Tuesday, July 5, 2016

When God is (not) silent

Do you ever feel like God isn't listening?  

Lately I've been taking notice more than ever when people share how God has spoken to them through prayer- to give assurance of a path, to guide them in a new direction, to give hope or solace.  I wonder, "How do they know God's voice?" I have prayed, prayed so often, so long, so sincerely and have felt that on so many of my deepest questions and laments God is silent.  I long to hear a word of assurance, to feel led in a direction- (really I'd like God to send an angel down here to tell me His plan in person...)  Yet, despite my most earnest pleas, God has remained silent...  Or... has He?  If I reflect honestly enough, I realize (or am shown) that while God may not give me clear signs when I pray, "Show me the path and I will follow," He does reveal Himself to me in quiet ways- not in thunder (as I wish!) but in a whisper.  

Over the past few weeks I've been laboring over decisions concerning whether we should continue the same treatment, whether we should change treatment plans, whether we should discontinue treatment and focus on adoption, or whether we should give up on our hopes to be parents, sell all of our belongings and live as vagabond world explorers.  If only I knew what God intends for us, I could feel comforted in knowing we are doing the right thing.  If only money for adoption would magically appear.  If only someone would approach us to adopt a child.  If only I knew whether I could even actually get pregnant.  If only a clear direction would manifest.  Instead, I am left wondering if every step we take is leading us closer to or further from what God's will for our lives is.     

My most faithful friends always say, "Take your prayers to God," knowing this is our only recourse on some matters.  And I've rebelled thinking, "But!  Why does God make me pray 1,000 more than other people!?" ...And suddenly the question repeats itself back to me only not of my thought...  "Why does God make me pray 1,000 more than other people?"  And suddenly I realize God is asking me to contemplate this question, to reflect on my prayer- to recognize that He is calling me to pray more for a reason, and to seek what He is trying to reveal through it all.  

And you know what else God reminded me of?  He is never silent because He left us Scripture!  I've come to desire it more now than ever.  I've come to realize this week that in His silence, He has been leading me to seek Him in new ways- to read Scripture with a different mindset, to practice patience, to learn to listen, to prepare myself for letting go.  It is possible that if God seems silent for you, too, He wants you to ask, "Why does God make me pray more than others for the desires of my heart?" and to seek the answer.  In His silence, He has been teaching me to look for Him everywhere, not just in praying the same prayer for the 1,000th time- to the point that even at its most genuine it has lost a part of its authenticity.  So for now, I will not ask, nor will I despair.  I will open the Bible, receive the words within, and I'll continue waiting.

Has God spoken to you in clear ways?  How have you been confident in knowing His will for your life?  

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."  -St. Jerome

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

2200 Miles of Change

Lately I've felt a transformation taking hold of me, and I've been fighting it, but taking our vacation really locked it in.  You see, for many of my years of prayers and yearning for a child, I've been too stubborn and afraid to pray for anything other than what I so desperately desire: "Please God, hear my prayer; bless us with a child."  Isn't that how Hannah prayed afterall?  And she just kept on prayin' until God granted her request.  I once fancied myself a modern-day Hannah and thought I'd just keep praying until God granted my request, too.  And I've poured my energy into doing everything I felt was within my power to help make that happen: medications, surgeries, diets, supplements, shots, exercise, physical therapy, castor oil, massaging, acupuncture.  But years of negative test after negative test have made me wonder if I am nothing more than like a fish who longs to fly.  "Please God, please hear my prayer: bless me with wings so I may fly."  But can a fish ever take flight?  Can a fish do anything to make itself fly?  Is God ignoring its prayer- surely if God can raise Lazarus from the dead, He can make a fish fly.  And yet doesn't.  Because a fish is a fish and was created to swim, not to fly.  The anxiety of wondering, "Am I just a silly fish who thinks if she prays hard enough God will let her fly?" has burdened me to the point of despair, though in waves that ebb and flow (probably with the fluctuations in my hormones if I had to put money on it...)  Slowly my prayers turned into, "God, if motherhood is what you want for me, give me an affirmation and I will continue to work for it."  Adoption and otherwise.  It wasn't easy to open myself up to the possibility that God might say "NO," but I prayed it anyway.  And do you know what happened when I prayed this prayer?  Cycle day one coincided with a pregnancy announcement from a houseguest who had arrived that very day.  OUCH.  I couldn't get my Femara, so had to take a cycle off of tracking and triggering ovulation.  OH THE FRUSTRATION.  And at the moment I felt lower than I can remember ever feeling, having spent the morning in tears, another miracle pregnancy announcement came.  CRUSHING.  All within three days.  I try not to read too much into circumstances and interpret them as signs from God, but the timing of these events on the heels of my prayer felt like a message was being sent, "These blessings are NOT for you.  This life is for OTHER people.  NOT FOR YOU."

So... what if that is the message?   Do I have the strength to sincerely pray, "God not my will but yours," if His will be that I am never a mother?  Well, until our vacation, I don't think I did.  But I might be ready to pray that prayer now.  Just maybe.

