Mourning What Should Have Been

I significant part of me cringes as I put the word should in the title of this post. As a therapist who works some using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) I have attempted to erase should from my vocabulary. I also work with my clients to do the same. As some CBT therapists say, "Don't should all over yourself!" Should is typically riddled with guilt and shame and just yuck. What do we need and want? Not, what should we... Change should to need or want and feel the difference, both when you speak to yourself and when expecting things from your loved ones. I should go to the gym.

Do I need or want to go to the gym?

He/She should know how I'm feeling right now.

I need to tell him/her how I feel and what I want.

I shouldn't feel sad any longer.

Do I need or want to figure out this sadness still?

~~~~

I wrote my first post for Ever Upward five short months ago. Never could I have dreamed how much my life would change. Never could I have dreamed how many amazing people I would "meet". Never could I have dreamed how much our stories are all connected and the embrace I've felt through this connection.

This connection has only been further solidified through my participation in Momastery's Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. Our stories, all messy and all beautiful, are what connect us to one another. I think, our stories, even more so, are what connect us back to ourselves. And, it seems our stories tend to have the major theme I often times see with my clients every day: mourning what should have been or what we thought should have been.

I think at times, at least for me, it can feel like these should have beens determine my everything; my every day, and even my every minute. And if I don’t practice the work of my recovery, I risk the should have beens taking over and defining my entire being. Just Google something like letting go of what isn’t and you will be overwhelmed by thousands of quotes on how we must let go of what isn’t in order to make room for what can be. In reality, this has probably been the major encompassing theme of Ever Upward from the beginning.

But what is striking me the most lately, is how much we judge others or lack empathy for others in regards to their mourning of their should have beens; their losses, their stories.

The very stories that seem and feel so different than ours, but I am realizing are so very much the same.

 
 

We all have should have beens…

I should have gone to school sooner.

I shouldn't have stayed so long.

I should have enjoyed my younger years more.

I should be able to forgive this by now.

I should have taken better care of my body.

I should have been more honest.

They shouldn’t have left me.

I should be better by now.

I should have left them.

I should be over this.

This list could go on and on. Ultimately, aren't we all just trying to figure out how to let go of what didn't turn out? To redefine after all our shoulds didn't come true?

And of course, there are the should have beens of motherhood and family, especially considering these are the ones that seem to go unspoken and judged the most.

Your child was born premature, you didn't get to hold him/her for weeks or months and you didn’t get that happy bring them home day or first few months.

You were miserably sick your entire pregnancy and you honestly hated every second of it, while also being so thankful for it and therefore felt guilty.

You lost a child way too early for anyone to bear, let alone understand the lifelong losses that come with that grief.

You were never able to even hold that child or only held that child for a few heartbreaking but  amazing hours.

You only achieved pregnancy through infertility measures and will never get to have wild drunk sex that ends up in your blessing of a child 40 weeks later.

You feel sad and guilty and mad that you didn’t start trying sooner.

You weren't planning on getting pregnant and therefore spent most of it scared to death rather than relishing every second of it.

You are a birth mom.

You are a mom mom.

You adopted your child or children or embryos and are so thankful for children but grieve that you will never get to see you and your partner’s genes combine.

You will never get to experience pregnancy yourself.

You have had to make major IVF decisions such as how many embryos to transfer, what to do with leftover embryos, what happens if you can’t afford another round of treatments, etc., etc.

You are blessed with one or two or even three children but always wanted a big family and it doesn’t seem to be happening, you feel the gamut of sadness, anger and guilt coupled with how lucky and blessed you are to have any children.

You are a stay at home mom but wish you were working.

You are a working mom but wish you were a stay at home mom.

You have a happy and healthy children but your friends don't, and you feel blessed and lucky but guilty, especially when sometimes you'd really like Sunday completely to yourself, on the couch watching The Walking Dead all day long.

Your infertility is due to one partner or maybe the combination of you together and it creates frustration, sadness, guilt and maybe even blame.

I am sure I am missing many, many more here.

And then there is my story, I wanted to a mom, I tried to a mom but it is not my journey to have. And I’ve worked to accept a childfree life and fight for my recovery. But now for the first time, I am beginning to experience those feelings of relief, calm and even gratitude when my chosen children don’t come home with us or they go to their own homes after visiting. Or that our Sunday is filled with whatever we want, even that day long marathon of The Walking Dead. Or that I don’t have to negotiate over meal time or wake up at the crack of dawn.

 
 

Does that mean I didn’t want our three babies enough? Does that mean I’m not sad anymore? Or does that simply mean I’m figuring out how to let go of what I wanted and hoped for. That I am figuring out my mourning for what should have been, and learning to accept my true childfree life.

It’s all so complicated; neither story better or worse or more difficult than the other. It’s just life, which includes suffering for us all. And it is our sufferings and our recoveries from them that make us who we are. As David Brooks wrote for the New York Times in his article titled What Suffering Does, “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.”

But it is through this ongoing process of healing, of figuring out what comes after the should have been, that we find ourselves and our story again.

Because, who are we to have the power to say what should have been?

I am not meant to be a mother.

Should I have been?

