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!

Are You Reacting Rather Than Responding to Your Life?

For years I have talked with clients about choosing to not live their lives from a place of fear. Fear is often something we suffer through, push down, numb out and allow to hold us back and dim our light.

Consciously living my life, practicing my recovery, I choose every day to live my life from a place of love and not fear. Some days this work is easy, some days it feel nearly impossible.

Through this work I have also discovered that this has everything to do with how I connect with the people in my life and the world.

The difference between responding and reacting

When we react we come from a place of fear.

When we respond we come from a place of love.

My work in ever upward includes making sure I live everything and every day from the place of love. It is making sure I respond and not react.

Reacting

Before the work of my recovery, before surviving IVF, I reacted to my life.

And, I reacted a lot.

I used to be called angry. To which I angrily replied that I was just passionate. But, now as I live the work and practice of recovery, I now have the language.

I was living my life from the place of fear.

The place of never being good enough.

The place of always comparing myself to others.

The place of I'm too much, you don't love it and I don't love it, and therefore I am scared of it.

Responding

After the work, especially in the last year of my recovery, which includes The Daring Way™ work, I have learned that this reacting doesn't truly honor who I am or who I want to be.

I am passionate. I am determined. I am ever upward.

And, this means actively choosing to live from a place of love. It means actively choosing to respond.

When I respond to my life, rather than react...

I will always be enough.

I won't need to compare because I am incomparable.

And, my too much is exactly just right.

An intention of wholeheartedness

 
 

Some may think reacting and responding look the same to the outside person. However, I think if we really make this choice to live from a place of love and to respond to our lives rather than to live from a place of fear and to react to our lives what we put into the world will be a much more accurate picture of who we are and who we want to be. In the least, I know my intention between the two feels completely different to me. Living my life from a place of love means I move through the fear and I don't live from it. It means I am living with the intention of wholeheartedness and moving ever upward.