Last Sunday M and I returned from a mega road trip that took us down south through Memphis to New Orleans, and back through Chattanooga, Nashville, and Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.  That's roughly 2200 miles, more than 30 hours of driving, and I think the times we had exploring new streets, sights, sounds, and foods combined with countless hours of reflection while driving transformed me.  We toured the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, visited Graceland, sampled beignets and gumbo, heard incredible music, and packed more into seven days than we'd gotten in since we'd last taken a vacation.  It had been SIX YEARS since we'd taken a proper vacation.  Granted, we're lucky to be only a few hours from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, so we do get away on occasion each summer for a weekend here and there.  But a weekend isn't long enough to forget your troubles, and we've had our share the past few years.  The opportunity to leave them behind for a WHOLE WEEK and see a new part of the world acted as a medicine to my increasingly bitter, worn-out heart.  One of the benefits of feeling like you're getting nowhere with your diets and medicines and tests and shots is: that's the perfect excuse to say, "FORGET THEM" for the dedicated time you have for fun.  So I did!  I ate whatever I wanted, I mostly took my medicine but didn't stress about that or my cycle, what day it was, etc.  And I enjoyed every minute of our trip.  

And I learned an important lesson.  There can be life without kids.  It's not my first choice.  But before vacation the thought seemed like the end of the world to me.  And after vacation?  The thought stings a little less.  Having a spontaneous adventure (we hardly planned a thing- finding hotels wherever we felt like staying, and finding different points on the map along the way) showed me what an alternative life could be like.  Not that we'd all of the sudden become gypsy travelers if we never were able to have children, but we'd certainly have freedom to realize some of the bigger adventures we've talked and dreamed about.  I liberated myself from the constraints of diets, charting, scheduled med intake and the like.  And yes, I secretly hoped I'd be one of the girls that magically became pregnant because she didn't give a crap one cycle.  But no.  Of course I'm going to continue my treatment regimen, for now.  I've gone through too much to stop outright- yet- But I'm starting to be more comfortable with entertaining the thought that maybe I won't have kids.  Maybe I won't work so hard to try to MAKE it happen.  Maybe I'll sit back for a while and see how life naturally unfolds.  Maybe the doors will never open for us to pursue adoption.  Maybe I'll never conceive.  Maybe my dogs will be the only 'babies' I'll ever have.  And maybe, just maybe, that will actually be okay.  Have you entertained the 'what if' thought?  If so, I'd love to hear how you handle it.  

Friday, April 29, 2016

My Infertility Story

Sharing my story as part of fellow blogger, Caroline at in-due-time.com and her awesome link up for National Infertility Week!  I didn't realize how long-winded I was/how much I wanted to share about it until now.  Thanks, Caroline!  :)

Prologue: The Early Years
My big, crazy family
As the second born in a family of seven children, there has never been a time in my life when I haven't been surrounded by children.  I was raised to value new life and babies have basically always been my favorite thing.  And children seem to have always liked me, too.  There was never a question in my heart or mind about whether I would be a mother one day- though I did often have trouble visualizing what that reality would look like.  Through my early twenties I was ambitiously focused on building a career as a musician, and I sadly feared a child would be the end of that.  Despite my fears, I knew I didn't want the glamorous "singer life" of traveling- with no roots and no ideal family situation.  I knew, more than anything else, I wanted a family, and I was blessed to find someone with the same desire in his heart.  While we didn't actively try to conceive for the first five years of our marriage, feeling compelled to wait until we finished our masters degrees, we never used extra means to prevent pregnancy either.  I've never taken birth control or used contraception, and as it turns out.... I guess didn't need them.  

Chapter 1: The Beginning
Oh happy day!
M and I were married on May 5, 2007 and had a lovely honeymoon in the Riviera Maya.  He was 30 when we married, I was 24, and we were both still trying to figure out what our new life together would look like.  M had worked as an analyst for 12 years and wasn't happy in his job but stuck with it (because that's the kind of guy he is!) I had a bachelor's degree in music but no real career path.  The first few years of our marriage were ones of adjustment, problem solving, and learning the art of compromise.  I wanted to stay in Chicago forever, M wanted to come home to Michigan.  There were times M would say he was ready for a baby but I felt overwhelmed by the instability in our lives.  Things came to a turning point three years into our marriage when M could no longer take the stress and dead-end track of his current job, and I determined that to move forward in my career I would need a masters degree.  We decided to both return to school at the same time- so that when we were finished we could start adding to our family.  We also made the insane decision to buy a house the same year we started our graduate degrees.... Bring on the crazy!  Those were some of the most stressful, chaotic, and exhausting years of our lives.  With the stress of working full time, paying a mortgage, going to school full time, and learning music on the side, I relied on fast food and comfort food to support my emotions, but definitely not my body.  The stress of city life and a packed schedule took its toll.  While I've always suffered from extreme fatigue, during the grad school years it intensified to a debilitating extent.  On top of that, I experienced constant pelvic pain that I attributed to indigestion or ovulation.  I was too busy at that point to wonder what was going on inside of me, and I've always had a remarkable ability to power through just about anything.  

