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.
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.
Years ago I remember chatting with my good friend Lila in Northern Ireland about her early days of parenting and having small children. My ears usually perked up if she spoke about these topics because she had six children and seemed to love almost every second of being a mother. I learned so much from watching this incredible woman parent and I am forever thankful for her example.
She said when her children were small connecting with God looked very different and a friend passed on a verse to her that was really helpful in being present in that stage while still feeling connected to God.
“…he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11
In my own early days of parenting I remember reading this verse and finding my own comfort from it’s words. So much so that I wrote it on a chalk board and hung it up in the sunroom at our old house where I would sneak away to if I had any time to be alone.
Recently I shared this verse with a fellow momma of littles. We talked about how the early years of motherhood can feel very disorienting, like you’re living in a dreamland. Never rested enough, not sure if you are even the same person as before you had kids, and the constant struggle to dismantle the old ways of connecting with God in order to be satisfied meeting with him for even 30 seconds. She loved the verse just as I did.
This morning, on Mother’s Day, one of my twins woke me up with his coughing. He came in and asked if I would wake up with him. He is currently sitting next to me. We all have had vicious coughs causing us all to lose sleep lately. At his request I got up and came out to my parents living room with him. He is watching a show while I quickly type, trying to get the words from inside my head and heart out and into this post.
As I pondered this verse and how to share it this is what I came up with. Instead of writing from the perspective of only mommas with littles, I wanted to broaden it. I want to focus on a few key words that bring us back to the truth of who God is and the truth of his character.
He gently leads.
More than focusing on the stage of life we are in, I want us to turn to the constant truth of these words. No matter where you find yourself, blissfully content with your lot in life or locked in a pattern of destructive behavior, the truth is that if you reach out your hand you will find a good shepherd who takes us by the hand and leads us gently. He is not an angry headmaster just waiting to correct our every wrong step. He comes close, ready to lead us through all of life’s dramatic changes and the subtle ones too with gentleness.
For those who do in fact have littles, he is gently leading you through this stage. For those who are empty nesters and miss those littles, he is gently leading you too. Some of you may be dreaming of marriage and babies, he is there too. Others may find themselves in the heartbreaking reality of an infertility journey they never planned on. He is with you, gently leading you through the pain, shadow land, and heartbreak of failed cycles, miscarriages, insensitive comments, and constant awareness of what you lack.
Through the ups and downs of life, the constant shifting and changing, God’s character remains true and solid. He gently leads.
There have been so many times when I have been in turmoil whether from things out of my control or circumstances of my own doing, where he has come alongside me, taken my hand, and gently led me to a new place, with a new landscape, and new hope. This pattern I am convinced will continue till the day I die. I will most likely always come upon situations in life where I feel frantic and will need the calming hand of Christ to lead me out of my own chaos into his wide open spaces where there is room to breathe and my soul can be settled.
Wherever you find yourself today: a recent college graduate, a grandparent, a husband trying to support your sleep deprived wife, stuck in a mid-life crisis, or contentedly sitting in retirement; this truth remains the same, he gently leads.
Let those words settle your wild heart and racing thoughts. Let them sooth, calm, and bring restoration to you today.
(Photo cred: Kirstie Walton. The other three kiddos are hers but I thought this picture represented this particular season of life pretty well.)
The past two and a half years have held a great deal of change for my life. Leaving Northern Ireland, the land where I cut out part of my heart and planted it. My Papa being diagnosed with cancer to his passing from this earth. My mother-in-love being diagnosed with lymphoma and surviving in the most extraordinary way. To my most recent experience of an early miscarriage.
As Bryan and I chatted in bed one night, the tears filled my eyes. I explained to him that my heart had felt so heavy for so long. I reflected on everything that was bright, beautiful, and alive in my life. Then I described something else.
The grey thread.
For the past two and a half years I have carried around a heaviness. I can easily see the charms of my life. I have an incredible husband, two miracle sons, a job that has purpose, family that I love, friendships that go deep like a well. My life is rich and I know it.
Still, in all the richness, in all the vibrant yellows, reds, blues, and purples of life, there is a grey thread. It hides for awhile. Life feels normal, manageable. Then, I see it. The dull color, working it’s way to the surface again. Wrapping itself around the yellow, turning it a muted brown. It takes the other colors too, toning down their brilliance, creating a type of shadow land.
It feels like the opposite of putting on rose-colored glasses. This grey thread takes the shine out of almost everything. It cannot remove that which is solid, thank God. Yet it can change my view and perspective, making it harder to see clearly. It becomes like a fog, covering up the parts of my life that stir me to live.
Through time and effort, I can stand on the thread once again, regaining my life back. However, out of the corner of my eye, I see the end of the thread wriggling. Then I see it disappear beneath my life’s palate again. A sense of relief floods my body. It is gone for now. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wonder for how long?
“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!