It’s been eighteen months since your last breath escaped the body that held your spirit.
I have felt your absence lately. Like when a knife carves out space, leaving the edges raw. I do not understand the full extent of why. Is it because I have things to tell you? I will always have things to tell you Papa.
A few days ago the boys and I made a quick trip back to Idaho. We went to trade our car in. I always asked you about cars. You were my car guru; now you aren’t.
As I drove into town, the thought of your empty chair got stuck in my throat like a cotton ball, something you are never meant to swallow. Your feet no longer entering the house from the garage. The sound of your cowboy boots clicking against the linoleum. I still hear it if I listen hard enough.
Your sweetheart and I mulled over what images and words will be placed on the bench that will mark your grave, and eventually hers. The place where your shell and hers will forever remain.
Did you sense me as I drove by the cemetery where you lay? Is a part of you still roaming this earth, connected to me? I desperately hope so.
I pondered stopping. I wanted to, but the boys were waiting for me with your love. I wanted to but I wasn’t sure I could find you without your new, shiny nameplate. I wanted to but I was afraid of the hysteria that would ensue if I couldn’t find you. I kept driving back to your house.
Before I left I dug through a drawer that housed some of your things. I found a picture of you as a young man, wearing converse, jeans rolled, looking effortlessly hip. I want to know the younger you. I have so many things I want to know now that I know I will never know.
As I type these words on your old laptop I touch the keys and feel our connection. Your DNA remains on these keys, now mixed with mine. Thank God you also left me your eyes. I am pretty sure I have handed them down to Kidran. You also left behind your nose for Cohen. Even in your absence you are present.
It’s been eighteen months.
The past two and a half years have held a great deal of change for my life. Leaving Northern Ireland, the land where I cut out part of my heart and planted it. My Papa being diagnosed with cancer to his passing from this earth. My mother-in-love being diagnosed with lymphoma and surviving in the most extraordinary way. To my most recent experience of an early miscarriage.
As Bryan and I chatted in bed one night, the tears filled my eyes. I explained to him that my heart had felt so heavy for so long. I reflected on everything that was bright, beautiful, and alive in my life. Then I described something else.
The grey thread.
For the past two and a half years I have carried around a heaviness. I can easily see the charms of my life. I have an incredible husband, two miracle sons, a job that has purpose, family that I love, friendships that go deep like a well. My life is rich and I know it.
Still, in all the richness, in all the vibrant yellows, reds, blues, and purples of life, there is a grey thread. It hides for awhile. Life feels normal, manageable. Then, I see it. The dull color, working it’s way to the surface again. Wrapping itself around the yellow, turning it a muted brown. It takes the other colors too, toning down their brilliance, creating a type of shadow land.
It feels like the opposite of putting on rose-colored glasses. This grey thread takes the shine out of almost everything. It cannot remove that which is solid, thank God. Yet it can change my view and perspective, making it harder to see clearly. It becomes like a fog, covering up the parts of my life that stir me to live.
Through time and effort, I can stand on the thread once again, regaining my life back. However, out of the corner of my eye, I see the end of the thread wriggling. Then I see it disappear beneath my life’s palate again. A sense of relief floods my body. It is gone for now. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wonder for how long?
Five days into 2019 and I find myself accompanied by a familiar friend, grief.
Let me backup to October. This past autumn, as we sat chatting with some of our oldest and dearest friends late into the evening, something happened. A dream I hadn’t allowed myself to dream came forward. There were many logical reasons why I had tried to convince myself I didn’t truly want this dream, yet there it was, staring me in the face, speaking it’s truth to me. I hadn’t allowed myself to dream this particular dream because of one thing, fear. When the truth of that hit me, it stopped me in my tracks. That was not how I wanted to live my life, based on fear.
So on that dark, lovely, cool autumn night, I spoke the dream out loud. Loud enough for myself, my husband, and our friends to hear. I wanted to try for a third baby. There, I had said it, it was real.
