When We Become a Mother or Father

A deep knowing breath. The warmth of a soul scar healing just a bit more.

A sense of truth, understanding and validation.

This is just a tiny sense of what I felt when I read these words from Lindsey Henke in her Still Standing post.

"But in my opinion a mother isn’t born when a child is born. A mother and father are born when the dream of a child is conceived."

There are times when I allow my comparison, scarcity and shame to dim my light and I am fearful of sharing my story. This fear is born out of the messages I tell myself. The messages that have actually been said out loud to me. And, the messages that society drills into me.

There will be some who will never ever consider me a mother. The ones who say I didn't try enough. The ones who judge my decision to not adopt. The ones who say I must not have wanted to be a mother badly enough. The ones who say I didn't lose because our three babies were only eight cell embryos.

I will never get full understanding from everyone, let alone validation. But, I will still speak my story. I will own all the parts of my story. And, I will continue to fight and break the shamed silence that surrounds infertility, miscarriage, infant loss and recovery.

But, I will not do so to convince my deniers.

I will do so because if I don't I simply am not living my ever upward.

If I don't I am not practicing my recovery, that I fought like hell to get to.

If I don't I am not following my light.

Becoming a mother

I became a mother the minute I posted my ad on the surrogacy message board. I became even more of a mother when I met Michelle. I became even more of a mother when our embryos were transferred into her loving and mothering uterus. I became even more of a mother the days we received the call that none of our babies were strong enough to even implant.

I am a mother with empty arms here on this earth. I am a mother who parents her children on this side of eternity. I am a mother to many people and things in my life.

Simply, I too, was born a mother the day I dreamed of becoming one.

I am a childfree mother who lives a childfull life.

This is me.

This is my light.

This is my ever upward.

Always redefining, finding ever upward

We dream and then sometimes we lose.

We suffer and then we rise.

We struggle and then we thrive.

These are choices we must make each and every day. These are my choices to let go of what was never meant to be mine and to make sure it wasn't for nothing. Because I know I am a mother and more.

These are our choices to embrace our stories, to redefine and own it all.

This is life.

It is sad.

It is amazing.

It is ever upward.

*To read more about our surrogacy story and my recovery to preorder your copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.*

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

The Tablespoon of Shame

Many say our generations have been raised very differently. Some say that our previous generations were raised with humility at the core. This message that you aren't that special and you must work to prove your worthiness, maybe even to the point of perfection. This message was especially delivered with that sense that you must appear perfect, especially to everyone on the outside.

Then we have some saying that our newer generations are being raised one of two ways:

  • to think we are all too special thus leading us to this sense of entitlement on one extreme, maybe even to the point of laziness and a lack of responsibility.
  • Then the other extreme, this sense of needing to always be the best at any and everything, leading us to having an identity of only accomplishments, hence even more perfectionism.

I am not here to share the research or to even prove or disprove either argument. And, I am not going to write about parenting today. However, as I work with clients every day, especially through the shame resilience work of The Daring Way™, and I continue to work on my own recovery, I am seeing a few patterns that seem to be haunting many of us today.

 
 

With the previous generation this message of humility seems to often have been handed down with a tablespoon of shame. This idea that you aren't that special. You must prove yourself; you must be perfect even.

What I see in my office with clients today are people trying to figure out what to do with this sense of unworthiness that this tablespoon of shame has left them with. This sense of never being enough. This idea that unless I am perfect, unless I prove myself, I am unworthy of love and belonging; because, I am not that special.

With the newer generations and the message that we are all really special, still taught with a tablespoon of shame as it is directly tied to self worth, I see clients who are feeling extremely lost.

So scared to make a decision, maybe even scared of the work required of whatever decision they finally make. The fear of the responsibility because if they do make a mistake then they are handed the message, with that tablespoon of shame, that they are no longer special at all.

Or the other side, the side of always having to be the best; to have the ultimate college application or resume. That perfectionist, only born out of that tablespoon of shame, accomplished list rather than a soul or person. Because, I am only special because of what I can do or what I have accomplished.

I am finding that they too are very lost. Lost in finding their authentic truth. Lost in being able to trust themselves. Lost in knowing who they really want to be, especially outside of their accomplishments.

All three groups, at least what I see in my office on a daily basis, are left with this sense of never being enough and yet this sense of having to be everything. And, this damn tablespoon of shame that seems to haunt them relentlessly. Making it all tied to their sense of love, belonging and worthiness.

