I wonder if those twins are from IVF?

They seem older, I bet they had to do treatments.

My parents will never get to experience this joy.

God, have you forgotten me? 

They would have been four this year.

Why do they never mention couples like us...

I am a mother too...

This year right after the dedication they played Christ is Enough.

As a believer I know this and trust it.

As a forever longing mom, my aching heart can sometimes doubt it.

My breath catches as we sing:

Through every storm

My soul will sing...

The cross before me

The world behind me

More than ever these words are true for me.

They are true and I still long for my babies.

I wonder.

I love.

I weep.

I love even harder and more.

It is with this forever scarred and always healing soul and my heart full of longing joy that I want to say to the invisible mom crying in church,

You are not alone. Even though it feels as if you are invisible, like no one remembers us or cares enough to see us, you are not invisible.

I see you. I know you. I am you. We are a mothers too.

 
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The Breath of Healing and a Strawberry Shortcake Bandage

Her scraped up knee is bright red with fresh blood. Plump tears roll down her rosy cheeks. "Okay, ready? It is going to burn but mama will blow on it to help."

"Okay," she gets out in the midst of a sob.

 
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I pour the clear peroxide over the freshly scraped up knee so rightfully and bravely earned from her first go around without training wheels. The familiar white bubbles appear as her leg jumps out of reflex and an audible whine escapes her mouth.

"Okay, blow on it with me," I coax her.

We both gently blow a steady stream of what has to feel like healing cool air onto the foaming and now clean injury.

"How's that?'

"Better," she musters through the slightest of smirks.

We sing a song while we wait for the boo boo to air dry.

"My Little Pony or Strawberry Shortcake bandage?" I ask.

"Strawberry," she answers with the faintest little girl accent.

That's my girl, Ithink back to my own Strawberry Shortcake curtains and bedding as a kid her age.

I gently place the pink and red bandage over the scrape.

"Kiss?"

"Yes."

The simplest of moments between a mother and a daughter. A moment I am sure most parents never give a second thought to. For me, a moment in my forever longing and wondering imagination. Yet, I got some semblance of it this weekend when one of my clients texted me for help. She was off visiting where she is going to continue her college education far, far away from the city limits of St. Louis and in the mountains where she spent the last couple of days hiking much to the chagrin of her heels.

A picture of the biggest blister I have ever seen came through on my phone with a message of, "Please tell me what to do. Do I clean it? Cover it? Help. Please."

Not the normal text I get as a mental health therapist, yet one I wasn't surprised by.

I talked her through cleaning her blisters and taking care of them but at first forgot to tell her about blowing on the foaming peroxide! My self-talk was not much unlike what I hear in my office from mothers who hardly ever give themselves credit for the brilliant jobs they are doing, Crap! God, I suck.

I circled back and let her know to blow on the bubbles to help with the sting. I then told her that I was sorry she was never taught this growing up and that she deserved better. Her mother died when she was young and she grew up without a mother like figure to teach her these kinds of things.

And, I am growing old without my own children to teach them to.

God's plan in something as simple as a boo boo.

Much of what we do as therapists is re-parenting our clients. I teach, I coach, I push, I hold space for healing, I keep accountable and I deeply care. Actually, this is also what I do if you are my friend or family. It is kind of impossible to shut off.

It was there before the infertility journey. Only, made stronger by becoming a mother to my three. And, something I am thankful for every single day.

The bossy, pushy, loving mother I am. The mother they made me. The mother armed with the breath of healing and a Strawberry Shortcake bandage.

