Penned Musing: My Happy

Happy Friday! A tiny post for you today...a poem? I am sorry I have not posted as often lately. My June is filled with a lot of travel and getting my schedule under control in order to make more time for the second book.

I was inspired for this writing prompt by the brilliant book I am reading by Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind. Definitely check it out!

~~~

I'm finally learning.

Happy is mine.

All mine.

Get your own.

Just as I have.

Fought for.

Created.

Chosen.

Sought. Found.

No longer based on my past or reliant on the accomplishments of the future.

Happy now.

Chosen in the present second.

Hustled for and with.

Earned.

And received.

Eyes and heart open enough.

Through and in the dark.

Mine.

Found.

Yours too.

***Includes Amazon Affiliate link.

Time Flies Through Forever Ago

The two little girls see us come into the bowling alley and their faces light up with the childlike smiles I love and yearn for each day. Granted I am holding a shiny present in my hand for them, so that excitement is most likely for the gift and our presence is just an added bonus.

We laugh, we bowl and we chat for the next couple of hours until they open their Christmas gift (better late than never) from Chad and I.

The wonder of what is underneath the shiny holiday wrapping that melts into the joy of the gift they absolutely love is something that will never get old to me.

And, with the direction from their mom, as is required of any elementary age kid, "What do you tell Justine and Chad?"

"Thank you!" they say in unison not even looking up from their new found treasure.

The moments of childfull living I seek to create, work to accept and am beyond grateful for.

After bowling Chad and I head out for a quick bite to eat. Over some chips and guacamole we realize that ever elusive concept of time, realizing that Chad has been at his "new" job for 4 years this March.

"It's gone by so fast," we both agree.

It is then that I realize what next month will be for us.

"Next month is five years since we started our infertility journey." I say through a sense of disbelief and knowing all in the same breath.

Chad replies, "Now that, for some reason, feels like forever ago."

"I know, kind of weird right?" I reply back.

He shifts his focus down to his plate of warm, delicious Mexican food.

"Maybe it is because everything is so different, and in many ways better and healthier." I say with the complete embodiment of the complicated gray.

Because those five years have flown by but only through forever ago; five years ago I placed an ad on a surrogacy website asking for advice and more information. Little did we know what would lie ahead for us. That through the black fog of synthetic hormones, through the desperation of tens of thousands of dollars spent and loans taken out, through the devastating loss of three babies and through the soul crushing and soul completing bittersweet decision to define our own happy ending lay the life we choose to live now.

It has only been through this forever ago, that we were able to create this incredible childfull life we live today. An incredible life laced with forever longing of our babies, like a heavy stone I carry in my pocket always, and with the joy and health we've worked hard to create and maintain.

This is living life in the complicated gray; embracing the mucky space between grief and joy, the dark and the light, to awaken to life in color.*

 
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*Watch for updates here and on my social media as I continue to work on my 2nd book, The Complicated Gray.

The Post-It Miracle

My first book signing was back in April when Ever Upward launched. My first book signing was nothing about selling books, as I wrote had I to choose to shift my definition of success. My second book signing was this past weekend, and as He would have it, was also nothing about selling books.

I had a short talk prepared, to which there was no one to give it to which only solidified my lack of expectations for this book signing. But, Chad and I made a day of it, we had already had a great lunch at a local place and enjoyed connecting with people we would have never connected with throughout the day.

For the record, I sold two books.

One less than my first book signing.

You see I don't have the big publisher behind me. I was just now able to invest in the literary publicist. And, my marketing plan for this first book has remained writing for free for other publications and working my job that pays the bills, seeing clients.

Publishing a book is not for the faint of heart. Publishing a book about a topic that no one wants to talk about, can at times, feel like career self-destruction. Let alone publishing a book about this said topic when your story makes the world very uncomfortable because you are not one of the success stories.

And yet, there is always something churning...

We may not have full understanding in the moment, but have faith there is always something amazing in the works for you.

So I did not deliver my talk and I sold minimal books, but it was the ending to the afternoon that made it, just as with the first signing, this one also ended in a goosebumps kind of way.

In lulls of the two hour book signing I was reading Pam Grout's E-Cubed on my phone. I had just read my manifesting assignment for this experiment: Be a love bomber (leave post it's of love in random places around the world).

 
 

A few minutes later as we were getting ready to pack up and I was signing the remaining books we had not sold, Chad said, "That's weird, look there's a post it in your book." Then a Barnes and Noble employee said, "Oh, I found one earlier too!"

 
 

It's a post-it miracle!!

Goosebumps, tears and gratitude along with the deep knowing breath in allowing myself to feel it all; fear of failure, stress that this will never get noticed, trust in knowing it will, belief in myself that is already is, and most of all, knowing trust in that it is all exactly as it is supposed to be.

Needless to say we went out to a nice (early bird) dinner to celebrate and toast our post-it miracle.

 
 

Being the Happiest and Healthiest Version of Ourselves: Can We Just Do It?

It has been a theme in my office lately, the frustration we can feel with recovery, well, really with ourselves. The frustration of falling off track with the choices of recovery. The sense of it never getting easier. The inaccurate inner critic telling us that we are a failure and that we will never _____________ (get better, lose the weight, be happy, achieve success...).

When this happens it can feel easier to just stay down, to wallow and sit in the shit.

How long does this have to feel like such a struggle? Will it always be this hard? Will I ever feel motivated to choose better?

Some of my clients look at me and think this recovery I fight for every day is easy and that I have it all figured out, which really only means they must not be keeping up on the blog ;). They think that the only way I practice my self-care daily is because I feel like it and I am super jazzed and awesomely motivated to (sarcasm).

And, sure, there are days this can feel true, but not every day, in fact probably not most days.

There are days that I must just choose it.

Just do it.

And no, it is not easy. But it is simple. However, I know just choosing recovery is definitely not easy, and maybe not even simple, in the depths of severe depression and anxiety. But, I do believe that we still always have the ability to choose again.

Practicing recovery daily means that I make the choices that are aligned with who I want to be.

I choose to meditate, color, journal, exercise, tap, take my supplements, drink water, write, get enough sleep, etc. because I want to be the happiest and healthiest version of myself.

I choose in alignment with who I want to be and I want to be happy, healthy, present and engaged in my life.

There are days that I am not motivated to do my morning routine. My thoughts and my feelings aren't pushing me towards choosing self-care. But I choose it anyway because it is in alignment with who I want to be and I make sure to at least do something that moves me toward that person.

We can choose this person. We can choose who we want to be. And better yet, we must choose daily the steps that move us closer to that person. What if you took just that next best step toward the happy, healthy, engaged and present person you want to be?

 
 

What can you choose today that is in alignment with that amazing, healthy, happy, present and engaged person you want to be?

