There Could Still Be a Moment of...

I've been seeing a lot of reflection on 2013 the last few days. And as this is something I think is helpful for everyone to do each year at the New Year and on their birthday, I'm not ready quite yet.

It isn't the New Year yet, and living in the present moment is something I've fought to do most my life.

Today isn't over, there could still be a moment full of learning, love, awe, surprise, laughter, joy, amazement...

So enjoy today, the last day of 2013, until the very last second.

Tomorrow morning when the confetti has settled, the haze cleared and your spark reignited spend some time looking back on your 2013. And use it to learn, love and grow for the next 365 days.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Shame Died a Little Bit More: Truth Telling My Authentic Light

My last few posts have been some of the most difficult to write but also the most freeing and helpful. I have learned this last week that these last few posts have not only been helpful to me, but to hundreds of others as well, as Ever Upward was featured on a weekly round-up post on Marie’s wonderful blog (http://journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2013/12/29/weekly-round-up-72/). It was also shared by people other than my close family and friends (thank you, thank you, thank you!). Which means my views went up.

The message heard on a bigger scale.

And most importantly, shame died a little bit more.

I, along with others who have shared the blog posts, have received private messages thanking us for sharing the links, for speaking the truth about infertility and sending their support. However, I can’t help but notice how few people actually share the blog or publicly comment on it. I do not feel anger and sadness because I need the blog to gain fame or because I’m seeking validation, but because it shows just how strong the shame of infertility is.

Why are we not talking about this more?!

Statistics currently show 1 in 8 couples suffers with infertility, with some studies saying it is more like 1 in 6.

1 in 8.

Possibly, 1 in 6!

And yet most of us suffer in silence, alone with only our partner by our side (and our IVF docs pushing another round), thus, putting more pressure on our relationship. Aren’t the hormone treatments, painful procedures, waiting games and the vast amounts of money we spend doing enough damage to our relationship?

I am speaking my story out loud because otherwise it is invisible to the world, which means it feels riddled with shame, disgrace and indignity. But the thing is, many of the most difficult struggles we all suffer with are invisible; depression, autoimmune disorders, infertility, etc., etc.

I don’t think we all need to be the poster child for our stories, pains and losses. And this isn’t what I am trying to do through the blog. I’m writing, sharing and speaking loudly, my authentic truth, because it heals me, makes shame impossible to live inside of me and because it helps. It helps me, and I am learning it is helping others.

 
 

And ultimately, this is my true authentic light. 

I help.

I can’t not help others, as this would be like asking me to not breathe.

Speaking, and owning, our truth is the only place any of us will find peace, understanding and wholeness.

The blog writing and the authentic truth telling is not for attention or pity or ‘fame’ but for understanding, empathy, not feeling so alone and helping. If my truth telling, my light, is too much for you and makes you uncomfortable, cringe or point the finger of judgment, well, that speaks more about you than me. And my only hope for you is that one day you find, fight for and own your own authentic truth and light.

As this is the biggest and strongest weapon any of us have against shame.

Brené Brown often compares shame to gremlins. Gremlins when exposed to the light die. Shame when spoken and owned can no longer exist.

 
 

So I will shine the light on my invisible sufferings.

I will never be a mother.

I will never fulfill what society, and what some say God put me on earth to do.

I am a survivor and thriver of anxiety and depression.

I am a fighter and a helper.

I am figuring out how to accept, like and even be proud of my childfree life.

I will live my life, sometimes minute by minute, seeking, fighting for and living out loud my ever upward.

And, I hope my story helps you to do the same in your own way; find, fight for and own your truth, your ever upward.

The Frankenstein Walk of Feeling Behind: But I’m Still Here

Making the impossible decision to stop IVF treatments, not adopt and figure out life childfree has been, at times, a daily Frankenstein walk. That 'I have no idea how this works' walk.

That 'hold your arms out in front of you to break your fall' walk.

That 'really stiff legged how do these things work' walk.

That really, really ugly walk.

The 'I'm just figuring out how to do this' walk.

This walk includes fighting that feeling of never fitting in because I’m not a mother, and rather finding my sense of belonging from within.

This walk includes owning my story and speaking it out loud for the world to educate, but more importantly, to honor myself and the work I have done.

This walk includes understanding my anger to really feel the most difficult emotion of sadness in order to truly embrace and accept my childfree life.

 
 

This walk also still includes the ugly steps of figuring out what to do with the sense of feeling left behind.

My friends who are moms are some of my best and most supportive friends, especially on this journey. They are super women (even though, a lot of the time, they need to remind themselves that they don’t necessarily need to be). They are the best women I know. All working full time, whether in or outside the home, and are the hardest working people I know. I admire their patience, their unconditional love and their unending strength. And there are simply no words for how amazing their love, support and understanding has been for me throughout this continued journey.

They are also, naturally, the busiest people on earth; raising children, nurturing a marriage and trying to find the time to sleep and do some basic self-care. They have practices 2 nights a week, games and birthday parties on the weekends and can book up their weekends with other families who have children pretty quickly.

