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.

The Authentic Therapist

"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.

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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.

Mourning What Should Have Been

I significant part of me cringes as I put the word should in the title of this post. As a therapist who works some using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) I have attempted to erase should from my vocabulary. I also work with my clients to do the same. As some CBT therapists say, "Don't should all over yourself!" Should is typically riddled with guilt and shame and just yuck. What do we need and want? Not, what should we... Change should to need or want and feel the difference, both when you speak to yourself and when expecting things from your loved ones. I should go to the gym.

Do I need or want to go to the gym?

He/She should know how I'm feeling right now.

I need to tell him/her how I feel and what I want.

I shouldn't feel sad any longer.

Do I need or want to figure out this sadness still?

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I wrote my first post for Ever Upward five short months ago. Never could I have dreamed how much my life would change. Never could I have dreamed how many amazing people I would "meet". Never could I have dreamed how much our stories are all connected and the embrace I've felt through this connection.

This connection has only been further solidified through my participation in Momastery's Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. Our stories, all messy and all beautiful, are what connect us to one another. I think, our stories, even more so, are what connect us back to ourselves. And, it seems our stories tend to have the major theme I often times see with my clients every day: mourning what should have been or what we thought should have been.

I think at times, at least for me, it can feel like these should have beens determine my everything; my every day, and even my every minute. And if I don’t practice the work of my recovery, I risk the should have beens taking over and defining my entire being. Just Google something like letting go of what isn’t and you will be overwhelmed by thousands of quotes on how we must let go of what isn’t in order to make room for what can be. In reality, this has probably been the major encompassing theme of Ever Upward from the beginning.

But what is striking me the most lately, is how much we judge others or lack empathy for others in regards to their mourning of their should have beens; their losses, their stories.

The very stories that seem and feel so different than ours, but I am realizing are so very much the same.

 
 

We all have should have beens…

I should have gone to school sooner.

I shouldn't have stayed so long.

I should have enjoyed my younger years more.

I should be able to forgive this by now.

I should have taken better care of my body.

I should have been more honest.

They shouldn’t have left me.

I should be better by now.

I should have left them.

I should be over this.

This list could go on and on. Ultimately, aren't we all just trying to figure out how to let go of what didn't turn out? To redefine after all our shoulds didn't come true?

And of course, there are the should have beens of motherhood and family, especially considering these are the ones that seem to go unspoken and judged the most.

Your child was born premature, you didn't get to hold him/her for weeks or months and you didn’t get that happy bring them home day or first few months.

You were miserably sick your entire pregnancy and you honestly hated every second of it, while also being so thankful for it and therefore felt guilty.

You lost a child way too early for anyone to bear, let alone understand the lifelong losses that come with that grief.

You were never able to even hold that child or only held that child for a few heartbreaking but  amazing hours.

You only achieved pregnancy through infertility measures and will never get to have wild drunk sex that ends up in your blessing of a child 40 weeks later.

You feel sad and guilty and mad that you didn’t start trying sooner.

You weren't planning on getting pregnant and therefore spent most of it scared to death rather than relishing every second of it.

You are a birth mom.

You are a mom mom.

You adopted your child or children or embryos and are so thankful for children but grieve that you will never get to see you and your partner’s genes combine.

You will never get to experience pregnancy yourself.

You have had to make major IVF decisions such as how many embryos to transfer, what to do with leftover embryos, what happens if you can’t afford another round of treatments, etc., etc.

You are blessed with one or two or even three children but always wanted a big family and it doesn’t seem to be happening, you feel the gamut of sadness, anger and guilt coupled with how lucky and blessed you are to have any children.

You are a stay at home mom but wish you were working.

You are a working mom but wish you were a stay at home mom.

You have a happy and healthy children but your friends don't, and you feel blessed and lucky but guilty, especially when sometimes you'd really like Sunday completely to yourself, on the couch watching The Walking Dead all day long.

Your infertility is due to one partner or maybe the combination of you together and it creates frustration, sadness, guilt and maybe even blame.

I am sure I am missing many, many more here.

