The Art of Balance: Loss and Love

Today’s post is from Maria’s Mother, Therese. Thank you, Therese, for sharing with us.

The Art of Balance: Loss and Love
by Therese Novotny

When Maria asked me to write a blog post for Mother’s Day, I gladly agreed, but the task was thornier than I thought. As her mother, it is difficult to talk about infertility because I never know what to say. My words get mixed with love, longing, and loss.

The day after Maria was born, her Aunt Joanne brought a small bouquet of Brown-eyed Susans to my room. Those yellow petals always remind me of Maria. Nearly 25 years later, she planted some in her back yard in Grand Rapids. When I helped her move from that house for Kevin’s new job, she left the flowers behind, but more seriously, she left behind a dream of raising children there. That dream had not been fulfilled, despite all their painful, heartfelt efforts. It was a loss.

Therese with Maria on her first birthday.

The art of balancing Maria’s trauma, supporting her needs against five other children, is difficult.

First, my background is full of big families. I embrace the interests of all of my children, their friends and spouses. Even though my life on the outside looks traditional in the extreme (suburban, white, Catholic, middle aged, mother, wife), I am very curious about how other people choose to live out their lives. I’m very open to other life choices and respect them – and it often gets me into trouble.

Maybe this is the wrong thing to say, but I don’t understand Maria and Kevin’s need to have a child of their own. I enjoyed feeling a baby kick inside my body and giving birth to a new tiny person, but there are other ways to give birth. You can give birth to an organization, or nurture a latent talent within yourself, or adopt a child who deserves loving parents. Many women who have birthed children have severely neglected themselves, their talents, or even others around them… and that is also a loss.

Finally, I feel helpless because I can’t help them change their infertility. I need to find new avenues of support. I can support them in their new home, their upcoming projects, their dogs, and their careers. I have been in situations where I can change some things, where I need to advocate and change and struggle. But some things I can’t change. I need to know the difference. I’ve learned to grow where I am planted, even if I can’t do very much.

After Easter, my father sent me a card of a famous Monet painting. I have always thought of Maria in that painting. She is the child standing in a lush field of flowers, so tiny, she blends among them. She is perfect. Why does she not see it?  She is part of a bouquet prepared for the world to enjoy.

Infertile couples are made to feel they are broken or incomplete. They feel cheated and scammed and misjudged. They are miserably misunderstood. They have a right to feel that way, but sometimes the broken, slashed parts of us are unavoidable.

At the risk of saying the wrong thing, I offer the well-known parable of the broken bucket.

In a small village in China, a man collected his water from the river, which was about a mile from his hut. Each morning, he attached two buckets over each side of a long pole, which balanced over his shoulder like a yolk. The bucket hanging from the left side retained all the water, but the one on the right was cracked and full of small holes.  When he returned home, the bucket on the left had not lost a single drop, but the bucket on the right had leaked half its contents, with half dripping through the cracks.

One day, the sturdy bucket taunted the cracked bucket jeering, “I am the real bucket here. I do what needs to be done, while you are a broken piece of junk. You just cause the man sorrow because you can barely bring back half the water, and still, you make the man carry you. You are mostly a burden to him. You are just a sorry excuse for a bucket. ”

The man overheard this one day, when he was eating his meal.

So the next day, he carried the broken bucket outside to clean it, and the bucket said, “Why do you keep me? You know I don’t carry all the water home. Am I worth all the effort?”

Touching the holes in the bucket’s side, the man said, “Every day when I carry you to the river, I take the same path. Sometimes the heat is unbearable. But, do you ever notice the flowers growing on the side of the path? They bring me such joy. I’ve always known you had leaks and holes. I always carried you on my the right side. That way, I knew you watered the flowers. In spring, the shoots to grow. Eventually, I see the leaves, and then the petals unfold; I smell the perfume of their scent, and I see beetles climb into the leaves for shade. The other pot – he only brings me water, but you – you bring me joy.”

Maria and Therese today.

My hope for my daughter, as she struggles with the raw sadness of infertility, and as she hears the voices of those who make her feel broken, is that she is perfect… she is my joy. She is a flourishing part of our vast family garden. Love has surrounded her for years, and will only continue to enfold her.

“A Map to Us” – Stephanie McGregor

Today’s guest blog post is from Stephanie McGregor, a Canadian teacher and artist. Read her story and how she is using her art to help her deal with infertility.

blogpost6 My name is Stephanie McGregor. I’m an artist/teacher and have been struggling with infertility for two and a half years now. Until several months ago, my husband I kept quiet with our struggles, until I did a blog post called “The Monkey in the Room”. You can follow this link if you’d like to read it:

http://www.stephaniemcgregor.ca/blog-montauk/2016/1/3/the-year-of-2016

I knew that I wanted to start a project that I could turn to whenever I feel sad about not yet having a baby.

I bought a very large, blank canvas and hung it up in the room that I hope will one day be a nursery. It sat, white and untouched for a while, until an intriguing thought began to unfold.

I could make a map!

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A piece of Stephanie’s art work.

As  I started sketching out places that are important to me, a little story started forming and it speaks of all the places that our “lost” child can find us.

At first I began painting our little cedar bungalow and my childhood home (which is actually next door!) I added depth with colour of the trees and wildlife wandering across the canvas. Then, the memories started to come trickling in. Like the way my three sisters and I would run after my dad as he mowed the lawn and the pool parties we once had. My childhood dog still scouts around, a protective light glowing.  Our lost pink paddle boat chugs down the river, leading to the cottage where we spent every summer. The more I continue to work on this painting, the more saturated with memories my “map” will become.

