I'll Show You How

It took me years to get to the point where I stopped saying, and believing, that I'd give it all away, trade it all, change it all, to have them here.

I wouldn't give myself permission to say it. 

As if I said it out loud it meant damning myself into a “truth” that I didn't really want to be a mother, that they didn't matter as much as they do, and that we didn't fight as hard and lose as much as we did to try our best to bring them into the world.

Or that we didn't have enough faith.

The reality, though?

We gained more than we lost.

Ugh, that feels so hard to write, let alone publish for the world to read.

My truth, years after losing them and ending our infertility journey without kids, is that I wouldn't trade it all to have them here.

Shit, that sentence is so scary.

And God knows, and my people closest to me know, how much I wanted them and love them still, wondering every day who they would be as seven-year-olds this year.

There is enough room for both.

It is messy and really uncomfortable.

Still, there is absolutely room for both.

This is the permission of The And - the grief and joy, the wonder and gratitude, the truth and grace.

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This life I love and have fought so hard for will never discount, replace, or make up for what could have been if our three had walked this earth alongside us.

The truth is that what we gained in and through the loss of them, I truly believe is slowly gaining to tenfold, even if it isn't what I hoped, dreamed, and planned. Because no matter how much we want to read Jeremiah 29:11* from this very human mindset that God's Plans align with what we want, it just isn't what the Lord promised.

God never promised me it would turn out how I wanted.

God never promised me a baby.

God promises never to leave me and always to work all for my good.

Just like God promised the Israelites passage into the promised land. 

However not before they spent 70 years in Babylon. I think it's safe to say that was not what they wanted or planned for themselves.

So let us not forget Jeremiah 29:10 while holding onto the promise of 29:11 that God is always with us and is always working for our good.

When we take verse 11 away from the context of verse 10, we minimize God's power and sovereignty. First, the Israelites had 70 years in a place they didn't want to be, second, many of them would never even make it there, and third, when we use it all to say that God promises we will get what we want - it just isn't based on the history.

Similarly, despite what some in the faith community will teach, preach, and weaponize, the strength of your belief, prayers, and faithfulness are not what will get you what you want, baby included.

God's goodness is.

And well we just don't get to determine or even know what that is exactly. 

I love what Corrie Ten Boom wrote in The Hiding Place:

"His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in your will! Don't let me go mad by poking about outside of it!"

It's a dangerous message that our faith will get us what we want. And the saddest part is that thinking this is doing severe damage to our relationship with God.

Because for the longest time the thing that held me back from the loving grace of Jesus was what felt like the hardest question of my life: What does it mean when God is the one you need to forgive?

For far too long lies like: We didn't get a baby because we didn't pray hard enough. I wasn't even Christian then and still, am not Christian enough. I don't deserve to be a mother. I did something terribly wrong. God is mean, punishing, and unfair. 

These lies kept me angry, in the dark, and worst, not turning towards the loving God that had been there the whole time, just as They promised.

Chad and I didn't not become parents because we weren't faithful enough, pray hard enough, or believe enough.

We didn't not get a baby because God is punishing, because our sins were just too bad, or because we didn't deserve one.

We didn't get a baby because we made the nearly impossible decision to stop treatments before they destroyed everything good about us.

We didn't get a baby because we finally surrendered to God's plan in reclaiming our truth, honoring our three, and glorifying Him. We did the work to finally receive the bigger plan God has for us and let Him love us into building the legacy we are now. 

Always there.

Always for our good. 

The Israelites had seventy years in Babylon before returning to Jerusalem, and we live without our three to leave an aroma of the Kingdom behind us in this world.

Always there.

Always for our good.

What if we had kept going until we got what we deemed was God's will, in the definition we wanted so badly and paid so much for, a baby? 

What if infertility had worked?

Would I have still met this loving Jesus?

Would I have made all the life changes I needed to practice happy and be who I was created to be? 

Would our marriage have survived? 

Would our finances had ever recovered?

I know that God is always chasing us down, pursuing us, loving us into the loving arms of Jesus. No matter how long it takes. No matter how messy. No matter how much we push it all away. 

Jesus will always leave the 99 for the one. 

If it weren't for tens of thousands of dollars spent, three lost babies, a body broken from synthetic hormones and a grief so dark I wasn't sure I would ever be able to stop crying, yelling, and get out of bed again, I would not have met this Jesus in the way so many of us finally do.

Sitting beside Him by the well, broken, flawed, messed up, mad, and utterly human. Sitting beside a man, both God and human, asking to be seen, begging for answers, flailing angry punches, demanding fairness, and most of all, being in the presence of an empathic love of 'I see you and get you.'

Jesus looking into my eyes and speaking our truth in total love,

Daughter, I know this is not what you want and it doesn't feel fair. I promise I know your pain. I get it. I was always there, and I will always be here. I am here now. And when you are ready to bury this pain so something new can grow, to receive your own resurrection, I'll show you how.

*This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:10-11 NIV

 

Six to Seen

Today marks what would have been the 6th birthday of our our third - six years of healing, of wonder, and most of all, of honor. 

This grief journey never gets easier, it simply gets different, and this year is no exception. 

Most years, especially since it is the holidays, it is easy for me to believe the lie that I'm invisible. In fact, that is the single most used word to describe my new book from readers,

Thank you for putting into words and giving me the words to describe how I'm feeling, invisible.

For the first time in six years, I don't feel this, and not because I feel seen, rather because I don't need to be, at least not in that way anymore. 

For the first time I am beginning to feel the peace settle into my soul right beside my forever wonder and yearning of who they would have been, and of who I would have been as their mother. 