Chapter 2: Embarking on our journey
On the steps of our first home together in Chicago
In 2012 we finished our degrees and were filled with anticipation and excitement to start our family.  I consider our 5th anniversary, May 5, 2012 to be the symbolic anniversary of our efforts to conceive as well- it was the day I received my diploma- the day marking my transition from one phase of life to the next.  While M still had an internship to complete, we didn't want to wait any longer to welcome a baby into our lives.  I visited an OBGYN to ask questions about things I could do to support my body while embarking on trying to conceive.  Her response was cold: "There's nothing you can do to have a 'perfect' child.  Nature wants you to reproduce. Give me a call when you're pregnant."  Looking back now I'm even more disappointed in the lack of interest in whether I might be a candidate for fertility problems.  A few simple questions could have set off flags of red everywhere.  I had daily pelvic pain that was getting more intense as time progressed.  While my cycles seemed regular, the nature of my menses was indicative of a serious problem.  I had crippling pain that would cause me to vomit or come close to fainting each month.  My PMS was so bad any fool would be able to tell I had substantial hormonal issues.  But instead of taking an interest in me as a patient, I was treated like "most" people and rushed out the door with a slight admonishment that I would ask what I could do to help have success with trying to conceive and sustaining a healthy pregnancy.  I started charting my basal body temperature and other fertility signs and reading everything I could about fertility and conceiving a child.  I started taking supplements that I felt would help support my body and made M do the same.  After about six months of no success, I started suspecting something was wrong- with me.  I knew the constant nagging pelvic pain couldn't be normal, but endometriosis never crossed my mind.  I guess when you're accustomed to a certain level of pain, you don't realize HOW not normal it is...  

Chapter 3: Revelations, Diagnosis, Shock
After the obligatory year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, I visited a different OBGYN to have some baseline tests done.  Because they tested only on cycle day 21, all my hormone levels came back normal, but she referred me to a specialist.  One of the first tests the RE did was an ultrasound.  I'll never forget the casual way she looked at the screen and relayed with her heavy Russian accent: "Looks like you have two large endometriomas on your left ovary- so that means you probably have stage 3 or 4 endometriosis."  As though she was saying something as simple as, "Yep, there's your uterus, there are your ovaries, there's your tubes."  She told me the only way I would conceive would be through IVF.  I asked if surgery to remove endometriosis could be beneficial and without hesitation she told me, "no."  The sad, sad thing about endometriosis is that the only way to diagnose it is through surgery.  Having one woman's opinion- based on an ultrasound, which is really interpreting shadows- wasn't enough for me to even consider that option not knowing the reality of what was inside of me.  I had heard about NaPro doctors from friends who conceived miracle babies after having surgery with them and was thrilled to find one in my insurance's network.  At that time- Jan of 2014, there were only nine surgeons worldwide trained in NaPro's techniques- known for their commitment to preserving fertility and preventing future scarring.  I began working with Dr. S in Peoria, IL- driving 2-3 hours for appointments and tests, and all the while still believing I could become pregnant at any moment.  Living in a state of denial that something so egregious could be lurking within me.  I completed NaPro's cycle-long hormone profile and was completely validated to hear that I did indeed have a significant hormone problem, which we promptly began to treat with HCG injections.  Based on my health record, charts, and interaction with previous RE, Dr. S. strongly encouraged a 'diagnostic laparoscopy' to find out more.  She scheduled the robotic-assisted procedure, and I agreed that if she should find endometriosis it would be best to remove it during the same procedure.  On May 21, 2014 I went in for what I expected to be an outpatient, minimally invasive laparoscopy; in fact, I half expected to hear: "You don't have endometriosis, you just had a little cyst and we removed it!"  When I awoke it was to the biggest shock of my life.  Stage IV endometriosis had proliferated every part of my pelvic cavity, but particularly on my left side: entangling my fallopian tube into a twisted mess around my ovary, which was adhered to the pelvic wall, and fusing my bowel to my uterus.  Because of the nature and location of these implants, Dr. S had converted my surgery to a laparotomy- with a six-inch incision, and it had taken 8 hours to operate.  Needless to say, I spent the night in the hospital.   I was anemic for weeks, the recovery took months, and getting back to singing took even longer, but MY PAIN WAS GONE!  Dr. S said before the surgery I'd have had a zero percent chance to conceive- and after the surgery she said my chances shot up to 40%.  When the shock of the diagnosis settled in, I felt pretty optimistic- or shall I say "delusional?"  I truly thought: "Well, I've had the surgery, now I'll get pregnant!"

