Category Archives: Before the Belly


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Another year has passed

Every May, I have to pay about $175 to keep this blog active. And every May, for as little sense as it makes, I shell out the money. I’ve posted once in the last year, but I can’t let it go. And as unrelated as the two may seem, the one day a year I always post on my infertility blog is the anniversary of my mother’s death.

I’ve been thinking about why, and my guess is that it’s because they are two things that define me, two things that I don’t want to exist only in the past.

I am now pregnant with my third child, thanks be to God. But I don’t want to forget the pain of infertility, the deep desire in my soul to be a mother, the crushing devastation of loss and the fear that it might never happen. I don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten it, because I’m sure I never will. I will always be an infertility survivor – a proud one, with a good story. (Seriously, when this baby is born, I will say that I’ve had 3 children in 4.5 years. Is that even mathematically possible? My cup runneth over…)

And today. Today marks 15 years since my life forever changed in a moment, and I became someone who walks this Earth without her mother. It’s another piece of me, the magnitude of which has not diminished with the passing of time. Similarly, I’ve grown and made my life into something that makes me proud and brings me peace. But having a place in the world is not the same as having a mother.

The closest thing, I guess, to having a mother is having a child. Unconditional, unbreakable, abiding love. The miracle of having shared one body. Feeling an invisible emotional and physical tether to the other, such that their presence or absence, their joy or their pain, is part of you. Knowing that you exist because of them, or they because of you. Maybe that is why these two are connected. My greatest loss and my greatest love. From where my heart began, and where it continues.

I wish the two could meet. I wish I could see my children in my mother’s arms. What a circle that would be. But for now (til we unite in Heaven), I will be the link. And this will be my story.

 

 

 

 


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reflections

I feel my mother. When I press my lips against my son’s forehead and keep them there for an extra second. All of a sudden, my lips are her lips, against my forehead, and that intense mother-child bond is reignited within me.

I hear my mother. When my son does something so surprising and funny that I burst out in joyful laughter. I delight in him and tell him so. For a moment, I am my mother, delighting in me.

I see my mother. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, skin tanned from the summer sun, hair curly from the humidity. Frazzled at the end of the day, but still pretty. I imagine what it was like to be her, 30 years ago, after a long day of taking care of my siblings and me.

I sense my mother. When we walk into our children’s room and our 3 year old is standing on his dresser in front of a fully opened (second story) window. It is her mothering instinct that has drawn me in here at just the right moment and her presence, I believe, holding him back from taking one more step. Thank you thank you thank you.

These moments are fleeting, now, 14 years later. She is not part of my every hour or even every day. But the times when she comes back to me, I savor it. I remember how I was truly cherished, and I’m comforted that that feeling never fades.

My mother’s greatest legacy is this: her grandchildren will never, ever question how much they are loved, because that’s how she taught us – by example – to parent.

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

What a wonderful world

As I was reading my favorite blog, Momastery, yesterday, I was struck by this insight:

“If you’ve experienced the world as loving and generous – that is how you will live, in abundance. But if you’ve experienced the world as uncaring and cold, then it only makes sense that you will continue to live with that world view.”

It made me think about my worldview, where it came from. What has shaped me.

The world I’ve experienced took away my mom – my true North, my tether to the Earth, my guiding light – at 22. I was set adrift, for a time, to suffer and to find my own path. While I was walking alongside my loving father, brother and sister, I still felt alone. It was an emptiness I never expected.

But later, this world provided me with an incredible husband and two angel-boys that set my heart on fire. They have given me passion and hope and a reason not just to live, but to better myself every day. Purpose, fulfillment, true love.

And the world didn’t stop at that. It gave me loyal and devoted brother- and sister-in-laws. An open, loving mother- and father-in-law. Eight (!) nieces and nephews that are literally my pride and joy. Friends that would do anything for me. Abundance I never could have imagined.

So there have been both – great loss and great love. My heart has felt so much pain and so much joy that I thought it might break.