Perhaps, but continuing to insist on the should only denies my truth.

But more importantly, who are we to judge or question one’s grief around these sufferings or losses? Who are we to judge one for how they mourn their should have beens? Who are we to dare ask, "When are you going to get over it?"

I think we must figure out how we can we give ourselves, and others, permission to mourn their should have beens? Can we give ourselves, and others, permission to feel it all; the blessings, the lucky, the anger, the sadness, the guilt, and even, the shame.

Because, really it is through these permissions that our recoveries can begin. It is within these permissions that I finally put the puzzles pieces into my bigger life story. It is within these permissions that I can allow myself the relief, and even gratitude, of a childfree life while also, at the very same time, feeling my sadness, anger and envy of your childfull life.

It is within these permissions that we open up the space and light for the mourning of what should have been to become what needs to be.

It is within these permissions that I have found my purpose, and of course, my ever upward.

What are your should have beens? How do you practice your recovery to make the should have beens become the need to bes?

Chosen Children

A picture mail text of Lyla's drawing of us.

 
 

Snail mail of Joycelyn's drawing of the dogs.

A picture mail text of Lane with his "Justine socks" on.

 
 

A voice mail from the boys begging us to come play Just Dance.

My favorite picture of the boys cuddling with the three dogs watching cartoons.

A birthday card from McKinley.

The moms in my life will never know how much the small gesture of letting me know their children are thinking of me mean to me; as they mean the world.

I will forever spend my energy making sure these children know I love them and I am here for them and more than anything I want, and really need, to be part of their lives.

As, these are our chosen children.

The children we have the honor of being godparents to. The children we have the privilege of being their guardians. The children we get to see grow up. The children who ask to see us. The children who love us. The children we love more.

Or maybe, it's really that they are the children who have chosen us.

Surviving the losses of IVF and accepting a childfree life to redefine family for us has meant we figure out what it means to still have children in our lives. It means living my truth as a woman who wanted, and desperately, tried to have my own children. It means having the courage to say adoption isn't for us. And yet, it is also making sure my heart is not closed off to all the light and love that family and children can bring to my life, even if it comes with the bittersweet sadness that they aren't my own.

It means traveling to Vegas for McKinley's birthdays.

It means going to Noah's piano recitals.

It means sending happy birthday and happy valentine's videos of the dogs singing to all of the kids.

It means having a toy room in my house.

It means having the pool for everyone to enjoy all summer long.

It means watching the boys play the Wii for hours.

It means hosting chosen family every spring break and playing St. Louis tourist.

It means embracing my sadness that I will never get to parent in the traditional sense, in order to make room for the endless, ever upward light that all of these families and kids bring to my life every single day.

I do it because the alternative is too dark. I do it because it is my journey. I do it because I have fought for my recovery. I do it because it is ever upward.

And, because we have all chosen each other.

 
 

Worth Every Raindrop and Thunder Strike

It has been a week of witnessing the dichotomy between the sheer terror and the joyful hope of change. A week of asking clients to trust that if they feel the fear and choose change anyway there is light waiting for them. The fear of the storm that must be felt at the same time as having the courage for riding out and fighting through the storm, along with the bravery for the calm after it.

The work my clients do each week will be the scariest and most difficult of their lives. And yet it can, and will be the work that changes everything. The work that leads them back to their true, whole, healthy and authentically happy selves.

Even though we know we want, deserve and can do, be and have better, we are so fearful of it and scared to death of what it will take to get it.

So we settle and stand in our own way because it feels safer, even in the dark misery of it.

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I know, because I did it.

I know, because I didn't define my rock bottom for myself and life did it for me.

I know, because I've finally gotten out of my own way and fought for myself.

I know, because I felt the fear and I chose recovery anyway.

Our recoveries will all be different, but have no doubt, eventually we will each need to choose to recover. Because life is beautifully flawed and heart breakingly difficult.

But through the fear and the work of the storm, after we make the choice to change, lies the calm and brilliance of recovery.

Because we must be afraid and brave at the same time as Brené Brown has found in her research. We must feel the fear and choose ourselves in order to fight the fight of recovery.

I have my story, myself, to show as evidence. And I will model that every minute of all of my days.

I will model that it isn't easy; that there are setbacks and it definitely doesn't feel fair most of the time.

I will model that on the other side of the storm is ever upward light.

And, all I can hope and work for is that my clients, and my loved ones, see my fight and my light every day.

Because through me, I hope they can trust and have faith that I will fight alongside them. Constantly reminding them that their light is worth both riding out and fighting through the storm because the ever upward calm of recovery is worth every raindrop and thunder strike.

Shamed Silence Broken

Out at happy hour with several couples she’s never met. They are together because they are couples without children. She has taken the step forward in her childfree life to try to meet other couples like her, childfree, and yet she is quickly finding she does not fit in here either. There seems to be a lot of talk of how their houses are not childproof and how frustrating it can be that their other friends, the ones with kids, always expect that their kids are invited for gatherings. Or how much canceled plans can suck. Or how much they don’t want to talk about soccer games or potty training or sleep schedules.

She sits back and listens. Because this is, of course, what she does best. And this is, of course, what shame has silenced her to do.