And then there is my story, I wanted to a mom, I tried to a mom but it is not my journey to have. And I’ve worked to accept a childfree life and fight for my recovery. But now for the first time, I am beginning to experience those feelings of relief, calm and even gratitude when my chosen children don’t come home with us or they go to their own homes after visiting. Or that our Sunday is filled with whatever we want, even that day long marathon of The Walking Dead. Or that I don’t have to negotiate over meal time or wake up at the crack of dawn.

 
 

Does that mean I didn’t want our three babies enough? Does that mean I’m not sad anymore? Or does that simply mean I’m figuring out how to let go of what I wanted and hoped for. That I am figuring out my mourning for what should have been, and learning to accept my true childfree life.

It’s all so complicated; neither story better or worse or more difficult than the other. It’s just life, which includes suffering for us all. And it is our sufferings and our recoveries from them that make us who we are. As David Brooks wrote for the New York Times in his article titled What Suffering Does, “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.”

But it is through this ongoing process of healing, of figuring out what comes after the should have been, that we find ourselves and our story again.

Because, who are we to have the power to say what should have been?

I am not meant to be a mother.

Should I have been?

Perhaps, but continuing to insist on the should only denies my truth.

But more importantly, who are we to judge or question one’s grief around these sufferings or losses? Who are we to judge one for how they mourn their should have beens? Who are we to dare ask, "When are you going to get over it?"

I think we must figure out how we can we give ourselves, and others, permission to mourn their should have beens? Can we give ourselves, and others, permission to feel it all; the blessings, the lucky, the anger, the sadness, the guilt, and even, the shame.

Because, really it is through these permissions that our recoveries can begin. It is within these permissions that I finally put the puzzles pieces into my bigger life story. It is within these permissions that I can allow myself the relief, and even gratitude, of a childfree life while also, at the very same time, feeling my sadness, anger and envy of your childfull life.

It is within these permissions that we open up the space and light for the mourning of what should have been to become what needs to be.

It is within these permissions that I have found my purpose, and of course, my ever upward.

What are your should have beens? How do you practice your recovery to make the should have beens become the need to bes?

The Gravity of Relapse

It's been two weeks since my dad's life changing accident. I've been back home for a week playing catch up with clients, paperwork, writing and housework. I'm also playing catch up with recovery.

Life happens; we fall behind in our self care, behind in our recovery, and all of a sudden we are fighting our own gravity of relapse.

The song Gravity by Sara Bareilles is powerful in it's own right. As a mental health therapist who works with clients struggling with addiction the power of the lyrics were solidified when Mia Michaels choreographed a dance to it on So You Think You Can Dance years ago. Today the lyrics hit home as I can feel the pull of old ways on me; the gravity of my own relapse.

Being home helping family meant I didn't make myself, my recovery, a priority. I am the first to admit that recovery is multiple choices I make every single day to be the best version of myself; it is exercise, it is writing, it is meditation, it is reading, it is a nighttime routine, it is expressing myself...it is a huge pain in the ass. But they are daily choices I must make to live my wholehearted recovered life.

I am carefully minding the balance between being gentle with myself in that I did the very best I could given the situation I was in and being frustrated that I didn't fight harder for myself and my recovery. I wasn't in my own home. I was helping during a very stressful time for all of us. I wasn't eating the way I normally do. I was around someone who doesn't believe or honor, and sometimes even actively denies, my story and recovery. I was way behind on sleep. I did the best I could but I know now I need to choose better next time.

 
 

Fighting the gravity of relapse, meant that I still made sure to listen to my play list every morning I got ready. It was the one daily choice of my recovery I made sure to practice even during the stressful time.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means that I slowly get back on track with my daily choices, adding new ones each day until I am back to what it takes to maintain my ever upward light.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means asking for help from my loved ones and getting in to see my own therapist this week.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means doing better next time but giving myself a break on this time.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means giving myself permission that I am always learning, growing and figuring it all out along the way.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means writing this to own my struggle because it is in this ownership that I will find my recovery again and simply take the best next step forward.

Because, it is only within the honoring of this battle that I will make it part of my journey in my ever upward life.