We are all worthy. We are all lovable. We all belong.

And, we are all worthy of love and belonging.

However, I think, this tablespoon of shame, leaves many of us never believing the above statements.

Technically we are supposed to get this sense of love and belonging from our family of origin but sometimes they just don't have it to give, maybe because they were never taught or shown it or because life has just been that difficult. Hopefully then we get it from our social and peer groups or even school or work settings.

For me, with where my life is, my tablespoon of shame is typically delivered from our culture and, unfortunately, even from some loved ones.

It is delivered in those messages that try to dim my light and shame my story.

The complete mis-education and misunderstanding of infertility.

The invalidation of the lifelong costs and losses of infertility.

The judgments on me for not choosing adoption and accepting a childfree but childfull life.

The denial of my story because it is too difficult or uncomfortable to hear.

No matter the tablespoon of shame in our lives, this sense of love and belonging can still be felt by all of us. It is in all of the daily practices we must choose in order to find this for ourselves; to find it within ourselves. Those daily practices of connection, compassion, brave vulnerability and self care. For me, it has been the work that I have learned from Brené Brown's research combined with everything I have learned working in this field for the last 14 years.

It is recovery.

It is living the wholehearted life. It is practicing happy to be happy. It is being authentic. It is being brave. It is being vulnerable.

It is in owning it all.

No matter which group we may identify with above, I think our answer through it to our happier and healthier selves is in our practice, fight and work in our own recoveries in life.

It is in owning all the parts of our stories.

It is in leaving out that tablespoon of shame in our recipe for an ever upward life.

*To read more about my story and my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.*

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

Through Fear and Judgment to Own It All, I Dare You

It is not uncommon to see my clients struggling to own their stories. Struggling, especially, to own every single part of their stories. We can all struggle to own, let alone, accept, embrace and maybe even like every single part of ourselves and our stories.

 
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I've been point blank asked by a client, "How do you just put it all out there? Without any qualms or fears?"

To which I made sure to be very real, very honest and very brave.

Owning all the parts of my story, even on my strongest of days, is born only through mustering up major courage.

And, this courage simply does not exist without a dose of fear.

On the good days I say who I am, I say my choices, I say my mistakes without skipping a beat; palms dry, voice steady and my passionate light shining through.

On the harder days I say who I am, I say my choices, I say my mistakes while stumbling over my words; palms clammy and hot, voice shaking, and yet, I still make sure my passionate light shines through.

It has only been through my own brutal work with my therapist and my work through The Daring Way™ that the ownership of my story has strengthened. It is only with this continued work, practice and fight for my recovery that my shame dwindles more and more each day.

But never assume that this courageous ownership is done without any fear. As it is only through working my recovery every single day that my story is told without much shame and my fear is more easily mastered to speak and own it all any way.

