Please Just Stop Trying to Make It Better - Part 1

Because you can't, sometimes things just can't be fixed

 
 

I'm sad.

Just cheer up, it will be okay!

I'm anxious.

Just take a deep breath and calm down.

I'm angry.

Just count to 10 or walk away.

We're having trouble getting pregnant.

Just adopt! Just relax! Just stopping trying!

We think these above statements are empathy. But, really they are pity filled sympathetic responses to provide that quick fix; our attempt to try to make it better.

It seems like empathy skills are missing for a lot of us. We aren't taught how to be empathic and, I think, we even sometimes think we would rather have sympathy than empathy.

Sympathy is I feel for you; pity.

Empathy is I feel with you; I get it.

A think a major confusion is that we are mistaken in thinking that we must have gone through the exact same instance in order to have empathy. But that just isn't how it works. In order to be empathetic we simply need to be able to understand and know what it feels like to feel the feeling that someone is experiencing. As Brené Brown states in The Daring Way™ curriculum, if you have ever experienced guilt, sadness, anger, disappointment, etc. then you are equipped for empathy.

So we all (outside of the extreme sociopath, read the Underwood's from House of Cards) are able to show empathy and yet we are so quick to just fix it coming from a place of sympathy.

When we hear someone is in struggle we want to take away the pain, we want to make it better, we want to fix it.

Why?

We cannot stand discomfort.

We don't like to feel sad or mad or disappointed ourselves, let alone to be with someone we care about in their sadness or anger or disappointment.

We don't want someone we love, hell even a complete stranger, to feel this discomfort either. But, really it's more about our struggle sit with them through it.

So, we try to fix it with a quick solution, a just stop talking about it.

And when we do this we minimize and invalidate; even if it does come from a place of love.

Practicing empathy means being willing to sit with someone in their discomfort. It means being willing to just be with someone maybe not saying a single word. It means simply saying, that is so hard, that sucks, I can't imagine, ugh.

Compassion

This is where I birthedfertility compassion.

The world needs a whole lot more compassion in every area. But through my work in Ever Upward, fertility seems to be one of the biggest areas.

Why?

Because everyone has an opinion on family planning and it is assumed that everyone wants, needs and is able to make a family.

When in reality, this can't be further from the truth.

My #fertilitycompassion survey had three questions:

  1. What are some of the most difficult/insensitive statements or questions you have received in regards to your family planning?
  2. How did you respond? And why?
  3. What could have been a better way for the question to be asked?

The survey was anonymous and was answered by both men and women and by both people with and without children, fertile and infertile, and some childfree by choice, chance or circumstance.

Unfortunately, the results were not surprising to me as this has been my life, especially for the last years since we tried to have kids with a surrogate and are now accepting a childfree life.

Question #1 - The minimizing, invalidating, simple fix questions

These fell into 11 categories.

  1. God's plan.
  2. Just adopt.
  3. Getting pregnant is so easy.
  4. Just relax.
  5. But you're the lucky one.
  6. Parenting is the only purpose.
  7. Empathy versus sympathy.
  8. Easy solution.
  9. You'll change your mind.
  10. Point the finger and blame.
  11. Family planning.

1. God's plan - reading these statements made my heart ache and my eyes sting with tears.

"You're just not being faithful enough. You aren't praying the right healing prayers. It's just not in His plan for you to be a mom. God doesn't think you're financially ready to be a parent. It's just not meant to be."

2. Just adopt - these still spark some anger in me, mostly at the lack of understanding.

"Just adopt. Why don't you just foster? There are so many minority kids who need good homes. Don't you think you should save a child before having any more of your own?"

3. Getting pregnant is so easy - obviously not: 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

"You're so young, you have so much time. You're next! A lot of women miscarry! You were so early!"

4. Just relax - if only it were this simple for all of us.

"Just relax. Go on vacation. Have a margarita. Just don't think about it."

5. But you're the lucky one - the one upper, I have it so much worse.

"You have it so easy without kids. You don't need time off work, you don't have kids waiting for you at home. Oh, I'm a terrible mother, you can have my kids. You can borrow mine any time."

6. Parenting is the only purpose - if this is true I'm screwed.

"You aren't a parent, you wouldn't understand. But kids is the only purpose we have in life. Who will take care of you when you are old? But, having kids is the only way to really feel love."

7. Empathy versus sympathy - your pity does nothing for me and only leaves me feeling even more alone.

"I feel for sorry for you. Oh, I am so glad we never struggled, I can't imagine."

8. Easy solution - there are a millions way to make a family, none of them easy.

"Have you tried this? Or that? $15,000 isn't that much money, just do IVF. My friend had that too, she got pregnant just fine. Just try again. I'll carry for you."

9. You'll change your mind - we each have our own path, allow everyone to own theirs even if it is different than yours.

"But how do you know you won't want kids later in life? You can always just adopt later on."

10. Point the finger and blame - this feels so damning.

"Is he shooting blanks? What's wrong with you? Who's fault is it? There must have been something wrong with it."

11. Family planning - everyone has an opinion they must share or could this just be a bid for connection?

"Everyone assumes we have 3 because we stopped trying."