And, sometimes there just isn’t time for me, for us, the couple without kids.

And that’s okay. And I do get it.

But, there are times I feel like I want to jump up and down, frantically waving my arms, screaming to them, “But I’m still here!”

I do still have a life I’d like to share with you.

I do still want to hear all about yours.

I do still need you to maintain our friendship.

Ending IVF and living a childfree life can very easily mean I lose my peer group. The crushing blow of not being able to fulfill my dream of motherhood means I have more time; more time for self-care, more time for my marriage, more time for my friendships. I suppose this can be an ‘ever upward’ of failed IVF and accepting a childfree life. However, it also can definitely feel pretty isolating, as most of my friends, especially my mom friends, don’t necessarily have this ‘luxury’.

So I am finding my Frankenstein walk, and figuring this all out along the way.

Working hard to maintain my friendships, even if at times it can feel like it is one sided. Because although some friendships may not survive the family with children versus childfree dynamic, most of mine do have the true grit (and importance to me) to make sure they do survive.

Building other friendships, perhaps finding other couples without children.

Making sure my mom friends know I’m here and that I treasure their friendships more than they will ever know.

But most importantly, learning to acknowledge and work on this sense of feeling left behind, because ultimately, I probably need to check myself.

Am I trying to fit in, when I need to trust that I belong?

Am I holding on to anger, when I need to embrace sadness?

Am I honoring myself?

Am I putting enough effort into my friendships?

Am I being a friend to myself?

And, am I asking for what I want and need?

Because only when I am doing this work, will my friends be walking alongside me, Frankenstein walk and all.

My Child-full Christmas: Making My Own Christmas Magic

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Many childless couples choose to travel around the holiday season. They get out of town and enjoy the sunshine and beach or go hit the slopes somewhere far away from the holiday crowds and all the traditions that center around children. Perhaps there will be a day when Chad and I are drawn to this way of spending the holiday season, but for now I’m still not quite ready to miss out on being a part of the childlike wonder of the magic of Christmas.

This afternoon we attended Christmas Eve service (my first ever) at a new church. I hope to make this a tradition for us as a family, just Chad and I.  For the first time, in forever, I finally felt at peace in the church setting, the music was beautiful and the message powerful, and I finally didn't feel so alone.

This season has been filled with reminders of this sense of feeling alone. A few weeks ago, after a particularly difficult weekend of feeling like I had nowhere to fit in and feeling left behind as a woman who isn’t a mother, Chad came up with a brilliant idea for a new Christmas tradition with our friends’ children. This will be our first year of having our own Christmas celebration with our friend’s kids. We bought gifts for the boys (our closest friends all seem to have boys, 3 of them to be exact) to open with us at our house. Every year we will give them something to take home and something to leave with us at our house. This way they will always have something of their very own to play with in our toy room when they come to our place. We will eat a yummy (kid approved meal), make fireplace s’mores and watch the boys open their gifts. I can feel my own childlike wonder of the magic and joy of Christmas just writing about it.

We will also begin the tradition of making the rounds on Christmas afternoon and evening to see what Santa brought for the kids in our lives.  I can't wait to see their eyes light up as they show us their gifts.

Making my own Christmas magic within my childfree life also means we get to have some adult fun during the holidays. This is our first Christmas in Mason House and starting our family traditions in our forever family home. I am looking forward to yummy meals (with great conversation and laughs, and limited food thrown on the floor), delicious bottles of wine and the hilarity of playing charades with our family this year.  I won’t have to watch my sailor potty mouth or be nervous about the dogs and children.  There can be ever upward magic within this adult Christmas too.

Ending IVF and living a childfree life means lifelong losses. The Christmas season seems to highlight these losses so much at times that it can feel like I am a gaping, oozing wound.

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I will never get to be Santa for my own children.

I will never get to see their eyes and face light up with pure, joyful magic as they talk about Santa Claus or leave cookies out for him on Christmas Eve.

I will never watch them in the Christmas play or sing in the holiday concert.

But I can still make my own magic to find my ever upward. And I ask that tonight, you stop and take a moment to really feel the magical love that Christmas gives us all.  Stop, take a breath and be so grateful for your version of holiday magic.

Because my magic, of our childfree lives, will include the childfull Christmas traditions, and otherwise, we are choosing to begin this year. Because, after all, choosing joy, and magic, is a choice.

The Last Never To Be First Birthday: My Ongoing, Thriving Acceptance

The journey of IVF is a constant waiting game when you are in the throes of it; waiting for the right day in the cycle to begin birth control, the 10 or 30 days of medications and injections, the date of the transfer/conception and then the torturous two week wait for the first pregnancy test. There always seemed to be tons of support for this timeline. However, the doctors and all the message boards never seemed to prep you enough for the dates that will haunt you forever, the would have been birth date and first birthday, etc. The dates of the ‘never to be’s’ are seared into my brain; August 31st and December 21st.

I am sure, to many people they were just embryos, eight cells of Chad and I implanted into our surrogate’s uterus, never to be born.  But to us they were our babies, our future dreams.

