Author Archives: Lisa D

June 7th

On Mothers Day this year, my family all went to church together. And by all, I mean most: my dad, brother, sister, sister-in-law, me and all six of our collective kids (ages 5, 2, 2, 2, 1 and 7 months). My dad couldn’t have been prouder to show off his crew, and I noticed many amused smiles as we filed into our row, each adult carrying one or two children. As the mass began and I looked around at my wiggly, wonderful family, I smiled to myself. We must be such a spectacle, I thought; everyone must be looking at us.

At that moment, I flashed back to another scene of my life, almost 12 years prior. We were waiting at the airport the morning of June 7, 2001, the day my mother died. We were waiting for my sister’s plane to arrive. Waiting to break her heart. I don’t know how I stayed on my feet.

When she got off the plane and saw us, her first instinct was to smile. But then I saw her face fall, with recognition. As she walked toward us in slow motion, her jaw hardened, bracing herself. I don’t think we even said anything as she approached us. We just folded her into our arms, and sobbed together, holding each other up.

I remember having a short out-of-body experience at that moment. I envisioned us standing there, on a weekday morning, in the middle of O’Hare airport. I watched all the people just going about their day, walking around us, witnessing our pain.

We must be such a spectacle, I thought. Everyone must be looking at us.

What time and God and life and the guidance of my sweet mother have done since then. Joy has been created out of agony. Hope out of despair. Abundance out of brokenness. That day, we were four. By the end of this year, we will be 15. If there is ever a reason for faith, this is it.

Three years ago today, I was awoken by a text message that said, “Today is baby day!” Several hours later, my Godson was born, on the ninth anniversary of my mother’s death. In the same hospital where she died. See what happened there? Our narrative changed. His birth didn’t erase the past, but it grew the story. Where there once was darkness, now there was light. Of all the things I’ve learned in the last 12 years, this is among the most important. Things don’t stay the same. For better or for worse. There is always more to come.

Confession

So. Remember how I wrote that last post about not quantifying or judging each other’s struggles to conceive and supporting one another no matter how “more” or “less” infertile we are? Well, I confess. I was laying the groundwork and sort of buttering you up for this post. So here it is: I’m pregnant. Not IVF, IUI or even Clomid-pregnant. I’m the-old-fashioned-way pregnant. What’s more, I got pregnant on the first try. Yeah, I’m one of them now.

I still, at almost 11 weeks, can hardly believe it myself. Sure I’d heard the stories – and even know some personally – of people who go through years of fertility treatment to have their first child and then conceive the second with ease. But as much as I flirted with the fantasy, I never truly thought that that would be my story. I was humoring my husband, who wanted to try naturally for awhile, and mentally calculating the months before we could contact the fertility clinic for an appointment. I was planning to dive back into IVF as soon as possible, because I do very much want to have more children.

So, when the pregnancy was confirmed, I was surprised to find that I was shocked more than thrilled. More disbelieving than relieved. Not that it wasn’t happy news, of course. I just wasn’t ready for it. And it wasn’t long before I thought of you, of Before the Belly, and I felt strangely guilty. I mean, here I was, promoting myself as some sort of infertility “expert.” Beckoning followers with new stories and facebook posts. Telling you that you will find support and understanding here. Which, of course you still will … but I wondered, do you really want to get it from me?

I hope so. If there is one thing this journey has taught me, it is that you can’t plan, predict or control. Life happens whether you’re expecting it or not, and doing your best means taking each new turn with as much grace as you can muster. So, here I am, still telling you that this is my passion and I won’t stop talking about infertility, even though I’m no longer the poster child. Maybe I will be something else now; perhaps a symbol of hope.

***

And as for you, little one, baby number two. If you are reading this someday, know that you were wanted just as much as your big brother. But, and it’s probably good that I’m realizing this right off the bat, your story is going to be different. Our story – our relationship – is going to be different. From the way you jumped into life without giving me hardly a moment to breathe, to the way you are already pushing me harder, with sickness and patience, than your brother did. You will be a surprise and a blessing, whoever you are.

