How the prosperity gospel ruined my peace, and other stories | [Unpublished post from 2015].

I’m sharing this private unpublished post in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week. To all the people who are sick of society’s and the collective church’s bullshit about conceiving a child and what constitutes a family.

When I’m in crisis, I write. A lot. As a colleague says when there’s nothing else to say: words, words, feelings, words. I wonder what other writers write out of crisis or desperation. Most likely I’m not alone.

We’ve been trying to conceive a child for over a year, 16 months to be exact. In the time we’ve been trying, I have seen dozens of babies come into the lives of my friends and family. I’ve seen a friend get engaged, married, pregnant, and give birth in that amount of time. Time is relative, and while 16 months would be a very young age for a child, 16 months of hopefulness followed by disappointment followed by despair times 16 can make one age more than 16 months.

In this time, I’ve confided in several people. My mom, my sisters (one who is a mother and one who’s childfree, so I have my bases covered), and a handful of close friends who are all actually mothers. Maybe that was my first mistake, confiding in mothers. But I guess I was hoping for some encouragement that yes, this will happen. Some of my mother-friends conceived very quickly, and others took longer. I’ve learned more than I need to know about the female reproductive system and all the crazy things that can happen. I know way more than any sane person should know about childbirth, all kinds of childbirth. Quick, long, scary, natural, c-section.

Up until recently, all this information brought up in conversation felt normal to me. Childrearing is something that affects nearly all women, right? I was brought up to believe that one day I’d have children, and even through my 20’s (I’m on the cusp of 30) while we were still preventing, I always had this future family in my mind’s eye, albeit still far away.

I never thought we’d have a problem conceiving. We’re healthy, we stay fit by working out and running, we eat relatively healthy. It was a given in my mind that we’d have children biologically our own. To be honest, I never considered another possibility. That is, until a year had passed with not so much as a faint line on a pregnancy test and I realized just how long this journey could be.

First there’s bloodwork and an ultrasound, and after that there’s fertility meds that make you ovulate better or “stronger” or whateverthefuck my doctor called it. They made me crazy. So I stopped after one month. Through all my “research” (I use that term lightly because I actually am a scholar-teacher-researcher so I know not to play around with that term that so many others use blithely, ugh) I determined that I’d ask my doctor for a hysterosalpingography, basically a test where they shoot radioactive dye through my tubes to see if they’re blocked. Because if they’re blocked, no egg can get through no matter how “strong” the ovulation is. Thus, no baby can be formed.

My doctor was hesitant to approve this test because there were no other signs that this might be the problem. That’s the kicker though with blocked tubes – there are generally no symptoms. But, I got the test approved and to satiate my own logical and perhaps morbid curiosity, I’ll schedule this test soon.

And now I actually can schedule this test because I just started spotting this morning. This means that MY PERIOD IS COMING (Game of Thrones style). The test is also know to sometimes “clean things out” which can apparently result in increased fertility. The ironic part is that my husband will be gone for work during my fertile time this month, so joke’s on us.

The very unfortunate thing is that past this test, things get very invasive and very expensive, fast. At the beginning of this, we drew our line in the sand that no, we would not be doing IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in vitro fertilization). We might do the fertility meds. Which I did do, but the side effects made it clear I’d not be doing it again.

So. We’re almost at the end of what we’re willing to try, and with continued failed cycles with like I said, not so much as a faint eensy teensy line, we’re at the end of what we’re willing to try emotionally. I am for sure. My poor husband watches me every month get so disappointed to the point of ugly cry. Every. Month. Times sixteen.

We’ve been discussing this idea of living our lives without children of our own. Now, read that sentence again. It seems more than logical, right? This is not our second cycle and we’re throwing in the towel. This is over a year of heartache with no return on our emotional investment. Now, you tell that sentence to someone and most people lose their minds. Avail yourselves of the following list of things people have said when I mention this possibility:

  1. “Don’t give up yet!”
  2. “What else have you tried?”
  3. “My sister/mom/friend/cousin-twice-removed tried for over a year and then when they stopped trying, they got pregnant!”
  4. “You guys are too amazing of a couple for God not to bless you with children!”
  5. “I just know that God will provide a family for you, whether it’s your kids or adopted kids.”
  6. “Do you think taking the pill for so long is affecting your fertility now?”

