6/24/15

Living in a pit with a heavenly view

One year ago yesterday John and I met our embryo donors. I remember because it's Vacation Bible School week at our church and last year I taught VBS the morning before we met them.

We were blessed by our donors who gave us four embryos to transfer. Their gift filled us with hope and expectation. I felt as though our next child was so close. Like I could almost reach out and touch her, my fingers just barely grazing her skin.

Nine months- how ironic- after that warm June day all four embryos were gone. Dead. All four beat the odds to survive the IVF thawing process, at least one implanted in my womb.... but none survived. We never got to meet our baby.

It's been three months now since I miscarried that one who implanted inside me. When people ask me how I'm doing I like to use an analogy. Maybe it will help someone else name something they're going through so I'll share it here. (If I've learned one thing through infertility it's that none of my experiences are unique. They are shared. They are common. They're so common they'd be boring if they weren't so painful.)

Living with infertility feels like living in a pit.

source.

Every cycle is like the sun rising and setting over the pit and with it my hopes. When it's daylight I think, "Maybe I can climb out of here!" or "Maybe someone will walk by and throw me a rope!" or "Maybe if I cry upwards loud enough, someone will hear me and rescue me!"

But every month, the sun sets on my pit. I have not found a way out. I am left in darkness. I sit down in the pit to weep and gather my strength to try again.

When I finally, FINALLY! found out I was pregnant last winter I climbed out of the pit into the glorious sun! I felt the warmth on my face, I lifted my hands to the heavens, I cried in victory and sheer relief!

Even as I stood in the sun, though, I knew I was just one small step away from the gaping mouth of the pit. Even in my joy, I could feel the greedy darkness lurking behind me. My biggest fear was that I would fall back inside.

The moment I lay on the ultrasound table as my doctor searched for a baby and then said, "I don't see anything" it was like someone pushed me, hard, right back into the pit.

I fell with a tremendous THUD. Initially it was all I could do to breathe. The wind was knocked right out of me. I lay gasping on the floor.  Then the shock wore off and the pain of my broken body set in. I writhed. I agonized.

It's been three months now and the agony has faded to a dull and constant ache. I broke a few bones in that fall; they're healing, but I don't think they all set exactly right. And... I'm still in the pit.

I've gone through all the stages of grief in this pit (and am still going through them). I've been angry, weepy, denial-y...

Something I've learned in the pit is how little there is to say about something like this and how good it is to be still before the LORD. At first I didn't really have anything to say because I was just so crushed. There were no words to express it. Then I didn't want to say anything because it would have just been a long string of angry expletives. I thought about bargaining with God to somehow coerce him into giving me a child, but I've been a Christian long enough to know that I'll never hold up any end of any deal I could ever make with him. Plus, what could I ever offer that he doesn't already have? And also: God doesn't work that way.

There is really so little to say about loss. It's not fair but what's fair? It's not right but it's happening. Let's just all say, "This is a nightmare. I hate everything. I'm going to go hide in the garage." (Anne Lamott, Stitches.)

Realizing how little there is to say about loss is quite difficult when you're a blogger and a talker and a general word-er. I kind of felt like I was shushed by God.

Thank God my faith starts with love. I know that shushing wasn't a sharp, "SHHH!" like a librarian scolding noisy kids between the book aisles. It was more like the way a mother scoops up and "shhhhhh"s her little child after a big tumble on the sidewalk and a skinned knee.

I'm still in the pit. I don't know when or how I'll ever climb out of it. But what I am learning is how to live here better than I have been. How to not be so angry about being here, how to accept sadness, how to embrace the idea that somehow living in the pit for however long is preparing me for something I can't see yet.

Truly, what can a person see from a pit? The sun. Clouds. Sometimes a patch of blue. Tiny stars in the night sky. The heavens. All you can see in the pit are the heavens.

Here I am. In the pit. All I can see are the heavens. All I can do is trust that my heavenly view is enough to sustain me for now.

"Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens;
Who created these?
He brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
- Isaiah 40:26-31

xo 

6/11/15

Cupcake chaos and Arie turns five!

Arie had two requests for his fifth birthday party: 1) a lion theme and 2) decorate your own cupcakes.

How cute! I thought. The lion theme was probably inspired by Arie's Halloween costume from the fall: something he was able to wear again in the spring at a friend's costume party.

This choice of theme was much more my style than the pirate one he chose last year! Pirates come with so much evidence of violence: peg legs, missing eyes, swords strapped to their bodies. I'm too much of a softy for stuff like that. Lion are tamer. I can easily turn a blind eye to all the hunting and killing of zebras and eating of raw bloody meat lions do in the wild. With just a little chosen ignorance I can make lions all about furry manes, majestic roars, and lots of orange and yellow. Think circus over Serengeti (not that I support animals for entertainment! I know they're happier in the wild. This line of thought is for birthday party planning purposes only.)

The "decorate your own cupcakes" thing.... well, I pictured that getting kind of sticky so I tried to talk Arie out of it, but he wouldn't budge. And you know: the birthday boy gets what the birthday boy wants!

So Arie and I put our heads together and our hands to use to make this lion/decorate-your-own-cupcake thing happen! We spend the weeks leading up to his party baking & freezing cupcakes, taste-testing potato salad recipes, and decorating treat bags. The cupcake making was met with great joy and licking of beaters! The treat bag decorating was at first met with excitement and later (about halfway through gluing 20 lion heads on 20 treat bags) with an exasperated exclamation: "I wish I didn't have so many friends!"

You'll be singing another tune when they all show up to celebrate! 

(And he did.)


We hoped to grill out for the party and host it in our backyard. After a week of nail-biting weather forecast checks the day arrived and it.was.perfect.

We started the celebrations bright and early at 7:30am by surprising Arie with the gift John and I bought him: a geo dome! John and my dad (who, with my mom, had arrived from Ontario the day prior) spent hours the evening before racing against the setting sun to get it assembled. They called the task a great "team building exercise"... but they said it without smiling, so I don't think it was fun, exactly. We'll just say it was a labor of love.

Anyway, we had to "give it" to Arie right away so he wouldn't see it without us and ruin the surprise. Out to the backyard in our pajamas we went, covering Arie's eyes with a blindfold.

"On the count of three!" John and I counted as Arie poised to uncover his eyes "One...."


"Two..."


"Three!"
Womp womp. Arie furrowed his brow at the structure before him and questioned slowly, "It just a... bunch of... sticks?"

Knowing our boy, we had anticipated a confused reaction like this and were ready to show him just how AWESOME and FUN this new geo dome would be! In my flip flops and fluffy white robe, I called to my inner 5 year-old-self and climbed right up on that thing! The act that finally got Arie excited out it was when I pretended to be stuck inside it, like a jail. He thought that was hilarious. Of course. (No there are no pictures of that! On purpose.)

After some geo-dome fun we got a busy day started: party-prepping, cooking, and taking an afternoon trip to the beach: one of Arie's favorite activities. By late afternoon we were home and waiting for guests to arrive.

The party was fantastic. Kids swarmed our new play structure, climbing and swinging, calling out for the closest adult to "LOOK! Watch me!!" Burgers and hot dogs were eaten, juice-boxes drank, salads left untouched on many little kids' plates. 

Arie must have been spreading the word around the party about the cupcakes because while I was eating I had no fewer than five sets of pleading little eyes come before me wondering whhheeeeeeeennnnnn it would be time for cupcakes. "After we open presents!" I cheerfully replied. The little one would run off reporting the news to his or her friends, "She said after presents!!"

(Seconds later I had more kids coming back to ask, "Um... when are we opening presents??" Ha!)