And, I promise, no I guarantee, only amazing things can be born of that.

~~~~

Housekeeping

Ever Upward available now!

30 Day Toolkit to Living Ever Upward here!

Fertility Compassion Survey is collecting all responses.

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

Celebrating To Embrace Jealousy

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

My True Witness of 30 Years

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is my family as we have survived tragedy together.

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

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

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

Only to strengthen this lifelong friendship.

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

kelly-group-as-kids-01.jpg

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

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

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

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

The Myriagon of Ever Upward Light

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

 
 

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

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

5. Tread or Float

4. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

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

2. Conceiving Our Chosen Family

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

Top 5 Most Commented on Posts

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

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

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

2. The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

1. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Top 5 of My Most Healing Posts

5. My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

4. Making Room For the Light

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

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

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

My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

Today I gave a presentation for a Lunch and Learn at a major corporation here in Saint Louis. This is my sixth Lunch and Learn with them. I always have good attendance, great feedback and they actually pay me to speak.

And yet this morning as I over-prepared, I literally made myself sick with anxiety and self doubt.

Because, today I spoke on Wholehearted Parenting.

And, I am not a parent.

And, I was scared shitless.

A few days ago my shame consumed me as the presentation got closer; "I am not a parent and I am speaking on parenting". I remind myself that this is also major public information now.

The self doubt settling over me like a thick fog casting fear inside my very core.

Shame.

Fucking shame.

Like the dementor to my light, stealing my voice, sucking away my soul, leaving my heart empty.

I reached out to my friend,Janine, who organizes the talks and she of course gave me an amazing pep talk. And then last night my friend and colleague reminded me that I am actually a parent. Kelly's words will forever and always mean the world to me. She said that I parent as much as she does, just in different ways; I parent my dogs and I parent all of the children in my life and that most of all I parent my clients. In many ways therapy is like parenting or even re-parenting with clients. She parents her two boys, but my audience of children is simply bigger as this is my purpose, and my path.

I cried and took in her words because I knew they were my truth. I drew in a deep knowing breath and thanked her for reminding me of my light. She reminded me of what I know every day in many ways, I wasn't given the chance or blessing of my own children because I am meant for this greatness of working with clients, writing and helping others. It's neither better nor worse or more or less important, it's just different.

 
 

So, this morning before I walked into that board room I wrote myself a permission slip, just like we ask ourselves and clients to do as they work through The Daring Way™ curriculum. I wrote myself my permission slip and set it right beside my notes.

I have permission to be scared. I have permission to not be parent enough. I have permission to know, and own, that I know what I am talking about and that I can help even though I am not a parent in the traditional sense.

And so I spoke. And I was painfully vulnerable in owning to them that I am not a parent but that I was there to teach them about wholehearted parenting. I called out my own imposter syndrome, and let them in to my world: I don't get to be a parent but I can still help you be a better one I think.

I also stated that I am the right person to do that because, one, I actually have the time to read the research and parenting books because I wasn't able to be a mom. And two, I parent every single day, just not my own children (and according to Kelly this probably means my house is cleaner, I am more well rested and I have more sex).

I was real, I was vulnerable and I allowed my brilliant light to outshine my shame. And because I fought for that bravery, I connected and delivered one of my best lectures. And I have no doubt that there will be some families this weekend with some new language and new ways to love and parent because of that hour we spent together today.

Doing the work of recovery and learning shame resilience doesn't mean we won't experience shame. It simply means that we will be able to better cope with it when it does come in.

Shame is my dementor. And it has been very ominous this week, floating over me threatening to take my spirit with this parenting presentation and with more activity from agents and publishers on Ever Upward, the book. But that self doubt has been further shattered today by the success of my last post. A post that I struggled with so much to write and didn't think was my best work; damn art of letting go. And yet, it has been viewed over 450 times in two days, breaking my record of daily views today alone.

I almost let shame and self doubt stop me from writing that post earlier this week, I almost let it steal my light this whole week, and especially today.

It was only through courage, compassion and connection  that ever upward prevailed.

What do you need to give yourself permission to do, say or feel in the crazy journey of life or in your recovery? How can you practice courage, compassion and connection to remind yourself of your ever upward light? 

**This prompt later linked with the WordPress Daily Prompt: The Great PretenderAre you full of confidence or have you ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome? Tell us all about it.**

My Full Circle of the Personal Analysis Bureau

This post inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Object. Look around your writing space. Pick object(s) you see (or hear or smell or feel) and reveal them to your reader. How do they represent you? How do they tell your story? Writing has changed me on a cellular level. Writing has been a miraculous piece of my recovery. Writing is the purpose I’ve found impossible to live without. And, the magic I can’t seem to stop from finding it’s way into the world.

And I’ve never considered myself a writer.

Every minute I spend sitting in my writing chair in my writing room with my writing candle lit I feel a universe of emotion.

Awe in the magic and ideas that are surging out of me.

Frustration of judgment in the middle when I allow self-doubt to invade the process.

Wholeness when I see ordinary words weave together into the powerful story of myself.

And occasionally my eyes will settle upon the vintage secretary desk in the corner that holds vintage books. The desk and the books were left in the home we purchased that was formerly owned by a hoarder. We kept the desk because it is a beautiful piece. We kept the books because they were an intriguing collection of small books of poetry and literature and mysteriously charming.

 
 

And then there was this book, mismatched and not quite fitting into the collection. Personal Analysis and Development Volume II Physical Fitness published in 1928 by the Personal Analysis Bureau. Simply the main title alone was too fitting for this mental health therapist in the midst of her own recovery (and arguably the “are you crazy?” status of our decision to purchase and remodel a hoarder’s home).

I kept the book then because somewhere deep inside I knew I could not let it go. Then, though, it was simply an old, smelly but intriguing book. For, the spark of my own book had only just begun inside of me. I had submitted my first round of query letters for Ever Upward that spring on what would have been my first Mother’s Day. But the blog, Ever Upward, was not even the slightest flicker in my being.

And here I am, about 9 months later, irony not lost, feeling the lightness of the small book in my hands. Running my fingers over the series title; feeling the words that, in reality, have embodied every second of my recovery. Smelling the old as I flip through the yellowed pages. And, feeling a sense of completed wonder as I notice, maybe for the first time, the titles of the volumes of the entire collection inside the book.

The parallels they run with the chapters of Ever Upward, the book, feels eerily perfect. The parallels they contain with my life in recovery fills me with a sense of wholehearted honor and dignity.

I. Analyzing Yourself II. Physical Fitness III. Mental Ability IV. Building Character V. Utilizing Time VI. Working With Others VII. Speaking Effectively VIII. Writing Effectively

Noticing this book again and truly seeing the objects around me enabled me to literally feel the physicality of ever upward in my hands.

The awe inspiring and spirit completing reminder that there are no mistakes and everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.

As, this is not only my story, my spirit and light, but also every single page of the book of me. And only one of the many volumes.

That, and the spiritual grasp that I am a writer.

For this is a book, for me, soulfully filled,somehow, with my history, presence and the hope of my ever upward.

Shamed Silence Broken

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it matter how the childfree status is come to?

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