We transferred two embryos the first round of IVF, making them due August 31st, 2012. We transferred our last chance at a family the second round, giving us the due date of December 21st, 2012. To us, these dates will forever, and always, be seared into our hearts and minds.

Today marks our last never to be first birthday. And with it I feel the universe; sad, mad and bitter, but more than that I also feel happiness, contentment and peace. Today I feel a sense that everything is right in my world, it is as it needs to be. It isn’t fair or unfair, perhaps just unlucky. Nonetheless, it is still very sad. But within this universe and space, I must choose to find my thriving acceptance.

This thriving acceptance means I wear a mother’s ring and necklace with what would have been the birthstones of our never to be children. And if you ask if they are my kids or if they are the birthstones of my dogs, I will not shy away from your questions. I will own my truth:

I will tell you, we tried to have children; we tried really hard with lots of money, pain and love, but it was never our dream to have.

I will tell you they were my children never to be mine on this physical earth.

I will tell you I'm an ever evolving, and sometimes not so pretty, work in progress in accepting my childfree life.

And, I will tell you that today, now more than ever, I am sure my journey of IVF, but even more so, those three babies are...

my completion...

my sorrowful joys...

my lights...

my ever upward.

Making Room for the Light

We loathe discomfort. We can’t stand to feel sad. Depression and anxiety make us want to escape our bodies. We all struggle to feel the unpleasantness of life. We struggle so much we often times go to any length to self medicate and numb. Whether we drink or use. Or shop or gamble. Or watch hours of mind numbing television. Or pull our hair. Or binge and purge. We would so much rather hurt ourselves in the long term because all of these things provides us some sense of very temporary relief. But they work. My clients are shocked when I say their “vices” (or in some cases addictions) are doing something positive for them. We, as human beings, don’t do things that don’t feel good or work. It’s just many times these very things that work to numb us out to our pains and hurts often times stop working at some point, and they begin to create even more problems, especially shame and darkness.

I think, at times, emotions can become one of these vices, especially anger. Anger tends to be an emotion that many of us are comfortable feeling. Many of us would rather feel angry than sad. What I am learning about myself, after spending the last year of my life changing everything after the losses endured with IVF, is that this anger is definitely my go-to emotion. The bitter, and thank God very fleeting anger, the anger I’ve worked so hard on coping with and letting go of, but still seems to swoop in to save me. I hate this anger, especially because I want to let go of the biggest trigger for it.

I love children, I love when my loved ones get to have children; I even love when strangers, hell, people I don’t even like get to have children. But where I am still struggling are the people who “don’t deserve” them. The super fertile 16 year olds. The couple who have already lost custody of their other 3 children. The people who don’t even want them. I’m sure this list could go on and on, just watch the news.

And as usual, no emotion is uncomplicated for a therapist. This brief, but very strong, bitter angry emotion momentarily knocks me down. And as I continue to do the work to redefine myself, I’m learning to rebound more quickly. I’m also understanding more about myself and how I feel about it. Yes feeling about a feeling, oh the professional hazards of being a therapist!

- I am NO ONE to judge who gets the joy of children. I am neither judge nor jury, nor do I want to be.

- I do have faith that there are no mistakes, at least in the long run.

- Even though it feels really, really f*cking unfair, it really is neither fair nor unfair. Sure maybe it's unlucky, but it just is, and it is not mine to necessarily understand right now.

- And most importantly, I am coming to understand that this anger is coming in to save me from feeling what I really feel… which is simply really sad.

And that is okay. Sometimes things are just sad. It's sad IVF didn't work for us. It’s sad we lost our 3 babies. It’s sad we lost those 3 dreams. Giving myself permission to continue to feel that sadness, as needed, will help to stave off that anger that seems to set me back so much every time. I have to embrace it in order to let it go. When I allow myself to feel it, I don't become it. And only when I do this, is there enough space to truly find the ever upward. The ever upward that is this work of learning to be happy and healthy, and even okay and fulfilled, without children.

We all must work to accept that we are not wired to escape ourselves, no matter how hard we try. We have to feel, we have to feel it all, even the darkness, because when we allow ourselves to do that, it will pass and make room for the light.

 
 

Never a Consolation Prize: My First Piano Recital

After our second failed round of IVF with a gestational surrogate and losing three babies, I had a friend say something to me that will always and forever stay with me. She said if she was honest with herself, she has more impact and influence on the lives of her godchildren, nieces and nephews than her own children. She said that Chad and I will get a lifetime of this but that it isn’t a consolation prize. And she’s right. I will never get the joy of motherhood or that role with a child but I will spend the rest of my life making sure the kids in my life know I love them and that I am here for them. I will also make sure their parents know I always want to at least have the option to be included and invited to the birthday parties, the games and concerts. This weekend I attended my very first piano recital. Our friends’ son Noah had his first piano recital, and Chad and I had the honor of being in the audience. And I loved every second; the nervous excitement coming from all of the kids, the super serious looks of concentration while they played and every single perfectly imperfect note they played. But the best was the proud smirk of accomplishment on Noah’s face when he finished. It is a moment I will never forget.