For the next month we began dreaming, started appointments, and contact with our fertility clinic in Idaho. The ball was slowly rolling. At that time we allowed ourselves to dream of what our little family could look like with a new member and we took these sweet pics in hope that they may be used in a special way.
I am a dreamer at heart. I am usually optimistic and full of hope so it’s not really strange that I would want to begin preparing for the possibility of a new arrival this way. As November approached we were working with my body and what it was doing. We were making plans to have a natural frozen embryo transfer (FET) which meant my body had to cooperate with the clinics availability. On the 8th of November, the boys and I got in our little Subaru and we made the eight hour drive to Idaho to stay at my Mom’s while we waited for the timeline of November to unfold.
As my period had started and the dates rolled by we realized that even though my body was doing what it was supposed to, it wasn’t in a workable timeline due to the Thanksgiving holiday at the clinic. Once the November window closed, we decided it was best for the boys and I to stay put in Idaho and hope that the December window would work. Once again my body did what it needed to do but this time the window worked.
At this point I need to add that the clinic was not super excited about a natural FET cycle. They preferred having the most control of all the variables but we had decided that a natural cycle was the way we wanted to proceed. I had done enough injections and been through enough hormone craziness over the years that if my body could do it naturally we felt that would be better. They also didn’t see bodies cooperate that often so when my body did, you could actually sense their surprise.
Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly for December. After blood draws, ultrasounds, and ovulating, things were looking positive. My body was moving forward in the ways it needed too, the dates were working for the clinic, and best of all Bryan would be in Idaho by that time for his Christmas break from work. Everything seemed to be coming together for what we thought would most likely be the beginning of our family growing.
On the 14th of December I got the go ahead to give myself the Trigger Shot to help prepare my body for an embryo transfer the following week. I did the shot in the bathroom of a Cracker Barrel with Christmas carols blaring in the background and one of my sons running around the bathroom as I stood behind the stall door on the other side, needle in hand. By the 21st of December Bryan had arrived and it was time for the transfer. We left Kidran and Cohen in my mom’s care while we drove to Boise. On our way there, we received a call from our doctor. The first embryo they thawed was not looking good, only a 20% chance of a pregnancy. We opted to thaw the next embryo. As we continued the drive we chatted about that reality not being something we had considered. Strange to think in a matter of minutes you go from having potentially eleven little lives to ten, just like that.
We arrived, had my bloods drawn again and then I took my valium. As we sat there and the valium took effect, I began rambling about embryos and wondering what percentage of an embryo I was and what Bryan was? It’s crazy to think that each of us starts as an embryo with potentially slim chances of survival and yet here we are.
About twenty minutes after arriving the doctor and embryologist came in. They brought in our embryo, our 45% chance embryo, our potential little girl or little boy. Then we watched them insert the embryo into my uterus, marked by two tiny air bubbles.
There it was, our little embryo. Wrapped up in hopes and dreams, unseen by the naked eye, but seen clearly by the soul. My heart skipped a beat. My dream was taking shape, our dream was happening. The dream that I had been afraid to speak of. Yet speaking this dream out had powerfully led us to this place, taking baby steps each day to make the dream turn into our reality.
Flashback to the transfer we had in 2014 that turned into our two beautiful sons. I wore the same necklace that is now tattooed on my wrist. A gift from a friend and a reminder of God’s promise that we would have a family someday. A promise kept. Yet did the promise extend to one more child? We would have to wait to find out.
Thank goodness the days following the transfer went by rather fast. With Christmas, Boxing Day, time up at my brothers cabin, and New Year’s Eve all between the transfer and the blood draw to test for a pregnancy, we occupied our days and made some very sweet memories. Still if you have ever walked this road yourself, you know how even though you are living your life day to day, the fact that you are waiting for your future is always in the back of your mind. Each day you are measuring what your body is doing. Do I feel crampy? Are my boobs sore? Do I feel more tired than normal? The questions go on and on. The waiting is always the hardest part once you have actually had the transfer.