~~~~

 
 

But to own her truth, she breaks her silence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. It ONLY works 30% of the time.

9. It doesn’t always end with a baby.

10. Sometimes it ends with two.

11. Or three.

12. Or eight.

13. Or none.

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

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

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

17. It’s okay to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

23. It’s SUPER expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31. You will experience moments of unadulterated belly laughter.

32. You will experience moments of sheer terror.

 
 

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

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

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

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

37. It might work.

38. It might not work.

39. It’s okay to stop.

40. It’s okay to keep going.

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

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

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

44. Because it will be okay.

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

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

What would you add to the list?

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

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

Conceiving Our Chosen Family

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

5 year old brain satisfied for now.

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

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

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

It isn’t exactly what we all had expected.

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

It’s better.

Sometimes bittersweet.

But always better.

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

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

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

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

In her, I have found my ever upward family.

 
 

I Am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

I am a mother because...

I am a nurturer.

I am a helper.

I am a mentor.

I am a healer.

I am an advisor.

I am a coach.

I am a teacher.

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

One where my magic grows.

What magic are you a mother to?

Make Friends with Social Media

Alarm goes off. Check Facebook.     Feel alone.

Sitting at stoplight. Check Facebook.

    Feel pissed off.

Break between clients. Check Facebook.

    Feel sad.

Pee break. Check Facebook.

    Feel left out.

Commercial break. Check Facebook.

    Feel not good enough.

Finish getting ready for bed. Check Facebook.

    Feel empty.

~~~~

There are so many articles and opinions flying around lately about the monster that social media can be, all relevant and important. But like everything else in our lives, we each need to find our own balance, and this includes balance with social media and technology. I think we must learn to disconnect some from our technology, every day and engage with our loved ones, in person! And, even sit with ourselves doing something quietly. However, I also think that in some ways the negative light being shined on social media is unfair, and is a light that we actually need to shine on ourselves.

I think my addiction to Facebook portrayed above is pretty classic and what many of our days can look like. This was over a year ago. I never walked away from Facebook feeling good, connected, positive or happier.

However, I was also in a pretty shitty place myself. Angry, sad, bitter and feeling very alone about our failed IVF journey and just starting my journey of accepting a childfree life. So, of course, my Facebook wall left me feeling all of the above; alone, pissed off, sad, left out, not good enough and empty.

But if I am honest with myself, this was also a lot of my own doing.

I was addicted. Instant gratification of checking my wall left me satisfied for a split second, and the completion of the behavior left me feeling awful but still wanting more.

I was sad and mad; just at the beginning of my journey to choose to get better. So of course, I was never going to leave Facebook feeling any better.

First things first, I detoxed. I started by only allowing myself to check 4 times a day, in the morning, at lunch, evening and before bed. No more stoplight checks or in between sessions. Then the next week down to 3 times a day. Then finally down to 2 times a day, lunch and evening. No more first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Those moments need to be spent being grateful and centered.

Then, I cleaned it up. I made sure to like pages that post the things that were going to improve my life; laughter, thought provoking articles, inspiration, beauty and positivity. And if you didn’t use it in these ways, then you didn’t make the cut. If I wasn’t quite ready to defriend someone (even if just for voyeuristic curious reasons), I hid them. Finally, I changed how I engage with social media myself, always being cognizant of what I was putting on my wall and posting on others.

These changes meant it wasn’t long before social media changed for me, no longer the enemy but something that actually enhances my life for the better. Which I think was probably what it was meant to do in the first place. I would like to believe that social media was conceived to make people think, laugh, grow, engage and connect! I have connected and reconnected with so many people, from both past and present, through social media. And these are not superficial connections, but ones where we actually write each other regularly or even meet up for lunch. We are engaged in each other lives, building friendship, connection and love.

When I am taking care of myself and practicing happy, I use social media to enhance and not compare. I like to hear about the changes your in lives. I love to see your children and pets grow up and do funny things. I enjoy reading the diverse articles everyone posts. I relish the beautiful pictures and quotes.

With all this sparkle and rainbows, I will admit my addiction has strengthened some, checking Facebook more often than my detoxed 2 times a day… but I also make sure to disconnect every day.

So bottom line, you won’t find your happy on your social media walls. You will only find your happiness from practicing it every day, and of course, within yourself.