And, with a breath, I am realizing that this mother I am here on earth without them is pretty amazing and completely enough, even in, and perhaps most especially, in their absence. 

Because they were never mine to begin with, they were His.

And, because they brought me to Him. 

Instead of sitting in that lie of feeling invisible today I chose to be invisible sitting in a Starbucks. 

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I had $33 in Starbucks gift cards from speaking engagements, and admittedly I only get Starbucks at airports because I much prefer my Three Story Coffee at home. After I bought my black coffee I told the barista to use the remaining money for everyone else behind me until it was gone. Then, I asked her not to tell them who bought their coffee. I'll admit, my heart yearned for her to ask why, so I could say, "This is in honor and remembrance of my three, they would have been six this year".

And then I sat and watched. I watched people receive a gift, a gift as simple as free coffee, not believing they deserved it. I watched people pay it forward. I watched people look around and try to figure out who bought their morning cup of happy. One man, whether he saw me do it or the barista told him, stopped on his way out, smiled and thanked me. 

The card didn't last long and the experience was relatively uneventful, until of course I opened my Bible to John 1...

Life came into being because of him, for his life is light for all humanity. And this Living Expression is the Light that bursts through gloom— the Light that darkness could not diminish! John 1:4‭-‬5 TPT

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Perhaps, today a simple cup of free coffee made someone feel seen. I know for me it helped remind me that I don't have to be seen by the world because I am always seen by my loving Father. 

Our three, they made me a mother. 

He chose me, bursting through my gloom, in the gift of them. 

