Yoga made me cry.

As I was standing in the last tadasana of my practice with hands at heart center, it hit me how actually close to my heart I had become. In the third floor ‘bonus room’ of our new beautiful house, with windows open and sweat (or humidity) dripping off my body, I realized that more unity had been cultivated between my mind and body in the past several months than I realized. This realization brought on tears that I didn’t expect.

I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet.

When one’s body doesn’t perform or operate as it should, it’s frustrating. I would even say that it can be damaging to one’s psyche. I’m no psychologist or clergyperson, but I can imagine that without unity between one’s body, mind, and soul, the body is no longer revered as a ‘temple’. What I believe is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit  but I’ve been defiling my temple for a long time.

When I think of not loving my body, I first think of hating how I look in the mirror, scoffing at the number on the scale, or eating copious amounts of whatever food will bring me comfort. But — always, always, always — these seemingly superficial manifestations of the lack of self-love stem from a deep-seated disunity among mind, body, and soul.

I’ve medicated with food, with alcohol, with running, with CICO (calories in, calories out). And all these things help a little bit, whether it’s by dulling the pain, creating more pain, or giving a sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, however, I have to find a balance and heal myself from the inside out in a way that’s sustainable in the long run.

This isn’t about healing my body so that I can carry a child. Friends, that ship has sailed and is half way around the world by now. What I’m discovering is that my mind-body connection, my temple, has to be healed for me. And then, from there, I can fulfill my purpose in life. I can then pour into my marriage, into my students, into relationships with colleagues and bosses and neighbors and fellow congregants.

So, how do I fix a broken temple? How do I rebuild? Truly it’s not built in a day. It took weeks, months, years of deterioration to destroy what God created as good — my body, mind and soul — and therefore it’ll take time to rebuild.

I’m not saying I have to cry and show emotion like I did in my yoga practice in order to rebuild my temple. But for me, that’s how I roll (I’ve mentioned before how much like Kristen Bell I am), and that’s how I know something’s working. Something’s hitting a nerve.

In yoga (and I’m an amateur so hear me out), your body can never be far from your mind. Even in savasana, you feel the ‘earth’ beneath you and are aware of the air, the noises, the breath.

What I absolutely love about the end of yoga practice is that no matter how aligned or how klutzy I was, I just spent time with my body in a positive environment seeking new challenges and bringing things into alignment. I come from death back into life, and it’s a new chance to honor my temple so that I can do the work meant for me since the beginning of time.

The bend in the road: a reflection from January 2016

Again I write, not sure if these words will see the light of day. My last post was written almost four months ago, when I shared our story of infertility. I mentioned that there’s hope that can overshadow the disappointment that comes with this journey.

I wasn’t sure how hope would play out over the next few months. I was hesitant to try to put that into a vision of reality. But I hoped it would come in the form of a perfect baby, a product of our love (and genes).

Unfortunately, that’s not the hope that has come to fruition. We did another round of fertility treatment which wasn’t successful. I had more testing that came back normal. There’s just not an explanation. Hence, the ‘unexplained infertility’ diagnosis.

The fertility drug is the least invasive of treatments according to the doctor. But according to me, I felt invaded. My hormones were raging, I was in pain, I was moody, I was emotional. I did not feel like myself, and so we decided that that was the end of the line for treatment.

We decided before we even began this journey that noninvasive treatment would be the stopping point. And before you get to that stopping point, you can maybe make a list of the things to try after that… adoption? Fostering? Fostering to adopt? Living without children?

Now that our natural options are exhausted, we face a sea of unknown. I couldn’t even tell you how I feel about adopting. Or fostering. Except that I don’t feel ‘called’ to that right now. I don’t know if I ever will.

Living without kids? Well, living without our biological kids? That is something that blindsided me. I could have never foreseen that that would even be a path for our life.

