04 April 2018

Permission to be Quiet

I have no idea why, but I seem to be a magnet for entrepreneurs, those with an inner drive of pure fire. They own companies, they are constantly traveling, they always have multiple hundred-dollar bills in their wallets at any given time, and they’re always – ALWAYS – looking for the next opportunity. It’s impossible to turn them off; they are driven and fueled to achieve. These are precious friendships to me, and I admire them tremendously for their passion. I frequently envy them for their seemingly-neverending energy, not to mention the luxury cars they always seem to be driving. But here’s the thing:

That's not me.
And the more I try to keep up with them,
the more I lose myself.

I’m fiercely introverted. This doesn’t mean I’m shy, it means my energy is gathered and expended in a different way, namely quiet. And trying to keep up in the loud, fast world of extroverted hustlers is like trying to swim upstream in a suit of armor. It doesn't work, it is way too heavy, and it’s exhausting. The longer I stay out there – using the same bar to measure success out of shame or obligation – the faster I burn out from trying to be something I’m not and denying what I really need.

Who am I? I’m a cultivator. One who nurtures growth by quietly maintaining simple needs, usually unseen, buried in the roots. One who establishes and keeps a refuge, fostering an atmosphere of peace and organization. I'm an excellent number two, the asset a hustler needs in their corner to handle the details so they can keep hustling (probably why I find myself naturally surrounded by so many of them). Being in a position of support is not only a place I enjoy, I’m very good at it.

But the world rarely acknowledges the validity of those of us behind the scenes, who find beauty and satisfaction from the quieter things in life. My social media feed is filled with judgmental, belittling quotes like "If you don't build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs" and "Have goals so big you get uncomfortable telling small-minded people". Even I'm guilty of it. Not long ago, I posted one of these graphics myself. "If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough." I had just taken a job that terrified me, and I was trying to encourage myself not to be intimidated. But now I'm starting to see the hidden nuances in that statement. That what I thought was just intimidation might have had an element of intuition of trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. And it's taken me a really long time to realize something incredibly important:

Sometimes dreams are quiet.
Sometimes goals aren't huge.
Sometimes a person's sincere desire is simplicity.

This is not to say we need to scale down our dreams. If a huge, difficult, messy dream burns in you, by all means, shoot for the stars. But if the dream you have is a simpler one, it's still valid. You don't need to adjust your goals because they seem smaller compared to someone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a quiet life if you’re doing it from a healthy, authentic place.

Nor does this mean we get permission to give up, to stop growing out of fear of leaving our comfort zones. But it is imperative to recognize when we're being pressured to achieve someone else's idea of success. If I were to take the loud advice to spend my days hustling harder and harder without rest, I would resent every dollar I had in the bank. I would be living someone else's dream, not mine.

Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be the most or the best; it should be peace and authenticity. If hustling is where you belong, you’ll know it. If it’s not, you’ll know that, too. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, because we’re meant to work together. To need each other. So if you find more satisfaction from a well-kept home or a meaningful conversation than you do from a business handshake or negotiation, you are not weak or small-minded. You are not a failure; you’re right where you belong. Though your skills may seem understated by comparison, they are vital. The world needs both sides of the coin.

Dreams don’t have to be loud to be dreams. Actions don’t have to be explosive or expensive to matter. We have just as much permission to live our quiet callings as others have to live their loud ones. Don’t listen to the pressure and the judgment; just be you. You are needed in the place you are the most authentic and at peace, and no one can fill that place but you.

26 March 2017

I hate Mother's Day

Confession: I hate Mother’s Day.

I’d love to be able to type some kind of eloquent, inspirational string of prose that speaks to my inner strength about how I’m right where I should be in life and I’m blessed in so many other ways and keep your chin up and blah blah blah. But I’d be a big fat liar, because the truth of where I am in my grieving process is that I effing hate Mother’s Day. And I don’t see that changing dramatically any time within the foreseeable future.

Ever since the sobering realization that I will never be a mom, it’s the one day a year I really struggle to stay positive. Normally, I have a firm grip on my reality, a conviction to be optimistic on this new path, even as I carve out what this path might be. But on Mother’s Day? In order to make it through without feeling repeatedly gut-punched, I need a crusty exterior, a coping mechanism of completely ignoring what’s going on around me. So as the world vomits reminders of my life-sentence-level failure from every conceivable corner, I hide.

This Mother’s Day, however, I have to perform. On stage. In a Mother's Day-themed show. Singing songs about how beautiful it is to be a mother. To honor a room filled with mothers. We’re even going to pass out flowers to every mother in the auditorium. I will have a very visible representation of what I do not have. What I will never have, no matter how much I want it. It’s salt in a wound that hasn’t healed, and I have to do the pouring. It is the complete opposite of hiding, and while it exhibits a strength I hope to have someday, I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready yet.

I don't trust that people understand how hard this has been for me. How hard this will be for me. To stand up there and deliver a stirring performance while attempting to forget that every word feels like a knife, and I’d rather be literally anywhere else. I expressed my hesitation to a single person. Their response: “Well, you have a mother, right?” It only reminded me of how forgotten and misunderstood one becomes once they're an "infertile". I haven’t quit the show yet, but I’ve considered it. Multiple times. I won’t split hairs or make excuses: I just don’t want to do this.