I am a happy and grateful mother. 

~~~

The Complicated Gray now available here or signed copies in the store.

Our Three and a Bag of Frozen Peas

"How do you feel?" I asked as I drove him home from the doctor's office.

"Fine, it's numb right now," he replied.

The ever-stoic Chad with the ever-rumbling Justine; thank God we both choose to do the work to be complementary in our differences.

"That's good," I replied. "Are you sad at all?"

He looked at me with love in his eyes, with what I assume is that part of him that knows I want more from him, for him to feel even just a smidge of what I am feeling and in the way I am feeling it.

As I have learned through the years, he simply feels it all very differently than me.

"I mean, it's done." I continued. "I know it was done before, but this is for sure and permanent, we aren't having kids. Our genes will never live on."

"I suppose we can always reverse it if we want," he joked back. “You remembered to get frozen peas, right?”

***

Chad and I are 6 years out of our failed infertility journey - a journey that included tens of thousands of dollars, even more tears, countless injections, a surrogate, and three lost babies.

In the last six years, we have advocated for the infertility and loss community, published books, created our legacy and our happy, and I finally chose Jesus back.

It has been six years of fighting for, creating, and receiving this incredible life, of doing the work to make it all a gift.

We love our childless-not-by-choice life and we will always have lifelong wonders and grief.

Still, I was so over using condoms as a 39-year-old woman, preventing something that had the smallest hell-freezing-over chance of ever happening. As a woman, I had been the one responsible for birth control for much of my life, even if it was only to help my cycle or clear up my skin.  Still, I had to take the pill or endure the IUD, for years!  Plus, there is nothing like pumping your body full of synthetic hormones to try to have a baby that makes you want to never have synthetic hormones in your body ever again.

Hence, a vasectomy for a couple who can't have kids.

Should be simple, right?

Except, a decision, one as permanent as this, is the kind of thing that triggers that lifelong grief.

Then, on top of that bubbled up pain, we often judge it - it feels dumb and frustrating.

Damn it, I am sad.

It’s complicated.

This complicated gray of acceptance and love of this life with the lifelong sadness is the thing that many people have difficulty understanding when they stand across from me and my pain.

Simple: You’re sad. Fix it and figure out how to have the baby.

I get this a lot still, even 6 years out, especially in the faith community.

“Just adopt.”

“I am praying for a miracle baby for you guys.”

“Just try another round.”

When we stand across from someone and their pain, many of us will have the undeniable urge to take away that pain or fix it with what we think are simple solutions. We do this out of both love and our fear of vulnerability, because, the thought of feeling the sadness with someone is something that is often too scary.

This complicated gray of acceptance and love of this life with lifelong sadness is much easier, albeit not comfortable, to understand when you sit beside me with my pain.

Complicated: loving my childless-not-by-choice life and the forever yearning.

Because the thing is, I don’t want a baby now.

I want my three babies who would be six this year.

I want those babies.

So we made a decision to prevent pregnancy once and for all.

It is freeing and shitty.

It is exciting and sad.

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It is another reminder that this journey will never leave us.

It is The And.

I am a forever grieving mother and a woman who chooses to do the work to see the gifts in everything.

So, I speak this truth because then I honor my three, I glorify Him, and I serve the world.

And, as always, I ask you to simply sit beside me and not across from me.

Right this minute though, feeling the yearning for my three, I gotta grab Chad a fresh bag of frozen peas.

The Extra of the Infertility Journey

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The friendships. A wholehearted truth. Renewed dreams. My reclaimed life.

Just a few of the extras of my infertility journey, none of the above a consolation prize of my hard story and three lost babies, rather gifts that I have fought for, created, and received.

My friendship with Kaeleigh, of Unpregnant Chicken, is one of those extras. Last week my friend, who I only met through the community of infertility and loss and this big awesome world of blogging and social media, released her first book. I am so excited to support her by being a part of this amazing blog tour and offering a giveaway! To be entered to win your own copy of Extra! simply comment on this post. I will draw a winner on February 15th, 2018. I am so proud of this project and it's offer to families who need a little extra to find their way to their version of the complete family portrait.

Make sure to follow along on this blog tour and check out Christine's post from Friday and Victoria's which is coming tomorrow!

The Moon of Fair and Prayer

I’ve had this post in my head and heart now for almost two weeks. I’ve sat down to work on it no less than 20 times in those weeks. Let’s call it the endless to do list of building my wholehearted empire, denial, grief, or fleeting creativity, it has not been penned until just now.

In which, I completely trust, this is when the words will be gifted to me.

It all started on a drive home two Sunday nights ago after a great dinner with some of our chosen family. Dinner conversation with three of my favorite boys about the movie Wonder, who their best friends are (I made the cut for Evan, that boy knows his audience), and then too much yelling and laughter about which girls they all like.

“Look at the moon,” I said to Chad as we were driving home much too late for a Sunday evening.

“Whoa,” he said with a catch of awe in his voice.

“Have you ever seen it like that before? The half on the bottom and not the side?”

“No. Kind of weird.”

“And, beautiful,” I reply.

We spend the rest of the drive in silence with worship music playing – grief and God wrestling in my head and heart.

My day had started with church, where as usual, I cried during worship, mostly tears from undone-ness in gratitude. Then, after weeks off due to tour and TEDx, I served in the 3rd to 5th grade room, where I ran the 3rd grade boys small group. The verse for the week was, 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We began by discussing the worst things that could happen at home, school, and their sports or school activities . Most of their answers centered around peeing or pooping their pants or barfing, because… boys. Then we got to the tough part, how to still be grateful even when you’ve shit your pants at school.

Their answers of gratitude were so refreshing. Nothing from comparison or scarcity like so many of us adults do. Just true gratitude of what good could come from pooping your pants at school – like a new pair of pants and getting to talk to the really nice nurse.

Gratitude even in the shit.

It’s the holidays.

It’s no secret I struggle with the holidays.

Last year we only put up a tree. I managed to string lights on it, and still couldn’t bear ornaments because… grief.

They’d be five this Christmas.

How much fun would that be?

Chad asked if we could decorate just a little more this year and said we could go get a new tree of my choice if that could help. We settled on a small pencil tree, pre-lit and with ornaments already attached.

Because, that is where I’m at this year, and it’s progress.

And, I only cried in Menards once.

That weird half moon, with the half somewhere it didn’t really seem to fit and yet it shined brilliantly for all the world to see, felt like looking at me that night. Most days, especially during the holidays, I feel like that moon, never fitting in, a little off, and still brilliantly shining.

The moon is always a reminder of God’s grace for me, as are the sunsets, sunrises, basically anything nature.

But that night was different, maybe it was the song playing on the radio, saying something to the effect that it is all for God’s glory…even the hard, dark parts, even the shit I suppose.

When you don’t get to parent your children here on earth and grief is a part of your daily life, the holidays are hard for obvious reasons. It also really makes you wish that people would remember what Christmas is really about.

There is also another reason it is difficult though.

There are a ton of adorable pregnancy and birth announcements, and lots of them say what a miracle it is and how God answered prayers. Not much unlike the miraculous conceptions of Jesus and John, because sometimes even the Advent reading plans can be tough.

I love seeing the joy of my loved ones’ families growing. And, the enemy will never miss a chance to have that small voice torture me.

You didn’t pray hard enough.
You don’t deserve to be a mom.
You weren’t faithful enough.
You’re being punished.
It’s not fucking fair.

Here’s the thing, I know better now.

This is not about fair, or really prayer, for that matter.

Sure, God hears our every prayer. Hell, our prayers can even change His mind I think. At the end of the day, though, I don’t get to say which prayers of mine He answers. And, I for sure, don’t get to say how He answers them.

Now to the toughest part, because all you have to do is read the news to get a sense of how unfair it can feel that Chad and I don’t get to be parents in the traditional sense of the word and a bunch, like a freaking bunch, get to. Bottom line, fair or unfair, that shit is above my pay grade. I doubt I will ever get the answer as to why I don’t get any and why someone else I have deemed undeserving gets four. I know my clarity and full healing is waiting for me when I get to meet Jesus face to face one day.

In the meantime, I praise God for giving His only Son for us. I know in Him, because of Him, and through Him I am whole, loved, okay, and a message of grace for this world.

As I have wrestled with so much of the new teachings that have been brought into my life and reading more and more scripture, and wading through the glittered difficulty of the holidays, I was brought back to the moon just this past Sunday, a week after the ‘little off’ half moon.

I remembered just before bed that I had to go see the Super Moon. In my pajamas and socks, I ran out to the driveway to see the moon, something I actually do on a pretty regular basis. At first, the big, bright full super moon was behind a veil of thin clouds. Even veiled a bit, it still reflected it’s shining glory onto everything.

With a deep breath, I prayed,

Lord, Help me to lay it down for good this time, I don’t want this anymore. I know it was, and is, fair. Because you are good and I am your loved daughter. My sadness and grief can coexist with my trust in your fairness, because when I live in the permission of The And, I honor you, me, and them. It is all for Your glory, and you love me so much, it is also for mine.

And then, the clouds floated over the moon to reveal a perfect opening for all His glory to shine in and on.

My story is hard and it is beautiful. It is my message of grace and I will never stop loving it, trusting it, and speaking it.

It has nothing to do with fair.

It is the story He has written for me and for Him.

And, graciously, it has given birth to me.

~~~

Exciting adventures: My new newsletter is short, sweet, and full of great content, make sure to sign up here. I have a new prayer plan over at Reflective Prayer, use coupon code JustinePrayer for 15% off! And finally, my Rising Ever Upward for Network Marketers video course is now available!