Arie was spoiled with a mountain of gifts: side-walk chalk paint, outdoor toys, lots of craft supplies (he's becoming a budding artist!), and his most cherished surprise: a giant cookie. (When Arie was three John once took him to a coffee shop and had Arie place his own order. "Tell them what kind of cookie you want!" he prompted. Without hesitation Arie replied, "The biggest cookie in the whole wide world!" We've gotten many laughs from that story! His wish finally came true.)

At long, long last it was time for the most anticipated part of the party: time to decorate your own cupcake!

I knew this would be a messy ordeal and I came prepared with wet wipes. Other than a little stickiness, I anticipated this being something of a whimsical moment at the party: children standing shoulder-to-shoulder, giggling together, spreading frosting, squeezing out smiley faces or other designs, excitedly turning to mom or dad to show of their creations before enjoying that first sugary bite... In my mind, I thought this would take about 20 minutes.

It took approximately 3.

I still laugh as I replay the scene in my mind: 

We started by singing the Happy Birthday song while Arie blew out a candle on one of the pre-frosted cupcakes I had decorated for the adults. 

In this picture I am laughing because as I lowered the cupcake down to let Arie blow out the candle I heard a tiny voice calling, "I blow it! I blow it!" and saw the cutest little two year old body bolting her way toward us with her mom in hot pursuit calling, "Wait! Stop! NO!" Mom swooped her up just in the nick of time! It was probably my favorite memory from the whole event and still makes me laugh!

After Arie blew out the candle I went inside to get the undressed cupcakes. The words "stampede" and "swarm" come to mind as I remember a dozen small bodies throttling toward the decorating station when I came outside.

I had the cupcakes divided in a few ziplock containers so it took me a minute to get them opened for handing out. The children who had to wait for their cupcakes nearly died. They really did. I made over 4 dozen cupcakes for this party and there was no way I would run out, but the kids did not know that. All they knew was their neighbor had a cupcake and they did not. Most of those three minutes are a total blur to me now, but I do distinctly remember hearing at least 30 kids calling, "I NEED ONE!" in panic. Which is weird because there weren't more than 15 kids there.

I had put out two bowls of frosting with handful of plastic knives in each one. At first the spreading went well: scoop a blob of frosting, spread it on the cupcake, repeat.... right? Well the kids added a step. Their version was: scoop a blob of frosting, spread it on the cupcake, LICK THE KNIFE, and repeat.

Suddenly the communal bowls of frosting did not seem like my best idea. Hopefully that one little party guest did not spread his mouth fungus to the rest.

I kid.

I also bought these accordion frosting tubes which I thought were GENIUS on my part because they eliminated that open back end you get with a frosting bag. What I did not anticipate was that young children cannot wrap their minds around the accordion style of squeezing. Poor child after child risked brain aneurism level of concentration on those tubes, squeezing with all their might from the sides. "Squeeze from the top.... squeeze from the top!.... squeeze from the.... you know that? Never mind. Just eat your cupcake."

I don't know if any kids showed their cupcakes to their parents. Some probably did. I didn't even see Arie take one bite of his. He just handed me the wrapper when he was done.

The adults also enjoyed cupcakes (pre-frosted) and after we were done we let our kids climb off the sugar high on the geo dome while we stood around the bowls of mostly-frosting-but-partially-saliva laughing and dipping vanilla wafers like a more delicious version of dunk-a-roos. Every once and a while a stray kid would run up to ask for another cupcake which was mostly obliged because well, what are birthdays for?

Standing before the remnants of that obliterated cupcake station, licking frosting off my fingers, I thought how this totally chaotic part of Arie's birthday will always be one of my favorite memories. It was nothing like how I planned it yet so much better. Funnier. Happier. Truer.

And the children loved it!

 One final memory I want to share with you from Arie's birthday weekend happened the day before his party when my parents arrived with his birthday gift.