HuffPost Parents: When Your Child Asks Why I Don't Have Kids

I originally wrote this piece for another outlet but received the official rejection for that yesterday. When one door closes you open another. I am beyond thankful to HuffPost Parents for their continued support of Ever Upward

~~~

When Your Child Asks Why I Don't Have Kids

At 3 he asked his mom, “Why don’t Justine and Chad have kids?”

His mom replied with a generic, “Well, they have three dogs instead.”

At 6 he asked in front of us at the dinner table, “Why don’t you have kids?”

Before I could answer, his mom said, “That’s why they love spending so much time with you guys!”

It is a simple question from him, grounded in true loving curiosity. It is a loaded question for me that speaks volumes he is too little to understand yet. It is a question he deserves a truthful answer to, as it has to be confusing to see these people who love him so much not look like all the other families around him.

How do you as parents answer this question in a way that honors your child’s curiosity and respects the feelings and the story of the stunned couple in front of you?

Click here to continue reading over at HuffPost Parents.

Seeing Me

I sat at a table surrounded by five other women I've known for years but hadn't seen in quite some time. There was wine being shared, except by the few who were pregnant, and a basket of forbidden (well to me) gluten with hand whipped butter being passed around the table. I took a long sip of my red wine before taking the warm bread and smothering the butter onto it before taking a bite into a version of heaven to me.

I had come in with no expectations, yet was prepared to struggle a bit that night with a few pregnant bellies and the only one at the table who is not a traditional mother. But it had been some time since I had seen everyone and even though it was not kids I had to share about I still have an interesting life to share.

There was laughter, baby tips and birth stories.

There was not one single inquiry for me.

Not one.

I feel invisible a lot, especially marketing a book about infertility and loss. I feel invisible in our society a lot as the woman who can't have kids, where many times I am quite literally the only one every where I go.

Never have I felt more invisible than at that dinner table despite being surrounded by old friends. I breathed deep, engaged in the conversation and clasped my hands beneath the tablecloth harder and harder as if the pressure between my hands kept the tears from pouring down my face.

By the time I got home I was inconsolable.

I texted one of my other mom friends,

Thank you for seeing me, for always doing your best to make sure I don't feel invisible as the only one without kids. You have no idea how much that helps me survive this world.

Chad tried his best to console me as I tried to contain myself, he said,

You can cry.

He could tell I felt stupid and frustrated but there was no holding in these kinds of sobs,

It's not fair, you hardly ever have to deal with this.

He forced me into a hug and said,

You're right, guys don't talk about their kids nonstop.

He held me tighter and between sobs I managed to get out,

I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life.

As a therapist, hell as a human, I work hard to make sure every single person I am around feels seen, known and loved in my presence. Thriving after infertility without my own children has only strengthened this quality of mine.

Because I feel invisible almost all of the time.

It's been some time since that dinner, the work I have done the last several years helps me to know that this sense of being invisible is not my truth. It also helped going into National Infertility Awareness Week and my #MoreThan1in8 project and connecting with so many of my fellow warriors. But, it was scary knowing the dreaded Mother's Day was just around the corner.

The day of what feels like true disappearance from this world for a woman like me.

But this year, Mother's Day was different, for a couple of reasons.

  1. I reclaimed the day by giving myself permission to celebrate it myself.
  2. I felt more seen and loved well through it than ever before.

I received cards in the mail, texts and gifts from friends and more Facebook messages than I ever imagined. Many of these things coming from people who I never even realized were watching my journey at all, let alone cared about it.

I was a mother seen.

Because I speak my truth and own my story, sometimes to the dismay, disapproval and discernment of others, there is no choice but to know I exist.

I know my story is sad, I know it makes you uncomfortable and I know some wish I'd just stop already.

What I know now, several years into thriving, is that your denial, or perception, of my story does not change my truth.

I am seen. I am known. I am loved.

I am helping.

I am helping because I will make sure you feel seen, known and loved too.

 
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~~~

 
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Keep an eye on my social media outlets for Q & A Fridays, starting this week!

Instagram: @jlbf4

Twitter: @JustineFroelker

Facebook: www.facebook.com/everupwardblog

You Know Someone Struggling with Infertility and Loss: 14 Basics You Need to Know

 
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Today I guest posted over at Don't Talk About the Baby! Please share about this important film and if you can please donate to the Seed & Spark campaign!

~~~

1. You know someone struggling.

The numbers are staggering. 1 in 8 will struggle to conceive. 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in a loss. 1 in 160 deliveries will in with a child born still.

Let these numbers sink in.

You know someone affected by this journey, whether or not they speak about it publicly. They are your friends, your family and the person sitting next to you at church or at work.

