My Year of Fear

Over three years ago, I started Under the Tapestry with a question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Over three years since my first post! Hard to believe!
Over three years since my first post! Hard to believe!

I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.

It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.

 

Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.

Yay, Marshfield! I did this tiny town of mine!! {Source}
Yay, Marshfield! I dig this tiny town of mine!! {Source}

On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.

Still my favorite -- find it on Amazon here.
Still my favorite — find it on Amazon here or check out your local public library!

The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:

(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.

(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.

I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!

I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.

Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.

But I had never thought about the converse question:

What does it look like when you’re living in fear?

 

I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.

I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.

Yeah, I ate a lot... but I ran a lot too. So let's let the photo be of that at this point ;)
Yeah, I ate a lot… but I ran a lot too. So let’s let the photo be of that at this point 😉

I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.

I have been afraid.

 

Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?

The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!

It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.

 

This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.

 

I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.

Enough now.

Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.

We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.

Jesus on Toast: A Paradigm Shift

Another two months without a post, despite working pretty feverishly. The broken bits of me have been so in control. So many days spent tending to my shattered heart blow after  blow.

“He wept because God was unfair, and because this was the way God repaid those who believed in their dreams… I’m going to become bitter and distrustful because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mind. And I’m going to hold on to what little I have, because I’m too insignificant to conquer the world.”

But, struggling or not, I continue to work slowly and deliberately toward a new and fresh sense of clarity. A shift in my own personal paradigm about what matters. About what makes life worth it.

“I’ve learned things from the sheep, and I’ve learned things from crystal, he thought. I can learn something from the desert, too. It seems old and wise.”

The big shift: I’m done with silver linings.

If I were running for president, you could call me a flip flopper. But good news! I’m not now and probably won’t ever. So… since I don’t actually have to worry about what the press and populous think of me,  I’m free to change my mind all I want. Also to inhale. And to have sexual relations with whomever I want.

I could have made much less boring choices…

But. Back to that change of mind, which was my point… change of heart, really.

“Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.”

I started this blog on the premise of silver linings. The idea that, no matter how awful something seems, there’s always something good hidden inside — a pretty picture in the tapestry. And I believed it wholeheartedly. Mostly. For a while.

But there were some cases where it just didn’t fit. Like when I wrote about the death of my friend Nate. I said, even back then, that sometimes there really is no silver lining. The first crack in my neatly crafted narrative.

More recently, as I’ve struggled through infertility, miscarriage, hopelessness and depression, I’ve become less and less convinced of the master plan/pretty picture and looked harder, further, and wider for something else.

Even in this little video, where forest animals animate a snippet of Brene Brown’s TED Talk about vulnerability, empathy, and compassion, a silver lining comes up as kind of a gut punch… so in constantly looking for one, was I inadvertently delivering the punch to myself?

Jerk moose trying to paint silver linings in everyone's dark clouds. {Source}
Jerk moose trying to paint silver linings in everyone’s dark clouds. {Source}

I’ve never exactly been known for self kindness, but this seemed like a whole new low.

I was searching for something, but maybe I was searching for the wrong thing.

“‘Every second of the search is an encounter with God,’ the boy told his heart. ‘When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.'”

It started when my brother-in-law picked up my copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning — a book written in two parts, the first a description of Frankl’s experiences as a clinical psychiatrist imprisoned in a series of Nazi concentration camps, the second a description of logotherapy, or the pursuit of meaning in life.

It’s a tiny book that packs a powerful punch. But in a way, I feel like the short length actually does it a disservice. When I was reading it, I was incredibly immersed, convinced it would change my life… but it didn’t take me terribly long to read, and I moved on relatively quickly.

As weeks and months went by and I slowly moved past the miscarriage and into another round of IVF, I felt really ready. But when I went through all of it again and still failed, I found myself back at the bottom of the pit, wallowing, binge eating, crying, so quick to anger, frustrated with everything and everyone — convinced that I am worthless, pathetic, and pointless. But also desperate to claw my way back out (and unable to run another marathon to do so).

Sometimes, like with the marathon, my desperation makes me almost manic. (I realize, of course, that I’m not using that term in a clinically correct way — but it is definitely a frenzied feeling, the need for action, to fix things and fix them NOW.) I thought about the book that Stu had ultimately taken home with him and chose that as my starting point. Because if the problem is that one lacks a point, then it seems as though the solution would be to find one,  to search for meaning, yes?

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say.”

And so I read. I read and read and read… and am still reading. (See book suggestions below.) But the most important thing that all this reading has done for me to date is to really shift my focus. Away from trying to figure out why the cloud is there, from trying to paint the inside of it silver… and instead, trying to find meaning in the storm.

Searching for silver linings can be a fruitful personal pursuit and I’ve done an awful lot of it; sometimes they even exist to be found. It’s shallow, though. And I have come to believe that the search for meaning is more consistently productive and more fulfilling in the long run. Not only because humans are hard-wired for meaning (Rorshach test, anyone? no? What about Jesus in toast?), but also because meaning is determined from within rather than without. As such, meaning is within my control and subject to my will, not the fickle will of a chance-driven universe.