I will continue to own and tell my story to help and change myself and hopefully others. And I can only do this with wholehearted bravery, feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Because, if I leave only one legacy on this earth, I hope it is the shining light of truth that this is the only way back to ourselves, back to peace, health and happiness and to find our ever upward.

~~~~

However, I was also recently challenged on how much I am able to own my story within the limitations of our world's judgments.

We all judge, some definitely more so than others.

We have all been judged, some definitely more so than others.

I am not sure we will ever be able to fully escape the very human experience of judgment. What I do know is that the more I accept, embrace and own my story, all the parts of my story, especially the really difficult, misunderstood, invalidated and judged parts of my story is that this judgment really doesn't have any room to grow.

Really sit with this; it is really difficult to truly judge someone who wholeheartedly accepts, embraces and owns themselves and every single part of their story.

I am not sure there will ever be a day that I am not judged on my story;

judged for not figuring out how to try more rounds of IVF, both financially and emotionally,

judged for knowing and outwardly stating that we are not choosing to adopt,

judged for accepting a childfree life and yet leading a very childfull life,

judged for living this all out loud,

judged for attempting to change the shamed silence of infertility,

judged for authentically living my work in recovery,

and judged for being the genuinely vulnerable therapist that I am.

But I dare you to hold on to your judgments as you read my words let alone hear me speak my story.

I dare you.

 
 

I am a survivor of infertility and IVF.

I stopped treatments after two failed rounds, because for us that was enough.

I know adoption is not my path to my family.

I bear the soul scars of three never to be babies, and yet I am still a mother.

I am accepting a childfree life, while having a very childfull life.

I will spend the rest of my life finding the end to my story by giving people permission to break the silence of infertility, and to break the silence of any of their sufferings.

I am resolving to know more than one happy ending.

I am an open and honest therapist who fights for her own recovery.

And, I dare you to judge me.

Because, without a doubt I have faith and trust that when I own every single part of my story, through my fear, shame and all, your judgment will become just uncomfortable enough for you that your world will open up.

You will learn. You will see me, all of me. And, with that sight I can only hope you grow a little more educated, a little more compassionate and a lot more brave yourself.

And, I assure you, I will not allow your judgment and your misunderstanding to dim my light.

I will own it.

All of it.

Because only then do I find myself again.

And, only then will this light shine bright enough to hopefully give others the ever upward courage to do the very same.

I dare you...

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

Understanding More of My Why While Practicing the How

It has been a whirlwind of a few weeks for me with the birth of my namesake and newest chosen child Abigail, the signing of my book contract for Ever Upward and my first podcast interview for infertility advocacy with Julie at Fertility Revolution. It has been a few weeks full of fear, exhaustion, love, excitement, pure enough moments and a sense that my ever upward is truly settling into my core, my spirit, my everything.

Building the platform for the book and doing my first interviews for infertility advocacy and for marketing Ever Upward has forced me to zero in on my message (more to come on this in a future post). It has also helped me to continue to wholeheartedly own all the parts of my story with brazen courage. It has also lit a fire inside of me that has brought me some considerable clarity.

Telling my story has brought me this clarity and the words to understand more of my why. This sense that even the painful, unlucky and just plain crazy parts of my story are okay; they are my path. They are simply my puzzle pieces of life.

These crazy twists of my life:

  • not one, but two, back surgeries both with a body cast.
  • IVF and gestational surrogacy not working for us and losing our three babies.
  • and the unexpected expansion of our surrogate's family, and therefore, my chosen children family.

are really enough to make anyone bitter, angry and forever scarred.

However, on this side of surviving infertility and recovering thereafter, I have come to embrace that I may never get the good enough reason why these things have happened to me. And I don't have to have this understanding to be okay or to even be fulfilled and happy.

And, as I have worked within my faith recently, I am also realizing that perhaps this is simply meant to be my story while also having the faith that it is not the end of it. Because I know with my whole heart that I have never done anything to deserve this amount of hurt and pain in my life. And even though I've always deemed myself as just unlucky, on this side of recovery I can truly say that this has nothing to do with luck at all.

 
 

Because as this light becomes more and more clear within me, what I am finding is that this is simply the reason I am here. This is my star soon to shine. I have loved which means I also have to choose.

I have to choose what I do with my story.

I have to choose what I do with my soul scars.

I have to choose to make it ever upward.

So, it is with more and more clarity and understanding of my why that I am still figuring out the how. Because, really, it is the how that everyone wants to know.

How did you survive two back surgeries? How did you survive living in a body cast? How did you survive losing three babies?

How have you not only survived but thrived?

In all honesty, I am not sure.

I have survived by fighting.

I have survived by practicing recovery.

I have survived because I didn't give myself any other choice.

I have survived because I have let go of needing the complete understanding of my whole why.

I am surviving because I am here; writing, struggling and owning it all every single day.

I am surviving, recovering and thriving because that is the light, the love, the soul of ever upward.

The Complicated Gray

Several days after one of the most difficult days of the year for me, Mother's Day, I am reminded at how complicated this whole thing actually is...infertility, childfree living, loss, trauma, tragedy, faith...life. I've written it many times before; life is hard and people are complicated. It never seems to be very black or white, which sometimes would be nice and so much simpler.

But most all of life is in the complicated gray; always between the simplicity of black or while.

Albeit, beautiful complicated gray.

 
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This weekend I felt everything. Mother's Day was a good day but it was still super difficult and felt very sad, at least inside my own head and heart. All the talk of mothers and mothering at church wasn't easy to hear. Feeling torn and like a bad daughter and daughter in law because just acknowledging the day is difficult and I really needed to honor my own pain and myself. But, also spending the afternoon swimming and playing with three of my favorite little boys filled every cell of my body with pure joy, love and laughter. I am also so thankful for all the messages and cards I received and for the blogs I read about how wonderful and difficult Mother's Day can be for so many of us.

The complicated gray.

Our losses, traumas and tragedies are never uncomplicated; infertility, IVF and accepting a childfree life are definitely not an exception to this complication.

For me, especially as a therapist who has survived infertility and has fought to thrive thereafter, the complicated gray is always there.

The complicated gray I feel between the lifelong costs and losses of infertility and childfree living with the peace, freedom and happiness I have achieved through my recovery.

The complicated gray of making my almost enough moments my enough moments.

The complicated gray of honoring my losses but never allowing my heart and soul to scar over and close.

The complicated gray of the anger and bitterness at the unfairness with the trust and faith in the 'I'm okay and it's okay'.

The complicated gray of owning my shame and sadness while also educating and fighting for my story and the importance of my message and voice.

And for the many women out there struggling with any difficulty in the department of mothering and infertility, the complicated gray is never ending.

The complicated gray of living in shamed silence of infertility and desperately wanting and needing to be seen and heard.

The complicated gray of self sabotaging ourselves because we feel so damaged and shamed in our infertility battles; betrayed by our bodies, by science and, sometimes even ourselves or our loved ones.

The complicated gray of every impossible decision that must be made in the journey of infertility whether emotional, financial, moral or ethical.

The complicated gray of every parenting decision.

The complicated gray of the cautious hopefulness and the reality of the statistical un-success of infertility treatments.

The complicated gray of our real stories not being seen, heard or understood by many.

