I'll Show You How

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

I wouldn't give myself permission to say it. 

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

Or that we didn't have enough faith.

The reality, though?

We gained more than we lost.

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

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

Shit, that sentence is so scary.

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

There is enough room for both.

It is messy and really uncomfortable.

Still, there is absolutely room for both.

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

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

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

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

God never promised me a baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God's goodness is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always there.

Always for our good. 

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

Always there.

Always for our good.

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

What if infertility had worked?

Would I have still met this loving Jesus?

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

Would our marriage have survived? 

Would our finances had ever recovered?

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

Jesus will always leave the 99 for the one. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making It Well With My Soul

One of those Sundays in church that you weren't sure what you needed, if anything, but you get it anyways.

Clarity. Light. Love.

We all struggle. We all lose. We all will hurt.

And yet, so many of us are struggling to not only do the work to survive this life but to embrace that these struggles, losses and hurts can, will and must become well with our soul.

But, we cannot do this alone. I'd even argue to say that we cannot do this with only our faith either.

We need support. We need help. We need each other.

As Pastor Greg spoke about our struggles he discussed that God will often send Jesus in Skin; the person we need to help us through. Pastor Greg went into a whole story about being with his family in an overwhelming and scary situation and how their guide was wearing a red shirt. God protected them and sent in a red shirt.

In other words, we need both spirit and actual being to help us through.

The light. The guide. The help.

They closed that service with a version of the old hymn It Is Well with My Soul, and with the words let go my soul and trust in Him...it is well with my soul. I allowed myself to continue the work I have done in embracing the hard stuff. Everything I have survived, all the losses, is well with my soul. My story, my ever upward, both in my struggle and recovery and in my work of the book, blog and my private practice, allows me to help. Practicing the work of recovery means allowing it all to be well with my soul.

Not necessarily fair but well, okay, at peace.

That Sunday Chad and I just happened to sit behind one of my young clients and her family. After the song ended her mom turned around to me with tears running down her face and said, "You're our red shirt, thank you."

And, in that moment I felt even more clarity I didn't even know I needed.

Clarity.

That clarity where you feel with every sense of your being that you are experiencing a piece of your puzzle being put perfectly into its place in the beautiful picture of your life. The right time, the right place, the right people all put exactly where they are supposed to be for this unexpected, brilliant moment of clarity.

Sometimes these moments are shoved in our faces and hearts, sometimes we must be open enough to receive them, sometimes it is a little bit of both.

In her six words I felt God, I felt love, I felt the universe, I felt the light and my light.

I felt the forever scarred soul of who I am heal just a bit more.

Being the red shirt.

 
 

I carried that into my sessions last week.

It is an honor and privilege to do the work I do. I love what I do. I love walking alongside people as they choose to change their lives. Sometimes, I have to push from behind and sometimes I pull from ahead but mostly I simply walk alongside.

It was with this clarity that I was able to be with a client as she told me she was pregnant after years of trying, as she struggled to say the words, struggling out of disbelief, fear, guilt and out of protection for my losses.

And, yet I was able to be her red shirt. Because I know she is only in my office because she had lost herself in her battle to make her family. Because I know I was only able to help her because I am the therapist I am today after my own losses. Because I know she will be okay no matter what because of the work she has done with me. Because she has given me the honor and the privilege to be her red shirt.

All of it, two back surgeries, failed IVF, lost babies, anxiety and depression is only well with my soul if I choose to do the work to make it so.

My choice lies in what I do what with where I have come from.

My choice lies in the power of moving ever upward.

~~~~

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Choosing to Be Remade

I am not one to believe in the mindset of victim.

I do not believe we are victims unless we choose to be.

Labeling myself as a victim only leaves me powerless in changing my life.

Horrible things happen to all of us, hard is hard and struggle is struggle. If I sit in the victim place, at least for myself, I sit in the shit. Rather than being mindful of my suffering in order to move through it and then rise above it.

This has always been a common theme in my office. I have said these sentences too many times to count, over and over:

Being our past

You can choose to be your past.

You can choose to be your past mistakes.

You can choose to have all of your past hurts, losses, traumas and tragedies be your whole identity.

Choosing to be more

Or you can choose to learn from your past and move forward.

Or you can choose to embrace your mistakes and try again.

Or you can choose to make your past hurts, losses, traumas and tragedies just a piece of your story and not your whole identity.

You choose.

So it isn't surprising that when I heard the song You Are More on Joy FM by Tenth Avenue North I was immediately sending it to some of my clients. The chorus goes,

You are more than the choices that you've made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You've been remade.

I realize when the artists are singing, you've been remade, they are referring to Jesus dying for our sins and with this grace we are remade. But as a mental health therapist, even one with my own strong and yet questioning faith, I must meet my clients where they are, faith or not.

 
 

Even with my faith, and the amazing grace of Jesus,I think, I also must still choose.

Choosing to be remade

We must choose to be more.

We must choose to be more, faith or not.

And if Jesus isn't your thing, well, then you still have a choice to make. You can choose to be more than the choices that you've made. You can choose to be more than the sum of your past mistakes. You can choose to be more than the problems you create.

You can choose to to be remade. You can choose to not be a victim to your life circumstances, your past hurts or mistakes. You can choose the power to change your life.

Choosing to be remade is my work in ever upward. When I choose to be remade because of and within the grace and love of Jesus, but also because I choose every single day, I choose me. I choose to be more than the woman who cannot have kids. I choose to be more than the woman who survived infertility and lost three babies. I choose to be more than depression and anxiety.

I choose to be remade.

This is my work in ever upward that I hope others can embrace for themselves.

Because we are so much more than those past choices, past hurts and past mistakes. They are just pieces to our brilliant life puzzle, they are just pieces of our story. We must do the work to embrace them all.

Because only then will we own all the parts of our story.

And, only then are we choosing to be remade.