Most days, I retain my objectivity to the difference in perspectives. Most days, I understand. Right now? I'm just mad. What stage of grief is anger? Because I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m living right now. I thought I was past that part, but apparently you can get sucked backward. Just the fact that my everyday reality doesn't even register to most people as something to consider makes me indignant.

I don't even have a point to this post. I guess just to throw out into the world, to the very few reading this who can actually relate: you’re not alone. I know you feel like you are - GOD, DO I KNOW IT - but you’re not.

To everyone else, as you flood Facebook with pictures of your adorably misspelled cards written in crayon, your burnt breakfasts, your dandelions picked from the yard, your slobbery kisses and I love you, Moms, please remember this day isn’t easy for everyone. For some of us, this is the hardest day of the year.

Please be sensitive to that.

11 October 2016

How I Meal Plan

Meal planners come in all shapes and sizes. Some believe in planning a month at a time, doing one huge monthly grocery haul, and freezing everything. Me? I plan/shop one week at a time, always on Sundays, with food prep as soon as I get home. How you do it is totally up to what works best for you, your family, and your schedule. I'm not an expert; I'm just a home cook who loves to make plans and lists and has honed my process over literally hundreds of attempts. Here is how I do it.

Step 1: Know What Your Week Looks Like

Before I begin planning, I check my calendar. Nothing will affect your meal plan like all your other plans, so be aware of when you have more time to cook vs when you have very little time and need to run out the door. It seems obvious, but it bears mentioning: don’t plan a meal that takes 90 minutes to make when you will only have 30 minutes to spare. Also, differing family member schedules don’t have to be a problem; that’s what a fridge is for. For example, every Tuesday night, I have to be at rehearsal before my husband gets home from work. So I make meals that can be easily refrigerated for him to grab and reheat when he gets home.

Next, I check the weather forecast. This might seem unnecessary to some, but it’s just how I think. On hot summer nights, I plan meals that utilize the outdoor grill and include refreshing dishes, like salads. On exceptionally stormy winter nights, I plan hearty comfort foods.

Step 2: Easy weekly set up

I find it helps to start with the protein of the main dish. My weeks usually contains 1 red meat meal, 1-2 seafood meals, and 2-3 poultry meals. Then, I think in terms of ethnicities/cuisines, and I just mix and match. 1 Asian, 1 Mexican/Hispanic, 1 Italian, 1 comfort food, 1 Breakfast-for-Dinner, etc. For sanity sake, I allow myself one splurge night to either go out to a restaurant or order takeout. It's also smart to plan one leftovers night, the night before your grocery trip, to clean out everything in your fridge.

This results in a week that typically looks like this:
Mon: Poultry meal
Tues: Seafood meal
Wed: Red meat meal
Thurs: Poultry meal
Fri: Seafood meal
Sat: Leftovers night
Sun: Splurge night

Step 3: Set up your plate

Thinking in terms of what your dinner plate looks like will help break down what you need to put on it. This is where dietary restrictions and belief systems about food come in. Because of my family's needs, I aim to build every plate to contain one-half protein, one-half fruit/veggies, with an occasional carby splurge. Other families prefer to do one-third protein, one-third carb, one-third fruit/veggies at every meal. Whatever your personal choices, be aware of your own preferences so you can plan the entire meal appropriately.

Also, when choosing sides, remember to consider the prep required for the main entree you're already making. For example, if you only own one slow cooker and you're using it for your main entree, don't choose a side that requires that same, now unavailable, slow cooker.

Step 4: Choose the food

To make the process faster and easier, I keep a master list of all of our most common, favorite meals, organized by dish type. Most of the time, simply scanning this list is all I need; my appetite chooses whatever sounds good and basically does the planning for me.

As a home cook, I also challenge myself to try at least one new recipe a week, if I have the time. Sometimes, I'm sick of the same old meals all the time. And sometimes, I'm just straight-up craving something specific. My primary inspiration for new ideas and recipes is Pinterest. I keep my own Pinterest recipe boards organized by dish type to find new meals as easy as possible. Feel free to use them, if you want.

Step 5: Make your grocery list

Now that you’ve chosen what food you’re eating, you need to know what ingredients you already own vs what you still need to buy. For this, I created a master shopping list that already lists my most commonly purchased ingredients. It is organized by which stores at which I shop. I read through all the recipes of my planned meals and note how many TOTAL of everything I will need. For example, one of the items on my master shopping list is onions. Every time I see an onion will be needed in a recipe, I make a mark next to “Onion”. By the time I’ve read through all the recipes, I can see I will need a total of 5 onions this week.

Once my master list is done based on the recipes from my meal plan, I head into the kitchen to see what I already have. If I need 5 onions for the week, but I already have 3, I only need to buy 2. Adjust the amount on your list; do the same to all needed ingredients. Et voila, you have your grocery shopping list!

Step 6: Be efficient and price conscious

Like most people, I love saving money, but I don't have the time to clip coupons. So I do what I can to save as much money as possible by utilizing club cards/programs. I also keep track of what items are priced best at which store. For example, I'd never buy toiletries at a grocery store; that's Target territory. I also try to pay attention to the per unit price at club stores; a surprising number of things are actually cheaper per unit at smaller stores, especially for smaller families like mine that won't use bulk amounts before they go bad.

That said, time is money to me. I want to go on one large, efficient shopping trip and be done with it. So if the convenience of a purchase is worth spending a little bit more money, within reason, I'll do it. It really is up to what matters most to you. For this reason, my shopping list is organized by store, which I highly recommend.

