Most days I walk around my life content to be what people see. Then there are days when I wonder why the world cannot see the markings of the people, places, and experiences that I wear. Then I remember, it is because these treasured moments in my life have been captured in an invisible tattoo.
It took 12 years to create. It is full of details and embellishments. Both shadow and light is captured within it’s lines. This tattoo could very well be a map of the whole of Ireland, etched with invisible ink across the length and width of my back. It depicts stories of growth, transformation, heartache, love, satisfaction, longing, adventure, and thin places. I carry this imprint wherever I go.
Recently I went back to visit my other home. At times it felt like the lines were searing hot, like I was being branded anew, stingy with the memory of the life we lived on the island. Moments and sites revisited, new places explored, history appreciated while writing new chapters in this never-ending book.
The trip was profound on many levels. I left the States content with my lot in life. I went with an open heart, open hands, and an open mind. I noticed that I walk a bit differently on Irish soil. A very true part of me comes alive in this magical land. I hear I am not the only one to experience this effect.
There are now new friends that have been made from this trip. Barry, Sebastian, Meredith, David, and Elizabeth to name a few. Celtic Dawn Expeditions, the embryonic adventure of Dave and Leanne has officially begun. Along with the new friendships, I cradled moments with the old faces of a time passed. Faces that reflect to me who I became while living on the island. There was a deep level of knowing that took place in each of these encounters and my heart swells when I think of them. The list of people who shaped me is too long to spell out and I don’t want to forget anyone, but I hope you each know who you are, how loved you are by me, and how much you impacted my life and who I have become.
Months later I am still revisiting moments of this special trip. There is so much more I could say but I’m not sure how. What I can say is this, each of us wears invisible tattoos. We all have life experiences that are unseen to those around us. As we develop and grow, maybe we are meant to begin tracing the lines with our own ink, bringing color and life to the parts that display our invisible, beautiful history to the world. I trace mine with words, with watercolors, with baking, and with nature. Each line I trace is a step towards unveiling my full self to a world that if I’m honest, may not be ready to receive this offering. Still I will reveal myself, the truest parts of me, over time. This space here, where I write, is one of the main places I do that. So thanks for reading and thank you for accepting.
For those of you who want a song to accompany this post, you are lucky. Here it is:
(Side note: One of the creative outlets that grew from my recent trip back was a melding of these years into me beginning my quarterly newsletter: Slow Small Sustainable. If you would like to journey with me as I share more on this, please send me your email address either through the blog, on Instagram @breannachud, or on FB: breannajochud.)
“Just because the move was sloppy doesn’t mean the time was wrong.” —Emily P. Freeman.
As I listened to her gentle voice deliver these words, my soul paused. The phrase and it’s intent trickled slowly down from my attentive ears to the well of my heart that had been unknowingly waiting for this generous gift of insight.
We have no way of knowing what our artistic contributions to the world will do and I guarantee Emily did not know that she had been walking me through a very complex season of my life. I have been listening to The Next Right Thing Podcast for awhile. It’s been extremely helpful for my energizer bunny brain that often needs to slow down and just do my next right thing in love. It has also been helping me quiet my head to be able to hear my heart.
Now I hope you will indulge me just a bit and come down the rabbit trail of thought that I’m about to take you on. Let’s begin shall we?
For nine years my husband and I tried to have a family. In our last ditch attempt at having children that bore our physical DNA we miraculously got pregnant. Fast forward to September 1st, 2014 when we welcomed the safe arrival of our two incredible sons, Kidran J. Caleb and Cohen V. Ryan. We had been so fortunate that our treatment had been successful, so successful in fact we had 11 remaining embryos on ice.
Around the time the boys turned one my thoughts would often turn to those little embryos. Were we ready to have another child or at least try? No, the timing wasn’t right. We were heading back for a stint in the States for six months and that was enough upheaval for now. Then the boys turned two and by that time we had moved back to the States completely. It was a big adjustment being back and only a few short months into our resettling my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t a good time to think of having another baby.
Then October 2017 arrived and my sweet Papa turned 80 on the 1st. On the 2nd, the day after his birthday, he breathed his last breath and went to be with Jesus. Two weeks prior to that Bryan’s mom was diagnosed with Lymphoma. All of the emotions compiled together and my heart felt crushed under the weight of it more times than I can recount.