Chapter 4: A Vicious Cycle
After Surgery #2
After my initial diagnosis, I had a long period of recovery that made reflection inevitable: I came to realize that I didn't "handle stress well," as I'd always thought.  On the outside I managed stress stoically, while on the inside it took its toll.  Research shows a direct link between stress and severity of endometriosis.  Anyone who has lived in a big city knows THEY ARE STRESSFUL.  The traffic alone is enough to turn your hair gray.  (It shouldn't take 35 minutes to run up the street to grab a gallon of milk... non dairy, of course.) So after years of refusing to consider moving home, I delighted M by deciding that would be the best thing for us: A new start and a calmer life- for my health's sake and for our future family's sake.  Everything happened so quickly- we sold our house in TWO days, and started to settle into my parents' home while we waited in limbo to find our new home together.  In retrospect, this may not have been the best idea: upon moving we lost our insurance.  We were in a tricky place with this- as M would be transitioning from self-employed consultant to employee soon we didn't rush to self-purchase insurance, but also knowing we'd have insurance soon didn't feel compelled to self-pay for doctor visits and tests either.  I continued my hormonal treatments and assumed I'd be pregnant soon anyway.  Within the six months without insurance, my pelvic pain started to intensify yet again.  I chalked this up to phantom nerve pain or pelvic floor dysfunction- after all, NaPro surgeons are trained specially to prevent scarring when they operate, so as far as I was concerned I was clean as a whistle inside.  When our new insurance was activated in May of 2015,  I started with a new doctor closer to home, Dr. P in Mishawaka, IN.  Still a drive, but well worth it, and he ordered a routine ultrasound to get to the bottom of my pelvic pain.  The ultrasound showed a 10-cm cyst on my left ovary (the little ovary that couldn't) and it wouldn't respond to treatment.  So, less than a year after my first surgery I was scheduled for another.  In July of 2015 I went under the knife again, and was devastated to hear the findings: a wall of dense adhesions had formed from my previous surgery- making conception IMPOSSIBLE.  All the time we'd spent hoping, taking shots, medicines, supplements.  Nothing could have helped.  Dr. P said they were nothing like he's ever seen, but I remained hopeful post-op that because a laparoscopy is much less invasive than a laparotomy, and because I had been on my anti-inflammatory diet and low-dose naltrexone (which calms an over-active immune system) that new adhesions would not form.  The catch 22: the only way to cure the adhesions is to surgically remove them, which can create them anew.  Dr. P says certain people are prone to making them.  Guess I'm one of those people!  Moving forward from my last operation has been a journey of solving mystery after mystery.  The biggest one is: am I ovulating?  A follow-up ultrasound three months after surgery revealed a big, fat LUF: meaning, my follicles mature but do not rupture.   way to treat this is with trigger shots, but the first few times I tried this it didn't work- sinking me into a new level of hopelessness.  Thankfully, just a month ago- the trigger worked and I ovulated!  But mysteries remain: do I have more adhesions?  Will I have to have surgery again?  Are my tubes scarred?  Are my eggs quality?  So many questions remain unanswered and will only be answered in time.  I'm starting to consider the possibility that I will never carry a child, and the reality of that is difficult but one I'm prepared to process.  Adoption feels like another long and winding road; one we are exploring.  I still hold out hope that God will bless us with a miracle and that we can adopt as well.  Until that day comes I have much love to be grateful for: the love of God, the love of my husband, the love of my family, the love of my dogs, and the love of my fellow infertile sisters.  And that's been my life support through it all. So thank you, my friends! <3 <3 <3
On the steps of our new home in MI
Chapter 5: When Our Family Comes:  Still unwritten

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Infertility Awareness Week

Happy National Infertility Awareness Week!  Haha, gotcha.  There's nothing happy or fun about infertility.  I've not experienced feelings so dark or crippling as those that come when I dare to entertain the thought of a childless future.  It can be difficult to talk about this ordeal in our modern time.  From the growing trend of being "childless by choice" to the increasingly popular notion that humans are an environmental stain and population control is a moral necessity, there are rampant unsympathetic personalities at every turn.  I tend to keep our struggles out of  everyday talk, not only  because I want to avoid awkward interactions and don't want to dampen casual conversations by bringing up my personal problems but also because I have witnessed surprising hostility toward people with a desire to procreate, and I'd rather not open the door to those encounters.  I have a bad habit of reading the comments section on articles, and I've been shocked by the reactions from some people.  Everything from, "People who have the need to pass their genes on are selfish" to "there are thousands of children in the foster system waiting to be adopted and you have these egotistical people running around paying thousands of dollars to have their own child."  I fear one day such a confrontation will present itself, and I don't think that would bode well for the other person.  

On top of that, I have had all the "other" conversations with people already, and I've grown tired of having the same conversation.  You try to help others understand how bleak your situation feels, and they always have a suggestion which seems to invalidate those feelings.  Like you shouldn't feel as hopeless and empty and dead inside because you just haven't thought of things from THEIR angle yet.  I want to get it all out here today, for those people with whom I've not had "the" conversation with yet.  You'll find the answer to some of your most burning questions here below, and then some: 