~~~~

Childfree couples, partners without human children, maybe even without furry kids.

Perhaps historically, and unfairly, referred to as selfish people; ones who chose not to procreate. Who chose to not do what is expected of them by society and their families.

But what if they are simply couples who are willing to own their truths?

Couples who know they really don’t want kids of their own, even though they love kids.

Couples who know they really don’t want kids of their own, because they just don’t like them.

Couples who tried desperately to have kids but can’t.

Does it matter how the childfree status is come to?

Parts of her say, yes absolutely! Parts of her say no, why would it?

~~~~

 
 

But to own her truth, she breaks her silence…

“We actually have a toy room in our house,” she blurts out and then hesitates, but just for one second.

“We love kids and sometimes it gets old always having to go to our friends’ houses. So, with a toy room and a pool at our house, all the kids in our lives can grow up with us.”

For the most part, she is met with bewilderment and the subject is quickly changed.

But she breathes a sigh of freedom and truth. She gets it may not be easy to understand but she has done the work to accept her life, let go of what isn't  and redefine.

This is her truth, her story, no longer silenced shame.

She wanted to a be a mother, it did not work out and now she owning her story, living her truth out loud and lighting her ever upward.

This post inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence

46 Often Silenced, and Left Out, Parts of Our Infertility Stories

Infertility and IVF are finally beginning to gain some attention in the media; as more and more celebrities own their stories of conceiving their families through IVF and/or surrogacy and The Today Show portraying a couple throughout the entire process of consultation, injections and pregnancy. I am proud that the veil of silenced shame is beginning to lift, however I can't help but be frustrated by the continued invalidated and left out parts of our IVF stories and the constant hopeful, and yet misleading, message being delivered. So I am practicing my bravery and I have come up with 41 things often left out of our courageous stories. 39 Things the Media Silences About IVF

1. It only works about 30% of the time.

2. It’s expensive, very expensive. And most insurance policies do not cover it.

3. It’s painful; injections, vaginal ultrasounds with stimulated ovaries and swollen follicles, hot flashes, weight gain.

4. It’s a great way to make sex the least romantic and spontaneous part of your relationship.

5. Guys, get ready to go in a cup in a cold, sterile room all alone and possibly without any reading material and all the good sites blocked by hospital.

6. A baby isn’t the only way to find wholeness and happiness.

7. You can meet some amazing women through the online support groups, message boards and blogs.

8. It ONLY works 30% of the time.

9. It doesn’t always end with a baby.

10. Sometimes it ends with two.

11. Or three.

12. Or eight.

13. Or none.

14. There are couples it is never going to work for.

15. It’s painful; the Clomid crazy train and it's beyond up and down roller coaster mood swings.

16. If you collect a $1 from every person who has a child that says, 'You just have to ...', you'll be able to afford another round of IVF.***

17. It’s okay to stop.

18. It's even okay to stop before you get the baby.

19. It’s healthy and healing to talk about it; to talk about all sides of it and all the possibilities and outcomes.

20. You will have to ask and answer some of the heaviest and most difficult ethical questions of your life with limited resources and on a time crunch, sometimes revealing differing opinions between you and your partner.***

21. You may feel time crunch pressure to start the next round as “your eggs are dying by the second”.

22. The message of "just keep trying, it will work" feels invalidating, unrealistic, shaming and denying to many of our realities.

23. It’s SUPER expensive.

24. You may have to make emotionally and financially life altering decisions immediately after you just lost a dream (embryo, baby) and are actively grieving.

25. You or your spouse may discover you have a phobia to needles and are quite the fainter.

26. You may never feel panic quite like the panic you feel when you realize that your last chance didn’t work.***

27. That breath stealing, throw up panic and sadness. And yet, it can also come with a sense of bittersweet freedom of at least knowing something and having an answer. Even though it was not the something we so wished and hoped for.

28. You will wait, a lot.  In waiting rooms for procedures, for appointments and consults, and therefore find the funniest and weirdest things on YouTube to help pass the time and lighten the suffocating pressure of the process.

29. You will endure the wait of the tortuous and infamous two week wait, probably several times.

30. You will feel invisible and alone, even though I promise with all of my everything that you are not.

31. You will experience moments of unadulterated belly laughter.

32. You will experience moments of sheer terror.

 
 

33. You may have moments of gut wrenching breath stealing loss.

34. And you will have moments of jubilant soul completion joy...

35. You will be forever changed because of the journey.

36. Your marriage or relationship will also be forever changed; made stronger or completely ripped apart.***