Over the years Bryan and I had discussed these sweet potential lives many times. I had spent many nights tossing and turning thinking of the impossibility of what to do with them. I remember so clearly laying in my old bed at my parents house, tears streaming down my cheeks one night in the early hours of the morning. All I could think about were these precious embryos that were under our safe keeping. We were so happy and content with our family yet God had given us these embryos so were we meant to have them all or at least try? We were content yet also felt maxed out at times with the pace of life and keeping up with the energy of our active sons.
Fast forward to the Autumn of 2018. Our sons were four and our embryos were still frozen. In the lead up to that Autumn, I had grown accustomed to listening to The Next Right Thing podcast and had found it to be a helpful resource on so many levels. Many of the episodes felt timely, like they were directly for my season and stage of life. I know I’m not the only one who felt that way, as a few of my close friends also listen regularly and experienced the same kind of connection to the topics.
Somewhere along the way Emily had talked about naming things properly and knowing what you want and in October these concepts culminated in me deciding that I wanted us to try for a third baby. At the beginning of November I packed our boys up and we drove to Idaho to move in with my mom while Bryan stayed behind in Washington to work. We moved in and I began my appointments at our clinic. There are many details that I won’t include here but let me tell you, it felt like all the signs were pointing to this being the right thing at the right time. I knew better than to feel sure but I did feel hopeful.
November came and went and we missed our window for transferring an embryo by about a day or two due to Thanksgiving day closures at the clinic. So we began it all over again. The blood draws, the ultrasounds, to see if everything was lining up for a December transfer. By some chance of a miracle it all lined up. My body was doing what it needed to do naturally, Bryan was going to be able to arrive in time to be with me for the transfer, and my mom could watch the boys during the appointment. I had listened to Episode 63 and believed that we were doing just what the title said, making room. Episode 64? Well it was all about acknowledging your soul and babies. Again, we knew this would not be easy to start over and begin with a newborn but we also knew some things weren’t meant for us to understand fully.
The transfer took place a few days before Christmas so then we had to wait ten days. The rollercoaster of emotions began. Yet this time the boys were a welcome distraction and also a great reminder of how blessed we already were to be parents and have a family. We spent the remaining part of the Christmas holiday with my family, went to the mountains, had bloods taken that indicated numbers lower than expected, so after New Year’s, we made the decision to head back to Washington.
The night we arrived home, I began to bleed and I knew I was miscarrying. In all of our years of struggling we had never experienced a miscarriage and I was so thankful we hadn’t. Now, to add insult to injury, we had added this additional loss. Episode 65 Emily talked about taking off your crown and let me tell you, I knew I was not in charge at this point. No matter how much I felt it was the right thing to do, it was not in my control.
Later in January Emily shared her own sorrow at losing a very special family member. As she talked and told sweet stories, I washed dishes with tears in my eyes. She was challenging us, her faithful listeners, not to let the ending define the whole story. As hard as this was to hear, I knew she was right. This miscarriage was only part of the story, not the whole story. It was the ending of a chapter, not the end of the book.
With that in mind I reminded myself of the sweet moments when we first found out we had fertilized embryos, then when we found out we were pregnant, and then hearing two heartbeats, knowing both embryos had taken. There was so much joy in our story. I didn’t want to let this present sorrow steal the past or future joy to come.
As I continued to process the loss, questioning my own heart and motives, if I had heard God correctly, I listened to Episode 67: Wait Now Go. Once again, Emily had read my mail. Everything about trying for this third baby had felt fast, sloppy, even outrageous, and outlandish at points. Yet hearing the words that “just because the move was sloppy didn’t mean it was wrong” felt like a light bulb moment. You see, I have an overactive imagination to put it mildly. My mind would have tortured me with what if’s had we not tried for a third baby. I would have always wondered and I believe always regretted not at least trying. The action was what I had to live with, the outcome is what we had trusted God with. We cannot see the future nor do we need to. I did know though that I needed to trust God with the rest of our family while doing what I could do to bring peace to my mind.
After a few months my heart and mind started to quiet down again. Emily launched her lovely book that came from the podcast and she interviewed her sister as a result. In that interview something struck me. Myquillyn shared one of her current mantras: Do what you know. Finish what you started. Use what you have. As I chewed on these three thoughts I knew it was time. Time to make a decision about our remaining embryos and what we were going to do with them.
I can say it no other way than God intervened and what had felt so heavy and hard, like a huge bridge to cross, God plucked me up and dropped me on the other side. I had the privilege of helping out at a women’s conference where I met a woman who runs an embryo adoption agency. Within a few weeks we had the paperwork filled out and our application was accepted.