2. Know your sex ed.

 When a man’s sperm meets a woman’s egg it forms a zygote, this is a fertilized egg. If all goes well the cell will divide and become a blastocyst around 5 days. If the blastocyst implants into the uterine wall it becomes an embryo. Around 8 weeks we have a fetus.

For some of us, sperm meets egg in a petri dish with a lot of help from doctors and is then transferred to the woman’s uterus in hopes of a healthy baby in 40ish weeks.

We are not picking eye color or height, we are simply working with our medical team to bring the healthiest baby possible into this world.

3. There are many reasons one has an infertility diagnosis.

To read more over at Don't Talk About the Baby click here.

15 Promises to the Couple Dreaming of Babies

Five years ago this week Chad and I placed an ad on a surrogacy website beginning the journey to make our family. Besides the obvious differences of less hair (sorry Chad) and more wrinkles between our two pictures, there is a lifetime of things you cannot necessarily see. To start...

 
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  • a healthy, stronger and better marriage.
  • three babies who live only in our forever scarred hearts.
  • a woman found.
  • happiness.
  • trust and faith in God.
  • new curiosities, purpose and passions.

And so, with these five years of hell and back, through the darkness of a failed infertility journey, this is what I would say to that couple five years ago who was dreaming, planning, hoping and paying for babies:

  1. It will be okay. Even if you do not get the 2.5 kids out of this, I promise, it can be okay.
  2. You must turn towards one another; remember why you looked at one another and chose each other to do life with. I promise, it was not only to procreate.
  3. Find you and your identity in many things. And, it is not only as your roles to one another as husband and wife or your roles as parents.
  4. You can be pissed at God. It is okay to ask why and think you deserve more and better; and still feel His love and trust Him always. Don't forget to breathe and look up.
  5. Give yourself permission to feel it all, all at the same time; afraid and brave, sad and joyful, angry and accepting, longing and content. Your clarity, your answers and your truth lie in the complicated gray of it all.
  6. Decide your limits, how much and how long, together. Know they are not set in stone. Be honest with yourself and with one another. Ask for what you want and need. Together you can get through this stronger.
  7. Remain open. You will have many choices. What you think is not survivable, is. What you think is the only happy ending, is not the only version.
  8. You can always make more money but you must be realistic with the long term effects of spending what you don't technically have.
  9. Even though you will feel invisible and ignored for the rest of your life at times, trust you are seen, known and loved by those who really matter.
  10. Find the things to be grateful for, it will be the single most helpful and significant thing for coming out of this alive.
  11. Speak your story even more. It will be the only way you get the support you will desperately need through this.
  12. Forgive others often and over and over. They don't get it, but they do try and mean well most of the time.
  13. Don't be so harsh and judgmental towards yourself. Unfortunately, you will get plenty of this from some of your loved ones and society, be nice to yourself and to one another.
  14. It is only through this struggle that your dreams will come true. And even though they may not look like how you had hoped they are even more than you can imagine.
  15. You will be parents. And, every day you will honor and love your three in how much love and light you put into this world.
 
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Time Flies Through Forever Ago

The two little girls see us come into the bowling alley and their faces light up with the childlike smiles I love and yearn for each day. Granted I am holding a shiny present in my hand for them, so that excitement is most likely for the gift and our presence is just an added bonus.

We laugh, we bowl and we chat for the next couple of hours until they open their Christmas gift (better late than never) from Chad and I.

The wonder of what is underneath the shiny holiday wrapping that melts into the joy of the gift they absolutely love is something that will never get old to me.

And, with the direction from their mom, as is required of any elementary age kid, "What do you tell Justine and Chad?"

"Thank you!" they say in unison not even looking up from their new found treasure.

The moments of childfull living I seek to create, work to accept and am beyond grateful for.

After bowling Chad and I head out for a quick bite to eat. Over some chips and guacamole we realize that ever elusive concept of time, realizing that Chad has been at his "new" job for 4 years this March.

"It's gone by so fast," we both agree.

It is then that I realize what next month will be for us.