Worth Every Raindrop and Thunder Strike

It has been a week of witnessing the dichotomy between the sheer terror and the joyful hope of change. A week of asking clients to trust that if they feel the fear and choose change anyway there is light waiting for them. The fear of the storm that must be felt at the same time as having the courage for riding out and fighting through the storm, along with the bravery for the calm after it.

The work my clients do each week will be the scariest and most difficult of their lives. And yet it can, and will be the work that changes everything. The work that leads them back to their true, whole, healthy and authentically happy selves.

Even though we know we want, deserve and can do, be and have better, we are so fearful of it and scared to death of what it will take to get it.

So we settle and stand in our own way because it feels safer, even in the dark misery of it.

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I know, because I did it.

I know, because I didn't define my rock bottom for myself and life did it for me.

I know, because I've finally gotten out of my own way and fought for myself.

I know, because I felt the fear and I chose recovery anyway.

Our recoveries will all be different, but have no doubt, eventually we will each need to choose to recover. Because life is beautifully flawed and heart breakingly difficult.

But through the fear and the work of the storm, after we make the choice to change, lies the calm and brilliance of recovery.

Because we must be afraid and brave at the same time as Brené Brown has found in her research. We must feel the fear and choose ourselves in order to fight the fight of recovery.

I have my story, myself, to show as evidence. And I will model that every minute of all of my days.

I will model that it isn't easy; that there are setbacks and it definitely doesn't feel fair most of the time.

I will model that on the other side of the storm is ever upward light.

And, all I can hope and work for is that my clients, and my loved ones, see my fight and my light every day.

Because through me, I hope they can trust and have faith that I will fight alongside them. Constantly reminding them that their light is worth both riding out and fighting through the storm because the ever upward calm of recovery is worth every raindrop and thunder strike.

We Hold the Pieces to Our Puzzle

Every day I work with clients to help them learn how to let go, accept, redefine and find themselves. Often times we work on owning our stories and not allowing our whole selves to be defined by something that has happened to us or a mistake we've made or a loss or trauma we have suffered. A lot of what I do is help my clients figure out how to be happy and healthy after things do not end up how they had hoped for, pictured or planned for. I help, I teach and I model, as I have fought this recovery battle myself. We all have an epic story, and we all have hardship in our lives. Because hard is hard. Where we often get tripped up is in how we integrate these pieces of our stories into our whole, and hopefully one day, recovered selves.

I often get asked things like...

"How long will I hold onto this?"

"Will this ever get easier?"

"Will I ever stop thinking about it?"

 
 

The thing is, our lives are our puzzles.

Our life, our story, is a million piece jigsaw puzzle made up of pieces in every color, size and shape possible.

puzzlethat will always have some missing pieces.

As it takes our lifetime to complete.

A puzzle that will have missing pieces forever, if we don't face the work we need to do to recover from whatever we need to recover from. Leaving an incomplete picture if we don't do this work. Sure, we may not notice the gaping holes in the whole picture from afar, but when we really look closely they will be impossible to ignore.

As they are missing pieces of us.

 
 

A puzzle that only we hold all the pieces to.

When we do the work that we need to live a happy, fulfilled, authentically brave life and to heal ourselves we place every puzzle piece into place. We not only place each piece into it's perfect home, we also push it down.

Therefore, making the seamless picture of our intricately flawed, and yet perfectly imperfect beautiful lives.

Sure up close, one will see all the individual pieces of our stories but from afar they will simply see us. All of us.

We are made up of all the pieces of our puzzle; each moment of our lives completing the picture and each story defining parts of who we are.

But, we must remember we hold the pieces ourselves, as we have the power for change and recovery.

We have the power to complete our puzzle and therefore truly, and bravely, embrace and own all the pieces of us.

Reaching Through the Keyhole of Your Closet

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

Ever Upward is my authentic truth telling.

My story.

 
 

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

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

I’ve Stopped; They're Still Trying

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

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

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

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

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

The work of redefining ourselves and our family.

The work of learning to let go.

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

The work of our Ever Upward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

Wallow, But Just For a Bit, Then Stop Sitting in the Shit

I will fully admit I had a rough day yesterday. I wallowed. I really wallowed for a bit.