-Yes I have tried relaxing, yoga, essential oils, ovulation predictor kits, charting, diets, exercise, supplements galore.  
-No, I would not like to hear about your husband's cousin's sister-in-law's niece and how she tried to get pregnant for 9 whole months before she gave up gluten then suddenly conceived.
-Yes, I gave up gluten.  And dairy, corn, 99.5% of processed foods and fried food and sugar.
-Yes, my husband has been tested.  He is fine.
-Yes, I know why we're infertile: because of endometriosis.  
-Yes, I've had surgeries, and no that doesn't mean I'll be able to conceive now.
-Everyone in my family is pretty fertile as far as we know.  Seems I'm the lucky one.  
-Thank you, but we're not interested in your womb.  
-No, we haven't tried IVF.  It's not a real option for me, for many reasons.  And I truly believe that if I am meant to carry a child it will happen anyway.  The question is- am I meant to?
-Yes, we have thought about adoption, (and are trying to make this work for us. By the way, have YOU thought about it?  If you're  about it, I hope you're considering it, too.)  Now let me tell you something about adoption.  Beautiful as it is, adoption is not a solution to infertility.  It is an alternative to living a childless life, but adoption is not the solution for the pain caused by infertility.   It can lessen that pain and bring healing to broken hearts.  But when a friend wants to share with you something as personal and tender as her struggle with infertility, suggesting she look into adoption does nothing to acknowledge her pain- the very thing she is trying to help you understand.  Of course it can be hard to understand, but it is important that others do- so they know why we avoid baby showers, why we seem to be in an endless funk, why we're tired, why we don't want to get together, etc.  And if they want to help you, understanding what you feel is critical.  Maybe this will help: 

Infertility is like being lost in a desert with a thirst so intense it penetrates your soul.  The thirst takes on matter and weight- you have to carry it, and it's heavy.  The only way to get to the water you so desperately desire is to keep wandering through the unforgiving terrain until you've reached the other side.  You encounter mirage after mirage: cool pools of crystal water that seem to taunt you as you fight to put one foot in front of the other- at times the water seems close enough to touch but as you approach it vanishes, leaving you overcome with confusion, despair, and an overwhelming sense of loss- though the water wasn't ever yours anyway.  You pass other travelers on the way and can't understand why you're the only one who appears to be lost.  They know exactly where they are and have water but are unable to give you any- your encounters with them make you feel even more alone and lost: it doesn't seem fair that they have the water you are desperate for; they aren't even lost and they haven't been in the desert as long as you have.  The longer you are lost in the desert, the more you come to believe you will never taste the water you seek.   This changes you as a person.  You used to be the kind of person who loved to think about the other side of the desert and all the wonderful things you'd find there.  You loved water and had always been drawn to it.  Now you are so consumed by its absence that you question whether you even believe it awaits you anymore, and as the symbol of what you lack, your feelings for it have become conflicted.  You are not sure whether you love or hate it.  You become weary as you trudge through the deep sand, each step more agonizing than the last as the weight of your thirst settles into every part of you.  Yet you forge ahead because the alternative is to stay lost in the desert with your unquenchable thirst forever more, which actually begins to look more appealing the longer your journey takes... 

(Adoption might be like finally arriving to the other end of this desert only to discover that you are at the beginning of a new desert and the water is on the other side of THAT one.  And there are also mountains in this desert you will have to climb despite the fact that you already feel like you could collapse from exhaustion.  Oh, and you have to pay $25,000-$40,000 to make the journey... We don't care where the water comes from, but we're not sure we have the energy and heart after traveling through one barren desert to make through another.  We will make that journey if and when we find the calling, the strength, and the resources.)  

-Yes, we know adopting from foster care is practically free.  But we are still wandering in our desert, having given everything to finding our way out.  We are not in a mental or emotional state to deal with the very broken foster care system.  We do not want to grow attached to a child that will be reunited with its birth family.  We are not ready to accept a child with severe emotional problems.   
-Yes we know "everyone" wants an infant.  So do we.  We want to bond with our child from before birth, but if that is not possible for us, we'd like to bond with our child from infancy. 
-My doctor says he can't give us a statistic on how likely we are to conceive because for each woman it is either 100 or 0 percent.  Part cop-out, part true.  
-Yes, I take shots, get blood drawn, have ultrasounds, and take fertility meds monthly.  
-Yes, I know I "have time."   (Saying this to an infertile friend is not comforting.  It translates to "I can tell you're really upset, but I want to deflect this discomfort I feel by changing the subject and offering a bit of encouragement that does nothing to speak to your feelings or struggle.")    

These are real conflicts that we grapple with every day.  Some days we can distract ourselves from how dreadful we feel, and other days it takes over and we have no control over our emotions.  There is never a moment we are not thinking about our journey and trying to put on a pleasant face for functioning through life.  Please be patient and understanding with us.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Reflection on Reasons and Reaction: Childless Queens, Part 2


If you read my last blog post, you already know how I feel about the philosophy that "everything happens for a reason."  So when I came across another blog post entitled, "Childless Queens" recently, I absorbed the words with a mix of bitterness and dismay.  I should preface this by saying that I've never appreciated when people with no experience attempt to expound on a particular subject.  Constance, who writes a blog called "Queens of Constance," is a mother of four who in her latest post theorizes on why some women are childless.  I've copied it here to save you from having to navigate to a different webpage, though it's also linked above.  I wonder if I'm the only one who has taken a bit of offense to her view on why we are childless....