37. It might work.

38. It might not work.

39. It’s okay to stop.

40. It’s okay to keep going.

41. You will eventually find and conceive your chosen family.

42. Every family looks different, and yet, is complete just the same.

43. Either way you'll need to choose change and recovery, and do the work to be okay.

44. Because it will be okay.

45. Because, it is worth it, baby or not.

46. And, because you can find your own ever upward within the journey and in owning your story.

What would you add to the list?

**After some much appreciated feedback and my own consideration, I changed the original title of 39 Things the Media Silences About IVF to the current title in hopes of more exposure and education. Always growing, always learning, always ever upward.**

***Thank you to Shana for her addition of #19, Valerie for her addition of #24, Jenna for her addition of #36 and Colleen for her addition of #20***

Reaching Through the Keyhole of Your Closet

Every day I have the privilege of witnessing my clients' bravery in session. Every day when I read my Freshly Pressed and the other blogs I follow with my morning cup of coffee I am in awe of the vulnerability and bravery people write with. And every day, I choose to live, write and love with wholehearted brave vulnerability. The vulnerability and bravery movement is in full force. The songs Brave by Sara Bareilles and Roar by Katy Perry. Authors such as Danielle LaPorte, Kris Carr, Gabrielle Bernstein, and Brené Brown. Websites like Upworthy and SoulPancake. The thousands of blogs being shared via Twitter and Facebook everyday. And best of the all, the research is backing it up. People who live wholeheartedly, authentically vulnerable and brave are happier and healthier people who have healthy, real and fulfilling relationships.

Vulnerability and bravery are also showing up a lot in my office this week. I have had several clients so excited to tell me about an instance where they finally made the excruciating choice to take the risk and be vulnerable with someone; to be their true self, honest and authentic. To witness their soul expanding amazement of feeling heard, seen and understood is something I will never take for granted.

I have also been blessed with the honor of witnessing friends and friends of friends openly talk about their IVF journeys after reading Ever Upward; whether sharing for the first time or telling a loved one, or even on Facebook, or by sharing or commenting on my blog, that IVF is how they are trying to achieve or have achieved their family. This terrifying, but incredible, courage that is required to finally break the shameful silence that IVF makes us feel we have to live by brings tears of joy and hope to my eyes..

 
 

This bravery and authentic truth telling, means we are all finally feeling it; feeling the magic of true connection, the power of being brave and the freedom of stepping out of our closets.

We all have a closet, because hard is hard, as Ash Beckhman states in her brilliant TED talk. Hard is telling someone you love them for the first time, hard is living your life openly, hard is asking for help, hard is just hard. We cannot wholeheartedly live inside our closets, only peeking through the keyhole.

All of this vulnerability and bravery coming just before I pack up and leave Tuesday for The Daring Way certification training with Brené Brown herself.  Just about two years ago my life changed when the pastor in my old church spoke about a TED talk by Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher. Brown’s, now famous, The Power of Vulnerability TED talk is one of TEDs most viewed videos. It is also the speech that has catapulted Brown into, not only psychology and social work fame, but mainstream Oprah fame.

Living wholeheartedly and authentically vulnerable, which requires showing some major brave, have been an integral part in my recovery after the losses of IVF and in learning to accept a childfree life.

Ever Upward is my authentic truth telling.

My story.

 
 

It is also my hope to show that living it all out loud makes life better.

I guess it is my way of showing my love to reach through the keyhole of your closet, hoping you will take my hand and live your ever upward right alongside me.

Conceiving Our Chosen Family

 
 

Sandwiched in the third row seat, between 11 year old Nathan and 5 year old Lyla, on our way to Monster Jam and Disney on Ice, respectively, she catches me off guard with her 5 year old curious love. “You’re like our family, but not our family, but still family,” she says while looking up at me with her big blue eyes.

“That is why we say you are our chosen family,” I try to explain.

Her big blue eyes focus in on me with a confused tender smirk as she tries to figure out what that exactly means in her 5 year old brain.

Nathan, her big brother, interjects trying to explain how we all came into each other’s lives in a way she can understand. “Justine can’t have babies, so Mommy was going to carry their baby for them. But it didn’t work, and we got Tipton instead but they are still our family.”

Bright blue eyes glazed over, she leans in closer to me and we have completely lost her. I reassure her that sometimes we aren’t related to our family like she is to her brothers. She didn’t get to choose Nathan or Tipton to be her family, but we all got to choose each other as family.

5 year old brain satisfied for now.