{Source -- and the article it came from is interesting, too!}
{Source — and the article it came from is interesting, too!}

I know that to say meaning is in our control is contentious… and I was unsure of it at first. But according to the experts in logotherapy that I have read (manically, maniacially?) over the past several weeks, there are three paths to meaning:

  1. Creative (what you make)
  2. Experiential (what you do)
  3. Attitudinal (how you feel)

While all three are technically equivalent, attitudinal is the one of the three that is always at our disposal. No matter what. Even in a concentration camp. Even in the depths of the darkest pit. We always get to choose our attitude.

“That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

Importantly, choosing our attitude is decidedly not the same things as putting on rose colored glasses or pasting a smile on your face. Because meaning is not the same thing as a silver lining.

For example, I truly believe that there is no silver lining to infertility. I am not going to wake up someday and realize that omg, it was so awesome that I spent five years unsuccessfully trying to start a family or that my miscarriage was the result of a baby that just “wasn’t meant to be.” I will forever grieve those things; they have changed me on a fundamental level. BUT I can find meaning in sharing my struggles. I can find meaning in supporting the women who struggled before me, alongside me, and will struggle after me. I can find meaning in the fact that the family I might eventually have someday will be intentional in a way that not many families truly are. I can find meaning in the education I received through the process — about how love changes hearts, about my own seemingly infinite capacity for hope, the necessity of equality in family building for same-sex couples, the universality of human struggle no matter what form it may take. And perhaps most importantly, I have been given endless opportunities to clarify my values and live an authentic life centered on the things that mean the most to me.

“The boy continued to listen to his heart as they crossed the desert. He came to understand its dodges and tricks, and to accept it as it was.”

After I miscarried, my dad told me that I’d find meaning someday — because the universe was teeming with it. It felt a little like a platitude, but I knew that it wasn’t, because my dad doesn’t speak in platitudes. He was just 10 steps ahead of me down this road, I think. Maybe that’s because it’s a road that can only really be known by experience. By crossing the desert, and listening to your heart as you go.

“‘Everyone has his or her own way of learning things,’ he said to himself. ‘His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.'”

Maybe you believe that meaning is to be found in a gift from the universe. And you can keep looking for your signs, omens, and silver linings. It’s ok if there’s where you think you’ll find meaning. But I know that I won’t. I can’t believe in meant-to-bes — because if I do, I have to believe that I’m not meant to be a mom. And I can’t believe in #blessed because what does that make me? #cursed? And I know now that silver linings are desperate and unfounded strokes of luck that seem like meaning, but really aren’t. Meaning is something more than that. And meaning is what I truly desire, in my heart of hearts.

Most importantly, when you find meaning in your life… you cannot also be pointless. A meaningful life is never pointless.

“No matter what he does, every person on earth play a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”

I’m getting there. To a point where, on more days than not, I can see meaning. I can feel it. And at the very least, that allows be to peek my head up over the edge of the pit.

Last week, on the brink of pregnancy, an implantation scheduled for two days away, I got a phone call from my clinic… canceling the whole thing. Nearly 60 days of drugs and injections, thousands more dollars, hopes as high as hopes could be over our 4 – 5 fertilized eggs and it all came crashing down one more time. I cried. There was snot. I had to call Seth. I went to the office next door to get kleenexes and comfort from a coworker. I worked late. I went home. I ate marshmallows and cried some more while my sweet pup licked tears from my face.

I experienced legitimate grief. Disappointment. Frustration. I dangled my feet over the edge of the pit and looked into the abyss. And then I took a deep breath. And another. Even thought it was nearly 8 pm, I got up, I went into the kitchen, and I cooked myself a nice dinner. I vegged, watched The Bachelorette while I ate. I snuggled Curly on the couch and went to bed. I knew my life wasn’t over. And by the end of it all, I knew we still weren’t quite done trying — because our hearts are broken, but they still beat family… family… family…

“The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.”

When my dad told me that the universe teems with meaning, I thought of silver lined clouds and blessings-in-disguise. But I really understand meaning now and I’m letting it into my heart, day by day, little by little. It’s a better way… for me.

[All quotations above are from The Alchemist by Paul Coelho — with thanks to Nicole M. for the perfect and timely recommendation. This girl knows what’s up.]

 

Recommended Reading (if you like any of these ideas):

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl
  • Meaning in Suffering: Comfort in Crisis through Logotherapy by Elisabeth Lukas and Joseph B. Fabry
  • The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

The Paper Tiger Breeding Program: Thoughts on Leadership

A couple weeks ago I saw a great documentary called Paper Tigers, which illustrates the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on behavior and other health outcomes by following students and staff at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington over the course of a school year. It was incredible movie. It really does a beautiful job of making  what has always been, for me, an academic/philosophical discussion of ACEs real. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A full-length documentary? So very many more! If you’re at all interested in the effects of childhood trauma or the social determinants of health, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Despite my familiarity with the topic (I routinely work with our clinic’s child abuse physician on programmatic and research endeavors, particularly those related to ACEs and trauma-informed care), I didn’t get the title until two-thirds of the way through the movie. As one of the featured teachers speaks over scenes of the school, he explains that the traumas these children have experienced have left their brains incapable of differentiating between real and imaginary threats; between real and paper tigers.

