Christmas 2013

I remember last year in December, when Arie was home just a couple weeks, one of our friends gave him his very first gift. The mom gave the gift to her toddler daughter who placed it in front of Arie: a brightly colored gift bag with crinkly tissue paper sticking out the top. Arie was sitting on the floor of our living room, gift bag placed before him with great anticipation. The other mom and I along with that sweet little girl all watched in anticipation, waiting for Arie to open the gift. 

He looked down at the gift bag then up at our expectant faces then down at the gift bag again... and burst into tears! I knew it was his first gift, but somehow I failed to realize he would had no idea what he was supposed to do when we put it in front of him!

This Christmas that boy who didn't know how to open a gift was nowhere to be found. In his place was a gleeful little boy who insisted on "helping" everyone else tear off wrapping paper and open their gifts. It is so much fun to give this little boy gifts because he delights in everything he gets. From the first present he opened on Christmas Eve to the last gift he got at my family's celebration on the 28th, I shot picture after picture of his enormous smiles, sparkling eyes, and little excited clenched fists. Amazingly, it never got old. For any of us!

John and I gave Arie a book, a stuffed alligator, and a marble run for Christmas. He spend all of October and most of November talking about alligators, but of course as soon as John ordered the little stuffy online, we didn't hear one word about the creature! Thankfully, his alligator passion has been reignited and this reptile has already been to Ontario and back again with us, clutched between Arie's little fingers.

The marble run has also been a hit, although mama and papa have spent more time than anticipated helping to build and "fix" it for our little man! Secretly, we both love playing with it too. Ha! 

While we of course love watching our little boy showered with all the fun and excitement that comes with getting gifts at Christmas John and I (like most parents) also wanted to be intentional about combating the potential entitlement/spoiling effects of Christmas. Leading up to Christmas we talked frequently about both the religious meaning (Jesus birth) and the gift giving. My mantra on repeat through December was, "At Christmas we give each other gifts to celebrate Jesus' birth!" On Christmas morning I woke Arie up and told him, "Jesus is born!" Much to my heart's delight, he repeated that line to me throughout the day. "Mama- Jesus born!"

In order to include Arie on the gift-giving side of Christmas, we made a number of our gifts with him. Now, I'm not super crafty so don't get any pinteresty images in your mind. What we did was bring him pottery painting and screen printing to make tshirts. Not only did we have a blast actually doing these things, but we loved giving our family members little gifts with great sentiment. We hope they will wear their "dumpty umpty" shirts and drink from their ugly mugs or use their splotchy painted spoon rests with warm fuzzies all year long.
Spoon rest made with love and lots of zest by Arie. 
My mom is the best gift reactor, next to Arie.
My mom sewed this puppet theatre! How cute is it?!
With Grampi and his uncles, all wearing their Arie-made "dumpty-umpty!" shirts. 
This next series of photos might be my favorite because they capture how gleefully Arie opens gifts. His little body just cannot contain his excitement!
Canada mittens for all! 

As I sat beside a handful of different Christmas trees this December, surrounded by the warmth and love of different friends and family members, I thought back through my journey to motherhood.

Four Christmases ago I sat there thinking, "Next year I will either be pregnant or have a baby in my arms at Christmas!" Hopeful and longing.

Three Christmases ago John and I sat beside the tree and cried as we received a number of generous donations toward our adoption expenses. Humbled and grateful.

Two Christmases ago we celebrated the season for the first time with our son in our arms. Joy-filled.

This Christmas I buoyed between the great joy of my son and the same hopeful longing I felt four Christmases ago- praying that next year I will have gifts for two little ones under my tree.

This verse from James 1 has been my theme: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." 

The shadows have certainly shifted for me over the past four years, but in both dark and in light I have been the recipient of so many good gifts from my heavenly Father. Though my life changes and my faith falters or grows, God remains ever present and faithful. I look at the most precious gift of my son this Christmas and as I watch him delight in the love of his family, I ask God for a greater faith: one that looks to His faithfulness in four Christmases past and trusts in his purpose and plan for those that wait before me. 