Now we are in the matching phase of the adoption. We are waiting once again to see what will happen with the remaining nine miracle embryos. As Emily talks about in Episode 82, we are finding the beginning in the ending. We have come to terms with our family being complete. It is the end to a very specific season of our lives, yet it is the beginning for some other fortunate couple who like us has been waiting, longing, and trying for so long to start their own family.
You may read through all this and think that I am a bit extreme or a little crazy and you would be right. I, however, see the grace of God to bring me a helping hand during a season of life when I needed it so much. Having found The Next Right Thing has been like finding a life counselor who understands how I think and function. It’s been a grace gift that I have received with open hands and a welcoming heart. Not only has it brought me encouragement in the form of wisdom, counsel, and revelation; it has also challenged me to keep sharing my own writing. To tell my story with truth and integrity even when it feels hard, or like I am exposing my raw heart. Sometimes we have to take the bandages off of our wounds to let the air and light in that bring healing. This means that those around us can see the pain we have been through and also watch as we allow ourselves to heal fully.
To end, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to Emily P. Freeman. Your work is valuable, your perspective needed, and just plain beautiful.
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.
“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!
As a kid, summer time felt slow, warm, sleepy, and fun. As a parent, summer feels fast, hot, sleep deprived, and adventure packed. Anyone else feel stretched over the summer months to cram every, last, second with activity, friends, and more calorific treats than usual? Good, I’m glad I’m not alone!
Due to the quickened pace of summer, longer days, later bedtimes, snack meals instead of sit-down dinner, and fewer naps for the boys and me, I have not been writing much. I enjoy and eventually soak up all that summer has to offer. If I’m honest though, I miss routine at times. I miss downtime, I miss the boys napping so I can take time to process our sweet and simple life. This has become a way for me to be more present here and now. I become more thankful for all that my life holds when I stop and take time to ponder it.
As I watch my boys grow daily I can’t help but recall each of their stages. I have loved every stage so far. By loved I mean, each stage seems better than the one before, and I have found so much joy in them. That doesn’t mean I have been 100% joyful all the time. Come on people, I am no saint. My boys whine, kick, and hit each other, I shout at them to stop (sometimes even in public!), and meal times are still painfully long and a test of my endurance and will.
The days have been flying by and I realized that I am still unpacking the book tour to Northern Ireland. I am a slow processor. So for those of you who have kept up with my blog, bear with me as I go backwards to move forwards.
I have already written a bit about our first day and some of the wonderful family members we have in NI. So I am ready to move on to Day 2! Which is so funny that I am only on Day 2 of a 5 day stay on the island.
Day 2 was packed, but with all the good stuff! We started our morning off with a mindfulness session led by Pete. This was so timely for each Kelly, Molly, and me. We all found so much value in slowing our step, to take time to pause, to think. We even carried a bit of the practice with us during the trip which I will share later.
After quieting ourselves, Julie drove us to one of the newer coffee shops in The Moy. (Side note: If you live locally you would never say “Moy”, only “The Moy”.) Brew coffee shop is run by two lovely friends of ours. They create a sense of community that always draws people in and do everything in excellence. They have incredible business heads, great senses of humor, and are always up for a good chat! If you are in the area, definitely go, you will not regret it!
Once we were fed and watered, we loaded into the car and headed up the M1 to the Big Smoke, Belfast. Ahh Belfast, I have such romantic, nostalgic feelings about you. We had date evenings in Belfast. Birthday hotel stays, always the Christmas market + annual shopping trips, concerts, and much more. Belfast is culturally and historically rich. It was often our destination for celebrating life too. We spent many anniversaries there, writing in our journals, reflecting on the past year. Recently Bryan and I were chatting about sitting in the Europa hotel, listening to classical music being played on the piano, with the World Cup on in the background. While this was happening we sat and cried, reading our journals together. We were pregnant. Finally, after so many years, so many journal entries of not being pregnant. Here we were, so close to the boys arrival, celebrating our life together, our ups and downs, hurts and heartaches, and feeling so beyond seen by God. Neither of us will ever forget that anniversary.