From Constance of Queens of Constance: 
I have always believed in a universal wisdom, karma, a knowledge that everything happens for a reason.Yet some of the biggest hearted women I know have, through circumstances and different biological factors been left without children.
While some choose not to have kids, others are women who wanted them desperately, women who had more to offer children than I could have dreamt. We’re left with empty wombs and shattered hearts.  Adopting is much easier said than done and fostering can come with its own set of heartaches.
My faith in the universe has been challenged, why would I be given 4 babies and some be given none? It can’t be a coincidence that the women with such a shining gift of warmth to offer a child were so often the ones left without. All that warmth and love goes to waste?
It absolutely does not.  Then I learnt something really powerful, there is a reason.. There is always a reason..
Children are a 24 hour job, a 24 hour blessing. But at the same time they hold us to them which limits our movements.  Some women are too powerful to be tied to their own children, too warm to be limited to one family. Some women need to be free to help, love, spread warmth all across the universe.
Some children need women without children of their own, if it’s just an inspiring chat at the shops one day, a deeper friendship that is hard to have with their own parents, even more of a hands on role to improve their lives, generating money for their community or simply a voice for the voiceless.
If you are a queen who wanted children but wasn’t blessed with any, remember that the reason could be because you yourself are a blessing and you have no idea how desperately the world needs you.
And you’re going to continue to inspire, reach and change the lives of everyone you touch. With no children of your own you are able touch so many more. There is nothing more queenly than that.
Don’t ever question yourself, your queen-hood or your power. 👑👊🏼
Love Con xx
In summary, Constance believes that some women need to not be "tied" to a family of their own because the universe demands they be available to attend to anyone else that may be in need at any time.  I take issue with virtually every angle of her "epiphany"- that only the childless can effectively care for some, and that those blessed with children are no longer able to "help, love, and spread warmth across the universe."  To be told, "You're too stong to be tied down," feels trite and condescending- like something my dad would say to cheer me up after a failed audition.  "You're too good for them, honey!"  Especially coming from a woman who has been so abundantly blessed in the children department.  WE are left with empty wombs and shattered hearts, Constance.  You are left with a beautiful family.  

The notion that the there is a "universal wisdom" which has designated some women as childless because there are needs in the world that ONLY childless women can attend to is problematic.  I believe it is the responsibility of every human being, man or woman, single or married, parent or childless, to be attentive to the needs of those around us.  One of the best ways we can do this is by investing in and helping to build strong and inclusive communities where those who are neglected by first-degree family have a welcome place to find support and love.  Our society has strayed far from the community model toward an individualistic one, and it shows- in the crime rate, the bigotry, the number of children abandoned or abused.  At the root of this heartache is the broken family.  What more noble purpose then can a person serve than to raise children into the types of adults who will effect positive change and will themselves "help, love, and spread warmth all across the universe?"  That is the most sacred thing a person can do in this life!  To think that a great wisdom (whom I call that "God") deems a "simple chat in a shop one day" to be more important to humanity than parenting a child- and to go as far as to think THAT is the reason I'm childless- is ridiculous.  No, we are not infertile because it is our duty to care for the forsaken- that is the duty of us ALL. 

My dear friend comes to mind.  She struggled to conceive for six years, enduring multiple fertility treatments to no avail.  After investing in the adoption process, opening their hearts to three older children from the Congo, she and her husband suspected corruption within the agency and decided to fly to Africa to investigate.  The week they left she discovered she was expecting a miracle baby.    Upon arriving in the Congo, they found that the agency had been attempting to traffic the children to the U.S. when they actually had a family.  She and her husband chose to not complete the adoption.  She then went on a successful crusade to close the unethical agency and co-authored a book on how Christians can answer the call to help redeem international adoption.  Now, as the mother of two children, she lives in Africa and works as a humanitarian lawyer, advocating for child victims of abuse.  What part of being a mother has limited her ability to be an explosive force for good in the world?  Her most inspiring work began during her years of motherhood!  

It IS true that mothers must be attentive to their children first and foremost, but let us remember that children only need undivided attention for a fraction of a woman's life.  There is a time and a place for everything.  A time to prioritize one's own children, (though still not limiting oneself from being helpful to others...) and a time when they are grown and one can be freer to expand her generous spirits to others- the way my own aunt has.  Her children are now in high school and college, and she is free to travel to Haiti to help minister to orphans.  She may not have been able to do this when her children were younger, but nothing about her motherhood has prevented her from giving of herself in this manner now.  Women can BOTH mother children, adopted or biological, AND be dynamic agents of good in the world.  In fact, mothering children is one of the most important ways a woman can effect positive change for the world!  What the world needs is strong parents.  Parents to directly effect the future in raising their own children and through that experience develop new skills that will help other children should the need arise as well.  Becoming a parent could only increase the ways in which a person can "spread warmth across the universe" in the way it brings someone outside of herself and demands she put the needs of someone else first.  So if the universe were really doling out fertility based on personality traits and a misguided notion of what could benefit the whole most, I would argue that it needs to re-evaluate the situation.   