On days like today, the 13th anniversary of her death, I take a moment to focus on the loss. But maybe because she was my mom, I can’t linger there long. Because I look around me and there is so much life. And while nothing, nothing will ever replace her, I can’t help but drink in the joy of what I’ve been given.

As my mom would sometimes say, with gratitude….
my cup runneth over.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Waiting for Motherhood – My Messy Beautiful

My son is a test tube baby. Remember when they used to call them that? Like they were a science experiment or an alien brought to life in some other-worldly way. Before I began IVF – really, before I became a fertility patient – I had no idea what those test tube babies were all about. Little did I know that they were among the most wanted and prayed for babies on the planet.

Since childhood, I have wanted to be a mother. Everyone who knows me knows that that was my life’s truest calling. So I assumed that my path to motherhood would be a simple one. Get married – check. Decide with husband to start “trying” – check. Get pregnant – check. It almost went that smoothly. Until. Until I lost my first baby and faced the utter devastation that comes with having your dreams come true for what feels like just a moment, only to be whisked away. We were in the doctor’s office for our first official prenatal visit, and then he couldn’t find the heartbeat. I said later that it was like having the best day of your life turn into the worst day of your life in the blink of an eye.

My first miscarriage stayed with me longer than I would have expected. It became a part of my identity, a measuring stick against which I assessed all subsequent losses and disappointments. My second miscarriage was termed a “chemical pregnancy” – over almost before it started. It was less dramatic than the first, but equally defining.

And then, for awhile, my life was a mess. On the outside, I was keeping it together. But on the inside, I was despairing. I was depressed. Nothing mattered to me so much as becoming a mom. And my self worth and satisfaction started to get wrapped up in the mission. Suddenly, I was only as happy as my ovulation kits or temperature charts allowed me to be. I was only intimate with my husband on a schedule. I didn’t enjoy being a young, married professional (my reality) anymore. All I wanted was a baby.

I realized I’d hit rock bottom one day when I was out for a walk and passed a pregnant woman on the street. As I passed her by, I reflexively rolled my eyes. (I am not proud to admit this). A moment later, I caught myself – “who are you?” I wondered. Had I become so bitter that I couldn’t even appreciate the gift of motherhood and the happiness it brought to others?

I knew right then that something needed to change. Resisting the mess, wishing it wasn’t so, only took me farther away from my true self. The one who loved pregnant women and big baby bellies and tiny little onesies. So I started praying for all the pregnant women in my life every night. I decided to turn my negative energy in another direction and focus instead on celebrating life.

When we decided to do IVF, I knew we had reached an important milestone. We were approaching the final frontier of “trying,” and with that I felt an urge to do something different. Instead of shying away from the truth, I had to embrace it. I had to shout it from the mountaintops. Surely for others there’s a middle ground. But for me, I had to be bold about it. I had to tell everyone I know.

So, that’s what I did. I started this blog, I posted it to facebook, and I held my breath.

Of course, the beautiful part of my story starts there. The outpouring of support was incredible. The prayers and well wishes that accompanied me on my journey allowed me to release fear and wear my hope on my sleeve. And, miraculously, I got pregnant. My friends and family followed my story, encouraged me, and used me to encourage others. Borne of my last-ditch effort was a new beginning.

It makes me wonder: what if, instead of resisting our truth, we all told everyone we know? That we had a miscarriage, that it was devastating. That we’re struggling to get pregnant and wonder if we’ll ever be a mom. That we did fertility treatment to get our baby and we’re SO happy and proud. What if we took the silence out of struggle and loss? What if we took the shame and fear out of fertility treatment? Who could we help and what kind of community would it create?

I envision an environment of self-acceptance and self-kindness. I see mothers being symbols of hope for not-yet mothers. I picture women caring for other women, long before the celebrations begin… and long after. Mostly I imagine that our honesty, transparency and openness would change the experience of waiting for motherhood for the better.

