Thursday, March 7, 2019

No Real Advice (Reflections on Infertility)

You think you’re over it, but then you’re not.

That, in a nutshell, is how I would describe life as an infertile woman.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as Tom and I prepare to speak to a group of couples who will be attending an infertility retreat.  What can I possibly say that will give them hope?  Infertility is filled with days and days of feeling hopeless and abandoned, fearful and anxious.  Dare I tell them that even if they become a parent, either through a miracle baby, or by adoption or fostering, or all three, they may never really be over it?  For me, it is always there, lurking in the background, waiting for a trigger. In spite of having three children now, in spite of being pre-menopausal, I am coming to understand that my scars of infertility will last a lifetime.

Perhaps it is worse the longer you are childless.  I don’t know.  My primary infertility lasted almost nine years before I finally became a parent. That’s a helluva long time, especially because infertility is measured more by months than years.  Secondary infertility has continued for me since then.  Throw in three miscarriages, one successful pregnancy that was marred by a devastating fetal diagnosis, and six agonizing years of being in the waiting pool to adopt, and I suppose it’s not surprising that I still have a few triggers.

I found another one of those triggers this past week.  I was lying in a dark room, and the ultrasound technician was shaking a bottle of gel.  “This should be warm,” she said as she applied it.  I suppose that was meant to be comforting, but the words took me back to another day, another ultrasound.  It was an ultrasound to see if my baby, the one I’d been praying for for so long, my miracle, was going to be a boy or a girl.  We were so excited, so filled with joy and anticipation.  But the joy was quickly gone as we realized there was more to that ultrasound than just gender identification.  My baby had borderline ventriculomegaly.  It was to be the first of many ultrasounds that I would undergo in the next three months, each used for diagnostic purposes, each wrought with fear and concern over what would be found next.  All told, I’ve had dozens of ultrasounds now, and only a handful of them ever brought good news.  Too many of them revealed a weak baby, or a dead baby, or a very sick baby or a flawed body that couldn’t produce a baby.  

I tried to breathe through that ultrasound this past week. I glanced at the technician’s screen, and then at her face, and then back at the screen.  I know now that most of the techs are very good at not showing emotions, not disclosing anything before the doctor walks in.  And I prayed.  Please Lord, help me accept whatever the results may be.  It was over in just a few minutes, the technician left to show the results to the radiologist, and then returned almost as quickly.  This time, she smiled and said, “It looks like just a small cyst and nothing to worry about, but come back in 6 months and we’ll double check just to make sure.”

And just like that, it was over.  Everything was okay again. It wasn’t breast cancer.  Just a cyst.  A stupid, annoying, stop-your-heart cyst in the wrong place.   I texted my husband with the good news, and he replied, “I guess the rosary worked,” to which I replied, “Yeah, I guess.”

But I know better, and so does he.  The infertility road has taught us nothing, if not that prayer does not always give us the results we want.  It certainly isn’t magic yet so often, I still think of it that way.  When things work out, God is good.  When things go south, where is God?  I didn’t pray hard enough versus I prayed so hard.  This must not be part of God’s plan versus God has a plan.  None of the clichés satisfy.  None of them answer the greatest question that haunts mankind, the question of why things happen the way they do.

As I drove to the hospital that afternoon, I thought about all the scenarios that could play out if I didn’t get the good news that I was so desperately hoping for. None of them were pretty.  I told myself that I didn’t have any of the risk factors that seemed to come with breast cancer, so of course, the odds were that the news would be good.  But then I thought about my friend whose husband died of lung cancer, even though he’d never smoked.  And my friend who’d just lost her father to premature heart failure even though he’d always been a vegetarian and athletic.  I thought about my co-worker, who is a single mom and only few years younger than I, and who went through surgery for breast cancer last month. I thought about all the people who have been dealt a hand that just seems unfair.  Completely, unexplainably, unfair.  Infertility is like that.  It is one of the most unfair things a woman can go through, as she faces head-on a body the defies her very being and what she believes she has been created for.

And there’s the rub.  There’s the crux of it all.  What we have been created for is the delusion.  I like to think that I was created to be many things.  Daughter, sister, wife, mother, biologist, friend, advocate. I like to think that God will keep me around just a little longer because he has important work for me to do.  And maybe he will and does.  Or maybe not.  Maybe I am being delusional.  Maybe that is not why he created me.  Maybe I’m not here to do a job.  Maybe I’m here to do only one thing, and to hopefully do it well.  Maybe that one thing is to simply be faithful.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll say this week when I look face-to-face at other couples who are carrying a pain that I know so well.  Having been in their shoes, I know there’s not much I can say.  I avoided people in those days of primary infertility when they said with a big smile that they had kids.  I scorned people who tried to convince me that it was all part of God’s plan. I questioned people who said I just needed to pray harder.  Nobody could say much of anything to me during that time, and I didn’t want their advice.  I only wanted their empathy. I wanted their compassion. I wanted to know how I could possibly remain faithful to a God who I felt had abandoned me. I wanted to know why I had been created, because the reasons certainly didn’t seem obvious.