~~~

Need ideas? Make sure you are subscribe to my FREE 30 day toolkit here.

Or check out my new self-care ebook now available on Kindle here.

The Almost Enough Moments

I've been having a slight existential crisis lately; between finishing up the book, Ever Upward and coming up on a year of submitting to agents and publishers (over 220 of them) and the success (although the desire for more) of this blog and my continued journey in finding my faith again and today being the two year anniversary of the bittersweet day of the last negative pregnancy test, ending IVF and learning to accept a childfree life; I am finding myself feeling all sides of everything, over-feeling and over-thinking, doubting and just plain struggling.

How can I balance this desire for the blog to blow up and the book to get published, both for validation of my story and for the wider outreach to help others but also because I think it just has to with knowing my story has already touched and helped so many? How do I let go and trust that what is meant to happen will happen, as it has never been in my hands to begin with?

How do we sit with the be all, end all questions, what is this all supposed to mean? Why did this happen?

Aren't we all wondering the why?

Why does the 35 year old mother of two young children get late stage colorectal cancer?

Why did he cheat?

Why did she have to die?

Why did he have to fall?

Why did they leave?

Why didn't I die?

Why are they lying?

Why did this have to happen???

Why?

But, I'm not sure we will ever get to know the why.

And, what I think I am learning is that some of our answers can maybe be found in our almost enough moments.

