Infertility: Having an Advocate When You’re Too Weak to Be an Advocate

Since it’s Infertility Awareness Week, I’ve had our struggles (past and possibly future) with infertility in mind a lot. I’ve read some incredible posts already that have moved me, often to tears. I just want to say one thing to the kind souls making these posts: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

All of this has really brought to the forefront of my mind recently just how badly women and men suffering from infertility need advocates in the world. We need our friends, fertile and infertile alike and in every variation in between, to be a voice, to remind the world that we’re there.

Infertility is so often a silent, invisible cross that we bear. Maybe our closest friends and family know something about it, or maybe it’s just between us and our spouse. But it’s oh so very rarely that someone in the worst of it puts it all out there for the world to see and doesn’t keep it from anyone. And that is just fine, because we’re vulnerable. We’re already in one of the most painful positions imaginable and since people tend to be accidentally hurtful when they’re trying to be supportive, it can be that much harder to share a burning ache that most people, thankfully, have never had to experience.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not desperate to be heard, to be seen.

I know that I always wanted (and often still do) to wave my arms and jump up and down screaming, “I’m here! I’m here! I’m here! I count too, and my vocation to motherhood is a real thing!” But I was always terrified of not being able to control the information once it was out there.

That’s the thing, for many of us, I think. We’re already in such pain and so much of what should be such a private process for us (just us, our spouse, and God) has already been picked apart and laid bare before our doctor’s eyes, our NFP instructors perhaps, and anyone who thinks they should have an opinion about our family size (specifically its lack thereof.) We’ve already been told when we need to be intimate, on what medications, and how. We’ve already had more trans-vaginal ultrasounds and blood draws than you can shake a stick at. They don’t even phase us anymore. But still, we feel vulnerable and raw. And it’s scary to share that and risk being under a microscope again.

That’s why we desperately, desperately need you. Most of us are too tender right now to be an advocate for ourselves, but we would give almost anything to have an advocate. Someone just to occasionally remind the world (especially as Mother’s Day draws near) that we are here.

We are all around you, even though we might be hard to spot between the cultural norm of waiting nearly a decade to have children or choosing to have “just one or two.” There are so many of us that have been waiting and hoping for motherhood and fatherhood since day one. We’ve been open to life in every way possible and we’ve sacrificed so much to adhere to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and sanctity of human life, despite our yearning to become parents however we can.

So if you can, whatever your fertility status is, say something. Acknowledge us–our presence and our struggle–this and every week. Share one of these amazing articles, a picture, a prayer. Just be a voice if you can be one.

Now that we’ve been given the gift of our miraculous pregnancy, I’ve been feeling called more and more to become that voice. As some of the intensity and utter rawness of our infertility begins to scar over (it will never leave us entirely, I know,) I feel the Holy Spirit asking me to step out one toe at a time and advocate for my sisters and brothers. I’m still scared, and scarred, but I’m trying to learn.

Will you join me, if you can?

Advocacy and Infertility

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Post-Infertility Pregnancy Announcement Anxieties…that’s a thing, right?

I am a big fat chicken. And I’m not 100% sure why. But I need some advice, folks. (Beware, this one’s a bit of a rambler.)

Many of you have had the experience of being asked horribly rude questions like, “Are you pregnant?” and “When is the baby due?” when you were NOT expecting. It’s awful, even when you know without a doubt that the person asking you is well-intentioned and just excited for you. But when you’re not actually expecting (and worse yet, when that’s all you want in the whole wide world but you can’t do anything about it,) it’s really hurtful. I’ve mentioned all this before, I know. I’ve told you some of the stories of people coming up to me at my store, rubbing my belly, and then arguing with me about whether or not I was pregnant. Yeah, arguing. Those were rough days.

I'm not pregnant

But the issue that I’m facing now is that for once, praise and thank God, I AM actually pregnant. And I’m so, so happy, so overjoyed. But I haven’t figured out how to handle all the folks that are starting to ask again now that I’m starting to actually show. Because I still think it’s kind of rude of either a) complete strangers or b) Nosy Nellies who immediately spread it like wildfire around the place to be asking. Maybe I should be taking it as a compliment that they think I’m naturally skinny enough that any little bumps would have to be a baby (I’m not.) But I just don’t enjoy being talked about and I sort of feel as though cheerfully answering, “Yes I am! Baby’s due in July!” is rewarding bad behavior.