"Next month is five years since we started our infertility journey." I say through a sense of disbelief and knowing all in the same breath.

Chad replies, "Now that, for some reason, feels like forever ago."

"I know, kind of weird right?" I reply back.

He shifts his focus down to his plate of warm, delicious Mexican food.

"Maybe it is because everything is so different, and in many ways better and healthier." I say with the complete embodiment of the complicated gray.

Because those five years have flown by but only through forever ago; five years ago I placed an ad on a surrogacy website asking for advice and more information. Little did we know what would lie ahead for us. That through the black fog of synthetic hormones, through the desperation of tens of thousands of dollars spent and loans taken out, through the devastating loss of three babies and through the soul crushing and soul completing bittersweet decision to define our own happy ending lay the life we choose to live now.

It has only been through this forever ago, that we were able to create this incredible childfull life we live today. An incredible life laced with forever longing of our babies, like a heavy stone I carry in my pocket always, and with the joy and health we've worked hard to create and maintain.

This is living life in the complicated gray; embracing the mucky space between grief and joy, the dark and the light, to awaken to life in color.*

 
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*Watch for updates here and on my social media as I continue to work on my 2nd book, The Complicated Gray.

The Wholehearted Hustle

I'm trying to finish getting ready. I know I am not late and yet there is an overwhelming sense that I am. I am rushing all around at lightening speed and no one is around to help.

I run down the hallway my heart beating at top speed as fly down the stairs. I push open the door so hard it bangs on the outside wall that the sound nearly brings me back to reality.

I feel the crisp air on my face and piercing my lungs as I try to catch my breath when the sound of the closing door stops me in my tracks realizing there is no one there and nowhere to go.

They left.

I am alone.

For months it seemed like this was the theme of my nightly dreams, different settings but always the same scenario and feelings; fear, sadness and confusion.

They left me. I am forgotten. They've moved on.

And, they didn't even look back.

I am invisible.

I've done enough work to know where these dreams are coming from. There is not any unconscious or subconscious bullshit that I am not aware of because I've done the work and live it every damn day.

As a woman without children and an infertility advocate without the "happy" ending not only do I hardly ever fit in but I am also often ignored and forgotten.

So why were these dreams beginning to plague me now?

It wasn't until I went to my Rising Strong™ facilitator intensive that I was able to see and therefore understand and even change this theme in my life.

In the Rising Strong™ work we identify a face down in the arena moment, a moment in our lives here we have fallen or failed or perhaps completely lost ourselves. It was only in picking myself back up and rewriting my story that I realized what was happening.

I'd been hustling for so long to build the platform of Ever Upward; working my ass of on posting, emailing, writing and submitting, all in hopes of my healthier messages reaching a bigger audience. Along the way in Montana I realized, with a lot of help and love from my tribe, that my mission had actually stolen my voice. What I learned further in my Rising Strong™ work is the reason for this; the inner critic of fear and shame.

I am feeling invisible.

Often feeling like the invisible advocate only seemed to strengthen my hustle but not in a healthy way. Rather, it was a hustle from scarcity as if trying to convince myself that I am enough. Finally, with the Rising Strong™ work I realized that this shameful and fearful part of me felt that if I didn't get Ever Upward noticed and keep hustling, that not only would I be unseen and invisible but my fear of disappearing would come true.

And yet, I know I matter. I will never disappear, even if I am unseen.

Because I am worthy.

The dreams have since stopped. In this work I have been able to again let go a bit more and walk even more into my own grace as my friend Susan says.

And yet, I know I am still a person of hard work and hustle.

I am determined.

But, for my well being and to honor the work I have done, and my truth, I must hustle from a place of wholeheartedness and not scarcity.

This clarity came right at the same time as a book was delivered on my doorstep (God knows when you are ready to receive).

I had preordered Hustle Believe Receive months ago and had honestly kind of forgotten about it.

And just like that my hustle became fun again and not desperate.

 
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I highly Sarah Centralla's book. I love her 8 steps to getting what you want in life because she makes them tangible and doable for everyone. It is also highly aligned with my values and the work of Ever Upward; we choose our lives and define our own happy ending. I especially love that she shares her story along with 51 other stories of people who believed they could, worked their asses off to create the lives they desire and allowed themselves the belief and love of themselves to receive it.

