“Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein” (Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner p.190).
Friends, I am about to open a vein.
Today, the 1st of September, 2018, my twin sons turned four.
The day was rather unspectacular if I’m being honest. We are having a proper celebration for them in “two more big sleeps.” So there was no big party or presents today. It was like any other day, except it wasn’t.
On this day, four years ago, my swollen belly waddled into Craigavon Area Hospital. A few hours later — our boys were in our arms. This act of birth that happened in mere seconds, had taken nine painful years of infertility to get to.
So today could have felt and seemed normal, except that it wasn’t.
I took the boys to Top Pot donut shop in Bellevue for a birthday breakfast. To everyone in that place I was a normal mom, sitting happily with her twin sons eating donuts. Except I wasn’t.
I was the mom who was sitting, staring, at two walking, talking, laughing miracles. I was looking at my nine years of tears cried, longing to be a mother. I was looking at what seemed like a crazy promise fulfilled. I was looking at my husbands’ and my face staring back at me, seeing both of our families in the faces of our sons. I sat looking at the most tangible proof I have of a God who hears me, sees me, and answers the deepest longings of my soul.
I LOVE being Kidran’s mom and Cohen’s mom. I love the connection that we have fostered these past four years. I love that they give me their best and throw their worst at me too. I love all the crazy ways they make me laugh and at the same time make me want to pull my hair out. I love that they are big lovers, who lavish me with hugs and cuddles. I love, love, love being their mom. My heart is beyond full as I live in this reality of my dream.
Now though, the vein is beginning to open.
After nine years of infertility, we gave birth to our handsome and healthy twin sons, Kidran J Caleb and Cohen V Ryan. We were one of the “lucky” couples who finally became pregnant. What many of you may not know is that our final round of ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) was so successful that we now have eleven remaining embryos.
We don’t know what our future holds. What I do know is I cannot have potentially eleven or more children. That fact slaps me across the face sometimes. I hate that I do not have the capacity or means to give birth to all these miraculous, potential lives. I hate that I feel stretched to the max being a mother to two incredible, energetic sons. I hate that after years of struggling to finally have our family, we are now wrestling with this additional piece of the heartbreaking puzzle of infertility treatment.
Of course I can see that this is where so many others would long to be. I am not stupid or blind. I see others who cannot produce even one viable embryo and here we are sitting with eleven. I also know that the only option for us and these precious embryos is not something I’m sure I will ever have peace about.
Early on in our treatment we made the decision that if we were fortunate enough to have any embryos left that we could not care for, we would adopt them out. We would not discard them, leave them to science, or not pay the storage so that the holding clinic would end up making a decision regarding their fate. (Yes, people are starting to do this more often because they can’t make a decision either.) We decided that they were lives and we would give them the best chance of a life we could, even if that home was not our own.
This is the part of infertility that I was not prepared for or I guess didn’t anticipate. I have cried so many additional tears about this. I have questioned the capability of the family/lies who may adopt our baby embryos. What if they have a baby like Cohen? Will they put him on meds because he seems to have “too much” energy? Will they see the subtle change in their baby’s smile that is similar to Kidran when he gets excited about something he really loves? Will they fill their house with laughter, patience, creativity? Or will it be strict, rigid, full of hardline rules? The questions are endless, and so is the grief.
When I think of not having these babies, it strikes me as one of the biggest points of grief I will ever experience in my life.
Yet, I had another thought.
Maybe, just maybe, these sweet, unborn lives will be placed with people who have exactly what my babies need because I think at the end of the day I will always feel like they are mine. Maybe we will help answer years of prayers for someone else. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will get to meet them.
I have agonized over this very scenario time and time again. Even as I write these words, my eyes are full, tears waiting to be released, to let the next wave of grief hit me. This choice and choosing it feels impossible. My stomach hurts thinking about it. Years of trying, waiting to now be here.