I remember way back when Aaron and I had first started dating (almost 13 years ago…) that I saw him fling a kitchen towel over his shoulder. It seems kind of silly, as he was just helping clean up after dinner, but I was 17 and in love (only I didn’t know it yet) and made this image in my mind of instead of a kitchen towel, it would be a baby blanket or burp rag he’d fling over his shoulder, followed by holding our baby. Our baby. Ok. That’s a little crazy to think that. But it was my romantic idealized mind.

Ever since that moment, I’d always imagined what our kids would look like. I’ve had dreams about our kids. I’ve thought about what kinds of parents we’d be, and how Aaron would have to be the disciplinarian of the two of us because if we had a little boy that had his irresistible curls and his disarming smile, it would be impossible for me to give a stern look and mean it.

I’ve thought about how maybe if we had a girl, she would be interested in music, and computers, and sewing, and running. Or maybe not. But I knew I’d want her to have my blue eyes and Aaron’s thick hair.

For years we’ve had names chosen. Good, strong, meaningful names. I imagined that over my pregnant belly I’d pray for my children, that they’d embody those names. I imagined that the first time I held them, I’d say the name out loud and instead of it being in a dream, it would be proclaiming that new being’s existence in this world. An existence that would contribute kindness, love, and Christ’s heart to the world. An existence that would be light.

Maybe I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never bear children of my own. In anyplace we’ve lived, I never could truly see that a child would also live there. Even now, in our new house, each bedroom has a purpose and not one of them seems like it could be a nursery.

The past four months have been reflective, of course, and a little crazy. We’ve been taking a break from trying because of Aaron recently getting out of the Army and tackling our major cross-country move to the East Coast. I also didn’t want to be preoccupied with infertility and pregnancy while home visiting with family over Christmas. From what I read and hear, so many infertile people have a hard time enjoying the holidays, and rightfully so. But I wanted to make the most of it, and I did.

I look back over the nearly two years since we started this walk (May of 2014) and I’m astonished at how I’ve changed. Physically, I’m worse off. With hormone fluctuations, stress, and coping, I’ve gained 25-30 pounds. That upsets me because I worked so hard several years ago to lose that weight and was able to maintain. I’m back to square one with running. That also upsets me because I was doing great after the Transmountain Half.. I was the fastest and fittest I’ve been and I let it all go.

Emotionally and mentally, I’ve been through the wringer. If it weren’t for this break and also the cessation of fertility meds, you’d find me back in therapy. I’ve been in some dark spaces in the past 6-8 months especially. I’ve felt a disconnect with my body and a betrayal despite the positive thoughts I’ve forced.

Spiritually, I don’t know where I’m at, to be honest. I love God. I know Jesus died for me so I could have new life. I pray. I do devotions. I’m still motivated to be involved in church. But as far as ‘God’s plan’… I’m not even sure what that means completely in the context of these circumstances. I do know that it means that my gifts and talents are to be used to show Christ on this earth and draw people to Him. Does it really matter what I do as long as I’m doing that?

I teach. I embrace each student I meet as a person before we even get into the material. Right now I have a herd of about 150 middle schoolers that I sub for every day. Soon I’ll have community college and continuing education students who will sit in my classes to learn English. I’ve been taking a hold of every opportunity Maryland will give me.

Teaching is my passion, and it’s evident to those who know me. Talking about ESOL lights up my day and puts the pep in my step. Some women feel this way about being a mother.

At this point, despite trying to become a mother for so long, I don’t know if I would feel that way. It scares me a little bit to think that maybe I wouldn’t feel that way about being a mother. I’ve always joked about how being a stay-at-home-mom would drive me crazy after awhile, but I think there’s some truth in that statement.

Maybe I know deep down where my call is. Some women are indeed called to a life of motherhood. And I guess there is a maternal aspect to teaching. But there’s also this constant knowledge that the students I have are not my own. They go off into their own lives and directions and I’m totally okay with that. I want them to not need me. It’s a relief to know that most of the time, they’ll leave our time together not needing me.