I am rising Ever Upward.

I just finished Sarah's Step5: #SeeIt and can feel the strength of my dreams empowering my hustle instead of it being powered by the fear of being left behind.

Because I believe in hard work. I believe in my voice, my truth and my dreams.

I believe in rising ever upward in the wholehearted hustle.

***Includes Amazon Affiliate links.

Petite Post: The Empty Well

Sometimes our loved ones do not have what we need, or perhaps, what we deserve. Our work is in accepting their limitations, loving them anyways and setting boundaries if need be.

 
My version of Johanna Basford's Secret Garden adult coloring book.
My version of Johanna Basford's Secret Garden adult coloring book.
 

Stop going to an empty well expecting there to be water.

But, also do not be the person who stops going to the well completely, because people can change, grow and surprise us.

Instead, go to the well to enjoy the sun, the beautiful flowers and the peace you can find in yourself and in your acceptance.

And, if there is water one day, if your loved one can give you what you want, need and deserve, you can be pleasantly surprised.

*An updated excerpt from Chapter 5 of Ever Upward.

Penned Musing: The Red Hat and White Beard

He looked out into the crowd of families into the sea of anticipatory joy and stressful frustration. It is the day before Christmas and they had been waiting much longer than any child should be expected to wait nicely in line just to sit on his lap and ask for their Christmas dreams. Sitting in his chair surrounded by the red and green of the holiday season with the sounds of bells and Christmas music filling his ears he notices the undercurrent of rustling shopping bags and the dings of cell phones. He takes a deep breath of the pine and Christmas cookie sweetened scented air when he notices the slightest tinge of baby dampness left by the chunky infant he held for photos while her parents gleamed with such delight he couldn't help but feel his own longing be ignited.

The longing of the grandchildren he has yet to hold and spoil. His longing that is only intensified by the painful longing of his daughter who has yet to be able to birth a child and call herself a mother. He looks down into his empty lap careful to stop the tears from falling down onto his rosy cheeks and into his white beard.

Instead, in this moment, much like most moments in his life, he chooses the love-filled joy because in this choice he honors these lost grandchildren who have yet to breathe the Christmas air. He has learned through this journey there is room for both; the longing grief and the loving joy. He is even more sure of this lesson as he gazes back out into the line of families waiting with equal amounts of Christmas joy and Christmas stress.

He takes a deep breath, musters a smile from deep inside from both pain and love and welcomes the next family up,

Ho, ho, ho Merry Christmas!

 
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The Gift of Childfull Living

 
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"What do you want to do today Evan?" I ask him with just as much excitement as his three year old bright blue eyes are beaming with. "Just(ine) Dance!"

Of course, we could probably play Just Dance all day long if I let him.

My friend Sam thinks I was helping her out on this random Friday, when in reality she was handing me a gift. She was headed out of town for a girls weekend and her husband not quite back in town yet from business, and so I had a full day with their youngest son, Evan. We had the whole day to ourselves, just needed to be home in time sitting in the cul-de-sac for his two big brothers to get home from school.

 
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And so we played Just(ine) Dance before heading out to ride the carousel and see butterflies (of course). He fell pretty hard at lunch, scaring me half to death before being completely cured by a few cuddles. We played games. Many, many games; three rounds of Candyland, half a round of Sorry! and three rounds of Memory to be exact.

"Oh yea, oh yea!" He says doing a wiggle victory dance as he literally scores 7 matches beating me in the game of Memory.

We finish our day looking at pictures and videos from the day while we wait for his brothers to get off the bus. As they run up Lane hands me his turkey art and Noah is asking to go to a friend's house.

 
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"Nope, we're going to play together today, your dad will be home soon." I say with the most motherly sternness I attempt to channel from Sam.

After a bit of moaning we settle on playing Battleship in teams...and we laugh.