I know I can’t answer this question right now. Instead, I can work on more of the party favors for the boys Star Wars themed birthday party in two days! They recently had a little family party in Idaho that only wetted their appetite for birthday parties and presents. They are now truly excited for this birthday and that excitement is spreading. I even found Star Wars shirts for Bryan and me to wear! Roll on Monday evening! All things Star Wars, light sabers, and cupcakes! May the force be with you!
After living in Northern Ireland for twelve years, I knew how rare a string of beautiful, sunny days were. This was even more pronounced on the third day of our trip. We woke to glorious sunshine again and pinched ourselves! Could we really be experiencing the first heatwave of early summer? Yes!
While Kelly and Molly put on their walking clothes and took off up the Bush road towards town, a journey I had made so many times before and after having our boys, I got ready for a few coffee catch ups with friends. The first on my list was my sweet, justice loving, bold, and incredibly talented chef of a friend Michelle. She not only is my friend but was also my pastor for many years while we lived in Northern Ireland. Michelle and I could “talk for Ireland” as they say. Whenever we get together it literally feels like a speed chatting session. We rarely breathe, we laugh a great deal, and we go deep fast. I am thankful beyond words for her friendship and sister-like presence in my life over the years. She stood by me as I hit rock bottom within my faith paradigm while we struggled through our infertility journey and allowed me to be where I was. We have had some very honest moments in our friendship but I believe that is how true friendship is forged, or any real relationship for that matter. We didn’t have enough time together but we never do. I am thankful all the same!
Next up was a meeting with my very first adopted teen, Laura. Laura has been a part of our family since the early days. One of the first teens Bryan walked alongside of, she was in my small group for years, she accompanied us on our move back to the States a few years ago to help with the boys, and most recently has become a mummy herself to wee Luke. Laura is a stunning woman. She has a determination and fierce strength that is much older than her years. It was such an honor to see her on this trip home and finally be able to cuddle and love on her little boy. He is so happy and content, thanks to the constant love and security his momma brings him. In a way, Laura was one of the first people to open up the mothering heart inside of me and I’m so thankful for that. She also got lots of practice for her own baby by minding ours!
Once the catch ups were done, we showered, packed a small bag each and hopped into our sweet, loaned car.
The North Coast was calling and we couldn’t wait to answer!
The drive to the coast was filled with chat, laughter, and music. I love driving most days anyway but driving in Northern Ireland has always been more fun to me! The winding roads, the rolling hills, green upon green everywhere you look. Fields dotted by old stone churches, sheep, and hedges made to divide the farmland. It never, ever, gets old. My eyes always want more.
Yet, I also can remember making the drive when my heart had been shattered from failed rounds of ICSI. I remember looking out the window, tears streaming down my face, heart caving in. I wasn’t taking in the surroundings those days. I was merely trying to breathe in and out. There was a strange sense of relief though when we would reach a certain point in the drive where I felt a release. The times on the coast of grieving were defining periods for me and I will never forget them or what they did for my soul.
I was so thankful to be making the trip this time up to our friends, the Millen’s, for such a happy occasion as this. You see, the Millen’s prayed, and prayed, and prayed for us, for me, and for our boys to come into being. They invested in such deep ways. They walked through the valley with us and held us up as we cried. They are a beautiful family unit and it is such a joy to have them in our lives. Knowing that I was going to their new home, in the countryside, that they had built themselves, and was a mere shell when we left, felt somehow significant. They had a sweet, little home closer to downtown Coleraine, but decided to build a bigger family home on some family farmland. Now there other home was amazing! Full of memories, love, and lots of TLC. There was nothing wrong with that house outside of their need for more space for their growing girls. In a way this felt similar to our move back to the states. There was nothing wrong with our lives, but in a way we were growing and needed different space. Although we didn’t think it meant leaving Northern Ireland. So seeing them in their new home was profound. Sometimes we change the decor of our lives, other times we change the actual, physical location. Some changes are harder than others to make. In the end, their move and change was worth it and I believe ours has been too. We are all building new foundations, mapping out new spaces, and it’s good.
