Penned Musing: A Lot

Today's writing prompt felt like it needed to be shared. What if you stopped asking permission to be yourself and stopped apologizing for who that person is?

~~~

Chin up. Chill out. Calm down. You're so intense. Don't be so dramatic.

The messages from life, society and sometimes, even people I love.

Sometimes meant to shame, other times meant for love.

I am a lot.

And, I love all of her.

I feel. I love. I fight.

Hard.

I am everything of wholehearted.

Fully and completely sincere. Enthusiastic. Energetic. Hearty. Earnest.

I am pure energy. I am whole love.

I love loud. I live full. I am mighty.

I am a lot.

 
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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

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

An Apology and Thank You to Bobbie Thomas

Dear Bobbie,

An apology.

First an apology.

I was fully prepared to walk away from your interview yesterday with Kathie Lee and Hoda feeling shamed and frustrated.

Let me explain.

As someone who has struggled through infertility and IVF, survived and is thriving thereafter, I feel not so alone when a celebrity comes forward with their own struggles. But, despite the broken silence as a survivor and an advocate for breaking the shamed silence surrounding infertility the message that is often times portrayed by celebrities struggling with infertility leaves me wanting, even sometimes leaves me angry.

More often than not the words are spoken much like these messages:

Never give up.

Just keep trying and it will work.

Don't stop.

This message is unrealistic for many of us. Unrealistic because we don't have insurance that covers treatments and procedures. Unrealistic because we are not in the same tax bracket. Unrealistic because our resources are just not comparable. And, unrealistic because sometimes it just won't work.

This message is also shaming for many of us. Shaming because it comes from a place of comparison and scarcity. Shaming because our stories and circumstances are sometimes not that comparable. Shaming because each family must determine what their enough and everything is and when it is okay to stop. Shaming because our paths don't have to and probably won't look the same for each of us to reach our happy ending.

And, so it is with a very grateful heart, that I apologize for assuming you would deliver these same messages.

A thank you

And instead, I want to say a wholehearted thank you.

As an advocate building a platform for breaking the shamed silence surrounding infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy loss and recovery and for my first book, I often times feel very alone. Sometimes, it even feels like the world isn't ready for my message.

 
 

But, in that short five minute interview I found a fellow warrior in you.

Thank you for your bravery in filming the ultrasounds, the blood draws, procedures and weight gain; showing how physically and emotionally exhausting it all is.

Thank you for your courage is sharing the pain that comes with a negative result.

Thank you for your openness in sharing your story with the world and saying how much it helps. Thank you also to your doctor for validating this.

Thank you for your acknowledgement that you are lucky that insurance covers most of your treatments.

Thank you for your realism that this doesn't always work.

Without even knowing it, you had my back yesterday in that interview.

Thank you for supporting what needs to be the message:

Permission to speak our truth.

Permission to embrace our whole story.

Permission to practice our recovery.

Permission to own it all.

Through these permissions, I think, we can change the way we talk about and move through the experience of infertility. And that if we do, not only could it maybe work more often but we can hopefully all be okay thereafter, maybe even better, and not feel so damn broken.

Thank you for your courage, for your message and for your light.

In ever upward light and love

Your fellow warrior,

Justine

*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

This post linked to Amateur Nester's Link Up.

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

Defining Our Enoughs and Everythings

Amy Klein's post You've Done Everything You Can for the New York Times was the first spark I needed to write something about our enoughs. Our everythings.

Then I wrote Our Infertility Rap Sheets, even though I was scared to death of putting it out there. But, the feedback I received was the second spark I needed to write something about our enoughs.

Our everythings.

Igniting the third spark, a fellow warrior and blogger messaged me today. Her bravery in reaching out was enough for me to pull this post from drafts, assign my own photo and share. As, she is in the midst of defining her enough is enough.

Her everything.

As I have written, I've taken out my counts; how many rounds of IVF I tried because I have found I included them only out of my own shame. Out of this need to prove to the world, and maybe to myself on some days, that I too have suffered and lost.

Infertility or not, we all must define our own enoughs and everythings.

What is enough? What is everything?

Have you done everything you can? Have you done everything you need to? 

Have you done enough? Have you lost enough? Have you suffered enough?

Defining our everything and our enoughs in order to let go, embrace and move forward.

I think we can apply these questions to many areas of our lives that we are struggling with.

Infertility. Recovery. Relationships. Dreams. This list goes on and on.

I think what we all must remember is that only we can define what is everything and when enough is enough. When we define these through others' expectations or society or because it is "what we are supposed to do" it only comes from this place of shame; a place of not honoring ourselves. Our everythings and our enoughs can, and need to, only be defined within ourselves.

If I don't hold on to this, I can very easily get wrapped up in the shamed silence that surrounds my infertility journey and my recovery. Because, technically, I suppose, we could have kept trying. Technically, science has provided many options for us to keep trying. Technically, there are also other options.

But to not listen to myself, my husband and our light and truth would have been the biggest disservice to me, our marriage and, in reality, to the world. For us to go above and beyond what we know is our enough and our everything would have destroyed us because it simply would not have been our truth.

 
 

We tried. We tried more than we had planned to. But, we tried again because our losses felt that crushing. We tried again because we knew that our everything wasn't met yet. Only we could make that decision. We need to explain it only to each other.