Comparing scars

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend an open meeting of Shine Chicago, a support group for people touched by infertility. Shine hosted a fascinating guest speaker, Sara Connell, who shared her insights, her empathy, and an abbreviated version of her amazing story. (I rushed out the next day and got my hands on her book, Bringing in Finn, which I have been eagerly reading every night). While Sara’s talk was the highlight of the evening, I was equally moved when the conversation turned and many of the women there shared their stories and struggles.

Moved and humbled, I should say. The honesty and vulnerability these women showed was so courageous. They talked about horrors I couldn’t imagine, like late-term losses, and shared experiences and hurts, like watching their partners suffer in silence or being told that something they were doing or were not doing was causing their infertility. I found myself nodding my head most of the evening and holding back tears more than once. I also experienced a familiar sensation of self-consciousness.

It happens to me, in situations like this, that I judge the severity of my struggle and my losses to those around me. And I wonder, still, if I belong in this group of warriors because my battle is over for now. I have a baby. We had success on our first round of IVF. I had two miscarriages – but one of them was “only” at 4 weeks. Does that really count? I simply don’t know the wrenching pain of losing a baby at 22 – or 32 – weeks. And yet I went through so much pain and darkness. Is it valid? I don’t know the hopelessness of a bleak diagnosis. I’ve never gone through the physical and emotional rigors of an IVF cycle to be faced with a negative pregnancy test. The prospect of any of it breaks my heart in a way that makes me think I couldn’t handle it.

Maybe this is our culture or maybe it is even specific to our socialization as women. We tend to validate others while judging ourselves harshly. I think that recognizing grief and loss and suffering – without quantifying it – is hard, but necessary. I have to believe that, rather than a group to which I question my belonging, the infertility community is a team that needs me. I’m a survivor. I’m a success story. My team needs that. My teammates need to hear that it can and does happen. Hope is the most important part of this journey.

Sara’s book, Bringing in Finn, has inspired and ignited me because it blends both honesty and hope. Sara respects her reader and doesn’t hold anything back. She gives the tragic details of how she lost her twin boys at 22 weeks. She recounts the experience of witnessing their cremation and the agony of her days and nights that follow. And then she stunned me by writing, “My rational self reminded me that people had suffered worse losses.” When I read this, I literally said out loud, “Who?!” Through my tears, I could not imagine a worse loss nor could I understand Sara’s need to qualify her emotions with that acknowledgement. It hit me then that we are all doing it. We are all wondering if our suffering is enough.

This isn’t to say that all losses are the same, of course. But loss is loss. Grief is grief, fear is fear, pain is pain. It has happened to all of us, and it’s worth respecting. So, let’s stand together as sisters, bonded not because our struggles are the same, but our goals are. We are mothers and will-be mothers. We are a community, and we need each other to carry that torch of hope.

Join the movement!

Once again, it’s National Infertility Awareness Week. This year, the theme of the week and topic for bloggers is how we joined and are part of “the movement” to bring infertility into the spotlight. 
Here’s the thing about my personality. When I take up a cause (or a hobby or a lifestyle choice), I jump in with both feet. I don’t look back. I don’t dip my toe in, see if I like it or not. I make up my mind, and go for it.

So I didn’t want to join the movement. I didn’t want to be “infertile.” I much preferred to say that I was “having trouble getting pregnant.” But, like I said in my previous post, once I accepted that infertility was part of my story, I felt relieved. I could start moving forward.

So I didn’t mess around. I joined a fertility yoga class, started fertility acupuncture and logged in to an online infertility support group. Suddenly my infertility was my identity and my hobby and my cause all in one. I didn’t just tell a few friends what I was coping with, I decided to tell the world by starting a blog. I took a deep breath and I put it out there. Let me tell you, hitting “post” that first time took a ton of courage.

