Growing up in a rather charismatic Christian environment, I had developed a secret belief that Jesus would come back when I turned 20. This little hidden belief was strangely solid and I genuinely believed it. When I say it out loud it is laughable and makes me feel a little silly. However, when I turned 20, in the year 2000, I felt like I had just entered bonus time that I wasn’t expecting. Like going on holiday and at the end of the it someone tells you that your trip has been extended an additional week.
I wasn’t a very ambitious 20 year old, at least not that I can remember. Fun, yes, full of youthful zeal and energy, definitely. What I knew was that I wanted to get married at some point and I wanted to travel. That was about the extent of what I really knew I wanted.
Well the sweetest thing happened right around my 20th birthday. I met my future husband, we went on our first official date on Valentine’s Day (mind you he was technically dating another girl and he promptly left our date and went to break up with her), a few short weeks later we were official. Everything felt right about him. As we walked back to our college campus in the early hours of the morning one night, holding hands, I felt a gentle nudge to give this a chance. That chance quickly turned into the love I had dreamed of having, steady and constant, solid and real. It was just the beginning.
My 20’s were full of Alaskan adventures, marriage and honeymoon bliss. Settling into life as a wife, saying goodbye to family and friends as we moved overseas to Northern Ireland. Doubting that Northern Irish people were actually speaking English while being embraced by this new group of people and culture where we had no family ties. Learning to live in a community of like-minded people while communally living and throwing ourselves into a new, shared way of life that suited our young years. Lots of travel and world view changing moments. Certain dreams came true, new ones were birthed, all the while the dream of a family came into clearer focus yet remained just out of reach.
Enter my 30’s.
Words I would use to describe those years? Well…bitter, frustrating, surprising, fulfilling, sad, prayer filled, enriching, heartbreaking, soul destroying, and solid. The 30’s have been the hardest thus far. Failed rounds of IVF/ICSI, personal shortcomings, artistic struggles, loss of illusions, leaving Northern Ireland, and losing my father. On the flip side my 30’s have been the richest. I ran a marathon, opened a community coffee shop through our church, learned to play guitar (a little bit anyway). Went to new depths in my marriage, finally became the mother I dreamed of and longed to be while watching my husband be the father I knew he would be and more. Embraced the beauty and love of so many friendships. Received the gift of living closer to my parents during my father’s last year of life, watched our sons get to know their Alaskan family and roots, while watching them soak up Idaho family summers and winters. Settling back into the PNW life that we had started so many years ago while learning to be present in the chaos.
This past decade I have also been on a journey to my own personal core. At times it’s felt like falling down the rabbit hole, not knowing where the ground or walls are, desperately reaching for something to grab onto. Other times it has been a welcome free fall, letting go of that which no longer serves me, and allowing myself to be held by the wholeness of God as I become whole. I have learned more about myself than ever before. This process has allowed me to expand within my limitations, lean into the strength of my weaknesses, and embrace the beauty of my imperfections. Laugh lines and section scars remind me that I have been living in the joy and pain of my life.
As I stand on the mountain top of these past 40 years, I look behind me with a content heart. I have much to be thankful for and I do not take it for granted. I am a pilgrim who has walked and endured many miles. I have met wonderful souls along the way and am thankful to have married one of the richest of them. We now hold tiny hands as well and will help guide tiny feet along this continuing path. I carry with me a rucksack filled with books, journals, earrings, stones, and shells. Trinkets of value to no one but me. So today I pause and take in the view. The many mountains that have been climbed, the valley’s filled with sorrows, the landscape that has forever been changed by loss. While the sun peaks through the clouds shining brilliantly on this rugged terrain of my life, I can clearly see that this one precious life of mine is enough.
This day will end and it will be like all others, except I will be different. I will blow a kiss to the past and turn to the future. A new job awaits me this next week, one that will challenge me more than I am even aware of. I will not run down the mountain because I value the way of slow, small, and sustainable progress now. I will hold the hands of my husband and children knowing that we are in this together, forever connected by our love. I will speak less, listen more, and ask for eyes to see the unseen. My search will be for the mystical moments where I can only look to God as the creator of and be thankful that I am included in the unfolding.
40, I welcome you as a friend and companion. You will no doubt change me but I will use my lungs to breathe you in and rest in your wisdom. I have what I need of that I am sure. I am becoming and that is the whole point.
“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.
Can I tell you a little secret? I think I may have failed at Lent this year. Well, at least what I initially set out to achieve this season.
After a very meaningful Advent season and finding ways to connect my faith to my parenting, I was looking forward to more of the same. I started off strong with my daily readings, taking a few minutes to be silent, and then, I just stopped.