We set forth to conceive our own children, with Michelle’s help, or at least the help of her healthy body (and uterus). However, neither Chad and I, nor Ben and Michelle, could have ever imagined the destined family that would eventually be the result of our IVF journey.

They have been in our lives for 3 years, and yet it feels like we have known each other forever. We all began our journey with the hope of babies for Chad and I when Michelle answered my ad on a surrogacy website. We did two transfers, 3 embryos, never to get pregnant. And now, we continue our journey with us learning to accept a childfree life and the unexpected expansion of Ben and Michelle’s family with their new son Tipton.

It isn’t exactly what we all had hoped for.

It isn’t exactly what we all had expected.

Hell, it isn’t what we paid thousands of dollars and put our bodies through synthetic hormonal hell for.

It’s better.

Sometimes bittersweet.

But always better.

And, without a doubt, exactly as it is supposed be, as I've been able to consider it pure joy.

When I look into Michelle’s eyes and I hear her voice, I am reminded of that powerful moment in the operating room during the first transfer. We looked into each other’s eyes all gowned up with her on the table ready to become the home to our babies for the next 40 weeks. Tears of complete fear with unbridled joy filled both of our eyes, and in that 30 seconds of life, we held each other and hoped and loved with every cell of our bodies, hearts and souls.

Never could we have imagined what was ahead for us. Never could we have imagined the ups and the downs we’ve survived through together. Never could we have imagined we would have the story we have, or the one that has yet to be written.

And never could I have imagined I would find myself, my home and my destined chosen family all from a woman I met online.

In her, I have found my ever upward family.

 
 

The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

EVER UPWARD: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed World

by Justine Brooks Froelker, LPC

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

The ever present, innocent, and well meaning question everyone asks when they learn of my motherhood status and how I got here. Yet, to those of us 1 in 8 couples who undergo infertility treatments, this question does not feel at all innocent or well meaning. It not only feels invalidating to the battle we’ve just been through, but it minimizes the difficulty and pain involved in the adoption process.

Ever Upward is a surprising story of triumph over terrible luck. As a professional therapist and survivor, really thriver, of the infertility journey, this is the story of how I have redefined my childless life into a full and happy childfree life. Ever Upward fills the current gap on the infertility bookshelf. It is also the voice for those who have been silenced by the battle of infertility. Ever Upward is my story. The story of how I learned to be okay, whole and happy, even when life just didn’t turn out how I had hoped. Ever Upward is also a story that resonates with that of many; a story of pain, triumph and acceptance. Finally, Ever Upward opens the conversation to the other side of infertility, the side asking for understanding and acceptance of the path that sadly doesn’t include children.

Ever Upward is Justine’s story, and yet it is every woman’s story; mother or not, because behind the wall of silence, shame, the smile, and the ‘I can do everything’ attitude lies millions of women suffering in silence with the pain of infertility. And yet our connection to our stories is the only way back to the truth of who we are, to own ourselves again.

Today's post is inspired by the Wordpress Daily Prompt: Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.

* Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed World will be published with Morgan James Publishing in the Fall of 2014.*

I Am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic

A defining moment for me in this Ever Upward journey was during Elizabeth Gilbert's keynote speech at the Emerging Women Live 2013 Conference in Boulder. She told her story of how she first lost three other versions of her current bestselling novel The Signature of All Things before finding what is the magic on bookshelves now; much like losing my three babies in our IVF journey. Elizabeth spoke about these losses in the sense, that they were never her magic to grasp. She further described how magic will float around asking the universe, "Are you my mother? Are you my mother?", finally, settling in the space where it is meant to be nurtured and grown. "Are you my mother?"

 
 

This question has developed so many meanings to me over the last year or so, especially as I feel like I have found a major spark of my magic through this journey.

Which means, I know, I am a mother in many ways.

As I have written before, I will never be the traditional mother, raising my own children, biological or not. However, I have learned, and even continue to cultivate, my broader definition of mother. This definition made even clearer by my peers. One who assured me I would have a lifetime of meaningful relationships with my friends' children and family's children, maybe even more influential than their relationships with their own parents. One who assured me that my mothering skills would find their outlet through my dogs but, even more so, in helping my clients and others. And finally, one who wrote this comment on my Taking Off the Armor post, “For what it is worth, in my view you chose to be and are a mother even though you suffered the injustice of not being able to raise any of the babies that ought to have come from your transferred embryos.” She has helped me to see, that I am a mother, just not one who was meant to carry out the job here on the physical earth.