After all that, what I really wanted to say throughout all these words is that I’m taking time to grieve and heal. I’m at a bend in the road. I see a little bit ahead of me – isn’t that only what we all see, always? – and right now, I see students in desks with expectant looks on their faces and the promise of new relationships. New opportunities to love people and give them practical tools for life.

The next ‘big thing’

I turned 31 this year. Any novelty or ‘I-don’t-give-a-crap’-ness that ensued when I turned 30 and entered a new decade subsided last year, and this year, it was just another birthday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I die – I would not live through my 20s again if someone paid me to. Ugh.

In my 20s I really focused on making decisions to reach an end – training four times a week for a long distance race (my favorite so far being the Transmountain Half), going back to school for a Master’s degree for the field I really had a passion for but didn’t pursue previously, getting through separations and deployments so my husband and I could enjoy ‘normal life’. And now that all of that is over, it’s taken me a good year and a half to be okay with just living life.

I spent so much time running (sometimes literally) toward the next big milestone that I didn’t enjoy or even really notice the journey. Oh, I noticed the early mornings, late nights, and time zone calculations to be sure, but I never relished or relaxed in the journey.

The undeveloped skill of enjoying the means, not just the end, has led me to a profound place in my existence, especially since we’ve experienced infertility. (An aside: Is this an infertility blog, you ask? No, not intentionally. But you’d be quite surprised to see how much of my life really has been shaped and affected by that five-syllable word.)

No longer are we waiting for the next ‘big thing’ – that is, a pregnancy or a baby. The big ‘milestones’ we’ve experience thus far is 2017 have been 1) finally, finally, paying off our debt, 2) a family cruise to the Western Caribbean (10/10 highly recommend!) and 3) buying our first house. These events were all very exciting, but not exactly something that will cause intimate life-changing long-lasting effects, like having a child would.

So here we sit, summer beckoning in the beautiful sunrises we now enjoy even from our bedroom window, and the ‘next big thing’ is, well, life. Living. Work, relationships, church, walking the dog, moving forward in our careers. It feels very strange, like we’ve been teleported forward about 15 years, but without the ageing. Most of our friends are going for the next big thing – the next planned child (yes, because now we’re old enough that our friends are actually planning out their children), the next marriage (unfortunately we’ve witnessed many family and friends get a divorce), the next big move (military friends are still moving around) – and our next big thing looks different.

In reality, the ‘next big thing’ hasn’t really taken shape yet. Up until recently, this caused me a lot of anxiety. I alluded to this earlier, but my entire first three decades of my life entailed going for the next big thing. I literally can’t think of a moment in my life that that wasn’t true. But we’re in a new phase, an uncharted phase for many 30-somethings, and it no longer scares me.

The yet-to-be-seen ‘next big thing’ is beginning to cause excitement for us. I used to feel a little shameful for realizing that the years ahead are ones without the responsibility of children, and being happy about it. It’s not something I advertise, but it is definitely a silver lining to come out of this storm of infertility.

We’re still navigating life without children, and for once in my spirit, that feels okay.

Uterus: “Hi, I’m a special snowflake. Nice to meet you.”

And mine is actually quite unique. That’s right, folks, my uterus thinks it’s a freaking special snowflake and falls into the approximately 5% of women who are born with a Mullerian anomaly.

A week and a half ago I had symptoms of what I knew to probably be an ovarian cyst. I’ve had pain in that general region before (um, hello, a right of womanhood I suppose), but this felt off. I’ll spare you the details, but if you’re a woman reading this, or anyone who is fortunate enough to be close enough to a woman to hear her sad song about our plight, it’s painful and uncomfortable.

I went to a regular annual checkup, and unfortunately had to ask the doctor for an ultrasound. Even after an exam, going over my medical history (including infertility), and explaining my symptoms, she didn’t couldn’t explain my pain and discomfort and was going to let me leave the exam room 1) after putting my pants back on and 2) without an answer or trying to find me one. (I demand a refund!) However, she humored me and I was able to schedule an ultrasound for later that day.