Light bulb!

I loved the concept so much! So I did some hard hitting, in-depth research. Ahem. According to Wikipedia:

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge.” {Source}

I just loved that distinction so much — real vs. paper tigers. It was so striking in the context of this movie… and then a few days later, still rolling it around in my mind, I had reasoned it into a completely different context.

Real tigers are dangerous. Ask Siegfried and Roy. Ask Pi (from The Life of…).

Yet… real tigers are also the shiz. Even in the examples above. Even after an attack that may or may not have been “secondary and accidental,” Siegfried and Roy continued their magic show full of tigers (and lions too! oh my!) and now maintain a menagerie in Las Vegas. And what would Pi have done without the striped and terrifying Richard Parker?

Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}
Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}

Paper tigers, on the other hand, are only an illusion. They look like tigers, but they’re not dangerous. Nor are they the shiz. They’re just paper — no threat, but no talent either. Except that, like Daniel Tiger, they can go to the potty.

{Source}
{Source}

And that’s what I want to talk about, really.

Not every job, every position, every organization needs to be full of tigers. But when you’ve got a tiger, a beautiful, brilliant, maybe even somewhat dangerous tiger, it seems only logical that as a leader, you’d want to make them the star of the show, a la Siegfried and Roy. Or at least learn to appreciate their company, like Pi. Instead, we see tigers in an organizational context (e.g., work, church, school, clubs) reduced in whatever way possible — trim the claws, pull the teeth, tranquilize. And beautiful beasts slink away from places where they could have done so much good with their tails between their legs, a roar stifled in their throat.

To fill the vacancy? An influx of paper tigers. Threat reduced to no more than a paper cut. Leadership can relax.

But is someone in a leadership role really a leader if they can’t appreciate a real tiger?

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem. Too often we conflate management and leadership. We end up fooled into believing that they are one and the same.

I would suggest, however, that management and leadership are two separate and distinct constructs– not mutually exclusive, but to be certain, each can and does exist without the other.

Brene Brown puts it poignantly in the introduction to Chapter 6 Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work in her book Daring Greatly. She says:

“Before we start this chapter, I want to clarify what I mean by ‘leader.’ I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. The term leader has nothing to do with position, status, or number of direct reports.”

I’m completely in love with this definition for two reasons. First, it explicitly removes position and power from the notion of leadership. Second, it centers on an idea of leadership characterized by accountability and a desire to recognize, appreciate, and make use of the talents, skills, and other valuable traits of those around you.

To bring this idea back to my own long-winded metaphor, a leader is someone who keeps the company of tigers. Real tigers. And likes it.

 

But what about the danger?

 

In Daring Greatly, Brown’s entire premise revolves around a really amazing quotation from a 1910 speech given by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the area, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and short-coming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

As an academician, clinician, and shame researcher, Brene Brown describes how this whole idea of daring greatly is based on the willingness to be vulnerable. To allow ourselves to be seen, to open ourselves up to hurt, and to be willing to fail.

Most importantly, none of these things require position, status, or power. And since that’s the case… can do it, you can do it, anyone can do it anywhere. As such, I think more of us need to lead from where we are, when we’re there, and in whatever way we can. Refuse to be de-clawed, continue to roar, and appreciate the stripes of the other tigers around us. Look those tigers in the eye and thank them for being big and beautiful and brilliant and special. Maybe even encourage a paper tiger to leap off the page (like Pinocchio — I’m a real boy!).

I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated about my position and I suspect a lot of others do too. We feel unappreciated and powerless in our organizations, but we’re not because we can look out for other tigers and make ourselves accountable for recognizing their potential. We can lead from where we are… step out of the paper tiger breeding program and roar our loudest roar.

The Precipitate’s Not the Problem: An Infertility Primer for the Non-Infertile

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” – Your Mom

Or maybe not your mom. Maybe it was your dad or a great auntie. Maybe a principal or a well-meaning member of the safety patrol. Whoever it was — someone said it to you at some point. And you got the point. Unless you’re trying to fix the problem, you are the problem. We’ve all internalized it. And since no one ever ever wants to be the problem, our natural inclination is to offer solutions, to fix it.

And then we all grew up a bit. If you’re anything like me, you became even nerdier. Maybe you even got into the chem scene (which makes chemistry sound cool, don’t you think?). If that’s the case, you may have latched onto this alternative adage — my personal favorite:

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.” – All the Nerds

{Source}
{Source}

It made you laugh and laugh (not as much as the ether bunny or the ferrous wheel, of course), but you knew deep down that it was only a chem joke. Not a real life lesson.

Or is it?

