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 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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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 Rare Kind of Parenthood

My latest for HuffPost Parents. It is some of my most important writing and is part of something I had hoped to use in my TEDx talk. But sharing it here felt right and I simply could not sit on it any longer. ~~~

I Will Never Birth a Child, But I'm Still a Parent

It is not uncommon that an interview with Kim Cattrall be shared on multiple media outlets. However, it is uncommon when you consider one of the topics she discussed: how she parents even though she does not have her own children.

Across social media her quotes ignited comments of both major support and criticism. As an advocate for breaking the silence of infertility, pregnancy loss and recovery I was excited and as a writer, I have my own words.

~~~

I always knew my journey to parenthood would not be traditional, and yet I never could have imagined the unexpected extraordinary life that has been born of my journey.

I met Michelle on a surrogacy website. My husband and I were beginning the journey to make our family through gestational surrogacy. Michelle was a mother of two children and a first time surrogate. We did In vitro fertilization (IVF), putting both of our bodies through synthetic hormonal hell, transferred a total of three embryos, lost our three babies and our dreams to make our family ended.

Who are we if we are not parents? What is our legacy if no one carries on our family name, our gorgeous red hair, vivacious laugh and vibrant, passionate personalities?

Click here to read the whole piece.

Changing the Invisible Longing to Empowered Ever Upward

My latest original piece for HuffPost Parents:

Making the Invisible Longing Visible

A week after National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), when I reared my brave heart and our story ran on CNN, I sat in my own therapist's office with tears running down my face and my voice adamant.

Invisible.

Sad.

Angry.

Disappointed.

Fired up.

Just human.

Or at least that is what Shellie, my therapist, reminded that I am.

I have survived my infertility journey and I work every day to thrive thereafter as a forever healing childfull parent.

I advocate every day to break the silence and change the messages as I help others through their journeys both as an author and as a therapist.

Click here to read more.

Shifting the Definition of Success

She is out there; for all the world to love and judge. She has been born; for all the world to embrace or reject.

She is shining bright; whether or not she sells or bombs.

At this point the making of Ever Upward has been years, and as of last week she has now been born into this big, scary and incredible world.

And, it feels awesome.

 
 

Saturday was my first book signing in a real book store. I went in with absolutely no expectations, or at least I tried as the very normal human being that I am.

No expectations=no disappointment.

Right?

And, just like everything else in this incredible journey, He had a lesson for me.

I had 20 people RSVP for the Facebook invite. The store manage at Barnes & Noble said that if I sold 10 books it would be considered a very successful signing.

Part of me me thought for sure this was doable. And of course, that perfectionist part of me desperately wanted those 10 sales, better yet 11!

But then there was reality. It was a super nice day in St. Louis on Saturday, which is sometimes hard to find in early Spring. I am a first time author. And, my book is about one of the most shamed and misunderstood topics in our society.

Shit, I'd be lucky if I sold a couple books. And 45 minutes into the signing, I had settled for selling even just 1.

Panic did try to settle in off and on, especially those first 45 minutes.

But, I fought her off by choosing my perspective. I practiced gratitude.

I am an author. I am an author signing her first book in a real bookstore. 

God, I am grateful.

And of course, He quickly started showing exactly why I was there that day for my first book signing.

And, it was not to sell books. For the record, I only sold 3 or 4 that day and only a few of those 20 RSVPs showed up.

I was there to connect and educate people.

First, was the older woman who stopped by and told me about her grown children who went through infertility. As we chatted, she was adamant that they got kids though so they are completely fine and would not need my book. You can bet I took that moment. I pointed out that part of the title is Lifelong because the infertility journey changes us forever, even if you do get the happy, healthy kids out of it.

No sale but she promised to tell her kids about the book.

Next there was the woman who looked at me with the fellow warrior compassion and said, "I had to go through infertility too and it didn't work for me either." She then told me about her two amazing daughters she adopted from China. We talked about the childfull life and the scars that the infertility journey leaves us with.

No sale but we connected as mothers, her as a mother to her adopted girls and me as a childfull mother.

That perfectionistic panic and doubt tried really hard to take over here. If I couldn't get these two women to buy my book, then I did not stand a chance of making one sale today.

And then He gifted me the moment that the entire day was for.

A mother and her three kids were lingering by the table, I smiled and said, "Hi!"

The mother then pushed the younger daughter forward and said, "She would really just like to meet a real life author."

My heart soared and I smiled hugely, "I guess that is me, I am a real life author now."

The girl, maybe 10 or 11 years old came right up.

"How do you exactly write a book?" she asked excitedly.

 
 

As I am telling her my book writing process her mom picks up Ever Upward to read the cover and the back cover, she lights up, "They're IVF babies!" as she places her hands on the tops of the girl's and her twin brother's heads.

She goes on to explain that they both know how hard mom and dad had to fight to get them and how they are products of infertility treatments. And then her eyes fill with tears as she realizes that infertility did not work for me. I tell her that Ever Upward is about my journey, defining my own happy ending and how I live a childfull life.

And, that I am okay.

The conversation continued with much excitement. I gave the little girl an Ever Upward journal, "For free!?!", she exclaimed. And she asked me to sign it.

I made her promise that she would write in it every day for at least 30 minutes because this helps our creative writing muscle grow. Her mom then explained that she would be homeschooling next year and she looked at her daughter and said, "Maybe she will be your English pen pal? Why don't you ask her?"

I of course said yes. As they walked away, I took that all familiar deep knowing breath and felt my soul settle, tears came to my eyes and I got it.

No sale but an amazing moment of childfull living.

That is ever upward.

I was in the bathroom when they were checking out with their other purchases, the little girl was upset when I wasn't at the table anymore. When she realized I hadn't left she ran up and gave me a huge, and quite possibly, the best hug ever. I reminded her to keep writing and to definitely email me.

I pray I hear from her and I pray her mom knows how much that moment meant to me. And best of all, I am so thankful that some of my closest friends and my family were there to share this with me.

I have always known Ever Upward was not about the royalty pay outs or the fame. But, society (and my own perfectionism) can really challenge this truth at times. I am thankful that through practicing my daily work in recovery, I was open enough to accept the gift of what my book signing was really meant to be for and mean; connection and education.

Doing this work allows me to be open to what He has in store for me, the true gifts. It is only through this lifelong work that I allow it to be good.

Better than good; ever upward.