~~~~

I always work with my clients on finding the middle, seeing the gray and not thinking in such black or white terms. For the most part, our health and happiness lie in the middle; in the gray.

Through my infertility journey, my recovery and my ongoing acceptance of a childfree life I am learning that maybe we really must also truly embrace this complicated gray.

Because, I think, it is within this complicated gray we will find our permission for it all.

Permission for our stories.

Permission for our recoveries.

Permission for our light.

Permission for finding our ever upward.

Happy Mother's Day to All the Mothers of Many

Happy Mother's Day! Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers to be. Happy Mother's Day to those who have lost mothers. Happy Mother's Day to those who hope to be mothers. Happy Mother's Day to those of us who are mothers of angels. Happy Mother's Day to those of who who never get to mother in the traditional sense of the word.

Actually, I challenge... Happy Mother's Day to all women!

Because if I have learned anything throughout my own recovery I have learned that we are all mothers of some kind especially considering we tend to be full of compassion and putting others above ourselves almost always.

However, this Mother's Day, I will not be woken up at the crack of dawn by my little ones surprising me with handmade cards and pancakes in bed. I will not get a bouquet of dandelions picked from the yard. I will not be acknowledged by the majority of people in my life as today being any different than any other day.

But, I will be woken early by Gertie's growling tummy, Gracie's cold nose and Bosco's gentle snoring. I will spend the day with my furry children and my husband, not unlike any other regular Sunday but all the while knowing that Mother's Day will be bittersweet for me the rest of my life.

I will spend the day allowing myself to feel the anger at how unfair it can feel that I won't ever get the joy of my children making this day all about me. I will spend my day allowing myself to feel the sadness at the lifelong costs and losses of infertility. I will spend the day at peace with my recovery and my work in accepting a childfree life. I will spend the day happy with my enough moments, my struggles and my light.

 
 

I will spend the day thinking of those three tiny souls in heaven  never meant to bloom here.

And, I will honor myself this day because I am a mother to many.

I will remind myself, as I want to remind all the mothers out there, to take care of ourselves, especially on this day. Make sure you receive care, from your loved ones and from yourself, because it is only through filling ourselves up that we can truly give and care for others.

So, on this angering, saddening, peaceful and happy day for me, I wish us all an ever upward Happy Mother's Day because I have no doubt we all mother something or someone in our lives.

Courageously Contagious

The overarching theme of Brené Brown's research and work is shame, vulnerability and courage. And it has completely helped me to change my entire life. The courage she displayed in her first TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is something to be in awe of. It has only been through witnessing this courage that many events in my life have unfolded and taken place; Emerging Women 2013, Ever Upward the book and the blog, The Daring Way™ Certification training, and really, the first spark of my own recovery.

Because courage is contagious.