I posit that it’s a better saying, really. More accurate for particularly complex problems, like infertility. Because to extend the chemistry metaphor a bit further — in the case of infertility, there are only two solutes in solution. My partner and myself. Anyone else can really only be part of the precipitate. A precipitate can’t fix anything, it just hangs out in the tube, separate. But that doesn’t make it part of the problem.

{Image Source -- Thanks Dartmouth Chem Lab}
{Image Source — Thanks Dartmouth Chem Lab}

In the wake of our most recent crappy news, we’ve been offered a lot of love, a ton of support, and so very many ideas for next steps — ranging from “just relax” to offers of surrogacy and referrals to adoption case workers. These fixes come from a place of love, good intentions, and probably also a subconscious devotion to the first quote above. Unfortunately, it’s no one’s problem to solve. Instead, it’s Seth and my path to walk and because I know it’s hard to understand, hard not to want to fix, I thought it might be nice to share some aspects of infertility from my own perspective.

But you ain’t got no eggs!

Infertility happens for a million and one different reasons. Or even for no discernable reason at all. There’s male factor and female factor infertility. One or both partners can be affected. There can be no eggs, poor eggs, an inability to release eggs. Similarly, no sperm, poor sperm, immobile sperm. It can be mechanical — related to the shape or size or functional ability of the uterus, the shape or size of the vas deferens. It can be scar tissue, the result of surgeries, childhood radiation treatments. Genetic, chromosomal, hormonal issues. All of the above, none of the above, anything in between, or something else altogether.

We started out with “unexplained” infertility (i.e. everything seemed to be just fine). While it’s good to have nothing obviously wrong, lack of diagnosis makes treatment much more difficult — everything is just a guess at that point. However, after lots of tries (see below), we ultimately ended up with a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve. That means that despite being just 32 (and only 27 when we started trying to conceive), my eggs are just about out. The tank is approaching E and the few eggs I do have left are poor in quality — hence the miscarriage late last year. That’s our reason. And ultimately, it has the greatest impact on our potential solutions. So while I appreciate the offers of uteri for rent and the like, that’s not actually going to help me one bit. My body is technically quite capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy, we’re just missing half of the equation.

Grieving the loss of imaginary piggies.

Miscarrying last September was really hard. It was the most difficult experience of my life to date and the grief still comes so fiercely sometimes that all I can do is hold on and ride the wave for a while. I still had hope though, I thought that pregnancy would be followed by another. That we would have our own children. As it turns out, though, the lack of eggs means that the thing I’m really grieving is an imaginary future — one that was never going to exist, but always felt real to me in my mind. I’ve spent years wondering about the curly blonde babes Seth and I would someday bring into this world. I’ve always imagined us like Piggy and Kermit — all the girls would be pigs, all the boys would be frogs. Would they have my green eyes or Seth’s blue? My ready, beaming smile or Seth’s slower, more mischievous, lopsided grin?

Imaginary future... {Source}
Imaginary future… {Source}

And then just like that — I’ve been removed from the equation. No piggies at all. I can’t pass on the Vonck mouth. My genes won’t ever go anywhere, no matter what we decide to do next. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Something I have to wrap my mind around. Another loss to grieve, but how? There’s no memorial in the cemetery for this loss and it’s hard to know how to let it go.

All magic comes with a price, dearie.

After more than a year of trying to conceive on our own, we sought medical care for infertility and decided early on that we wanted to exhaust our possibilities to have biological children. And exhaust them we did. We’ve spent many, many, many thousands of dollars on diagnostic testing and assisted reproductive technology ranging from simple clomid and timed intercourse to intrauterine insemination (IUI) and finally two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) over the course of 4+ years.  Side-effects, needles, injections, ultrasounds, surgeries, procedures, tears and snot and stress and rage and bloating and month after month after month of disappointment. We did it all for a chance — all at great cost.

None of it worked for us. Now we know why. And because we’re quite certain that we do indeed want to be parents, we’re left looking at the next set of alternatives.

Egg donation, adoption, fostering. And even those options have sub-options — fresh or frozen, international or domestic, public or private. And those sub-options have sub-sub-options — how do you pick a donor? Physical characteristics? Genetics? Occupation? Personality? Psych profile? And if you adopt — are you prepared to wait for an eternity? Are you willing to let a birth parent pick you? What if they change their minds? What if you fall in love with a foster child and then they get sent back to their biological parents (Wisconsin focuses on reunification whenever possible)? Can you bare that? Can you bare any of it?

It’s a lot to think about. So much to process. And all of it — every last option — comes at great cost. Physically, emotionally, financially. On top of everything we’ve already been through, every time we hear “at least” (e.g., at least you know you did everything you could, at least you can afford it) or “just” (e.g., why don’t you just adopt?) it’s like salt in the wound — minimization of everything we’ve done so far and the difficult road ahead to family. Yes, we are fortunate that we can consider options, but that doesn’t make the necessity of considering them any easier.

It’s not you, it’s me. 

