Holidays & Infertility

Infertility on Mother’s Day: What is a Mom?

Hey everyone! Sorry it has taken me so long to post…you see, this weekend is a big deal for me, so I have taken some time to reflect and carefully express what I’m feeling this Mother’s Day weekend. A few weeks ago, I explained why Easter is such a hard time of year in my blog post Open your eyes and believe – struggling with infertility on Easter. Well, this post is going to hopefully shed light on the most difficult day of the year for me and my struggles – Mother’s Day.

Around this time of year, advertisements shift to videos and photos of young women and their toddlers sharing hugs, handmade cards, and of course some lovely gift they purchased at Kohl’s, where you get 30% off this weekend only! The stores are filled with sentimental wall hangings, jewelry, and cards, all filled with phrases reaffirming how wonderful a gift it is to be a mother. On Sunday, places will hand out flowers to moms or moms-to-be…or maybe your brunch is free if you’re a mom. Don’t get me wrong, I think all of those things are important and are validated and frankly, amazing! But another part of me is reminded that I do not belong to this exclusive club. There is not a “want to be but can’t be a mother’s day” or a “still waiting to be a mother’s day” or “great auntie but not a mother’s day.” I know it might seem selfish, but I want two little hands to give me an illegible card with gobs of glitter and dried macaroni designs…I want the coffee mug that says “World’s Best Mom”…I want a free brunch and a flower at church! That being said, it isn’t about the promotions or gifts, it’s about the symbolism behind them – it’s about being a part of the Mom Club.

I truly believe that being a mom is an identity and a purpose given to you in life by the big man upstairs. In my soul, I know that I am supposed to be a mom…in fact, I feel like I already am a mom, but without the physical manifestation of a child yet. I am someone who loves unconditionally, puts others first, and appreciates life (and I hope that’s what others see in me too!). I know I have the qualities necessary to be a good mom, maybe even a great one. I’m at the right place in my life to be a mom. All of my ducks are in a row…but it just isn’t your time yet, says God…OKAY…So this Mother’s Day, I’m taking a new perspective…

If you look at the definition of a mother, you might find this:

noun
noun: mother; plural noun: mothers – a woman in relation to her child/children; to give birth to
But you might also find this:
verb
look after kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.
I may not fit the definition of mother as a noun, but I do fit the definition of mother as a verb. And really, I would argue, you can’t just be the noun – you have to be the verb too, in order to truly be a mother. It isn’t enough to bring a child into the world – you also have to love, care for, and protect him or her. To be a mother is not simply the act of giving birth to a child; to be a mother is to love unconditionally and be selfless. And although I do not have my own children, I have my fur baby, Reggie…I have my precious niece, Vivi…I have plenty of my friends’ children and babies…all of whom I love and would do anything to protect.
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What I have more importantly come to realize, is how much to appreciate my mom…not just for the fact that she (and my dad) have raised me, provided for me, and sacrificed for me…but also for the journey it took for her to become a mom. When you’re a kid, you never imagine what life was like for your parents before your existence…it’s as if time began when you were born and your parents’ entire focus has been on you. My journey with infertility has opened a new line of communication with my own mom…for almost 30 years, I had never actually had the conversation about what it was like for my mom to have me or my brother, Aaron. It wasn’t until I had called her crying (for probably the 100th time), that she shared with me her struggles…she shared what it was like to have a miscarriage while other family members were having babies at the time she would have had her first baby…what it was like to hold those babies while still feeling the pain of losing her own…and it made me feel really sad. I mean, how could I have never asked my own mom what her journey to becoming a mom was like? Why did it take my own pain and struggles before I asked her? Knowing what I know now, I have a whole new love and respect for my mom, above what I already had for her…
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So, this Mother’s Day, here’s the bottom line:
First, if you’re already a mom, please realize how amazing of a job you have – appreciate every dirty diaper, every grass-stained pair of jeans, and every sleepless night…because there is a line of women who would give anything to do what you do and have what you have.
Second, if you aren’t a mom (noun), realize you’re still a mom (verb). Continue to love unconditionally and be selfless, because that’s who you are and that’s what makes you a great person…a great aunt…a great friend…you may not have a child, but your ability to love and care for others does not go unnoticed.
Third, if you haven’t already, talk to your own mom. Get to know the person she was before she was a mom…you might be surprised and humbled by what you hear. I guarantee you will have a whole new perspective on Mother’s Day…Because what I am discovering myself, is that the journey you take to become a mom defines you just as much as the act of giving birth. And however that journey ends, either in sadness or in happiness…either smooth or with bumps (or mountains) along the way, if you truly believe you are meant to be a mom, you already are one…it just might not be in the traditional way you expected.
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This Mother’s Day, you might have a mug that says “mom”…or like me, you might not…and if you don’t, trust me – I am celebrating you just as much as my own mom – I’m respecting your struggles and your strength. I’m celebrating your courage and your selflessness. Because what I have come to realize is Mother’s Day isn’t just about flowers and presents and cards…it isn’t only about those amazing women who are blessed to have given birth to a child…it’s about celebrating women who love unconditionally, put others above themselves, and protect the ones they love…so I celebrate all of those women this weekend, whether your coffee mug says “mom” or not.
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**Please take the time to read this article written about the support group for infertility through the RESOLVE project that I became a part of: Group Helps Women with Infertility and Its Stresses. If you or someone you know is struggling this Mother’s Day, urge them to reach out and find strength in this group!
Infertility Awareness

