In a Whisper or a Shout, Owning It All

Through fear. Through judgment.

To own it all.

But how?

In Through Fear and Judgment To Own It All, I Dare You I wrote about how the ownership of my story, of all of our stories, is done not without major fear and not without facing judgment.

And, how we must still fight for it, through the fear and judgment.

This is not easy work.

But, it is simple.

I am sure some of my clients cringe in annoyance as they read these words, as I say them often in my office in regards to the work of recovery.

It is not easy but, it is simple.

The work of recovery is simple, I know how to do it. Putting one foot in front of the other and taking the best next step.

It is simple.

But, good God, not easy.

As some days this work can feel almost impossible to practice.

I believe this can also be true of owning our stories.

I had a client who had a great moment of vulnerability with a friend recently and this very topic came up. Her friend made a brilliant point, you can own your story softly, it doesn't have to be loud.

And, this got me thinking...

In a whisper or a shout

 
 

Owning our stories, every single part of our stories, may mean that we shout it from the roof tops. Or that we do become the poster child for our struggles and cause. Or that we write a book or a public blog and build a platform.

For some of us, owning our stories is through a loud shout.

Owning our stories, every single part of our stories, could just mean that we own it all for, and to, ourselves. Accepting all of who we are, telling just one or a few people. But, still truly owning it.

For some of us, owning our stories is through a quiet whisper.

For all of us, owning our stories, every single part of our stories, simply means we embrace it all.

We accept what cannot be  changed.

We forgive.

We let go.

We talk about it.

We practice recovery from it.

Giving ourselves permission to do this work.

Giving ourselves permission to believe that it could help.

And, we own it.

To ourselves.

To a couple of loved ones.

To the public.

Whatever is our path, whatever is our light, whatever is our ever upward.

Trust it.

Quietly in a whisper or loudly in a shout.

Owning it all.

*To read more about my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life. Now expected to be available EARLY fall!*

**My interview with Fertility Revolution is also now available. Click here.

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

Celebrating To Embrace Jealousy

The commercials have started airing to remind us all to get the perfect gift for some of the hardest working people on earth; mothers. I will assume I don't have to go into exactly why Mother's Day tends to be difficult for us women who are childfree whether by choice, chance or circumstance. And, rest assured, you are safe to assume I have a post scheduled for Mother's Day anyway ;). As a woman who can't have children, seeing these commercials or hearing my loved one's Mother's Day plans is some of the, thankfully few and far between, times I feel my jealously come up. Admittedly, it is scary and difficult to even type that sentence...

Throughout my work of recovery I have come to understand jealously a little differently. It first started at the Emerging Women conference last October in Boulder when I saw an interview with Tami Simon and Alanis Morissette. Tami interviewed Alanis about the book she is writing and about her work with Relationships First. One of the points she spoke about was what she thinks the difference between jealousy and envy is. She said that jealousy is about connection; that when we are jealous of someone or something it is about self improvement, we want it too. But when we are envious of something we not only want it for ourselves but we want to take it away from the other person, making it not about connection but disconnection. She used a really simple example of her hair. She said something to the effect that she knew many of us in the audience were jealous of how great her hair looked (it was the shiniest most beautiful head of hair I've ever seen). She said that some of us were probably jealous of it (for me, she was completely saw my green accurately). She said we just wanted some of the hair gods to shine on us too. So her suggestion was to go out and buy the pomade she used to make it look that gorgeous. She then explained that if we were envious of her hair it would be more about chopping it off her head for ourselves so that not even she could have the luxury of this beautiful mane.

This definition makes sense to me. And, by this definition, I am jealous that the majority of women get to be mothers and I don't, but I am not envious. I am sure of this because it is one of the best parts of my life, and of my recovery, to see my loved ones be mothers.

And yet, I will admit feeling this jealousy doesn't necessarily feel good either. Through my recovery I have found that there are times I need to allow myself to feel sorry for myself, to feel that jealousy. To ask the impossible questions of why didn't I get to be a mom? Why does she? To feel that jealousy consume me, especially around the holidays or the first days of school or any other popular put your kids on your social media wall day. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing these pictures and posts and it isn't uncommon that I am showing your adorable children to my friends and family but I would be lying if I didn't admit that when I only have dog pictures to post, even though they are literally the cutest pups ever, my green eyed jealousy monster definitely rears it's ugly head.