The ugliest truth about infertility is that it colors everything. Over these last four years, infertility has become increasingly woven into my being and I have a hard time separating who I am from this thing I can’t do. I’m not proud to admit it, but in the face of cutesy pregnancy announcements, #blessed ultrasound pictures, and bow-decked baby bumps, happiness for those that I love and a sense of jealousy and bitterness are always there in equal measure. Of course, I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean I handle fertility with any kind of grace and I’m issuing a blanket apology for my poor reactions. It’s not you, honestly, it’s me. And presumably, someday it will get better, easier, to just be happy.

But here’s the most important thing: the announcements, photos, bumps, hashtags, motherhood memes — none of them have anything at all to do with me. So you shouldn’t stop doing them. It’s all worth celebrating and my scroogey attitude shouldn’t take away from that.

Conversely, radical self-care and self-preservation means that some Facebook friends are hidden and I won’t be RSVPing yes to a baby shower or making any more baby blankets for the foreseeable future. It’s too painful. I don’t ask for forgiveness or even understanding, just patience.

All roads lead to Rome.

Ultimately, there are a lot of different paths to parenthood. At present, I struggle because I don’t like any of the choices. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to have to make a choice. I will come around though. I always do, but as I said above, there’s no “just” about any of the paths. Once pregnancy via sex and waiting is off the table, nothing feels simple anymore.

In my present state of mind, egg donation proves that Seth really should have married someone else and fostering/adoption is unlikely to work out considering that even God wouldn’t choose me to raise a child — why would anyone else? Thankfully, Seth is much more capable of rational thought at the moment and I’m slowly starting to wrap my mind around some of the options. One foot in front of the other, all the way to Rome.

Not everybody wants to go to Rome.

But then again — Rome isn’t for everyone in the end. And there’s nothing wrong with making that decision for yourself. Families come in all shapes and sizes, Seth and I are a family all on our own and puppy makes three. Ultimately, though, the societal assumption is that if you’re infertile, you want to have children in any way possible and there’s the tendency to push couples struggling with infertility to pick a road and get to parenthood, one way or another.

Right now, Seth and I are pretty certain that we want to find a path to parenthood, but I think it’s really important that people accept any choices we do decide to make from the perspective of the precipitate. These things are incredibly personal and based only a little on biology, medicine, and rational thought. More than anything, we have to trust our emotions, our hearts, and each other to make the right choices for us moving forward. We both have to be on board with something 100%, no judgement if not.

The same goes for any other couple, any other family, and if you find yourself interested in learning more, I highly recommend perusing CNN’s recent infertility awareness week series. I shared this article on Facebook this morning and got a great response to it:

When you ‘come out’ about infertility

And there are several related articles written by or about couples who’ve made a variety of different choices that make great points about why people don’t talk about infertility (and why they should), how a “happy ending” to infertility can mean different things to different people, and how varied infertility experiences can be.

 

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with the writing of Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and Jenny Lawson. Brave women who share their stories in an honest and beautiful way — they’ve opened me up to a whole new level of comfort in the idea of vulnerability and struggle and story telling and I think that for me, infertility is another avenue for that. The ranks of the infertile… not a tribe I’d have chosen to join, had it been a choice at all, but it’s a fierce one and I’m in good company. Someday, I’ll have a very intentional family and Seth by my side and I’ll be in good company then too. Thanks so much for being here through it all <3

 

Negative.

Our pregnancy test was negative and it’s all over now. I’m not ready to talk about it, definitely not ready to be any kind of positive about it. I need some time and space to grieve the future I had envisioned because it is most certainly gone, and that’s a hard thing to let go. It’ll take some time. I’ll be back when I’m done.
Thanks so much for hanging in there with me. 

A thought exercise (for me) and job offer (for Mindy Kaling).

Guys, I am struggling. All the hormones, all the waiting. The exhaustion — mental and physical. The guilt and negative thoughts. I’m really struggling.

But after an hour of tears in my therapist’s office and the ugly sobbing of so many incredibly unkind words toward myself, Dr. C suggested a thought exercise.

While I can’t quite wrap my mind around self-kindness, to treat myself as though I were a good friend, I can invent a friend and do pretty much the same. (I’m excellent at make believe, which is the nice way of saying lying.) I can invent a friend with a new diagnosis of, say, MS. (She was infertile at first, but Dr. C though maybe that would be a bit too much. So MS it is.) A debilitating and life-altering disease. A diagnosis that affects an individual and his or her partner. Sort of like infertility…

What would I say to that friend?

To my fictional friend, recently diagnosed with MS.

Your life is different now and will always be different. But your life is most definitely not over.

In fact, nothing has actually changed. Instead, you have an answer. It’s a terrible, horrible, no good and unwanted answer. But it’s an answer. And the answer doesn’t actually change a single thing about you.

The MS was always there. It’s a cruel trick of genetics, fate, chance. A cruel trick of whatever it is you believe controls the uncertainty in life.