We arrived to their house around 3:30 and immediately ate them out of fresh fruit as we had basically been on a buns (sweet treats) and bread diet since we landed! Lol!! We sat down for our first cuppa in their new home and I fell in love all over again with them! Their whole family has such a deep rooted place in our hearts and it shows. Lee once again whipped up an amazing CURRY! Yes! One of my favorite meals she cooks, among many I can assure you. Then we changed our clothes and headed to Hope & Gloria for our event that night. If you have time, go and check it out for yourself! I love the heart behind this venue and everything it is about.
I want to tell you a secret. If I’m honest, I had the most hope for this event to be our biggest. In the end, it turned out to be our smallest; but you know what? It was perfect as it was. There was a small group of us that evening. We sat around a table. We chatted like friends chat. We asked questions, we spoke encouraging words to each other. We thanked one another for being honest, vulnerable, for turning up. I know things were happening in that small meeting. Besides, the quantity should never be the focus, the quality should be. That night, the quality was extremely high. I can see ripples coming out of that evening and I was pleased. I was also thankful for the space, for the opportunity to share, and the way in which it was received. I know that Causeway Coast Vineyard will take it and run with it, serving others who are similarly struggling and will do so with love and compassion.
To end the evening, we all sat up drinking prosecco, eating crisps (chips), and chatting late into the night. I was the first to fall asleep on the couch which made my heart happy. You know you are truly at home somewhere if you fall asleep on their couch. As I made my way downstairs, to the new lower level, the room was pitch black, my head hit the pillow, my mouth turned up into a smile, and I was out.
My pipe dream was really happening!
A few days ago I was sitting in a dentist chair having work done on my teeth. As I sat there, a tv screen was playing the news in front of me, the radio was on in the background, the dentist and hygienist were chatting, and then they began drilling.
I felt like my head was going to explode with all the noise, distractions, and bombardment of the senses in one tiny little room! So I closed my eyes, tuned out the tv and radio, started taking deep breaths and focused on the real people in the room and the conversation they were having about why they never wanted to go to India. I could barely keep from interjecting my love of this special country and it’s beautiful people, but the drill in my mouth did it for me.
People often ask if I “miss Northern Ireland?” I say “yes”. Then they ask “why?”
Quite plainly, it’s a simpler place to live and I feel at home there, like my lungs can fill up fully when I breathe. There is less of everything in a good way. Less people, less traffic, less choice, stores are open fewer hours, and my list could go on. It feels like there’s more space, more quiet, more room to breathe. More time to live, to connect with people, to explore. Maybe that’s why it felt easier to write The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants there.
One place where I feel this is at our good friends Pete and Julie’s house (not to mention countless others who always invited us in for a cuppa or tea, creating space for us at their table and in their lives). Peter and Julie are visionaries and pioneers. They see the future and they bring it into being. I love this quality about them. We have had so many life changing conversations with them over the years, and I look forward to that continuing. They have been willing to be uncomfortable to pursue change that will in the long run create space for them to dream, live freely, and help others do the same. When you walk into their house you are not overwhelmed by noise, music, or stimulus. It’s a warm home, quiet, lived in, and usually calm. Neither Pete nor Julie are loud people but if you know them well, they both have a wicked sense of humor. They create incredibly delicious and healthy food, will allow you to fall asleep on their couch, and can go deep if you need/want to.
They are like family to us and have been for years.
I am so beyond thankful that on my recent visit back for the book tour we were able to stay at their house for our few Dungannon days. They live a spacious life and help others too as well. While staying at their house we had the privilege of taking in a mindfulness training session with Pete that is still bringing about personal transformation in me and my friends since arriving back home. Their friendship and what they teach us is something that we will always treasure. It’s true and beautiful.
Now going back to the noise of that dentist chair.
I have been seeking out ways of living a more quiet, peaceful life. In many ways it felt easier to do this in Northern Ireland. Yet I am determined to create this way of living here, now. Some of this means doing less, seeing fewer people, not turning music on in the car, carefully choosing the podcasts I listen to, and overall taking mini breaks from social media.
