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

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

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When Your Child Asks Why I Don't Have Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue reading over at HuffPost Parents.

Petite Post: Even In Our Longing

I've always wondered how our family portrait would ever be complete. How do I honor my three without my three here on earth?

And then some photos from a few photographers starting showing up on my social media, a result of how much coverage Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is getting this year.

And so, we now have our first complete, and yet forever, longing family portrait too (thank you Betsy!).

~~~

 
 

Never to feel the relief at the sound of your first cry.

And yet, I imagine your giggles, always.

Never to know your name.

And yet, you are known and spoken by my heart, always.

Never to feel the warmth of your skin in my arms.

And yet, I feel you holy every day, always.

Never to know the tangible completeness; always wondering who you might have been and who we might have been.

And yet, trusting and knowing we are whole, even in our longing, always.

 
 

My Ever Upward Mothering

Exhausted; physically and emotionally to only be on a late flight home the Sunday before Christmas on December 21st, 2014. December 21st, one of my seared dates, a day I was supposed to become a mother two years ago, even though I now know I became a mother the day a dreamed of becoming one.

Just a few days ago on December 21st, when I shouldhave had a two year old on my lap, God wrapped my seared date up with the perfect ending. The old me, before working on my recovery, would have been crushed, frustrated and sad with the ending I was given that day. And, I will admit there was still a part of my heart that felt that punch to the gut. But most of my heart and soul knew that this ending was perfectly imperfect, the complicated grey and the warm embrace from God reminding me that I am better than okay.

I had spent the three days prior to December 21st witnessing and helping my in laws, my family,through Chad's sister, Becky, receiving a heart transplant. Three weeks prior we had been through the heart ache and scare of not knowing whether she would make it and of wondering how long she would have to wait for a new heart. During that week, I mothered. And those three days prior to what would have been the 2nd birthday of our never to be baby, I mothered again.

I supported by writing the Caring Bridge site. I bossed around loved ones, reminding them to eat and sleep. I provided space to doubt, question and talk through the gravity of the experience. I helped feed Becky in her early days of recovery with her new heart. I helped wash her hair, combed through it and made it as pretty as possible. I reminded her of and reflected back to her the strength that she has, the power to be whoever she wants to be and that she deserves the world, especially from those around her. And, I cheered her on and cried tears of joy as she accomplished her first walk down the ICU hall with her new heart.

I mothered.

I mothered not my own children but I mothered no less.

I mothered in the way that I am accepting and embracing but also defining myself.

 
 

Because, as my friend Kelly has seared into my heart and soul, I am meant to mother the world.

As I was helping and taking care of everyone at the hospital, the significance of the date had slipped my mind, for I was distracted putting everyone else above myself, just like moms do.

December 21st, the due date of our last embryo.

But December 21st (or August 31st) will never again pass without significance for me. Which is exactly when God gave me that nice nudge and warm embrace I needed. Reminding me by placing me on a plane home, the Sunday before Christmas, not only on a flight filled with kids but with several right around me. The two year old and his five month old brother in the row in front of us and the adorable six month old little girl right next to me and her 18 month old sister across the aisle from her. For just a second, as I smiled and talked to that bright blue eyed and full joy six month old named Zoe, I felt that twinge.

That twinge of damn it, not fair. Seriously, after everything and on this day You sit me surrounded by adorable kids?

But, then I felt the light. The light I've worked hard to define myself and the work that I have practiced in finding my ever upward. The light that comes with the deep knowing breath and the grateful smile, that this is exactly as it is meant to be, there are no mistakes and He's proud of my journey. So proud that He sat me next to those kids on that flight home, not as a punch to the gut but as that pat on the back, the hand on the shoulder and the embrace to say:

You are okay. You have done the work to be well with your soul. Continue the journey out of the ashes, it never is fixed but rather continues to heal.

And, making sure I know He is pouring my heart and soul full of the message:

You are doing your ever upward mothering and you are doing good My child.

Out of the Ashes

One week shy of 9 months after my dad's life changing fall off a ladder, my family has faced another life threatening and forever life changing tragedy. I have spent the last week along side Chad's family in Denver on another of the scariest roller coasters of my life. You can read more about my sister in law's journey here, and please send all the prayers, light, love and strength you can, as we all have a long road ahead.