~~~~

Eat breakfast. Check Facebook.

    I think.

Between sessions. Check Facebook.

    I laugh.

Between commercials. Check Facebook.

    I grow.

Before night time routine. Check Facebook.

    I engage and connect.

How do you use social media to enhance rather than hurt? How do you make sure to find the balance?

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.

The Frankenstein Walk of Feeling Behind: But I’m Still Here

Making the impossible decision to stop IVF treatments, not adopt and figure out life childfree has been, at times, a daily Frankenstein walk. That 'I have no idea how this works' walk.

That 'hold your arms out in front of you to break your fall' walk.

That 'really stiff legged how do these things work' walk.

That really, really ugly walk.

The 'I'm just figuring out how to do this' walk.

This walk includes fighting that feeling of never fitting in because I’m not a mother, and rather finding my sense of belonging from within.

This walk includes owning my story and speaking it out loud for the world to educate, but more importantly, to honor myself and the work I have done.

This walk includes understanding my anger to really feel the most difficult emotion of sadness in order to truly embrace and accept my childfree life.

 
 

This walk also still includes the ugly steps of figuring out what to do with the sense of feeling left behind.

My friends who are moms are some of my best and most supportive friends, especially on this journey. They are super women (even though, a lot of the time, they need to remind themselves that they don’t necessarily need to be). They are the best women I know. All working full time, whether in or outside the home, and are the hardest working people I know. I admire their patience, their unconditional love and their unending strength. And there are simply no words for how amazing their love, support and understanding has been for me throughout this continued journey.

They are also, naturally, the busiest people on earth; raising children, nurturing a marriage and trying to find the time to sleep and do some basic self-care. They have practices 2 nights a week, games and birthday parties on the weekends and can book up their weekends with other families who have children pretty quickly.

And, sometimes there just isn’t time for me, for us, the couple without kids.

And that’s okay. And I do get it.

But, there are times I feel like I want to jump up and down, frantically waving my arms, screaming to them, “But I’m still here!”

I do still have a life I’d like to share with you.

I do still want to hear all about yours.

I do still need you to maintain our friendship.

Ending IVF and living a childfree life can very easily mean I lose my peer group. The crushing blow of not being able to fulfill my dream of motherhood means I have more time; more time for self-care, more time for my marriage, more time for my friendships. I suppose this can be an ‘ever upward’ of failed IVF and accepting a childfree life. However, it also can definitely feel pretty isolating, as most of my friends, especially my mom friends, don’t necessarily have this ‘luxury’.

So I am finding my Frankenstein walk, and figuring this all out along the way.

Working hard to maintain my friendships, even if at times it can feel like it is one sided. Because although some friendships may not survive the family with children versus childfree dynamic, most of mine do have the true grit (and importance to me) to make sure they do survive.

Building other friendships, perhaps finding other couples without children.

Making sure my mom friends know I’m here and that I treasure their friendships more than they will ever know.

But most importantly, learning to acknowledge and work on this sense of feeling left behind, because ultimately, I probably need to check myself.

Am I trying to fit in, when I need to trust that I belong?

Am I holding on to anger, when I need to embrace sadness?

Am I honoring myself?

Am I putting enough effort into my friendships?

Am I being a friend to myself?

And, am I asking for what I want and need?

Because only when I am doing this work, will my friends be walking alongside me, Frankenstein walk and all.