2019 arrived, we had a lovely evening celebrating with my brother and sister-in-law. It was quiet and I was filled with hopeful anticipation. We drove back to Nampa on the 1st and unpacked. That night I struggled to sleep. I couldn’t relax into rest. I was too anxious for the awaited outcome the next morning. Morning came, my mom and I got ready and headed to Boise for the blood draw. Bryan kindly agreed to stay home and watch the boys so my mom and I could have a day together.
The blood draw was quick and over by 9 a.m. We then spent the day eating and shopping. It was a lovely, sweet day. Around 2:30 p.m, as I was standing in the Macy’s maternity section picking out maternity jeans that my mom was going to buy me as a gift, I got the call. My blood draw had shown that I was pregnant, but my levels were low. This meant that they thought I was having a chemical pregnancy which after I looked it up basically meant an early miscarriage. My vision went a little blurry and I felt hot. I knelt down next to the rack of clothes I was standing by and asked my mom to stop asking any questions, I needed a minute to focus. Everything went into tunnel vision. I was technically pregnant but it wasn’t looking promising.
I told the clinic I would call them back after I spoke to Bryan. As I called him, my hands shook with the news. His silent pause on the other end was enough to undo me. Neither of us had been prepared for this result. We were expecting a yes or no. Not a yes, but wait. We decided to keep our plans to return home the same and that I would get my bloods done on the 7th if my period still hadn’t started.
We celebrated my mom’s birthday the next evening at a fun sushi restaurant with some of the family on the 3rd. Then on the 4th we packed up our car with all the thoughtful and fun gifts we had received for Christmas along with skis and supplies. We hugged my mom tight one last time, said our goodbyes and drove away. The drive home was uneventful and we made it in good time. We arrived home at 7:30 p.m, the boys thrilled to be home and play with their toys. We unpacked our bags and settled some of our belongings back into their familiar homes.
Then at 9:45 p.m, I went to the bathroom and there it was, the marker that told me my body had finally given up the pregnancy. My period had started. In almost an act of denial I still inserted my progesterone suppository in a feeble attempt to reverse what my body was already moving towards…a miscarriage.
I came out and told Bryan. Then I came unglued. Uncontrollable sobs escaped my mouth, and the tears streamed down my cheeks as I wept on his shoulder. Our journey of infertility marked once again by grief and heartbreak. My husband has consoled me so many times in our married life and I am beyond thankful for his presence, calmness, vulnerability in these moments. This was our dream together, now over.
Bryan, being the incredible husband and father he is, took our two miracle sons skiing with him today so that I could have a whole day to be alone and process the past few months. I am so grateful for a spouse who knows me, understands my needs, and graciously loves me in the ways I need when I need them. He is one of my biggest treasures in life. As I drank my coffee slowly, staring out our window at the mountains, the sobs continued.
A whole new kind of grief washed over me. in all our years of infertility we had never experienced a miscarriage until now. It feels so different. We had given that baby a name, for a boy and for a girl depending on the gender. We had made space in our hearts. We had seen our boys as big brothers. We had seen one more grandchild in the arms of their Grandma and Amma. We had seen sleepless nights with a newborn. We had allowed the dream to take root. I also had felt pregnant. I was experiencing many symptoms similar to those of what I felt like when we got pregnant with the boys. I had been so sure that everything lining up so perfectly most likely meant that this dream would become our new reality. Yet it hasn’t. We have miscarried. My period has started and my stomach is cramping while my body is exhausted.
My heart feels crushed. This feels like a very abrupt ending of a chapter in a book. I will never have a pregnant bump again. I will never feel the flutter of movement in my belly again. I will never nurse another newborn. I will never hold the little hands of my toddler as they take their first steps. So many things that will never happen again. And just like that grief floods into my core, and I am rocked. In the last fifteen years of my life I feel like grief has become something I am familiar with. So many moments now that are filled with flowing tears and a breaking heart.
This is real. This is me in grief.