Please see below for reactions and honest-to-goodness truth.

Giving up is not necessarily a bad thing. Insanity (or stupidity, or both) is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result. Uhhhh. That sounds a lot like what we’ve been doing.

Well, we haven’t tried having sex. Maybe we should do that? /s In all seriousness, people want to help us “fix” our “problem”. That’s a nice intention, but if you’re not my doctor, please don’t go there. Believe me, we’ve tried pretty much anything you can think of. I’ve peed on ovulation sticks, charted my cycles (most people would consider this trying) and I’ve also just been a regular woman who’s sexually attracted to my husband and had sex whenever I’ve felt like it. We’ve gone on vacation, spent money on fancy dinners and wine… anything to relax or “not try”. And to boot, “not trying” is not as simple as you think. When for the past year you’ve had sex to make a baby (and for other reasons….) you can’t not try when you’re not using protection. The other thing about this comment is that no one talks about their aunt/sister/friend who doesn’t get pregnant after “not trying”. So stop. STAHP.

I’ve really wanted to believe those words said in love. But you know what? Moses was pretty damn amazing and he never got to see the Promised Land. Read the Bible… there are stories upon stories of disappointment. Some of them found peace. I actually have been on my journey of finding peace, praying for peace about this. My prayer is not, “God, give me children or I’ll die!”; it’s “God, whatever the outcome, give me peace and direction.”

Please don’t claim to know what God wants for our family (read: two people constitute a family). Don’t attempt to project on to me the result of what you refuse to see: this isn’t workingMy junk is not working. This is not a faith issue; this is most likely a biological issue. I don’t need to petition God for children if that is actually not in His plan. When talking to the friend who said this, she literally could not understand the possibility that maybe we would live without children. Granted, I’d said  something about maybe adopting one day. But that was after I qualified that by saying, “If [having biological children] is not what the plan is, I can live with that. I just need to move on and heal and be whole before I’d consider adoption. I don’t want to do it out of desperation.”

I know people with their comments are trying to be helpful. I totally appreciate that. And yes, I’m coming from a place of sensitivity about this topic, especially when the majority of these comments are from women who were able to relatively easily become mothers.

But please don’t use pseudo-theology to quell my fears or try to make me rethink things. I’m emotional, yes, but I’m also as rational, logical, and analytical a human being as there ever was, and I know my body and limitations best. I know that continuing on this path would most likely render me sunken into a corner of my couch, depressed and hating my body and life. I can’t do that, not again. If this is what it will be, that I can accept that. My husband and I can accept that and live a fulfilled, happy life where we actually do contribute to the next generation by our relationships with biological and honorary nieces and nephews, with my international students, etc.

Having biological children is a de-facto imperative of the Church, and it needs to stop. Not everyone is meant to have their own, and just because they can’t have their own doesn’t mean they need to run off to China or Korea or Ethiopia and adopt kids.  If you’re called to do that, great. But please don’t use your prosperity gospel to ruin my peace, especially when I’ve almost found it.

Vanishing

With all this time at home and so many headlines, I find I’m spending way more time on my phone in the past week than I have in a long time. As a result of scrolling, I saw this video of Kelly Clarkson (have always been a fan) doing an a cappella version of Mariah Carey’s “Vanishing”, or “track 5” as Kelly called it. I felt that in my soul – the eponymous album by the diva hooked me as a little girl and up into my teens I was still purchasing her CDs with my piano teaching money and listening to them on repeat. Of course, the listening came with an attempted vocal accompaniment by yours truly… attempted. By an untrained amateur alto.

After watching Kelly belt it out in her bathroom in a Montana cabin (ugh, that sounds awesome), I played “Track 5” by Mariah while working in the kitchen. That in itself felt strange, to play the song out of context. The album is one to be enjoyed in its entirety, preferably with the huge 80’s-era headphones of my dad’s, sitting on the living room floor completely oblivious to the world, bass cranked.

I was finishing up picking the meat off of a homecooked “rotisserie” chicken and putting the bones and some veggie scraps back into the Instant Pot to make a broth. My alto voice was (attempting to) sing along to the first verse, chorus, second verse… then I was putting away dishes from the dishwasher to make room for dirty ones.