The night was capped off with a rather chaotic (three young boys will do that) and of course fun dinner with their family, and it included us. Being included in their family, is something words will never be enough to describe or even thank them for. Nothing makes me happier than hearing Noah’s animated storytelling, seeing the sparkle in Lane’s eyes when he asks me question after question or laughing at Evan’s pure loving joy. As I hugged our friends goodbye I thanked them for including us, and frankly, thank you simply is not enough.

Every family looks different. Sadly, my family will never include my own children, only my three furry ones. But my family also includes my friends and their children. I will forever be grateful for this role, and I will always make sure to make it much more than a consolation prize, always working to make it my ever upward.

Embracing It to Truly Let It Go

A client texted me to insist I go see the movie Frozen. She said it is about everything I always talk about in our sessions: accepting ourselves and being vulnerable. She also added that the music was amazing and Olaf the snowman was hysterical. So on Tuesday after seeing several clients, I went and saw a children’s movie in the middle of the afternoon…by myself. And I will fully admit, it was the perfect afternoon! My client was right, the film was laugh out loud funny and the music was truthful, inspiring and captivating! All of this, and an amazing message that wasn’t all about prince charming saving the girl. And it backed up what I teach to my clients every day and how I try to live my own life; accept, let go and live your authentic truth. The title track, Let It Go, being the perfect vehicle to deliver all of these messages.

The theme of embracing who we are, accepting ourselves and moving through has also been the popular topic in my office this week. Every day I work with clients on their struggles; their anxieties or depression, their addictions or negative coping. I try to help them find the balance of learning the lesson in order to change and improve, while also accepting themselves. We all have our struggles, our fears, our weaknesses and faults. We all have our traumas, losses and flaws. Living our authentic truth means finding a way to make all of these things part of who we are and not all of our identity. Finding this balance myself has been the biggest challenge and change in me after IVF, embracing that I will never be a mother in order to let go of the pain and being forced to reexamine myself, ultimately embracing my flaws in order to let go of the hurt.

Some used to call me angry, I would refute and say I was passionate. Looking back after the work I have done, and continue to do every day, I can admit that more times than not my passion did come across as agitation. I inherit this characteristic from my dad; we have a lot of passion and if we are not careful it very easily can become agitation and sometimes even anger. And what I have found is that if I am not mindful, it can be one of my major flaws and road blocks to happiness. However, I’ve also come to realize that it is not necessarily a part of my personality that I can “get rid of”, but instead have to learn to manage better.

Surviving IVF and thriving after the major loss of motherhood dreams, I was forced to look at myself and truly change for the better. I had to redefine my happy.  I will never not be fiery, it is everything of who I am. I feel every emotion, a lot. I see every side of everything, all of the time. This is who I am, this is what I love about myself, but it is also the part of me I must cope with to make it work for me. I must embrace the passion to let go of the distress.

I am passionate, and it is the single most important part of who I am, for it is what makes me the friend and the therapist I am. Fighting this part of me only crushes my authentic spirit.  Being fearful of what others may think only keeps me from accepting myself.

So maybe the key to letting it go is actually embracing it. Just as Elsa in Frozen, embracing the very fear that is holding us back, allows us to love and accept ourselves.  Only when we embrace our failings, our faults, our weaknesses, and our losses do they no longer become all of who we are. Through this embrace they become the things we can learn to manage, love and let go.

You Just Have to Decide…

Teaching General Psychology at the local community college is something I honestly feel I was born to do. Many times I am the students’ first exposure to psychology; which means I get to show them my passion, and truly my heart, two times a week. I literally get to witness their aha moments; when the light goes on and they are better able to understand themselves and their loved ones. I’d like to believe you can’t take a Gen Psych class and not have some of the veil lifted, leaving you more enlightened in some way, maybe even motivated to change your life for the better. I end every semester by showing one of the last interviews with Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture. The video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-a7LRwqwNw. Two times a year I am reminded, and humbled by these 41 minutes. Randy Pausch was truly a remarkable man and the true definition of ever upward. His “Last Lecture” on youtube.com has more than 16 million views, and his book, by the same title, has changed countless lives, including mine.

Some of my favorite Randy Pausch quotes:

“You just have to decide, are you a Tigger or an Eeyore?”

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

“Experience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you want”.

Like I said, the true spirit of ever upward.

I will strive, every day, to have even just a tiny bit of the love, acceptance and “tigger-ness” that was, and really still is, the light of Randy Pausch. Even if, at times, it feels like life tries to steal it; the hurts, pains, losses and just daily frustrations can be the persistent thieves of this light. And for me, truthfully, IVF was one of my biggest perpetrators. I will admit, under the haze of the ‘Clomid Crazy Train’ I was a broken Tigger, and it has taken me more than a year of hard work to find my bounce again.

But what it really comes down to is the decision, the choice; the acceptance of what is, and the work to find your new normal.