But if I allow these thoughts and feelings to overtake my light my recovery suffers. For me the only way through this jealousy, to embrace and truly own it, has been through celebrating. I didn't know I was celebrating until a client of mine told me about one of her church small groups where they talked about celebrating as the cure to jealousy.

 
 

That's exactly what I do, I cure my jealousy through celebrating the very things I so badly want for myself in others. I surround myself with my chosen children because through this celebration my jealousy wanes. I ask to be as involved as possible in my friends' parenting and in their childrens' lives because through this celebration my jealousy loses some of it's negative power.

This concept is not easy, but it is very simple.

And, for me, it works. Celebrating through my jealousy provides me with what life is all about, connection. Sitting in jealousy doesn't feel good and celebrating others' happy feels pretty amazing, simple but not an easy choice but a choice nonetheless. Besides, I know that my mom friends can sometimes have some jealousy of what my childfree life provides me.

If we aren't careful we can all get tripped up on wanting what we don't have and staying stuck in jealousy. And while, I will always suffer the lifelong losses and costs of infertility and my childfree life, I am also learning that I have some amazing things to be thankful for only because of this very bittersweet journey I have been on.

I don't want to be angry or envious, so I will allow myself to sit with jealousy but just for a bit. Then I will take that breath, find my gratitude and celebrate through to embrace it because only then do I honor my ever upward.

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 Almost Enough Moments

I've been having a slight existential crisis lately; between finishing up the book, Ever Upward and coming up on a year of submitting to agents and publishers (over 220 of them) and the success (although the desire for more) of this blog and my continued journey in finding my faith again and today being the two year anniversary of the bittersweet day of the last negative pregnancy test, ending IVF and learning to accept a childfree life; I am finding myself feeling all sides of everything, over-feeling and over-thinking, doubting and just plain struggling.

How can I balance this desire for the blog to blow up and the book to get published, both for validation of my story and for the wider outreach to help others but also because I think it just has to with knowing my story has already touched and helped so many? How do I let go and trust that what is meant to happen will happen, as it has never been in my hands to begin with?

How do we sit with the be all, end all questions, what is this all supposed to mean? Why did this happen?

Aren't we all wondering the why?

Why does the 35 year old mother of two young children get late stage colorectal cancer?

Why did he cheat?

Why did she have to die?

Why did he have to fall?

Why did they leave?

Why didn't I die?

Why are they lying?

Why did this have to happen???

Why?

But, I'm not sure we will ever get to know the why.

And, what I think I am learning is that some of our answers can maybe be found in our almost enough moments.

 
 

You know those moments where you look up (to who or whatever you believe in, for me it is God) and say okay, I get it. I would not have this if that had all worked out. Or I would not have this if I had not lost that. But really, that just doesn't feel like it's quite enough? So we question it; I get it, I'm thankful, but it's still not enough for all that pain, all that suffering, the never to be's; I sure hope you have more, better, in the works.

I am also learning we all have to figure out how to open ourselves up to these almost enough moments, really embracing their capacity for awe.

Can I have the presence and gratitude to embrace that piece of almost enough? And, have the faith that I might get to see the pieces all fit together one day? Better yet, can I have the presence and gratitude, and patience, enough to have the faith that I just may not get to see them all fit together and that the almost enough is, well, enough?

Because without a doubt, I have some pretty amazing almost enough moments...

Being McKinley's godparents.

Being asked to be in the delivery room to help bring baby Smith into this world.

Having every moment with our chosen family.

Attending all the piano recitals, church concerts and ball games of all our chosen children.

My friends through Emerging Women, The Daring Way™ certification and this blog.

Our Christmas morning tradition of going to see what Santa brought our chosen children.

The healing journey of writing my book.

A better marriage.

Building our family home, Mason house, for all our friends and family to grow and enjoy with us.

The continuing journey of my blog.

Becoming a better therapist.

Our dogs.

 
 

My improved relationships.

The happier, healthier me.

Fighting for me, fighting for my recovery and rediscovering my light.

I could go on and on, because I am able to wholeheartedly say, the list of my almost enough moments truly is endless.

My soul will always have the scars of my three lost babies, of three lost dreams, of three never to be's. But, I can choose if this is my whole story and I can also choose to move forward, having the faith that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, no matter the why.