 ~~~~

Housekeeping:

Ever Upward presale live now.

Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.

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

To The Anonymous Critic(s)

A survey to...

  • gather information.
  • give the shamed silenced a voice.
  • start and continue an important conversation in our world.
  • educate.
  • continue the love of ever upward.

For the possibilities of defining, speaking, educating and embracing fertility compassion.

So far the results are incredible and heartbreaking and important and my light.

To which I am wholeheartedly thankful, especially considering the first person to take the survey was an incapable; a person not even in the arena, the person who just sits on the side lines judging and hurling hurtful and harsh criticisms.

My anonymous critic

A person who does not show up.

A person who does not live brave.

A person who in just three minutes attempted to shut me down, steal my light and use hate to hurt and anonymity for power.

"Mine has been your response calling cells BABIES...my god you were never prego, you did not even TRY to conceive yet you are on a pity party tour...get over yourself!! i feel for your clients. No one believes your story and no one is buying your book, quit making an ass of yourself! my friend is suffering from colon cancer after having 2 rounds of ovaian cancer yet shes not boo hooing cuz she legitimately cant have kids..."

To which my initial response was shame. For me, shame feels like my pounding heart, shaking hands, cold sweat and the light being sucked from inside me, like a dementor stealing my soul. Shame is the messages I, for a second, embrace as my own; messages like this will fail, who cares, I am not enough, etc.

But only for a few seconds.

Then some anger came in.

Who the hell do you think you are? If you don't agree with or like or believe in my writing and my story then stop reading! What a coward to post this comment anonymously where no one will see but me.

And then, thank you.

Thank you for proving my point exactly. And I think you may find some of your heart in my posts, When We Become a Mother or Father and Loss is Loss.

Here is what this person will be severely disappointed to hear.

I do not find my light, my soul, my permission from anyone.

And, I especially do not find them in people like you.

I do not find my light, my soul, my permission through fear, judgment and hate.

And, I especially do not find them in shame, scarcity and comparison.

 
 

I find my light, my soul, my permission within myself. Within the gifts and love I have to share with the world. Within my flaws and all. Within connection and compassion. Within ever upward.

And, so I thank you for taking three minutes out of your life in an attempt to shut me down. And, I will not apologize for disappointing you.

For you have simply ignited my light even brighter; making me even more brave.

Strengthening my resolve to change how we talk about fertility, infertility and recovery.

Cementing my conviction to practice my authentic courage to help give others permission to own their stories.

And, solidifying my tenacity in shining my light brighter for the world to see...