But what a blessing it turned out to be! Being honest about my struggle was so freeing. It allowed me to be both vulnerable and powerful at the same time. It made me an “expert” by virtue of my own experiences and allowed me to be a support for other women who were struggling too. Lots of people encouraged me and believed in me. And when it was time to do IVF, I knew that I had built a community of support that was pulling for me. What a way to go into that experience.

I was so lucky that my first IVF attempt was successful. After I had my son, I wondered if my blog would still be relevant. But what I found is that I experienced pregnancy and motherhood with the perspective of someone who’d gone through great pain to get there. I believe my former infertility influences many parts of who I am now, and how I mother my son. So my role in the movement is to continue being honest about my experiences, continue being a support to women and creating space for them to identify and reflect on how their own struggles influence who they are and how they go forward.
For more information about infertility and NIAW, please visit the following links:
 

Coping skills

Several people I care for are struggling right now. Because I’m an emotional person, I feel their pain as if it were my own. Even the stories and the grief of people I don’t know can bring me to tears. Sometimes I lose sight of how beautiful life is when I see so much hurt around me. 

We all go through dark times. Nothing exempts us from that fact. But knowing how to cope when dark times befall us is what gets us through life. As a social worker, I’d like to think that I have a good arsenal of coping skills. But what really works? What is more than lip service but is actually something you can count on to help you deal with heartache and pain and frustration and anxiety? After having experienced crushing grief on a couple occasions, I have a few suggestions of things that worked for me.

By the way, this is not to say that I didn’t make a mix entitled “Sad” and lay on my couch in the dark listening to it a time or two. I did. (Let me know if you want the playlist). Because even wallowing can be healthy, I think, in moderation. But among my more pro-active ideas are as follows.

1) Volunteer

There is something about doing for others, especially when you are feeling victimized by life yourself, that is healing. It’s hard to put into words why or how this works. Perhaps it is the gratitude that comes with seeing others in a more difficult situation than the one you’re in. Perhaps it is putting positive energy into the world that brings it back to you. Perhaps just feeling like you have something to contribute makes you feel better about who you are and where you are in life. For me, when it came to my infertility, I was so consumed with having a baby that I needed to find a way to channel that love that I was so aching to give. So, I volunteered to be a cuddler in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital at which I was working. Did you know that’s an actual job?? A cuddler! It was perfect for me. I could go whenever I wanted to hold and love tiny babies who needed the snuggles just as much as I did.

2) Get out in nature

For some, this may be easier than others. When you live in the city of Chicago, “nature” may have to be loosely defined as “outside.” Whatever. Just get outside. Go for a walk. Breathe some fresh air. Take a day trip to a place you can hike or bike or sit and write in a journal. I recommend the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Being outside, away from distractions, helps clear the mind and calm the soul. So does disconnecting from technology for awhile. If at all possible, turn off your phone.

3) Do something really, really nice for yourself

I don’t mean get a mocha at Starbucks or buy yourself a new pair of shoes (though by all means, do!) I mean plan ahead and make a date with yourself for something that would be truly healing. A day of peace at the spa. A trip to escape a little and see a friend out of town. A day of shopping for (and buying) a new stash of clothes that fit and make you feel good about yourself. I needed to do this last one a few months after my miscarriage. As I mentioned before, losing a baby does not also mean losing all the weight you gained while pregnant. It is a very frustrating reality. After fighting it awhile, I decided that I needed to feel good getting dressed everyday. It was the least I could do for my broken self. So, I went to my favorite store, Anthropologie, and unapologetically spent a good chunk of change. Don’t underestimate the impact of feeling comfortable and confident.