Nothing pretty about it. Tears, anguish, it’s all right there. Yet I won’t hide it. I can’t. I will continue sharing it because I have to find some purpose in it or else it feels like a waste.
I will never regret trying for our third baby. I will never regret dreaming, and giving our baby names. Yet I am not sure my heart will ever totally heal either. That’s what happens with infertility, it leaves a mark that changes you forever.
Tonight I will go to bed heavy with emotion. Knowing that tomorrow is a new day. My husbands warm body will lie next to me and provide a shoulder to cry on again. My beautiful boys will wake me up. The morning will come as it always does and I will once again make coffee. I will drink it like nothing has changed yet so much has. This is what grief, that old familiar friend does. It punctuates the absurdity of normal life while all the time you feel you are being pummeled by the pain and emotion of your new reality.
Then I will stop long enough to once again survey my life. Full with love and family. A husband I love and two unique sons to mother and nurture and my heart will swell. Grief will not have the last word, for life is still worth living.
For anyone else who has walked this path or is walking this path, my heart goes out to you. I hope you have time to heal and people to love and support you through it. May peace eventually come.
Here is a poem I wrote about this painful experience. Writing helps me process and again, if I can help even one more person through sharing then there can be some kind of purpose found in the pain.
With a single drop of blood,
the dream shatters,
into a million little pieces.
Face pale, eyes red.
In exhaustion it begins.
Nature takes it’s course,
My body cooperates
but not my soul.
I stare at the watery grave.
Clumps, red swirls, matter.
Gravity pulls you away.
With each flush, you disappear.
So crude an exit
for such a heavenly dream.
We are renting the sweetest little house right now. It’s small but perfect for this season. I can hear and know where the boys are at all times. I often stand at our kitchen sink, doing dishes, tidying up the remnants of another meal time. While I get caught up, the boys run up and down our short hallway, chasing each other, laughing as they speak in their own special language. Not using their growing vocabulary but sounds of their young past instead. Sometimes the play gets out of hand, and someone cries or a picture gets knocked off the wall.
This very scenario played out a few days ago.
The boys were playing when they bumped into each other and hit the wall. When they hit the wall, the thud caused a small picture frame to jump off the nails where it was hanging on the opposite side of the wall. When it fell, that picture hit another frame sitting on our writing desk. That frame then let loose three pictures that were balanced against it, held in place by a harmonica. The pictures and the harmonica fell to the floor.
These moments play out often in my life; they cause me to pause. One little blip that connects itself to something else entirely, which then triggers a thought, and a deep seeded emotion follows.
As I stood happily doing the dishes, I was smiling to myself as I listened to the sound of my sweet, lively boys being boys. I heard the thump against the wall and then the crash of the frame. When I looked over, I could see the harmonica lying on the ground and the last of the three photos was falling to the ground, the affects of gravity causing the photographs to fall in slow motion.
I walked over and began putting the frames back up. I collected the photos in my damp hands, and paused. I looked at the pictures once again. These photos are some of my favorites. They are pictures of my sweet papa and me when I was a little girl, innocent, sweet, loving the time with her father. I set the photos back in their place. I picked up the picture that had fallen from the wall. It was a tiny, black, IKEA frame with a photo of the Giant’s Causeway tucked inside.
That’s when the ache started.
The ache is hard to fully describe. It’s an ache that’s full of longing, satisfaction, grief, and deep love. The North Coast of Ireland, especially the Giant’s Causeway, is where I cried so many tears as we grieved our failed rounds of ICSI. The North Coast of Ireland is where I came face to face with God, more than once, and walked away with my own limp, yet I knew He was with me. Memory upon memory have been made on that coast line. That small frame, with it’s shrunken version of the Giant’s Causeway also reminds me of the longing that still fills my heart for Northern Ireland. Full stop.
Back to the old photographs though, the ones where my dad was big and I was little. Where the world was much simpler and made sense. Those photos remind me of the presence my father kept in my life. That presence is now gone in the physical world, but my heart aches for him to still be here, with us, sharing himself with our little boys. I long for my boys to have moments with him, mingled with disbelief that he is really gone.