But the last thing that I want is to allow myself to bask in bitterness over past hurts. If infertility was my cross to bear before, then it’s because it was supposed to help make me a saint. Which means that if I don’t find a way to let go of the bitterness (the pain is one thing that will never entirely go away, but the bitterness is something entirely different and something that should be under my control), then I haven’t let God work in my life the way that He’s trying to.

I’m so scared (it sounds overly dramatic, but I am) of having hundreds of sweet, well-meant Catholics at my work asking in very pushy ways very personal questions that I may not want to answer. Even though all I want to do is celebrate this baby, I’m so anxious over the thought of being touched and exposed more than I already have been. Infertility doesn’t just disappear with a miracle–it leaves a few scars. (Don’t get me wrong–I’ll take those scars absolutely any day in exchange for my miracle!)

Is embracing this kind of nosiness part of embracing a culture of life? Is this kind of experience and anxiety unique to my situation as a fairly public member of my Catholic community? Is there a wonderfully charitable way of addressing my sweet but nosy customers that I haven’t thought of yet? Or do I just need to find a way to put on my big girl panties and throw myself into this touching/personal question asking/”I’m so glad you finally decided to have a baby!”-hearing experience and offer it up?

Advice…go!

Miracles and Motherhood

I have miraculous news. So miraculous, I haven’t been able to even think of writing about it. And if today you’re in a place where you need to not read it, that is more than ok. Click away. I’m not going to judge or blame you because I’ve had those days. So, so many of them. But if today is the kind of day that makes good news fill you with joy and lift your burden, read on:

We’re pregnant.

Those feet--so cute!

Those feet–so cute!

For the first time in my entire life, that little stick showed two pink lines. We cried (especially me, of course,) and then immediately started looking up any and all reasons for false positives. Even after having logically ruled them out, being late, and having had a strong positive test (and then another one the next morning because crazy,) we were so in shock that we were too terrified to let ourselves believe it. In fact, part of me still doesn’t. I’m not sure when that will really change. When does it?

We called our doctor on Monday morning (we found out on a Saturday night–All Saints’ Day–which means we have to assume that this blessing is thanks to the ENTIRE litany of saints we’ve been praying to every night,) and she was good enough to talk a little sense into me, thank God. She told me to chill out (somewhat more politely than that) and just let ourselves embrace it RIGHT. NOW. She reminded me that no matter what else ever would happen or not happen, that I was now a mother and he was now a father and nothing would ever, ever, ever, ever change that. And I needed to hear those words so badly. So, so badly. More crying ensued, of course. Those were the words I’d been waiting to hear my entire lifetime and I knew they were so true. I’m more grateful than any words can ever begin to express for that gift. I know how many women I love are still longing to hear them, and please, please know that I pray constantly that we all might someday.

In fact, I want to say what I’ve always desperately wanted to hear from someone in the position I was dying to be in. You ARE a mother. Even if your child doesn’t exist yet, or has passed away before even implanting, or hasn’t been conceived by the woman who will have the honor of bearing the child that will be yours to love, or if spiritual motherhood is the path that God has called you down, whatever your situation is. If you long for motherhood in your heart, if you know that motherhood is your vocation, if you already love your children with a ferocious, wild love–you are a mother. Please take that to heart and know that I mean it. I know we’ve all been scared that no one thinks we deserve the title until we’ve had morning sickness or changed dirty diapers, but I think that you do. Your motherhood doesn’t cheapen mine. You’ve spent nights sobbing and praying for the gift of or health of your children; you’ve written them letters and dreamed of kissing boo-boos and being covered in bodily fluids (because you’re realistic); your arms literally ache with the absence of their weight, I know. If you love your children so much that it hurts, then you are a mother. Even if you can’t hold your children in your arms today. You have a mother’s heart and that COUNTS. It does, it does, it does.