Infertility, grief, and sharing joy around the Christmas tree

Today I want to share something that has been on my heart for a few weeks. It was a difficult thing to express because I'm addressing areas of both great joy and great pain. I hope I shared it with sensitivity and love. 

Because John and I are so public about our infertility, our friends and family have been wonderfully sensitive. They don't make any jokes about when we're going to add more children to our family and when friends have announced their pregnancies to me in the last few years, they've done so with loads of grace. I cannot tell you how loved I feel when my friends share their special news with so much kindness. This is one of the biggest announcements they will make in their lives, and they are thinking about my feelings. When they share their news with such sensitivity, it allows me to truly join their happiness rather than fend of feelings of jealousy and pain. It is truly a blessing to have such kindness shown to me during such a difficult season in my life. 

Many people who have not struggled to conceive cannot understand that infertility is a major life crisis. When you couple that life crisis with the fact that many couples struggle secretly or privately, there is (too) much opportunity for hurt to arise. Especially during the holidays when friends and family reunite and the passage of time from one year to the next is made so clear, couples who are coping with infertility may feel like they are walking through a field peppered with land mines. Personally, I can share that this is the third Christmas in four years when I can remember thinking the previous year, "Next year I'll either be pregnant or have a baby in my arms." That's a hard thought. As someone suffering with infertility, you feel so vulnerable, never knowing when a hurtful question or comment (accidental or otherwise) will catch you off guard and hit you with grief. 

Today I want to ask something of all you wonderful fertile friends out there: will you give those of us struggling with infertility some extra grace this Christmas? If you know a couple and you're wondering when they're going to have (more) kids, will simply you not ask? Can you avoid jokes about cousins so-and-so who seem to be producing "like bunnies?" Will you focus on the blessing of your little ones or the funny things they do rather than complaining about them to people who would give anything to be up all night with a baby? We know- we infertiles- that you don't mean anything by those jokes or comments or questions, but if we're being honest we'll tell you: they still hurt. 

I know there are going to be couples who have a special announcement to make this Christmas. Maybe it will be the perfect time to share your news! But can I ask you just to think for a minute if any of your loved ones sitting around the Christmas tree might be struggling with infertility? Can I ask you to consider waiting until after the celebration to share? To allow your loved ones to enjoy the day without the weight of infertility heavy on their hearts? Or, alternatively, to share your news privately with your infertile friends before the big announcement? If we feel prepared, it makes a difference. 

It's not that we don't want to share your joy. It's not that at all. Grief is just such a funny thing; we can't always override it with strength of will. We'll get there. We just need a little extra grace on the journey. 

To my friends on this infertility roller coaster: let's remember this Christmas that another person's blessing doesn't take anything away from us. Infertility is the enemy; not our loved ones. Be sad for your pain and loss. Be angry that you were dealt this hand. Then breathe deep. Choose joy. In this area of life, we've been given the harder path. We've also been given the opportunity to rise above envy. To choose kindness and grace over jealousy. To celebrate new life even when it feels like ours is crumbling. Let's be kind to ourselves and gentle, but let's not allow bitterness to win. Choose joy and trust that in time, it will come. 

"Get rid of all bitterness.... Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:31-32




It's only been about 16 hours since I woke up from surgery but I don't think it's too early to say that I loved my laparoscopy.

Much of infertility is disempowering. It has- so far- robbed me of my ability to get pregnant and carry a child; it has robbed me of the very thing my body was designed to do. For many years I have felt angry and powerless over infertility. Undergoing our three IUI procedures was a great step forward in the battle; it was us, deciding that we wanted to fight. However, because we didn't know if they would work (and they didn't), I still felt subject to my infertility.

On a spiritual plane, I've been able to appreciate these feelings of disempowerment because they- along with similar feelings of helplessness from our adoption- have been my hearty invitation to rely on God and his sovereignty. The best thing about coming to the end of myself in these journeys is that I have found where the richest part of my faith in God begins. When I am the weakest and feel the most powerless, I have discovered the strength and power given to me in Christ. 