Short back story to his gift: earlier this spring Arie participated in a "wheel-a-thon" fundraiser at his preschool. Each student brought a set of wheels (roller blades, bike, scooter, etc) and "wheeled" for 20 minutes. Arie brought his tricycle and had a blast! He was adorable out on the chalked parking lot "track," crawling along at his own speed, smiling and trying to make conversation with kids who whizzed by. We were so proud of him for completing the whole 20 minutes! That's probably the longest he's biked (triked) for one continuous period of time. (Here's a little clip from the event.)

John and I noticed, though, that he was the only kid on a tricycle at the event! Even the kids from the three-year-old class were using balance bikes or bikes with training wheels. With Arie being both our oldest and our only, we have a tendency to think of him as younger than he is. Which, considering the rough start he had in life, is probably a good thing! But John did decide at that event that it would be time to introduce Arie to a big boy bike! When we got home we called my mom- a yard sale master- and asked her to keep an eye out for a bike with training wheels in Arie's size.

Which brings us back to last weekend! Here's Arie unveiling his new gift:

His reaction was comparable to the "sticks" reaction, which we also expected. We all encouraged him to give the bike a try, cheering him on as he inched the pedals forward. I ran ahead down the sidewalk to snap a picture when suddenly I felt as though I was looking into the past. Two years earlier my parents had gifted him his beloved trike for his third birthday. The scences were nearly identical; the setting, the characters, the little feet on new pedals, the smile on my boy's face as he sort-of got the hang of it... it was all the same. Except the boy who sat on the bike seat was so much bigger, taller, more mature, with more defined personality traits, and more comfort in his own skin.

The years have gone by impossibly fast but they have been so good to him! His birthdays will always be bittersweet (as I'm sure they are for most moms) since I want him to stay my baby forever, but I cannot be sad about the boy he is becoming. He is sensitive, smart, creative (especially with arts and crafts!), smiley, an easy-laugher, and a jokester. 

Reflecting on the growth I've seen on my boy, watching him climb and play and eat at his party, celebrating his life with some of our dearest friends... it was a weekend to "taste and see that the LORD is good"!- (Psalm 34:8). I'm so thankful for Arie and his presence in our lives!

Arie finished his year of preschool back in May and will be headed to school in the fall. He'll be doing a young kinders program, 5 full days each week (eep!). Since I won't have a baby to be taking care of this fall when he's in school I've decided to pour myself into another "heart project" that I've long thought about: writing a book! It'll be a memoir of sorts, chronicling some major experiences in my life (my mom's coma and illness in 2007, our adoption, and infertility struggle) and the spiritual impact those events have had on me. I'll continue to post biweeklyish on the blog while I pour the rest of my writing energies into the book. I appreciate any prayers and encouragement you can offer!

Sending lots of love and gratitude to you, my readers. You mean so much to me! 

xo

4/9/15

Update after miscarriage

It has been almost a month since our loss. We are still processing. The past few weeks have been very painful. Those of you who have been here know how excruciating it is, how impossible to describe.

Over Easter weekend we took this family picture. I look upon it with so much gratitude. Here are my greatest blessings: my husband and my son. I praise the Giver of all good things for them. Nothing can diminish the joy I feel when I look upon them.


Yet I also look at this picture with sadness. How many times have we posed together as three, wishing to be more? How many years will continue to pass before my son becomes a brother? Before my husband gives his name to another child? Before I feel for myself the blessed joy of life inside? Having lost four precious embryos, I pose for these pictures haunted by the children who should be there.


I follow an infertility support organization called Resolve on facebook and they posted this chilling quote:

"The best way I can describe infertility is to ask a parent to imagine a world in which their child did not exist. I live that reality every day." 
- Anonymous. 

I read that quote and sighed deeply while nodding my head. Yes. That's what it feels like. Then I read this comment from another facebook user: 

"As someone who has gone through infertility and been fortunate enough to have a child, I have to say that simply imagining she didn't exist does not even begin to describe the torture that is infertility." - Emily Marx 

Yes. 