Family and mother, has many definitions. I have no doubt, these definitions will be the topics of future posts, as I continue to discover and nurture the magic of my Ever Upward journey.

I am a mother, but not in your conventional sense of the word.

I am a mother because...

I am a nurturer.

I am a helper.

I am a mentor.

I am a healer.

I am an advisor.

I am a coach.

I am a teacher.

Most of all, I am mydefinition of a mother. One that the people who know and love me understand and root for.

One where my magic grows.

What magic are you a mother to?

Pushing Through Fear to Accept Joy, Hell, to Fight For It

In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Amy Adams thanked her daughter for teaching her to accept joy and let go of fear. This is a lesson we all need to be reminded of.

Amy Adams found it through becoming a mother.

I have found it through accepting I will never be a mother.

Choosing to change my life, practicing happy, finding my definition of a childfree life and living it all out loud has meant feeling the fear but doing it all any ways.

Being brave, living authentically and showing up means we feel fear and discomfort. Rather than letting go of the fear, I challenge all of us to push through it.

Feel the fear, and do it anyways.

Because this is growth.

 
 

This is fighting for joy.

Moving through this fear allows us to trust the bravery that is required to accept joy.

If you are living your truth authentically, loving wholeheartedly, finding your faith and being brave enough to connect and practice vulnerability you are pushing through fear to accept joy.

Which is what life needs to be about. It is here you will find yourself, your journey, your happiness.

It is here that ever upward lies.

Step toward it.

Open yourself up to it.

Embrace it.

And fight like hell for it!

Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Publishing a book and blog for the entire world to read, means one must be ready for the critics, even the really unforgiving, judgmental and unsympathetic ones. Sometimes they are strangers on the other side of the world and other times they are your very own loved ones.

I’ve experienced my first super harsh critic. And one who said the words I have feared the greatest.

You CHOSE to not have kids.

Publicly starting the conversation that it is okay to stop IVF treatments before getting the intended result of becoming a mother and publicly owning our decision to not adopt have been some of the scariest things I have ever done.

Scary because I have ultimately feared this exact judgment.

What if people think I did not want kids bad enough because I didn’t do 5, 10 years of treatments? What if people think I did not want kids bad enough because I’m willing to admit that adoption isn’t right for me?

What if people think I didn’t want to be a mom bad enough?

Maybe to some, I have chosen to not be a mother.

But I know my truth.

I fought really hard to be a mother. I paid lots of money to be a mother. I endured painful tests and procedures to be a mother. I put my body through synthetic hormonal hell to be a mother. I put my faith and trust into many doctors and other humans to be a mother.

Does accepting that the battle would never have my desired outcome mean I chose to not be a mom? Does redefining my life and figuring out childfree mean I chose to not be a mom? Does accepting what is mean I chose to not be a mom?

Maybe to some, this is my choice to not have children. But, I know I tried to be a mom. And, though, I respect your opinion I will not be defined by it.

I am working every day to accept graciously that I will never be a mom in the traditional sense.

 
 

And I know, accepting this as my truth doesn’t mean I didn’t want it.

And I know, redefining everything doesn’t mean I chose not to have kids.

I have chosen what I can. I have accepted what is.

And I write about it, to help and heal myself, and hopefully others.

And I will not apologize for that, as I choose to be my own witness in search of others; my warriors and friends.

And the only thing scarier than publicly owning all of this as my truth?

Would be not owning it.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want or what we dreamed of or what we fought really hard for or, even, what we feel is meant as ours.

Sometimes we lose our way, our truth, our dreams and faith.

But, sometimes it is through these very never meant to be’s that we find ourselves, our journey and our truth.

No matter the judgments and shaming and misunderstanding, this is my story of not just proving it, but owning it.

So be clear as I clarify for my critics, I will not armor up, I will not shy away and I will not stop living my authentic truth.

Because this is my ever upward.

Wallow, But Just For a Bit, Then Stop Sitting in the Shit

I will fully admit I had a rough day yesterday. I wallowed. I really wallowed for a bit.