And I feel myself fill up with the gift of childfull living.

~~~

She walks in with the look of yearning any child on the cusp of getting a gift they've been excited about would have. She hands me her handwritten thank you card, "Thank you Justiene for the costumes."

And she immediately, follows up with the question, "Can we try them on now?"

I kneel down on her level and promise her, "We're going to eat Thanksgiving lunch first and then we'll get out all the costumes and you both can do a fashion show for us. For now, how about you go downstairs and play?"

With the true disappointment of crushed dreams, Hannah takes her sister Maya downstairs to play Just Dance.

It was their first Thanksgiving with us, as they were new, yet quick,  friends of ours from church. We don't have kids to enjoy the holidays with and my friend Izzy does not have her family here, so I asked them to Thanksgiving day with us when in reality I was basically asking them to become part of our chosen family.

After lunch, we all headed downstairs, my parents included, to go through the massive trunk of dance costumes from my childhood. Costumes ranging from when I started dance at age 4 to when dance was taken away by two back surgeries at age 13.

 
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The memories flooded me in songs and steps as I pulled out each costume for Hannah and Maya to run to the bathroom to try on. They both would run/skip/saunter/dance out to show off how each costume looked on them.

 
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The steps Maya made up in the emerald green with gold beads and green feathers. The twirl Hannah spun with the red ballet skirt flowing out from her. The pure joy on everyone's face, especially theirs and most definitely mine.

And again, I fill up with the gift of childfull living.

~~~

One of the only ways I have thrived after failed infertility treatments is by making sure to have children in my life. Creating this childfull life means I am not left a shell of a mother, it means defining my own happy ending.

It is a true gift, this childfull life; a gift I must ask for, a gift I must receive and a gift that has not come without the cost of loss.

But a gift it is; a gift of grace.

 
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Penned Musing: Open Window

Open the window.

He said referring to how stuffy the room had gotten during their difficult discussion.

They both needed to open the window; their window into themselves, for each other and to the world.

The windows that have now been slammed shut by loss.

Three babies, no more and no more chances, to be a normal family with 2.5 kids.

Windows slammed shut so hard they had shattered in ways never thought possible, never easily understood and forever changed.

What now?

She asked knowing there wasn't answer to this besides to move forward.

How do you move forward into a new normal after everything you had hoped and dreamed of is no longer?

She shifts her weight uncomfortably wrapping her arms around herself tightly as if to protect herself from further damage, and yet, in reality, more as a preventive step to not completely fall apart.

He walks forward enveloping her body in the hurt strength of his own.

Together.

She looks up,

Together.

Still Mothers: Skipping With My Three

Most of our closest friends have three kids. Three!

Three seems to be the new 2.5 kids in our culture. We love those big families of five even if sometimes we look at each on our way to the childless quiet of our home and say to one another, “Man, three kids! The kids literally out number the adults. Do you think we would have gotten three?”

But we do have three.

Just not here with feet skipping along the earth.

Continue reading my first guest post over at Still Mothers here.

Penned Musing: A Spoken Sea of Names

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

A Spoken Sea of Names

Another name.

A voice both full of love and sorrow all in the same breath speaks another name into the microphone over the crowd of people awash in a sea of orange.

Another name.

Over 500 names.

Over 500 souls lost too soon.

Over 500 names, never spoken out loud enough, put into the crisp, sun-filled fall day along the river.

And with each name another wave.

A wave of grief. A wave of smiles. A wave of sadness. A wave of love; all washing over me with my senses too overwhelmed to really take it all in.

A wave of orange.

With each name a wave of orange balloons both escape and release from the hands of a forever changed family.

At times it is a tiny wave of a only a few balloons, others a multitude of them.

Floating high into the blue sky, some with messages for their babies in heaven.

Tears. Smiles. Tears. Laughter.

Love. Honor.

The honor of loving them coexisting with our grief of losing them beyond too soon washing over us like the waves in the sea.

The sea of spoken names in waves of orange taking my breath away still.