Once you get home with your groceries, it's time for food prep to save even more time and sanity in the long run. Stay tuned for that post later...

04 August 2015

In defense of homemaking, even without kids

I originally left the workplace to see if our unexplained infertility could be fixed by eliminating stress.  Now we know that’s not the case, and we aren’t ever going to be parents.  So, logic dictates it’s time for me to go back to work.  To continue my contribution to the GNP.  To be an adult.  Right?

This is where I make my scary confession: I don’t want to return to the workplace.  Like, ever.

Until a couple weeks ago, I felt tremendously guilty over that sentiment. I felt pressure from society to get back out there, be “independent”, to not "waste my life", as if the only way I could possibly contribute to our world was by punching a time clock.  I felt like I wasn’t allowed to admit I was happy being a homemaker. Like, really genuinely happy.

The topic of homemaking seems to be polarizing.  On one side, you have those who believe every human being should become and remain self-sufficient, even within marriage, you know, “just in case”.  Being dependent on someone else’s paycheck, especially as a woman, is a four-letter word in this camp.  On the other side, you have the extreme traditionalists, whose reasoning seems to be comprised of nothing more than recited Bible scriptures and could easily justify the need to stay home solely on the size of their large family.

Once again, I’m stuck in the middle and can see valid points on both sides.  I believe everyone should take the time to find themselves and know they can be self-sufficient if the need arises.  I don’t have any kids, either.  I also believe strongly in traditional family values. I don’t agree with going into a marriage with a “just in case” plan.

As a teen, I lobbied hard against early marriage and parenthood in order to finish college, see the world, “find myself”.  I worked my butt off in the workplace for 15 years, including 4am bakery shifts, soul-sucking retail Black Fridays, awkward temp jobs, and downright demeaning internships. I crammed homework into lunch hours in order to pay my own college tuition and expenses.  I learned a lot of skills out there, as well as a lot about myself, and I believe those years were vital to who I am today.

However, I also learned that I have strong interests and skills in domestic areas, though I wasn’t able to pursue them very much while working.  There are only so many hours in a day, only so much reserve energy when you’re living within the constraints of a typical work week.  I felt torn and began to weigh which of these worlds would bring me the most personal satisfaction.  Much to my surprise after all that effort, the workplace did not win that battle.  While my husband loved his job so much, he'd go even if they weren't paying him, I was downright miserable in mine.

And then, the day came that my husband hit a pay level in which his paycheck covered all our bills and then some.  We no longer needed two incomes.  I was actually grateful to infertility for giving me a valid reason to escape the grind.  And even though staying home and taking on all the domestic tasks felt like a breath of fresh air, I expected I’d have to return to the workplace eventually.  This setup was too good to be true; I wasn’t allowed to be this content.  I also expected I’d eventually get bored.  That’s what everyone says, right?

Oh, what everyone says…

Stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) deal with a lot of flak from working individuals about how they could possibly be satisfied in life.  And yet, even many SAHMs sometimes dish out that same flak to stay-at-home-wives (SAHWs), those of us that choose to stay home despite not even having a family to raise.  Once Hubs and I realized we were never going to have children, the pressure I felt to return to the workplace became overwhelming, despite the fact that we still didn’t financially need me to do so, nor did I actually want to.

And then, I was introduced to the world of Career Homemakers.  People just like me, who proudly have cleaning schedules, meal plans, and Christmas binders.  And I’m learning that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing - and loving - this life, as long as we can financially manage it and it genuinely makes me happy.  Which is does.  Wholeheartedly.

And yet, I still have to deal with rabid judgment.  “What do you do all day?  I’d get SO bored!”  “I would have such a huge problem not contributing to the world at large. Don’t you feel useless, like your intelligence and your skills are being wasted on laundry and dishes?”  “I could never be entirely dependent on my spouse’s money.”  “If you don’t have a career outside the home, you don’t have an identity.”

If your career brings you genuine satisfaction, that’s awesome.  Own that proudly.  You deserve to be happy, and the world needs people just like you.  But I’m realizing the world needs people like me, too.  The idea of meetings, annual reviews, and punching a time clock gives me the same anxiety as you feel about doing nothing more than laundry, cooking, and running errands all day.  Being a career homemaker is freedom to me, and I love doing it.  Some of my fondest childhood memories involve making an “apartment” in the woods behind our daycare.  I was so proud of that tiny plot of dirt then, and I love keeping a home now.  Sure, there are days it’s akin to being a maid, but there are also days when I get to be a chef, an interior designer, a gardener, a professional shopper, an artist.  I’m not stuck behind a desk, I make my own schedule, and I’m my own boss.

“What do you do all day? I would get so bored!”

First of all, let's destroy the stereotype: the words homemaker and lazy are not synonymous.  I'm not watching TV and napping on the sofa all day.  I may sneak a YouTube video now and then, but the TV doesn't come on during the day at all.  Ever.  Instead, my alarm goes off every single morning, and I maintain a strict schedule throughout each day.  In fact, the time it took to type this post was a scheduling splurge.  Also, when your home is your job, you're always "in the office".  I don't get to collapse at 5pm and relax all evening like other careers; if something needs doing at 10pm, it's my accepted responsibility to get it done. Just like a SAHM, I accept that I am always on call.