I listened to a Rob Bell podcast recently where he talked about “you listening to you”. So much of what he said rang true to where I currently find myself. I am trying to silence the voices so that I can find out what my own voice sounds like as well as the voice of God. I find both our voices usually whisper an invitation, they don’t come cranking out at top volume like the latest pop single on the radio. In order for me to hear these two very key voices, I need silence.
One thing that has been helping tremendously is my new favorite podcast. Thank you Emily P. Freeman for your wonderful work at The Next Right Thing. Your work is so valuable for those of us with decision fatigue, who are longing for space and room to live, move, and breath in the being God created us to be. As well as this shorter than short podcast (which makes it more poignant) I am writing more in my journal, lighting a candle often in the mornings, and simply trying to take deeper breaths. These are things that I did regularly in Ireland, but also felt easier to do there. However, I want to learn to cultivate these and other practices in this new space and time we live in. Busy with work schedules, fun and demanding children, and daily living, these things will be what creates that margin in my day to day that is so vital.
Do you need some space? Do you need some silence? If so, give it to yourself. You will find yourself in those moments and let’s be honest, that’s probably what you are looking for anyway.
Dreams are beautiful. They can lure you forward, towards a destination or a trip. They can be fuel to your fire to pursue something that you’ve envisioned but didn’t think was possible. They can also be the closing of a full circle.
My recent book tour back to our other home, Northern Ireland, was all of these things. Since arriving home, I have been trying to recount the adventure in my journal. I am still savoring, soaking, and processing all that happened in this brief whimsical window of time.
Over the next few weeks or maybe even longer, I will try to unpack my mental and emotional suitcase and share it with you, my lovely readers. As I unpack the journey, I invite you to come along. I want to help you feel the warmth of this place I love. To sense the spirit of exploring both inward and outward that took place not only for me but for my two incredible friends who joined me.
So come, reflect with me, walk down the winding lanes with me, enter the chapels and coffee shops.
Live this precious pilgrimage with me.
For now, I am happy and thankful to be home. Happy to be reunited with my Hot Hubby Chud, Kiki Bear, and Coco Bean. They survived just fine without me by the way, that’s the beauty of a marriage partnership!
Now back to the other parts of my dreamy life, like laundry and cooking. Which I am also utterly thankful for because it means I have a husband I love and sons that I longed to care for and nurture. I am so very rich and it’s not lost on me. Maybe you need to be reminded of that today too as you stare at your mountain of clean clothes or think of tidying up the house one, more, time.
I have wonderful friends! Today one of them sent me a message to tell me my carseats expired but Target can help. Target is having an event this week. I can drop off our old carseats, get 20% off coupons for new ones, and those new ones happen to be on sale already. Thank you very much Target!
You can bet your bottom dollar I went straight to Target this morning. I should mention that it did take us, mainly me, an hour and a half to actually get out the door. It was one of those mornings where I felt like my head wouldn’t stop spinning. Wash that pottery mug, start the dishwasher, Cohen has to pee, Kidran has to poop, wait Cohen has to poop now, and Kidran has to poop again. It felt a little slow motion.
Eventually we were dressed and headed out the door. Once in the car, the boys asked me if Target was a toy store. This question is hard for me to answer. I know I am being asked because they think thrift stores are toy stores and they want to know if Target is a thrift store. Target technically has toys, although I am not sure they would like me to bring the boys to their store and have them play with all their nicely packaged toys. I have always loved thrifting and I take the boys along now. They get to play with the toys and I don’t have to take them home. Winning! I tried my best to explain that there are toys at Target but it’s not a thrift store. I’m sure they understood.
Then I began telling the boys that they were getting new carseats. After I told them, I snapped these pics at a stoplight. While I looked back over my shoulder at my two growing sons, a familiar lump formed in my throat. Then tears filled my eyes, and I turned back around.