In hopes of enlightening ever upward.

~~~~

Housekeeping:

Ever Upward presale live now.

Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.

Fertility Compassion Survey is collecting all responses.

Kickstarter for Ever Upward Book Trailer has 11 days to go.

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 Lifelong Loss of a Due Date and Still Choosing to Be Ever Upward

August 31st, 2012 The day we dreamed our first child (or children, as we transferred two embryos) were to be born. We would have hoped to welcome one or two babies into the world around this time. But they were never our babies to have on this side of eternity. I was never meant to mother them in the traditional sense. Always to be just a dream and yet so much more.

But instead we spent time together in Lake Tahoe redefining after infertility treatments, side effects, financial stressors and no babies to show for it.

I had to walk back into myself that day. Because if I didn't make that choice I think I may have literally died of a broken heart.

As the day passed...I chose myself again.

As the day passed by I chose to find a piece of ever upward.

August 31st, 2013

They would have been one year old today. So much work and healing in the last year, on myself especially but, also in every single relationship in my life.

But instead we moved into Mason House; the family home we created to share with our loved ones for years to come.

As the year passed by...the pain began to subside just a tiny bit and it stings a little less every day as we actively find other love and joy.

As the year passed by I chose to make my ever upward.

August 31st, 2014

I felt off all day. But I didn't even notice the date necessarily, I actually was a day off. Obviously, I knew in my heart and soul that our babies were due this day and that today they would have been  two years old.

But instead I spent the day with my namesake, Abigail Justine. I held her, I loved on her and played with her. We went and saw butterflies together and rode the carousel. I have no doubt she is the enough in my life after so much almost enough.

 
Lifelong losses of due date choosing to be ever upward
Lifelong losses of due date choosing to be ever upward
 

This and my loved ones are beginning to read my book, Ever Upward. As I watch them feel the book in their hands and take in the beauty of the cover, I see the smile come across their faces, their eyes fill with tears and true love and support exuding from them. In all of this I feel many of the same feelings I think I may have had had they been holding my child.

Ever Upward has been a labor of my love and pain. It has been conceived through the dream of becoming a mother and the loss of that dream. And, it has been birthed with the help and love of so many. Ever Upward is my baby many years in the making.

As the years pass by...the scars heal a bit more, I embrace it all and trust my ever upward.

As the years pass by I choose to be ever upward.

And, most of all I make sure to be open to the ever upward that has come from the lifelong losses of this journey through my work.

These choices are not consolation. These choices don't erase the losses. These choices can never make it better.

These choices are simply the lights of what happens when I do the work to let go of what isn't in order to grasp what is.

This is the light, the love, the essence of ever upward.

This is the choice to be ever upward.

*To read more about my experiences through two back surgeries, the survival of infertility and how I chose to change my life make sure 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

This post linked up with Amateur Nester's Link-Up!

A Letter to the 14 Year Old Girl Trapped in the Darkness of a Body Cast

August 25th, 1994 I had my first of two back surgeries, both of which left me in a body cast for 6 months following each surgery.

Twenty years later these are the words I need to say to that part of who I am still to this today.

The words to that scared 14 year old girl because in these words I choose to heal her.

Justine,

I know you are scared, but relieved that you finally have an answer to your pain. This is not the only time you will feel this gut wrenching and breath stealing bittersweet feeling. You will again feel this painful clarity on the day you receive the phone call that your last round of IVF did not work and you learn that your journey to have children is over.

But I can promise you, it is all worth it and you will be okay.

You have many years in front of you of struggle. Mostly with the struggle to find and believe in your light again. Because today, unfortunately, you will lose a major part of your spirit, only to fight for and find it again in twenty years.

In twenty years time, you will find this light again when you have survived failed IVF, lost three babies and fought for your recovery back to yourself.

This event of your first back surgery, yes honey, I am sorry but you will have to survive another one of these, puts in motion everything that will make you an amazing being.

You will have incredible stories of inspiration and laughter to share with the world of your back surgeries. You will have incredible stories of struggle and hope to share with the world of your fight to become a mother. You will have incredible stories of loss and purpose to share with the world of your ever upward journey to find yourself and recovery.

You will come to understand, accept, embrace and own every part of yourself and your story. You will own your shame surrounding infertility by understanding how alone you are about to feel throughout these surgeries. You will have endless help throughout these surgeries; people who love you, even those who barely know you, will step forward to help in some way. Twenty years later you will have the language to understand that your light was lost even within this amazing help because it was given through sympathy and not empathy. Because, really how else does anyone feel but sorry for the 14 year old having to have back surgery, live in a body cast and miss half of her freshman year of high school? Let alone to then have to do it all over again in a few years.

Twenty years later you will have the clarity to no longer dim your light around your story of surviving IVF and accepting a childfree life because of pity. And, instead choose to shine the light to break the silence of struggle and hard.

Because sad is sad and hard is just hard.

Some things just really can't be fixed that easily; like a 14 and 17 year old in a body cast and a 34 year old woman who really wanted to be a mother but can't.

Find the joy and the love in the help from everyone around you throughout this time, even it if is only in sympathy. Because it is still born out of the intention of great love.

Trust that you will thrive through this and that this isn't the end of your story; because, I promise, it is not even close.

 
Recovery Ever Upward Back Surgeries
Recovery Ever Upward Back Surgeries
 

And try, to hold onto that light just a little, knowing and believing that someday it will flicker again.

I promise this tiny belief and flicker is enough to get you through.

Because, your light will never be fully suffocated as you have an unending, ever growing and truly ever upward resilience.

In ever upward light and love,

Me

*To read more about my experiences through two back surgeries and a year of my life spent in a body cast make sure 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

Breaking the Shackles of Shame and Fear Because I Think I Can Help

The light blinded out the shame. The light shined so brightly that I found another piece of my clarity.

My light sparked just a bit more brilliantly.

All ignited by two simple conversations with my 8 year old nephew.

Dogs aren't kids?

Earlier in our visit my nephew heard me call the dogs my babies. To which he replied, "They are kind of like your babies since you can't have babies." I honestly am unsure as to how much or what he has been told about our journey through infertility or why his Aunt Justine and Uncle Chad don't have kids.

I said to him that yes he was right. I can't have babies so Gertie, Gracie and Bosco are my babies. And, in his amazingly loving 8 year old way he replied, "Well, you will have to get more of them because they just don't live as long as us real kids."