4) Talk to a counselor

I’m talking to you. Yes, you, who thinks they don’t need a counselor. That therapy isn’t for them. If you haven’t had a good experience with counseling then you haven’t had the right counselor. If you don’t know where to begin, I’ll tell you. But first let me say this. When coping with any kind of struggle, it is important to put your hurt and frustrations into words. Keeping them inside does not make them disappear, it often makes them intensify. And using your friends or your spouse as your therapist isn’t a good idea because they haven’t been trained. They don’t know how to help you process and heal in the same way a good therapist can. I have seen different counselors on and off since college and am a big fan of this kind of coping (obviously, considering my line of work). It’s not always easy – you don’t always find the right person on the first try. But once you do find someone you can open up to, it is a gift. Here’s a place to start:

You can search by zip code and then set your criteria (issue, insurance accepted, therapist’s gender) of whatever’s important to you. Search, contact and give it a try. You can also go through your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one.

Wishing you peace and healing, whatever your struggle.

Keep going!

I’ve wanted to be a mom pretty much since birth. Likely because my own mother was so amazing. Also, I think, because she seemed to really enjoy her job. She made it look fun. I was never under any pretenses that it was easy (because it’s not), but was always certain that it was a fulfilling and rewarding vocation.

Once I became an adult and motherhood was just around the corner, I started craving it. And when we started “trying,” it was pretty much all I could think about. Envisioning my life as a mother. What kind of parent I wanted to be. What kind of values I wanted to instill in my children, and how I might do that. Daydreaming about getting to experience again the magic of youth – Christmas morning, preschool, family vacations. 

When we had trouble getting pregnant, it made me desire it even more. I became simultaneously obsessive about wanting it so much and depressed about not having it. I wondered if I would ever have it. I feared that all my dreams would be shattered. I lost sight of the thing I tell all my single friends who are looking for a partner – you weren’t given this great desire to love and be loved for no reason. You weren’t given this passion to share your life with someone only to have your heart broken. You have this in you because it’s your destiny. And the same goes for motherhood. I knew I was meant to be a mother. I believed in my bones that it was what I was supposed to do. 

And here’s the truth: It’s even more wonderful than I imagined. Let me qualify that by saying that it’s also more trying, more exhausting, more frustrating and more terrifying than I imagined, too. I’m not trying to sugarcoat it here. But I often find myself struck by how completely overwhelmed I am by the love I share with my son. And the love my husband shares with our son. And the bond it’s formed between us.

John said to me last night, “…what about that feeling when you’re pushing him in the grocery cart and he rests his little hand on yours. How soft and gentle it is.” And I knew just what he was talking about. That tiny, innocent hand, lightly holding onto yours, thoughtlessly trusting that you are his safe place. You will take care of him. He’s looking around at the big, wide world knowing that you are his anchor. It’s thrilling in a very quiet way. Every night I thank God for my son and for the gift of getting to be his mother. I consider it the greatest blessing of my life.

I’m not writing this post to “rub it in” to my readers who are still struggling to conceive. What I’m hoping to do is cheer you on. Keep going! Keep fighting! It is so worth it. If I could go back in time and talk to myself two years ago, I would say this: don’t give up hope. Just keep moving forward. It’s a long and exhausting road, I know, but keep trying. You will get there, and you will be rewarded. It isas good as you envision. Even better. Get ready.

A great new resource – Shine Chicago

I was recently introduced to an amazing resource that I wanted to share with my readers, a company called Shine. It is a support community based in Chicago for women who are living with infertility. They offer both peer support group meetings as well as relevant educational talks for members on a monthly basis. I met with Katie, the founder, and she told me a bit about how she got started with this venture and the purpose of Shine.

Katie conceived her daughter through IVF in 2010. Before that, she was a fertility patient with many of the same struggles that I had. It took a lot of time, effort, and physical and emotional trials before she was rewarded with a pregnancy. Once she finally had her daughter in her arms and was reflecting on her experience, she realized that women could use a place to vent their fears and frustrations, ask their intimate questions and hold each other up during this stage in their lives. It was a badly needed haven and Katie decided to create it.