Prolonged infertility and loss bores holes into your heart where your children should be and fills them with such grief, you cannot "even begin to describe."

In the face of such pain I have turned to the only place I know to go: to the arms of my Savior. I have asked him to show me his love, his mercy, his favor. I continue to ask him for the gift of a child by birth. For the deep desire of my heart. 

Over the past month as I have continued to bring my long unanswered prayer before the Lord, I have felt a growing desire to be quiet before him. While blogging has been nothing but a gift to me over the past few years, it requires me me to be in constant interpretation of my life. To be constantly looking for God's hand upon me. To testify to his presence and purpose in my life. 

Here's the honest truth: I can't see it right now. I have faith that it is there- his presence and purpose- that is will be revealed, that I will be able to testify to God's goodness during this season in my life...  someday. But right now, I can't. Right now I am in too much pain to do it. 

So I am going to quiet myself before the Lord and wait on him. Hear me: we are moving forward with more treatment: I'm having another surgery, we're looking for more embryos, we're trying a new transfer technique. We are not giving up. But I need to quiet myself even in our trying; to take time to let the truth of his love settle deep into my heart and to get a little farther along in this journey before I try to interpret it. 

Someday I trust will have reason to testify to what the Lord has done in this season of my life.  For now, I am surrendering to the mystery and simply waiting for that day. 

"The LORD will fight for you. You need only be still." Exodus 14:14

"Be still in the presence of the LORD and wait patiently for him to act." - Psalm 37:7

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10 

"Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to mutter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." - Ecclesiastes 5:2

"Humble yourselves before the LORD and he will lift you up." James 4:10 

Until that day, you can keep up with my on facebook and instagram where I will continue to post. I also have twitter which I use... sometimes. ;-)  

Thank you so much for your readership over the past few years. I look forward to the day when I can write again and say with the Psalmist, "Come and see what God has done! What awesome miracles he performs for his people!" - Psalm 66:5. 

Please join me in waiting quietly, but with expectation because we know in all things he is good. 

xo

3/15/15

Why is this happening? Thoughts on faith, miscarriage, and the meaning of suffering.


I've read each and every one of your comments and messages at least twice. Thank you sincerely for all your words of sympathy and support. They have brought a lot of light into the past few darks days.

Through our journey with infertility I have come face-to-face with the reality that being a Christian doesn't protect you from pain. I wish it did. Since we transferred our embryos just a few weeks ago I have prayed with particular intensity that God would spare me the pain of loss. I've called upon him as a Father who loves and cherished his daughter, asking him to look into my broken heart and see how fragile it has become. To agree with me that it's been beat up enough already. To spare me another agonizing blow. To protect me. To let me heal.

When I found out I was pregnant I thought finally. Finally! Finally God had seen me, bruised and vulnerable and stepped in to stop the fist of infertility from dealing another blow. Finally he had come to rescue me, to lift me up and set me on my feet again. To restore me.

For two weeks between the news of my pregnancy and my ultrasound, I fought fiercely against the fear that I would lose my baby. After so many years of negative pregnancy tests, I could not imagine anything more devastating than to miscarry this child I had longed for. Each day I worked to push the fear out of my mind and choose to relish the joy of my pregnancy: to hope, to imagine, to dream. I prayed life over the child growing inside me.

Now I know that somewhere in the middle of all those prayers for life, my baby died. Just stopped growing and withered away. The thing I feared the most happened. God did not spare me the grief of loss.

I knew there was no baby inside almost as soon as my ultrasound began on Friday. I saw a black screen where I knew a white little blob should have been. I lay silently on my back and my doctor's concerned, "Hmmm..." knocked all the hope right out of me.

"I don't see anything."

All I could muster was, "Oh no."

"Yea. I should see something by now."

The doctor stopped the ultrasound and I sat up on the table as John listened to instructions about what we had to do next. I fought back tears. Our doctor left and I got dressed, numbly. As John and I walked through the hallway to the exit a nurse caught my eye with a smile and asked, "How did it go??"