I laughed, a true laugh because he is funny and I love him.

I also laughed, an uncomfortable laugh, as I know how true that is.

Because, sometimes, our babies never even take a breath of this earth's fresh air.

A book that can help

Later in our visit my nephew discovered that I had written a book. He asked what the book was about and if it was a series like the Harry Potter series he loves so much. To which I said I plan to write several books but not a series like Harry Potter. His dad also reminded him that there are no wizards in my books.

When I told him my book is about what his Uncle Chad and I had gone through to have our own babies his response surprised me. He stated, very matter of factly, "Oh so it's just a book for our family to read then."

Even then, a very innocent question from my nephew triggered the shame. For a second, I felt myself doubt, question and dim my light some.

That inner critical voice of my shame:

We didn't lose enough.

No one cares.

We didn't try enough.

Who am I to try to help others?

I am not good enough.

I am not enough.

But, just for a second did I allow shame to take over before I practiced my resilience and spoke my story.

Instead, I took that moment to let him see my soul and the world through my heart, because, again, I honestly don't know what he has been told about our journey. I said, "Well there are lots of people who go through hard stuff like what we did to have a family."

"Millions in fact."

I said that I think, and hope, my story could actually help some of those people.

By this point his 8 year old attention span was kaput and we moved on.

The power of shame

The power of the shame that surrounds our infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy and infant loss stories is overwhelming.

Even if just for a second, mine was even triggered by the childlike wonder of my nephew.

 
 

But, even that innocent wonder brought on the dementor of my shame; the shackles that drown me.

I have done, and continue to do, great work surrounding my shame around my story. I have had to compose the elevator speech on what Ever Upwardis about. I have had to compose the marketing blurb also. But to explain to an 8 year old what Ever Upward is, was nothing I was prepared for.

He made me stop and think, why is Ever Upward so important?

To which the light brightly blinded my shame and broke those shackles.

Because I think I can help.

Because I hope I can help.

Because I can't not try.

Doing this work of recovery does not mean that shame isn't always lurking in the background to steal my light. It simply means I must practice my shame resilience when needed by speaking it and owning it.

Shame and fear

I felt it again the other night when I had my first sheer panic about the book coming out. The oh shit people could actually read this book. The oh shit I will have people who really hate it, criticize it and judge it....hate me, criticize me and judge me. The oh shit I might even upset some people I love. 

And, then I remember to look to the important seats in my world; the people who love me, see me and know me.

And, that this is who I choose to be in this world. I want to live my life with wholehearted courage and owning it all.

Always.

Because, that is ever upward.

To stop proving it. To truly own it. To fight for it. To break the silence. To embrace it all. Always living wholeheartedly brave.

This is my story. This is our story.

*To read more about my story and my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life available October 1st at www.everupward.org.*

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

Isaiah: My Joyful Shout To Fill the World

My friend and fellow warrior over at Rejoice, Beloved reblogged one of my posts and in a comment she wrote she led me to more clarity.

She pointed me in the direction of Isaiah 54, and in those words of scripture I found another piece of my soul.

Isaiah

 
 

Sing, childless woman, you who have never given birth.Raise a joyful shout, you who have never gone through labor...

Enlarge your house. You are going to need a bigger place; don’t underestimate the amount of room that you’ll need. So build, build, build.

You will increase in every direction to fill the world...

Don’t be afraid, for there is no one to shame you.Don’t fear humiliation, for there is no one to disgrace you...

She wrote that my ever upward is my joyful shout to the world. And, in reading her words I felt myself give myself the permission I need to really fill the world with my singing.

To build, to fill the world.

To walk straight through my fears.

This light inside of me to speak, to educate, to help and to give myself and others permission.

Permission to speak our truth.

Permission to embrace our whole story.

Permission to practice our recovery.

Permission to own it all.

Ever upward is my joyful shout.

Ever upward is my mark on the world; my legacy, just not left in the legacy of my own children.

Ever upward is my continued seeking and fighting to reveal our shame and rise above it.

Ever upward is my connection to my story and to our story.

Because our stories, our shout or whisper to the world, is the light and the love of ever upward.

*To read more about my story and my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of the very 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

The Semantics

The shamed ignorance is becoming more and more fragile. Our shamed stories are gaining more and more attention.

The shamed silence is breaking.

Infertility continues to see more and more media coverage:

As the discussion and the education (thank goodness) continue to grow surrounding infertility, the claim over certain semantics has also grown.

In particular, the semantics surrounding the terms childfree versus childless.

I have read many articles and blog posts and also been confronted myself on why my use of the term childfree is incorrect.

To some people, maybe even most, the term childfree describes those who have chosen to not have children or the childfree by choice group. Whereas, childless describes those of use who have tried but cannot have children.

However, I describe myself as childfree, and will continue to do so.

The subtitle of my upcoming book Ever Upward is Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.

And yet, I desperately wanted children. I paid a lot of money to have children. And, I suffer lifelong losses from the journey I endured to have children.

I choose the term childfree over childless because I am not less of anything. I am not missing anything. I am not less of a woman because I cannot be a mother of the traditional sense. My life does not mean less than anyone else's. I am not not whole because I cannot be a mother.

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My heart, my soul, my life are not missing pieces. They are simply scarred by three tiny souls. These soul scars have not left me lacking anything but rather have left me more whole. For I am a more loving, more compassionate, continually healing person because I so loved those three tiny souls and even more so because I lost them.

I choose the term childfree because I refuse to be identified as less than.

I choose the term childfree, yet childfull, because this is where I have found my continuing recovery.

And yet, there are days it doesn't feel like a choice at all.

But I will continue to practice my recovery and choose my whole self and my whole story.

And, that is nothing less but really the true definition ever upward.

**I want to thank Adrie for taking the time to read and comment so thoughtfully on this post. She has made me completely rethink the term childfree and yet I am still not willing to use the term childless. So, I'm not sure where that leaves me but I can assure you I will find it. Maybe it is my term childfull or maybe I will just make up a new word. And, I'd love to hear your ideas! Thank you for joining me on this continually healing and messy journey!**

*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

Linked with Amateur Nester's Weekly Link Up.

Our Infertility Rap Sheets

Ever Upward is growing. My world is expanding. My recovery is strengthening.

Which also means my shamed silence is triggered more often. Even though my shame resilience has grown as a result of my practicing recovery.