 
 

You know those moments where you look up (to who or whatever you believe in, for me it is God) and say okay, I get it. I would not have this if that had all worked out. Or I would not have this if I had not lost that. But really, that just doesn't feel like it's quite enough? So we question it; I get it, I'm thankful, but it's still not enough for all that pain, all that suffering, the never to be's; I sure hope you have more, better, in the works.

I am also learning we all have to figure out how to open ourselves up to these almost enough moments, really embracing their capacity for awe.

Can I have the presence and gratitude to embrace that piece of almost enough? And, have the faith that I might get to see the pieces all fit together one day? Better yet, can I have the presence and gratitude, and patience, enough to have the faith that I just may not get to see them all fit together and that the almost enough is, well, enough?

Because without a doubt, I have some pretty amazing almost enough moments...

Being McKinley's godparents.

Being asked to be in the delivery room to help bring baby Smith into this world.

Having every moment with our chosen family.

Attending all the piano recitals, church concerts and ball games of all our chosen children.

My friends through Emerging Women, The Daring Way™ certification and this blog.

Our Christmas morning tradition of going to see what Santa brought our chosen children.

The healing journey of writing my book.

A better marriage.

Building our family home, Mason house, for all our friends and family to grow and enjoy with us.

The continuing journey of my blog.

Becoming a better therapist.

Our dogs.

 
 

My improved relationships.

The happier, healthier me.

Fighting for me, fighting for my recovery and rediscovering my light.

I could go on and on, because I am able to wholeheartedly say, the list of my almost enough moments truly is endless.

My soul will always have the scars of my three lost babies, of three lost dreams, of three never to be's. But, I can choose if this is my whole story and I can also choose to move forward, having the faith that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, no matter the why.

But, can I trust and have the patience that these almost enough moments will lead me to more understanding and that my suffering, better yet, my story, will end exactly as it is meant to? Learning to have the patience and faith that I just might never get that final moment of what I think would be completion, understanding and the good enough reason for my sufferings.

So I must figure out how to be okay with that. I must learn to be whole without those enough moments. Trusting that the sole purpose I think I have found is really only my plan, and I'm not sure I really get that say.

But I also have to keep that in check with this part of me that yearns for my losses to mean something bigger; to change the world and help others. It is this part that asks, why else would I have been given this path in life? Why else would I have suffered the way I have and lost what I have? What would the point be of that? Am I that undeserving? Or is this my punishment for something? Surely, it has to mean something; two back surgeries, a year in a body cast, two rounds of failed IVF with a surrogate, three lost babies and fighting for recovery can't just be it, can it?

And, there it is again... Why did this have to happen to me?

I am not sure these questions come from the best part of me. However, I also know I wouldn't be honoring myself if I didn't allow this doubt a space to question; and maybe that is the point exactly.

There is only so much we are capable of, and probably allowed to, understand in this life. Maybe, it will always be this constant balance between finding my purpose through my story of struggle, making sure it means something more, at least to me, and trusting that it will still mean just as much without the soul completing clarity I so desire.

Because, all those almost enough moments...well, maybe it's up to me to embrace them as my ever upward, which really makes them the more than enough moments.

But, it has only been through my sufferings and my fight for recovery that I have been able to really see, let alone embrace, these moments as being more than enough.

 
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This is ever upward.

My recovery.

My story.

My purpose.

My path.

My light.

And even, my soul scars.

Allowing every single almost enough moment to really be more than enough...this is my ever upward.

The Myriagon of Ever Upward Light

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

 
 

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

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

5. Tread or Float

4. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

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

2. Conceiving Our Chosen Family

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

Top 5 Most Commented on Posts

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

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

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

2. The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

1. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Top 5 of My Most Healing Posts

5. My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

4. Making Room For the Light

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

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

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

Chosen Children

A picture mail text of Lyla's drawing of us.

 
 

Snail mail of Joycelyn's drawing of the dogs.

A picture mail text of Lane with his "Justine socks" on.

 
 

A voice mail from the boys begging us to come play Just Dance.

My favorite picture of the boys cuddling with the three dogs watching cartoons.

A birthday card from McKinley.

