Making Good on My Promise

I promised a post to close out National Infertility Awareness Week today, especially since I ended up speaking at the 1st Gateway to Parenthood here in St. Louis. But, I'm exhausted. This week was more than I could have ever imagined.

More work and more magic.

I am still in complete awe of the shattered silence we came together to speak to the world this week.

And so, I hope you'll count this as my post for the day. I promise to write all about the conference today throughout this coming week. There were some incredible moments, rest assured I have plenty of words to share with you about it.

For tonight, I'm off to church and bed very early to only sleep in tomorrow...because I can and I deserve it. :)

Please know I felt your love and prayers wrap around me today as I spoke my truth, honored my babies and shared my ever upward with our fellow warriors.

In ever upward light and love, Justine

 
 

Yes, But

Did surrogacy work for you? How may rounds did you do?

Have you thought of adoption?

The questions I get from my own community, albeit delivered with compassion (most of the time), that still poke the shame monster.

One of my greatest inner critic gremlins this shame monster tortures me with is:

You will never belong.

When the gremlins of scarcity, shame, perfectionism, comparison and fear weasel their way into my head, this is the story I make up.

I've done the work, I am a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the work of Brené Brown) for goodness sake. But having Brené's wholehearted courage work quite literally in my bones does not mean I get to escape the darkness of shame, it's not a magical super power.

But damn, the thoughts of I am not enough, I will never belong are enough to take anyone to their knees.

For me, the arena where I live my true calling on this earth can be one of the biggest triggers for these thoughts.

I am an infertility advocate. I am a thriver of infertility. And still, this arena can be one hell of a battle that, if I am not practicing my own work, will leave me face down and bloody in the dirt.

My gremlins like to torture me with you don't belong thoughts like

You are not a mother.

You've never even been pregnant.

You gave up.

You don't have the happy ending, people will never listen to you.

You say too much, people aren't ready for that vulnerability.

They will always ignore you.

They will never acknowledge you.

They don't like your messages.

They don't like you.

A lot of this is my own history and things I have learned to overcome, however some of it is also fueled by the unhealthy messages that can be in the infertility community.

The messages I am determined to change.

Yes, I also support our community to #startasking for the mainstream messages we need - however I have many caveats to them.

Better insurance coverage. Yes! However, I do  not think it needs to be endless insurance coverage. Every family must determine what their enoughs and everything is. I simply cannot support endless years of trying and unlimited rounds of treatment. We must start talking about active acceptance of what cannot be changed in this journey and sharing a healthier definition of hope. I also strongly believe that mental health care must be included, if not required, in infertility treatments (this shouldn't really come as a surprise).

Media coverage. Yes! But I am tired of the 'never give up' message from celebrities who have way more resources than I do. And, I am tired that the only story that seems to get decent coverage is the one that ends with pregnancy and/or adorable babies. There are many versions of the happy ending in the infertility journey and they all deserve to be seen and heard. Our community needs to see and hear them especially.

Asking for support. Yes! But we must remember this has to start with us. Our friends and family, and especially society, will never be able to give us what we want and need to survive, let alone thrive, through and after this journey unless we are sharing our truth.

My biggest #startasking is to my own community to speak. No pressure to write the book or the blog or to even go public on social media. But you must speak your story to your loved ones. This journey is just too hard to survive it with your partner and your doctor as your only support.

Do the work of asking yourself what is holding you back from telling your truth.

Past hurt? Shame? Fear of being judged? Guilt? Fear?

All of the above?

I have spent the last few years shouting my story from the pages of my book and this public blog. I share the dark and I share the light. I share me. In this sharing I heal and honor myself, but most especially, I honor and mother my babies.

I've also spent the last couple of years helping my clients to own their stories, speak their truths and give themselves permission to feel it all through this journey.

It is some of the best, most rewarding and effective work I have done in 15 years of being a therapist.

As if I needed more convincing that speaking our truth is the single most important thing to help us through this journey, my #MoreThan1in8 project only gave me further proof. Hundreds of people broke their silence in the last few weeks. Thousands of people have viewed the videos with our stories and our faces. And, the messages keep pouring in from people who participated and from people who stumbled upon the project. Their biggest message, simple and yet more powerful than anything, is loving gratitude.

 
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Sharing your truth will help. It is what will get us through this alive and well, thriving no matter what we get in the end.

Speak.

Speak to your trusted friends and family. Speak to your partner more.

