Nothing Less – Introduction

Over the next several weeks, I would like to look back on my walk through infertility and childless grief. I’ll share each stage I experienced in complete rawness and honesty. There’s nothing light about this. There’s nothing easy about living it or sharing it. It’s ugly feelings. It’s unseen tears. It’s broken prayers. It’s suffocating conversations. It’s lonely nights.

Deep grief can destroy people. It’s a war zone. The battle of trying to walk a life of faith and the excruciatingly painful realization of reality. A part of my soul is still complete devastation, but Jesus has not left me or abandoned me. My journey through grief is ribboned with Jesus’ healing hands. I ran to Him; I reached out and touched the fringe of His garment. I might not have physical healing like the woman in Luke 9, who reached through the crowds and touched His clothes, but I have healing in my heart. I might not understand His will for my life, but I know He has called me to it! I will pick of the pieces of my soul and praise Him for the perfect sovereignty that covers me. I am His.

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-love Anna

“But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” Isaiah 43:1-3a
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Fostering Love

As you, dear reader, navigate through options and choices in your own life, an option is fostering children.

The role of foster mother is unique to that of mother.  They are the same and different at the same time.  As a mother, you bond with ‘your’ children.  Having any kids is a blessing and challenge.  As a mother, you want to protect your child from harm.  You teach them from a young age about stranger danger, kiss their wounds, and hold their hand.  As a foster mother, you experience grief from the harm that your child has already experienced.   You can’t protect them from the past; they’ve already come through the experience.  However, as a foster mother, you can be there for early intervention- seeking counseling on weekends or seeking a counselor at school.  You can advocate for them at school by educating them on coping mechanisms and calming techniques and possibly IEPs (individualized education plans).   And you can ensure that other children are unharmed around them.

As a mother, you want to shelter your child from grief.   A biological child may lose a pet or an older family member to death.  As a foster mother, your child is grieving the loss of a parent (maybe both parents), possibly siblings, extended family, former foster families, school friends, and sometimes whole communities.  Because many foster children move placements, changes in address lead to no contact with the previous neighbors, friends, or family.  As children learn that a change means loss, they can have problems attaching to care givers.  This can be a hardship as a new mother to consider that bonding can be difficult due to past experience/loss.

There are state specific rules and guidelines- should you be considering fostering, reach out to a local agency for training and next steps.

We are grateful for the years we had with our children.  Although they moved on, they remain forever in my heart.  I pray for them and think of them often.

-Elle

Thinking of Him

Fathers are heroes.  They keep us protected and we look up to them.  They believe in us before we believe in ourselves.   Maybe because I didn’t have a strong father figure, I didn’t realize the experience of fertility to my husband until recently.   He had a strong father who passed a few years back.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, like arrows in the hand of a warrior.  Blessed are they whose quiver is full.”  Psalm 127:4-5

Our foster kids are gone 5 years now.  I have peacefully closed the chapter.  Not peacefully.  I had my tears and questioning.  I should say- I’ve come to peace with being childfree.  I thought my husband and I were on the same page.  I have to say, looking back, we just don’t talk about it.

We were at a volunteer meeting and it is an organization I am involved in but this was his first meeting.  Guests introduced themselves.  Name, who you are, a few facts, and why you came to the meeting.  My husband stood up, introduced himself and said, “We don’t have any kids currently, but hopefully someday.”  Gut punch.

What?  Did he stop talking about this because it was emotionally hard for me?  Did he choose a path of silence because he thought that was what I wanted and hidden his heart?  My heart was heavy with the realization.

I waited a few days to see if he’d bring it up.  He didn’t.  So, this weekend when we were driving into the city for an event, I asked him about his introduction.  He said he’d like to have kids “when things settled down.”  It is something I have to pursue in further conversations.

Sometimes we get so caught up in self that we personify our feelings over the couple.  This was eye opening and I will definitely talk to him more about his feelings through the process and his heart.  Make sure to keep lines of communication open and to ask open ended questions.

-Elle

Defining Beautiful

I wake up to the sound of “Buzz Saw Louie,” my bedmate.  The clock says 2:12.  I put an ear plug in- wondering if these green foam things come in a larger size.  I remember when I used to sleep alone surrounded on all sides by a sea of pillows, like a fortified castle.  Comfortable.  Quiet.   Sleep was beautifully blissful.

