Forever Changed, Never Fixed

Surviving loss, trauma and tragedy means we are forever changed. Thriving thereafter means we figure out how to be okay. Finding and moving ever upward means we figure out how to be better than okay. Things can and will get better but I am not sure we are ever fixed.

Just because the subtitle of Ever Upward includes the words to own a childfree life and just because I often write the words acceptance of a childfree life does not mean that I am fixed.

Better doesn't mean fixed

Just because a woman gets pregnant after struggling to do so, whether or not through successful treatments or unexpectedly, does not mean she's fixed or all better.

Just because the adoption has gone through doesn't mean that the family is fixed.

Just because we have survived...

Just because we are putting one foot in front of the other...

Just because we seem or are better...

Just because we got the goal...

Just because we are done...

Does not mean that it is like it never happened or that we are all better.

We are doing the work.

We are forever healing.

We are forever changed.

But, never fixed.

Forever changed through our choices

When we have suffered through the difficulties of family planning, infertility or not, it comes with figuring out how to be okay with the lifelong losses; the scars. Even, when we determine what our happy ending is, it doesn't undo the painful journey we've traveled before.

Working with women through the infertility process has meant that I help them to give themselves permission to feel the complicated grey of it all. Because, after suffering through any level of infertility a woman just doesn't get to be excited about finally being pregnant. Infertility steals this excitement and joy from us. And, what makes it even worse is when the people around us feel like we should just be okay or better or, worse yet, fixed.

Embracing the grey

Survivors of infertility know the millions of things that could go wrong, because they have.

Survivors of infertility know how quickly your joyful high can be crushed by the breath stealing loss of heartbreak.

Survivors of infertility no longer have the luxury of living in the black and white like a lot of  us think, and even sometimes demand, that the world exists.

We've lived through it, felt it all and literally embodied the complicated grey that life really is. Nothing is all good or all bad. As a therapist I work a lot with clients on challenging the unhealthy thinking pattern of black and white thinking.

Life just isn't that simple.

 
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Infertility or not, whatever we have had to survive in this life, and we will all have something, it is never I think, all good or all bad. And, I just don't think we have a choice but to be forever changed by it all somehow. This is the work we must do. The work to be okay; to be better than okay. Because, that is where our choice lies, to choose how to be okay after we've survived it.

To choose how we are forever changed.

Accepting and owning a childfree, yet childfull life, does not mean that I am fixed. Losing my three babies forever changed me but it is within my power to choose how they changed me. For today, it is in finding my purpose to use the giftsHe has given me. It is in giving myself and others the permissions we need to truly embrace all of ourselves. The permissions to make choices not through desperation or fear but through wholeheartedness and love. The permissions to determine when our enough and everything is.

To stop proving it. To truly own it. To break the silence. To embrace it all. Living wholeheartedly brave.

This is my story.

This is our story.

This is Ever Upward.

Out of the Ashes

One week shy of 9 months after my dad's life changing fall off a ladder, my family has faced another life threatening and forever life changing tragedy. I have spent the last week along side Chad's family in Denver on another of the scariest roller coasters of my life. You can read more about my sister in law's journey here, and please send all the prayers, light, love and strength you can, as we all have a long road ahead.

Preparation in fight and faith.

There is no doubt that my dad's accident prepared me for this journey. I knew what kind of support my family would need because it was the support that I lacked myself during dad's accident. So I bossed; making people sleep, eat and take breaks. I counseled; providing the space to vent, talk and cry. I helped; starting the Caring Bridge site and simply just being me. And, I walked through it with my continually growing faith; allowing my in laws to give themselves permission to beg and question God for their daughter's life while also trusting Him and their faith. As my friend Kelly told me, I think I may have a calling as a chaplain in my future.

I may never get to know why this year has been both the best and hardest year of Chad and I's lives; a job promotion for Chad and launching Ever Upward for me, and yet we have also experienced these two family medical emergencies, that were literally life or death.

 
 

What I do know is that I felt different through this emergency, I felt my faith more than I ever have. I also witnessed too many miracles to ignore the fact that He does have a plan for us. And, even if in this moment I am not sure I like, or even want to accept, His plan, I still know that it is and will be okay.

Because out of these ashes He will bring beauty.

I trust this more than I ever have in my life. I trust this because of my journey out of my ashes; two back surgeries and a year in a body cast, the lifelong losses of infertility, three lost babies and the rock bottom of my life. I believe, especially with having faith in something, that we can fight for and find our beauty out of the ashes.

This is ever upward.

There are many things I do not know. I do not know when my sister in law will get a new heart. I do not know how difficult this road will be for all of us. I do not know if Ever Upward will ever get the big break I so hope it does. And, I do not know when the next trauma, loss or tragedy will strike me or my family.

However, there are many things I do know. I know that we will be okay no matter what. I know that one day I will get the understanding of the why I so desire, even if it is just on the other side of eternity. I know that if we continue to give ourselves permission to talk about it, embrace it, practice recovery from it and own it all, we can all find the beauty we all so deserve no matter what we face.

This is the work of faith.

This is the work of life.

This is the work of finding and moving ever upward.

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If you want to read more of Justine's writing make sure to purchase your copy of Ever Upward today and find her on The Huffington Posthere.

This post lined with Amateur Nester's Link-Up.

The Semantics

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

The shamed silence is breaking.

Infertility continues to see more and more media coverage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linked with Amateur Nester's Weekly Link Up.

The Nail in the Floor

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, without them we simply cannot be whole.

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

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

Just like the nail in the floor.

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

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

Scarred But Never Closed

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarred but better and complete, and most definitely open.

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

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

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

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