If there is ANY reason that I am childless, it is because I have a chronic disease that has damaged my fertility.  Disease exists because humans are subject to the repercussions of our separation from God- both spiritual and physical.  There is precious little understanding of this condition, and I wasn't diagnosed soon enough to preserve my optimum fertility.  Of course God can take this brokenness and repurpose it for the betterment of my soul and for the world- if I am open to accepting what that reality would look like.  But I'll not believe He intentionally designed me as broken so that I would be more available to "spread warmth across the universe" in a way that (apparently) only childless women can.... If I am blessed with children, I will continue to care for the children I teach, I will seek to help those who appear to be in need should I encounter them, and I will teach my children to do the same.

Lastly, there IS a reason many of the most "shining" and "warm" women are left without children when they want them desperately.  But I do not believe it is because the "great wisdom" has designated them to be the guardians of others (general), nor do I believe it is a coincidence.  I believe it is because those who suffer have greater empathy, a more heightened awareness to recognize suffering in others and first-person experience to motivate them to respond to the needs they see.  It is the experience of suffering that has made them this way, not the other way around.  And through their journey of suffering, they develop strength to overcome the most challenging of trials, patience to endure the unexpected, perspective to shed light on questions and weigh disappointments, and compassion to more fully embrace those they encounter.  And don't you think those qualities would make an amazing mother?

What do you think, friends?  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflection on Reasons, and Reaction: Childless Queens, Part I

"Everything happens for a reason...." "God doesn't need a plan B because He already has a perfect plan."  These are just a few of the platitudes I've recently come across that have given rise to a steady current of thought and contemplation within me for the past few weeks.  And in weighing these questions, I found a sense of clarity that helped lift me from the pit of self-pity into a place of relative peace.

Does everything happen for a reason?  Writer Tim J. Lawrence believes the idea to be toxic to the human heart- that insisting terrible things MUST happen for some better reason strips us from the ability to do the one thing we must when confronted by loss, pain, suffering: to grieve.  (I highly recommend reading his insights here: Everything Doesn't Happen for a Reason.)  I've known this to be true from my own soul-searching, and I have come to believe that God's plan has many letters, an infinite number perhaps.  Not only is it psychologically maddening for me to speculate on what the cosmic reason for every little thing might be, (anyway if it's not a very GOOD reason in my estimation, it's little consolation that something might happen for A reason...) But it is spiritual poison for me to even entertain the thought that pain, suffering, death, emptiness, heartache are part of my loving God's "perfect plan" for me or anyone else.

My take...
God, the author of our lives, may have written our stories, but we are the editors, and He has gifted them to us more as "Choose Your Own Adventures" rather than fixed narratives.  I believe God had a perfect plan which He, out of love, surrendered to humanity when He created us with the precious gift of free will.  The consequence of separating ourselves from Him through sin was not only spiritual but temporal: our choices have an effect not just on our relationship with the Creator but on the natural world as well.  When God created the universe, His "perfect plan" was that we would abide with Him in it- however sin created a schism which separated earth from heaven and us from Him.  The disturbance not only made heaven unavailable to us until Christ redeemed us, but it permeated to the natural order, upsetting it indefinitely- until the new earth and new heaven will be brought forth.  Like the aftermath of an atomic bomb experienced for decades to follow we will continue to feel the effects of original sin in our souls and in the everyday phenomena of our earthly lives until we are united with God for eternity.

Did God plan the recent mass-shooting in my town?  The one that took the lives of six innocents in a diabolical act of violence?  Does God plan a life of starvation, abuse, neglect for children all over the world?  Are they spiritually-ordained absolutes?  I do not believe so.  I believe these sadnesses are a physical effect of our sin and that each choice to sin sets into motion waves of brokenness that penetrate every level of life on earth.  We are all subject to the effects of others' choices, for we are one body.  Even the earth itself is subject to human recklessness and narcissism. Sickness?  A part of God's plan?  Or an effect of having created a toxic earth through our pursuit of innovation and convenience?  Did God plan for me to suffer the deep, deep pain of infertility?  Am I to believe He gifted this to me from the first moment He thought to create me?

No, I don't believe God ever planned my suffering or anyone else's, but it became an eventuality the moment sin destroyed what His perfect plan for us was.  And I believe He gently picks up the trampled remnants and recreates His plan more magnificently than it ever was before, the way an artist uses a faulty brush stroke to form a masterpiece.  There is no better explanation for Christ.  So then, does everything happen for divine reason in accordance with God's perfect plan?  Or do we recognize beauty in the aftermath of great darkness and attribute the fruit of that transformation as the "reason?"

I believe that God's perfect plan is still lingering on the periphery of possibility and that we are players in it- who through grace can help draw others closer to what that plan is.  Therein lies the "reason" for the crosses we are allowed to bear.  If we can through our experiences of suffering enlighten ourselves to the broader world around us with better empathy and motivation to connect with others both physically and spiritually, then we can play a small part in helping to guide humanity down a path more aligned with what God's perfect plan was from the very beginning: to be united to Him in this life as well as the next.  Meanwhile, I want to hold tightly to the vision of God taking this suffering and shaping it into something more beautiful than I could ever comprehend and try, try, try to be patient as I wait for the transformation.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My One and Only [BFP]

This is a story of the only time I ever got a BFP.  It's a cautionary tale for all you who use HCG in your luteal phases, and one that changed me irrevocably.