The Bounce House

A germ infested warehouse filled with bigger-than-life rainbow colored bounce houses, and we have the place to ourselves!  Stomach-dropping fun for every child, a place of refuge for their tired parents, and a place of nightmares for most infertile couples. But not for us.  We worked our way out of the nightmare to be the exception.

Some call us “childless.” Some even say we will never know true love.

My heart, full of a mother’s love, albeit longing love, begs to differ.

The soft structures breathe an undercurrent hum behind the happy squeals of the only two other children who are already there. Baby Ben is sleeping in his car seat.  McKinley kicks off her Crocs, my husband Chad unties his shoes, and I unzip my boots, racing to see whose stocking feet can hit the bright red vinyl floor of the bounce house first. We both run after McKinley as she hurls her tiny, not-quite-three-year-old self into the soft structure.

“Wait for us!” I yell, already immersed in breathless excitement.

All I can hear are her giggles. I fall into the sides a few times before I have my bearings, but quickly, because McKinley is attempting to scale a wall that is way too big for her.

Her smile and laughter burst brighter than the colored world we are stumbling in. She flings her body in complete abandonment, jumping so high that our faces cramp from smiling so much. For an hour we trail behind her, playing, helping her up the ladders, so she can climb walls that are too big for her tiny arms and legs.

“Hold onto the straps so you can pull yourself up,” I say.

“Come on, McKinley. You can do it!” Chad says looking down at her from the top.

“Okay,” she assures me with a nod of her tiny head, grabbing the strap.

This small teaching lights a spark under her as she races up the ladder at double the speed. My knees ache as I try to catch up to her.

All three of us perch precariously at the top of a slide that is much bigger than I anticipated, as McKinley shouts, “Race!”

My stomach drops at the steepness of the slide and a laugh escapes my smile so loud I even startle myself.

“Again, again!” McKinley shouts.

“Okay!” I shout back in a high pitched goofy voice, much to her delight.

“Myself,” she states back, brimming with threenager attitude.

This time I wait for her at the bottom, my arms open for her. Her blonde hair sticks straight up as she catches wind on the way down, her face shining with unbridled joy like only a toddler’s can.

My thirty-six year old back is telling me I need a break, so I go over to the bench where my friend Casey is holding Ben. I take Ben out of her arms with a smile silently saying to her, thank you for letting me love your children, my chosen children.

At only eleven weeks old, he has the new baby smell that fills my nose with maternal love. His eyes light up and he cracks a huge smile imitating back to me my joy. I nuzzle him, smile at him and feel his warmth in my arms, making sure to soak in every scent, smile and snuggle that I can.

Casey asks, “Want me to take him back so you can go and play again?”

“I’m good for now,” I say.

“Need a little break, huh?” Casey asks, as if to say, we are getting so old aren’t we?

She assumes my body needs a break but it’s my heart that needs one most. I glance back at Chad picking up McKinley to help her make a shot in the basketball bounce house. They are both giggling and jumping everywhere. The thought creeps in ever-so-slightly, just like it usually does.

He would have been a great dad.

God, I wanted them so badly.

Two back surgeries and a year in a body cast annihilated the first rendition of our parental dreams. A couple of failed rounds of  In Vitro Fertilization with a gestational surrogate, tens of thousands of dollars and three lost babies later we ended our journey without the desired, hoped for, dreamed of and paid for outcome of our own children.

Instead, all we have left of them is a black and white picture of their eight cell embryo beings.

In our world’s most accepted definition of the word “parent,” we will never meet the criteria. I will never birth a child and we are not adopting one.

But childless we are not. We are childfull parents, birthing a rare kind of parenthood. We must seek out, ask for and remain open enough to receive the gift of being involved in our friends’ children’s lives, our chosen children. This love will be our legacy, left not in biological children we raise but in our chosen children’s lives.

My mind wanders to a scene not long ago when two sisters walked into our home with the bright eyes of children who know they are getting an awesome gift. Hannah, the oldest, handed me a handwritten note with my name spelled wrong, yet phonetically right, that read, “Thank you for the costumes Justiene.”

“Can we try them on now?” she asked.

The house was filled with the familiar smells of Thanksgiving dinner, our first with our new friends and their three daughters. “Let’s eat first, then we will have the most awesome fashion show ever,” I said.

After lunch, we all rushed to the basement. Hannah and her younger sister Maya squealed with excitement at the site of the huge trunk filled with a lifetime of my dance costumes.  “We can have all of them?” Hannah asked.

“You can! But only if we make up dances and have a recital when I come over to play.”

“Thank you,” they both said without being prompted by their mom.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

I helped the girls try on all the costumes for the next hour, tap shoes, tiaras, tutus and all. I looked at their mom Izzy with gratitude, Thank you for letting me love your daughters.

All while thinking, God, I hope we’re always allowed to be such active parts of our chosen children’s lives.

“How old is he?” a very blonde mother asks, interrupting my thoughts. I notice quickly she is playing on her phone while her two kids run and bounce away.

I give myself permission to think the first thought that comes as the woman who can’t have kids, Play with your kids, lady. You get to have them.

I know all-too-well how little time and care most mothers provide for themselves, especially as a mental health therapist. Most of my work with mothers consists of teaching them how to take better care of themselves, so they don’t end back up in my office in their fifties lost and completely empty. I quickly practice my empathy and think, I’m so glad moms have places like this to entertain their kids a bit so they can get the occasional break.

“Eleven weeks,” I smile and reply to her question.

“Oh my gosh, you look aaaamaaazing!” she exclaims.

“Oh no, he isn’t mine. We’re in town visiting.”  I point to Casey and say, “That’s his mom, my friend Casey.”

“Oh, well, you look great too!”

We all exchange obligatory smiles and I walk away before she can ask me where my own kids are.