"You must want a girl or aren't you glad you didn't have a girl?! (We have three boys and our little girl is in heaven)."

"When are you having another?"

"Be thankful for the one healthy child you have."

"You don't want them too far apart! (we've had three miscarriages after our first)"

"You should really try for a girl next time. (we have two boys; we have lost three female babies)."

"Shouldn't you just be happy with the two you have."

"You don't want to be too old."

"Was she an accident? (she is five years younger than her brothers)."

Before I move on to writing about questions 2 and 3, I will let these settle in some.

Are we all just being too sensitive?

Perhaps.

But as someone who has struggled to do the very thing that many of us believe we were put on earth to do, be a parent, these questions and statements cut like a knife.

They hurt.

They invalidate the painful journey we have been on.

They minimize the paths before us.

And, even though I sincerely believe they come from love (and curiosity), I also know they come from ignorance and comparison.

So for now, think before you speak and watch your tone, you honestly have no idea what the person on the other side of your words has gone through; the pain they have suffered, the losses they have endured and the struggles of their daily lives.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."—Rev. John Watson

"Including you."—Glennon Melton

Don't make your words added pain.

And, in part 2 I will share how people respond to these questions and statements. But, mostly I will focus on what we all really want and need to hear instead.

Compassion. Empathy. Hope.

Ever upward.

Housekeeping:

Kickstarter for Ever Upward Book Trailer has only hours to go and we are so close! Every dollar (share and prayer) helps!

Ever Upward presale live now.

Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.

Fertility Compassion Survey will continue to collect responses.

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Courageously Contagious

The overarching theme of Brené Brown's research and work is shame, vulnerability and courage. And it has completely helped me to change my entire life. The courage she displayed in her first TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is something to be in awe of. It has only been through witnessing this courage that many events in my life have unfolded and taken place; Emerging Women 2013, Ever Upward the book and the blog, The Daring Way™ Certification training, and really, the first spark of my own recovery.

Because courage is contagious.

Witnessing courage in others; through the work of my patients, through my own loved ones and through amazing people like Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Melton helps us all to believe in our own power to change our lives.

And there are simply not enough sufficient words to portray the emotion I feel when others own their stories because I have owned mine.

Every single like, comment, and especially, share of Ever Upward posts.

The woman who has never spoken to anyone but her husband about their infertility struggles and stumbles upon Ever Upward to then post on Facebook that she is starting a infertility support group at her church.

My friend who admitted to more friends of how they finally became pregnant with their soon to be born baby girl.

My patient who chooses her recovery every day because she knows we've all had to fight some sense of recovery in our lives, even me, her therapist.

 
 

It is not always easy to speak, let alone own, all the parts of my story. Shame still resides in me, really in us all, as my unhealthy, unwanted, and really unneeded, savior; the dark dementor that comes in to shut me down, to protect me from pain and judgment.

The shame that comes in making me feel a dark, heavy pit in my stomach that then wafts the suffocating fog over my spirit dulling my light.

I felt it just this past week when Huffington Post ran the article, The Question The Gives You a One in Eight Chance of Being an Insensitive Jerk. I was so excited to see a huge site like HuffPost run a blog post about infertility. And I will completely admit, I only wish they had featured my blog and that they had spoken more to every side of the infertility world, but breaking the silence of infertility on any level is a step towards the death of shame that silences us so much.

But then I made the mistake of reading the comments on HuffPost's Facebook page in response to the article. The amount of ignorance, judgment and mercilessness were all I needed for my shame to pull everything I've worked so hard on right out from under me. I was faced with the words that bring on my shame spiral in a blink of an eye, "I don't understand why people who cannot have kids don't just adopt."

It hit me like a two ton shield. My heart started racing, my breath quickened and I could feel the dark pit in my stomach churn. My dementor came in so quickly to shut me down, to "protect" me, to steal my light.

And then I named it.

Shame.

I took a breath, reminded myself of the power of my light and I spoke. I took a moment to post a comment myself on the Facebook feed, taking the opportunity to educate on how much infertility is misunderstood, minimized and invalidated, especially with that inevitable question. And, then I also emailed HuffPost asking them to run additional articles on this subject and even submitted for an opportunity to write something myself.

I took a breath and I found my courage.

I took a breath and embraced the pain and the judgment to remind me that the flame of my spirit, my core values, are courage and hope. And unless, I protect that flame myself, no one else will ever be able to see it.

 
 

I took a breath and I spoke.

I took a breath and I tried to be contagious.

As, it has only been through the courage and spark of others' protecting and living their own flame, that I have found mine.

Because courage is contagious.

So even if HuffPost never features Ever Upward or my book doesn't become a New York Times bestseller or the blog never achieves a hundred thousand followers I will still be here.

I will still be here, shining my light of courage and hope because it is the only way I honor my own recovery. And, if my light sparks the courage in even just one person to fight for finding their own ever upward, well then, I consider it contagious.

The Childfree Mother-My Messy Beautiful

I am not a mother. I wanted to be a mother.

I fought very hard to be a mother.