Going to the OB/GYN is never fun for a woman, but it can definitely be hell for a childless woman. Let alone getting news that is it quite possible that IVF triggered my useless ovaries to develop painful cysts which are now causing major back pain, and having to remind my team of doctors that IVF didn’t work for us, there is no baby, and yes we are done trying.

I cried.

I pouted.

I talked.

“I’m frustrated.”

“I’m pissed”.

“It's not fucking fair.”

Then life somehow pulls you out if, but only if you have your eyes wide open to it.

I had some amazing sessions with clients. I reminded myself of my own session with my therapist. The puppies finally played in the deep snow and made me laugh just when I needed to. And three of my favorite little boys left me a voicemail and sent me a video text message.

 
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As my therapist reminded me earlier this week, “You have chosen what to do with all of this. You could never not be Ever Upward; always growing, learning, changing, educating, evolving, and figuring it out. “

And she’s right

I didn’t get to choose that I would spend a year of my life in a body cast after two back surgeries. I didn’t get to choose that IVF did not work for us. And I definitely didn't choose that my body feels like it is rebelling against my childless status right now.

But I can choose resiliency. I can choose to speak the truth about IVF and loss. I can choose to connect with others through our stories. I can choose where I go from here and who I want to be. I can choose my ever upward.

My clients also reminded me this week as they continue to fight for themselves, change for the better and not be their pasts, their  struggles, traumas or losses.

I choose to fight too.

My dogs reminded me to get out of my head and to just laugh; watching them play in the snow is pure joy.

I choose joy.

And finally, three of my favorite kiddos, begging me to come play Just Dance 2014… well nothing makes me smile more than that.

I choose love (and fun).

Life, God, Mother Nature, Humanity, whatever you believe in, will always send us the message to remind us that there is a higher purpose to our journey.

We simply have to be open enough to choose it.

So wallow, but just for a bit, we are totally allowed.

But be careful of sitting in the shit for too long, you just might miss the message; the moment of pure joy, the love, the choice of your ever upward.

So Very Different, and Yet the Very Same

“The more specific, the more general.” The words spoken by Nancy Levin at the Emerging Women 2013 Conference. Her words have never spoken more loudly to me than in the last couple of months of writing this blog. Through Ever Upward I have had the honor of being able to connect with so many different people, from literally all around the world, and I have felt just how true these words really are.

I conceived Ever Upward as a place to continue my healing from IVF.

I birthed Ever Upward to continue to work on the acceptance of my childfree life.

I write Ever Upward to help others.

I publish it to connect.

Even within the world of infertility, our stories are so very different and yet the very same.

No matter what brought you to IVF; cancer, back surgeries, endometriosis, unexplained infertility, recurrent pregnancy loss, etc.

And no matter what your outcome; biological children, adopted embryos you carried, gestational or traditional surrogacy, adoption or never to be born children.

So very different, and yet the very same.

All the scenarios have losses and pains and hurts. All the scenarios were not what we had planned or hoped for or envisioned for ourselves. All the scenarios are invisible to the outside world and hardly ever spoken about. All the scenarios therefore create prisons around us with only shame as our cell mate. But really, all the scenarios are not really all that different than just everyday life, everyday loss.

To have technology to make babies is nothing short of a miracle, but it comes at very high costs; more money than most of us really have, lots of pain and side effects and the emotional turmoil. No matter the reason for using any type of assisted fertility treatments, there are huge losses incurred. Couples who must use infertility treatments will never get to say, “We just had too much wine one night and weren't as careful as we should have been.” Or “We tried for months, and we conceived on this date through love.” Those of us who have survived infertility treatments, conceived (or tried to conceive) using injections, sterile rooms, plastic cups and a team of doctors all around us.

To not be able to conceive naturally cuts deeply and to not be able to carry a pregnancy feels gut wrenchingly unnatural.

And no matter the outcome of infertility treatments, there too, are always losses. To be blessed with children through the process is a dream come true, and makes all of it worth it (so I’m told). And yet, I wonder, can it possibly erase the left over trauma suffered throughout the process, both financial and emotional? Getting to experience pregnancy but with adopted embryos means grieving the loss of never getting to see what your biological children would have looked like or been like. Surrogacy means missing out on the experience of pregnancy. Adopting, perhaps always wondering what your biological children would have been like and maybe always worrying about the future. And finally, the never to be born children…

If we aren’t careful all of these scenarios could leave gaping holes inside our souls.

Frankly, it is all loss. And life can be full of loss.