Only we define our enough and everything.

And, our ever upward.

To let go of comparison, especially in our sufferings and recovery, is to find our truth.

Because we all suffer. We all lose. Hard is just hard.

And, we all must practice our recovery.

Trust in your truth. Trust in your everything. Trust in your enough.

Because, within that trust you will be found.

*To read more about how we defined our everything and how I have practiced 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 cover of Ever Upward is done! I am so excited to share later this week along with a giveaway!

 
Thank you also to the designer of my book cover, Kristen Ashley, for this beautiful version of the photo!
Thank you also to the designer of my book cover, Kristen Ashley, for this beautiful version of the photo!
 

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

Hopefully the First of Many

My first television interview on the book and blog. So thankful that Great Day St. Louis on KMOV was willing to help me break the silence.

 
 

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 included in Amateur Nester's Link Up.

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.

Change the Why

Why? The word that so many toddlers torture their parents with as their curiosity about the world overwhelms them so much that they must know why about everything.

Why? Why? But, why?

It is counseling 101, and in reality, one of the most helpful communication tools I teach to my clients. Take the why out of your conversations, especially the difficult ones.

Saying why can feel accusatory, and when we feel accused our defenses go up which means healthy communication typically becomes even more difficult and can even shut down.

 
 

Why did you do that?

Why do you feel that way?

Why do you think that?

Why can't you just be better?

Taking the why out of these questions feels a lot different.

What was that about?

How come you feel that way?

What is that thought process about for you?

What is holding you back from changing?

These small changes may seem trivial but just try saying those statements out loud to yourself and feel the difference. Now imagine how much your communication can be helped if you become more conscious of the why.

But, the why I really want for us all to change is your self talk why. The why you beat yourself up with when you make a mistake.

I first learned of how hard I am on myself when I took a workshop with Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, at Emerging Women last year. In the workshop, she talked us through her self-compassion break meditation and for the first time I had to see in my own handwriting how hard I am on myself when I make a simple mistake. That berating self talk, calling ourselves names and really just not being nice to ourselves at all. This kind of self talk does not motivate us to change even though we've convinced ourselves that it has. We must realize what our inner critic is really trying to do, which is keep us safe or or keep us from suffering or improve us but through the years it has developed a pretty mean way of doing so.

Neff's research shows that self-compassion is where confidence and change can really occur. Her self-compassion model includes self-kindness (talking to yourself like you talk to a loved one), common humanity (reminding ourselves that everyone struggles and everyone makes mistakes) and mindfulness (being present with all our emotions). Combine that with the shame resilience skills from the work of Brené Brown and your self talk becomes a lot more pleasant and motivating.

A typical day for me will always include a trip, a spill or something breaking. It is just who I am, I am usually going too fast and as a firm believer in the one trip that often times means I am falling or breaking something. Yesterday for example, at coffee with a new friend as we are deep in great conversation I pick up my coffee cup to take a drink and it literally explodes; lid pops off, hot coffee all over my dress, the table and in my bowl of oatmeal (in my defense the barista had bent the cup before handing it to me but I was also moving too fast as usual).

Before learning the work of Kristen Neff and Brené Brown my inner dialogue would have been:

You're such an idiot. Oh my gosh, you are ridiculous. Why can't you be more careful? Just f*cking slow down! You're so stupid. How embarrassing!

After doing this work in my recovery:

Well, that had to be hysterical. That sucks, I'm covered in coffee. I need to stop, slow down and be more careful. Great girl, but not great choice.

I think we all struggle with this mean inner dialogue from time to time. I see it every day with my clients. My challenge to us all is to be nicer to ourselves. To take the why out of our self talk and replace it with how come or what. And finally, to remember we are worthy, lovable and great people who make mistakes but we don't have to be those mistakes. Today become conscious of how you talk to yourself. Be nice and change the why!

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 Myriagon of Ever Upward Light

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

 
 

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

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

5. Tread or Float

4. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

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

2. Conceiving Our Chosen Family

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

Top 5 Most Commented on Posts

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

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

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

2. The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

1. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Top 5 of My Most Healing Posts

5. My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

4. Making Room For the Light

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

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

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

My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

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

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

Because, today I spoke on Wholehearted Parenting.

And, I am not a parent.

And, I was scared shitless.

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

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

Shame.

Fucking shame.

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shamed Silence Broken

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it matter how the childfree status is come to?

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