Something about these changes for my boys gets me every time. It marks the passage of time. It marks the end of a season. It almost feels like closing a chapter that you have loved so very much, and didn’t really know when it would end. My little boys are growing up. Bryan tells me I rush things sometimes, which is true. It’s hard not to when I can see them developing so quickly before my eyes. I can see the subtle changes. I can hear the words being pronounced clearer. I can feel them needing me less and asserting themselves more.
Cohen is continuing to extend his reach to new people everyday. He makes friends wherever he goes and struts his stuff with swag that I didn’t know was possible in such a little body. Kidran is running towards his own passions. These happen to include Star Wars, anything shiny/sparkly, and knowing exactly how to push Cohen’s buttons. They are real people. Duh. Yet isn’t it still hard to believe sometimes when those little people are your babies?
All of these changes and developments are positive. They are the things I am aiming for as a parent. I am (we are) trying to raise our children in a way that helps them feel confident to leave our house and engage with the world we live in. Independence, confidence, life skills, and excitement for living are all things that are growing. I hope that never changes. It doesn’t however mean that as a parent you aren’t sad when these days come, as eventually they will.
These carseats mark some of these transitions. These were the first carseats they rode in as 8 month old babes when we came back to visit the PNW and Bryan was inducted into the Northwest University Hall of Fame. What felt like a few short months later, we landed back in America, this time we had moved. We left behind a life we loved to return to what now felt like a foreign country in many ways. Thankfully we had a soft landing being surrounded by friends and family close by. The boys rode in these carseats from the airport that day too. Cohen’s was the taupe carseat while Kidran’s quickly became the navy one. These seats took the boys to and from Idaho safely through this last year while my Papa was sick and eventually passed. They have been thrown up in, pooped in, slept in, laughed in, cried in, all of the things.
The other day I had the chance to chat with my brother about parenting. We discussed the ease of parenting littles compared to adult children when the stakes are much higher. I may be physically exhausted a lot of the time right now. However, this stage is so so simple. I don’t have to help the boys think about college, jobs, girlfriends, and the list could go on. The boys live with us, eat with us, play with us. We are their world. Soon though, their world will grow and expand. They will begin stepping away from us, a slightly terrifying thought! So for now, I will grieve the end of one season and celebrate the beginning of a new one! For example, the boys are pretty well potty trained!
I would love to know if any of you find the changing seasons of your children’s lives difficult to adjust to? What has helped you move forward each time? Also, did anyone else head to Target for the carseat swap? It was awesome! Except for the small fact that I then had to assemble and swap out the old seats for the new in the Target parking lot! Lol!!
*If anyone is interested in buying my book The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants it is available on Amazon. You can also stay updated on the upcoming book tour in Northern Ireland through my Facebook page @breannajochud or on Instagram @breannachud. If you know anyone who is struggling with infertility I would encourage you to buy this book for them as support or buy it for yourself to help you understand more of what it’s like.
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!
I am so honored and thrilled to be announcing my Northern Ireland book tour this coming May! I will be visiting four locations: Armagh, Lurgan, Coleraine, and Dungannon. Each event is set up on my Facebook page @breannajochud. Find the events there and let the event holder know you will be attending.
Northern Ireland is where so much of my story played out. It’s where I grew up in many ways, into a mature woman. It’s where my desire to start our family began, it’s where we did much of our treatment for infertility, and it is where we eventually welcomed into this precious world our sons, Kidran and Cohen.
The island holds my heart in every way. The people, the land, the culture, all of it makes me feel very much like myself and I am so thankful to be returning for this trip. I will not be going alone. Two of my oldest and dearest friends will be joining me for this journey. We are anticipating some incredible moments both personally and for those we come in contact with on the trip.
If you live in or near any of these locations and are struggling with infertility, please come! You do not have to walk this road alone. You can also follow the progress of the trip as it gets closer on Instagram @breannachud and Facebook @breannajochud. The book is available on Amazon but does take a few weeks to arrive right now. Would you also do me a favor? If you have read the book, would you please leave a review on Amazon and on my Facebook page? It is great for others to know how you are finding the book. Thank you again everyone for your support and encouragement! For my Northern Irish family, I cannot wait to see each and every one of you!