All our stories and our losses, infertility survivor or not, are not so different.

Losing loved ones, losing dreams, losing relationships, losing health, losing faith, losing

It may be something that cannot be seen from the outside and yet is such a significant part of who we are. No matter the loss, it changes us forever.

But that change is up to us.

So, Ever Upward may be a blog about infertility and about figuring out my childfree life.

But really, it is just about life.

For life.

And finding the ever upward.

My Parental Dream: "They Have You!"

It’s always just been a matter of time until the wonderment and curiosity of the kids in my life led them to ask, “Why don’t Chad and Justine have kids?”  My friends have already asked me to think about how to answer this question.  My authentic response for them to say, “They have you!”  Or as our friends’ son Isaac has said before, “You don’t have your own kids to fetch you Halloween candy, so that’s why you have us!” I love kids.  I love your kids.  I love seeing pictures of them and hearing stories about them, and I’ll like every single one of those posts on Facebook.  I want to spend time with them and I want to be invited to their parties, games and recitals.  You don’t have to not invite me because you assume I don’t want to be there or maybe because you are trying to protect me from my sadness, anger and loss.  It’s my job to ask you to stop if I need you to; it’s my job to put up those boundaries.  So if you aren’t asking or inviting because you feel pity for me, I’m sorry but that speaks more about you than me, especially now.

I will never be a parent.  But we still have a pretty sweet toy room at our house!  We built our home to create lifelong memories with all of our friends and family and their children.  Our home is a kid’s paradise in many ways; we have the dogs, we have a fish tank, we have a Wii, we have toys, games, books, and colors, a huge yard and a pool.

I will never be a parent.  But I will always volunteer to rock the babies in the nursery at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Specialty Hospital.  And I love it, every single second of it is about love and connection.  There simply is no room for anger, sadness or bitterness in that space.

I will never be a parent.  But I will spend the rest of my life making sure your kids know I love them and am here for them.  I will be a safe place for them to be whoever they are.  I will be here to guide them.  I will be here to love them.  I will be here to spoil them.  I will be here to just have fun with them.

The purpose of my life has been to embody what it means to redefine.  You lose one dream, you have to find and figure out another while also recategorizing the lost dream.

I lost my dream of dance after 2 back surgeries but found psychology and helping others within that nightmare.  I have also found different ways to still have dance in my life, whether or not it is being, admittedly, completely obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance or just dancing to my happy songs every single morning.

I’ve lost the dream of being a parent but found writing, educating, connection and myself within this nightmare.  And I am continuing to find my way in keeping some form of the parental dream through my home, rocking babies at Ranken Jordan and my relationships with your children.

Some hopes and dreams are never meant to be ours.  They simply are not our purpose, our magic.  Unfortunately, so many people spend their lives focused so much on the lost dream, holding onto it so tightly they have no energy or space to see their new dream, their new magic.

In order to fully let go of a lost dream, or a dream that was simply never meant to be mine, I've had to redefine it.  It is within my new definition that I have finally found my truth... myself... my ever upward.

I am...

Reminding my clients every day they are not their struggles definitely serves as a constant reminder of who I chose to be.  I’m always educating my clients on how to separate out their struggles and concerns, and not internalize them to be all of who they are.  We are not the things that have happened to us, we are not our struggles or our diagnoses, we are not our faults or shortcomings…unless we choose to be. I do not have to be my thoughts and allow them the power to change the way I feel and behave.  I can choose to have more power in this life, I choose whether I am a victim, survivor or, better yet, if I strive to really thrive.  This is my choice.  My authentic truth lies within me, hell it is fighting to get out of me, all I have to do is take care of it enough for it to shine.

We may have depression; we don’t have to be depressed.

We may struggle with anxiety; we don’t have to choose to be anxious.

We may feel safer behind the brick wall; we don’t have to be alone.

We may ____________________ (fill in the blank), it is our choice to BE ________________________.

Ever Upward is how I’m choosing wholeness, fulfillment and happiness despite not getting the joy of motherhood.  Making the choice, sometimes daily, to not be sad, cynical, bitter, and angry but to find the brighter light for me.

I don’t get to be a mother, but I can choose to be so much more…

I am …

a daughter

a wife

a friend

a sister

an aunt

a helper

a therapist

a storyteller

a writer

a dog mom

an educator

a speaker

a spark

Most of all, I’m working to really own it!