 
 
 
 
 
 

~~~

The Share Walk of Remembrance and Hope was on October 17th. You can support Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support by purchasing your signed copy of Ever Upwardhere! Use coupon code OCT15 for $5 off!

They Count Too

Note: I had hoped HuffPost Parents would pick this up today, as I wait I wanted to post here to say thank you before the day's end. ~~~

When I profusely thank such organizations as Beat Infertility, Don't Talk About the Baby and Share for including me and my story, I both hope they know how sincere I am being but also know they are probably thinking,

Of course, what is the big deal?

My words of thanks come from a place of love formed in the darkness of loss.

I have never been pregnant.

Thank God because being pregnant for me after two back surgeries and a year in a body cast would never lead to the normal celebratory leap of joy over 2 pink lines that those of us in the infertility and loss community long for.

My surrogate never achieved pregnancy with our embryos either.

And yet, there is not a National Failed Infertility Treatment Awareness Month or National IVF Embryos Count Too Awareness Month, and so the month of October's Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is where I fall (or perhaps force my way in). Even though I can at times feel like the odd man out, left behind or the girl just beyond the outskirts of fitting in often wondering to myself,

They probably don't think I belong here. I did not lose enough. I am not enough.

That damn inner critic and scarcity, and yet, I know I am nowhere near alone.

Just as my friend over at Another Forty commented on my last post:

Having never been pregnant, though, I realize that I still have some shame related to whether or not pregnancy and infant loss awareness month applies to me. I have these pictures of our four embryos that feel like the only tangible remnant of our efforts, the closest I ever got to pregnancy. But at the end of the day I never did get there. So does it still count? I want it to desperately, and I want others to recognize it. It is such an odd thing to lose something you never really had.

To which I replied:

Those pictures of my 8 celled babies are not only cells in a petri dish to me, never strong enough to take strong footing in a warm mother’s womb, they are my babies. They count, they most definitely count. I am with you sister, it sometimes feels like there is not a place for us, but I assure you it is here. We too became mothers the day we dreamed of becoming mothers.

To you, they may simply be 8 celled embryos who were a science experiment in a sterile lab and petri dish.

To me they were growing babies, made up of Chad's athletic ability and kind heart and my red hair and passionate personality, and transferred to Michelle's loving motherly womb. My babies who never took a breath of this earth's fresh air and who I must parent from afar for the rest of my life always wondering who they might have been and who I might have been as their mother.

 
 

Tonight we will join families all over the world in the Wave of Light as we light three candles in honor of our soul scars.

And as I look at those bright flames, I will wonder if they are proud of me, wishing they were here while all in the same breath knowing all is okay.

I will also say thank you.

Thank you for including me and for remembering mothers like us.

~~~

In honor of my three: 

 
 

Birthing A New Self

I am still in shock to have an original piece be run over at The Good Mother Project. I am so thankful to them for taking a chance and giving this non-traditional mother a place to shine her light. I hope I did us proud.

~~~

Birthing My Best Self

I tried very hard to be a mother in the traditional sense, and yet it was not my dream to have.

And still, I parent every single day. I make sure to, otherwise I fear I would be swallowed whole by my losses.

Finding other ways to parent, when traditional parenthood has not worked out for you, means birthing a new perspective; birthing a new self.

This is my daily work in recovery and in finding my ever upward.

For those of us who have had to make the impossible choice to end our pursuit of motherhood, birthing a new self is imperative to surviving the journey. We have had to make the impossible choice to preserve our finances, our relationships and ourselves. We have had to choose to let go of a dream.

Click here to continue reading over at The Good Mother Project.

The Bright Shining Light of Community

It has been a busy couple of days as Ever Upward has been featured a few times in the blogosphere. I am honored. I am grateful. I am excited!

And of course, I had to share!

Sarah at infertilityhonesty shared a satirical piece about the HuffPost debacle last week; read the Satirical Fairy Tale here.

Don't Talk About the Baby ran my guest piece, The Knowing Heart of Loss. Please support this film's Kickstarter campaign here.

Pamela Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority and Finally Heard, featured Ever Upward in her post today, called First We Get Really Uncomfortable...

Finally, I wrote a guest piece for Eva's World called Why Counseling Needs to Be Part of Our TTC Journey.

As always, thank you so much for the shares, the likes, the comments and simply your support and love!

Justine