Preparation in fight and faith.

There is no doubt that my dad's accident prepared me for this journey. I knew what kind of support my family would need because it was the support that I lacked myself during dad's accident. So I bossed; making people sleep, eat and take breaks. I counseled; providing the space to vent, talk and cry. I helped; starting the Caring Bridge site and simply just being me. And, I walked through it with my continually growing faith; allowing my in laws to give themselves permission to beg and question God for their daughter's life while also trusting Him and their faith. As my friend Kelly told me, I think I may have a calling as a chaplain in my future.

I may never get to know why this year has been both the best and hardest year of Chad and I's lives; a job promotion for Chad and launching Ever Upward for me, and yet we have also experienced these two family medical emergencies, that were literally life or death.

 
 

What I do know is that I felt different through this emergency, I felt my faith more than I ever have. I also witnessed too many miracles to ignore the fact that He does have a plan for us. And, even if in this moment I am not sure I like, or even want to accept, His plan, I still know that it is and will be okay.

Because out of these ashes He will bring beauty.

I trust this more than I ever have in my life. I trust this because of my journey out of my ashes; two back surgeries and a year in a body cast, the lifelong losses of infertility, three lost babies and the rock bottom of my life. I believe, especially with having faith in something, that we can fight for and find our beauty out of the ashes.

This is ever upward.

There are many things I do not know. I do not know when my sister in law will get a new heart. I do not know how difficult this road will be for all of us. I do not know if Ever Upward will ever get the big break I so hope it does. And, I do not know when the next trauma, loss or tragedy will strike me or my family.

However, there are many things I do know. I know that we will be okay no matter what. I know that one day I will get the understanding of the why I so desire, even if it is just on the other side of eternity. I know that if we continue to give ourselves permission to talk about it, embrace it, practice recovery from it and own it all, we can all find the beauty we all so deserve no matter what we face.

This is the work of faith.

This is the work of life.

This is the work of finding and moving ever upward.

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Please feel free to share!

If you want to read more of Justine's writing make sure to purchase your copy of Ever Upward today and find her on The Huffington Posthere.

This post lined with Amateur Nester's Link-Up.

The Dates Seared into Us

I am a numbers person. No, not the add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers kind of person (just ask my accountant husband).

The kind of numbers person who remembers dates, phone numbers and birthdays pretty well and for a very long time. I have clients' phone numbers committed to memory, for no reason, as I no longer work with them and my cell phone remembers them for me. I also usually, and very easily, remember birth dates of friends, family and all the chosen children in my life.

I also have many dates throughout the year that are forever seared into my very being.

I have always known the power of the dates that will haunt us forever as I often remind my clients of this. It is not uncommon that we begin to struggle some; anxiety is higher, depression is heavier or we just start to feel off and, then we stop to think of the date, or the time of year, and are reminded of that loss, trauma or tragedy that happened way back when.

I too have these kinds of dates seared into my heart and into my soul. My soul scars that never go away and in some ways haunt me all throughout the year.

August 25th, 1994 ~ My first back surgery.

June 19th, 1997 ~ My second back surgery.

December 28th, 2011 ~ The first phone call that stopped our lives, Michelle, our surrogate, was not pregnant.

April 16th, 2012 ~ The soul crushing and clarity providing phone call that our second, and last, embryo transfer did not take; Michelle was never going to be pregnant with our child.

June 26th, 2012 ~ The day we made another impossible decision to let go of our Maddie. The day of my true rock bottom.

 
 

August 31st, 2012 ~ What would have been the first birthday of our two embryos transferred in the first round of IVF.

 
 

December 21st, 2012 ~ What would have been the first birthday of our last embryo transferred in the second, and last, round of IVF.

June 17th, 2013 ~ The birth of Tipton, our chosen family's wonderful surprise, our bittersweet reminder that is outweighed by the the love we have for another of our chosen children.

 
 

I wish I could have been better prepared by the infertility blogs, message boards and even doctors that these dates never leave us.