During the ultrasound, I got the tech talking. Technically, the radiology techs aren’t supposed to say anything but after she told me she had 30 years of experience, I figured that if she accidentally divulged information, I could probably take it with a little more than a grain of salt.

She saw a cyst that had burst (confirmed by doctor’s findings) and towards the end of the exam she was able to see my special sneauxflayke™ uterus (also confirmed by an MD). To her surprise, and mine, a septate uterus was a new discovery because even though I’d had both an ultrasound and hysterosalpingogram before, neither procedure caught it on camera (this is actually unfortunately common).

The same day, my doctor called me with results, and this confirmed a hunch I’ve had for a long time now – this was the ‘something else’ possibly causing our infertility that had not yet been identified.

I know as an educated person, and as a person with common sense, that the few things we’ve had confirmed as possible causes (variococele [for him], hypothyroidism [for both of us], septate uterus [for me]) may not 100% be the cause, but are definitely factors.

Herein lies the rub – if we had known about these issues when we were still relatively new to the trying-to-conceive club, it could have affected the outcome and our decisions. Both surgical procedures for correcting a varicocele and septate uterus are fairly noninvasive and simple. However, last summer we decided to be done. Really done. Irrevocably done (as in snip snip), and so we are not pursuing any more treatment or testing.

This news has caused quite a stir in my spirit. Last week, I cried. This week, I cried. I’m still mourning, grieving, a life that I spent so long thinking and dreaming about. In the end, I get pissed off that I spent so long (30 years of my life…) just assuming I’d be a mother, not even thinking for a second that it wouldn’t be possible without some grief. But I just spent time assuming and appropriating all the cute belly pics, adorable maternity wear, Pinterest-inspired nurseries into my life, all the while having this vascularly-challenged wall of tissue in a small organ that has been there all along, sitting pretty, waiting for the right moment to reveal itself.

I know it’s not my fault, but I‘m still at odds with my body.  I’ve known that since the beginning. But I’m still fighting – pushing, pulling, negotiating. This poor relationship is slowly improving through yoga, making better eating choices, and running (obvs!).

On a more existential scale, I’m kind of at odds with God. The Bible says that before He formed us in the womb, He knew us, and this is a truth I take to heart (Jeremiah 1; Psalm 139. But the big questions I’m grappling with right now are, 1) If he formed me, and did it knowingly and purposefully, then He knew all along about this and didn’t tell me?! 2) Why have I had the desire for my own biological children for so long? and of course, 3) What does this mean about my life’s purpose now? A big cozy comfort I cling to like a security blanket is that if He knew all this and ordained it, then there are other things He’s ordained for me to do, work to do that matters, no uterus required.

I’m still, and will be for time to come, at odds with society. I feel lied to, betrayed, and cheated. I may have said this before, but if I had known that having children didn’t have to be an option, I’m honestly not 100% sure we would have chosen to try. And that fact does not undermine my grief. If someone had told me that it’s okay to choose a career that’s not conducive to maternity leaves and a busy middle-class American family’s schedule, I’m not sure I would have chosen to become a teacher (known for its decent 8-4 schedule, summers off, and 4-year college track). And that fact doesn’t undermine my professional career or achievements, or love for my profession.

The problem is not that someone told me that I had to have children, or that I had to have a ‘family-friendly’ career – no one physically told me that. But society did. And I’m still pissy about it.

So, all in all, I can just hear my uterine cells in chorus, as they were forming, say, “Let’s build a wall [of tissue that has a hard time supporting new life] and make Elizabeth pay for it!”

An unfortunate rite of passage with an okay ending.

Infertility has been an unfortunate rite of passage. It’s something I didn’t know I’d have to go through, unlike other rites of passage, and until I did, there’s a lot I didn’t know or realize about life in general. Funny how specific life circumstances can teach us so much about just… life.