Witnessing courage in others; through the work of my patients, through my own loved ones and through amazing people like Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Melton helps us all to believe in our own power to change our lives.

And there are simply not enough sufficient words to portray the emotion I feel when others own their stories because I have owned mine.

Every single like, comment, and especially, share of Ever Upward posts.

The woman who has never spoken to anyone but her husband about their infertility struggles and stumbles upon Ever Upward to then post on Facebook that she is starting a infertility support group at her church.

My friend who admitted to more friends of how they finally became pregnant with their soon to be born baby girl.

My patient who chooses her recovery every day because she knows we've all had to fight some sense of recovery in our lives, even me, her therapist.

 
 

It is not always easy to speak, let alone own, all the parts of my story. Shame still resides in me, really in us all, as my unhealthy, unwanted, and really unneeded, savior; the dark dementor that comes in to shut me down, to protect me from pain and judgment.

The shame that comes in making me feel a dark, heavy pit in my stomach that then wafts the suffocating fog over my spirit dulling my light.

I felt it just this past week when Huffington Post ran the article, The Question The Gives You a One in Eight Chance of Being an Insensitive Jerk. I was so excited to see a huge site like HuffPost run a blog post about infertility. And I will completely admit, I only wish they had featured my blog and that they had spoken more to every side of the infertility world, but breaking the silence of infertility on any level is a step towards the death of shame that silences us so much.

But then I made the mistake of reading the comments on HuffPost's Facebook page in response to the article. The amount of ignorance, judgment and mercilessness were all I needed for my shame to pull everything I've worked so hard on right out from under me. I was faced with the words that bring on my shame spiral in a blink of an eye, "I don't understand why people who cannot have kids don't just adopt."

It hit me like a two ton shield. My heart started racing, my breath quickened and I could feel the dark pit in my stomach churn. My dementor came in so quickly to shut me down, to "protect" me, to steal my light.

And then I named it.

Shame.

I took a breath, reminded myself of the power of my light and I spoke. I took a moment to post a comment myself on the Facebook feed, taking the opportunity to educate on how much infertility is misunderstood, minimized and invalidated, especially with that inevitable question. And, then I also emailed HuffPost asking them to run additional articles on this subject and even submitted for an opportunity to write something myself.

I took a breath and I found my courage.

I took a breath and embraced the pain and the judgment to remind me that the flame of my spirit, my core values, are courage and hope. And unless, I protect that flame myself, no one else will ever be able to see it.

 
 

I took a breath and I spoke.

I took a breath and I tried to be contagious.

As, it has only been through the courage and spark of others' protecting and living their own flame, that I have found mine.

Because courage is contagious.

So even if HuffPost never features Ever Upward or my book doesn't become a New York Times bestseller or the blog never achieves a hundred thousand followers I will still be here.

I will still be here, shining my light of courage and hope because it is the only way I honor my own recovery. And, if my light sparks the courage in even just one person to fight for finding their own ever upward, well then, I consider it contagious.

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.

 
 

Shamed Silence Broken

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it matter how the childfree status is come to?