But, you know what else is beautiful?

It is beautiful when, as a dating couple we take the train downtown to catch a jazz concert.  I go to an upscale urban grocer and grab a delicious mix of bright green and big black olives, bread, and chicken pate.  We set up our impromptu picnic as we wait for the music to start.  As I reach into the plastic container for a blue cheese stuffed olive, a drop of rain hits my hand.  I look up as many more start to hit.  The music starts and I am stewing in a ruined moment.  My plans for a perfect evening literally dampened.  As I look at him, he is smiling, laughing even.  He chuckles, “The rain is washing our olives.”   It is then I realize that he is a great compliment to my type A personality- changing perspective from negative to positive.  We end up staying- through the rain and actually kick off our shoes and dance in the rain, squishing bare feet in soggy grass.  I know then that I love him- and his spirit is beautiful.

It is beautiful when, as a newlywed, I find a lump and go to get it checked out.  I am sent to a ‘specialist’ and don’t realize the gravity of the situation until I get to the office and the nurse is my aunt whom I haven’t seen in years (my uncle is now re-married).  Her face drops when she recognizes me- not out of ex-familial embarrassment, but because she is a cancer nurse.  They cut out the lump and remove it in an office procedure.  I feel unattractive with a big patch on my chest, but he is unphased.  He gently strokes my hair as I drift off to sleep that night as he says how pretty I am.

It is beautiful when you call him and can’t get any words out, but he understands what you would have said if you could get the words out.  You see, I am silently crying because I am at work in a public place and I just got the call I waited all day for.  Our foster agency making a decision on whether we can keep our foster child.  The answer is no.  I call my husband and, without words, he understands and says simply, “Oh sweetie.”  We weathered the implosion after the loss.

In the Book, A Man Called Ove, “Loving someone is like moving into a house,”   Sonia used to say.  “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you as if fearing that someone would come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made.  You weren’t actually supposed to live in a place like this. Then, over the years, the walls become weathered.  The wood splinters here and there and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection but rather for its imperfections.  You get to know all the nooks and crannies.  How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it is cold outside.  Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them.  Exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking.  These are the little secrets that make it your home. “

The longer I’ve been married, the more I appreciate our quirkiness and imperfections as a couple.  That love is more mature and it is beautiful.

-Elle

It Is Well With My Soul

“I know You’re able and I know you can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is in You Alone

 

They say it only takes a little faith

To move a mountain

Well good thing

A little faith is all I have, right now

But God, when You choose

To leave mountains unmovable

Oh give me the strength to be able to sing

It is well with my soul”   Even If- Mercy Me

 

As I listened to the song above, I reflected on the old hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” by Horatio Spafford.  A pastor once spoke about the background of the song and I found it interesting.  That was before life got hard and I felt broken.  I find it inspiring and challenging now.  I now study the people who have experienced tragedy and come out on the other side with a full life.  I look to spiritual giants; people who have been through valleys and made it out.  Not only surviving but thriving in a new life.  Life changes and the people don’t stop and curl into a ball.  They face it head on with a seemingly unwavering faith.

Horatio was a businessman in Chicago, married with 5 children.  After a son died in 1871, his wife took their 4 daughters on a ship, the Ville du Havre, traveling from the US to Europe.  Horatio was held up by business obligations but planned to join them later.  Unfortunately, the Ville du Havre collided with another ship, the Loch Earn, and sank.   His wife Anna was picked up by a sailor and landed in Cardiff, Wales.  She wired her husband, “Saved alone.  What shall I do?”   Horatio got on another ship to join his grieving wife.

On his journey, the captain of the ship he was on let him know over the spot where the Ville du Havre went down.   He wrote the song, “It is well with my soul” while on the ship.  “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”

Facing a life being childfree is more challenging than those with children conjure up.  In the midst of midnight feedings, sleepless weekends, and balancing commitments, parents can think our life is glamorous.  “I’m living vicariously through you,” parents have told me.  But for those who have struggled to conceive or lost children, we long for the tumultuous, gloriously messy life that children bring with it.  We are childfree by circumstance rather than choosing a life without children.  Many would like to say the same thing to these parents, “I am living vicariously through you.”

This blog is about your choices, making informed decisions, and getting to a point in life where you are at peace with your decisions and can unemotionally defend those choices.  Where you can say with firm resolve, “It is well with my soul.”