As I meet more and more people in the infertility world, blogging or otherwise, I am finding myself comparing my story to theirs. I have always been uncomfortable with the TTC (trying to conceive) timelines. I am especially uncomfortable when our About pages and Twitter bio's are our TTC timelines full of numbers and acronyms.

What I have come to realize is that my discomfort is simply a result of my shame being triggered.

The numbers we share to describe ourselves; how many miscarriages, cycles, IUIs, IVFs, BFNs, etc.* Hell, I have my numbers in my bio (two rounds of IVF and three never to be babies). I thought I included these because they are part of my whole story. But what I think I am figuring out through working my recovery is that I have left them in for proof and as a way to cope with my shame.

Proof that I too have suffered and lost; my comparing my story to others', my way of shouting out, "I tried too."

But, this really comes from my sense of not being enough, of trying to prove myself rather than owning myself. The scarcity culture, as Brené Brown describes in The Daring Way™ work. The never ______________ enough. Never pretty enough. Never thin enough. Never rich enough. Never happy enough.

This scarcity culture has helped turned these numbers into one of my biggest shame triggers.

My fear that I will be judged that I didn't try enough. That I didn't lose enough.

Because I don't have a long rap sheet of years of trying to conceive or IUIs, IVFs and BFNs.

And, I have no doubt that I have been and will continue to be judged for not trying more, just as much as I am judged for not choosing adoption.

And so, at least from Ever Upward, the blog, I have removed my counts, my proof, because I am more than just my two rounds and three lost babies. I am actually even more because of my lifelong losses. These numbers could never come close to describing what I have been through or what is left as a result.

Because within this I truly it own it, and myself.

Apart from surviving infertility and thriving thereafter, I also have the mental health therapist part of my head and heart at work with these TTC timelines and rap sheet descriptions. I cannot help but be scared and saddened by it. That as men and women suffering through infertility treatments we are identifying ourselves, sometimes completely, through how many treatments we have endured.

 
 

We are so much more than this.

We have to be so much more than this.

We have to be because, I think, that is the only way we will survive infertility and thrive thereafter, no matter what our ending looks like.

I am not sure what our motivations are for making our infertility rap sheets part of our bios or even our whole story. But for me, it was about comparison and scarcity. Comparison in making sure the world knew I tried too and therefore have suffered. Scarcity in proving that it was enough.

Comparison and scarcity; two things I am practicing shame resilience and recovery from.

Because, I did try and I have suffered.

Enough.

Because, only I define my enough and my "did we do everything?"

For me, I need to be more.

Because, this is ever upward.

I will talk about it, I will embrace it, I will practice and model recovery from it and I will own it. Because maybe within my ownership, one person will be brave enough to demand to be more than their infertility rap sheet.

Because we all are.

So much more.

And, we all deserve to be.

*For a full list of infertility acronyms click here.

*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

This post linked with Amateur Nester's Link Up #9.

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

The Dates Seared into Us

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

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

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

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

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

August 25th, 1994 ~ My first back surgery.

June 19th, 1997 ~ My second back surgery.

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

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

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

 
 

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

Today, I am able to say for the better.

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

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

 
 

I was baptized.

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

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

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

And yet, I can still believe.

Doubt, questions, anger and all.

Wonder.

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

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

Seared dates, soul scars and all.

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

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

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

14 Reasons This is Just the Beginning

The growing momentum of Ever Upward. My continued ownership of my whole story.

The continuing opportunities to share this ownership.

All leading me to more and more clarity with which I am seeing, feeling and growing this light inside of me.

My essential truth.

Which I hope can become part of many of our essential truths; maybe even, the essential truth.

Talk about it.

Embrace it.

Practice recovery ofit.

Own it.

No matter what it is.

For my first televised interview on the book and blog, Ever Upward, I was blessed enough to be interviewed by Virginia Kerr of KMOV's Great Day St. Louis. I have appeared monthly on Great Day for over four years, in many ways I feel part of their family. I am so grateful for their love, support and the opportunity on the show to break the shamed silence of infertility.

Our six minutes went so fast, too fast. After the interview Virginia looked at me and said, "Did we cover everything? I don't think we did, I was just having an amazing conversation with you on air!"

It was real.

It was authentic.

It was amazing.

And, no, we didn't even begin to cover everything...

But, I will make sure it is just the beginning.

The clip has been one of the most shared posts I've had. It has also sparked some of the most amazing words of encouragement, support and love from friends, new and old.

And, this is just the beginning.

My essential truth was definitely highlighted throughout the interview but, what our short six minutes didn't allow for was why this essential truth is so important, especially in the world of infertility and in the world of whatever you need to recover from.

It's now been a few days since the interview. As I continue to navigate through the shares, comments, support and love, I am also overwhelmed by random moments in awe with glimmers of but wait this is part of my message too moments.

Things like:

1. We must talk about infertility so the public is more educated.

2. We must talk about infertility in order to get any of the understanding we want and need from our loved ones.

3. We must talk about infertility in order to be healthier and happier versions of ourselves both throughout treatments but, especially thereafter no matter the ending to that part of our story.

4. We must talk about infertility because only using our doctors and our partner for support is too much for just about any relationship.

5. We must talk about infertility because then, maybe, it could actually result in a higher success rate.

6. We must talk about infertility to educate on how expensive, painful and difficult the process is.

7. We must talk about infertility to challenge the message that you must keep trying because it will eventually work and to give permission to stop.

8. We must talk about infertility and fertility because it is the only way to broaden the story and increase understanding no matter the situation.*

  • The couple who has any kind of infertility diagnosis or a lack there of.
  • The same sex couple.
  • The single man or woman who desperately wants to be a parent.
  • The couple who cannot have a healthy baby with their own genes.
  • The couple who chooses to adopt.
  • The couple who chooses not to adopt.
  • The woman or couple who courageously gave up her/their child for adoption.