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

~~~~

 
 

But to own her truth, she breaks her silence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fill in your _________________.

My mission of Ever Upward has been clear from the very beginning and my purpose in Ever Upward continues to only grow stronger. Because, I write for many reasons; healing, helping, educating... but as I have learned over the last week in my Daring Way™ certification training, I write to invoke change. I have been torn between being oh so grateful for the many shares, views, follows and the expansive exposure Ever Upward has received in only 3 short months and the inherent need for more. Analyzing how to write so more people are moved and so more people have the courage to share it on Facebook or to email it to someone they love. Questioning myself in my desires for the outside validation of the view count or earning Freshly Pressed versus my soul's desire for my words to reach many in order to help.

It has been suggested, and most of me knows, that for Ever Upward to continue to grow and to reach the people who need it most, I must write to the masses, which for many would be to not include infertility, IVF, pregnancy loss and childfree acceptance. Those who bravely read and share Ever Upward; my friends, my family and even the strangers all across the world supporting me, know Ever Upward is about more than IVF; it is about life. Ever Upward is about recovery. However, it would be naive to believe that people will click on or share my words freely when it includes some of the most shamed and silenced parts of our society and ourselves.

So, I propose a challenge for us all. Fill in the ____________________.

Whatever your struggle. Whatever your loss. Whatever your hurt. Whatever your shame.

What is your recovery? When you read IVF, fill in your ____________________.

For me, I have recovered from anxiety, depression, general discontent, unhappiness and anger, and yes, IVF, shame and childlessness. That is my journey. That is my story. But I know parts of it can apply to everyone's story.

As part of my training for The Daring Way ™ I wrote a personal manifesto on the first night of training. Sitting here this last night before heading home tomorrow I am even surer of the words I wrote:

 
 

I will practice authenticity and have the courage to tell my story, living it out loud, without apology, in order to stop proving it and to actually own it.

Because I was born, and have survived to thrive, to help and heal myself and others.

And in my heart of hearts, I believe my story can start the conversation to change the isolating shame that surrounds infertility, IVF, pregnancy loss, childfree acceptance and recovery.

As it is only through my own daring greatly, and the connection of my story, that I can be healed and find myself again. And, only then will I connect, help and heal others.

Ever Upward will continue to include some of the most shamed words in our lexicon; IVF, infertility, pregnancy loss and childlessness. Because this is my journey. My story. And it is with much hope that I choose to believe that one day my light and the courage I have found in owning my story will move you to share it anyways, to inspire the continuation of the excruciating shame conversation that suffocates the infertility world. However, I will also continue to write about life, learning, growing and choosing change. Because, it is only with this acceptance of the shame surrounding IVF, infertility and childlessness, that more eyes and hearts will stumble upon my words.

As, I will have faith that my words will reach who needs them most. And I will trust that my story will spark change. Given that, I will no longer try to just prove it and I will own, and live out loud, my story and my light.

Because this is myever upward.

Reaching Through the Keyhole of Your Closet

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

Ever Upward is my authentic truth telling.

My story.

 
 

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

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

I’ve Stopped; They're Still Trying

Being a mental health therapist means I have the personality, training and education for empathy. I live every minute of my life, personally and professionally, having almost too much empathy a lot of the time. The older I get the more I wish I had been warned of this hazard of my field in graduate school. Being wired this way (and also trained and educated) I never get to just be pissed at someone or hurt. I can always see all sides of everything…all of the time! I, almost always, can get you. I get it. For the most part, my job, my being, my soul all see you, know you, love you and understand you. In other words, I felt a dramatic pull to this week’s writing challenge! This post is inspired by the Wordpress Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave Your Shoes at the Door: "This week, we’re asking you to consider things from a different point of view — to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. Leave your moccasins and bunny slippers at the door, and tell us a tale from a fully-immersed perspective that is not your own. Show us your truth’s journey. We want to walk this mile with you."

I have been bravely honest about my failed journey in In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and my struggle in learning how to accept a childfree life throughout my entire Ever Upward. Coming out to publicly state that I have said enough is enough to infertility treatments before they achieved me the intended result of a child. Publicly stating that adoption isn’t for my husband and me. Publicly, stating that we are working the Frankenstein walk of accepting a childfree life.

Living all of these truths, out loud, while also openly showing how much I love children, how badly I wanted them and how much I still love to have them in my life. Educating on all of these truths, because it is time we finally talk about them in order to shine light on the shame of infertility. Owning all of my truths, because I hope to help myself in my own continued healing, to inspire others and to help in some understanding of what my story, and millions of other women’s stories, that are infertility.

I’ve Stopped ~ My Story (Short Version – Complete story in the forthcoming book Ever Upward)                  

Due to medical reasons, it has never been recommended that I carry a pregnancy. And frankly, it simply isn’t a risk I have been willing to take after two back surgeries and spending a year of my life in a body cast. We tried two rounds of IVF with a gestational surrogate, transferring a total of three embryos. A pregnancy was never achieved (as my letters from the IVF clinic always apologized for). We had only planned, emotionally and financially, to try it once. But after losing our first two embryos (our first two babies), the loss crushed us enough to try one more time. We had always known adoption was not something that we felt was a good fit for us, which is a difficult truth to own. And after two years of IVF treatments, tens of thousands of dollars spent, three lost babies and more heartache than one should ever have to bear we made the impossible decision of ending IVF, owning that adoption isn’t for us and beginning the real work.