For some reason I wasn’t connecting with the readings. They felt long, tedious, wordy, and not very relevant to my daily life. If I’m honest I couldn’t relate to them. The days went by, our schedule felt busy. A few trips to Idaho thrown into the mix and my plan of making Lent come alive was left in the dust.
That’s where Lent began. Ash Wednesday. From dust to dust.
Gritty, dirty, dusty.
Now these were words that resonated deep within my soul.
On one of the trips back from Idaho I listened to a new podcast I found called The Desire Line. As the hosts spoke to their guest he shared about how there came a season where his old ways of connecting with God just didn’t seem to work.
My ears perked up.
I have experienced many different seasons and had felt this very thing on numerous occasions. As he went on talking he shared how he began walking and hiking in an attempt to begin communicating again with God in a way that meant something to him. I loved the idea and agreed with the concept. When I got back home to Kirkland and our rhythm of life, I decided to get up before everyone else and go for a walk. No music, no headphones, just Jesus, me, and my thoughts.
Those first few days it was like trying to tune into a fuzzy station to find the right channel. Things in my head felt noisy and distracted. After the third walk I could sense my mind starting to quiet and adjust to this new practice. I could start to hear God’s voice again. Speaking in single words. I could smell the fresh rainfall, hear the birds singing overhead, and appreciate the quiet of the morning. This little gritty path laying before me, letting me walk upon it while I listened, was teaching me.
Then one day I decided to take the boys for a hike on a random Tuesday. We had nothing planned except to burn off some energy. I packed up our lunch, snacks, and away we went. As we walked the easy hiking path I could feel the solid ground beneath my feet. My eyes drawn upward towards the budding branches, brown mingled with shots of brilliant green. Spring fully underway.
The boys chatted non-stop, shouting with delight at each discovery nature had hidden and I didn’t shush them. The woods were strong enough to absorb their loud way of living a four year old existence. We played Star Wars games, skipped rocks, and ran through the forest together. The rest of the day felt easier and the dirt stuck to the tread of my shoes as a reminder of why.
As the evenings have slowly gotten brighter and the weather occasionally cooperating into a mild night, I decided to start weeding the other night. The boys played in the garden as I, on hands and knees, dug up little shoots and roots, pulling them out. As each one came out I could see the remnants of last years gardening project peeking through. The bark from last year was still there and made the area look clean, tidy, and cared for. While I slowly pulled weeds I could feel my breath settle. I could feel my mind focusing on the one task at hand. My shoulders relaxed and so did I. The boys even got excited to help me weed and would take each weed as I pulled it from my hand and place it into the bin. The next morning I washed out the remainder of the dirt from under my finger nails, hinting at the calm it had ushered in.
Most recently, we took a day trip to Alki beach outside of Seattle. We walked along the waters edge. The boys and I walked on ahead as Bryan and his brother Nate chatted. The boys and I collected beach glass, attempted to build a sandcastle with sand that was too dry, and used rocks as army guys who were fighting off Star Wars characters. Eventually the boys paused to play and I laid down in the warm sand. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, allowing my chest to rise and fall slowly, methodically. I relaxed my eyes, placed my arms behind my head and lay still. The feeling of the sand in my hair, the sound of the water rolling onto the sand close by, the boys voices bubbling out of them in excitement, it awakened my senses.
That’s when I started thinking about how different this Lenten season had been for me. Had I failed? I didn’t think so, or at least I didn’t want to. Then the thought came to me. This Lenten season had been more like a puzzle I was putting together. One piece buried in the mud on our hike, one piece buried in the soil under a weed, another piece lodged between the rocks that get stuck in my trainers after my walk, and then another piece covered by sand and seaweed.
Gritty, dirty, dusty.
That’s where I found Lent this year: in the grit, dirt, and dust. I found myself buried in these simple practices that invite quiet in. In these places I did not have to try to tame the wild of my boys. I did not have to try to keep the house tidy to find a semblance of peace. The grit, dirt, and dust of my life were welcome in these places and so were my boys. I could feel myself rising to the surface in these moments. Not the me that is rushed, stressed out, but the me that pauses, the me that takes in the beauty of the ordinary. These practices had a way of settling me and I was thankful for the discovery.
Maybe this Lenten season what God was resurrecting in me was me. Maybe I had to walk to hear His voice. Maybe I had to take my boys outdoors to be a more engaged mother. Maybe I had to pull weeds up one at a time to appreciate the length of time it will take to grow that which can never be uprooted in me. Maybe like the beach glass, that becomes smooth and polished after being pummeled, I am being made smooth and less abrasive. Just maybe.
So maybe I didn’t fail Lent this year, maybe I found it for the first time.
How have you practiced or observed Lent this year? Was it meaningful, rich, and full? Or did it feel stale and dry? Pay attention to the answer. It could be time to take a walk and quiet yourself too.
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.