Shit, Justine, don’t get sad. Breathe! Stay present.

Standing with Ben in my arms, I shift my focus back to Chad and McKinley bouncing away, as I allow the sadness to well up inside of me. Some days it comes in waves like this, waves of sadness triggered by thoughts like, It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Other days it is the longing for my three children who never took a breath of this earth’s fresh air.

Always, I acknowledge the thoughts and the feelings, giving myself permission to feel them all.

I am simply too afraid not to, because then it is like they never existed, and they are our children. Even if the only thing we have left of them, besides our longing hearts and changed lives is a picture from our infertility clinic.

I fight to take a breath and look down at Ben. He is a true miracle in my life. I take another breath, deeper and more knowing, and look back at Chad and McKinley jumping like crazy in the bounce house together. With yet another deeper breath, a space begins to open up within me, allowing the sadness to move just enough to grant space for another choice.

I am so grateful.

I am grateful for this life.

I am grateful we were given our never-to-be babies. I am grateful we were chosen as their parents if only to love them from afar.

Because they are what we have.

And, don’t we love what we get at the end of the day?

 
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Those three babies, who I never got to meet, made me a mother; a mother who loves endlessly and who loves well.

A love with lifelong wonder of who they would have been and who we could have been as parents. A loss, I must choose, every damn day, in how it defines me for the rest of my life. Because who I become because of them is how I choose to honor them.

McKinley runs full force past me into another bounce house as Chad takes the baby from me. “Go play for a while,” he says as he kisses the top of my head.

“Thank you,” I reply allowing him, and only him, to see my eyes glistening with the slightest of tears. I run to catch McKinley headed up the ladder to the big slide. We reach the top together, Chad waiting at the bottom for us holding one of our many chosen children. I feel the pull of my forever longing and my gratitude, all at the same time. We make eye contact to silently say to one another, It is okay. We are okay. And, this is amazing still.

I hold McKinley’s hand tight, throw my head back, let laughter explode from my gut and fill my soul, as we slide down together one more time.

~~~

I wrote this piece over 8 months ago, in fact baby Ben just turned one year old! After working with my friend Laura Munson editing it and submitting it to well over 20 platforms and magazines, I decided I had been rejected and waited enough. Because I love this piece and I love these children. So I brought my bounce house home to Ever Upward, where it has belonged the whole time.

The Grief of What Could Have Been

For the past four weeks 14 incredible women have shared their stories and their babies as part of the Footprints Blog Tour in honor National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. To read all their amazing posts please click here. Today I am proud to share mine.

Please join us tomorrow night, October 15th, at 7pm in the Wave of Light in honor of all the babies gone too soon. And, please share this video far and wide, in it the stigma will be shattered, our hearts healed a bit more and our babies honored.

 
 

Footprints Blog Tour: Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness

Join me and 14 other bloggers from around the country as we lead up to October 15th, 2016 with our Footprints Blog Tour. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

On the morning of October 15th, 2016 I will join thousands of fellow bereaved parents to walk in honor of our babies at the National Share Walk of Remembrance in St. Charles, Missouri. Later that evening, at 7 pm, all around the world candles will be lit in honor of our lost babies as part of the Wave of Light.

This year I am partnering with Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support to create a virtual Wave of Light through our social media outlets.

To help us raise awareness of pregnancy and infant loss join me the next several weeks for a blog tour. Read my fellow warriors stories of loss, courage, hope, healing and honor. Let us come together to educate the world on pregnancy and infant loss and therefore build compassion for our continued healing.

We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We'd especially love to see your own Walk of Remembrance and Wave of Light pictures on your social media outlets, please use the following hashtags: #ShareWalk2016, #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness, #WaveofLight.

Together we will #shatterthestigma.

Don't miss the HUGE sale on Ever Upward this month too! Click here

~~~

Post links will be published once blogs are posted.

 
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The Permission of And

  I stand on my brick patio looking up at the churning sky. My lush butterfly gardens, all four of them, surround me with all the shades of green you can imagine and the sweetest scents to ever fill my nose.

I force the deep breath in through my nose in an attempt to not allow the sobs to escape and tears to roll.

I look up, GodI need something. Take this away if it isn't for Your good or Your plan. Give me something, show me what I need to keep going, that I am on the right track. Please give me the strength either way.

Three pleads. Three requests.

Three.

And, there they are again.

I release the deep breath from my mouth which only seems to give permission for the tears to come.

I breath in again, breathing in how much my soul longs for my three, Have you forgotten me?

I make myself pause with my exhale; stopping to listen.

The birds are chirping and the wind is blowing through my milkweed plants and all the trees.

In the breath of the wind and churning of the sky I hear, I am here child. I've got it. I am good. Trust me.

I feel a new and slight sense of peace and my lingering frustration. Once again, I am reminded of the complicated gray I feel everyday without my children here on earth.

The complicated gray of the longing joy and the childless mother.

With eyes and heart wide open to receive and the courage to ask, the next two weeks He fills my life with example after example of the complicated gray. As if He is saying, Make the time, this is your path, write it, share it, shine it.

The client who is about to deliver her sons after years of trying; feeling happy and scared.

My team who battles the fear of what others think and their belief and bravery to help others and share something they believe in.

The client who loves and must let go of people she really cares about.

The reader who is finally pregnant after years of trying only to realize her fear is stealing her joy.

The muck between knowing we are worthy, lovable, enough and the old stories our head tells us that we aren't.

The acquaintance who desperately wants and needs to make a change in her life and feels comfortable even if it is in her known misery.

The client who is very early in a pregnancy after a miscarriage and a stillbirth, feeling the pull to protect the memory of her sons while also loving and hoping for this new baby.