(Personally, I believe in biology and probability, even when I don’t like it. (And sub-parenthetical, I apologize for being the kind of friend who cites their own blog in a letter to a friend.) But I have to let you chalk it up to whatever it is that you believe in.)

It’s not a punishment or a judgement on your moral fiber, the being that is you. It’s a circumstance. And you are not a victim of circumstance.

You are brave. You are resilient. You are head strong and heart sure. You love and are loved. None of those things will change. They are, like you, unshakable at their core. Because they make up your core.

Yes, there will be bad days. Days when MS feels like the only thing. When it feels suffocating and dark and all encompassing. Those days will pass. And there will be good days, days when you forget MS exists at all. Those days will pass too. Each is only a day. A day inhabited by the same brave and beautiful you, capable of anything and everything. Even surviving, living, thriving.

No one who loved you before loved you because you didn’t have MS. And there’s no reason to expect that anyone will love you less because of it. You are loved for something much deeper than your external circumstances, including what your body can or can’t do — by your spouse, your family, your friends, your dog. Like you, those loves will not change.

But the MS may, and likely will, change your mind and work some magic on your heart. It may increase your capacity for empathy and understanding. Maybe it has done these things already. Yes, it may also sometimes make you feel jealous and ragey and bitter about the able-bodied, unaffected folks around you. But a small price to pay for the beauty and appreciation and opening of heart you get to experience, don’t you think?

It’s not so much that MS itself is a blessing. More so that it’s not a curse or a punishment. It’s not out to get you. It’s not your fault. And because you are who you are, you can take what MS gave you, the cliched lemons, and make some cliched lemonade. Maybe some lemon bars too. Because you’re talented in that way and always go beyond the cliche to find something a little deeper and a little more dusted in powdered sugar.

Yes, MS is forever and it is yours to live with for all that time. But you will. Live. And love. And be happy and sad. Joyful and sorrowful. Grateful and jealous. Brave and scared. Just like everyone else, but also a little bit different than most.

I can’t necessarily understand, but I’m here for you, as your friend, as someone who loves you. And I’ll always be here for you, as someone who tries to understand and never stops loving you. No matter what.

Always.

R

Meant to be a mom or not, I can be a pretty stellar friend. Certainly a better friend than internal monologue-ist (which is not a real thing, I just invented it to make the point that I’m a total jerk to myself). And now, when my own verdict arrives in the near future, I can read the letter above. I can sub out the MS and sub in a state of infertility no longer changeable. And most importantly, I won’t have to go to my crappy internal monologue-ist for her thoughts on the matter. In fact, I may even have to let her go and re-post for the position.

We’ve decided to go in another direction…

Help Wanted — Qualifications: eloquent, Harry Potter fan with good sense of humor. No jerks need apply.

And with that, I suspect I may be trying to hire Mindy Kaling as my internal monologue-ist. She’s even had appropriate experience. This could be excellent.

{Source}
Couldn’t have found a better picture — results on Thursday. Two days is like forever from now. {Source}

Second Verse, Same as the First…

[I sit down at the kitchen table to do some work.]

Seth: Do you care if we watch a Homeland?

Me: I don’t care… but you better check with the pup.

Seth: She loves Homeland. She’s snuggled up with me, giving me a belly rub.

Me: She’s giving you a belly rub?

Seth: There’s a lot you don’t know about us.

My house is a weird place.
My house is a weird place.

IVF isn’t really going well this time. Worse than last time, actually. And last time wasn’t stellar. (For more information, please see the start, the middle, the middle again, and the end of IVF.)

I was really bummed on Saturday. I cried a little on the way home. I was sad and tired and mad at mother nature for the surprise April snow and I couldn’t keep all that in. So I cried a little. I even let myself wallow for a while after I got home.

And then my wallowing turned into a nap. It was a magic nap. I was legit tired.
And then my wallowing turned into a nap. It was a magic nap. I was legit tired.

But somehow, miraculously, I’m ok today. Despite the cold and massive Eustachian tube clog that’s causing me some pretty intense ear pain. Even with a big grant deadline looming. And even though IVF is still not going well and there are very real thoughts of the pointlessness of the injections and the potential waste of money swirling around and around in my mind, I am ok. Because I’ve done everything I could possibly do — to treat the cold, to finish the grant, to have a baby.

Since we miscarried in September, I’ve supplemented with vitamin D (mine was pretty low) and melatonin. I’ve upped my soy intake and been eating really very healthy (healthy plus chocolate, because… chocolate). I lost 30 lbs and ran a marathon (even though chocolate). I’ve read the literature and prepared my body and worked on my mind and myself and religiously taken my pills, injected my drugs, gone to all my appointments, and still… it’s not really working.

There is nothing else I can do.

There is still a chance of success, albeit a low one. In fact, we may not even get to go through with the procedure at all, pending further test results. And somehow I’m ok.

Because my family is in the other room, watching Homeland and giving each other belly rubs. Maybe it’ll grow a bit and maybe it won’t. We’ll be ok either way.