After years of heartache from infertility, I feel it’s important I share the beauty that came from ashes as well. One of the most beautiful has been writing. To cope with our struggle I wrote a book about it. I have also found this blog to be a way for me to express some of the deepest parts of my heart. It is just like God to take things and redeem them which is exactly what writing feels like, redemption.
I now call myself a writer, scary as it is to say out loud. I identify with the long line of writers who have gone before me, writing about their lives as a way to process all they experience, feel, and comprehend. We all hope to somehow help someone see the world the way we see it and contribute something of lasting value to the conversation.
As I learn and grow in this craft, I am gracious towards myself. I am a beginner. Thanks Emily P. Freeman for helping me see and lean into that very fact. Part of my learning is putting my work out there. Occasionally an opportunity comes up and I celebrate each opportunity for what it is…a step in the write direction (pun intended).
Today I was privileged to have one of my pieces shared on The Joyful Life Magazine blog. I am beyond thankful for this chance, for the website, and for the work they are doing. If you need a bit of encouragement, check them out. While you’re at it, I would encourage you to read my post. It comes from an honest place of me encountering God in the corners of my everyday life. That may be exactly where you need to encounter Him too. I hope you do.
My sweet friend Molly told me about a podcast and now I will pass it on. It’s called The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. Everything about this podcast has been about timing. There are seasons of life where something comes into your life at just the right time, just the right season, and helps you put words to your feelings. This podcast has been that for me.
By nature I am an extroverted introvert, maybe even an ambivert. When I was growing up I didn’t know it but my life was set up in such a way that time by myself and quiet was built in everyday without me trying. I was the youngest by far in my family and had my own bedroom. I would have friends come and play but often I was left to play on my own and that suited my personality. I remember filling sketch pads with fashion designs or building Barbie houses out of cardboard boxes and tissue boxes. When I became a teenager and my social life was everything, I still had that downtime built in. I would get home from school or practice and go back to my bedroom for a bit before emerging for dinner, then onto my next social activity.
As I got older, my life changed. I had my first roommate at college at the age of 18. I didn’t realize it then but this would begin undoing my normal pattern. After my college years of roomies, I got married to the love of my life straight after graduation. I went from communal living to marriage. As anyone who is married knows, it’s wonderful! Yes, there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day I am beyond amazed at how well suited Bryan and I are to each other. This has especially become evident as we have entered into the world of parenthood. I see us balancing each other in ways I couldn’t have anticipated but am so thankful for.
Over the years as I discovered my more introverted nature, Bryan has been so helpful in helping me carve out space and time for me to be alone. We live a pretty social life and our hearts are continually expanding with love for our family and friends. So these times of alone have become vital for me to stay sane. That’s where my good friend Ems, as me and a few friends have affectionately named her, speaks to my deeper longings.
The aim of her podcast is to help people with decision fatigue determine what their next right thing is and then to do that thing in love. Brilliant right?! After a season of big moves, big changes, grief, and exhaustion this podcast came as water to my very thirsty soul. It continues to help shape my thoughts and decisions which are becoming clearer most days.
This past weekend my little family had the rare opportunity of going out to Lopez Island to visit friends. It’s one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state where I live. It was such a push to get there. We left Saturday evening once Bryan had finished work and didn’t arrive until after 10 p.m. Yet the next morning we awoke to a magical place. The island is the “slow” I have been craving. All around me people use the word “hustle” and it kind of makes me cringe. Mostly because the good things in my life have taken time and patience, they have taken the slower path and that word makes me feel rushed, out of breath.
We took our time sipping coffee in the morning, ate slowly, walked slowly, and took time for slow, meaningful conversations. Our second and sadly last morning there, I stepped outside, walked down the makeshift staircase to the beach below and stood on the rocky shore. Clams were squirting out water, coming up in tiny spouts. Seagulls were flying overhead, and the waves crashed calmly against the smooth stones. As I stood there I took five minutes to be silent. This was a practice that my friends and I took up on our recent trip to Northern Ireland.
It was only five minutes but my senses were overwhelmed with beauty, serenity, gratitude, and peace. The rest of the day was full of the slow kind of fun. We spent the day chasing one amazing creative scene after another, ending the day with a fire and s’mores under starlight with our friends and our four little boys. It was such a gift.
Now I am thinking of ways to carve out these five minute silent retreats on a daily basis. Five minutes is not that much time but it can pump the necessary life breath back into my lungs. It will help me breathe in the depth of this beautiful life I am living and help me sit back in admiration of the subtleties and creeping changes that are leading to personal growth. These moments in turn help me feel the satisfaction with my own pace, helping me not to run someone else’s race, only my own.
Can you take five minutes today? If so, do it. It may feel foreign or you may be distracted, but I promise, if you keep at it, you will reap the reward of beginning to hear your own voice in the silence.
“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!
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!”
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.