If I could recapture || All of the memories || And bring them to life Surely I would

Before I knew it, I was in tears. Utterly blindsided. I could not have seen it coming from miles away. It all happened so fast, the train of thought that left the station quickly and then slammed on the brakes. I was swaying a bit (I’m home alone this afternoon so who cares) and in a split second I was reminded of my mom telling me that when I was little, she and I would dance to this in the kitchen. I was four years old when the album was released, in 1990.

Hear the distant laughter || Wasn’t it you and me || Surviving the night || You’re fading out of my sight || Swiftly

And suddenly the four-year-old blonde haired blue eyed girl became the nearly 34-year-old woman holding the four-year-old girl, swaying and dancing with her. Not in the Bacon Street kitchen, but in my kitchen in 2020 during a global pandemic. I, the almost 34-year-old woman was not looking at my mother, but I was mesmerized, gazing at my own daughter, at her messy ponytail swaying and her little legs and bare feet kicking and her mouth open, laughing. And that, with the lyrics and music and felt experience, I was realizing just how real the song felt in my bones and I just started crying.

Oh, I was so enraptured || No sensibility || To open my eyes || I misunderstood || Now you’re fading faster || It’s suddenly hard to see || You’re taking the light || Letting the shadows inside || Swiftly

So, like any sane person does when a song moves them, I played it again, while letting myself not just feel the feelings, but experience the feelings. The loss. The life that could have been. How this quarantine could be so different. How my life certainly must be playing out in a different way in a parallel universe. That’s the way we have to be present and sit with it (or sway to it in your kitchen with a dish towel in hand). It’s really not an option for me anymore to acknowledge the feeling with a nod of my chin and a few teary blinks and move on.

Fuck, it hurts. It’s a physical pain in my heart and chest. It’s intense, and lasts for a little while. But it’s necessary. And a reminder that while in general I am content with my life, and free from worry about bringing children into this crazy-ass world, I am not immune to my own grief and hurt and despair. It comes to the surface every now and then, a reminder that I am human and I am or was a mother (in another life) and that for some reason the souls of my children never made it to this world.

Reaching out into the distance
Searching for spirits of the past
Just a trace of your existence to grasp

Passion + espresso

I am terrified I won’t feel passion for any life decision again. I spent 28 years of my life preparing to house and birth a child. I chose my college major and my profession around my desire to be a mother. When dating I looked for someone who would not only be a great life partner, but also a good person to raise little people with. When I lost weight initially it was to be healthy for carrying of said child.

How could all of that come from no passion?

Now I’m left with the, needless to say, solid and good consequences from those life decisions. How could it still be empty and (sometimes feel) meaningless?

When I’d be frustrated at work or fed up with someone outside of my home, it was easy for me to escape that situation mentally. In the same vein, when things were good at work and I was really enjoying whatever task was at hand, I had these little jolts of adrenaline (or some other hormone, so sue me I’m not a doctor) that made my heart skip a beat and make me feel infinite happiness and contentment, even just for a moment.

At that time I knew that whatever situation I was experiencing would not compare to what it’d be like to be at home with my nuclear family, my 2.5 kids exactly all 2 years apart, wiping their hands and mouths at lunchtime while the spring breeze blew through the window. I knew at that moment that I’d look at my babies and think back to when I worked and how I couldn’t wait for this moment right here, and how I was finally here and how all existentially amazing that was and pity my former nonparent self. (Disclaimer: I’m kind of a bitch to myself.)

Now, when I have any situation at work, with a friend, or wherever, that is my moment. That is what is, that’s the present. There’s no future moment that’ll come Back-to-the-Future me, no Delorian that will transport me to mornings of dirty high chair trays and fresh laundry coming out of the dryer. There’s just this moment.

The kicker is that I want that breeze-blowing, laundry-scented moment anyway. All the time. Because someone somewhere told me if I just pray enough or am good enough or worthy enough, God will give me the desires of my heart.

The children of that well-meaning but mistaken person should be given a kitten and a few shots of espresso and let loose in the china shop.

Just don’t take my espresso and give it to that child. I’ll be sipping it at the kitchen table, windows open, letting the breeze cool it before it touches my lips.

To my little girl.

We had names for you both.