~~~

If you have read Ever Upward, leaving a review on Amazon helps in the exposure the book gets on search engines and I appreciate the feedback so much. Please consider leaving a review.

National Infertility Awareness Week is next week. Please consider viewing, sharing and telling CNN that my iReport story needs to be featured. Help those still in the trenches of infertility and those of us who it didn't work for know they are not alone.

The Night Before Birth

I cannot tell you how many times and in how many different ways I have been asked how I have prepared for the launch of my first book, Ever Upward

What are you doing? What do you have planned? Who have you hired? Are you ready? Is it going well?

Here I am after seeing seven clients today on the eve before my baby enters the world. Here I am feeling a little bit of everything in anticipation. Here I am feeling like I suppose many mothers feel on the night before they give birth to their child. Because in many ways, this process, I can only imagine, has many parallels to pregnancy (except, of course, I will not need an epidural tomorrow).

I have prepared for months. I have changed many things about myself in the care of this baby. I have fought hard through the difficult days. I have felt every emotion, sometimes all at the exact same time. I have planned as much as I can plan. I have sought help and support and I have received lots of love in return.

And, now tomorrow she will be here for all the world to see.

And, I am as ready as I can be.

And, I know I am surrounded by more love than I ever dreamed.

Ever Upward is coming into the world with the support, love and light of not only my friends and family but also that of many I have never met. I am overwhelmed and so thankful for the support from my blogging family, Twitter community and all the fellow warriors who have supported the book thus far. I still cannot believe I am launching with 50 Amazon reviews.

Tomorrow, I will be doing the biggest part of how I have launched this book: seeing clients. Because, frankly that is the job that pays the bills. But, tomorrow evening I will celebrate with a few of my favorite people eating a nice dinner out and toasting that Ever Upward is finally here.

I will also close my eyes, take that breath and feel my three lights; my babies I never got to hold here but who have changed me forever. I will honor those three soul scars while at the very same time trusting my ever upward. And, so in that same breath I will also feel Him and say thank you with a heart full of joy, love, sadness and hope.

Most of all I am going to lean into the glory of this light, which is actually my light. Because this has been some of the most difficult work of my life; and yet, the most important.

It is with this trust that I will lean in, let go and know this is just the beginning.