My pride in a growing business and the frustration in it not happening fast enough.

All of it the complicated gray and what I am learning is my gift for this world.

 
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Because the complicated gray is the permission to change the but to an and.

Giving ourselves permission to feel it all, all at the same time; the anger and acceptance, the  joy and the longing, the fear and the hope.

The permission to walk into the muck of the gray between the certainties of life; allowing ourselves to hold both truths, as difficult and uncomfortable as that is, we will awaken to life in color.

The anxious hope. The doubting worth. The frustrated belief. The boundaried love. The yearning acceptance.

The longing joy as the childless mother.

So, I will continue to fight for this next book because it is needed, I see the power in it every day in my life and He seems to be reminding me of it more and more.

Thank you for your patience as I continue my advocacy work, my jobs that actually pay the bills and working on the follow up to Ever Upward. And, I'll take whatever prayers, positive sparkles, love and shares/tweets/likes you've got.

He Welcomes Them Home

I sit scrunched in the church pew by Chad's cousin in the second row. I have a decent view of Chad's grandma's profile but I cannot see Chad at all on the other side of the church in the front pew. He is sitting with his cousins serving as a pallbearer. We have all spent the last seven days together. The first several waiting for Chad's grandpa to pass after suffering a stroke he never woke up from. The last couple for services.

We were all together as grandpa Biddie took is last breath.

It was the ultimate complicated gray; loss and peace.

The grief of losing a great man of 88 years, a husband of almost 68 years, a kind and faithful father and the quiet and loving grandfather.

The peace of his passing, of no more pain or suffering, and being welcomed into the arms of his savior Jesus Christ.

Sitting in the pew next to Jenny, both of us attempting to sing the right note alongside the organ player for the hymn and holding back sobs, I feel my eyes fill with tears.

Tears of grief and tears of peace.

Pastor Pam closes from the pulpit, "God never watches His children die. He welcomes them home."

Home to no pain and never not feeling good again.

Home to the glory of eternity.

I glance back over to look at Chad and I can't help but think, home with our babies.

This brutal and beautiful life is all of it, all at once, and always.

The more I get to know this complicated gray, the discomfort and the permission of the space of holding two truths, the more enamored and grateful I am for it.

Friends, take a breath, look at your loved ones, feel your history, hope for your future and choose to love.

Life is hard. God is good.

And, it's all amazing.

~~~

It felt very fitting that I also discovered Hillary Scott's new song Thy Will today.

 
 

The Longing Mother

They turned up the lights after one song. We usually sing four amazing rock-band-like songs which is one of the many reasons I love our church.

Then I remembered seeing the reserved seats walking in, “Reserved for families of children dedication”.

Shit. Oh, shit.

Today is the children’s dedication at church.

Click here to continue reading over at Still Mothers.

Petite Post: Negotiations With a 3 Year Old

As a trained and experienced therapist I know the five stages of grief well. As a survivor of loss I'll tell you where you can stick those five stages.

Loss leaves us forever changed and not wrapped up pretty with a bow in the 5th and final stage of acceptance.

Rather, grief and loss are like handling negotiations with the average three year old; riding the waves between wild, stubborn tantrums full of attitude and affectionate cuddles sprinkled with articulated love.

Grief can feel like the dramatic threenager, and sometimes we just have to be along for the ride.

 
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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.

 
 

Penned Musing: A Spoken Sea of Names

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

A Spoken Sea of Names

Another name.

A voice both full of love and sorrow all in the same breath speaks another name into the microphone over the crowd of people awash in a sea of orange.

Another name.

Over 500 names.

Over 500 souls lost too soon.

Over 500 names, never spoken out loud enough, put into the crisp, sun-filled fall day along the river.

And with each name another wave.

A wave of grief. A wave of smiles. A wave of sadness. A wave of love; all washing over me with my senses too overwhelmed to really take it all in.

A wave of orange.

With each name a wave of orange balloons both escape and release from the hands of a forever changed family.

At times it is a tiny wave of a only a few balloons, others a multitude of them.

Floating high into the blue sky, some with messages for their babies in heaven.

Tears. Smiles. Tears. Laughter.

Love. Honor.

The honor of loving them coexisting with our grief of losing them beyond too soon washing over us like the waves in the sea.

The sea of spoken names in waves of orange taking my breath away still.

 
 
 
 
 
 

~~~

The Share Walk of Remembrance and Hope was on October 17th. You can support Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support by purchasing your signed copy of Ever Upwardhere! Use coupon code OCT15 for $5 off!

Petite Post: It Gets Different

Every day I learn a lesson in this lifelong journey of grief. Now a few years out of our failed infertility journey some of those lessons knock me on my ass, some push me forward and some lift me up on a firm foundation.

 
 

I am often asked,

Does it ever get better?

To which I say in complete love and loathing of the complicated gray,

It gets different.

Some days are better.

Some are brutal.

All days, in each lesson, I am shown that it gets different.

I am different; some days better, some brutal.

Hope Needs to Die?

 
 

A huge part (the more bitter part) of me wanted to title this series Hope Needs to Die but I know that title would not honor the work I am doing or my story, so I embraced When Hope Grows Up.

For the next five days I will be sharing short posts on the topic of hope; and if you are a follower of my work you already know I consider hope to be one tricky SOB right alongside acceptance, forgiveness and letting go.

So hold on folks, it may get bumpy on this hope ride.

In this series, we are going to consider a more complicated, and therefore uncomfortable, way of keeping, having and redefining hope. You may agree, disagree, grow, think, feel, and most definitely, probably squirm a bit in the next five days.

The good news is that this discomfort means you are learning and growing, and I believe, therefore living.