 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 1 Corinthians 12:10. 

The laparoscopy, however, was empowering. It felt like a heavenly gift. Finally I was able to address a cause of my infertility in a real, aggressive, and powerful way. I can tell you that I have not felt this positive about our chances at conception in a very, very long time. Since about the third month of trying... which was four years ago. Wow.

John and I arrived at the hospital around 11:30am, two hours before surgery. I wasn't nervous because I so excited for the surgery day to have finally arrived! We checked into the outpatient wing of the hospital and after a short wait we were brought to a pre-procedure room where I answered some questions, changed into a purple paper gown and- surprise!- got a leg massage! Well, sort of. To prevent blood clots, the nurse strapped on these white bands (similar to blood pressure cuffs, but bigger) to my calves. They tightened and released like a massage. That was nice!

John and I waited in that partitioned "room" for a very long time. Each time we heard footsteps coming down the hall we got excited. That went on for almost two hours, which seems like an eternity when you're antsy. Which we were.
Waiting, waiting, waiting... 
Finally the footsteps came toward us and a nurse moved us down to the operative waiting area. I was wheeled on my bed and John walked behind. In the operative waiting area a nurse put my IV in and every member of my operative team came one by one to meet me (surgical nurse, surgeon, anesthesiologist, and an intern- to whom John and I excitedly referred as "Meredith Grey!!!"). They all explained in great detail what was going to happen and asked if I had any questions. The whole thing was very reassuring, although by the time the fourth person came by I just wanted to say, "No I do not have any more questions!! Just get me on the table!"

On a related note: nurses- you are amazing! I was so impressed by how kind and genuinely concerned all the nurses were with me. Not only that, but I heard a few of my "neighbors" launching major complaints about things such as the state of their pillows (not fluffy enough) and the like, but never once did I hear a nurse respond with anything other than compassion. Truly amazing how patient and kind these nurses were! Nurses? You have a tough job. My kudos to you!

Immediately before I was rolled into the operating room, the anesthesiologist give me a dose of something "to relax" me. She said I might not remember anything from that point on. I remember saying goodbye to John, entering the OR, and breathing in some oxygen from a green mask. Dr. Colbert (my RE and surgeon) asked me if I had met everyone in the room- I said yes I had and the next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery!

It was a strange feeling waking up in the hospital. I didn't feel worried or surprised because I was so groggy, but I was trying to figure out why I was there. My train of thought was something like, "Huh. I don't think my surgery was today. Was it? .... Why else would I be in the hospital? Maybe it was today. Wait a minute. It is over??! YES!! I wonder how it went..."

The surgical nurse was immediately by my side, asking me how I felt. I was parched since I had not had anything to drink in a long time, so she gave me some ice chips which then made me nauseous, so she also gave me a dose of anti-nausea meds through my IV. That helped. My sense of time was all off so I'm not quite sure how long I stayed in that area, but it seemed like only minutes before I was wheeled out into the outpatient recovery area. I didn't have my glasses at this point but in the hallway I saw a man standing there with a balloon and gave him a smile. What a nice guy I thought. Turned out to be John! Yep. What a nice guy!

The nurse who helped me in the outpatient recovery area was incredible. She was about the same age as me and when she heard that we were struggling with infertility she shared that she and her husband had been down the same path. She made my favorite infertility joke which is that her husband always said they should probably do some drugs and climb into the back of their car for some "fun" and they will for sure get pregnant. That is exactly what John and I always say to each other and I immediately knew I had found a kindred spirit.

The most spiritual moment of the day happened next. Earlier that morning before John and I left the house, I checked my facebook inbox and found a note from a friend of my mom, newly pregnant after a very long struggle with infertility. She sent me Chris Tomlin's song "Sovereign"which, as the title suggests, is about God's power and presence in every season of our lives. John came into our bedroom as I had it playing and loved the song so much that we stopped by a Christian bookstore on our way to the hospital to pick up the CD! God's sovereignty seemed to be the theme of the morning.