One of you was going to be Dagny Elayne, the first name after Dagny Taggart of Atlas Shrugged, a real go-getter with a kickass personality; the second name was after a character in your daddy’s all time favorite book series, Wheel of Time. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Dagny when your father suggested it. But over several years, it grew on me. Together your names would mean “new light”. Perfect, I thought. Leah Beth gave me a little pair of pink linen shorts with a bow at the waist and told me, “These are for little Dagny” because she knew that that was going to be your name. I don’t have those shorts anymore.

At your great-grandmother’s funeral, I decided then that I wanted to change your name to Eleanor Jane, after her. Your daddy didn’t even mind – he loved her too. I always loved old, classic names. This is one thing I agreed with your Mimi on – someday, a little girl was going to grow up and be a professional or doctor or something with a nameplate outside her office, or have her name read at a graduation ceremony, so she should have a really strong name. I totally agreed with that. I thought it would be so poetic, if a little tragic, if I had conceived you the same month your Grammie Jane passed away – I saw it as her spirit living on. She would have been so happy.

I saw you in my dreams. I don’t remember seeing your face in every dream, but I knew that you had bright blue eyes, just like mine. My whole life they’ve been my claim to fame (ha) and I wanted to pass them to you. I know with these eyes you’d be an honest, caring, compassionate child. I saw your long brown hair, a few inches above your waist, a rich brown like your daddy’s. All I ever imagined is that my daughter would have more beautiful hair than I ever did, thick and unwieldy. And now my hair’s going gray. My theory is that we tried so long to have you that all the stress started making my hair gray.

When you grew to be a little girl, I was going to make sure I read you all of my favorite books. And I’d read these to your brother too – Goodnight, Moon; Are You My Mother?; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Little House on the Prairie; A Wrinkle in Time – we’d sit on your little bed under a fuzzy blanket and read by the lamp next to your bed. You’d be curious and not be able to wait until the next day to read a new chapter. You’d be a bookworm, just like your daddy, and have shelves and shelves full of books.

Your father and I always discussed how important it was for kids to try lots of new things. We wanted to make sure you stayed physically healthy and meet new friends, so we would have loved for you to join a local tee-ball team, or do karate, or participate in an community art class. We’d also want you to be involved in something musical – not because we were going to be overbearing parents, but because we both were musically inclined and wanted you to enjoy music as well. Maybe your little hands would have graced a violin, or clutched drumsticks. Maybe you would have sung in a choir or had a solo. Maybe you would have been able to just play any song you hear, and not be like me where I can’t memorize anything. I never would have been mad about you innocently plinking away on the piano that was your great-great-grandmother’s if you had wanted to.

I was so enamored with you as a little girl. To be honest, I never pictured you being older than 4 or 5. I never pictured your wedding (if you wanted to get married), or your children (if you wanted to be a mother). I never pictured you talking back to me as a tween. I only pictured the sweet memories we would have had. I would have been kinder and more patient than your Mimi. I would have let you keep your hair long when you were little, if you wanted to.

I would have taught you how to spell and write before you entered kindergarten. I was unsure about putting you in preschool or pre-kindergarten, because you know, I am a teacher and would have made sure you were ready. I kept aprons for you to help me cook in the kitchen – and I wouldn’t have gotten mad at you for spilling something on the clean floor.

I had a dream one time where I saw you, face to face, and you, Dagny (Eleanor), were just the sweetest little girl. I told you in my dream as I held you close to hug you and pick you up, “I wanted you so badly. We both wanted you so much.” That’s it. That’s all we said. I woke up on my side of the bed with your daddy asleep next to me, and cried silently into my pillow. I don’t know if he knows this. But I cried.

I also wanted to give you my maiden name as a middle name. I didn’t want to hyphenate it though. I liked how your name looked written out – Dagny Elayne (or Eleanor Jane) – and I was going to call you Dag for short.

And now I have to say goodbye before I even get to say hello. It’s a cruel world out there, sweetheart, and even though I was a good little girl, and then a (mostly) good teenager, and then became a good responsible woman, I still never got to welcome you into our life. Dagny, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s how life is. You don’t get to pick and choose – sometimes you have to deal with whatever comes.

But Dagny Elayne, I have to let you go. I’m sorry. Mommy is sorry. Daddy is sorry. Mommy has to let you go and let your spirit be free.

Rejecting platitudes and accepting the pain of grief

I couldn’t hear one more platitude as I shared my story. I couldn’t stomach one more look of pity, or even worse, blank space behind the eyes. It was just too painful.