I don’t have cancer, at least not yet, and I am going to try to do as much as I can to try and prevent it. But someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe today, maybe years from now, I will once again face something that seems completely, unexplainably unfair.  And I will question God.  I will pray and my prayer will not be answered in the way I want.  Or perhaps it won’t be me this next time. Perhaps it will be my child, or my niece, or a dear friend, or even a stranger. Perhaps I will find myself standing beside someone who has all the same questions that I have.  I won’t have the answers.  Nobody does.  But I can tell them someone else went through the same thing.  He did nothing wrong, he was faithful, he prayed, he led a good life, and in the end, he was shamed, tortured, murdered.  His life taken from him against his will.  And at the time, it all seemed completely, unexplainably unfair, because it was.  

I’ll think about that during these upcoming days of Lent.  If nothing else, Lent reminds me that this world is cruel, and that life is mostly a trial, just as Jesus’ was.  I’ll be thinking of that at the infertility retreat.  The pain that those couples and I have experienced will always be there.  But so will He.  So will He.  We need only be faithful, and to remember that we are in good company.  Beyond that, I have no real advice.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

7 Quick Takes - Blogiversary, Valentines, Birthdays

Linking up with Kelly this time for another set of Quick Takes here.  My life seems to be measured by Quick Takes these days.  Two weeks into February already?  Impossible.  Lot's going on, so let's get to it.

First things first.  We survived the polar vortex!  We didn't get any snow, and we didn't get to see the rhododendron curl up tight as a soda straw, which was a great disappointment to my boys, but sure didn't hurt my feelings any.  I'm so ready for springtime.  And sunshine.  We are drowning here in southern Kentucky with almost daily rain.  We've had 4 sunny days this month so far.  Yes, I'm keeping track.  One of which did happen to land on a Sunday, and the temperature got up to a whopping 65 so we went for a walk and soaked in as much sun as we could.  A day later, the rains returned but it was still warm.  Perfect weather for herping (yes, it's a thing), so off we went to find salamanders and frogs.  The boys loved that!  I didn't get any photos because it was raining too hard, but we found spotted salamanders, mountain chorus frogs, newts, spring peepers, wood frogs, and American toads!  This past week, our dog found a copperhead (snake) but luckily didn't get bitten, and the ticks are crawling around again.  So, I guess winter is pretty close to over here in the southeast wilderness.

Our sunny Sunday.

On February 11 (the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes), this blog turned 5 years old!  Woohoo! I even wrote a blog post to celebrate but then I didn't publish it.  Instead, I put it into the stack of draft posts that I've written in the past few months that are still being prayerfully discerned before I decide to share with the world.  So much in my life has changed in these past 5 years, not the least of which is I moved to another state and now have two boys instead of two toddlers plus a new toddler.  God must be laughing up there somewhere.  I never could've predicted all the twists and turns that have come these past 5 years, and I'm so glad I had this blog to document it.  If you are one of my readers, thank you so much for coming along on the ride with me.  I hope to keep it going!

We had a fun time celebrating Valentine's day this year.  Since St. Valentine's day fell on Ash Wednesday last year, we didn't really celebrate it, but we made up for it this year.  God did his part too, by sending us a beautiful red sky that morning. Unfortunately, that was the last of the sunshine that we'll be seeing for another week, but it was nice while it lasted.

One thing I did differently for Valentine's day this year was make a little collection of "love notes" for everyone in the family.  I saw this idea on the internet and thought it was pretty cool. At the first of February, I cut out 50 paper hearts.  Each day until Valentine's day, we would write something that we love about someone in the family on a heart and hang it up in our window.  It was so fun to sit and read all our little love notes each day, and by the time February 14 arrived, we had a window full of them.  I plan to take them down now, and turn them into little booklets for each family member to keep. I think this will be a new Valentine's day tradition for us now.

For Valentine's day dinner, Tom grilled us up some yummy steaks and I made a special dessert.  I rarely make desserts these days, mostly because sugar makes my kids go ape, but also because my sons are on very restricted diets.  Coming up with something that is gluten free, egg free, soy free, dairy free, and has no artificial flavors or colorings is a challenge!  As a result, I have mostly given up on baking, and they haven't had ice cream in years.  But, I really wanted to do something special for a Valentine's day dessert, so I searched the internet for vegan desserts and found some inspiration.  After a few modifications, I came up with this.  It's a frozen dessert made with chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand), cashew crème, cranberry sorbet, and whipped coconut milk.   They absolutely loved it, and it warmed my heart to be able to give them a rare treat and see them so excited.  Learning to cook to accommodate their special diet needs has been one of my biggest challenges these past couple of years, and I hope to blog more about it soon.  It's been a lifestyle adjustment but so worth it.

And then, the next day, I had to bake a cake for our birthday boy!  I can't believe he is 8 now.  He's so amazing, and has grown up so much in the past year.  By far, the best part of this year has been re-connecting with his birthmother and for the first time ever, he talked to her on his birthday.  What a special moment that was! So many wounds are healing as a result of this relationship with her.  As I told a friend recently, our adoption story with him is now everything adoption should be.  I feel like we are living the perfect scenario.  Everyone just wants the best for our little guy and to do God's will in that.  With those kinds of attitudes, so much love can grow and God can do his work.  If you would like to read his adoption story, I blogged about it here.