But, can I trust and have the patience that these almost enough moments will lead me to more understanding and that my suffering, better yet, my story, will end exactly as it is meant to? Learning to have the patience and faith that I just might never get that final moment of what I think would be completion, understanding and the good enough reason for my sufferings.

So I must figure out how to be okay with that. I must learn to be whole without those enough moments. Trusting that the sole purpose I think I have found is really only my plan, and I'm not sure I really get that say.

But I also have to keep that in check with this part of me that yearns for my losses to mean something bigger; to change the world and help others. It is this part that asks, why else would I have been given this path in life? Why else would I have suffered the way I have and lost what I have? What would the point be of that? Am I that undeserving? Or is this my punishment for something? Surely, it has to mean something; two back surgeries, a year in a body cast, two rounds of failed IVF with a surrogate, three lost babies and fighting for recovery can't just be it, can it?

And, there it is again... Why did this have to happen to me?

I am not sure these questions come from the best part of me. However, I also know I wouldn't be honoring myself if I didn't allow this doubt a space to question; and maybe that is the point exactly.

There is only so much we are capable of, and probably allowed to, understand in this life. Maybe, it will always be this constant balance between finding my purpose through my story of struggle, making sure it means something more, at least to me, and trusting that it will still mean just as much without the soul completing clarity I so desire.

Because, all those almost enough moments...well, maybe it's up to me to embrace them as my ever upward, which really makes them the more than enough moments.

But, it has only been through my sufferings and my fight for recovery that I have been able to really see, let alone embrace, these moments as being more than enough.

 
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This is ever upward.

My recovery.

My story.

My purpose.

My path.

My light.

And even, my soul scars.

Allowing every single almost enough moment to really be more than enough...this is my ever upward.

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.

 
 

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.

 
 

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.

Can Our Incapables in the Stands Become Our Warriors in the Arena?

 
 

As I sit in my writing chair; writing candle lit, warm blanket on my lap and the light of the laptop and my salt lamp casting a glow around me, I am overcome by how much this blog, Ever Upward, has changed me, even in just a few short months. The people I have ‘met’ through the blogging world.

The people I have reconnected with through my writings.

The strangers, who are no longer strangers because of this sad but full of understanding connection.

The ‘I get it’s’.

The ‘thank you’s’.

The authentically braves.

The warriors in my arena.

The connections.

Telling my story to heal myself, and to also practice and build credibility for my book, has really led me to more wholeness through connection.

The biggest lesson of my IVF and finding my childfree journey?

Connection is what it is all about it, as my relationships have been a huge part of my survival and continued thriving.

Relationships are the continued focus in positive psychology and research continues to demonstrate how much relationships heal us all; making us better and happier people.

My continued lesson is that this healing is through all of my relationships; the fellow warriors, true friends, limited supporters, and even, the incapables. Because, relationships change and grow, because we change and grow.

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The relationships I have with my limited supporters, and even the incapables, may not be the most poignant, meaningful or deep right now. But that doesn’t mean they will remain that way forever. However, it may mean I need to limit how vulnerable I am with you, how much I let you into my life, and how much effort I put in, as you choose to simply not get it. You choose to not see me or know me, and therefore not love me unconditionally. As Brené Brown, writes and speaks, if you aren’t “daring greatly” in my arena, I’m not interested in your feedback.

And though, the limited supporters and incapables can make it feel as if they are in the stands of our arenas; denying, shaming and not getting us, they are still there. Sure, maybe we need to ask some of them to leave our arena altogether, but maybe, just maybe, one day the spectators can become our fellow warriors.

Because things change, and people change.

I've changed...

This limited love and understanding may not be forever. And the only thing I can do is to continue to live my authentic truth, asking for what I want and need from my loved ones, and accepting their limitations.

Because one day, the incapable just might finally see my bravery in battle and decide to join me in the arena. But, only if I never stop believing in my own “daring greatly” and ever upward.

Because our light, our path, our ever upward is in owning our story no matter the understanding we receive back.

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.

Our Soul's Way Through Invisible Sufferings

Our invisible sufferings are simply our stories we are not speaking; our pains, our losses, our struggles. What happens if we don’t somehow speak these sufferings, if we don’t own them?

I have learned, especially in the last year, if I am not speaking my truth loudly I’m actually slowing dying inside. Before the work of this last year, my spirit, my soul, my heart was only getting more and more lost. IVF and a childfree life, honestly only seemed to shut me down even more.