What I loved about being back in Belfast was that it still held the same feelings. I still love the Big Smoke. I loved that I got to show my friends around to some of our favorite sites. We hit up Established Coffee which was new to me but had been on my list to visit before we left. We went to Victoria Square, City Hall, Cathedral Quarter, Avoca, eventually landing at Made in Belfast near the City Hall. I have always loved it! We would go any chance we got and had many dinners with friends there too over the years. The food and drinks are always incredible and they source as much as they can locally which I love!
After having an early dinner (or tea for my NI friends), we headed back down the motorway to Lurgan. That evening I shared at Emmanuel Church and it was a very intimate evening. I had no idea how many people would be willing to come and identify with infertility in such an open way. A small crowd came, including two supportive husbands. I thought it was brave and beautiful for these men to stand alongside their wives that evening, showing the solidarity of their shared experience of infertility. What was also amazing was that my contact for the event just happened to be a woman who had stayed at our house in Dungannon ten years earlier. We hadn’t seen each other for years but we had a depth due to our shared past. This happens so often in Ireland. It’s one of the most enchanting things about living in such a small place.
Two of my NI sisters also came to support me as they had done over the years simply by being one of the first families to accept us. One of the sweetest surprises was having my first mid-wife turn up to the evening. When I saw her I got quite emotional. So many people played big and small roles in our journey through infertility. Having these face to face moments with so many of them to say “thank you”, to hug them tightly, and to look them in the eyes years later was soul enriching.
Again, I am thankful for the opportunity of sharing with the people that night. After each event you could almost feel the atmosphere open up and people would share more. As our good friend Brene′ Brown says, “Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.” Or at least I think it was her! Anyway, it’s good practice in life.
So where can you breed vulnerability in your own life? I am not talking about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. I am talking about acknowledging that maybe you feel like you don’t fit somewhere. Do you feel inadequate? Share that. I guarantee someone else will say “me too!”
Have you ever moved far away from your home and family? Did you wonder if you would make friends? Were you overwhelmed with a sense of panic, realizing you had no clear idea of what you were actually going to do?
Welcome to our move to Northern Ireland! In 2004 we felt strongly that we were meant to move to Northern Ireland. With a home church stateside encouraging us and supportive family and friends, we quit our jobs, sold our cars, and packed away our belongings.
We landed in Belfast with one real contact and a few loose connections. From our first home to the church plant we were invited to that first week, it was evident we were leaning into the mysterious ways of our very BIG God.
Some of the first people we met were Garry and Lynne. They welcomed us into their home, guest room, and kitchen immediately. Our friendship was forged over multiple nights playing cards, laughing till our bellies hurt, eating fajitas, and drinking Whittard orange hot chocolate. If you ever have the chance, request Garry to make it, he adds extra mallows!
Those days marked a carefree season for all of us. No children, no big commitments, no real time constraints. Simply time to invest in deep, meaningful friendship. I thank God for those days so often. The older I get, the more I realize how rare those seasons are in life.
You see, these friends welcomed us not only into their home but into their extended families. For years we spent Christmas day with Garry’s family or Lynne’s. We were treated like a son and daughter, and in fact we still feel that. The family ties are still strong.
So much has changed since those times. Garry and Lynne started their family earlier than us. They have three beautiful children who carry all the good of their parents and then some. We have our beautiful boys. Lynne and I both have lost our fathers. They church planted in a new town. We moved back to the states. Still the friendship remains. Solid, sturdy, like a well weathered rock that refuses to move. Those early days set a strong foundation that cannot be shaken.
It seemed fitting that Lynne was the one who collected us from the airport and that our first event of the book tour was held at their family home. I can’t recall just how many times Garry or Lynne collected us or dropped us off at the airport. It was the most natural way to be greeted! Thank you Lynne!
That first evening was sweet, small, and intimate. I knew some faces and met some new ones. As I looked around and shared, there was such an openness from the women present. The kindness in their eyes, the understanding nods as I shared some of the difficult parts of our infertility journey, the smiles as I shared about our miracle boys that eventually came through ICSI. It was all so sweet.
Many times that day and evening my eyes welled up with tears. Being back in Garry and Lynne’s house, sharing our story and my book, it was so surreal. It was like a tidal wave that had been building for years. For so long the water had been pulling me back, back, and back. I tumbled around, forced by the current underwater, at points feeling like I would never catch my breath.
Then, finally, I caught the wave.