What my brother-in-law calls a "dog circle" is pretty much my favorite thing.
What my brother-in-law calls a “dog circle” is pretty much my favorite thing.

 

So I guess the second verse really isn’t exactly the same as the first except that the first verse was IVF and so is the second. I just have that line stuck in my head because Seth insisted on playing I’m Henry the 8th I Am this weekend. So weird. Love him.

Smiles for Miles: The Time I Ran a Marathon

Approximately 18 weeks and 500 or so miles ago, I lost my shit.

Lost it.

I was at an all time low. Drowning in grief and self-pity, slipping further and further away from my family, my friends, my self and into a deep dark place that I didn’t honestly want to leave. Not really. It was easier to cry myself to sleep and keep my eyes closed. To sleepwalk when I had to and disengage at every possible opportunity.

It’s better to lose your shit, though. Better than depression. Because losing it means action… and even crazy action is better than complete apathy.

The crazy thing I did? I signed up for a marathon. Not a half-marathon. The whole shebang — 26.2 miles. In Washington, DC. On March 12th. I didn’t even pay the couple extra bucks to make it refundable. I was all in.

I ran 5 times a week for 18 weeks. Mostly outside. Mostly in Wisconsin. Almost entirely in the winter. There were some amazing days and some awful days. Some big blisters and some seriously raw patches of skin. I listened to many books on tape and consumed an inordinate number of Gu gels. I cried, I felt my lips turn blue and then watched them become pink again, I learned that cotton can be both lovely and the fabric of Satan.

Training montage. (Not picture: blisters, chafing.)
Training montage. (Not picture: blisters, chafing.)

Running became my sole focus. The marathon was what I lived for. And in doing so, I looked forward. I moved forward, physically. And because of that, I couldn’t stay stuck in that hole, in that dark place. It became impossible.

 

I don’t even know where to begin talking about the actual marathon. I had five and a half hours to think real hard about it and I’m pretty sure that during that time I had about five and a half million blog-worthy thoughts… but they must have been expelled with all the vomiting or something (it was intense) and now I’m left with all the feelings and none of the words.

The running was of course a huge and important part of it — I trained for the marathon and I finished it — but it was, for me, about a lot more than just the miles and the motion. My heart was in that race and along the course. My heart was almost literally on my sleeve, perhaps rather on my arm. And it was my heart that got me through it. It was what happened to my heart that made it all worth it.

My arm, my dedications by mile, the morning of.
The people I ran with, mile by mile.

I wrote the names of friends and family, people who inspire me and fill my heart to bursting with love, all down my arm. A dedication for every mile. But not really a dedication, exactly. I didn’t run for those people… rather, I ran with those people. For a mile at a time, my thoughts were completely focused. Completely positive.

And then, over and over and over again, I’d see a bright blue shirt, a blonde buzz cut, and I’d suddenly know it was my husband on the course. And my dear friend Jess. And I couldn’t help but beam.

Mile 14

Then a blur of green on two wheels, a crazy beard, and my friend Rob was there on his bike — sherpa-ing, willing me on, mile after mile. (And oh my goodness, he saved me in those last 5 or so miles.)

Mile 25

And then at the end. I’m starting to cry now even thinking about it. I heard my name, I saw the smiles, the cheers. My friends, my beautiful, beautiful friends were there waiting for me, five and a half hours after the start — Seth and Jess and Ellen and Rob and Erika and Stephen. Bright pink shirts that screamed that I rock… And I smiled and smiled and smiled. Have I ever in my life felt that loved? That supported? I’m honestly not sure that I have.

Marathon Photo

Not because I haven’t been that loved and supported in my life. I know that I have. I come from loving stock, there’s no denying that. But I think maybe it took a marathon to really believe it. To believe that I could be worth it, to recognize that all those names scrawled down my arm (and so many others) had always been there for me in exactly this way, on other courses, at other times, through other struggles and to celebrate different victories.

 

Why did it take a marathon? Why wasn’t the miscarriage enough? Grad school? Depression? Anything else? I’ve been supported in a way that no one could possibly deserve through all of that. So why not that?

I don’t know. But it was the marathon that did it.

 

Conveniently, I had a therapy appointment the Thursday after I returned from DC. In the hall, before we even got to his office, Dr. C’s first question was: soooo… how was the marathon?

I sat down and told him that it was the most amazing experience. That I’d never in my life felt so loved and supported.

He told me that was a totally weird answer and asked about my legs.

 

I guess it never really was about my legs.

It was definitely physical in that it was about proving to myself that with respect to my body, despite infertility and miscarriage and faulty brain chemistry, I can still be in control. But more than that… It was about finding my lost shit. About letting my heart feel something really effing amazing. For that, I get a medal.

Medal

And to everybody else, my eternal gratitude, appreciation, love, respect, and adoration. I hope you get a chance to feel what I felt, smile like I smiled — marathon or otherwise. Let me know how I can help!

Five long/short years.

Fives years is five years. Except…

It’s been five years since we moved to Marshfield.

arriving in Marshfield

Those five years have flown by in the blink of an eye.