I hope that you won’t mind if I do my best to embrace this gift, this miracle, while I have him or her here. I’ve spent so long praying for this, and I don’t want any of us to miss out on a moment if we receive one. I’ll understand if continuing to read about however things go is too much for you. It’s really and truly ok. But I hope that, if you want, you’ll keep coming around and sharing with me. I pray that although I’m trying to embrace the tremendous absence of the weight that God has decided to lift from me (and trust me, it’s through nothing I’ve earned on my own,) that I’ll always have the heart that I hoped my friends would have for me. You’re still not alone, friends, and I won’t stop caring about your burdens. But hopefully, come July-ish, there will be pictures of someone adorable for us to all coo over together. That’s the internet equivalent of letting someone hold your baby, right?

I’ll fill you in on the chaos of the last several months later (and I promise there has been a lot going on,) but for now, would you please send up a prayer of thanks for us? We’ve received a gift we thought we’d never be blessed with and it’s absolutely a miracle. Thanks.

What Not To Say To Friends Struggling With Infertility

Infertility: What Not To Say

Just as a disclaimer before we begin: I know that at only a year and a half of conscious infertility, I am far from an expert in how all women feel. Please remember that every woman is different and needs to be loved and supported differently. But these are some good guidelines for the well-intentioned. These are things that I’d like the people around me to know. I welcome additional ideas or questions in the comments.

 

 

Dealing with infertility is hard. If a friend or co-worker bravely opens up to you about her own struggles with any form or stage of fertility struggles, here are some things not to say:

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Renewing Hope in Lent

How do you like the new look? It’s still a free theme, but one where I could make a few more modifications than before. I’m a fan. Sometimes it takes a visible change to jump-start a new beginning. Which I’ve been needing badly.

I’ve been guiltily avoiding writing for the last month. I just haven’t felt like it. The inner debate that goes on daily always goes something like this:

Motivated Me: You should write something tonight! You enjoy it! You said you would. And it’s been almost a month.

Tired me: Shut up. I’m too tired to write. And there’s nothing to write about. And I’ll be ignoring my husband. And my eyes hurt. And I’m boring anyway. And I’m SO STRESSED OUT. What’s the point? I’m going to go make dinner.

Motivated me: …ok. You win.

That’s pretty much what’s been going down.

The fact of the matter is, my reluctance to write is just a symptom of a much bigger dragon that I’ve been battling this month: the loss of a sense of hope. We got some tough news relating to our infertility earlier this month (more, more permanent roadblocks, but thankfully nothing that makes it impossible,) and hearing the news just sucked the hope right out of me. Which I know doesn’t make any sense because as I just said, it’s not impossible. We DO still have hope. My husband reminds me of this fact constantly, trooper that he is. He hears news like this and all he hears is, “There’s still hope.” I thank God that his heart is so hopeful.

Oddly enough, I’ve been so very, very hopeful (still heart-broken, but hopeful) through this entire process, until I got that particular batch of news. And I sort of already knew it was coming. But hearing that our chances are officially down a solid 50% was…impossibly hard.

I’ve been struggling for weeks, searching for that familiar feeling of hope, praying that Our Lord would find it and return it to me. I know that He will. I feel it coming back to me, finally, in little drips here and there. Oh, it feels so good to hope again. I don’t know whether what I’ve been feeling is really the sin of Judas, the sin of despair, or if it’s simply been an inability to get excited and let myself make my heart vulnerable again. All the time, I was mentally aware that God will do what is best for us, no matter what. I think it was just hard to convince my heart of the fact that what’s best for us still might be biological children.

Lent offers us the opportunity to renew ourselves spiritually, to intentionally reconnect to the magnitude of Our Lord’s great Sacrifice on the Cross in order to more fully experience the joyful hope that is Easter. So this Lent, I am throwing down the gauntlet. Whatever it takes for me to regain that hope, I’m going to do it. I’m going to fight for hope the way I would fight for a child or fight to live. If it means writing more (which I hope it will,) then I’ll do that. If it means just trying to rest and allow myself to not feel so guilty about not writing, then that’s what’ll happen. Because nothing matters more than renewing this hope. God can make anything happen, this I know. And He may still choose to make this happen.

In this is all the hope we ever need.

In this is all the hope we ever need.