The work of redefining ourselves and our family.

The work of learning to let go.

The work of pushing through fear to own our truth and accept joy.

The work of our Ever Upward.

This work has included finding our spark again through actually dating each other. This work has included some traumatically lost relationships with our loved ones. This work has included major love and support from amazing loved ones. This work has included getting healthier and happier. This work has been nothing short of our own miracle.

They're Still Trying ~ Walking a Mile in Someone's Shoes

I received this amazing, and anonymous, message from my dear friend. The message was referring to my Conceiving Our Chosen Family post.

“Wow didn't know you knew the blog writer personally. Can I tell you how timely your post was? I can only     imagine that God himself was involved I am laying in bed today after having my 6th egg retrieval for IVF. I was having a mini pity party when I came across that blog post. For me it was another confirmation that God is good and he forms families in so many different ways. Ways that I cannot even fathom. Your posting was meant for me today, I just know it!”

The other side of this story is the one that isn’t talked about. The women (and men) who continue to live in shamed silence within their infertility battle, and after. The ones who have the means, or figure out where to find the means, to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on treatments. The ones who spend 5, 10, 15 years trying to conceive their dream family. The ones who try 5, 10, 15 rounds of IVF. The ones who move onto adoption when all other treatments fail.

I get these women. We keep trying because you can’t imagine not being a mother. We keep trying because that is what we are supposed to do. We keep trying because it does and can work…30% of the time. We keep trying because we can’t envision life if we were to stop.

But I also hurt for these women. I know the pain that is seared into every cell of our body with every negative pregnancy test or lost soul. I know the emotional and hormonal hell of the treatments and recoveries. I know the blinding agony of knowing that we want to be done but the fear that keeps us going because of the panic of being left with nothing to show for it.

I learn from those still trying, as their strength inspires me to continue my ever upward. And I can only hope my story can provide them with even just a little bit of hope. They may not be able to completely understand how I've stopped trying, as I may not be able to completely understand how they keep trying, but I have no doubt our stories are still much the same.

Our stories, infertility or not, are all different and yet the very same. No matter how long we've tried, no matter when or if we stop, we all share pieces of our stories, for they are our shared stories. We will all suffer loss and we all must learn to redefine. Ever Upward is my story, and yet I am finding it is every woman’s story; mother or not, because behind the wall of silence, shame, the smile, and the ‘I can do everything’ attitude lies millions of women suffering in silence with the pain of infertility. And yet our connection to our stories is the only way back to the truth of who we are, to own ourselves again, to find our ever upward.

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

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

Amy Adams found it through becoming a mother.

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

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

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

Feel the fear, and do it anyways.

Because this is growth.

 
 

This is fighting for joy.

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

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

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

It is here that ever upward lies.

Step toward it.

Open yourself up to it.

Embrace it.

And fight like hell for it!

Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

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

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

You CHOSE to not have kids.

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

Scary because I have ultimately feared this exact judgment.

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

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

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

But I know my truth.

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would be not owning it.

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

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

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

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

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

Because this is my ever upward.

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

 
 

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

The people I have reconnected with through my writings.

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

The ‘I get it’s’.

The ‘thank you’s’.

The authentically braves.

The warriors in my arena.

The connections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because things change, and people change.

I've changed...

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

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

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

Our Soul's Way Through Invisible Sufferings

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

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

Until, I fought. Until, I spoke.

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

The answer to happiness.

The answer to healthy living.

The answer to combating shame.

The answer to acceptance.

The answer, at least my answer.

When we speak our truth we will find freedom.

When we speak our truth we will help others.

When we speak our truth we will find wholeness.

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

And yet, so many of us live in silence.

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

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

Choose to break this silence.

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

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

So Very Different, and Yet the Very Same