So decide to practice happy, to become healthier, to heal, to grow, to learn, etc.

You just have to decide; choose to change; choose your ever upward.

No Seriously, Dance Like No One’s Watching: Practice Happy to Be Happy

I had two clients ask me this week, “Do you really do all of this stuff yourself?” By “stuff” she meant the to-do list of self care I have been recommending to her for a while now. And, for the first time in probably my entire career I was able to wholeheartedly say, “Yes!” Therapists struggle too. We struggle with being brave. We have difficulty in some of our relationships. We make mistakes. We too can suffer from anxiety and depression. We have hurts and traumas. We have shame. And we fall off the wagon of good self care, ultimately struggling to practice what we preach at times.

In other words, we’re human.

I didn’t become a therapist for the money or the freedom of being self-employed, I became one because of where I came from. My story, my struggles and flaws, all brought me to exactly where I needed to be, helping others. My story has always helped me to be a good therapist. However, the work I’ve done this last year of my life after enduring the losses of IVF, has helped make me the best version of myself, and therefore an even better therapist.

Surviving IVF, but more importantly, choosing to thrive after the losses of IVF, has culminated into changing my entire life. I’ve changed the way I eat, the way I move, how I cope and how I take care of myself.

I chose change.

I chose the work of change to get back to the real me; the me, I honestly, hardly even remember ever existing.

This work has included everything I have always taught to my clients.  But now, I practice it myself every day.  I don’t do it perfectly, and there are definitely the days I stand in my own way and fall off track, to only then have to shake it off, and start it over.  I practice it daily so I can model to the people in my life, clients and loved ones, that’s its possible and worth it.  I practice it so I can push them forward and cheer them on.  I practice it so I can empathize with how easy it is to get off track.  And, I practice it so I can get how annoying it can be doing this hard work.

This practice is time consuming and a downright pain in the ass some days.  But I know if I make it a priority and truly practice it all, my life will continue to improve.  So every day I try to exercise, dance (stupid dance, really just bouncing around and kicking to my happy songs), meditate (even just 5 minutes of concentrating on a mantra helps), read, write, journal, color (yes in an actual coloring book with crayons), do yoga (which is never very pretty), listen to happy music (my favorites are Roar, Brave and Shake It Out), play with the dogs, and watch something happy or funny or uplifting (www.24hoursofhappy.com or www.upworthy.com).  There are days where everything on this list gets done, and then there are the days that life only allows enough time for a few. But I know, we all can find the time to do a good portion of this list every day, whether or not it is cutting out 30 minutes of television or turning off the technology for an hour at night.  The best part?  I promise, it’s worth it.

Practicing all of this of self care provides me the strength and the space to live as my authentic self. With this I can I live feeling the fear but being brave, embracing my flaws and losses, and living my authentic truth.

So, I practice happy to be happy. And, I choose, every day, to live the true spirit of ever upward.

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

I have clearly known my goals for starting Ever Upward (the blog version) from the very beginning: ~ to help build credibility for the book.

~ to continue my healing process.

~ to educate.

~ but mostly, to connect with others.

The feedback I have received in the few short weeks of starting the blog has been nothing short of amazing and exactly why I knew I had to write my story, which is really everyone’s story.

“I had no idea.”

“I get it now.”

“I felt your heart in your haunting words.”

“Your post gives me strength to find my truth.”

“It makes me happy that you put your struggles out there to help others going through the same thing.  There are so many women who are in a similar situation that need to know they aren’t alone.”

These words I know come from love and connection; ultimately my goals in writing.  But, I am also finding that I need to keep myself in check with all of this love.  I want to make sure this doesn’t become about making myself feel okay or accepted or validated through others’ approval.  Feeling validated is not on that list of goals above.  Because then it becomes about proving that this is okay, that I am okay, that my story is okay.  And ultimately, that is the very opposite of my goals.  I have to make sure to take this love and make sure it is about the connection while also not tying it to my own validation of myself.  Because when I tie outside validation to my story, it ultimately owns my truth and puts my self-worth at stake.

We are taught, socialized really, to seek outside validation, which only attaches validation to our self worth; how much money do we make, how big and fancy is our home, how many likes does our status get on Facebook, how many followers do we have on Twitter, etc.  Ultimately, we have to learn how to validate for ourselves.

If I can find the validation within myself, my self-worth isn’t tied to the success of the blog, or eventually the book.  It isn’t tied to how many views the blog gets or the courage it takes for other’s to share it.  It isn’t tied to the people who criticize the blog or who read it and don’t like it and don’t get it.  It isn’t tied to the people I so wish would read it, because more than anything I feel like I need (but really want) their understanding and empathy.  Because the truth is, these are the very people who probably will not read the blog.  So I have to do the work, for myself, to learn to accept their limitations, to find validation from, and within myself.

Self validation and owning it has to be a daily practice, whether or not we must practice to own our depression, to own our weaknesses, to own our vulnerabilities, to own our anxieties, to own our struggles... To own our everything, our stories.

Because within owning it all, we own ourselves and find our own validation.