After the surgery was over and that kindred spirited nurse was helping me get up out of bed to the bathroom, she said a few words about her infertility journey and learning about- you guessed it- trusting in God's sovereignty. I don't remember exactly the words she used because I was still so groggy, but I remember feeling my heart glow as I connected the spiritual dots between my mom's friend sending me a similar message, the Chris Tomlin song, and the nurse's testimony. The nurse walked me over to the bathroom and closed the door behind me. Alone for the first time since the surgery, it is hard to fully describe what happened but I felt as if a part of my soul that had been so injured by my infertility began to heal.

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
with me in the dark
with me at the dawn 

In your everlasting arms
all the pieces of my life
from beginning to the end
I can trust you. 

... God, whatever comes my way: I can trust you. 

Sunset in the city from my recovery room window. 
The surgery itself was also a big step toward healing. Dr. Colbert removed the cyst we had been seeing on all my IUI related ultrasounds and- as he suspected- found moderate endometriosis on both ovaries and around my uterus. He gave me pictures of my insides which I found extremely cool and which almost made John faint. ;-) John was actually the one who got the report from Dr. Colbert as I recovered, but he tells me Dr. Colbert was extremely happy with the results of the surgery and optimistic about getting me pregnant in the next few months! We have a follow up appointment in 2-3 weeks to talk about what kind of additional treatment (if any) we should pursue moving forward.

I spent another hour in recovery at the hospital and then was back home by 8:30pm. Today I have some pain in my abdomen: mostly by the three small incisions from the laparoscopic tools. So far I've been fine only taking half the dose of pain meds they prescribed me. My biggest challenge has just been that they make me feel nauseated, but that should diminish even as the anesthetics from yesterday leave my body.

I am blessed to have my awesome mother-in-law here to take care of Arie so I can stay in bed today and John can do some work from home.

Thank you for all your prayers and encouraging remarks left for me via facebook and instagram! I read them all from the hospital and felt very supported by you all!

Thank you Thank you!



Love showed up: held up and held together

A couple weeks ago my friend and fellow blogger Leanne Penny wrote an awesome post about grief and the cliché things we say to try make people feel better.... that typically only leave them feeling worse. She got a lot of response to that post which propelled her to write another post about what we actually can do to help our loved ones through hard times. Both posts were top notch. You should really read them if you haven't. 

Leanne has now started a new series that I think is much needed; it's a series about love and, as she puts it, "the best of people in the worst of days." It's a series of stories by people who've been through nightmares but survived with the help of their people. This morning I am sharing one of my stories- a time in my life when "love showed up." A testimony, if you will, to the power of community. I invited you to join me: 

Six years ago this fall my mom was on her deathbed. She had emergency surgery on her abdomen in late August and then aspirated waking up from anesthesia. Aspirating damaged her lungs and she had to be put on supplemental oxygen as she recovered in the ICU. Her condition worsened.  Soon she had to wear a big black mask that forced air into her lungs. Then she was put on a ventilator; first with a breathing tube down her throat and then directly into her trachea. Her blood saturation levels dipped dangerously low. She was transferred to a larger hospital. She went into an induced coma. She got sepsis. She lost almost all her muscle mass. My dad called me at college twice to come home and say goodbye to her; her doctors didn’t think she was going to make it...

Continue reading here. 


IUI #3 results

Third time is not a charm. I am not pregnant.

I feel sad, but not as devastated as last cycle. My sister is getting married next summer and had this cycle worked, my due date would have been her wedding day. As much as I would have been thrilled to be expecting, I am so happy that I will be able to attend her wedding. Now I am praying that I will do so with a giant GIANT belly. Swollen in the summer heat, sweating my bump off as they tie the knot.... I want to meet every "pregnant woman at the wedding" cliché. Anyone need a designated driver? I'm your ride! *winks*

Anyway, I'm very much looking forward to my laparoscopy as a giant step forward toward our baby.