~~~~

 
 

But to own her truth, she breaks her silence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. It ONLY works 30% of the time.

9. It doesn’t always end with a baby.

10. Sometimes it ends with two.

11. Or three.

12. Or eight.

13. Or none.

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

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

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

17. It’s okay to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

23. It’s SUPER expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31. You will experience moments of unadulterated belly laughter.

32. You will experience moments of sheer terror.

 
 

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

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

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

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

37. It might work.

38. It might not work.

39. It’s okay to stop.

40. It’s okay to keep going.

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

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

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

44. Because it will be okay.

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

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

What would you add to the list?

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

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

Fill in your _________________.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because this is myever upward.

Tread or Float

For the last 14 years I have had the honor of witnessing people journey through some of the most difficult times of their lives to emerge as happier, healthier and whole people. As a mental health therapist I fulfill multiple roles on a daily basis; teacher, healer, helper, educator, coach, big sister, mother, friend, confidante, trainer and, in all honesty, sometimes I’m the provider of a swift kick in the ass. Unbeknownst to them, my clients also, at times, fulfill these same roles for me as they are my reminders, and examples, of fighting the good fight and never giving up.

Throughout the years of working with clients I have found there will be times where I must push, and I mean push really hard. Making sure they know they have the strength to change their lives; and that they are ready. There are other times where I will simply hold their hand, walking alongside them through their journey of self discovery, self doubt and finding peace. Then there are times, where I will take their hand and pull them forward, at times, begging them to trust me and try things a different way; to put one foot in front of the other and follow me.

No matter the concern someone is coming into therapy and coaching for, they are facing the hardest work of their lives. They are facing times of progress and times of feeling so stuck they can’t stand it. They will doubt their abilities, and maybe even mine to help them. They will get worse before they get better. They will at times hate me for the things I ask them to do. They will walk away and come back. They will push me away because it hurts that badly to trust someone or to have someone believe in them so much when no one else ever has.

They will question.

They will resist.

They will work.

They will change.

Depression. Anxiety. Alcoholism. Drug use. Gambling. Shopping. Trich. Eating Disorders. Weight Issues. OCD. Bitterness. Toxic Relationships. Lying. Cheating. Discontent. Self Hate. Grief. Perfectionism. Shame. Doubt. Cynicism. Abuse. Rigidity. Bipolar. Unease. Infertility. Loss. Trauma. Surviving. Faith difficulty. Pessimism. Indecision. Blaming. Apathy. Sad. Feeling lost. Parenting struggles. Social difficulty. Bullying wounds. Self care. Distrust. Anger.

These are our stories. And all of our stories contain some struggle.

Where we lose ourselves, I think, is when we make these struggles all of who we are. We turn them into our whole story. They become our entire identity, even when they start working against us rather than for us. We hold on so tightly to these struggles, and what we think works to manage them, that we lose the great parts, the whole parts, of who we are.

When our struggles are our whole story, we struggle to own those stories, and therefore struggle to find our ever upward. We must find the way to make these struggles simply parts of who we are, parts of our story.

But we hold onto the trouble, the trauma, the loss, the struggle because it is all we have ever known. We hold on because the unknown is scarier. We hold on because we have no idea what else to do. We hold on because, at least we’re surviving. We hold on because they have become, what we think, are our water wings, our life preservers.

But eventually, we hold on so tightly and so long, the very things that have saved us, that have helped us to survive, become our own cement blocks.

Our own cement blocks drowning us in ourselves.

No self care. Worry. Drinking. Drugging. Spending. Pulling. Restricting. Binging. Counting. Drama. Lies. Dishonesty. Self harm. No breaks. Too hard. No sleep. Unhealthy sarcasm. Over-scheduling. No room. Flashbacks. Mood swings. Never saying no. Isolation. Promiscuity. No passion. Procrastination. Loneliness. Rage. Inconsistency. No movement, etc. etc. etc. etc.

What I ask my clients to work through and change every day is no less than an act of faith and trust. I am asking them to let go of their way. The way that has actually worked for years, at least worked in numbing or self-medicating themselves. The way that has helped them to survive but is now drowning them. I ask them to let go because if they don’t they won’t have any free arms to grasp onto the tools and the hope I am offering them.

They must let go in order to begin again.

 
 

But the most excruciating part of this battle, is that they must have faith that they will either float or tread water while they learn, grow and change.

Because they will. They will tread or float, and I will be right there with them; coaching, believing, pushing and loving.

And eventually, they will be able to grasp onto those tools.

But most importantly they will find their freedom to finally believe in the hope I hold for them.

And they will save their own lives.

They will find their own ever upward.

Choosing to change your life will be the hardest and scariest thing you have ever done. It will also be the best thing you will ever do.

I know, as I have, myself, fought the battle. Being scared shitless to let go of what I had learned to trust over the years but began to realize was holding me back and keeping me from being who I am truly meant to be. Letting go to push through fear to do the grueling work to trust and have faith in my own ability to tread or float in order to recover...in order to find my own ever upward.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words

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.