Guest Post: For Better or For Worse

In celebration of and to help build momentum for the April 7th bookstore launch of Ever Upward, I will be posting a guest post each week. These guest posts are written by my dear friends and biggest supporters of my work. I am so excited to introduce you all to their stories, their voices and their work in the coming weeks. This week we have my new friend Chelsea over at Starbucks, Peace and the Pursuit of a Baby. I absolutely love this guest piece she has written for me! Infertility can having amazing or awful consequences on our relationships, we must talk about this! Make sure to follow Chelsea's blog for amazing Friday laughs and her incredible light of faith she shines on this world. Please also send her love, light and prayers as her and her husband are enduring another loss right now.

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Infertility is hard. Who’s with me? The battle is filled with highs and lows, moments you think you’re beating it and then moments your world seems to come crashing down. My journey through infertility has brought us through a PCOS diagnosis, 6 Clomid cycles, several IUI + letrozole cycles, 4 IVF cycles (2 fresh and 2 frozen) and 2 miscarriages. As I look back at this blur of years, I realize that other than my faith, the only consist part of my journey has been that my husband Josh has been with me throughout it all.

In Justine’s book Ever Upward, she says “Marriages and partnerships, just like relationships, will either evolve and flourish or wither and die in times of trauma and hardships.” How true is that? All relationships in your life will be challenged when you are struggling with infertility, but the one that can take the greatest beating is your marriage. Josh and I will be married for 10 years this July and as we march through this war, I am constantly reminded that we made a promise that we would be together “for better or for worse”. Truth is, infertility feels like a big unanticipated dose of “for worse”. Miscarriages, brutal surgeries, insane amounts of medicine, impressively intense mood swings – all of these things add up and wham, hit your marriage with challenges, making communication critical.

But here’s the thing I have continued to learn as we fight – this relationship is the most important one to protect and that because we have each other, we are not alone. Can I encourage you today to remember that your marriage deserves even more attention than your infertility? I have been guilty of focusing so much on treatments and how I feel, that my communication skills become lack luster. But when Josh and I are in a good groove, communicating openly, making time for one another, listening and attempting to love each other with one another’s Love Language, the battle, as hard as it is, seems a whole lot easier.

Having a baby isn’t going to make a marriage magically all better. In fact, from what I have heard, it makes it even harder. Becoming parents isn’t going to make you click more, connect deeper, fit into your group of friends better. You have to start with a solid foundation before you add to it. This is a challenge because your spouse can be the easiest person to take all your emotions out on. After a long day of feeling brutally run down from hormones, I want to shut down, hold up, snap and demand that Josh matches my mood. Nights like this are rarely a highlight of the week because communication is messy and I fall into the rut of someone held captive by her swinging emotions. Even worse, sometimes I use my medicine as an excuse to be impatient or demanding or cranky. Not okay.

If you are struggling to figure out how to reconnect with your spouse, I want to commend you for knowing that something is off. As soon as we are aware that there is something we want to work on, it becomes easier to work towards a solution. Communication is the best way to ensure a relationship is successful – and communication doesn’t mean a whole lot of yelling and “I always …. you never..”’s

Justine shares in her book some great ways to reignite the spark by having monthly date nights, an idea I love! It’s so great to focus on each other and date again. Perhaps you are a little stalled for conversation - grab some starter questions easily found on the internet. Open yourself up to being open and honest about how you are handling this road. It’s a vulnerable place, there may be tears, there may be questions, but it’s so worth it.

Don’t forget to laugh together and respect one another’s emotions. If you are like us and you have a marriage founded on your faith in Christ, Casting Crowns + Focused on the Family recently offered a great series, 28 Days to a Thriving Marriage, which is an emailed devotional that can challenge and inspire you and your spouse to move closer together.

When you are in a funk, remind yourself that you married your spouse because you wanted to spend forever with them, not because you wanted to procreate with them. Infertility is a battle, adoption can be tough, and choosing to live a childfree life is hard. But your spouse? They are likely feeling the same things as you, even if they don’t share it as often. Reignite that spark and let your love flag fly.

 
 

I love to connect with new readers and friends! Stop by my blog at trialsbringjoy.com or let’s connect on Instagram at @chels819. Can’t wait to “meet” you!

Guest Post: The Gift of Infertility

In celebration of and to help build momentum for the April 7th bookstore launch of Ever Upward, I will be posting a guest post each week. These guest posts are written by my dear friends and biggest supporters of my work. I am so excited to introduce you all to their stories, their voices and their work in the coming weeks. This week I am beyond grateful to share a piece by Sophia's Story. In the truest sense of the words, I have found a true fellow warrior in Sophia's Story. Her courage to share her love and loss of Sophia and to keep the love and spirit alive is a message at the heart of Ever Upward. We must talk about our children, our losses; our loves. And, we ask you, our loved ones, to also talk and speak of our angels. Through our spoken words we can continue to heal and choose how we are forever changed by them. We not only educate but we can heal together and rise ever upward.

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The Gift of Infertility

Holding my tiny baby, born at twenty weeks, my heart melted with love for her despite her imminent death lurking from the depths of my worst nightmares. Her red skin fragile under the cotton blanket, I was too afraid to move her, to hurt her, to let her go. Gingerly passing her back and forth with my husband, careful to support her apple-sized head and to keep her warmly swaddled in the blue and pink polka-dots, we spent nearly ninety beautiful minutes with Sophia before she was gone. Despite being left with nothing but a silver heart full of ashes, her presence lingers each day in my thoughts, my actions, my words. She dances in my mind, reminding me of who I am and where I have been.