I shook my head and whispered hoarsely, "Not good."

She took me into her arms and held me close, whispering, "I'm so sorry."

I cried.

When I first wrote this post, I wrote these words: "I don't know why God allows his children to bear the brunt of such excruciating blows. I don't know why he doesn't step in to stop them." Just as soon as I wrote them, I realized that actually God did step in to bear the brunt of our pain. That's exactly what he did on the cross. He became human just so he could put his physical body between us and all the wrath we deserve. Most of the reason why suffering makes me so angry at God is because I don't think I deserve it. I love the way the Bible reframes suffering:

First of all, I did deserve to suffer. Simply put, I am a sinner. I am prone to do the wrong thing, go the wrong way, make the wrong decision. I am prone to put myself before others. Prone to shake my first at God. Prone to think I know best.

For that, I deserve to suffer.

But, God. <---- the most beautiful two words in the Christian faith.

I deserve to suffer, deserve to be punished. But God was not willing to go there. Not willing to let me know the full weight of my sin. Instead, he stepped down from heaven and bore my punishment for me. He bore the weight of all my sin and shame when he died on the cross. He said, "Spare her. Take me instead."

That's what I believe as a Christian. That I am sinful. That I deserved to be punished. But that God became a man named Jesus and took my shame instead.

This is redemption. When I repented of my sin and accepted the gift of Christ's death for me, I was redeemed. Someday (and how I wish it would be someday soon!) at exactly the right time God will redeem the whole earth and no one will suffer any more. But until then, I live in a strange "in between." I live as a redeemed person in an unredeemed world. Living in an unredeemed world means I will still know suffering.

The difference is that I know my suffering is not a punishment anymore. Along with so many other women I can ask myself am I infertile because I did something wrong? Would I be a bad mother? Am I being punished? And the answer is absolutely and unequivocally NO! I know my infertility is not a punishment because Jesus already took all the punishment for me. There is none left.

Instead, the Bible invites me to look at my suffering in a different way: to glory in my suffering.

Romans 5:3-4, "...we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

The Bible also tells me that my suffering is not meaningless. I cannot know the reasons why God has allowed me to endure this loss, but I do trust that he will use my suffering for good. 

Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." 

And finally, I know that my suffering will not last forever. 

1 Peter 5:9-11 (The Message), "You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ- eternal and glorious plans they are!- will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does." 

These are the truths I am holding onto as I grieve the loss of our baby. I keep a firm grip on my faith as I take down the snowflake banner we used to announce our embryo adoption; it has been hanging in our dining room window since the summer. 

I keep a firm grip on my faith as I watch the bruises on my body from all my Lovenox and progesterone shots fade away. Marks in which I took such pride only a few days ago; battle marks from a war against infertility I thought I had finally won. 

I keep a firm grip on my faith as I revision my future with sadness. A summer I pictured enjoying with a growing belly. A guest room I had already painted and turned into a nursery in my mind. Thanksgiving and Christmas with a new baby in my arms. It's all gone. With faith I trust these months will unfold with a grace I cannot imagine. 

With faith I will continue to ask God for the desire of my heart. Even in this sorrow I do see reason to hope. The fact that I got pregnant is a very good sign. My body knew what to do! The fact that we lost our baby so early is very likely due to something going wrong with the embryo: some genetic factor or random mutation that caused him or her to stop growing. We won't have our next consultation with Dr. Colbert until mid-April but after my own research and a conversation with an IVF nurse I feel pretty confidant that we can still achieve pregnancy. We have a full month to think and pray about how we should move forward, but both John and I feel pretty certain that this is not the end of the road for us. We have some questions and obstacles in our way, but we also have a God for whom we know nothing is impossible. We trust he will lead us on this journey as he always has. 

Thank you again for all your support and for your countless prayers lifted on our behalf. I do not have the words to express how much they mean to us! You lift us up. 

xo 
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