It was a cycle like any other cycle.  I had been through the whole phase of emotions that come with infertility:  The grief, the denial, the anger, the hatred, and I had arrived in a place of relative peace. Or was it numbness?  Either way, I wasn't expecting to be pregnant, and I wasn't relishing in self-pity and misery over it anymore either.  It wasn't a bad place to be actually.

I'd been taking post-peak* HCG injections for months to help stimulate my body into producing enough estrogen and progesterone to keep me from transforming into the PMS-y monster version of myself.  The one prone to dense anxiety, insomnia, alarming fatigue, fits of uncontrollable rage, and a whole host of digestive issues that I had come to accept were a normal part of pre-menstruating Jess. Despite HCG's bloody expensive price tag and my aversion to penetrating my skin with needles, I was so grateful to have it because it solved my PMS miraculously:  no more transient post-peak personality disorder, no more human fried-food vacuum, and no more bloating!  In fact, most of the time I wouldn't have even known I was going to get my period if I hadn't been keeping a chart.  

And based on my chart in October 2015, I was 17 days past ovulation with no signs of AF rearing her ugly face.  Based on NaPro protocol I could have tested on P+16, (we are advised to wait one week after our last injection to allow the HCG injection to metabolize out of our system) but as I was expecting my period to come any moment, I didn't see the point.  Then, P+17 came and went, and still no sign of AF.  I had never before reached this day in my cycle without having some indication that menstruation was imminent.  And so I entered this strange place that only women who struggle with TTC could understand.  I didn't want to test and even toy with hope since I was in a stable place emotionally.  But knowing if by some miracle I happened to be pregnant I would need progesterone support, I went ahead and tested on the morning of P+18.  And you know what I saw?  A BFP.  Sure, it was faint, but knowing that by all medical standards my injected HCG should have been completely flushed from my system by P+16, I believed I was in fact pregnant.  And I have never felt such a complete and immediate flash of emotion.  All of the grief, fear, uncertainty, hope, joy, gratitude, and relief that one person is capable of feeling washed over me like an electric shock- to the point where I believe I nearly fell over.  And I'm not exaggerating.  The next few hours were a flurry of trying to reach my doctor (who was out for a family funeral) and trying to arrange a beta test- which is the NaPro protocol if you get a BFP.  Since my NaPro doc is out of town, his nurse sent the order to a local clinic and I tried to go about my day while praying a mixture of pleas and praises on repeat.  

On the way to my afternoon appointment, I started bleeding.  Okay, relax, I said to myself.  You're just spotting.  But by the time I reached the clinic, I knew the truth: That AF had arrived.  When a potential baby is in the mix, you can never be too sure, though.  Plus, I was too embarrassed to cancel the appointment- "Oh, whoops!  Just kidding!" So I proceeded through the doors, past a sea of babies in the waiting room, into the examination room where the not-napro-savvy nurse looked at me like I was a pregnancy faker trying to get attention.  Part of me still held onto the hope, unearthed in the morning's excitement, that I was pregnant, and the 30 minutes it took for the test to come back were the longest of my life.  Negative.  Such an apt word.  Negative indicates the presence of nothing, which is what was inside of my body and my soul at that point. 

The numbness I'd been feeling up to that day had given in to renewed life and had now returned with a vengence.  This time as catatonic despair rather than complacent indifference.  I fell into a characteristic funk I'm sure each of you understands, and again had to grapple with my wounded soul and volatile relationship with God.  I felt betrayed.  Afterall, if my period had just come four hours earlier I never would have tested.  That's all.  Four hours.  And I would have carried on with my life's work of slowly repairing my spirituality and finding a new place of happiness.  I'm pretty good at that- I can't live in despondance for too long.  But I felt duped.  I felt like a child who had begged her father for a puppy for years while watching him give every other child a puppy and finally was given a puppy only to discover the puppy was a mirage and then had to watch it vanish in front of my eyes while hearing my father say to me, "Oh, you thought you were ACTUALLY getting a PUPPY.  How adorable."  And I felt like a fool, for I'd given myself over to joy that was an illusion.  

My doctor's assessment was that I had a chemical pregnancy, but I believe in my heart it was a false positive.  I know now that HCG metabolizes differently in every woman.  I've read that some have experienced a BFP as late as P+21 without actually being pregnant.  I wish I'd known that sooner.  Thankfully I am no longer taking HCG.  After this episode the pharmacy that compounded it for me went on a hiatus for remodeling of its lab, and I had a difficult time getting the drug for an affordable price, so I switched to oral progesterone.  My levels seem to be holding steady in the normal range without it, and I hope that continues.  It's a special kind of pain to have unspeakable joy crushed in an instant.  I could have lived without experiencing it and feel no better off for having felt it.  But there is a silver lining:  At least I know what a positive pregnancy test looks like.  

[*In NaPro speak: post-peak is my preferred lingo for discussing the post-ovulatory phase since it's been confirmed that I'm not actually ovulating.]