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  • The couple who use a donor egg or sperm.
  • The couple who adopts an embryo.
  • The couple who uses a traditional surrogate.
  • The couple who uses a gestational surrogate.
  • The couple who has embryos left.
  • The couple who has no embryos left.
  • The couple who were able to have one or some biological child(ren) and then chose adoption.
  • The couple who chooses to have one child.
  • The couple who can only have one child.
  • The couple who has children many years apart because they suffered miscarriages or endured infertility treatments between.
  • The couple who chooses no infertility treatments.
  • The couple who is able to try infertility treatments many times with success of children.
  • The couple who is able to try infertility treatments many times only to never have it work.
  • The couple who had kids before they were really ready or even really trying.
  • The couple who has suffered a loss of any kind, of any gestation, of any age.
  • The couple who has suffered a loss of any kind, of any gestation, of any age and is blessed with healthy children still.
  • The couples who are still parents no matter what the loss.
  • The couples with children.
  • The couples who live childfree but childfull lives.
  • All the families who don't know their loved ones are suffering.
  • All the families who know their loved ones' suffering but are flailing for the words to support.
  • Any couple, any family, because in reality life hardly ever turns out how we hoped, how we planned or even sometimes what we paid for; loss is loss.

9. I must educate about infertility and thriving thereafter because it is how I have fought for and continue to practice my recovery; in it I have found my calling and purpose.

10. I must break my silence because within this fight I have been found by my ever upward.

11. We must talk about all our losses, traumas and tragedies in order to heal.

12. We must embrace all the parts of our stories.

13. We must fight for and practice our recoveries to be healthier and happier versions of ourselves.

14. We must own it all to find and be found, to live our ever upward.

As I continue to practice my recovery, write Ever Upward, the blog (especially as it has taken on it's own amazing life) and build the platform for Ever Upward, the book, I hope we all find permission.

 
 

My essential truth of giving myself permission.

The essential truth of giving us all permission.

Permission to talk, to embrace, to practice and to own it all.

Because, this is just my beginning.

As, I will make damn sure my infertility journey is just one of my many epic journeys in this story of my ever upward life.

*Sometimes it is difficult to make sure I include everyone, if I've forgotten a situation please comment below so I can edit the post and add (giving you credit if you like).

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 Nail in the Floor

Sometimes our scarred imperfections are super visible. Sometimes our scarred imperfections define all of us and our whole story. But, sometimes our scarred imperfections are only visible upon a closer look. And, it is only with this closer look that we truly see and embrace the whole. After surviving infertility and accepting our childfree lives Chad and I made the biggest, and best, decision we have made of our almost ten year relationship. We put our suburban, good school district house on the market and we found a house who only people who have lost their everything would take a chance on.

We bought a home owned by someone who struggled with hoarding. Upon the closing on this house, we also came to be the owners all of the previous owner's belongings; an entire house filled floor to ceiling and wall to wall of her "treasures" .

For the first time in our marriage, and our long and frequent history of buying and selling homes, I had never had vision before. But after losing our three babies, my eyes had no choice but to see life through a new lens. I was able to see the future, our childfree future, in this amazing house we now refer to as Mason House.

 
 

We emptied the house of terrible memories and more stuff than anyone could imagine, filling dumpster after dumpster of the previous owner's pain and things. Along with her pain and stuff, we also filled every dumpster full of our grief and losses. We worked together, better than we ever have, to combine the mid-century history of the house with our modern and clean style from the studs out. We rebuilt the painful history of the house to create the future of all the love and laughter of our new family home; complete with a pool and toy room for our childfree yet childfull lives.

Mason House, inside and out, looks nothing like it did last year.

Our marriage, inside and out, looks nothing like it did before or during IVF and my recovery.

I, inside and out, look nothing like I did either.

 
 

If you look closely in our beautiful great room you will see the old nail holes from the carpet we pulled up when we saved the original wood floors. If we point it out and you look even more closely you will see a perfectly sanded nail on it's side embedded into the floor. Reminding us of the history of the home, of where it has been and how far it has come. You will see and feel the scarred imperfections that make Mason House exactly what it is meant to be today.

This perfectly placed nail is just a piece of the whole story.

If you look closely at our marriage you will see our history between us; some years better than others. As we interact, and you look more closely, you will see the growth, the fight and the connection that we have only been able to truly find through surviving infertility and losing our three never to be's. You will see our scarred imperfections in our laughter, in our touches and in our ownership of the times of true joy and sorrow of our journey.

The perfectly placed parts of our story of IVF are just a piece of our whole story.

If you look closely at me you will see someone who on the outside looks very different not only in body but also in presence than who she was before the fight of recovery. As you hear me own my story and you look more closely, you will feel my power, you will feel my passion and you will feel my ever upward. You will see, you will feel and you will be changed by my scarred imperfections.

The perfectly placed struggles of my life are just a piece of my whole story.

There is always a story of struggle and hope embedded within us.

A perfectly placed scarred imperfection that is just a piece of our whole story.

And, without them we simply cannot be whole.

We will suffer losses, traumas and tragedies in this life. When we lose one dream we must pick up the pieces and redefine. To wallow in the lost only defines us. To stay stuck on the never to be's only keeps us stagnant in life. To make our scarred imperfections our entire story misplaces them completely.

Where we find our purpose, where we find ourselves again is in embracing these parts as perfectly placed scarred imperfections and in making them part of our breathtaking story. We must fight, work and practice to own all of our scarred imperfections as perfectly placed parts of our story.

Just like the nail in the floor.

*To read the entire epic adventure of the Mason House journey make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed.*

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

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

Mental Health Blog Day

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Today, I am reposting The Authentic Therapist because I feel like it fulfills most of the goals of Mental Health Blog Day. We must own our stories.

We must fight for our recovery.

We must break the shamed silence and negative stigma surrounding mental health, as we are all fighting a battle of some kind and therefore we all must choose our own recovery.

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"You see a therapist?!?"

I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is really behind this question:

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

But you're a therapist, shouldn't you have this all figured out?

Chin up! Can't you just figure it out for yourself?

You must not be strong enough to deal.