I’m never bored.  When I worked full-time, I only did the bare minimum around the house just to get through the week, but that's not the case anymore. You'd be surprised how many projects present themselves when you finally have the time to do them.  There is always another improvement, errand, idea, or chore to undertake.  I consider myself the CEO of a very efficient household, but it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make things seem effortless.

I accomplish far more in a single day of being a homemaker than I ever did behind a desk.  Not only do I no longer have to deal with wasting loads of valuable time on red tape and typical workplace redundancies, my efforts affect me directly and immediately. As a result, my sense of accomplishment is much more tangible than it ever was in the workplace.  I finally feel like my efforts matter.

Furthermore, I love this kind of work.  Putting a home together - a clean, organized, stable refuge for myself and my loved ones - makes me downright giddy.  Sure, there are days when dishes and laundry seem endless, but working on projects like a well-organized closet, a properly prepared meal, or a well-hosted party gives me a unmatched sense of satisfaction.  I'm sincerely happy doing this on a daily basis. (Except vacuuming stairs. That task can be banished to Hell for all eternity, as far as I'm concerned.)

“I would have such a huge problem not contributing to the world at large. Don’t you feel useless, like your intelligence and skills are being wasted on laundry and dishes?”

No, I don’t.  In fact, I feel like I finally am making a difference; it’s just secondhand.

I see my career as a homemaker as my vital contribution to our family dynamic and financial situation.  I'm in direct support to my husband, the one bringing home the actual paycheck from a rewarding, yet exceptionally challenging, career. I've willingly taken on the important responsibility to keep him going at home so he can keep going at work.  It's a balanced system that works well and has actually made an enormous difference in both our lives.  I love knowing I’m able to provide a place of peace and rest when he returns home from working all kinds of odd hours in a stressful environment.  That alone has improved our quality of life and our relationship.  We’re healthier and more relaxed now.  We eat better, we sleep better, we get to spend quality time together, instead of just trying to cram chores into the few spare hours we have at home between workdays.  Everything just runs better.

Many of my other friends and family are also in positions of direct contribution to the improvement of society: moms, teachers, police officers, heads of non-profits.  They are on the front lines of positive change in our world today, pouring their lives into their work and left with very little time or energy to take care of themselves.  That’s where I come in.  I’ve never been comfortable in a front line position in society, but I'm an excellent number two, and I absolutely thrive supporting others.  I now have the energy and resources to help take care of them so they take care of everyone else.  I can make them meals, watch their kids, help with projects, surprise them with escapes.  Things they don't have the time or energy for, and things I never could've managed when I worked full-time.  This is my ideal way to give back, and I love it.

Furthermore, I feel this freedom has only increased my intelligence and creativity.  When I worked, I learned a lot about expense accounts, shipping routes, data processing, customer service, and other things I, frankly, couldn’t care less about.  And whenever I sat down to pursue knowledge of my own choosing, I’d fall asleep from sheer exhaustion.  There was no room in my life for what I wanted, because it was too cluttered with what I didn’t.  Now, I have the time and energy to research interests and learn skills I actually care about and can be applied directly to my life, including volunteering with organizations that I sincerely believe in. My intelligence and ability to give back has only grown since leaving the workplace.

“I could never be entirely dependent on my spouse’s money.” 

Yes, we have traditional values and I consider my husband the head of our household, but a huge part of that is a relationship built on trust.  I have to laugh when “enlightened” people think being a homemaker means I’m at my husband’s mercy, as if I’m on my knees begging for a fiver for a latte or something.  It’s actually the complete opposite.  I control the workings of our entire household, including all our bank accounts and financial holdings.  We make major decisions together, but when it comes to the day-to-day minutia of running the house, I’m pretty much judge and jury around here.  Translation: my husband trusts me enough to hand me his entire paycheck and walk away in complete confidence.  I know he'll provide for me, and he knows I'll provide for him.  Neither of us are at each other’s mercy; we rely on each other, and I'm actually very proud of that. To me, it's a symbol of our commitment to and faith in each other.

And to anyone who views homemaking as negating woman's rights, I'd have to argue the exact opposite.  Should woman be forced to stay at home, hidden away and uneducated solely because of their gender?  No.  But giving women the option to make their own life choices should include the option to stay at home, if so desired.  Denying us that right under the guise of equality, thereby forcing us into the workplace unwillingly, is actually its own form of oppression.  Those of us happy to stay at home are not resigning ourselves to this lifestyle; we want it.

I also feel to specify that when I say these things are my responsibility, this is not a reflection of an authoritarian husband with a grading sheet.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  My laid-back husband wouldn't even notice if I let things slide.  Instead, my new boss is me; my tasks, responsibilities, and expectations are self-chosen.  And believe me, you are the toughest boss you'll ever have.

“If you don’t have a career outside the home, you don’t have an identity.” 

This is the one statement I’ve really struggled with, a challenge I believe many SAHMs can also relate to, because it's so ingrained in our society nowadays.  But it’s one I’m learning simply isn’t true, because being a homemaker is just as valid as any other identifier.  We all have homes we return to at the end of the day, and when they run better, we run better.  If we as a society would start paying due respect to our home lives and those of us that maintain them, the rest the world might just run a little smoother.  Life might be a little easier.  My “job” matters, and the belittling belief that it doesn’t is society’s problem, not mine.

So, world, consider this my official announcement: as long as we can responsibly afford it, I’m remaining an entirely contented Career Homemaker.