P.S. Please forgive the lack of editing in this post–I was afraid that if I didn’t publish right away, I’d never get to it. Gotta get stuff done! 😉

Why I’ve Been Gone & Where I’m Going

You might (or more likely might not) have noticed my absence from this blog over the last three four months. I’m still pretty surprised that it’s been that long already, and I’ve been feeling incredibly and inexplicably guilty about it. It’s strange that even though this isn’t something that pays me or that I even have much accountability for from anyone I know in person, I feel like it actually is a big commitment at which I’ve failed. I feel guilty and like I’ve let someone down (who, I don’t know,) but I’ve also recognized that stepping away from the additional commitment for a time was the right and healthy choice for me. And it may be again.

The truth of the matter is that the last several months have been incredibly overwhelming for me emotionally. And I’ve just been so drained from everything else that I haven’t had the energy, motivation, or even a useful idea about what to write.

So, here’s the story. Around this time last year, my doctor discovered an unidentifiable mass in my abdomen and after surgery to remove it, I was diagnosed with very severe endometriosis. (Someone give me a gold medal, because she claimed it’s the worst she’d ever seen.) Problem? Yes. But we were very hopeful that since they’d cleared all of the tissue, we would be able to follow the doc’s instructions and get pregnant asap. Because that’s what we’ve wanted most in the whole world.

Shortly following my surgery, however, I was diagnosed with another autoimmune issue: ulcerative colitis. Which, trust me, you do not want me to describe to you. Let’s suffice it to say that it was miserable and gross, gross, gross. But we were still trying. With no luck.

The GI doctor then put me on steroids (in addition to my other medication) to help with the UC. Which did…eventually. Unfortunately, being on the steroids for 6 months really screwed up a lot of other things including my weight (I’ve had literally dozens of well-meaning people ask me when the baby is due or how far along we are–one even rubbed my belly and argued with me that I “was too” pregnant when I told her we weren’t,) energy levels, and most importantly hormone levels.

When after so many months of trying despite the health issues and having no good news we sought treatment with our NaPro doctor, she informed us that the next step should be to run a series of blood work for a month to see if I was progesterone-deficient and that ovulation was happening as it should. Except we couldn’t start those until after I was off of the steroids because they would mess up the readings. And we had no idea when that would be.

So we waited, month after month, trying again and again and otherwise focusing on slowly getting me back to health in whatever way we could. I started this blog as an outlet with the hopes of meeting other women who were going through similar things and to just feel connected. Everything about the situation has been so isolating. It’s as if my husband and I are in survival mode all the time and it’s all we can do just to do the bare minimum. Which frightens me when I try to imagine being a good parent if, God willing, our prayers are answered.

The thing is, even though I’d started this blog to feel more connected to other women, including those struggling with fertility issues, I never talked about what was happening with me. I rarely even mentioned it and certainly never put the cards on the table. Because I was scared. Scared of someone I knew finding it (I’m odd, I know,) scared that it would turn into someplace that was full of drama and woe is me, scared of pigeon-holing myself as an infertility blogger when all I wanted (and I suspect many other women in this position feel this way too,) was to become a mother and transition into a happy-Catholic-mommy blogger and be accepted by this beautiful community of women whose blogs I’ve read. I love their happy stories and pictures of their children, their advice and strategies for disciplining and teaching them, the details of how their backs hurt and their feet ache, who threw up where and how these incredible women got down on their knees and wiped up the glamorous stuff. Seriously. I gobble that up like Lucky Charms.

But I’ve always felt like I’ll never be part of that world until we’re blessed with a child in some way. Because even if I could win these women’s sympathies, I’d never win their camaraderie until I’d earned it. And I want so badly to earn it. With poopy diapers, shirts covered in spit-up, scrubbing up vomit while trying not to be sick myself, mountains of laundry and dishes, hundreds of hours of kids’ TV shows, and saying goodbye to 6 hours of sleep a night.

I know I’m not alone. I know that there are thousands of women who have it worse than I do. My husband and I are still hopeful, now that we’ve just finally begun the blood tests that will hopefully change our lives. But so many women have been waiting for years longer than we have. Some have already been told that it just won’t happen, and some are even unable to adopt. These women are the bravest and strongest that I know. They carry the burden of the greatest pain imaginable for any woman, especially one whose vocation as a mother has been made clear to her.