This one little moment also reminded me of the ache of satisfaction and fulfillment. My two boys, the ones I cried for, prayed for, dreamed for, and longed for with every fiber of my being are the reason I am standing, holding these precious photographs. These are the children I asked God for as I sat on that rock at Port Ballintrae, crying unending tears, feeling the waves of grief wash over me again and again like the waves crashing in front of me. These boys are my present, they represent my past, and they help me move forward into the future.
Still, it is all encapsulated in that ache. As Shauna Niequist described it in one of her books, it’s the bittersweetness of life.
Have you ever experienced this kind of full circle ache that I’m describing? Where your heart is broken, healed, and open all at the same time? If so, I would love to hear your story!
The last seven days have been interesting to say the least.
This past Friday at 10:22 a.m. my beautiful and strong grandma, Ardith Maier passed away. She was surrounded by family and went peacefully. She was the ripe old age of 98! Her mind was sharp but her body had failed her.
One of my favorite last memories of my grandma was a few years ago when my grandpa was still alive too (he passed away 5 days shy of 100!). We had completed our third transfer after 9 long years of trying, and were finally pregnant. My mom, aunts, cousins, sister-in-laws, and nieces then threw us a baby shower before we headed back to our home in Northern Ireland. The shower was at my grandparents house so my grandma could be there. My grandpa was of course there too, loving every second of us being there to celebrate this joyous occasion.
Right before we left my grandpa and grandma told us they wanted to pray for us. So I knelt in front of them while Bryan stood by my side. They laid their aged, wrinkled, and wise hands on us and prayed.
It wasn’t an eloquent prayer. It wasn’t long. It was however, powerful. It felt like a baton being passed. They had prayed constantly for us to have a family. They persistently knocked on heaven’s door for us and I am thankful they did. In that moment, we entered a holy place. A place where the veil is thin. What had been such a dark season of time for us was finally turning into a bright, blinding light. They were there to witness it and that felt huge.
So Saturday, I grieved the loss of my grandma. I grieved the loss of my sweet papa again too. It all hit me harder than expected. My body felt numb, I didn’t really want to move but just sleep. As usual my incredibly aware and loving husband took our boys and gave me space to just “be” that day. Thank you my love. Thank you for knowing when I need space and doing what is necessary to create it.
As I had the space and time, I cried at times. Then I signed copies of my book to send to some special women. Some of you who already bought the book know this, but I included the infertility struggle of other women at the end of my book. Every infertility story looks different and I wanted the women who read my book to find themselves in at least one of these stories. So I wrote my thank you’s to these women and posted their copies to them. Thank you ladies for entrusting me with your personal journey and for allowing me to share it this way with others on the same road. We are all in this together.
After feeling like I was in a bit of a funk, and going through Easter morning not feeling very present, we had the pleasure of spending the rest of the day with our adopted PNW family, the Wheelers. They love on us and our boys like family. They were also the ones who did an Easter egg hunt for Kidran and Cohen, not us. As I stood in their house, where we lived for our first four and a half months back in the states in 2016, I was overwhelmed by how thankful I am for each of them and their presence in our life. Thank you Wheeler Clan for loving and including us in such a generous, big way!
Tuesday rolled around, a day I had been anticipating. I was anxious for the day because I had my very first podcast interview about the book (which hopefully will be available mid April!). I was a mixture of excitement and nerves, wondering if I was going to totally blank on every question but hoping I would instead be able to speak straight from my heart. I think I was able to do the latter. My sweet friend Ailsa, who is ever gracious and accommodating, offered to watch my boys while I did the interview. What a gift!
I dropped the boys off at her house and we chatted over coffee for a bit. Then I drove home, lit a candle, prepared my material for the interview. I quieted my heart, had a few moments with God, and centered myself. Then I became truly present.
The interview went beautifully. We had a heartfelt discussion about infertility, the book, the ups, downs, and everything in between of this difficult journey. I LOVED IT!