It’s also been five years since I left DC.

leaving MD

But when my plane touched down here tonight, it all felt like a lifetime ago.

Same five years. How can it feel so different?

 

You guys should have seen me tonight. Fumbling to purchase a SmarTrip card, trying to figure out which side of the Metro platform to stand on, acting like a total tourist as we transferred from the yellow to the blue line. Oh! oh! and I almost forgot about the time I knocked my suitcase down the up escalator as we exited at Federal Center SW. Nothing but suave. Yes. Suave.

My public transit skills have evaporated, my mental maps have faded, and my sense of where I am in the city is basically gone, gone, gone. I’m no longer the young, metropolitan woman I’d spent six years becoming. Five shorts years — and I’ve completely unbecome.

And also rebecome. A pretty poignant reminder of what time can do.

 

It’s so interesting to be back here. So exciting. Somehow scary all over again.

And in a few short hours, it’s exhausted me. So. Netflix in the hotel room until this midwestern local yokel ventures back out into the big city for a few days.

netflix in hotel

Can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Sidenote: Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, which we’ve discussed before, is SO DAMN FUNNY. Sexy and reckless! Love!

Maybe she’s born with words… maybe it’s insanity.

According to Salon.com, the old “definition of insanity” adage is “the most overused cliche of all time,” which makes me laugh, because I’m about to do it again.

I started by googling “crazy is doing the same thing” to find out who actually said it and quickly learned that it wasn’t crazy that I meant, but rather insanity. So I started over again… “insanity is doing the same thing” and found that in that respect, the Internet went wild re: attribution. As the Internet is wont to do. Maybe it was Einstein who said it. Maybe not. But as Salon suggests, lots and lots and lots of people have repeated it, myself included.

So.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

They who? I don’t know. The all powerful, ever present “they,” I suppose.

But are they right? And should I discuss it with you? These are the questions on my mind at present.

 

I’ve told you my infertility story. Dramatically recounted it in excruciating (to you, I’m sure) detail. So as I sit here, at the cusp of doing it all again (where “it all” = IVF)… I’m left wondering what to do about the words.

 

A while ago, there was a Twitter campaign associated with the hashtag #WhyIWrite. My response:

whyiwrite

To let the words out. Some people really liked my response. Liked it enough to reach out to me personally, and that was really cool.

Honestly, it didn’t seem that profound when I put it out there. It was just my truth, but I can see why it resonated with other writers. They must, like me, at times get so over-stuffed with words that the release of writing is the only way forward. I’m not sure that this was ever truer than when I went through IVF the last time. The wild swings and crazy ups and downs filled me to the brim and blogging through it was incredibly cathartic for me. The release was exactly what I needed, the words on the page helped me to shape the thoughts in my head and explore the feelings wrapped around my heart, and the support I had through all of it from you, my dear readers, was phenomenal. It was so important to me, so valuable, and I feel so fortunate that writing, sharing, connecting in this way is a part of my life.

BUT. The definition of insanity…

We have decided to do IVF again. Just one more time. As I mentioned previously, for reasons beyond the blog-o-sphere, our chances of success are… what’s the right word?… low doesn’t quite do it justice… unlikely seems too bouncy… dismal seems a bit over dramatic… I’m not sure what the perfect turn of phrase is here, so I’ll borrow from our mutual frenemy Effie Trinket — the odds are not in our favor. Not now and definitely not in the future, so if we’re to have any chance at all of doing the baby making thing in this way, this is our shot. And we’re taking it. One more time, and only one more time. Given the poor odds and our previous experience, however, I have to wonder whether this is truly me bordering on the brink of proverbial insanity. And as such, what right do I have to run wild and free through Internet land talking and whining and ruminating again on something that may be just as insane (stupid/silly/dumb/wasteful/pathetic) as my inner mean girl (and the maybe-Einstein quote) would have me believe?

 

So… by way of long and twisty explanation (always)… I’ve been really back and forth about whether or not I should write about any of this again. Lots of self-deprecating cons (e.g., this is insanity, right? do people really want to read more about any of this? how much more could I possibly have to say? won’t it get repetitive?), but then the single, most important pro came to mind and it changed my mean, mean, mean mind: infertility is a big part of my life and IVF is where my head and heart, and by extension my words, are going to be for the next couple of months. That’s where I will be, where I am, and where I am is the only place from which I can truly connect with people, with you. So that’s where my words need to come from.

Ultimately, the point of my writing, and therefore Under the Tapestry, is to connect. And connections is, as I recently identified, one of my three core values. One of the things that really drives me, gives me purpose.  Connection, grace, and humor. So, here we go again — pull the lever, Kronk!

{Source}
{Source}

 

But seriously — maybe you would hate to read even one more single infertility related word? If so, tell me now! Uterus? Did I lose you? Granted, I have a feeling that I’m going to be gushing about a certain marathon in the very near future too… so there’ll be other thingzzz. I just think I’m probably going to say some things about my uterus too. Cool?