Please, just speak.

~~~

I honestly struggled so much with writing this piece, just as I did last year for the You Are Not Alone piece. I struggled so much I wrote two pieces and ended up sending the other one to HuffPost. As the advocate, this week  has been full of magic, a ton of work, little sleep and more love and gratitude than I was ever prepared for. However, as the survivor it is also a week that can be difficult as the woman who IVF did not work for. Thank you to my community and my loved ones for the support throughout it. And, please, keep it coming as I have a dream opportunity tomorrow. Last minute, as in I just found out on Wednesday, I was asked to speak to 400 infertility patients. Here we go... I promise to share more about it tomorrow!

The Surprises of Our Rally

 
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For the last three weeks my inbox, social media platforms and the Ever Upward Facebook page have received the brave words and the beautiful pictures of almost 300 families breaking the silence of infertility. With every notification my heart skips a beat.

With every word I read my body washes over with goosebumps.

With every smiling face I know that together we are changing the world.

I've tried hashtags before, I've run campaigns before and I have asked for help and participation before but none ever to huge success, at least in our social media's realm of viral success. So, I honestly had absolutely no expectations for this project.

Hopes?

Of course, I hoped we could go viral.

Have we succeeded?

Perhaps not in our internet crazed, fast paced, instant gratification and millions of shares and views definition of viral. But let's be honest, this project didn't include a puppy video or adorable babies giggling or toddlers saying hilarious things.

But did we succeed in the power of banding together to rise ever upward and seek our own freedom through and after infertility?

Hell yes!

What I was not prepared for, well besides the amount of work and wishing I could afford that assistant, were several surprises along the way.

 
 

The pang of my own longing. Lots of pictures of families with kids, babies, bellies and successful treatments ignited my forever longing right alongside my happiness. To continue to have the support and participation of people whose infertility treatments (or adoptions) have worked out for has been amazing. Plus, I've done the work and know my rise is the muck of my longing joy.

The gratitude of all participation. People still in the trenches, adoption stories, IVF success stories, no IVF treatents, donor stories, surrogacy, childfree not by choice, etc. I got submissions from every version of the infertility journey. And again, I am reminded that no matter how different our journey is, the feelings, the lifelong costs and the joy found through it are very much the same.

The worry of rap sheets and unhealthy messages. So many numbers were shared. So many tries and years and heartbreaks. One of my strong messages is that we must be more than our numbers (hence #MoreThan1in8) and that sometimes it is the healthiest thing to accept what sucks and choose to redefine. The therapist/advocate in me winced at times reading everyone's infertility rap sheets and so many 'never give up' messages.

The power of thriving. The rap sheets were almost always followed by what I was seeking in the project: How are you thriving through and after infertility? People shared their souls, their tools, their love, their fight and so much more. They shared how they are more themselves through this brutal and amazing journey.

The fear of not belonging. The "successful" families almost always prefaced their submission with an almost apology. Since they got the kids, they felt like they weren't sure they still belonged to the project. Which if you read my work, you know I think this journey lasts a lifetime no matter what your happy ending from it.

The surprise of who did and who did not participate. For their own health and happiness some of my closest blogging friends did not participate, or even share, the project. While I am disappointed by this, I completely get and support them doing what they need to do to be okay. But this is a reminder for those of us in the infertility community, we must support one another from a place of compassion and empathy no matter how different our stories may be or how different they end up. On the other side, many people came out of the infertility closet for the first time because of this project, people I never expected. And that, well, is one of the biggest reasons I work so hard on the healthy messages of the Ever Upward advocacy to begin with.

The awe of community. I never could have had this much participation without the help of my fellow warriors. I am in complete awe of this community, of the support we are capable of providing to one another and of the power we can have when we speak our truth and support one another through it, in it and thereafter.

Finally, the sadness of what I lost to get here. In my own therapy session last week my ass got totally therapized when my therapist Shellie said, "But how do you feel? I need you to pause and feel what this work means to you, feel how you got here. You are such an advocate and a doer but you need to take a breath and pause."

Of course, my eyes filled with tears. Tears of gratitude and joy and tears of longing and sadness.

The power of the determined and passionate advocate I am will never be great enough to overpower my grief and the longing and wonder I have for my three babies.

There still are, and probably forever will be, thoughts like,

Why not me?

and

It's not fair.

I will forever give myself permission for the anger, bitterness and sadness that lead me to ask those questions. I will also forever take the next breath and allow a tiny shift to make room for the joy, trust and gratitude.

God chose me to be their mother. He gave me my three. I suppose you could say He also took them away. But they were never mine to begin with, just as I belong to Him, they were always His. I only hoped to borrow them for a while, to parent with them by my side instead of from afar.

But, I trust He has my story.

He also gave me the choice to find my place in it.

I choose to redefine and help people through the infertility journey and thereafter. I choose to make sure the healthier messages become our truth.

As this work is my triumph over tragedy, in this work I honor my babies.

I choose motherhood. I choose breaking the silence.

I am a mother rising ever upward.

~~~

Thank you for reading, and especially, for participating in #MoreThan1in8. Make sure to follow the blog and the Ever Upward Facebook page for the surprises I have coming out next week using your amazing stories and beautiful faces throughout the week for National Infertility Awareness Week.

The Goosebumps of Knowing Awe

The email comes through with the subject line of #MoreThan1in8 and my heart skips a beat. The social media notification comes through with the brave words and beautiful faces of someone breaking the silence and I'm overcome with goosebumps in knowing awe.

The knowing awe of the power of telling our stories.

The knowing awe of the freedom of owning stories.

The knowing awe of the world changing.

In one week I have had 29 people share their stories of thriving through and thereafter infertility along with their bright shining faces. In the next two weeks I hope and pray that number jumps to no less than 100.

Because I want more from us and for us. It is my #startasking I suppose.

Even if you are not comfortable, now or ever, to share your infertility story publicly on social media, I would be appreciative if you would at least share the project. More than that I would be honored if you would share your story and show your face with me privately via email. I am not publicly posting the stories. I am however going to use our faces, the images of thriving through and after infertility, for a project during National Infertility Awareness Week. But your photo may not necessarily be identifiable, as it will be very, very small. Too public for you even still? Then please share your story with me and a photo of the hobby, the pets, the books that are helping you thrive through and after your infertility journey. Or if you think I'm crazy and this will never work, I'll just take those thoughts, prayers and lots of magic that this project can provide some of us the outlet to tell our stories.

But still, I beg you, break your silence in a way that honors your truth and changes your life and the world.

We cannot want more from our loved ones and our society unless we tell our stories. We must ask for what we want and need, and we must educate if we are going to get the understanding and compassion we all so desperately need through and after this journey. No need for the public blog or social media posts or publishing the book, but please, speak  your story to someone who loves you, to someone you trust.

I think, speaking our truth and owning our stories, is one of the only ways we will get out of this alive and well.

 
 

To participate in #MoreThan1in8 please send however much of your story and a photo that you are comfortable with, and thank you in advance!

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