There's one more birthday coming up, too.  Our little Karol Elizabeth will be remembered tomorrow. I think about my little ones living in heaven almost daily, and our boys know that they have siblings on the other side waiting for them.  It's somewhat consoling, I think, to know that we have immediate family in heaven praying for us, and to whom we can turn in difficult times.  We'll put a few candles on a cupcake tomorrow and sing Happy Birthday to Karol Elizabeth as we wrap up a week of two birthdays for two very special little souls.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

7 Quick Takes - Polar Vortex Appalachia Style

When you have a rhododendron plant outside your window, you don't need a thermometer.  This photograph was taken this morning when it was about 19 degrees Fahrenheit.  The colder it gets, the tighter the leaves curl.  By tomorrow morning, they'll be curled up so tightly, they'll look like drinking straws. Nobody fully understands this natural phenomenom and why the leaves curl the way they do, which is part of what makes it so amazing. Needless to say, the curling of the leaves is the Rhododendron's most desperate attempt at surviving yet another polar vortex passing through Appalachia.

We have yet to get any real snow this winter.  My children are so disappointed to not have had a "snow day" yet.  We came close this past week, with a forecast of 3 inches predicted, but alas, this is what our Kentucky blizzard looked like.  Those of you in the Midwest, feel free to laugh! Our governor raised quite the ruckus today when he referred to Kentuckians as "soft".  I agree.  We're kinda pathetic compared to all those hardy souls north of us.  Hang in there, Midwesterners! We're praying for you.

What we have been getting instead of snow is rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Sunny days have been a rare treat, but when we get one, we all head outside for some sun-bathing. We have a south facing barn covered with sheet metal, and the sheet metal absorbs and reflects the sunlight.  It makes the perfect place to catch a few rays.. Plus, all the "junk" around the barn makes for lots of creative inventions for little boys, too.  Here's John in the recliner he built while we were getting our Vitamin D.  I thought it was pretty creative and doesn't it just scream Appalachia??  I love it!

Although we've had no snow to speak of, it's been plenty cold.  All the rain combined with freezing temperatures has made for some great ice formations on our clifflines (aka, bluffs).  The boys have been asking me to take them on a hike to see icicles so a week ago, we ventured down a trail that I hadn't hiked in years.  I vaguely remembered it having a pretty little waterfall so off we went to explore.  As we hiked along the top of the ridge, we could look down into the gorge below and see long rows of icicles lined along the cliff.  The trail turned and took us down into the gorge, and we were fascinated by the hundreds of glistening icicles hanging on the rock walls.  As we walked a little further, stone steps took us under the cliff and behind a cascading waterfall that was partially frozen.  It looked like a scene from the movie "Frozen".  The boys delighted in having their own little "ice cave" to explore and it has now become one of our favorite winter hiking places.

Speaking of hiking, it's my favorite winter past time.  I seldom hike in the summer because it's just too humid/buggy/hot/crowded. I hike infrequently in the spring because it's planting time, and I hike only occasionally in the autumn because it's harvest time. So, January and February have become my favorite times of year to get out in the woods.  No bugs, no humidity, no poisonous snakes, unlikely to see bears, and most of all, no people. We have the forest all to ourselves.  For me, it is the best antidote to cabin fever, seasonal depression, and the random flu-like viruses always lurking around.  Plus, I'm a big believer in getting kids outdoors, especially during the time of year when our society tends to discourage them from doing so.  God's playground is never closed!

Tomorrow is the feast of St. John Bosco, one of my favorite saints!  You can read a post I wrote about him a few years ago here.  As a mother of boys, he's been a source of inspiration to me, especially in regards to how I see my own sons, who can be reckless, unruly and undisciplined.  Today, boys like mine are labeled ADHD.  In St. John Bosco's time, they were simply labeled as the "bad boys", the ones that got into trouble and caused trouble.  In both cases, these are the boys that get pushed to the margins, isolated from others, and stereotyped before they even have a chance. But John Bosco saw past the labels and into each boy's heart, giving them a loving home and a focus on Christ. The fruit that came from St. John Bosco's approach is still being born today, and it gives me hope that the same will happen in my children if I can only follow his model.  Thank you, St. John Bosco.

We'll be taking down our Christmas lights and nativity this weekend and replacing them with candles as we celebrate Candlemass.  I've loved having the Christmas lights up during the dark evenings, but as the days grow longer, we look forward to spring, Lent and Easter.  It makes so much sense that the liturgical year follows the four seasons of the natural world.  I know this isn't a coincidence but I wonder just how many people notice it today. As we bear through another winter, I am trying to focus on the light and warmth ahead and thinking about the inevitable resurrection that is already slowly underway. Today, the rhododendron leaves are curled tightly in a spontaneous act of survival but soon enough, they'll be raised high towards the sun and celebrating another winter gone by.