Everyone has a messy, beautiful reality to share. Mine is this: This beautiful baby was conceived in a “test tube.” And I couldn’t be prouder. He is mine.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Survivor’s guilt

I’m in that season of life now where just about everyone I know is making babies, having babies… and losing babies. It’s a beautiful, exciting time, but also fraught with unexpected scares and sadness. Making babies is not always so easy.

I know a number of people lately who’ve had losses. My heart just breaks for them. Despite the fact that it’s been 4 years since I lost my first baby, I can go right back to that moment, those days, and feel that pain. That gut-wrenching, always-just-below-the-surface pain. I approached a friend at a party the other day to express my sympathy, and I saw it in her eyes. I wanted to tell her that I knew, but I didn’t. There was something between us, literally and figuratively. My belly.

I am now a big, pregnant lady with an adorable toddler. I don’t look like someone who’s suffered in the baby-making department. Even friends who know my story probably wonder if that part of my life is even on my radar anymore. (My inattention to this blog serving as evidence that it is not). But the truth is that I care more about women who are suffering from infertility and experiencing loss than almost anything else. No other time in my life have I felt so alone and so not understood. For those women now, I want to be one who understands.

I think the hard part for all of us, pregnant or not, is knowing what to say to these women (and men…they need acknowledgement, too). Or how to say it. Knowing how to be compassionate and sincere without being patronizing or hurtful. It’s such a fine line. I think that’s why people tend to ignore it. We’d rather err on the side of silence than say something completely stupid. But having been there, I know that there’s an ache to feel acknowledged. To feel like your loss is real, valid, in other people’s eyes. To believe that those around you get it – to some degree – why it’s not over for you yet. The pain persists longer than anticipated.

So, what can we say? I’m sorry. I’m sad for you. I know how much you want to be a mother. I’m praying for you. I believe this will happen, and I hope it happens soon. How are you? Do you want to talk about it?

Of course some people will want to talk and others won’t. Many will consider this a very private matter and wish to keep it to themselves, even as they feel so alone. Respect that, but don’t use it as an excuse to disappear. Stay available and in tune. I think that’s all you can do. Expect that your friend or co-worker or sister will be affected by this for a long time. And be aware. Be aware of the woman struggling to get pregnant attending a baby shower. Be aware of the couple who’ve recently had a loss at a party filled with babies and pregnant bellies. Be sensitive to their struggle. And even if you can’t find the words, send up a silent prayer or intention on their behalf.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Different miracles

I’m now past the half-way point of my pregnancy. And while I’ve done a lot of comparing along the way, the milestone has caused me to reflect on the difference between this journey and my first. Mostly, I’ve been struck by how little I’ve thought of it. Sure, I notice my belly every day (especially now that I’ve started to feel those miraculous little kicks). But as my life is consumed by trying to keep my little toddler safe and healthy, my overall experience of pregnancy is an afterthought.

How different this is than my first pregnancy journey! With my son, I was constantly thinking about my changing body, my racing emotions, my plans for our future and visualizations of his birth. I took belly pictures every week, kept a journal, and spared no expense in treating myself to pregnancy-friendly foods and products. It was more than a hobby.

If I were to choose a word to describe how I experienced that pregnancy, it would be intense. I felt everything intensely. I read intensely. I prayed intensely. I focused intensely. It was a wonderful, all-consuming, admittedly self-centered time of my life. I think there were two reasons for this. One is that it was my first (full) pregnancy; the other, of course, is that it came after years of struggle and medical treatment. I wonder which of these contributed more to the potency of the experience for me.

Regardless, this pregnancy is neither. I have neither the newness nor the anticipation to fuel the same sort of intensity that I had with my first. Maybe that’s inevitable, but I can’t help but feel a little guilty. Already this second or middle child is getting less attention than my beloved first born. I am feeling less connected, less involved in the process that is taking place, almost without my participation. Often I fall asleep at night before I even get around to praying for the baby.