All those years struggling, crying with Garry and Lynne. Having them cry with and for us. Finally getting pregnant, seeing them at the hospital holding our two miracles. Seeing their kids play with our kids. Then coming back to our other home, Northern Ireland. Coming back to all of our other family, all those women and men who invited us into theirs over the years, adopted us like their own. It felt like I finally got my feet on the board and could ride the wave. I know more life will happen. The wave will disappear and I will once again swim out to sea to battle the water. But now I know I can weather the waves and ride them too.
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!
Over the last five years, I have started using a Lent devotional from Biola University. This practice has been so helpful for me. I haven’t always been faithful to do it everyday, but even still, I find it helpful to create a type of rhythm. I enter into the waiting of Lent with purpose and direction, which in turn has led to deeper meaning for me personally.
This beautiful poem from today’s excerpt felt very close to my heart. Much of what was discussed was the way Mary pondered the events of Jesus’ life in her heart, as his mother:
Poetry: A Child in Starlight
By Elmer Diktonius
[Translated by Martin S. Allwood]
There is a child,
A new-born child—
A rosy, new-born child.
The child whimpers—
All children do.
And the mother takes the child to her breast.
Then it is quiet.
So is every child.
The roof is not over tight—
Not all roofs are.
And the star puts
It’s silver muzzle through the chink,
And steals up to the little one’s head.
Stars like children.
And the mother looks up at the star
All mothers understand.
And presses her frightened baby
To her breast—
But the child sucks quietly in starlight:
All children suck in starlight.
It knows nothing yet about the cross:
No child does.
As I read this poem, it struck me that every mother will watch her child/ren endure a cross, possibly more than one. My mother watched me endure infertility for nine long years. She watched me heave that cross around. She watched me break under it’s weight at times. She pondered this and I’m sure had flashbacks to me as a little girl, wild and carefree. It’s so hard to watch your baby carry a cross.
My boys are still pretty tiny. They have only spent three and a half years on this planet, such a short space of time, yet they are learning so much. A few days ago our eldest, by one whole minute, finally was forced to give up his pacifier/dodie. In his small, three year old world, this was his cross. The dodie actually split in two and my husband and I made the decision that it was time to not replace the dodie.
Bedtime that first night was a little rough. His eyes welled with tears after he asked for his dodie and we told him there was “no more dodie.” He asked me to go to the store to get a new one and I said “it’s time to be a big boy.” Talk about heart wrenching!
That was a few days ago now. Life had moved on. Then I read the devotional for today and I felt tears welling up in my own eyes. As I sat across from my boys, looking at each of them, I pondered why this was coming up for me. It hit me that it was the end of my babies being babies. Cohen had willingly given up his dodie long ago, and that felt fine because Cohen always wants to be bigger than he is and further along in life than he is. Kidran, on the other hand, has felt a little more needing of nurturing so I felt okay about letting him still have his dodie. However, now I was gently forcing him to take a step towards growing up. I was encouraging him to turn his back on being a baby and walk boldly towards becoming an independent little boy. Hard swallow. Lump in my throat. I did not like the moment.
This brings me back to my devotional reading. Mary was my kind of mom. God was so gracious to have her show us moms that it’s okay to ponder our children, to store up memories for later to relive and visit. I replay that line “let them be little” over and over sometimes. They won’t be little forever momma, ponder these little times. Ponder them wanting to be by your side every second, not giving you any space to breathe. Ponder there outbursts, they are waging through a forest of emotions that are new and overwhelming to them. Ponder the toys everywhere, the handprints on the windows, the 100th reading of the same story, and those cuddles that come out of nowhere. Store up those things in your heart. You are gonna need them for later.
As I sifted through these thoughts, I pondered Easter and the waiting it involves/d. I naturally turned to my longest period of waiting to date. It was the nine years of waiting to be a mom. Waiting for sleepless nights. Waiting for dirty diapers to be changed. Waiting for my baby to spit up all over my clean shirt for the third time in one day. Let me tell you something truthful though. God did something to me in the waiting. He began making me a mountain(which is what my little piece of pottery says). If you let Him, he will do that for you too. There can be purpose in our pain if we let there be. Will it be fun and easy? Probably not. Will it help others? I can almost guarantee it. Will it be hard? Yep.
The other picture I have added to this blog is a picture of the pendant my dear friend Ailsa gave me at one of my lowest points in our infertility journey. It helped me in the waiting and came at a time when my world seemed bleak, dark, and hopeless. Yet in time, the image of the dove carrying the olive branch, began to create a strong hope in me. Hope for the future. Hope that my waiting would come to an end. Hope that someday I would lay down my cross of infertility, and that I would resurrect as a mother.