We were assured by doctors that Sophia’s genetic condition, while largely unknown, was a fluke. Others encouraged us to try again. We did—twice. We lost babies—twice. After the second loss, I thought oh no, not again! After the third, I wanted to kill the Universe, however one goes about doing that.

We were begrudgingly catapulted into the “recurrent pregnancy loss” club. Unbeknownst to me in a previously carefree life, this also meant we joined the ranks of infertility. We were like other couples wanting children who struggled; nonetheless, we were different. We could get pregnant. It was sustaining a pregnancy that felt momentous, impossible, unattainable.

With each loss, waves of grief ebbed and flowed. Some days I felt “normal”. Most days I felt alone. Many days I sobbed. Rare days I laughed as though sadness were nothing but a despondent affliction. Through the pain, tears, and desperate clinging to my husband--who was the only one who understood me now--I wrote. I shared. I connected with men and women whose lives, completely unknown to me, had inexplicably bumped into mine through our shared loss experiences. Having no fear, other than the world losing Sophia’s memory, I relayed her entire life, putting in details that I should have found too private to impart.

The bonds I have made with strangers are as tight as connections with people I have known for years. The power of empathy, heightened by the abysmal depth of my grief, opened my senses to feeling what others feel, sensing what others sense, and connecting to the community in unfathomable ways. People, in their own time and their own way, feel safe to share their stories with me. People trust me. And, hopefully, people find a sense of comfort from me.

Recently, on my last day of a volunteer job, I sat back-to-back with a coworker. We worked silently at our computers, until she made a fleeting comment about my blog. She and I had rarely spoken over the course of nine months, sharing pleasant greetings and cordial smiles. On this day we sat together, alone, in a small furniture-stuffed office. Word passed throughout the staff of my story; others who knew of her strife shared my writings in an earnest effort to ease her grief. Behind her occasional hellos, soft smiles, and fleeting eyes, her life’s journey was a mystery to me.

 
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Somewhere in her soul, she sensed a rare chance to reach out and expose what she had so carefully hidden away, revealing a miscarriage after going through infertility treatments. My cheeks released their tension, the friendly grin fading into a grimace of concern.  My condolences ended with: “it is a lonely journey, but you are never alone.” She replied, “You’re right, I do feel so lonely.” A pause allowed for her face to soften. “But I never thought how I am not actually alone.” For my words she shed a tear, wiped it quickly away, and hugged me.

Four years ago, holding our little baby wrapped so tenderly in polka-dots, I never dreamed of what Sophia’s short life would afford me. I never dreamed I would break out of my introverted shell and reveal profoundly personal parts of my journey with whoever will listen. I never dreamed I would find an inconceivable pride for helping humanity in a way that only survivors can. Sophia is our loss, but more importantly she is my inspiration to live compassionately, to empathize, and to reach out to as many people as possible. Sophia is the greatest gift of my life.

Forever Changed, Never Fixed

Surviving loss, trauma and tragedy means we are forever changed. Thriving thereafter means we figure out how to be okay. Finding and moving ever upward means we figure out how to be better than okay. Things can and will get better but I am not sure we are ever fixed.

Just because the subtitle of Ever Upward includes the words to own a childfree life and just because I often write the words acceptance of a childfree life does not mean that I am fixed.

Better doesn't mean fixed

Just because a woman gets pregnant after struggling to do so, whether or not through successful treatments or unexpectedly, does not mean she's fixed or all better.

Just because the adoption has gone through doesn't mean that the family is fixed.

Just because we have survived...

Just because we are putting one foot in front of the other...

Just because we seem or are better...

Just because we got the goal...

Just because we are done...

Does not mean that it is like it never happened or that we are all better.

We are doing the work.

We are forever healing.

We are forever changed.

But, never fixed.

Forever changed through our choices

When we have suffered through the difficulties of family planning, infertility or not, it comes with figuring out how to be okay with the lifelong losses; the scars. Even, when we determine what our happy ending is, it doesn't undo the painful journey we've traveled before.

Working with women through the infertility process has meant that I help them to give themselves permission to feel the complicated grey of it all. Because, after suffering through any level of infertility a woman just doesn't get to be excited about finally being pregnant. Infertility steals this excitement and joy from us. And, what makes it even worse is when the people around us feel like we should just be okay or better or, worse yet, fixed.

Embracing the grey

Survivors of infertility know the millions of things that could go wrong, because they have.

Survivors of infertility know how quickly your joyful high can be crushed by the breath stealing loss of heartbreak.

Survivors of infertility no longer have the luxury of living in the black and white like a lot of  us think, and even sometimes demand, that the world exists.

We've lived through it, felt it all and literally embodied the complicated grey that life really is. Nothing is all good or all bad. As a therapist I work a lot with clients on challenging the unhealthy thinking pattern of black and white thinking.

Life just isn't that simple.

 
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Infertility or not, whatever we have had to survive in this life, and we will all have something, it is never I think, all good or all bad. And, I just don't think we have a choice but to be forever changed by it all somehow. This is the work we must do. The work to be okay; to be better than okay. Because, that is where our choice lies, to choose how to be okay after we've survived it.

To choose how we are forever changed.

Accepting and owning a childfree, yet childfull life, does not mean that I am fixed. Losing my three babies forever changed me but it is within my power to choose how they changed me. For today, it is in finding my purpose to use the giftsHe has given me. It is in giving myself and others the permissions we need to truly embrace all of ourselves. The permissions to make choices not through desperation or fear but through wholeheartedness and love. The permissions to determine when our enough and everything is.

To stop proving it. To truly own it. To break the silence. To embrace it all. Living wholeheartedly brave.

This is my story.

This is our story.

This is Ever Upward.