 
 

~~~

I'd love to see pictures of you and your copy of Ever Upward at your favorite bookstore or in your favorite reading spot. Post to your social media walls and make sure to tag me or Ever Upward (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and use the hashtag: #everupward. I'll be giving away an Ever Upwardjournal each week for the next few weeks!

Please consider sharing and supporting my story on CNN's iReport here. It would be amazing for the other side of infertility to be featured.

Moving Through Not Fitting In

Many of my closest friends have not had to think about their fertility much. They began trying, they conceived, had relatively easy pregnancies and deliveries and, best of all, have allowed me to be a part of their growing families. Then there are my friends who have struggled in making their families. They know the two week waits, the lifelong losses and heartaches and the financial and emotional consequences that seem to last a lifetime. But even still, they were able to have the children; the traditional happy ending.

Then there is me.

Sometimes that sense of being different than every other woman in the room can feel like it is literally taking my breath away. The sense of not fitting in can feel especially difficult when it catches me off guard and is during a time that I am so grateful for.

Chad and I spent the weekend out in Vegas for our goddaughter, McKinley’s 2nd birthday. We love spending this time with my friend Casey and her family, as we are so thankful to be a part of McKinley’s life. She quite literally is the brightest ray of sunshine and fills my heart and soul up so much, I am so blessed that she is one of our chosen children.

And yet there I was at her 2nd birthday party where everyone other woman there had at least one child or one on the way, feeling like I was the last kid called to join the team. Watching Mac play with all her friends was so much fun but not knowing many of the other guests very well left me observing from the sidelines; which as a therapist, I'll admit, is honestly one of my favorite things to do.

But then it settled in, that nagging you are very noticeably different than all these women. You do not have anything to contribute to these conversations.

And I struggled.

Fuck.

It bothered me.

It bothered me way more than I wanted it to or expected it to.

I soon realized, I also did not have my usual back up. When I am around mothers who know me well I do tend to be pulled into the motherly conversations most simply because of what I do for a living. I realized this weekend that the fact that I am a therapist, and that it is so much of who I am and not just what I do, has been a saving grace in this lifelong recovery from infertility and living a childfulllife. It is a saving grace because my professional opinion is often asked and the parenting I do with my clients is often recognized. That and I have really amazing friends who respect my opinion and love me well.

What I think I am learning now is that I need to believe in this part of my parenthood as much as my closest friends do. I need to believe in it enough to show myself and others that I too fit in, even at the 2 year old birthday party with all the other mothers.

 
 

Because I have a lot to contribute.

Because I do belong.

Because I am a parent.

So much of this lifelong recovery of thriving after infertility is our own work. I cannot say how long that twinge of feeling like I don't fit in will last, maybe forever. But, I do need to acknowledge that it is up to me to trust that I always belong and to believe in my own worthiness as a parent in this world.

~~~~

I have 26 days to reach the Thunderclap campaign goal. Just a few clicks and Thunderclap does all the work for you on April 7th.

I am also just over halfway there to my goal of launching with 50 Amazon reviews. Just click the Kindle version of the book in order to leave your own review of Ever Upward.

The Lifelong Loss of a Due Date and Still Choosing to Be Ever Upward

August 31st, 2012 The day we dreamed our first child (or children, as we transferred two embryos) were to be born. We would have hoped to welcome one or two babies into the world around this time. But they were never our babies to have on this side of eternity. I was never meant to mother them in the traditional sense. Always to be just a dream and yet so much more.

But instead we spent time together in Lake Tahoe redefining after infertility treatments, side effects, financial stressors and no babies to show for it.

I had to walk back into myself that day. Because if I didn't make that choice I think I may have literally died of a broken heart.

As the day passed...I chose myself again.

As the day passed by I chose to find a piece of ever upward.

August 31st, 2013

They would have been one year old today. So much work and healing in the last year, on myself especially but, also in every single relationship in my life.

But instead we moved into Mason House; the family home we created to share with our loved ones for years to come.

As the year passed by...the pain began to subside just a tiny bit and it stings a little less every day as we actively find other love and joy.

As the year passed by I chose to make my ever upward.

August 31st, 2014

I felt off all day. But I didn't even notice the date necessarily, I actually was a day off. Obviously, I knew in my heart and soul that our babies were due this day and that today they would have been  two years old.

But instead I spent the day with my namesake, Abigail Justine. I held her, I loved on her and played with her. We went and saw butterflies together and rode the carousel. I have no doubt she is the enough in my life after so much almost enough.

 
Lifelong losses of due date choosing to be ever upward
Lifelong losses of due date choosing to be ever upward
 

This and my loved ones are beginning to read my book, Ever Upward. As I watch them feel the book in their hands and take in the beauty of the cover, I see the smile come across their faces, their eyes fill with tears and true love and support exuding from them. In all of this I feel many of the same feelings I think I may have had had they been holding my child.

Ever Upward has been a labor of my love and pain. It has been conceived through the dream of becoming a mother and the loss of that dream. And, it has been birthed with the help and love of so many. Ever Upward is my baby many years in the making.

As the years pass by...the scars heal a bit more, I embrace it all and trust my ever upward.

As the years pass by I choose to be ever upward.

And, most of all I make sure to be open to the ever upward that has come from the lifelong losses of this journey through my work.

These choices are not consolation. These choices don't erase the losses. These choices can never make it better.

These choices are simply the lights of what happens when I do the work to let go of what isn't in order to grasp what is.

This is the light, the love, the essence of ever upward.

This is the choice to be ever upward.

*To read more about my experiences through two back surgeries, the survival of infertility and how I chose to change my life make sure preorder your copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.*

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

This post linked up with Amateur Nester's Link-Up!