Going to the OB/GYN is never fun for a woman, but it can definitely be hell for a childless woman. Let alone getting news that is it quite possible that IVF triggered my useless ovaries to develop painful cysts which are now causing major back pain, and having to remind my team of doctors that IVF didn’t work for us, there is no baby, and yes we are done trying.

I cried.

I pouted.

I talked.

“I’m frustrated.”

“I’m pissed”.

“It's not fucking fair.”

Then life somehow pulls you out if, but only if you have your eyes wide open to it.

I had some amazing sessions with clients. I reminded myself of my own session with my therapist. The puppies finally played in the deep snow and made me laugh just when I needed to. And three of my favorite little boys left me a voicemail and sent me a video text message.

 
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As my therapist reminded me earlier this week, “You have chosen what to do with all of this. You could never not be Ever Upward; always growing, learning, changing, educating, evolving, and figuring it out. “

And she’s right

I didn’t get to choose that I would spend a year of my life in a body cast after two back surgeries. I didn’t get to choose that IVF did not work for us. And I definitely didn't choose that my body feels like it is rebelling against my childless status right now.

But I can choose resiliency. I can choose to speak the truth about IVF and loss. I can choose to connect with others through our stories. I can choose where I go from here and who I want to be. I can choose my ever upward.

My clients also reminded me this week as they continue to fight for themselves, change for the better and not be their pasts, their  struggles, traumas or losses.

I choose to fight too.

My dogs reminded me to get out of my head and to just laugh; watching them play in the snow is pure joy.

I choose joy.

And finally, three of my favorite kiddos, begging me to come play Just Dance 2014… well nothing makes me smile more than that.

I choose love (and fun).

Life, God, Mother Nature, Humanity, whatever you believe in, will always send us the message to remind us that there is a higher purpose to our journey.

We simply have to be open enough to choose it.

So wallow, but just for a bit, we are totally allowed.

But be careful of sitting in the shit for too long, you just might miss the message; the moment of pure joy, the love, the choice of your ever upward.

So Very Different, and Yet the Very Same

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

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

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

I write Ever Upward to help others.

I publish it to connect.

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

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

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

So very different, and yet the very same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that change is up to us.

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

But really, it is just about life.

For life.

And finding the ever upward.

Resilient Dreams ~ The Essence of Ever Upward

Looking through old records from my back surgeries to help finish one of the chapters in the book was like being transported back in time.  I was flooded with memories of the pain and heartache but also the laughter and determination, of both myself but more importantly of my family and friends.  Through this search, I found a paper I had written after my first back surgery when I was 14.  Towards the end of the paper was a paragraph that frankly brought me completely full circle.  Reading it to myself I took a knowing deep breath, felt the chills of goose bumps and felt the sense of all is exactly as it should be fill my soul. In it I write, “I lost a lot of things because of all this.  I lost dreams, I lost friends, I lost my dancing career and I even lost some faith and trust.  But I also gained some things too...  And I began to dream new dreams.  I also gained a new outlook and attitude on life.”

Like, I’ve written before, my life has been the embodiment of starting over, of redefining.   A constant lesson of learning how to not only let go and accept but also of how to put one foot in front of the other and dream new dreams.

Is this resiliency inborn?  Is it a result of how my parents wholeheartedly raised me?  Is it the result of trauma at a young age?  What I can be sure of now, is that it is probably all of the above but that it is also something that we all can choose.   Something we all must choose.

Life is difficult and people are complicated, terrible things happen and none of us come of out this unscathed.  All of us have the bumps and bruises of this amazing thing called life.  Having 2 back surgeries, surviving IVF without becoming a mother and losing 3 babies are my bumps and bruises.  The only thing left to do is pick myself up and put one foot in front of the other, fully embracing my story and all of who I am.  And truthfully, I believe, this is something we all must eventually choose.  We all must choose to change.  We all must choose to grow.  This doesn’t mean it isn’t painful, uncomfortable or at times downright torturous and full of fear, it just means we get to find our ever upward.