The thing is, I think by God’s graces I could be strong enough to be a good parent, but I’ve been afraid that I’m not strong enough to not be a parent. I know, I shouldn’t doubt that God’s graces would be enough, and I don’t. But I do often doubt my ability to accept those graces and to make use of them.

So ladies, it’s time that I start reaching out and sharing this part of my life with you. Because maybe you can teach me how to accept those graces that I need. And maybe I can learn to share our struggles without being overwhelmed by them and turning this into a depressing blog. I neither want this to become a dark, sad place nor do I want it to be a place of constant cheery covered-up pain. I just want it to be honest.

St. Monica, Motherhood, & Absolute Hope

Before I catch you up on leg three of our big Summer road trip (which admittedly is not nearly as exciting as the first two legs,) I thought we’d take a little break and I’d just throw out a little thanks to Monica who accidentally (must have been an accident, right?) got me the most views in a single day that I’ve ever had so far. Who knew bragging about what great kids catechesis crafts stuff she comes up with would pay off for me too?

I promise you that it’s merely a coincidence that I’m bragging about my own new favorite Monica in a post about her great namesake.

We’re selling this new book on St. Monica in our store right now. It looks wonderful and this image just captures her so well.

I’ve always felt so drawn to the beautiful St. Monica whose steadfastness, persistence, and simple example of Christian womanhood have never failed to inspire me when I’m feeling my lowest. St. Monica is someone that I strive to be, especially in the workplace each day.

I run a Catholic bookstore, which is simultaneously one of the most fun, exciting jobs I can imagine, and one of the most emotionally and spiritually difficult. As a store, we exist not just so people can swing by and pick up a miraculous medal or baptism gift (although of course they can,) but also as a spiritual soft place to land, a support network, a counselling center, a cheerleader camp, a library and a set of shoulders to cry on. We see people in our little store every day that are suffering and surviving through tragedies and losses far more intense than I can even imagine experiencing. We also see people brimming over, exploding with joy in their happiest moments. It’s an emotional roller coaster every day as we fill the moments between heartbreak and celebration with stocking the shelves, placing orders, restarting the CD player, and checking email.

My job, really, is to help people get to Heaven, however I can. That’s what every task of my day from answering the phone to holding a sobbing customer who recently lost her child in my arms, to selecting the right books, to teaching a new friend how to pray the Rosary is all about. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to be blessed with such a vocation. It’s a vocation to do a million little things a day that seem like logistics, but are really acts of great love. It’s a vocation to comfort, to mourn alongside others, and to acknowledge their pain by sharing in it in some small way. It’s a vocation to put a copy of My Catholic Faith into someone’s hands who doesn’t know they need it yet (Ask your local Catholic bookstore for that one please!) It’s a vocation to pray fervently that every person who walks into the store making jokes about being a cafeteria Catholic (I was guilty of this for years) will some day see the light and bask in the fullness of Truth.

It’s a lot like motherhood. I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t been blessed yet with children, but I like to think that Our Lord has given me this job as a way of both practicing for future motherhood and as a way to actively live my vocation as a mother in a way that models His own mother and St. Monica. He challenges me every day to dig deeper, no matter how exhausted I am, to bring consolation, or insight, or at least a smile to the face of every person that He sends through that door. He’s given me a way to care for others and to learn how to love more generously.

Just like the motherhood that I see exampled in all of the women I’ve met online and whose blogs I read, I am called to example love, patience, steadfastness, humility, and simplicity in the same way that St. Monica did each day of her life. St. Monica exemplifies a motherhood spent waiting in absolute hope. I pray that I can learn from her example not only as a mothering caretaker of souls at work, but as a woman who is waiting to fulfill her vocation to love as a mother of children. I pray that I can learn to patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and perfect plan for our lives, all the while remaining steadfast in an absolute and trusting hope. I pray that I might remember always that my every action, no matter how quiet or simple, has the potential to draw me and others closer to Our Lord.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

I’ll tell you about our adventures in bread-making soon, but I wanted to share a picture of this oatmeal bread that we made using a recipe from my new favorite cookbook. Baking bread is an excellent way to honor St. Monica on her feast day because very little that you can do in the kitchen requires more carefulness and patience.

St. Monica, ora pro nobis. Please make us good waiters.