And when we own ourselves through self validation, we open up the space for our happiness, our truth, and our ever upward.

Our Home. Our Traditions. Our Family.

Ending IVF and accepting our lives without children, also meant realizing we didn’t have to live in our current neighbor in the great school district.  We began redefining our dreams, and realized we wanted to live in a home where our friends and family and their children could spend time with us and grow with us, which in my wildest dreams meant a home with a pool.  I wanted it because I wanted to create a lifetime of memories with my friends and their children.  But if I’m honest, I also wanted it to make sure I wasn’t left out and forgotten about.  And what better way than having a home with a pool, a place for play and adventure, and where kids would always want to come have fun which meant we could be part of their family and growing up. And so Mason House was conceived.  We bought a home previously owned by a hoarder.  After the epic adventure of cleaning out the property ourselves, with the help of our amazing friends and family, the gut rehab construction project began.  Less than 90 days later we moved into our beautiful new home and we quickly began making amazing memories with friends and family.  This week our “new” home has officially passed all inspections and will have no more contractors traipsing through with their dusty boots.  We have built our definition of a family home.  Complete with enough room for company all the time.  Complete with the toy room for kids to play.  Complete with a pool to spend hours jumping off the board and hearing the endless joyful laughter of our friends and family.  Complete with our furry family.  Complete, our ever upward home.

This will be our first holiday season in our new home.  It will also be our first holiday season almost completely off the IVF roller coaster.  The first holiday without the 2 week wait of hoping for a positive pregnancy test and the first holiday without the sadness of the never to be birth date.  It is our first holiday season, after spending the last year rebuilding ourselves, grieving our losses, accepting our story and redefining us.  Therefore, we plan to do what I’ve learned to do best, redefine.  And we’re starting with our very first real Christmas tree.  And the beginning of our traditions have been born, which if this year is accurate Thanksgiving eve includes picking out our tree, getting Mexican for dinner and having a margarita, decorating the deliciously smelling tree which I tried to actually hug and of course taking a hundred pictures of the dogs to get one good one (see below).  Tonight (Thanksgiving night) we continued making our family traditions by going to see a movie, just Chad and I.  Sure, it may seem like a small thing to some, but to us, to me, it is again our ever upward traditions.

Our home and our traditions are not complete without our family.  One of the strongest lessons of the journey of IVF is that love and support and true family and friends will always be here, trying to get it, trying to support but ultimately just being here.   The support our parents have provided us throughout this journey is more than any parent should have to give.  And we are beyond thankful for them, there simply are not enough words of thanks.  Family doesn’t necessarily, and many times, doesn’t mean we share blood.  The friends who have stuck by us, laughed with us, cried with us and just tried to get it are ones who have become true family.  Ultimately, we built Mason House for years to share with them.  Then there is our destined family.  We may have only chosen 2 rounds of IVF, but as I’ve been told they could be considered some of the most difficult, as we used a gestational surrogate.  Michelle, our surrogate,  is a woman with a heart full of endless love to give who I met online.  She quickly became my soul sister throughout our journey.  Ben, Michelle, Nathan, Lyla and Tipton are literally our destined family, our chosen family.  Blood or no relation, family is family.  Children or pets, kids are kids.  My family may not be complete with kids but complete nonetheless with family, friends, chosen family and pets.  For this, I am beyond thankful.  And make no doubt it is our ever upward family, our ever upward complete.

 
 

Resilient Dreams ~ The Essence of Ever Upward

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

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

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

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

My Parental Dream: "They Have You!"

It’s always just been a matter of time until the wonderment and curiosity of the kids in my life led them to ask, “Why don’t Chad and Justine have kids?”  My friends have already asked me to think about how to answer this question.  My authentic response for them to say, “They have you!”  Or as our friends’ son Isaac has said before, “You don’t have your own kids to fetch you Halloween candy, so that’s why you have us!” I love kids.  I love your kids.  I love seeing pictures of them and hearing stories about them, and I’ll like every single one of those posts on Facebook.  I want to spend time with them and I want to be invited to their parties, games and recitals.  You don’t have to not invite me because you assume I don’t want to be there or maybe because you are trying to protect me from my sadness, anger and loss.  It’s my job to ask you to stop if I need you to; it’s my job to put up those boundaries.  So if you aren’t asking or inviting because you feel pity for me, I’m sorry but that speaks more about you than me, especially now.

I will never be a parent.  But we still have a pretty sweet toy room at our house!  We built our home to create lifelong memories with all of our friends and family and their children.  Our home is a kid’s paradise in many ways; we have the dogs, we have a fish tank, we have a Wii, we have toys, games, books, and colors, a huge yard and a pool.

I will never be a parent.  But I will always volunteer to rock the babies in the nursery at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Specialty Hospital.  And I love it, every single second of it is about love and connection.  There simply is no room for anger, sadness or bitterness in that space.

I will never be a parent.  But I will spend the rest of my life making sure your kids know I love them and am here for them.  I will be a safe place for them to be whoever they are.  I will be here to guide them.  I will be here to love them.  I will be here to spoil them.  I will be here to just have fun with them.