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

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

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

I write Ever Upward to help others.

I publish it to connect.

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

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

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

So very different, and yet the very same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that change is up to us.

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

But really, it is just about life.

For life.

And finding the ever upward.

Shame Died a Little Bit More: Truth Telling My Authentic Light

My last few posts have been some of the most difficult to write but also the most freeing and helpful. I have learned this last week that these last few posts have not only been helpful to me, but to hundreds of others as well, as Ever Upward was featured on a weekly round-up post on Marie’s wonderful blog (http://journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2013/12/29/weekly-round-up-72/). It was also shared by people other than my close family and friends (thank you, thank you, thank you!). Which means my views went up.

The message heard on a bigger scale.

And most importantly, shame died a little bit more.

I, along with others who have shared the blog posts, have received private messages thanking us for sharing the links, for speaking the truth about infertility and sending their support. However, I can’t help but notice how few people actually share the blog or publicly comment on it. I do not feel anger and sadness because I need the blog to gain fame or because I’m seeking validation, but because it shows just how strong the shame of infertility is.

Why are we not talking about this more?!

Statistics currently show 1 in 8 couples suffers with infertility, with some studies saying it is more like 1 in 6.

1 in 8.

Possibly, 1 in 6!

And yet most of us suffer in silence, alone with only our partner by our side (and our IVF docs pushing another round), thus, putting more pressure on our relationship. Aren’t the hormone treatments, painful procedures, waiting games and the vast amounts of money we spend doing enough damage to our relationship?

I am speaking my story out loud because otherwise it is invisible to the world, which means it feels riddled with shame, disgrace and indignity. But the thing is, many of the most difficult struggles we all suffer with are invisible; depression, autoimmune disorders, infertility, etc., etc.

I don’t think we all need to be the poster child for our stories, pains and losses. And this isn’t what I am trying to do through the blog. I’m writing, sharing and speaking loudly, my authentic truth, because it heals me, makes shame impossible to live inside of me and because it helps. It helps me, and I am learning it is helping others.

 
 

And ultimately, this is my true authentic light. 

I help.

I can’t not help others, as this would be like asking me to not breathe.

Speaking, and owning, our truth is the only place any of us will find peace, understanding and wholeness.

The blog writing and the authentic truth telling is not for attention or pity or ‘fame’ but for understanding, empathy, not feeling so alone and helping. If my truth telling, my light, is too much for you and makes you uncomfortable, cringe or point the finger of judgment, well, that speaks more about you than me. And my only hope for you is that one day you find, fight for and own your own authentic truth and light.

As this is the biggest and strongest weapon any of us have against shame.

Brené Brown often compares shame to gremlins. Gremlins when exposed to the light die. Shame when spoken and owned can no longer exist.

 
 

So I will shine the light on my invisible sufferings.

I will never be a mother.

I will never fulfill what society, and what some say God put me on earth to do.

I am a survivor and thriver of anxiety and depression.

I am a fighter and a helper.

I am figuring out how to accept, like and even be proud of my childfree life.

I will live my life, sometimes minute by minute, seeking, fighting for and living out loud my ever upward.

And, I hope my story helps you to do the same in your own way; find, fight for and own your truth, your ever upward.

Where Do I Belong?

When we experience social rejection, or feel like we don’t belong we can hurt as bad as we do when we feel actual physical pain.  The parts of our brain that light up when we stub our toe (and shout several profanities, at least in my version of the story) also light up when we feel the pain of being rejected or when we walk away feeling like we don’t fit in. This has always been a theme in my private practice.  We are wired for connection and we all have the inherent need for love and belonging.  When we don’t feel like we have belonging in our lives we feel sadness, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

It is now, as a 34 year old woman without children, where I’m struggling, for the first time in my life, with the sense of not belonging.

I have learned there are 2 major things no one tells you when you begin the journey of IVF:

1.  You will always have the dates in your head and heart.

  • The day of the transfer (or conception).
  • The day you received the negative pregnancy test results.
  • The due dates of each baby, and therefore, the date of the would have been first birthdays.
  • Which then can become when you would have had a kindergartener, a track star in middle school, a high school graduate, a psychology major in college, etc., etc., etc.

And therefore...

2. The journey never really ends.

IVF didn’t work.  We don’t get to have kids.  And no, adoption isn’t for us.  Which means I am constantly reminded that I don’t quite fit in… in the congregation full of families or in the group of moms discussing feeding schedules or soccer schedules or even in the childfree by choice group who doesn’t even necessarily like kids.  As time passes, I’m sure this list will continue to grow.

My solace has been referring back to the work of Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  When we change ourselves to fit in, our self-worth is at stake.  However, when we live our authentic truth and are brave enough to just show up and be seen, our self-worth is not on the line.  Only when we live our lives this way, will we find that we will always belong.

By the most classic and widely accepted definition of a woman my age, I will never fit in, I am not a mother.  And I can choose to allow this to fill my soul with sadness and bitterness or I can truly own my story.  Owning it allows the hurt to heal.  Owning it allows me to talk about it openly without shame.  Owning it allows others to see my heart.  And only then, will I always belong.