The moms in my life will never know how much the small gesture of letting me know their children are thinking of me mean to me; as they mean the world.

I will forever spend my energy making sure these children know I love them and I am here for them and more than anything I want, and really need, to be part of their lives.

As, these are our chosen children.

The children we have the honor of being godparents to. The children we have the privilege of being their guardians. The children we get to see grow up. The children who ask to see us. The children who love us. The children we love more.

Or maybe, it's really that they are the children who have chosen us.

Surviving the losses of IVF and accepting a childfree life to redefine family for us has meant we figure out what it means to still have children in our lives. It means living my truth as a woman who wanted, and desperately, tried to have my own children. It means having the courage to say adoption isn't for us. And yet, it is also making sure my heart is not closed off to all the light and love that family and children can bring to my life, even if it comes with the bittersweet sadness that they aren't my own.

It means traveling to Vegas for McKinley's birthdays.

It means going to Noah's piano recitals.

It means sending happy birthday and happy valentine's videos of the dogs singing to all of the kids.

It means having a toy room in my house.

It means having the pool for everyone to enjoy all summer long.

It means watching the boys play the Wii for hours.

It means hosting chosen family every spring break and playing St. Louis tourist.

It means embracing my sadness that I will never get to parent in the traditional sense, in order to make room for the endless, ever upward light that all of these families and kids bring to my life every single day.

I do it because the alternative is too dark. I do it because it is my journey. I do it because I have fought for my recovery. I do it because it is ever upward.

And, because we have all chosen each other.

 
 

My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

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

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

Because, today I spoke on Wholehearted Parenting.

And, I am not a parent.

And, I was scared shitless.

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

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

Shame.

Fucking shame.

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Full Circle of the Personal Analysis Bureau

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

And I’ve never considered myself a writer.

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Walking on the MoonWhat giant step did you take where you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break? We had already made the impossible decision of stopping IVF treatments without having had become parents and knew that adoption was not for us.

Surely, this was it, the worst it could get.

I had already survived two back surgeries, one year in a body cast, depression, two rounds of failed IVF with a gestational surrogate, three lost babies, depression, anxiety, anger.

But that is the important part, I had only survived up until that point. And then I was pushed to the edge of doubt and question, the edge of even worse; we had to the make the even more impossible decision to let go of our first furry child, Maddie.

And there I found myself, off that edge in my rock bottom.

Dark.

Pain.

Nothing.

Anger.

 
 

I can't say for sure what was the one catalyst for me to take the first giant, and most difficult, step out of rock bottom. That first step of my own walk on the moon. The first step that was the beginning of the last year and a half of my life in recovery.

I know it was a combination of finding the work of Brené Brown and learning how to own all the parts of my story with bravery in order to live my now wholehearted life.

I know it was the decision to change my lifestyle by changing my food and exercise and getting off medication and starting yoga, meditation and self-compassion.

Above all, I know it was my choice.

My choice to no longer be the victim to my past, to my traumas, to my losses. To no longer just survive and choose to thrive.

My daily, sometimes minute by minute choice, to choose to thrive these survivals. To place these amazing and haunting hurts into my life puzzle making them the beautiful tapestry of my life thus far, and therefore just part of my epic story.

My every step on my moon. My walk that continues with many lights of my own ever upward.

Starting to write.

Owning my story and publishing the blog.

Improving my relationships.

Finding my childfulllife.

Investing in my career, and therefore myself.

Reawakening my marriage after the traumas and losses of IVF.

Fighting for my faith and finally finding a church where I belong.

To wake up and stand up.

And considering it all pure joy.

My walk on the moon started at my rock bottom with a damn near impossible, but completely necessary choice.

The choice, my choice, of the first step of my walk, for myself, my recovery, my happiness, my ever upward.

We Hold the Pieces to Our Puzzle

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

I often get asked things like...

"How long will I hold onto this?"

"Will this ever get easier?"

"Will I ever stop thinking about it?"

 
 

The thing is, our lives are our puzzles.

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

puzzlethat will always have some missing pieces.

As it takes our lifetime to complete.

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

As they are missing pieces of us.