Looking for silver linings on this cloud and for once- actually finding them!

Surgery one week from today! Bring it on. :-)



St. Andrew's Advent Novena

Not too long ago a friend of mine invited me to be a member of a private facebook group for Catholic women dealing with infertility. I'm Protestant, but was warmly welcomed under the big umbrella of the Christian faith. Around Thanksgiving, one of the women in the group posted a prayer on the board called St. Andrew's novena. I had to do a little googling to figure out what a "novena" was, but it turned out it is simply a specific prayer prayed over a certain length of time- usually nine but sometimes more- days.

St. Andrew's Novena is an Advent prayer, prayed from November 30 through December 24. It is supposed to be prayed 15 times each day; I've been averaging 6-10, but even falling short, the practice has brought me great peace this advent.
Note: Since I'm Protestant, I leave off the "and of his Blessed Mother" line when I pray.
We Protestants focus on the fact that grace is given to us freely. We reject a merit based system. We believe that God's salvation is a gift; we don't do anything to earn it and we can't do anything to loose it. I love that and I believe it with my whole heart. However, what I've remembered 10 days into praying this prayer is that while all God's good gifts are given freely to me, they aren't actually free. They were secured on the merits of Jesus, on the merits of his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

That's what I love about this prayer. Where my prayers have mostly been asking for my desires based on.... well, mostly based on just the fact that I want them, I'm now asking for them based on the merits of Christ, which are applied to me in my salvation. 

I know I don't deserve any of God's good gifts. Asking God for anything based on my merits is useless.  I've asked for a pregnancy with a dozen different reasons: because my heart longs for it, because I've dreamed of it, because God put this desire in my heart, because that's what women are supposed to be build for, because life is so good and God loves new life, because having that experience would allow me to relate and minster to so many more women.... I've both prayed myself and had others pray for me that God would "make his glory known" by granting me a pregnancy. Lately I've been less and less convinced of those prayers. 

God doesn't need me to convince him of why it would be such a good idea to grant me my desire. He doesn't need to make his glory known by granting me anything. His glory has already been made known in Christ! Surely he knows best how to display his splendor. I've stopped trying to convince him with reasons why he should grant me my desires and instead, I've begun asking for them on the merits of Jesus Christ. 

I can remember my Sunday School teachers telling my little girl self that when God looks at me, he doesn't see me and all my sin; he sees Jesus and his perfection. That's the idea I'm learning again in a deeper way. If God grants me any good gifts it is because those gifts were secured for me in Christ. 

"...and grant me my desires through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ." 

Why should I boldly ask God to grant me my desire? Because he humbled himself to be born in a manger, to live faultlessly on earth, to suffer, to subject himself to death on a cross, and to rise again, securing our abundant and eternal life for his own glory. Through those merits I am asking for the desires of my heart. 

As I walk though Advent this year, the image of baby Jesus in a manger has become so much more powerful. His birth- the astonishingly humble entrance of our Almighty God into the world- is one of the merits through which my salvation and my ability to ask God for my desires was secured. 

"Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16. 

I am both humbled and emboldened by this prayer.

Though I deserve nothing, I am able to ask for everything, and receive with gratitude anything God grants me on the merits of Christ.

I've found great peace in that.



Our "what's next?" fertility consult

Pending the results of our third IUI (two week wait: one week down, one week to go!), John and I put together a new fertility plan with our doctor. I feel fantastic about it!

Our history in brief review:

Testing and Diagnosis: 
We tried to conceive for 15 months starting in 2010.
John had a semen analysis done after 7 months which came back normal.
We stopped trying when we initiated the adoption of our son from Russia in 2011.
We started trying again after our adoption for about 9 months with no success.
We saw our RE (Reproductive Endocrinologist) in August 2013.
I had an HSG in September: all clear.
I had blood work in September that showed elevated FSH and decreased AMH; both indicate diminished ovarian reserve.
I had an ultrasound done in September that showed a cyst on my left ovary.
We are currently (as of December 2013) at about 28 months of TTC with no success.