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to have support as you travel this journey. I would add that, in my experience, it’s also incredibly helpful to have a community of other women who are going through the same thing you are. Even the people who love you can’t always understand your anxieties and emotions. And sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger about getting shots in the butt (surprisingly). I found this both at my fertility yoga class and through online message boards, and I still keep in touch with some of those friends.

Now, I’m excited to get involved with Shine. It’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for when I started having fertility issues a few years ago. And since I may soon be a fertility patient again, it’s still a good place for me to be connected.

If you are interested in checking it out, Shine has a freeevent coming up that I would recommend to anyone. Shine will be hosting a guest speaker, Sara Connell, whom I can attest is amazing. She leads motivational workshops for women and also went through her own (Oprah-worthy) fertility journey. Remember that visioning retreat I mentioned awhile back? That was lead by Sara. She is inspirational, uplifting and motivational. I highly, highly recommend this event and will be attending myself!  Here are the details:

Bedside manner

Awhile back, I wrote this post about the importance of a good partner. Now, after talking with a few friends about their horrendous experiences with doctors, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of a good provider.

This kind of goes for any doctor, but particularly with a women’s health care provider or fertility specialist, it’s imperative to search for someone with a good bedside manner. And by “good bedside manner, ” I mean that she talks directly to you instead of your husband, is honest with you if she makes a mistake, and doesn’t say “uh oh” when you’re in the stirrups getting an exam (all true examples from my friends).

We forgive a lot of little quirks in our care providers because we depend on them so much. We overlook an insensitive comment or long wait for an appointment because we’ve chosen them to manager what is sometimes a very emotional process for us. We place our trust in them and then put ourselves in what we hope are their competent hands. Don’t kid yourself – it’s a relationship as important as any other. You have to like and respect and trust the person with whom you’re partnering.

When it comes to fertility, many people focus on just getting into the clinic with the best results. They are willing to put their comfort and mental health aside for the privilege of working with the doctor who has the highest success rate in the state. Trust me, I get it. But making that compromise may not be best in the long run. I cannot stress enough how important it is to feel that you – and your body – are respected throughout this process. I’ve written before about how, after months and months of failure, I began to see myself as “broken.” Going to a doctor whose attitude was “this is a totally fixable problem and you are going to be fine” gave me renewed hope. I was treated with respect, optimism and encouragement from the very start. 

When I came in with a long list of questions, my doctor was patient and answered every one. When I called with questions about my medications or billing, the staff promptly returned my calls and talked me through it. Even when I was on the table during a difficult part of the IVF process and cried out “I don’t think I can do it,” the nurse I’d come to know  and trust held my hand and said, “yes, you can.”

I’m lucky to be able to write about how it should be. I’ve heard too many stories about how it absolutely shouldn’t be. If you find yourself admitting that you may be in this situation, I encourage you to get out now. Your self-esteem, your relationship, and your future pregnancy will be the better for it.   

Considering adoption

Two years ago, I signed up for this conference:  

Parenting Through Adoption
 

John and I had already attended an open house at an adoption agency, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into adoption before signing on. At that point, we had been trying to have a baby for almost two years. We hadn’t exhausted all of our options fertility-wise, but I was inspired by a friend to consider any and all ways to bring a baby home. Saying the words, “we’re investigating adoption” was scary but also invigorating. I went into the conference nervous, excited, hopeful and fearful all at the same time.

It was an energizing experience. I felt like I was about to join a new club full of happy, passionate people. I felt encouraged, forewarned about the challenges, and then encouraged again. It was a day spent dreaming about my future children and how they might come to me. If you are in the Chicago area and thinking about starting to think about adoption, I highly recommend this conference.