Since deciding to own this position and its validity, my world has exploded a little.  My hobby room has seven new piles of projects I've thrown myself into, and my computer currently has four Excel windows crammed with home management spreadsheets.  I've unabashedly become Martha Stewart and Ina Garten on a steady drip of caffeine, finally giving myself permission to be good at this, to be who I think I always was, and it feels really good.  I've even ordered contact cards to carry in my purse, just like everyone else’s business cards.  Why?  Because this is me, and I’m just as valid as everyone else.  I’m proud to be a homemaker; we’re the backbone of everything else, and we matter very much.

*** This post would be amiss if I didn't acknowledge our fortune to even have this option to consider in the first place.  I hit my knees and thank God, my wonderfully supportive and hard-working husband, and our generous friends and family every night for the freedom to live this life.  It hasn't been without blood, sweat, tears. We've endured anxiety over many carefully-planned decisions and one major life-altering circumstance to build our life together. But we're no better than anyone else. We're just grateful and blessed, and if circumstances ever called for it again, I'd return to work immediately. I just really hope I don't have to answer phones ever again...

03 March 2015

When a friend goes through infertility

First of all...

If you realize you've said/done any of these things to me as you're reading, please don't worry that I'm writing this about you.  I'm not.  This is not chastisement to anyone specific.  It's actually inspired by watching friends want to help me and not knowing how, while finding other "What Not To Do" websites either incomplete or way too cynical.  I also realize this is my opinion; other people who've gone through infertility might have a totally different take.  But hopefully, learning about IF from someone in the middle of IF will help you understand it a little better.  Let's get to the most important point first:

You are not expected to say “The Right Thing”

Here’s the deal: we actually know how much it sucks to watch us go through this irrational, unfair crap and have absolutely no idea how to help.  We totally get how awkward and uncomfortable this is, because we don’t know what to do or say either.  Infertility is completely random, illogical, and unfair.  But here’s the thing: we don’t expect you to fix it. We don’t even expect you to know what to say.  In fact, sometimes the ones who admit they don’t know are the most supportive.  Two of the most powerful recent moments I can recall were great examples of this:

  • A friend with six kids, whose wife had zero complications and easy labors: “I don’t know what to say. Sorry seems empty and cruel. But if we had gone through that even once, I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to try again.”
  • A friend who has a lot of trouble expressing her feelings left us a card.  All it said was, “This card is filled with words I don’t know how to say.”

Take the time to educate yourself

Educating yourself on your friends' specific situation is probably the most helpful thing you can do.  Not only does this show much appreciated validation and support, but it will help you understand what not to say and why.  The most common hurtful, flippant comments are simply based in ignorance of what infertility actually is.  Here are a few of the biggies, and why they’re not correct:

  • “Just relax; it’ll happen.”  Yes, we all know quite a few couples that got pregnant after their trip to Hawaii or as soon as they stopped trying.  We’re entirely aware that it happens; in fact, we’ve already tried it.  Several times.  But there are also very real medical reasons for infertility: heart-shaped uteruses, tilted pelvises, blocked tubes, low hormones, Rh blood types, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, low sperm count, low sperm motility, low sperm mobility, problems with blood clotting properly, the list goes on and on.  These are legitimate medical issues; we’re not just stressing out.  Telling us to relax is invalidating.  It feels like a veiled insult, and only serves to fuel our anxiety.
  • “Maybe parenthood just isn’t in God’s plan for your life.”  First of all, this is the singular crisis-of-self we haven’t just considered, but scares us to death every minute of every day.  Infertility makes you reassess plans you’ve had for your life for decades, ever since you were six years old, carrying your doll around everywhere you went.  The idea that we have to find another life path doesn't just inspire insecurity, it absolutely terrifies us.  We realize you mean this statement in an easy-going “You’ll be okay anyway” sort of way, but after you’ve said it, you get to just walk away.  We, on the other hand, have to figure out who we are without this theoretical family we've planned on for as long as we can remember.  All you’re doing is justifying our fears.  Secondly, watching yourself not get what you’re asking so desperately for is a big enough challenge to faith on its own.  The last thing we need you to do is mentally pit God against us.  This is a lesson of trusting God despite the circumstances while grieving the loss of something we can’t achieve.  This statement isn’t a Band-Aid to put on a bleeding wound; it makes the wound bigger.  Please understand how our infertility relates to our faith isn’t any of your business.
  • “Maybe God knows you just wouldn’t be a good parent.”  Yes, this has been said to me, but I don't think this one needs an explanation.  If you’ve said this to someone, apologize.  Right now.  We’re insecure enough about this being true as it is; it’s one of the biggest irrational fears we carry.  You should be ashamed for your short-sighted words.  And can we please be frank about Psalms 127:3? "Children are a gift from God, a reward from Him. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them..."  I know you're fulfilled by being a parent, and I know you're proud of your kids, and I believe you have every right to be.  But please realize that scripture feels like a knife in our backs every time we read it.  All the sudden, my husband and I become the slow kids who didn't finish the race and don't get a ribbon because we're not good enough. I realize it's likely not what you intended at all, but you have to know that is how it comes across.  Please be sensitive to that.