I paid a lot of money and put my body (and my surrogate’s body) through synthetic hormonal hell to be a mother.

But, I am not a mother.

At least in the common definition of mother.

And yet, here I am, a fan of Glennon, her Momasteryblog and her book Carry On, Warrior, contributing to her Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project… but I am not a mother.

Talk about messy and scared to death.

But I choose beautiful and courage instead.

Messy, Beautiful Warrior

My story could be considered epically sad and tremendously messy. But, I like to think of it as beautifully flawed and filled with ever upward light and love, and every piece of my life puzzle in this Messy, Beautiful life is proof that I am a Warrior. Because, it is messy and beautiful to live our lives authentically brave, and so, everyday I choose to live as a Messy, Beautiful Warrior.

Being a warrior means living all the parts of my story fully, wholeheartedly and brazenly authentically courageous.

It means never shying away from the most asked question of every woman my age, “How many children do you have?”, and answering it in my own honest way.

“We tried, we tried really hard, but we can’t have kids.”

It means never allowing shame to steal my story when I am asked the inevitable second most asked question, “Well, why don’t you just adopt?”

“We know adoption is not our path. We’ve been through a lot, financially and emotionally, with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), surrogacy and losing three babies already. We have decided to accept a childfree life.”

Owning My Story

I will not apologize if my answer makes you uncomfortable. I will not allow your need to fix or take away my pain to silence my story. I will not let shame, self- or societal-induced, steal my light.

So I will educate. I will write and speak my story, owning my shame, every day of my life. I will live it because it is the only way to honor myself. I will live it because it is the only way the landscape of infertility will change. I will live it because we all have our epically Messy, Beautiful journeys. Because hard is hard and maybe, just maybe, openly owning my story will make you just uncomfortable enough to open your eyes and heart to someone else’s story and therefore lead you to some compassion and understanding.

In short, my life and the stories I write in Ever Upward are the epitome of Messy, Beautiful. They are about what happens when we don’t get what we so desperately wanted and hoped for. What happens when we don’t get what we thought we deserved?

Ever Upward

Ever Upward is about letting go of what isn’t and embracing a new purpose.

Every day I live and write about my Messy, Beautiful.

Every day I live and write about the epic stumbles followed by every purposeful rise.

The following may look like a mess of words to some, but to me they are my Messy, Beautiful story told through some of the titles of my writings...

Where Do I Belong?

Searching through Our Soul’s Way Through Invisible Sufferings, where I must speak my Fear In Owning My Truth where I am Taking Off the Armor of My “Choice”. Because, only then will Shame Die a Little Bit More.

Learning the hard lessons of seeing the limitations of others as they become Our Fellow Warriors, True Friends, Limited Supporters and Incapables. And then, continually asking the question, Can Our Incapables in the Stands Become Our Warriors in the Arena? As I am constantly figuring out The Frankenstein Walk of Feeling Left Behind.

To make sure Shamed Silence is Broken, I must work on Embracing It to Truly Let It Go and fighting for and finding my Resilient Dreams. Where I must learn The Paradox of Letting Go. Maintaining the balance between my need to Wallow, But Just For a Bit, Then Stop Sitting in the Shit to learn the lesson that it is Worth Every Raindrop and Thunder Strike.

Pushing back My Dementors of Shame and Self Doubt to Reach Through the Keyhole of Your Closet. Because only then will I be able to help others learn to Tread or Float. As I have done in Conceiving Our Chosen Family, which is Never a Consolation Prize and always leaves me Filled with Awe.

Pushing Through Fear to Accept Joy, Hell, to Fight For It has meant loving my Chosen Children. It has meant taking My First Step Out of Rock Bottom to Start My Walk on the Moon and looking for the Lights in the Tunnel to Thrive and Not Just Survive.

And trusting that through this battle I will find my Faith in Something. And that this faith will help me fight The Gravity of Relapse especially in Making Room for the Light.

Because I know, I am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic.

My messy is the random anger and bitterness that can over take me at times. My messy is the underlying sadness that comes and goes because I didn’t get what I wanted or hoped for. My messy is that in every traditional sense of a woman my age, I won’t ever really fit in because I am not a mother. My messy is owning my struggle in my recovery. My messy is the risk I am taking in asking to be considered part of this project and, better yet, my courage to own my shame in my childless status.

But, I choose beautiful in my ever upward mess.

My beautiful is surviving failed IVF and surrogacy. My beautiful is accepting and redefining my childfree life. My beautiful is finding my chosen family within the love of our surrogate family especially with their unexpected pregnancy after our failed IVF tries. My beautiful is finding my role in the lives of all our chosen children. My beautiful is having the patience to find my faith again. My beautiful is owning my story, for the world to see, in order to break the silence of infertility but more importantly in claiming my ongoing recovery. My beautiful is knowing that I am a mother in more ways than most are open to considering. My beautiful is in trusting my gut wrenching ironic path to my ever upward light in being a childfree mother.

As, my beautiful is living my light, authentically brave, mess and all, no matter what. Because life in recovery is always a Messy, Beautiful ever upward journey.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!