~~~~

I struggle and I am a therapist.

I am a therapist, and yet I am also a perfectly imperfect human myself.

I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all, is nothing less than priceless.

I also have faith there will be a day that people aren't shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.

 
 

I am also a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery. I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.

I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.

It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn't take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy just wasn't going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.

I also learned in graduate school, as is the philosophy of many in my field, that our clients know nothing about us, that we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I really had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working way harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life. Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be. As, it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.

My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe, graduate professors included. However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.  I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, especially as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.

 
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Marianne Williamson captures this perfectly, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

So I will write about my life, both in this blog and in the book Ever Upward. I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.

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.

Scarred But Never Closed

Singing my heart out, holding back tears, as this seems to be what I do lately in church as I am wrestling so much with myself, with trusting and my faith journey, I had one of my first true writer moments. Smack in the middle of the song, I grabbed my bulletin and pen and wrote the title of this post and a line from the song down. The song: Let Our Faith Be Not Alone by Robbie Seay.

The lyrics: "May our hearts be not of stone, give us souls that never close".

 
 

As a therapist I hear terrible things every day from my clients. And, it is not unusual for the thought to cross my mind that someone has every right to stay sick, to stay angry, to have hearts of stone and closed souls after what they have been through.

After infertility and the lifelong losses of three babies, I have also felt as if I have three very good enough reasons to allow my heart to become stone and my soul to close.

But I am learning, this is not meant to be the end of my story. Nor do I want it to be the end of my story; just as I help my clients every single day to make sure that their losses, traumas and tragedies are not their endings either. Because, I also get to hear amazing stories of hope and recovery every single day.

But this recovery requires the choice to choose hope and to do the work.