One of the big questions we struggled with was whether or not we should start the adoption process while going through IVF. There are a lot of things that play into that decision. First of all, some adoption agencies won’t let you start the process if you are still pursuing fertility treatments. There are probably a bunch of obvious reasons why, but mainly I think they want you to be “all in” when you decide you want to adopt. For us, the emotional and financial cost of doing both simultaneously was too much, and we decided to try IVF first. We were lucky to have amazing insurance that covered the cost of my treatment almost completely, so it was an opportunity we had to seize. However, adoption was a very real consideration for us, and still is.

The other drawback to choosing adoption was the cost. Adoption is very expensive. Like, down payment on a house expensive. Some may be surprised to know that a private adoption through an agency can range from 20-40,000 dollars. Ouch. That was money we just didn’t have and couldn’t imagine coming up with for a long time. Of course, there are tax credits and some financial aid programs. If you want it bad enough, you can find ways to make it more affordable.

But last night, as I was thinking about this subject, I had an epiphany about the cost of adoption. Maybe it’s supposed to hurt.

We’ve recently put away our credit cards and are living on a cash-only budget. I can attest that it is much harder to hand over our hard-earned cash than it is to swipe a piece of plastic. When a purchase is coming out of a limited fund of money that’s in our bank account, rather than some imaginary fund of money that’s not really ours, we think twice about it. It’s really changed our perspective on spending and saving and value. So it dawned on me – maybe that’s why adoption is so expensive. Or, at least, maybe that’s a benefit of it being so expensive. You don’t do it on a whim. It takes patience and goal setting and time. You have to work for it. 
It’s painful to hand over a check for $20,000. But if and when you do, you know that you mean it.  This is really what you want.  You’re committed.  Of course, more than anything else, a child deserves that. And when you think about it, how much more valuable is a child than a house? For me, anyway, there’s no contest.

So, this is my new insight on adoption. I don’t know if or when it will be in the cards for us. I know it’s very much on my heart. And when the day comes to hand over that check, I know we’ll do so with the expectation that it won’t be the hardest part of adopting, but also that it will be returned to us ten-fold in the joy only a child can bring.


How do you motivate?

When I first got pregnant, I made a promise to myself. If my body would cooperate and carry this baby to term, I would be forever grateful. And by grateful I meant that I would no longer talk down to myself about my body. Whatever condition it was in, for however long, I would accept it and thank it for doing the amazing work of producing a human. I meant that sincerely, and I’ve stuck to that promise – wrinkled stretch marks and all.

I came upon an obstacle recently, though, when I started trying to lose the last five pounds. I discovered that my go-to method of motivating was self-deprecation. I caught myself starting to feel shame and frustration with the state of my body and my willpower, or lack thereof, for working out regularly. The negative self talk started to creep in.

What startled me was that this was the way I knew how to motivate myself to do the work. I focused on my flaws that needed fixing. It’s what I’ve always done. Then I looked more closely and realized that this method extended beyond just weight loss and body image. I’m embarrassed to admit that this is how I typically motivated myself to make any kind of difficult change. I shamed myself into it.

Of all the ways that motherhood has changed me, this may be one of the most important. I refuse to do that anymore. I won’t denigrate the body that brought my son into the world. I won’t disparage his mother – her intelligence or strength or worth. In a way that nothing else has, becoming a mom has proven to me once and for all that I am okay the way I am. Precious even. 

So now that I’ve given up that practice, what do I do? How do I motivate myself to make changes? Set goals that scare me? Sometimes succeed but sometimes fall short? How do I challenge myself without bullying myself? It’s a new skill, and I’m learning slowly. The best thing I’ve discovered so far is to see myself as my son sees me, and as I imagine my mother saw me as well. More than a body or a skill set or an imperfect personality. More than the sum of my parts. A unique being full of love to give and receive. There is comfort in knowing that even though I’m not perfect, I’m just right in somebody’s eyes.

I encourage you to do the same, and to remind me if I forget. I also challenge you – gently – to examine how you get motivated to improve. How can we help each other? Positive ideas are always welcome.