Understand adoption

One of the most common responses to fertility problems is "Why don't you just adopt?"  It's one thing to support the idea of adoption; it's a whole different ballgame to consider actually doing it. Adoption is a very real and major decision to make.  We personally are very pro-adoption; it is still on the table for us.  However, we're still considering if it is the right choice for us.  Please know that there is nothing “just” about adoption.
  • I personally am not one who is simply trying to become a mom, to get my hands on any baby.  Instead, I’m aching to meet the little person that is an extension of my relationship with my husband, the baby I saw in my mind when I realized I was looking at the father of my children. Getting to the point of adoption means grieving the loss of that biological child we’ll never get to meet, and that takes time to process.
  • Adoption comes with its own tumultuous emotional toll.  It takes a very special kind of person to deal with the unique emotional needs and struggles of an adopted child. I am in awe of adoptive parents; they're incredible people. Are we right for this?  Can we be that selfless?
  • It can - and likely will - take years. Your life is invasively dissected to determine if you, your spouse, your home, your job, your finances, your life plans, and your mental state are “worthy” of a child.  And then you wait for someone to choose you.  It is psychologically exhausting in a situation that has already depleted you of resources.
  • The cost; oh, the cost. Even considering tax breaks and comparisons to fertility treatments, adoption requires a lot of money up front. Having to empty your savings and go into debt simply to bring a child home means you no longer have the resources you originally saved to provide that child with the life you wanted for it. Thinking about money seems cold and callous when it comes to human life, but these are details must be considered responsibly.
  • If you're fortunate enough to be chosen for a child after jumping through all the hoops, you could still lose that child, as well as all the money you've spent to get to that point. It's actually common for biological parents to change their mind at the last second, and every time that happens, you return to the drawing board. Some adoptive parents have found themselves in unexpected lawsuits and still lost their adopted children years after signing the papers. I can't even fathom that kind of heartbreak.

Realize you don’t get it

If you’ve never experienced infertility, please realize that you don’t totally get it, and if you’re lucky, you never will.  Studies have proven going through infertility is as physically stressful and psychologically depressing as those facing cancer, hypertension, or a heart attack.  Infertility - especially multiple miscarriages - changes your entire perspective on life.  Those of us in this fight will forever be affected by different things in different ways for different reasons than those who can't relate.  Insisting that you understand when you've never faced it is astoundingly belittling.  Have respect for the enormity of what we're going through.

Don't expect us to relate

It’s okay if you can’t relate to us, but don’t expect us to relate to you, either. Are you an exhausted parent who would love the “freedom” of being childfree?  Are you someone who has never understood wanting biological children?  Are you someone who had absolutely zero problems getting pregnant?  Are you in the middle of an unwanted pregnancy?  Are you someone who struggled until one day, it “just happened”? Are you absolutely terrified at the prospect of becoming a parent someday? Okay. That’s you; that’s where you are in life.  And all of that is valid...for you. Telling us, even jokingly, that you'd love to trade places with us is incredibly insensitive.  Imposing your experiences and your viewpoints on us as if you know better than we do doesn't help anyone.  We don't need you to relate, but we do need you to validate.

Validate our childfree life

One of the hardest things to deal with is parents who treat us as if our childless status makes us less valuable contributors to the world at large. It's a very "You don't have kids?! What even are you???" mindset. We realize we're not currently sculpting young lives, but that doesn't make us inferior to you. Remember, we already feel we've lost all our friends to the chasm of diapers, bottles, and nap time that now separates us. It is important for us to find healthy ways to continue to grow in the midst of this journey. We can either sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can celebrate ourselves, pursuing personal interests such as travel or continued education, and relishing our freedom to do things like last minute date nights or sleeping in. We are not better than you, and you are not better than us. Our personal journey is as real to us as yours is to you, and we can both leave an impacting legacy in one way or another.

Don't compare us to others

If there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s that there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to infertility.  It's very important not to play the “Why them and not us?” game.  We’ve mucked through a lot of emotional garbage to get to a place where we finally realize this isn’t personal, so please don’t make it personal by saying things like, “So-and-so is a horrible mom. Why can’t you have her kids?” We realize you’re likely joking and trying to be supportive.  But not only does it open us up to the philosophical Why? questions that no one has answers to, it establishes a judgemental comparison between us and others, and that only feeds the feelings of failure.

Tread lightly when recommending your experience

This one is tougher to explain, because personal recommendations from friends and family can (and have been) priceless in this journey.  The doctors I’ve chosen have solely been recommendations from others.  However, please understand that when you’re going through infertility, everyone and their mother is recommending their doctor, their experience, their choices.  If you feel moved to do this, do so in a way that you’re passing along the information, and then LEAVE IT ALONE.  Some people insist we go to their doctor only, they don’t drop it, become pushy, and it becomes awkward.  It’d be a full-time job if we had to follow up with every tip/trick we’ve been offered.  But know we’re grateful for your suggestions and support, even if we don’t use your recommendation.

Ditch the Pity Look

We know this one is hard for the feelers, those who wear their emotions on their sleeves.  We know you want to fix it.  We know you’re indignant that we have to face this.  We know it comes from a good place inside of you.  But when everyone approaches you with a look of absolute pity - including the doctors at the hospital - it feeds the self-pity we’re trying so hard not to allow, because if we do, it’ll destroy us.  Concern, yes.  Indignation, sure.  Support, absolutely.  Pity, please no.