Our RE put me on The Fertility Diet (which is detailed in a book by the same name.)
Both John and I were told to take fish oil and Co-Q10 supplements.
IUI#1 (with 50mg Clomid and Ovidrel trigger) October 2013 - negative
IUI #2 (same meds) early November 2013 - negative
IUI #3 (same meds) late November 2013- pending

Which brings us to today.

Remember that cyst on my left ovary that was described as "probably nothing?" Well, it hasn't gone away. Based on this fact and my diagnostic and treatment history, our RE is "99% sure" that I have endometriosis. Endometriosis is when endometrial tissue (uterine lining) grows outside of the uterus. Exactly how it causes infertility is a current area of study, but about 30-40% of women with endometriosis are infertile. It is likely do not have it only on my ovary, but also in other places not revealed by my ultrasound.

I am surprised by this diagnosis, but also relieved and optimistic because it gives us a way to move forward that isn't IVF, which I was not ready for. The treatment for endometriosis is a laparoscopy which is a small surgery done to remove the tissue. When we first saw our RE he offered to do a laparoscopy but since I did not have any symptoms of endometriosis, I declined. (Some women do not have any symptoms, as I found out!) The surgery itself can cause scar tissue to form around the reproductive organs, which I did not want to unnecessarily inflict upon myself. However, now that our RE is so positive that this is indeed a problem for me, I am not only willing to do the surgery, but excited for it! A step toward healing our infertility.

After the surgery, we will have about one year of increased fertility before- statistically- the endometriosis grows back. I'm okay with that. I have come to peace with the idea of only having one pregnancy and birth experience.

Our RE reiterated my elevated FSH and diminished AMH and also told us that John's sperm count was coming back on the low end of normal. In itself, those numbers would not stop us from getting pregnant, but coupled with my two diagnoses of diminished ovarian reserve and endometriosis, they help explain our infertility.

He also gave my some interesting statistics: 80-90% of couples become pregnant within one year of trying. Of the couples who are left trying after that year, 50% will become pregnant in year two. Once you hit year three of trying, only 20-30% of those couples will conceive. Since we are now entering year three, I feel really good about taking this next step and having the laparoscopy.

Two more pieces of good news that had me praising God:

1. Treatment for endometriosis is not considered treatment for infertility by our insurance company, so our insurance will help pay for the surgery (finally!!).
2. Usually our RE is booked out a month or two for surgeries, but they had a cancellation and I got to scoop up that OR time! December 18- less than two weeks away.

In January we can decide if we want to do more IUIs with injectables or try on our own. Our RE seemed hopeful that we could conceive on our own after the surgery, but I am feeling like I want to start with injectables and more IUIs right away. We'll see. We will use the rest of the month to think it over.

In the more "natural" front, I'm going to up my Co-Q10 dosage (incidentally, does anyone know an affordable place/brand to get this stuff? It is expensive!), and start taking vitamin D3 & DHEA. I also asked about baby aspirin as many of you recommended; he gave the go-ahead but said he doesn't think it is necessary or that it will help since it is supposed to help with recurring pregnancy loss, which I have not experienced. Since it can't hurt, I'll probably start after my surgery.

He was very clear that I should not take any herbal supplements so I will avoid those while I am on prescription treatments.

Phew! Kudos if you made it this far. I'm trying to share the somewhat boring details of our journey with the hopes that it will help someone else out there!

I'm still praying and believing that all of this will be for naught. I am believing that I will get that positive pregnancy and make one glorious phone call to cancel my surgery. Either way, it feels really good to have a plan in place.


Parenting in the Pew update: quiet bags

I'm trying out something new on the blog today: a video!  Here's what I put in our church "quiet bags" for Arie- at age three- to use during the sermon:

Bag: Timeless Memory Pouch by Thirty-One.
Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Re-useable stickers and scenes by Melissa and Doug

Click here to read my past posts about parenting in the pew.

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