Fertility or the lack thereof is the grown-up version of ‘haves and have nots’. And just like when a boy teased me in fifth grade about having ‘Walmart brand’ shoes, it’s obvious now that I don’t have the latest and greatest, if that’s what our (excessively) child-reverent culture considers as the latest and greatest these days.

Life has taken an unexpected turn. I a year ago I signed a contract for a new job that involves me working at an elementary school. With kids. Young kids. Kids who could be my kids age-wise. I was originally hired as a middle school Spanish teacher, but an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) position opened up and so I was asked to move to that role. Of course I jumped on it since ESOL is my jam. My thing. The catch? I’d be working with grades K through 5.

The peace I have as I walked through my building, and even as I passed pregnant staff in all stages, can only come from God as I’ve walked through the grief and healing process. A year ago, even six months ago, I don’t know if I could go to work and come home still in a great mood, not even thinking about how I’d be sending my kids off to school, too, at some point.

I’m thankful. I’m fortunate. There are other people I’ve known of who have to quit their teaching jobs because it’s just too heartwrenching to be around children. But teaching is my heart. I’ve been doing it since I was 14, before I even knew I wanted to be a teacher, before deciding on a college major, before meeting who I thought would be the father of my kids. Before infertility. Teaching has been a constant, and I treasure the teacher-student relationship.

I had a fantastic year. I grew to love all 20 of the students on my caseload, and many many others from my students’ classrooms. I bid them goodbye on Tuesday afternoon, their little arms and hands hanging out of the bus windows, waving. “I love you! Have a good summer! Make good choices!” were my phrases of choice.

And teaching for me still comes back around to an old cliche, well known among those of us who ‘don’t go into teaching for the money’ that ‘if I impact just one life, it was all worth it.’ And that, my friends, is the truth, and you don’t have to be a parent to accomplish that.

On carnations and Sunday litany

Yesterday as I walked out of the sanctuary, it was the first Mother’s Day in years that I really felt like the sanctuary, was, well, a sanctuary. I’ve been pondering the litany we read together as a congregation, one that my pastor modified as he went in order to be more inclusive. It went something like this:

Leader: Mothers come in many different forms, and today we celebrate them all!
All: Thank God for mothers!

Leader: Everyone here is either a son or a daughter.
All: Thank God for my mother!

Leader: For those women who have joined God in Heaven and whom we miss dearly here on earth.
All: Thank God for the mothers of the past.

Leader: For every woman who is working day and night to raise her children right now.
All: Thank God for the mothers of today.

Leader: For all the women who are expecting, but aren’t quite mothers yet!
All: Thank God for the soon-to-be-mothers.

Leader: For the women who took in their own others’ children through adoption and foster care.
All: Thank God for the mothers with hearts so big.

Leader: For those women who have lost a child to death and must carry on.
All: Thank God for the mothers who are so strong.

Leader: For all the women who have desperately wanted to have children of their own, but chose instead to mother everyone else.
All: Thank God for the mothers in spirit.

All: We thank you, Lord, for the women who have influenced our lives in so many ways. We pray that we will honor them in everything we do. Amen.

Before the service, I was greeted with a carnation outstretched and a “Happy Mother’s Day”. This act makes me feel very uncomfortable. In the years since I’ve struggled with infertility, instead of just smiling, nodding, and taking the flower, I politely refuse and say, “I’m not a mother.” I imagine the person doing the greeting also feels uncomfortable. However, I’m at a point now where I’m okay with stirring the pot, making others aware of the grief that mothers-who-wish-they-could-have-been feel on a daily basis, and especially around a ‘holiday’ like Mother’s Day.

When I politely declined and said, “I’m not a mother” the immediate response was, “Well, but, you have a mother.” Yes, that’s true, but that does not replace the fact that we are unable to have our own children for unexplained reason(s) and that I (we) am (are) still actively grieving this fact and substantial change in my expected way of life.