As you enter into these final days of this Lenten season, take time to ponder. Remember Mary. Remember that God is with you. What are you waiting for? What cross are you carrying? Where do you want to see resurrection in your life? Take some time to ask these questions, talk them over with a close friend, your husband, or God. Lent is almost over and my prayer for you is that your waiting is almost over.
If you would like some extra encouragement in learning to practice some spiritual disciplines check out Lacy Clark Ellman. She has a beautiful website and podcast with tons of valuable resources to help you begin to create space to practice things like Lent.
*I still have copies of my book as well The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants. If you are local to the Kirkland/Seattle area contact me directly through my Facebook page @breannajochud to buy a copy directly. Otherwise you can order a copy on Amazon. I would encourage you as well to think of buying this book as a gift for a friend or for yourself to learn more about the struggle of infertility. You can also find my info on Instagram @breannachud.
When I was in high school, I liked English. My teacher however made it very clear to me, on more than one occasion, that English did not like me. She held my paper up, covered in red marks, in front of both classes, and announced that I made the most mistakes in both her classes. It was a defining moment. From that point on, I became pretty insecure about my ability to write throughout high school.
Imagine my surprise then, when I tested out of the basic English composition class to move onto the next level when I arrived at college! It gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could actually write. Combine that spark with years of journaling, and I decided to ignore my high school teachers decision of my ability.
I did this when I started blogging for the community coffee shop I opened in Northern Ireland called The Press. I would share about the experiences in the coffee shop and announce our upcoming events. I LOVED IT! Writing had always been an outlet and at that point I started to find my own voice.
Fast forward a few years. Bryan and I decided to give IVF one last shot, no pun intended! I figured the easiest way to keep people informed of our progress was through my personal blog. I had only one or two entries at that point. I guess I also need to rewind and insert this little fact. Through the years that we struggled with infertility I also journaled. I used my writing as a way of processing my pain, as a way of praying, as a way of dealing with the grief I carried, but didn’t always want the world to know. I also didn’t want to consistently be “Debbie Downer” by always talking about the sadness I felt. This could be partly my personality or partly the lies we believe that people can’t handle our pain and suffering, I’m not really sure.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. Years before the blog started, Bryan and I had made a special trip to London to see Phantom of the Opera with the London cast. It was one of my bucket list items. It happened around my 30th birthday along with our first failed round of IVF. As we sat having dinner in a little Italian restaurant across from the theater, we decided that someday, when our family had finally arrived, by whatever means it came, that we would share our story in a book.
That moment has arrived. The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants is our story from my personal perspective. I allow you to crack open pages of my own journals, private pictures, sketches and my honest response to the struggle of infertility. I really hold nothing back. I am not trying to shock people, but I am trying to wake people up. This issue is painful. Painful for those struggling and painful for those who are watching someone struggle. 1 out of every 8 couples will deal with infertility now, 1 out of 8!!! Next time you are around that many couples, just look around because I would bet my own money that someone you know really well is struggling. It’s that real friends.
This book took me almost two years to complete. Life happened in a not so kind way almost immediately after I had the full manuscript completed. My father was diagnosed with cancer. At times the book felt like a burden I couldn’t shake while dealing with the grief of watching my father deteriorate. Other times it felt like an escape and a lifeline. What definitely helped was writing. Writing has become a way of life for me. Thanks to authors like Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Brene′ Brown, I began to believe in the power of my own voice. I also had my husband and amazing family and friends cheering me on too!
So the other night, March 12th at 7 p.m. I had my very first book launch! I was overwhelmed to see so many lovely faces come. Some I hadn’t seen in years, and some I have only recently become friends with. It was a beautiful collection of people and I am so grateful for each person taking the time to come and support me in such a tangible way.
Now I have the privilege of promoting this much needed book. I get to share my story again and again with people. Validating each time that what I went through, what we went through, and maybe what you are going through will not be wasted if we let it help and guide others. Our pain truly can bring comfort to someone else’s suffering, if we will let it. It means standing with our hands open instead of with clenched fists.
“I would describe infertility as a process of purification. You go through the fire, but at the end you come out your truest self.” p. 51 The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
What have you experienced by way of pain in your life? Are you willing to open that area up to even just one person? If so, I think you will find there is healing there. There is purpose in your pain there. There is also forward momentum that helps you leave the past in the past and move towards your future with hope and joy. Please share your story, the world needs it!