Until, I fought. Until, I spoke.

I’m a mental health therapist, which means I’ve always known that talking is the answer.

The answer to happiness.

The answer to healthy living.

The answer to combating shame.

The answer to acceptance.

The answer, at least my answer.

When we speak our truth we will find freedom.

When we speak our truth we will help others.

When we speak our truth we will find wholeness.

When we speak our truth we actually have the chance of being understood.

And yet, so many of us live in silence.

In silence with only our struggles, haunting us and growing stronger.

In silence with our depression, anxiety, addiction, infertility, faith difficulties, health problems, relationship struggles…

Choose to break this silence.

Write it, draw it, paint it, sing it, dance it, speak it to many or speak to just one…

Find your soul’s way, trust it and live your truth out loud.

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.

Filled with Awe

On this fresh start to the New Year I feel more myself than ever before, as 2013 was filled with every kind of awe.

Taking chances

To let go of and sell the home we had bought being sure IVF would work for us.

To conceive the vision of our dream home in a house previously owned by a hoarder.

To fight for and build Mason House, our home for our destined family.

To invest in myself and attend Emerging Women Live.

To write my heart in the book and blog, Ever Upward.

Reconnecting

With myself through practicing self-care.

With Chad through our survival of IVF, redefining our family and reigniting us.

With family through the acceptance of our losses.

With old friends through Facebook and working on Mason House.

With true friends through love, support and work.

Thriving

By accepting what is.

By speaking my truth.

By feeling the lifelong losses.

By making room for the light.

By practicing happy.

By trusting.

By embracing.

By braving.

By choosing.

By owning.

By being my own Ever Upward.

2014…

Embracing It to Truly Let It Go

A client texted me to insist I go see the movie Frozen. She said it is about everything I always talk about in our sessions: accepting ourselves and being vulnerable. She also added that the music was amazing and Olaf the snowman was hysterical. So on Tuesday after seeing several clients, I went and saw a children’s movie in the middle of the afternoon…by myself. And I will fully admit, it was the perfect afternoon! My client was right, the film was laugh out loud funny and the music was truthful, inspiring and captivating! All of this, and an amazing message that wasn’t all about prince charming saving the girl. And it backed up what I teach to my clients every day and how I try to live my own life; accept, let go and live your authentic truth. The title track, Let It Go, being the perfect vehicle to deliver all of these messages.

The theme of embracing who we are, accepting ourselves and moving through has also been the popular topic in my office this week. Every day I work with clients on their struggles; their anxieties or depression, their addictions or negative coping. I try to help them find the balance of learning the lesson in order to change and improve, while also accepting themselves. We all have our struggles, our fears, our weaknesses and faults. We all have our traumas, losses and flaws. Living our authentic truth means finding a way to make all of these things part of who we are and not all of our identity. Finding this balance myself has been the biggest challenge and change in me after IVF, embracing that I will never be a mother in order to let go of the pain and being forced to reexamine myself, ultimately embracing my flaws in order to let go of the hurt.

Some used to call me angry, I would refute and say I was passionate. Looking back after the work I have done, and continue to do every day, I can admit that more times than not my passion did come across as agitation. I inherit this characteristic from my dad; we have a lot of passion and if we are not careful it very easily can become agitation and sometimes even anger. And what I have found is that if I am not mindful, it can be one of my major flaws and road blocks to happiness. However, I’ve also come to realize that it is not necessarily a part of my personality that I can “get rid of”, but instead have to learn to manage better.

Surviving IVF and thriving after the major loss of motherhood dreams, I was forced to look at myself and truly change for the better. I had to redefine my happy.  I will never not be fiery, it is everything of who I am. I feel every emotion, a lot. I see every side of everything, all of the time. This is who I am, this is what I love about myself, but it is also the part of me I must cope with to make it work for me. I must embrace the passion to let go of the distress.

I am passionate, and it is the single most important part of who I am, for it is what makes me the friend and the therapist I am. Fighting this part of me only crushes my authentic spirit.  Being fearful of what others may think only keeps me from accepting myself.

So maybe the key to letting it go is actually embracing it. Just as Elsa in Frozen, embracing the very fear that is holding us back, allows us to love and accept ourselves.  Only when we embrace our failings, our faults, our weaknesses, and our losses do they no longer become all of who we are. Through this embrace they become the things we can learn to manage, love and let go.