I had recruited extra prayers that day and I am so thankful I have people who do pray for me. Many of those same people carried me for years as we walked in a childless exodus, trying to find our familial promise land. We indeed have landed in a sweet place now.
As I reflected on the interview, this is what I came away with.
Infertility felt so dark to me at many points. It enveloped me, to the point where at times I could not ever see a way of getting out. Now to have written The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants and be able to share my story with so many others, it feels like light breaking through. Being able to share about the book in an interview where I came away buzzing about how much I enjoyed it, again, light breaking through. Maybe the light seems brighter too because of the darkness from those years of isolation, heartbreak, sorrow, and tears cried in secret. To openly display my pain and see light cracking through every crevice as I expose my own dark journey feels like redemption.
Where are you walking in the dark right now? What part of your life is the most painful? Maybe, just maybe, in the near or far future, that pain will be what grabs the hand of someone else stumbling down a dark corridor, to help guide them towards a brighter, light-filled future. Will you share your own story of darkness and pain with the chance that it may help someone else? I really think you should.
*If you are interested in purchasing the book you can do so by heading to Amazon or if you are local to the PNW, you can DM me on Instagram, @breannachud or FB @breannajochud. Please share this book with those who may be struggling and if you read it, would you do me a favor and review it on Amazon and my FB page? Again, the podcast interview should be up mid April so have a listen and review that too! Thank you!
Some years are harder to say goodbye to than others and this was that kind of year. 2017 was unknowingly the last year I would have with my sweet Papa and that in turn made it hard to let go of. 2018 has begun and is the first year without him here. Without a text, a phone call or one of his all encompassing hugs upon arriving home to my parents house. The proof of his well lived life is everywhere but he is not. That’s a difficult realization to settle into. I’m not sure you ever fully settle.
Watching my family go through our first Christmas without him, especially my Mom was emotional. I am so thankful for our boys though. In the midst of the heaviness they brought life, light and laughter to our family. We remembered him well though. One of my brothers read the Christmas story like my Papa used to while the other one prayed the prayer that my Papa usually prays. There was not a dry eye in the house. Yet even as my brother prayed, Cohen, our sweet, social butterfly wanted to join in. So he did. He tried to repeat everything my brother prayed. This is how we say our prayers at night. Bryan or I pray and the boys repeat. It was a breath of fresh air in a room that was suffocating. Thank you Coco for your heart to join into every aspect of life all the time!
After Christmas was over sickness fell over so many of us. The end. Or at least that was kind of how it felt. I was so sick, Cohen was too, my Mom, my brother, one of my sister in laws, my niece and then Bryan and Kidran eventually got it too. But we are back in our sweet little house again. I have taken down our minimal Christmas decorations and am decluttering our tiny space. It is a spring clean in January!
I still have yet to write down my New Years Resolutions and share it with some of my Home Team girls from Northern Ireland. I still have yet to finish my book. I still have a few drawers to clean out. Yet I feel a desire to pursue wholeness this year. How? I have no idea. I think it will start by listening to my body, soul and emotions. When I feel tired, take a nap. When I feel lethargic, do a workout. When I feel drained, call a life-giving friend to go to the Monks with me. When I don’t feel good enough, remind myself that I am all I need to be in this season. Full stop.
I also have a list of chapters I want to close this year. In order to embrace what the future has for me, I need to walk out of this room and shut the door. I hope to shut it with a gentle, thankful pause. Then I will walk down the dark hallway toward the light I see creeping in. I will walk out of the house into a wide, open space. My lungs will fill with fresh air, like a first breath of a baby entering the world. A field lays stretching out before me and it’s inviting me into new adventures this year. Ones that will stretch me, ones that will break and mend me, ones that will give me eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart that is full. That is what I speak out for my life this year. And for yours too. This is our year. I am taking it with gentle force and so should you. Oh, and I am gonna dance a whole lot more this year too!
PS Lovely, fun pics showing a bit of our happenings over the holiday and this season of life! Enjoy!