Especially, the birthdays of our never meant to be babies, at least never meant to be in our arms on this physical earth.

They are forever, for better or worse, seared in my head, on my heart and within my soul.

Today, I am able to say for the better.

And, through the work of my recovery I am beginning to have more of the magical, full of love, moments seared into every piece of me.

Last night, on June 22nd, 2014, I publicly declared the private decision I was finally able to make for myself on May 6th, 2014.

 
 

I was baptized.

Just a few days shy of my rock bottom when we lost Maddie 2 years ago, after surviving IVF and losing 3 babies, I walked into the waters of baptism last night a renewed, a redefined and a continually healing woman.

I walked into those waters with a scarred but never closed heart and soul and, with my three babies watching from above.

On May 6th, my prayer that Jesus would show His love to me in a way I could finally understand, embrace and accept was answered. As I have written before, there is nothing like being a mental health therapist for over 14 years who has also struggled with infertility to make one doubt God and faith. But, what I realized on May 6th, is that I can still doubt and question. I can even still hold feelings of anger and feel like my life hasn't been fair.

And yet, I can still believe.

Doubt, questions, anger and all.

Wonder.

I can believe in His love for me. I can trust His plan for me. I can live my life knowing the ending of my story will be His way, whether or not I get to know it on this side of eternity. I can honor that He will take this life and let it shine.

My heart is full. My soul is continuing to heal. My ever upward wonder grows.

Seared dates, soul scars and all.

And, that this wonder, my wonder, is exactly what makes it faith.

*To read more about my seared dates make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed.*

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

Not Just Another Birth Story: A Letter to Abigail

Had our IVF worked with our surrogate Michelle, I would have gotten to be in the delivery room to see our babies be born. But that was never my path to experience. I sincerely thought the only births I would ever see would be the ones in that terrible 5th grade sex education class we all had to take and the sensationalized ones shown on television and in the movies. So, when my oldest friend, my true witness of 30 years, asked me to be one of her delivery coaches when she delivered her first baby I cried with tears of honor and joy.

My friend who has seen me through my darkest of times and literally helped me through life in a body cast when we were much to young to handle such difficulties.

My friend who also knows the pain and losses of infertility.

My chosen family who I love so dearly.

Last week my friend gave birth to her daughter and I had the honor in helping her through her difficult delivery and being a witness as their family grew by one beautiful baby girl.

It is with much excitement and love that I (and her parents of course) welcome Abigail to the world! And with a full heart, I write her these words to hopefully last her a lifetime.

Dear Abigail,

Your mom and I have been through 30 years of friendship. We have been through things that really no two friends should ever have to see within a friendship. Your mom helped me through some of the hardest times of my life. I am sure we will one day share with you the stories of how she used to care for me as my nurse as I suffered through two back surgeries and lived in a body cast. She loves telling the stories of her helping me go to the bathroom, as I will admit they are pretty hysterical.

And on the day you blessed us all by coming into this world, I helped your mom through your very difficult and scary delivery. So, I now have my own stories to tell of things I simply can never unsee.

And yet, it was one of the most magical days of my life, as I know it was for your mom and dad.

Abbie, your mom and dad fought so hard to bring you here. Through three years they fought through frustrations, waiting games, anxieties, medical procedures, terrible side effects, misunderstanding from loved ones and the public and, especially, their fears; all to find you.

Your mom and dad continued this amazing fight through their difficult pregnancy and on the day of your mom's labor and delivery, their fight only continued.

Scared of my own limitations, fears and queasiness I pushed through to allow my anxiousness to become excitement and I fought alongside your mom and dad. I fought for them and I fought for you.

I was so proud and honored to be there supporting, helping and distracting them throughout your mom's labor.

But mostly, I was so proud and honored to simply witness them in their fight. Your mom's diligence in containing her anxiety and fears for your safety. Your dad's advocacy for you and your mom's care and safety. And, especially their ownership in how you came to be whenever any doctor or nurse asked about you.

Simply, profoundly and wholeheartedly, I am just so proud of them.

