What not to say to someone struggling with infertility.

It’s Infertility Awareness Week, April 24-30. Judging by the uncomfortable interaction I had last night at, of all places, a church softball game, cyberspace could use a little awareness.

For those of you who read my initial ‘coming out’ post in October, you’d know that by now, April 2016, we’ve been trying to conceive for two years. Not two weeks. Not two months. Two years. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I mean that literally.

About a year ago I started looking into getting testing done to see what was going on. Long story short, we’re ‘fine,’ which translates into a diagnosis called ‘unexplained infertility.’ The truth is that there is still so much more doctors and researchers have yet to discover about the process of conceiving that there aren’t even tests for a lot of possible conditions.

We did two rounds of fertility treatment and suffice it to say, they didn’t work. The resulting imbalance of hormones sent me into a depressive tailspin, and finally I’m coming out of the fog of the past two years of alternating hopefulness and hopelessness.

Many of you know that I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety in the past. About ten years ago I finally went to see a counselor and I was on medication and received counseling for a couple years. I was able to quit therapy and haven’t been back on it since. Not during a deployment, not during any number of military separations, not even after my grandparents died. I found other ways to cope, and came out of those incidents stronger than before.

Despite all other hardships, infertility has been the most difficult, heartwrenching hardship I’ve gone through. Because of the risk to my mental health, which I’ve worked so hard to preserve and maintain over the past ten years, and also because of the cost (our insurance doesn’t cover infertility), we decided to not move forward with more treatment or testing.

I’ve come to terms with this decision, and we know it’s the best thing for us. As soon as an outside force starts to mess with the happiness of my marriage and/or my mental health, it has to go.  It’s a decision that we are comfortable with, and we don’t feel a need to seek out input from more doctors, or endure more invasive testing and treatment.

Now, back to the uncomfortable conversation last night. Might I encourage people to ‘think before they speak,’ especially about something so personal as fertility and the decision to have (or not to have) children. Below are things that are not helpful to say to someone struggling with infertilityespecially if you’ve only known them for five minutes.

“I’ve heard that people can get pregnant if they just stop stressing about it.”

Would you say something like this to someone going through cancer treatment? That if they stop stressing, the cancer will go away? Even pneumonia or, as silly as it sounds, a sinus infection? Infertility is categorized as a disease and requires its own specific diagnostic and treatment procedures, just as any other disease or illness does. The ‘problem’ with us may not even have a name yet.

“Well, maybe it’ll just happen someday! You never know. Maybe years down the line.”

Female fertility starts declining beginning at age 30. Even so, for a couple trying for two years, the chance per cycle of becoming pregnant is a mere 4%. So I highly doubt it will happen years down the line naturally. Because science. And biology. Also, we are not open to becoming first-time parents later in life.

“Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe you’re supposed to just be a big part of other kids’ lives.”

We are already a big part of other kids’ lives. Whether it was ‘meant to be’ or not is between God and myself.

“My [insert female relation here] says she never wants kids of her own, but she might adopt someday.”

Last I checked, if a couple adopts, those children become theirs. Adoption is an expensive, drawn out process with a heartwrenching wait of its own. I’m not exactly hankering to put myself through that right now when I’m grieving and healing from two years of disappointment.

Please think before you ask a man or woman about his or her (in)fertility. Please think before you ask about someone’s intentions to have children at all, and refrain from giving unsolicited advice. It is a very personal matter, and one that requires more education.

And if you find yourself asking, just listen. Provide a shoulder to cry on, an attentive ear, a nonjudgmental glance.

(This post is also very helpful for more information.)

April 11 | Refuge

Now that I’m back home and back to a normal schedule after the TESOL Convention last week, I’ve returned to my regular Bible study. It’s something I need to work on – Bible study should never be ditched even when life goes awry – but I found today’s readings (or rather, the week’s) especially touching.

Psalm 23 is so well-known. Many of us can quote it in our sleep. It was one that was recited at my grandmother’s memorial service, and its common words brought comfort to me. It’s part of the lectionary texts for the week per Alive Now. I prefer it in the New American Standard version.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I read the footnotes in my Bible, and it talks about how David wrote this while he was running and hiding from Saul, who was hot on his trail and wanting to kill him. Despite this, David found refuge even in the darkest moments.