I will always have the soul scars of infertility and losing my babies. And if I am not careful these scars could very easily harden my heart and close my soul to the amazingness that is this life. As they are forever scars much like the four inch back surgery scar I have. Except, my soul scars are invisible to the outside world, and many times are completely misunderstood, invalidated, minimized and sometimes even ignored.

Either scar, back or soul, if ignored by me only worsens; the scar tissue building up, increasing the pain and decreasing my quality of life. For my back it is only through my physical therapy, exercise and self care that this old injury and scar tissue can be as healed as possible. Nothing I do will ever make that scar go away but I sure as hell can make sure I do what is in my power to make it as better as possible. And, almost 20 years later, I wouldn't want that scar to go away anyways as it is a constant reminder of how much strength I truly hold.

As for my soul scars, I must do much of the same work. If I do not do the work of recovery from the trauma of infertility, the lifelong losses and costs of IVF and the ongoing work of accepting a childfree life, I will only allow the scar tissue to grow. And if I am not careful my heart and soul will scar over leaving room for only bitterness, anger and sadness.

Our trauma, tragedies and losses (infertility related or not) make us who we are. I have learned that I am a better everything because I wanted and loved those babies so much. I am also a better everything because I lost them. Sure, the losses left my heart and soul shattered at first, but now with daily work in recovery I have a scarred but healing heart and soul.

Scarred but better and complete, and most definitely open.

This openness is not possible without the daily practice of recovery, authentic living and courage. My choices in recovery, in daily practice, and my faith are what is required for me to not allow the scar tissue to close everything. And I did not survive infertility and lose my three dreams to only be left scarred, closed and hardened like stone.

I am still wholeheartedly figuring this whole thing out, awkwardly stumbling through this life in recovery. And, sometimes I am not a very pretty picture while doing it. What I think I am finally coming to terms with and learning is that I can trust that the end of my story isn't supposed to be a heart of stone or a scarred, closed soul. That I can trust my faith, doubts and all, because within this journey I will always have Him*. And it is with His acceptance, love and help that I will continue to fight for, find and redefine my ever upward.

*For me, my faith is in God and Jesus as my savior. This is something I am newly figuring out, with a lot of doubt and struggle and questions. But it is something that is helping me, especially in my recovery. My only hope is that we can all find something to have faith in.

*This post submitted to the Tuesday Infertility Link Up on Amateur Nester.

The Overwhelming Unknowns

There will always be some unknowns in our lives at any given time. Life is unpredictable and people are complicated and despite our demand to be in control of everything, it just isn't up to us. There seem to be a lot of unknowns in my personal life right now, as it also seems to be a theme for a lot of my clients too. What I am finding is that if we aren't careful these unknowns can pull us under into overwhelmed darkness.

What are some of your unknowns?

Where to go to graduate school? Whether or not to get sober? How long is this injury going to last? Will I ever recover? Does this ever get easier? Will it sell? Will I get published? Can I trust him/her/it? Will he get better? Will we be okay? What it will be like? Will we get through this? Will he/she ever be happy and healthy? What will the doctor say?

The questions of life, the futures we can't tell and these overwhelming unknowns can feel like suffocating death sometimes; and if we aren't careful they become the dementors to our light.

Making us doubt ourselves.

Making us stumble and struggle.

Making us lose our way.

For me, there are a lot of unknowns. I don't know if I will ever see Ever Upward in print. I don't know if my message will reach others to help them on their journey of recovery. I don't know if I will ever feel my true purpose fulfilled. I don't know if my losses will ever be fully healed or worth it. I don't know what it will be like to have my parents live with us for a while. I don't know what my dad's long term recovery looks like. I don't know if I will find trust in my faith.

I don't know... a lot.

And if I sit too long in these overwhelming unknowns my heart begins to race, my jaw clenches, my thoughts become sluggish and racing all at the same time and I begin to lose me. And when I lose me, I struggle to practice my self care, my happy and my recovery. And when I struggle to practice these things the only thing guaranteed to happen is more struggle, more numbing and the return of the old me.

So the only thing I know to do when the suffocating fog of overwhelming unknowns begins to descend upon me is to go back to the basics; sleep enough, eat right, exercise, color my mandalas, read, write, meditate.

I practice and I do in order to really get back to being and feeling. This is what works for me at least.

 
 

Because, this much I know is true:

If I work my recovery, practice self care and practice happy, I will be okay no matter what.

If I reach out for help and own my struggle it will not overtake and own me, and I will and can help others.

If I practice patience, all of the overwhelming unknowns will eventually become known; like it or not, they will come to be in exactly the way they are supposed to be.

Because, I know at least one thing for sure, if it isn't okay it isn't finished.

But, as I have also learned, sometimes we also have to reevaluate and redefine our okay, in other words we must always find our essence of ever upward.

Courageously Contagious

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

Because courage is contagious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

And then I named it.

Shame.

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

I took a breath and I found my courage.

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

 
 

I took a breath and I spoke.

I took a breath and I tried to be contagious.

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

Because courage is contagious.

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

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