 
 

We all worked together as a team to bring you into this world, your mom definitely doing the hardest work of all. And at 4:40 pm you finally graced your mom and dad with the joy they've been fighting and hoping for for three long years; your peaceful and perfect face, your dark hair and your healthy cry brought tears of joy to all of us.

Throughout your mom's labor, of almost two full days, your mom and dad lied to me about your name, even though I asked them a million times (as you will get to know I never give up easily). Finally, the morning after your birth, when your mom was feeling better, they gave me the best surprise of my life, your name. I was truly surprised and completely honored to learn your name was Abigail Justine.

It is with a heart full of love and honor that these are my promises to you, Abigail Justine, my namesake:

I promise to always do my very best to be that person your parents believed in and loved enough to name you after.

I promise to always be here for your mom and dad, for whatever they may need.

I promise to always be here for you, no matter what.

I promise to always be your soft landing spot but to also always guide and push you when needed.

I promise to love all of you, always accepting you and honoring you; with me you will always be seen, known and loved.

Because being there with your parents throughout their journey to conceive you and being able to be present for your entrance into this world is my ultimate enough moment.

Because you, Abigail Justine, are my ultimate ever upward.

With much love,

Your Aunt Justine

 
 

*This post linked to Amateur Nester's Tuesday Link Up.

My True Witness of 30 Years

 
 

We've known each other since we were four years old. She can tell you every single memory of our lives; what we were wearing, who was there, what was said and the craziness that ensued.

She probably knows me the best, as she as known me the longest. But, in reality, she probably knows me the best because she has witnessed my deepest lows and stood by me through finding myself again.

She is my childhood friend who has seen me through my darkest of times, literally helping me bathe and go to the bathroom while in a body cast.

She is my faithful friend as she let me go when I chose to go to college out of state.

She is my adventurous friend who moved to the big city with me after college.

She is my humble and forgiving friend as we survived a terrible falling out.

She is my family as we have survived tragedy together.

She is my fellow warrior in fighting for her family and understanding the difficulties of infertility.

We've survived distance of all kinds to only come back together because of our own individual struggles.

The unspoken shame. The impossible decisions. The heart stealing and soul crushing losses. The life long costs of IVF.

Only to strengthen this lifelong friendship.

And, soon we will enter another chapter of our friendship when she becomes a mother for the first time in early June. When she asked me to be in the delivery room to coach her, along with her husband, there were only tears of joy as I realized I would be there for that magical moment to see one of our chosen children take her first breath.

kelly-group-as-kids-01.jpg

It has been an honor to walk beside her through this journey of life. I am immensely thankful for our bumpy path as it has prepared us for the brutal survival of our own battles with infertility. And it is truly with a full heart that I look forward to this next chapter of seeing her become a loving, and grateful, mother.

I guess there really is only one thing to say to her.

Thank you... for being a true witness of me, for always seeing, knowing and loving me.

And, thank you for allowing me to be along for your ever upward.

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?

Faith in Something

 
 

"Hold it all together Everybody needs you strong But life hits you out of nowhere And barely leaves you holding on

...You're not alone, stop holding on and just be heldYour worlds not falling apart, its falling into place..."

These are the lyrics to the song a friend posted on Facebook the week I really needed it, Just Be Held by Casting Crowns. Sure, it is a Christian band and song, but I dare you to listen to some of the lyrics and see if they can apply to your life, even if Christianity isn't your path.

Mostly, because in the really hard times, I think, we have to believe in something; having faith in something, I think, is a requirement of surviving this life, let alone thriving through recovery.

As, I work with my clients, I don't really care what you have faith in; God, Mother Nature, Karma, Life, Family, Relationships, Coffee or that Pencil sitting on your desk. Life is too hard to not have faith in something outside of ourselves. To believe in something or someone bigger than you, to know we are always understood and never alone.

I have spent most of my adult life struggling with religion while maintaining a decent amount of my own faith. Because frankly, there is nothing like being a mental health therapist who has struggled with infertility to make one doubt faith, a higher power, and especially, organized religion at times.

However, within this doubt I never stopped searching. It has been through my recovery and what has felt like the never ending search that I feel like I have finally found my home in faith and in religion.