Something I have been more cognizant of this calendar year has been to keep God at the forefront of my mind throughout the day. I get anxious very easily about my daily schedule; if something doesn’t go as planned I tend to start freaking out and complaining. One small change can send me over the edge, which can quickly form a dark downward spiral. It’s in those moments where I find calm, not in my ability to rein in my thoughts, but in declaring that God is the God of everything… even my daily mundane life. My goal is to seek refuge in Him whenever I’m feeling especially anxious to the point of an anxiety attack (thankfully attacks are rare for me now but still can happen*).

It grieves me to think of all the suffering and loss we have left to endure on the earth, with no escape that we can see with our human eyes. Therefore, we have to find refuge in the eternal. In this psalm, David is sure about goodness and lovingkindness following us throughout this life, and then he ends with our eternal hope. He writes in the present tense, reminding us, the readers, that God is here right now. At the juncture of this life and the next, we don’t just get glimpses and moments of calm in the midst of anxiety and confusion – we will walk into eternal calmness with absolutely no memory of our anxiety and confusion.

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Home from my US tour

The past three weeks have been a blur. They’ve been a mix of grief, celebration, family time, traveling, sightseeing, and lots of time on a plane.

First, I went to Illinois for my grandmother’s funeral, which I posted about. Then, I came home to a full house with Aaron’s brother and his family, who flew in from Chicago. We had a fabulous time. This was the first time they visited us, and we loved having focused time with just their family. We went to Washington, DC, and saw so many things that I had already seen, but had a new or different meaning. I actually didn’t take a lot of pictures for either my trip to IL or Bruce and Katie’s trip here; I was still taking a step back with my Lenten commitment to decrease time on social media and therefore didn’t have my phone out 24/7.

In DC, we saw all that we could see along the National Mall, including the White House! I hadn’t visited DC since I was 16, and since it was the summer right after 9/11, a lot was inaccessible. We visited Arlington National Cemetery, as well, and visited graves of friends who had passed away while on active duty. Arlington is always a humbling place that takes your breath away. The next day we visited the National Zoo, where they have a baby panda.

We saw some sights closer to home, including Havre de Grace (only 5 miles away from our house!) and downtown Baltimore. Needless to say, we ate tons of crab in all its forms: crab cakes, crab dip, and I even had a fried soft-shell crab sandwich at a roadside shack off of Route 22.

On Good Friday, I flew out to Seattle from Philadelphia on a nonstop flight. I stayed with my sister Emily and her husband for a week. This was the trip that had been planned the longest. Historically, Emily and I have spent one week per year together, and in the past she’s usually visited me in El Paso. Of course when she moved to Seattle, I knew I had to see her this time.

The morning after I got there, Emily dropped me off at the Snohomish Centennial Trail, and she did yoga while I did my long run. Sunday we went to a local Methodist church for Easter service and then headed to Pike Place Market in Seattle. Many businesses were closed, but we still managed to have a great time.

Monday and Tuesday were spent in Portland by way of Amtrak. We explored the city mostly on foot, and rode the bus occasionally. We used AirBnB to book our room, and I loved the experience of actually staying in someone’s house. We hit up Powell’s Books (of course!) and a couple yarn shops. We ate great pizza and had gourmet ice cream. We literally ran into Deschutes Brewery, which we didn’t realize was on our walk back to the train station.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent mostly in Snohomish. We went wine tasting at Chateau Ste. Michelle and had lunch in Woodinville. We did laundry, and as with my sister(s) in any mundane activity, it was fun. We hiked in Wallace Falls State Park, and it was gorgeous. We ended the day with dinner in downtown Snohomish at a Mexican restaurant right on the river.

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Wallace Falls State Park, Gold Bar, WA

March was a whirl of a month, and I am glad to be home and get back in our normal routine. The ‘new’ normal of eating dinner together, not being apart for months on end, and having the ability to plan things more than a month in advance. I’ll take it.