The other day I was talking to a friend who, ironically, has a similar story to mine – struggle and IVF to attain her first pregnancy and a natural, unexpected conception for her second. She said something that really struck me, though. She said that, in thinking about having more children in the future, she still feels like an infertile person, despite how easily she got pregnant the second time. She said that she worries that she would go through all the heartache and loss again. Conceiving a baby naturally and easily did not erase the scars of her infertility battle. She believes her second pregnancy was a miracle, not her new reality.

It dawned on me how much infertility sticks with us, as a part of our identity. And then I though about her words – a miracle. A different kind of miracle than the first. It took awhile for me to let that sink in and to realize that my current journey through pregnancy is not “less than.” And that while I may not have the same intensity that I had with my first, maybe I can have another kind of reverence. My miracle baby.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Post-partum depression after infertility

In the two years that we were trying to conceive, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to be a mother. To have a little peanut that I could snuggle whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted. To be able to finally pour all the love and nurturing I had to offer on a little someone I loved more than life. And then my son arrived, bringing with him all these dreamed-about gifts.

What I didn’t count on, though, was the daily struggle of caring for a newborn. The insecurity. The frustration. The complete overwhelm with a feeling of failure as neither of us slept – not enough anyway, or at the right times.

Why is this so hard for me? I wondered. I started babysitting when I was 12; held jobs as a nanny, preschool teacher, swim instructor, camp counselor, and orphanage volunteer. I had my Masters in Child Development for crying out loud! No one should have been as prepared for this job as I was.

And yet I was not happy. I was crying every day. I felt like I wasn’t cut out for this after all. And I was so ashamed of that. As a social worker and a fairly insightful person, I didn’t waste much time with diagnosing myself with post-partum depression. I sought out a good counselor and got the help I needed.

I’ve thought a lot since then about post-partum depression (PPD) and whether it might be more common in women in women who go through fertility struggles. A brief overview of the literature on the subject does not draw this direct conclusion, though it does name stress, previous loss, and history of depression as risk factors. But I have to wonder if the build up, the waiting, the bargaining “if only, then…” had something to do with my shock that new motherhood was not the bliss I’d imagined. It also contributed, I think, to how hard I was on myself for not being happy. If this was all I ever wanted, and I wasn’t happy, what was wrong with me?

Somewhere around six months, we (all) started sleeping through the nights again. Life improved dramatically. I felt more confident as a mom. As we settled into a routine and I had more energy, I embraced my new role. I realized that nothing was wrong with me. I was, in fact, meant to be a mother. Just like I thought.

Recently, I discovered this article by Jody Peltason about the realities of new motherhood. I found a lot of comforting familiarity in her reminiscing about those early days and the accompanying emotions. The part that stood out the most to me, though, was her discussion of what constitutes post-partum depression. She writes,

“…the problem with that question as our primary approach to the struggles of new motherhood is that it suggests that the post-partum experience itself is just fine, unless of course you have a legitimate clinical illness that distorts your perception of it. And the post-partum experience is not just fine. It is immensely, bizarrely complicated. It is, at various times and for various people, grueling and joyful and frightening and beautiful and disorienting and moving and horrible.”

I read this and a lightbulb went off. Maybe I didn’t have post-partum depression after all. Not that it really matters one way or another, because getting help when you’re feeling depressed is crucial. But I also think it’s important for new moms to know that if things aren’t fine, it’s more normal than abnormal. Especially for us post-infertility moms. Our expectations – for ourselves, our babies, our experience – are so high. So inflated by our months and years of dreaming. So, if this is your experience, I encourage you to remember these things: It’s hard for everyone. You were meant to be a mother. And seeking out help is healthy and good – for you and your baby.


Thursday, June 27, 2013


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moving on up!

This is more of a testing 1-2-3 post. As you may have noticed, we’ve moved! After much well-meaning procrastination, I secured the domain beforethebelly.com and made it official. Now I’m just testing my email subscription service to make sure I didn’t lose any of my valuable readers! Thanks to all of you for your continued support…

By the way, another motivator for this change was a very exciting opportunity to guest blog for a writer and person I much admire. Look for more on that later this week!


Friday, June 7, 2013

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.