The purpose of my life has been to embody what it means to redefine.  You lose one dream, you have to find and figure out another while also recategorizing the lost dream.

I lost my dream of dance after 2 back surgeries but found psychology and helping others within that nightmare.  I have also found different ways to still have dance in my life, whether or not it is being, admittedly, completely obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance or just dancing to my happy songs every single morning.

I’ve lost the dream of being a parent but found writing, educating, connection and myself within this nightmare.  And I am continuing to find my way in keeping some form of the parental dream through my home, rocking babies at Ranken Jordan and my relationships with your children.

Some hopes and dreams are never meant to be ours.  They simply are not our purpose, our magic.  Unfortunately, so many people spend their lives focused so much on the lost dream, holding onto it so tightly they have no energy or space to see their new dream, their new magic.

In order to fully let go of a lost dream, or a dream that was simply never meant to be mine, I've had to redefine it.  It is within my new definition that I have finally found my truth... myself... my ever upward.

Fear in Owning My Truth

Life the last 2 weeks, while working on a few of the early chapters in my book, has been the true essence of contradiction.  Scary but freeing.  Difficult but amazing.  Sad but happy.  Angry but accepting.  Complicated but clear.  Proving but owning. What I've come to realize, with the help of my therapist (yes, great therapists have their own great therapist), is I'm undeniably scared shitless of publicly owning my truth.  Because even though it is my truth, it is also against the grain, misunderstood, and not considered the norm.  This fear, if coupled with my innate calling to tell my truth, to own it and speak out, to live my authentic soul and to love my native genius, can create mind numbing, gut wrenching, and discontented paralysis.  And bottom line, I never have, nor will I ever start, to live my life shying away from my own truth.

So, here we go, the first post in truly owning it…

~ We stopped IVF before it worked.  We stopped the hormones, the drugs, the painful  procedures and the exorbitant amounts of money BEFORE we got a baby.

~ We are not choosing adoption.

~ And I’m okay with these decisions, I trust them and I know they are right for us.

IVF can work.  And it does work for so many.  But for some of us, it just won’t.  Some recent reports actually state a 70% failure rate.  We have to start acknowledging (and talking about) the whole story of IVF, the beautiful healthy babies and complete families that can result but also the painful procedures, the risks, the money and the strain on our emotional and relationship health.  Because when we acknowledge the whole story we make room for everyone, even those of us who have made the impossible decision to say enough is enough.  Those of us who are working, every minute, to accept what was never meant to be and what is.

“Why don’t you just adopt?”  I know the words come from a place of love, curiosity and just wanting to “fix” my pain.  But these words, more often than not, feel invalidating and minimizing.  Invalidating to the journey we’ve been through with IVF, the loss of our 3 babies, our 3 dreams.  And minimizing to how difficult the process of adoption can be.  Adoption isn’t for everyone, and I know that’s okay, but also beyond terrifying to admit out loud, let alone here in print.

We are the only ones to make these decisions, for it is our family.  We must make them because we know they are right for us.  And we don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why we’ve made them and, therefore, must let go of trying to justify them to everyone. We must also let go of the fear of being judged or misunderstood, and hope our loved ones are still able to find their way to support us, even if they don’t fully understand our choices.

And the best way I know to do that is to talk and write, sharing and living it authentically.  Because when I live my life with that courage, the floodlight of shame doesn’t stand a chance, allowing me the space to accept, embrace and own it.  To truly let the world see me.

Thriving and Not Just Surviving

Every day I make sure to model to my clients the work I’ve done to change my own life.  And I am reminded that happiness is a choice we must make every day and that it doesn’t really come easily to anyone. I’ve survived…

a year of my life in a body cast.

depression.

the loss 3 babies.

the loss of my first furry child.

the loss of future dreams.

the loss of my identity and sense of belonging.

and at times, the loss of my hope and faith.

I’ve had to redefine my happiness and choose to thrive many times over.  And in the last year of my life, I’ve worked my ass off on becoming a better, happier and healthier person.  And the more time that passes in this work, the more I realize that no one gets out it.  I honestly believe the people who are “making it look easy” aren’t really living as happy and as fulfilled of a life as they could be.

Choosing happiness can be a huge pain and definitely takes time, but it is also effort that shows immediate pay off.  I can stamp my foot and scream at the top of my lungs that it is fair.  But the fact is, nothing in this life is necessarily fair or unfair.  It just is.  And I can choose to focus on the uncontrollable or realize that the only power I have is what I do with what has been bestowed upon me.

That acceptance means I work every day, and sometimes every minute, to choose my happiness.

I thrive because…

I exercise.

I dance.

I listen to happy music.

I meditate.

I write.

I read.

I journal.

I eat right.

I help.

I engage and connect.

I live authentically vulnerable showing my soul to all the world.

I choose to continuously work on the art of letting go of what was never meant to be mine.

And I choose to embrace my whole self, losses and flaws, along with the joys.