I became exhausted listening to all the things people said to me. And I say me specifically because for some reason the man’s role in reproducing just isn’t on many people’s radars. And for some reason the questions about kids – whether we had them, why we didn’t have them – were directed towards me.

 

Thanks.

It seems that the ‘thing’ these days is instead of being present with people as they’re rocked by the waves of grief, we try to fix the pain. We’re uncomfortable as a society to see people in pain. And it needs to stop.

I experienced this with the death of my grandmother, Jane, who I absolutely adored and loved. I found myself justifying my grief at what to our whole family came largely as a surprise – how ridiculous is that?

“My grandmother passed away, but she lived a long life.

“My grandmother died last month, but now she no longer suffers.

“My grandmother died suddenly, but she’s with Jesus now.

These are things I said, and I so longed to just allow the discomfort of the heart-wrenching loss and let people join me in my grief.

We look at the other side as greener. It’s the American way, right?

“We can’t have kids, but now we can travel and do whatever we want!”

“We could have gone through IUI or IVF, but it just would have had a horrible impact on my mental state.”

These “but….” phrases are dangerous. Not only do they not satisfy us and make us feel better, but they allow us to completely drive by the very real grief a person is going through. I don’t owe anybody an explanation or a platitude to make them feel better, for God’s sake. When we’re grieving, we have a horrible propensity to do unnecessary emotional labor for others.

I was (am) desperate to just say, “We couldn’t have kids.” and allow that truth, however uncomfortable, to settle in. I wanted to say for once, “I lost my grandmother and we were very close.”

I had to do this on my own. Even my church community seemed to be at a loss, more about the intangible loss of parenthood than about losing a person who was lucky enough to live 87 years.

There is a lot of work to be done in the area of grief, death, dying, and trauma in this society. But those of us who have been afflicted can’t stay silent. We need to be willing to compassionately educate others – to have the difficult conversations,

To let the uncomfortable truth of loss fall where it may. To allow space for discomfort. To reject platitudes. To accept our grief. It is only in this acceptance and space that we as a society can get closer to the hard things and be okay with it. And from there, we can better comfort those in need and in grief.

The maternity section

For years and years I imagined what I’d look like with the coveted and adorable baby bump. I remember even from a young age I’d playfully stick out my stomach (especially after eating) and see what a baby might look like. I thought it was pretty cute. No lies – I’ve done this as an adult too.

Whenever I went shopping at places that still have a dedicated maternity section, like Target, I’d make a mental note of the types of clothes I’d want to buy when I needed to bedazzle the bump.

I even had a Pinterest board called “Baby W” or something equally banal, with all things baby pinned, including maternity wear. (Said board was deleted probably a year and a half ago.)

I dreamed of when leggings and long tunics would actually be socially acceptable to wear to work, when comfort would finally be justified over every other quality in my closet.

How naive I was.

When we were trying to have a baby (#wilcoxonstakeonbabymaking2014… #notarealhashtag) I made sure that the items of clothing I bought would cover a I-might-just-be-fat belly as well as a pretty-much-a-whale belly. Just to be safe. Just to make sure I didn’t waste any of my clothing budget on stuff that wouldn’t fit in a few months.

Again, how naive I was.

The point is that the quest for motherhood was absolutely all encompassing, even affecting decisions like what to buy to make sure it’ll fit my beautiful, fertile, pregnant belly.

So in the end, I ended up with a lot of cute comfy tunics (that started off as dresses but basically became shirts because ya girl is tall) and leggings. I also had, ya know, real clothes, like skinny jeans and work pants. Now I can go to the store and nothing holds me back from buying something except for the price (I never buy anything that’s full price. I’m the queen of Target’s Cartwheel app, and also thrifting).

I won’t lie: I do have two dresses that are actually maternity dresses. When I found them, at first I didn’t realize they were meant for baby bumps (not food babies…) but they fit really well so I decided to buy them anyway.

I feel a slight bit salty when I wear them – they’re really cute, no one would know they’re maternity, and I feel a slight bit vindicated that ha! I do get to have something remotely related to motherhood. Take that!

And then the 31-year-old voice in my head speaks to me:

#growupelizabeth #actyourage #buildabridgeandgetoverit

 

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!”