Breaking the Stigma of Infertility

Hey all! This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Up until this year, I really didn’t know such a thing existed – but it has, for over 25 years. And why shouldn’t it? We have awareness events and programs for all sorts of things – cancer, MS, autism, hunger…Yet even I, someone experiencing infertility firsthand, have had a hard time finding awareness events or publicity for infertility. And unfortunately, I kind of understand that – after all, infertility struggles are seen as private – there’s a level of intimacy associated with fertility that has somehow become politically incorrect to discuss in public. I might pose the question – is there not the same level of intimacy implied when we talk about expectant mothers and newborns? The answer is yes, there is, but there’s a stigma associated with infertility that is deeply rooted in our pronatalist society. Our society sees bearing children as socially desirable and as a normal, expected  milestone in life. So then someone like me, who has not/currently is unable to conceive a child, is considered damaged goods, a deviant from the socially accepted role placed upon women (and their partners). An elephant accompanies me to every room, as others might wonder what’s wrong with me that I don’t have kids yet? According to social research, infertility makes people “less than” and diminishes their accomplishments in life. In fact, research shows the same levels of anxiety and depression in people experiencing infertility as those with cancer, HIV, and heart disease.

The World Health Organization defines infertility as

“a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more”

By definition, women and men experiencing infertility struggles are plagued with a “disease.” But don’t expect insurance companies to support a solution, because if anything, health insurance, at least in the US, just propagates the stigma of infertility, denying financial support for fertility treatments. Yet it’s not like IUI or IVF are experimental treatments – millions of babies have been born out of these medical advancements. Don’t worry, I won’t go on about the financial aspect of infertility – that’s for another blog post. But for the sake of this post, I’ll tell you that only 15 states in the US require insurance coverage for IVF. And no, Wisconsin is not one of them.

So not only are you considered socially “abnormal” and a bit ostracized as friends and peers have children and can share in these moments together without you, but you are also considered “diseased/damaged” by the medical community. And don’t think you’ll have help “healing” because unless you’re made of money, or live in one of those 15 states, you won’t have help from insurance. Okay, so that’s kind of a dramatic way of putting things and it seems ridiculous, but relatively speaking, it’s true.

And instead of support groups or advocacy events or assistance programs, there is silence. Why did it take me two years to realize there was a National Infertility Awareness Week? Why did it take me two years to find a support group in Wisconsin? By the way, there is only one infertility support group in all of Wisconsin…

To be honest, I think it’s because we are a silent community, in large part. I blame myself – I’ve been complacent and filled with self-pity instead of empowerment. Because it’s easier to be silent than to be judged or seen as “less than.” Because it’s easier to say “we’re working on it” or “no, not yet” when people ask you if you have kids. Because it’s easier to say “I know” when someone says “you aren’t getting any younger” than to go into great detail about personal struggles with infertility. I’m the first to admit that I propagate the stigma too.

When I first started this blog, I was afraid. What would people think? Would I be embarrassed by so vulnerably sharing our story? Would people think I’m crazy for baring it all for friends, family, and strangers to see? And now more than ever, my answer is, who cares? I have no reason to be ashamed. I’m one in eight people who struggle with infertility. That’s 7.5 million Americans. Since starting this blog I have been incredibly humbled by the sheer number of friends, family, and strangers who have come forward and shared their infertility struggles with me. And I’ve come to realize that I’m MORE than 1 in 8. We are MORE than 1 in 8. The more I share, the more others feel comfortable sharing with me, and the more we foster an environment of support, discussion, and change, rather than loneliness, silence, and stagnation.

I made a promise to myself that this week is the perfect time to take action and start breaking the stigma of infertility. I’ll detail my progress in future blogs but here’s the plan: 1) BLOG!!!,  2) Join a support group, 3) Advocate by writing to state government.

This blog is one of the most rewarding and empowering things I have ever done – and that is because of all of you – not only because you read this, but because you offer support, share your stories, and remind me that there is good in the world. I know this post was a lot about NIAW, but really it’s about empowerment. Whatever struggles you face in life, they don’t have to be related to infertility like mine – whatever has made you feel “less than” or like an outsider, don’t let it anymore. Pull up your bootstraps (that’s what they say right?) and advocate for yourself. Become empowered by the love and support from friends and family around you, by the grace of God above you, and by the heart and soul within you. I promise you’ll find the world is a much more beautiful place when you break out of whatever stigma has its hold on you. Don’t see yourself how others have defined you. Define yourself first…and then show others.