And I choose, every day, to practice this happiness work and to model it to my clients.  Showing them they aren’t in this fight alone but rather have a knowing partner to walk alongside them, and at times push them forward from behind.

This journey has been a constant reminder that sometimes we just don’t get what we wanted and that sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way it was “supposed” to.  But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened exactly the way it was meant to.  We just have to have the faith that we may one day get to truly understand it.

And in the meantime, I choose to embrace this uncertainty, trusting in my work and in the practice of happiness.

As this is my thriving acceptance and my story, and therefore me.

Where Do I Belong?

When we experience social rejection, or feel like we don’t belong we can hurt as bad as we do when we feel actual physical pain.  The parts of our brain that light up when we stub our toe (and shout several profanities, at least in my version of the story) also light up when we feel the pain of being rejected or when we walk away feeling like we don’t fit in. This has always been a theme in my private practice.  We are wired for connection and we all have the inherent need for love and belonging.  When we don’t feel like we have belonging in our lives we feel sadness, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

It is now, as a 34 year old woman without children, where I’m struggling, for the first time in my life, with the sense of not belonging.

I have learned there are 2 major things no one tells you when you begin the journey of IVF:

1.  You will always have the dates in your head and heart.

  • The day of the transfer (or conception).
  • The day you received the negative pregnancy test results.
  • The due dates of each baby, and therefore, the date of the would have been first birthdays.
  • Which then can become when you would have had a kindergartener, a track star in middle school, a high school graduate, a psychology major in college, etc., etc., etc.

And therefore...

2. The journey never really ends.

IVF didn’t work.  We don’t get to have kids.  And no, adoption isn’t for us.  Which means I am constantly reminded that I don’t quite fit in… in the congregation full of families or in the group of moms discussing feeding schedules or soccer schedules or even in the childfree by choice group who doesn’t even necessarily like kids.  As time passes, I’m sure this list will continue to grow.

My solace has been referring back to the work of Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  When we change ourselves to fit in, our self-worth is at stake.  However, when we live our authentic truth and are brave enough to just show up and be seen, our self-worth is not on the line.  Only when we live our lives this way, will we find that we will always belong.

By the most classic and widely accepted definition of a woman my age, I will never fit in, I am not a mother.  And I can choose to allow this to fill my soul with sadness and bitterness or I can truly own my story.  Owning it allows the hurt to heal.  Owning it allows me to talk about it openly without shame.  Owning it allows others to see my heart.  And only then, will I always belong.

I am...

Reminding my clients every day they are not their struggles definitely serves as a constant reminder of who I chose to be.  I’m always educating my clients on how to separate out their struggles and concerns, and not internalize them to be all of who they are.  We are not the things that have happened to us, we are not our struggles or our diagnoses, we are not our faults or shortcomings…unless we choose to be. I do not have to be my thoughts and allow them the power to change the way I feel and behave.  I can choose to have more power in this life, I choose whether I am a victim, survivor or, better yet, if I strive to really thrive.  This is my choice.  My authentic truth lies within me, hell it is fighting to get out of me, all I have to do is take care of it enough for it to shine.

We may have depression; we don’t have to be depressed.

We may struggle with anxiety; we don’t have to choose to be anxious.

We may feel safer behind the brick wall; we don’t have to be alone.

We may ____________________ (fill in the blank), it is our choice to BE ________________________.

Ever Upward is how I’m choosing wholeness, fulfillment and happiness despite not getting the joy of motherhood.  Making the choice, sometimes daily, to not be sad, cynical, bitter, and angry but to find the brighter light for me.

I don’t get to be a mother, but I can choose to be so much more…

I am …

a daughter

a wife

a friend

a sister

an aunt

a helper

a therapist

a storyteller

a writer

a dog mom

an educator

a speaker

a spark

Most of all, I’m working to really own it!

Avoidance or Progress?

I've been told to start a blog but have always found myself completely intimidated by it.  But what's the worst that could happen?  No one ever reads it?  Or worse yet they read it and hate it?  I think I'll make the jump, because it's been advised and because this is how I'm choosing to live my life, being brave enough to show up. However, I must be honest....  Am I starting the blog because I'm feeling stuck in the book writing process and overwhelmed or am I starting the blog because I know it's one of the ways to get my story out there and make it more credible?  Not sure the intention behind starting it tonight matters much.

I am working on my first book, but historically I wouldn't call myself a writer...

I have one hell of a story to tell and I'm a great storyteller but, admittedly, I'm still figuring out how to channel that into writing.  So I'm going to start here, not from the beginning but from now.  I will write about the themes I am seeing in my private practice each week, because they also inevitably influence my own personal life and recovery.  I will write about what I'm experiencing in the book writing process.  I will write about my journey of figuring out how to be okay, despite my past heartaches and losses and the continued reminder that no I'm not a mother (at least to human children) but I do still matter.  I will write about the shame and secrecy IVF  strangles people with.

Ultimately, I will write about my triumph over just proving that I'm okay into the full embrace of owning it.