I will not use Ever Upward to preach. I will not even use Ever Upward to let you into my faith life, as this is something that I'd like to cultivate and figure out myself and with my family for now.

However, I cannot not write about faith when I share about my recovery. I guess, I just wish for all of us fighting the fight of recovery to seek something in the faith department. Seek something outside of yourself. Seek something bigger than you.

Because within that search you may just finally find yourself again. You may just find your own ever upward.

**I'm fully aware this post could evoke some strong reactions, however I am not looking to engage in a theological debate here. Rather, I'd like to spark the search for something bigger in all of our recoveries. So, rather than preach, what is it you have faith in? Let's educate one another and therefore find compassion in our recoveries.**

The Myriagon of Ever Upward Light

A myriagon is a polygon with 10,000 sides. A shape that can look much like a circle with as many sides as Ever Upward has now been viewed all over the world in 43 different countries.

 
 

The circle that has encompassed my healing, recovery and my ever upward light and love. In celebration of how much Ever Upward has changed and enhanced my life I thought I'd recap a little with a few top five lists. So, here are my top five most viewed posts and my top five most commented on posts. However, I also wanted to include the posts that have been the most difficult to write but also the most healing and helpful for myself in writing and publishing.

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

5. Tread or Float

4. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

3. 41 Often Silenced, and Left Out, Parts of Our IVF Stories

2. Conceiving Our Chosen Family

1. The Paradox of Letting Go: 5 Things We Continuously Hold On To

Top 5 Most Commented on Posts

5. Self Validation: Finding the Balance Between Proving It and Owning It

4. My Child-Full Christmas: Making My Own Christmas Magic

3. My First Step Out of Rock Bottom to Start My Walk on the Moon

2. The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

1. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Top 5 of My Most Healing Posts

5. My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

4. Making Room For the Light

3. The Frankenstein Walk of Feeling Left Behind: But I'm Still Here

2. I Am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic

1. 41 Often Silenced, and Left Out, Parts of Our Stories

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.

 
 

Even More Than Family: The Power of Connection

Sitting back home in cold, but thank God sunny, Iowa helping my family through a life changing injury and scare I am overwhelmed by the sense of connection and love that has been demonstrated to us in the last four days. Monday my sister called in a panic, our dad had had an accident but she didn't know any information; I was out of town visiting friends in Vegas, my sister lives in Florida and my parents are back home in Iowa. We both were literally stuck on opposite sides of the country with only the phone calls from my mom back home in the chaos of the hospital in Iowa.

Living everyone's biggest nightmare, especially in how powerless I think we all felt.

We both started making phone calls for help to family, friends and neighbors. We took to social media both for sending out updates but most importantly for seeking out thoughts, prayers, love and strength.

 
img_20140313_142949.jpg
 

Ask and it shall be delivered.

We are so overwhelmed by and grateful for the love and strength that has been delivered to us over the last four days; every message, every email and text, every voicemail, every visit and every prayer. Not only has the support been amazing for us but we have no doubt it has been part of the miracle of dad's healing.

He has a long road of healing and follow up appointments ahead all but things look good for a full recovery. And sitting here, writing and updating the blog as he rests I am filled with love, hope and healing. Writing Ever Upward has brought me so much in connection with others. Experiencing this tragic scare this week has only solidified how much power connection has. Connection to family, connection to friends, and connection to strangers all across the world. This is what life is about, both during the amazingly beautiful times and the tragically powerless times.

Because, only through this love and connection can we all heal and find our ever upward.

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.

 
 

Never a Consolation Prize: My First Piano Recital

After our second failed round of IVF with a gestational surrogate and losing three babies, I had a friend say something to me that will always and forever stay with me. She said if she was honest with herself, she has more impact and influence on the lives of her godchildren, nieces and nephews than her own children. She said that Chad and I will get a lifetime of this but that it isn’t a consolation prize. And she’s right. I will never get the joy of motherhood or that role with a child but I will spend the rest of my life making sure the kids in my life know I love them and that I am here for them. I will also make sure their parents know I always want to at least have the option to be included and invited to the birthday parties, the games and concerts. This weekend I attended my very first piano recital. Our friends’ son Noah had his first piano recital, and Chad and I had the honor of being in the audience. And I loved every second; the nervous excitement coming from all of the kids, the super serious looks of concentration while they played and every single perfectly imperfect note they played. But the best was the proud smirk of accomplishment on Noah’s face when he finished. It is a moment I will never forget.