Inspire

Faith & Infertility

Open your eyes and believe – struggling with infertility on Easter

Happy Easter, everyone! I apologize for the late post this week – it’s been busy with the holiday season! Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, my parents’ house was filled with smells of strawberry gelatin from the egg-shaped Jell-O jigglers (that never quite turned out egg-shaped) and distilled vinegar from the egg dye for hard-boiled eggs. My brother and I would have these extravagant designs for our Easter eggs, and in the end, they were all shades of purple or brown from trying to mix too many colors in our elaborate decorating schemes. During the early morning hours, my dad would keep watch outside our bedroom doors while the “Easter bunny” (I won’t spoil it for those believers out there) frantically hid eggs and Easter baskets outside around the house. There’s nothing quite as exciting as searching high and low for eggs and baskets on Easter morning. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I hunted for Easter eggs and baskets well into my 20s! The first, and only, Easter Erik and I spent together, we searched for eggs outside my parents’ house – Erik will deny it, but you heard it here first people!

My feelings on Easter have changed a bit the last two years, while we have been struggling to start a family. In fact, I think Easter is one of the most difficult holidays for people going through infertility struggles. Think about it – in this day and age, with the commercialization of Easter, every advertisement is a blaring reminder of babies – filled with fuzzy chicks, furry bunnies, and adorable kids – the girls in frilly dresses and the boys in cute bow ties, all in an array of pastel colors. When you go to church on Easter morning, you can hear the buzz of excitement from the children explaining where they found their Easter baskets and what was inside them. Even the Easter basket itself is filled with symbols of new life – chicks and bunnies, green grass, and eggs – there are eggs everywhere! Chocolate eggs. Plastic eggs. Hard-boiled eggs. Dyed eggs. And jelly beans – which aren’t really beans but candies meant to be shaped like eggs. Trust me, eggs are the last things I want to see or be reminded of after the last two years of doctor’s appointments, where the obsession has been on counting eggs, measuring eggs, scanning eggs…

Most importantly, let’s not forget, Easter itself is literally a celebration of life – it’s a story of the resurrection of Jesus – a work of God so incredulous that no one believed what they saw, or rather, what they did not see on Easter morning, as Jesus’ tomb lay empty. It’s the day God showed His promise was true – that those who believe will be granted eternal life. The Easter basket was intended by German tradition to be a symbol of the promise God fulfilled and is meant to celebrate life. In my love of Easter, I would argue you’re never too old to get an Easter basket. But I believe as we age, our hunt changes from a literal search for physical eggs and baskets to more of a spiritual, figurative hunt. Instead of candy or stuffed animals, we search for answers, for hope, and for peace, in relation to whatever we are facing in life at a given time. Me, personally, I’m searching for a child – an addition to my already amazing, but somewhat incomplete, family.

I remember Easter last year – my cousin, Laura, who I love dearly, announced to the family that she was “eggspecting” (did I mention she’s also very creative!) and my beautiful sister-in-law, Kristi, had the start of a baby bump where my precious niece, Violet, was growing. And I remember thinking, next year that will be me! Easter will be filled with new life and exciting beginnings! I’ll be the one finding cute ways to announce we are expanding our family! I’ll be the one looking for a cute maternity dress to wear to church Easter morning!

Well, Easter has rolled around and I’m no further in the hunt for my “Easter basket” than I was last year. I woke up early before church on Easter morning to take Reggie for a walk. It was cloudy and drizzling rain, dampening my mood even further. As I walked, I contemplated how I would face the day. And I remembered a message my friend Jared had sent me following last week’s post on faith and peace in Sometimes We Just Need a Sign– he told me that I would never find real peace until I unconditionally placed trust in God and believed in Him. He told me that Easter season was the greatest time to offer up my suffering and believe. My devotions book that morning reiterated his thoughts; it said

“I am calling you to a life of thankfulness. I have designed you to live by faith, not by sight.”

I believe I’m supposed to be a mom, just as Mary believed that Jesus was alive. I realize I can’t see when I’m supposed to be a mom any more than Mary could see Jesus’ body in the tomb on Easter morning – but does that mean it doesn’t exist? No – if anything it’s affirmation that through trust and faith, our prayers are heard and answered in God’s time. I came to this conclusion by the end of my walk, and as if to reassure me, a beautiful sunrise broke through the rain and the clouds. And if you remember my post last week, I am always looking for signs – and I took this as a beautiful sign – as if to say, where there is darkness, there can always be light. Just like for every Good Friday, there is an Easter morning.

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So it was on this early morning Easter walk that I think I found my “Easter basket,” and instead of it being empty as I had expected, it was overflowing – with hope, with peace, with love, and with LIFE – my life. And I was reminded of the beautiful gift of life throughout the day – holding my niece in church and hearing her laugh, receiving prayers from my mom, reading a card from my dad reminding me I am strong and to never give up, and the many hugs and laughs I shared with my family.

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I truly hope all of you found your Easter baskets this year and that they were filled with life…If you didn’t find what you expected to, look again. Maybe what you were meant to find isn’t actually there at all – just like the women looking for Jesus’ body on Easter morning. Maybe what you were meant to find is something you cannot see, but rather something you have to believe. For all of you out there who are waiting for something and searching for answers, trust me when I say you will not find peace until you stop looking and start believing. Easter is a celebration of life – it’s a reminder to believe in the life you have been given and the paths you are following; there is a reason for every triumph and every struggle. Open your eyes and believe – I know that you too will find there is sunshine for every dark day.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).