Sometimes hope hurts more

I realize this one sounds really cynical, but hear me out.  The fact is no one can guarantee this is gonna result in us having a family.  We might need to learn to be That Cool Childless Couple.  And if that’s God’s plan, then okay; I trust God.  But to get there in a healthy way, we’re going to have to go through a very real grieving process.  People who insist we should never give up hope can actually be blocking us from moving forward, doing more harm than good.  It makes your acceptance of us conditional. I’ve had experiences when I was finally in a strong, positive mental place of acceptance and understanding, only to have someone who had a dream about me with a baby or a comment about “never giving up” just suck me back into a dark place of depression.  It is more supportive to know you’ll be there for us no matter what.

Separate us from our infertility

I can't say this loud enough: infertility doesn’t define us.  Think of it as you would cancer.  That cancer patient doesn't want to be thought of as The Person with Cancer, nor do we want to be The Infertile Couple ((insert Pity Look here)).  Making this struggle the focus of the way you view us only makes us feel more like freaks and failures.  We are a lot more than our infertility; we are just facing this challenge.

Let us come to you

Yes, we’ve distanced ourselves from you, and I can't apologize for that. Thanks to social media, unrealized dreams like infertility have become a daily torment to those of us facing them. You have a beautiful family that you deserve to celebrate, but I can’t take that from everyone all the time.  Truth is, most of my closest friends are blocked from my Facebook feed.  I adore their kids and would do anything for them, but I just can't take the photos and updates day in and day out.  Furthermore, I hope knowing I'm not watching gives them the freedom to live without worrying if they're hurting me.  There are days this forced separation breaks my heart and makes me angry, but taking in their healthy, happy babies is just easier when I’m mentally prepared.  Let us come to you about that stuff. (This extends to many more personal situations than infertility; by the way.)

Celebrate your post IF successes

If you have experienced infertility and you have a child now, by God, celebrate it.  Cross that line; join that club.  You’ve earned every single milestone.  I've only briefly considered how hard it is to announce a pregnancy to someone still struggling with IF, to intimately know the pain your joy brings.  But remember we understand you’re not the cause of the pain.  We know you deserve the joy.  And if we ever find ourselves in your shoes, we also deserve to relish every single moment. Besides, somehow it’s easier to be happier for the success of a fellow IF fighter. We might not be loud and we might be coping, but we’re cheering you on.

Remember, we're learning to navigate this, too

There will be days when we need support, and then there will be days when we don't even want to be reminded of it.  There will be days when we get snarky, when we just shut down, when we snap at you, when we push you away.  There will be days you're doing everything you know to do, and it still feels like you're not doing anything right.  There are going be days when, without warning, we're just done.  Days when we’re not just sick of talking about it, we’re sick of thinking about it. Days when it seems everyone is pregnant or parents except us.  Days we feel exceptionally alone; days we feel completely smothered. This mess is just going to happen.  This issue is contradictory and emotional, dealing primarily in hormones and failure.  Don’t take any of it personally, and please don't be scared of us. We already feel like freaks.  Being friends with someone going through infertility requires balls, and it's gonna get messy.  But we're incredibly grateful to you for standing beside us in our mess, and we need you more than we know how to say.  We still love you very much and we know you're trying. And remember: you're not expected to fix it.

If you can relate...

If you have been there, if you're in the middle of a fight with IF and you do get it, if you can relate to these points in an incredibly personal way, by all means, stand and be heard.  Men and women.  Do not feel you have to hide.  People can't understand this topic unless we educate them.  It might make some uncomfortable, but the loneliness will eat you alive. There is nothing wrong with you. If nothing else, I am here and willing to listen.  You do not have to go through this alone.

27 February 2015

Ectopic, an update

It's 9am on Friday, and I'm sitting in my living room alone. This wouldn't typically be a big deal, but it is this week. This marks the first time in four days I've been left on my own. The first time in four days there is no one looking at me like a grenade whose pin has been pulled.

It was Monday at 5pm that my favorite nurse, Joy, called. "Your numbers are not going down. The only thing liability will allow me to tell you is to go to the emergency room.  NOW."

It made no sense at all; I had absolutely no acute symptoms whatsoever. Besides, this is the ER-happy nurse who had given me the same lip service before anyone had done a single test.  No one would let me talk to an actual doctor, and further questions got me nowhere.  This seemed like panic, not prudence.  So after a lot of discussion with my husband and several other people, including an L&D nurse and her trusted OB, we decided we were okay to get a second opinion the next day.

The following afternoon, our new - and wonderful - doctor got us in immediately.  We had more blood tests and an ultrasound.  For the first time in three years, we got to talk to the actual OB.  The experience was going really well...until she returned with the official diagnosis: ironically, it was ectopic.

That's when things got serious.

You see, an ectopic pregnancy isn't about the baby.  At this point in reproductive science, we can't save an ectopic baby.  The pregnancy is gone.  Instead, priority becomes about the mom. About me. I was already bleeding internally.  Now, the fears were rupture, sepsis, death.  We didn't have time to process the loss of another baby.  "Your life is in danger right now."  In one week, this had gone from a possible joy to another loss to actual mortal danger.

As she discussed our options, I remember hearing the words surgery, anesthesia, "remove the entire tube..."  But since we'd caught it so early, my symptoms were almost non-existent, and I had pretty much no pain, methotrexate should work. We've made you an appointment at the Infusion Center. Go to the hospital now.