Another assumption I take issue with is that if a woman on Mother’s Day is not a biological, foster, or adoptive mother, she surely has some hand in ‘raising’ the next generation. I personally do fall into this category of – I teach elementary school and volunteer with both elementary aged kids after school and older kids on Sundays.

But the assumption overall proves itself false. Take my middle sister, for example, who is staunchly childfree – always has been, always will be. She takes no interest in fostering (for lack of better words) her ‘maternal instinct’. I haven’t studied enough biology or anthropology to know if this is an actual trait that all women possess, but I know that there are millions more women like my sister who do not claim to have a ‘maternal instinct.’ Therefore, there’s a huge problem with blanketing an entire sex with a place in Mother’s Day sentiments.

I don’t want Mother’s Day to be abolished. I don’t want people to stop celebrating their motherhood on my behalf. I take part in celebrating my mother and the other women who have helped mother me throughout my life. I just want two simple things: an awareness of those who would love to be counted as a mother but cannot or don’t want to be, and a choice in the manner of celebration – an accepted choice to decline if I so wish.

A suggestion for a venue such as church would be to have a large vase with carnations placed in the entryway to the sanctuary with a direction to take one if she so chooses, rather than nearly forcing or attempting to rationalize the woman in question to partake in a tradition that makes her feel very uncomfortable. If I’m being vocal about not accepting a gift as beautiful as a flower, there’s probably a very good reason.

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A bigger promise

I have failed miserably at writing here every day. But I do that some thoughts that have emanated from my daily devotional on the YouVersion Bible App.

The current plan I’m going through now with a friend is all about devotions that speak to real-life. Really, that’s what I look for in any devotion. But one day so far struck me in particular.

Waiting is a tough thing. It can try the most patient person, and the type of waiting can really make that period of time hard to bear.  In the midst of it, we have to remember God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.

This is a noble thing – and we should take hold of it, remembering God’s promises. But the way it was presented in the devotional text was not pleasant. It discusses different life events that can cause us to wait or question God’s promises, including infertility:  “When there’s no pitter-patter of little feet, remember Genesis 30:22: ‘Then God remembered Rachel; he listening to her and enabled her to conceive.'”

This sounds like a nice thought in theory, but I think it’s where much of the ‘Christian narrative’ says that if you just pray enough, or wait enough, or remember the promises enough, God will give you what you desire. That the happy ending is coming. And I’m sorry to say this in case someone hasn’t heard it yet, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen.

I can’t tell you how strong my desire was (is…?) to have our own biological children. It was (is…? still working this out) immense. Overwhelming, all-consuming. Even as recent as a few weeks ago, I would be bee-bopping along in my actually really great life, then all of a sudden see a little girl with dark brown curls marching down the hall with her adorably too-big backpack and BAM. I was hit with that desire and emptiness that is sometimes so strong it could knock me to my feet in tears. I wish I were being dramatic.

So, considering our infertility, according to this idea in the devotional, did we not pray enough? Wait long enough? We have to look at this promise of God in context, as it’s specific to one woman, one situation in all the history of infertility.

The attitudes and apparent words of reassurance around the subject of infertility need to change, not just in the world, but especially in the church. There are probably millions of hurting women that instead of finding understanding and solace in the church when they confide their fears or feelings about their infertility are met with these one-off quotations of Scripture that really do nothing but cause more pain, at least for me.

We need a bigger promise. More than just God will enable us to conceive, because as I’m a first-hand witness to, sometimes it doesn’t happen (and maybe there is not some mysterious reason.. it could just be), and I firmly believe that our failure to procreate has nothing to do with our level of faith.

My promises from God have to be bigger to encompass and devour my fears, my emptiness, my sorrow over children lost, however intangible those children may be. My promises from God have to ensure that He holds me, He knows me, He loves me and has important and impactful work for me to do that does not involve being a biological mother or spreading my ‘maternal instinct.’

I will quote another part of the devotional that I found to be the most comforting: “When hope is scarce, remember Luke 24:6-7: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you,… ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” That is the bigger promise. That is the promise.