 

-Elle

I’ll Keep My Green Grass

Life takes people in many different geographical directions. Marriages, jobs, and family dynamics have moved my friends all over the country. A lot of us have grown apart over the years, but thanks to the internet, we’re able to stay connected. I’ve been able to watch their families grow and lives change from afar. Social media has a certain magical feel to it. People appear to have perfectly #unfiltered lives; posting only the photos with greener grass.

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My husband and I were chatting on the couch one evening—about past relationships. I had my phone in hand and was creeping on Facebook. Yep. I’m that person. I hadn’t looked up my ex-boyfriend’s account in a while and I was surprised his lovely wife had had another baby. Then…it happened! My brain fell into my mouth and spoke, “Look at his cute little family! I’m so glad he didn’t end up with me. Life would’ve only resulted in disappointment for him…you know, because I wouldn’t have been able to give him a family.”

My husband didn’t say anything in response. It was a oh crapt regretful moment that seemed to last for an eternity. I wasn’t sure if I had hurt his feelings, or struck the infertility chord. I waited.

He looked deep into my eyes—gripping my soul, he said, “His loss.”

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Tears streamed down my face; my husband went on, “I have you! I guarantee—there’s no way he and his wife have the love we have! It’s beautifully broken. It’s seen the dark, the ugly, the hope, the pain, the kneeling prayers, the grit, the courage, and the laughter in the midst of it all. It’s the pain that has brought us true joy. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love you! I would choose us all over again.”

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After this conversation, I will never look at my ex’s grass and call it greener. Even as my friends move on and grow their families. They may have wonderful marriages. They probably haven’t had to think twice about having sex at the right time of the month. They may have never experienced miscarriage. But their struggle is most likely in a different area of life. I’ll keep my eyes on our flourishing love. I’ll say “I do” every single day—in infertility and in health. In joy and in pain. For green or greener grass.

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-love Anna

 

Getting school’d

My Facebook feed is filled with the first day of back to school pictures.  “We have a fourth grader.”   “First day of seventh grade and second day of freshman year.”   Siblings standing outside in bright, crisp outfits with new backpacks and lunch boxes.  The epitome of the end of summer.

A reminder for me of the end of a chapter.  I’d have a fifth and sixth grader.   I’d be in the rush to get school supplies, pack lunches, and tighten down after school plans.  Instead, I work on fundraising for a charity.   I met with two businesses; one at my lunch hour and one after work.   Keeping busy and giving back has helped me.

It doesn’t change my reality.  But it changes my perspective.  It helps me reflect on all that I DO have.  Being middle class in America means the top percentage of lifestyles around the world.   When people live on a dollar a day, I can rejoice in my blessings.

My Sunday paper was filled with back to school sales flyers.  I saw super cute backpacks and sent them to my sister’s children.  Finding great sales, I buy some supplies for a back to school supply drive at work.  I work through the pain and find ways to participate . . .just in different ways.

Elle

The Bend

The most uncomfortable place to be—not knowing what lies ahead.

This time of year I scroll through social media and see post after post—new haircuts, new outfits, loaded backpacks, and furnished dorm rooms. Evidence of plans working out for other people and their families. Two years ago, a brief phone call from my doctor confirmed what I feared and I watched my plans crumble before my very eyes. These past couple years have been emotionally rocky but, at times, healing.

In the midst of planning, I’ve learned how to not throw my heart into those plans. Was this wrong? Only time would tell. I guess this was a way of protecting myself.  Yet this still landed me in a place of fear and anxiety at times. I found myself asking what will this next season hold?

When Jesus says He is a lamp to our feet, that provides just enough light to see the next step.  Our vision is limited and it can be frustrating to not know more than one step.  It doesn’t matter how well I plan or how far back I hold my heart, not knowing what lies around the bend in the road is a very uncomfortable place to be in life.

the bend

“Hello, this is Emerson, returning your phone call.” The voice was welcoming and kind. I had been playing phone tag with her for several weeks. She was calling from the local adoption agency. I scurried around, trying to find a pen. Why isn’t there EVER a pen when I need one!? I grabbed a picnic promotional flyer from my church and flipped it over to scratch out the date and time to meet with Emerson. We were finally ready. Ready to take the first step towards adoption.