 
 

A puzzle that only we hold all the pieces to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Lights in the Tunnel

I can’t keep doing this. Things will never get better.

Why can’t I just do this?

I’ve never been able to change before.

It will never work.

Will I ever get better?

It’s too hard.

Why can’t I stop?

It’s too good to be true.

It won’t last.

Why do I keep doing this?

I can’t.

I won’t.

The words of battle scars. The words of recovery wars lost thus far. The words of pain, hurt, loss and shame.

The words before the true fight.

Life is hard, people are complicated and we simply just don’t get the joy without the pain and work. Which means it can be tempting to give up, to quit; to accept what is but not in the healthy letting go way and only in the learned helplessness give up way.

Sometimes we can’t even fathom putting one foot in front of the other because we’re still trying to pull ourselves back up from falling.

Sometimes we simply cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore.

Dark hopelessness.

Except, I can always see your light.

~

I help.

I can’t not help.

And, I love what I do. I was born to do what I do. My life, and my survivals, have made me very good at what I do. Every day I fight alongside amazing people who are setting forth to change their own lives. To choose themselves. To choose to fight. To choose their ever upward.

This war of change can, at times, feel like the most impossible choice ever. But it is also the most necessary choice ever. And it is a war that is won through each small battle, each small step taken forward in that long dark tunnel of recovery. That tunnel that, hopefully, you can see the light at the end of.

But oftentimes, this just isn’t how it works. We will want to quit and the light will disappear and we will even lose some of the battles. But that is exactly when I ask my clients to have faith. Because, when they can no longer see their light at the end of the tunnel I need them to trust that I can see it for them.

Because that light just isn't their recovery, it is their light, the light of their spirit, soul, being.

I need them to trust that I can see who they are truly meant to be

That I can see what really lies beneath all of the struggle.

I see them, I see their light. Always.

~

But, sometimes that light isn’t always at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, in our fight to get back to our true selves the tunnel can work against us, creating a blind tunnel vision. The tunnel vision that keeps us stuck. That keeps us trying the same things over and over that just aren’t working. We have been losing the battles and have to force ourselves to put one foot in front of the other with our heads down because we simply don’t have the strength in us to keep going if we look up and see that the light isn’t there anymore.

But this is when we miss it. This dark stuckness that keeps our heads down makes us completely miss the lights beside us. The other outs. The other helps. The hands reaching out for us.

 
 

The lighted detours.

I work every day to not only see the lights within my clients, but to also remind them of that light throughout their journey through the dark tunnels of recovery. But it is also my job to help them find the other lights beside them; the lighted detours.

Because recovery isn’t this straight up trajectory of perfection. It is usually hell filled with deep dry valleys, cold thin aired mountains, swamps, quicksand pits and even tight ropes across ravines. And it has many detours, both dark and light detours.

Recovery definitely includes those darker detours, the ones that just didn’t work. We didn’t quite make the best choice possible. And a lot of the times, this can set us back, but never back to the beginning and we just need to take the best next step. It is then that we must remember to keep our eyes open to those lighted detours. The detours that we easily miss because we are trudging along so painstakingly in the war of recovery searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many times, these lighted detours can be our outs. Our escape from the cycle of hurt. The path to our recovery. Our lighted path to our ever upward.

~

Recovery, from whatever, is brutal, the tunnel is almost always long and dark. Having someone to walk alongside you through that path is helpful beyond measure. Someone who can always see your light. Someone who can see the light at the end for you when you lose track. Someone who can remind you of your own light. Someone to nudge you to look over to the lighted detours.

Someone to fight for you, but most importantly, with you.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 words.

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

Reaching Through the Keyhole of Your Closet

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

Ever Upward is my authentic truth telling.

My story.

 
 

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

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

I’ve Stopped; They're Still Trying

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

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

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

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

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

The work of redefining ourselves and our family.

The work of learning to let go.

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

The work of our Ever Upward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conceiving Our Chosen Family

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

5 year old brain satisfied for now.

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

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

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

It isn’t exactly what we all had expected.

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

It’s better.

Sometimes bittersweet.

But always better.

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

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

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

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

In her, I have found my ever upward family.