Methotrexate is primarily used in chemotherapy.  The sobering list of warnings and side effects was enough to make me burst into tears.  Basically, it locates and destroys any quickly-multiplying cells, killing things like non-viable pregnancies and cancer.  But it also taxes the healthy parts of your body, too.  It compromises your immune system.  It stresses your liver.  It makes you sick.  The Infusion Center is filled with very ill people receiving very serious treatments.  It's not where you go when you thought you were having a baby. In fact, it's the exact opposite: it's where you go when you're fighting not to die.

Methotrexate is toxic.  Officially, post-ectopic fallopian tubes can handle another pregnancy after 3 months.  But patients are told not to get pregnant for at least 6 months after methotrexate, because this stuff is dangerous.  It sticks around in your cells so long, it could damage a new fetus.  One of the nurses that helped us couldn't even administer the dose; she was breastfeeding, and this stuff was too toxic for her to be around.

And it was going directly into my body.

One of the reasons this was so tough for me is that I have very little experience as a medical patient.  Sure, I've been vaccinated.  I've had check ups and preventative appointments.  Recent chemical pregnancies required blood samples. But for the most part, the only thing I'd ever gotten at a doctor's office was a lollypop, a Band-Aid, maybe a prescription for cough syrup.  I'd never been in real danger.  I'd never broken a bone.  I'd never even worn a hospital band until Tuesday night. This entire experience was all very new to me, arms covered in bruises from repeated blood draws, experiencing a transvaginal ultrasound and two chemo injections in a single day.

I was so scared, I broke out in hives.

But the weirdest part is I didn't feel any different.  I'd been told my body had betrayed me, but I had very little pain, very little discomfort.  Just a lot of people looking at me with enormous concern.  It was incredibly disconcerting, like I couldn't even trust my own instincts.

Methotrexate has to be administered by two nurses simultaneously.  Doses of this unnaturally bright yellow fluid are too strong to take in a single syringe.  It requires two that go into your butt at the same time by nurses wearing a lot of protective gear.  It feels like a bad sci-fi movie.  I was so terrified, my forearms and hands had gone numb. Everyone kept reminding me to breathe.

God bless one of those nurses, though.  She'd been a patient through this before.  She knew the roller coaster we were both on, especially me.  She took several moments to grab me by the shoulders, look me directly in the eye, and tell me, "You're going to be okay. I know how much today sucks, but do not give up. This isn't the end of your story."  I started to cry; she started to cry.  She got it.  She was a Godsend.

We took Tuesday an hour at a time. Find the Infusion Center. Get checked in. Receive the shots. Walk to the car. Try a small meal. Take a pain pill. Try to sleep. Keep breathing.

As more and more hours passed, I started to realize I was lucky (and also being prayed for by approximately 900,000 people).  Truth is, I've had very little side effects.  I haven't needed the nausea medication, and I'm able to go an hour or two between pain pill doses without too much difficulty.  The scary part about that, however, is wondering if the dose was high enough.  Is it working?  Because until we know it's working, until my numbers drop significantly, my life is still in danger.  If this didn't work, best case scenario means I have to do it again next week, and that time, it'll be two compounded doses with compounded side effects.  However, it's still better than worst case scenario: a ruptured tube and being rushed into emergency surgery.

This experience has revealed the depth of love and support we have rallied around us.  My sister is a force to be reckoned with on her own.  My immediate family just appeared in the Infusion Center that night to support us.  Gifts keep showing up on the doorstep and in the mail.  People I haven't seen in years have been sending texts, emails, and Facebook messages.  One of my friends is bringing us dinner and home-baked cookies this weekend. Another friend has started an infertility related Pinterest board, searching for ways to support us.  Everyone is telling me they love me.  (Though that actually becomes disconcerting, as well.  When a couple people do it, it's sweet.  When everyone does it, it starts to feel like a goodbye.  I promise, people, I have no intention of leaving!)

I have never, in my entire life, been more grateful for my husband as I have been this week. His EMT training and rock-steady nerves have been my saving grace.  When the whole world went fuzzy, he took over.  I could not have done this without him.  It's a Catch-22, though. That first Monday night, my Michael took a back seat, and the emergency responder took over.  I haven't seen my laughing, carefree husband in four days.  Instead, he's all business.  I am his patient, and come hell or high water, nothing is going to happen on his watch.

I can also see that he's scared, and that man is never scared.  He won't admit it, but I can see it when he looks at me.  Brings me more water.  Watches my breathing patterns while I nap on the sofa. Checks my temperature in the middle of the night.  Asks about my pain level, my bowel movements, my hunger. Checks me for anemia. He also keeps reaching out for me, all the time. Sitting right next to me.  Holding my hand while we watch TV, drive to the doctor, even while he falls sleep. He doesn't let go. Sometimes, it's just to make some kind of physical contact, like his hand on my arm. It's like he's making sure I'm still here.

He's actually scared, and that's the scariest part of all.

So now, it's 10am.  I just got back from yet another blood draw. The doctor said my betas could spike before coming down, but that they need to be lower by Monday.  At a certain point, Hubs and I will have to face what this means for our future, how ridiculously high-risk we've now become.  But that's for later.  Today, we wait.  For yet another lab worker to count my betas, to see if this awful stuff is working.  To see if any acute symptoms start to appear.  To finally feel like we're out of the woods.  There are four different people on stand by, texting for status updates every hour, in case I start feeling like I need to be rushed back to the hospital.  But in the meantime, I wait. And yes, I wait alone, but I actually like that, because it's the closest thing to normalcy I've had all week.