Why has it been so hard to get to this place of peace? Why has it taken so long for my heart to catch up? I was the one holding my heart back. I had just assumed I would get pregnant right away when we first started trying—because that’s just what happens. I was told you have sex, you get pregnant. Well, I had sex, I didn’t get pregnant. Again and again and again. I threw my heart into it every single cycle. My heart was bruised and battered. My hope was crushed and shattered. Before I could recover, I was broken with excruciating anguish again by a lonely line. When I was done trying to conceive naturally, my husband was still holding out hope. When he was ready to move on to the next option, I questioned whether or not my heart would truly bond with a child I didn’t grow inside of me.

Asking God to change my heart has been one of the most difficult prayers I have ever prayed. Most of the time I was praying for God to change our circumstance…I was viewing adoption as God’s “No.” Adoption is a wonderful gift. It’s a chance for something extra. More than we could have ever asked for. It’s a beautiful blessing beyond the answer to my prayers. Am I staking more hope in this than I should? Maybe. But maybe God wants my heart all in, because as I have been crushed along the way in the TTC lifestyle, those are the points when God has been able to mold me into the person He wants me to be.

Psalm 86.12

So, while others have exciting pictures to share on three different social media apps of their plans working out; a child entering the next stage of education, or another growing bump. I find myself at a place where I cannot see around the bend ahead. If I let myself slip into a tunnel vision of fear and anxiety, I will miss the beauty along the way. There will be difficult times, but maturity and strength can shine through the broken places.

~ Anna

“For You are great and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name. I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Your name forever. For great is Your steadfast love toward me; You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” Psalm 86:10-13

What to do with Four Years

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This August marks 4 years of trying to conceive. Sometimes I don’t like to think about what these past 4 years have held for me. All of the emotions. All of the tears. All of the questions. All of the pregnancy tests. The number of times I peed thinking this has to be it. All of the trips I took to the store for another pack of tampons. The nights I laid in bed, literally feeling the empty hole in my heart. The number of glasses of wine. The ounces of chocolate. The hugs I received from my husband. The texts from good friends. The chick flicks I watched. The emotional purchases I made. The prayers that streamed down my cheeks. The tear-stained pages in my Bible.

I could place numbers to all of these, yet it would never equal the lack of a child in my life. I could focus on the lack of results I was searching for, but I might miss the result I ended up with. A beautiful relationship with my husband. A deeper knowledge of who God is. A full grip of my spiritual gift and perspective on how to live fuller through that gift.

As I look back, I wouldn’t trade these 4 years for anything else in the world! I have experienced depression; drug across the dirty rocks at the bottom of the pit. I have felt pain reach the deepest part of my heart. I have sobbed until I couldn’t breathe. My husband met me there, and I met God there.

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If experiencing infertility was the only thing that would build an unbreakable bond with my husband and a deeper relationship with God, I would willingly and bravely go through it again.

Anna

Anniversaries of what didn’t happen

Special days are hard.  The pregnancy announcement day.  The birth day that never came.  The day the foster kids came, . . . the day they left.

I just passed the five year anniversary of the day they left.  I still remember that day with stinging tears.  I wanted to rend my garments like in biblical times.  Instead, I showed up to work that next day like I wasn’t broken in 1000 tiny, fragile pieces.  I was holding it together . . . until a co-worker said, “I’m sorry to hear about the kids.”  I started crying there, in a conference room with my boss and other teammates.  I rushed out to the bathroom to compose myself.

Now, I just get ‘weird’ on the special days.  I remember the good times and try to not commit to any evening plans that night. Lie low and do something kind for someone else (I brought coffee to the security guard at work).  I may not be able to control what has happened, but I can choose my actions; doing a kind deed helps me take control of my day.   I tell my close friends, “I may be weird today.  It’s the anniversary of the day the kids left and I’m feeling it.”

No one remembers your special days.  Nor should they.  Don’t hold them accountable to remember or even honor the days.  They may not understand that this process of grieving extends past when they consider it appropriate.  Most people will be done hearing your grief after a month.  They have moved on; it’s not their grief.  Be gracious with your friends- this is expected.

This is your grief and your experience.  Allow yourself to feel emotions- don’t put a time limit on it.   Work through it with your spouse or professional help. Or find a community of people who have experienced a similar loss and speak with them.

Elle