The night was capped off with a rather chaotic (three young boys will do that) and of course fun dinner with their family, and it included us. Being included in their family, is something words will never be enough to describe or even thank them for. Nothing makes me happier than hearing Noah’s animated storytelling, seeing the sparkle in Lane’s eyes when he asks me question after question or laughing at Evan’s pure loving joy. As I hugged our friends goodbye I thanked them for including us, and frankly, thank you simply is not enough.

Every family looks different. Sadly, my family will never include my own children, only my three furry ones. But my family also includes my friends and their children. I will forever be grateful for this role, and I will always make sure to make it much more than a consolation prize, always working to make it my ever upward.

Our Home. Our Traditions. Our Family.

Ending IVF and accepting our lives without children, also meant realizing we didn’t have to live in our current neighbor in the great school district.  We began redefining our dreams, and realized we wanted to live in a home where our friends and family and their children could spend time with us and grow with us, which in my wildest dreams meant a home with a pool.  I wanted it because I wanted to create a lifetime of memories with my friends and their children.  But if I’m honest, I also wanted it to make sure I wasn’t left out and forgotten about.  And what better way than having a home with a pool, a place for play and adventure, and where kids would always want to come have fun which meant we could be part of their family and growing up. And so Mason House was conceived.  We bought a home previously owned by a hoarder.  After the epic adventure of cleaning out the property ourselves, with the help of our amazing friends and family, the gut rehab construction project began.  Less than 90 days later we moved into our beautiful new home and we quickly began making amazing memories with friends and family.  This week our “new” home has officially passed all inspections and will have no more contractors traipsing through with their dusty boots.  We have built our definition of a family home.  Complete with enough room for company all the time.  Complete with the toy room for kids to play.  Complete with a pool to spend hours jumping off the board and hearing the endless joyful laughter of our friends and family.  Complete with our furry family.  Complete, our ever upward home.

This will be our first holiday season in our new home.  It will also be our first holiday season almost completely off the IVF roller coaster.  The first holiday without the 2 week wait of hoping for a positive pregnancy test and the first holiday without the sadness of the never to be birth date.  It is our first holiday season, after spending the last year rebuilding ourselves, grieving our losses, accepting our story and redefining us.  Therefore, we plan to do what I’ve learned to do best, redefine.  And we’re starting with our very first real Christmas tree.  And the beginning of our traditions have been born, which if this year is accurate Thanksgiving eve includes picking out our tree, getting Mexican for dinner and having a margarita, decorating the deliciously smelling tree which I tried to actually hug and of course taking a hundred pictures of the dogs to get one good one (see below).  Tonight (Thanksgiving night) we continued making our family traditions by going to see a movie, just Chad and I.  Sure, it may seem like a small thing to some, but to us, to me, it is again our ever upward traditions.

Our home and our traditions are not complete without our family.  One of the strongest lessons of the journey of IVF is that love and support and true family and friends will always be here, trying to get it, trying to support but ultimately just being here.   The support our parents have provided us throughout this journey is more than any parent should have to give.  And we are beyond thankful for them, there simply are not enough words of thanks.  Family doesn’t necessarily, and many times, doesn’t mean we share blood.  The friends who have stuck by us, laughed with us, cried with us and just tried to get it are ones who have become true family.  Ultimately, we built Mason House for years to share with them.  Then there is our destined family.  We may have only chosen 2 rounds of IVF, but as I’ve been told they could be considered some of the most difficult, as we used a gestational surrogate.  Michelle, our surrogate,  is a woman with a heart full of endless love to give who I met online.  She quickly became my soul sister throughout our journey.  Ben, Michelle, Nathan, Lyla and Tipton are literally our destined family, our chosen family.  Blood or no relation, family is family.  Children or pets, kids are kids.  My family may not be complete with kids but complete nonetheless with family, friends, chosen family and pets.  For this, I am beyond thankful.  And make no doubt it is our ever upward family, our ever upward complete.