As I’m painting, I also think of my mom and dad’s struggles. They tried for seven years to have children. Eventually, they had in vitro fertilization, which was successful and they had three five pound baby girls (including me). My younger sister came 15 months later, an unexpected, wonderful surprise!

A McGregor family portrait

A McGregor family portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot express how wonderful my childhood was and this is what I focus on as I’m painting. All I want is the chance to have a family of my own to create new memories with. I plead with my future child, saying that here there are:

Adventures unnamed

Creatures to befriend

Discoveries undiscovered

And possibilities to pretend….

 If only he/she could find us!

Some days I am feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I aimlessly wander over the canvas, dabbing paint with no direction. What am I doing this for?

I’m sure anyone going through infertility can relate to some of these feelings.

Other days I feel hot anger and will brush an orange red sunset across the canvas. What is wrong with me?

 A lot of times, as if in meditation, I spread translucent layers of blue to form soft waves. I can accept this path I’m on. Then again, once in a blue moon, I feel hideous green envy. Why her and not me? I allow myself to paint without worry of ruining this piece.

Other times, I focus my attention to one small part of the map and then revel in the feeling of creating something beautiful. This feeling anchors me.

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Other days, I simply sink to floor, my worries weighing heavy and crowding my mind. It sometimes strikes me that this room is supposed to be a nursery, but it is filled with only paintings. I am hit again by fact that besides a paintbrush, my arms are empty.  The fact that I so badly want to make new memories with a family of my own and I don’t know when that will happen.  It’s been two and half years and how much longer do I have to go? Why does it feel so lonely? Does anyone really understand how I feel?

I am also struck by how this journey has changed me. I find that I’ve put myself at a distance from friends and family. I’m afraid to dream too big or wish too much.  Instead of bounding carefree down the road, I step cautiously, looking out for rain. I wonder where this road is going.

But then I glance up and I see what I am in the process of creating. This map is part of my story, one that I can share with my future child.  It really is beautiful. At the end of my story, I wrote to my little lost one:

I can’t map out a life for you that:

Leads you always the scenic route

Away from sadness and pain

I can’t promise you won’t have to walk

Through the dark forest even for a little while

 The very least I can do

Is make this Map to Us

And hope, wait, and dream

That it finds its way to you.

 So I stand up and keep on painting my map. I don’t know exactly where my road to becoming a mom is going yet, but I still have a lot of hope.

I have a few suggestions for anyone who is looking for a project to work on. Why not think of something big that will take a while for you to work on? You can plan out your idea and then whenever you feel like you just need to take your mind off of what you are going through, you can do a small part and not have to think about it very much.

I wish you well on your journey!

To read more about Stephanie’s story and to see more of her artwork, visit her website at; www.stephaniemcgregor.ca

 

 

Let’s Remember Advocacy Day Is Just the Beginning

Empowering! Exhilarating! Amazing! Awe-Inspiring! 

Elizabeth and Maria at Advocacy Day's Welcome Reception located in the Russell Senate Building.

Elizabeth and Maria at Advocacy Day’s Welcome Reception located in the Russell Senate Building.

These are just a few words that can attempt to capture the overwhelming rush of energy you feel attending an Advocacy Day.

This year though was particularly invigorating given the day’s partnership with veterans and advocating for the VA to change their anti-family-building policies that provide no IVF care to veterans (click here to find out specifics of these policies). Taking on such an issue opened many doors, both on the right and the left, highlighting to staffers, legislative aides and the representatives themselves the injustice these VA policies have on family-building for military families.

At the opening reception, we were powerfully reminded by a military family the importance of advocating for sponsorship of these veterans bills. A military spouse remarked

“War has changed their family, it shouldn’t keep them from having one.”

Upon uttering these words, you could hear the gasps of emotion from the audience. Energy was filling our lungs.

And on Wednesday May 11th, we took that energy and got to work walking the hill as we wore our orange ribbons and #IVF4Vets buttons.Twitter blew up, Facebook pages blew up, even congressional reps and aids seemed a bit surprised.

Nearly 200 infertile advocates took over the hill on May 11th, changing the conversation.

Nearly 200 infertile advocates took over the hill on May 11th, changing the anticipated conversation.

But now, we are all back home. We have returned to our day-to-day, returned to hosting our support groups, returned to our own personal struggles with infertility. The question that we now need to focus on is no longer, how will I get my representatives to support better infertility coverage? We did that. We got their attention. We even made CNN.

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Jake Tapper of CNN covers our Advocacy Day and push to get #IVF4Vets.

The question is now, how can I continue to remind my representatives that #IFAdvocacy is not just a day – it is a movement for social change, a move towards family-building, a move towards reproductive social justice. How do we do this though? How do we bottle up all of that energizing spirit and tap into it on a consistent basis?

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Elizabeth, visiting Rep. Walhberg’s (R-MI) office for the third time to ask him to support #IFAdvocacy.

Think about it as a monthly bill that you have to pay (and doesn’t yet have automatic bill payment setup). Pick a date in your calandar. Perhaps it is the 11th since we met with our reps on the 11th. Give yourself a monthly alert on this date to connect once more with your represenatives. Send out an email, send a tweet. Take those business cards you received and email their aids. On Father’s Day, remind those our representatives of how hard this day can be for those looking to build their families. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, do the same. Be an advocate all year long. This takes work.

 

 

We know that it does. But if we want #IFAdvocacy and #IVF4Vets we need to hold ourselves and our representatives accountable. In the words of Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the hill is our house. Let’s be sure to demand to our representatives that infertility coverage is something we are putting in our house.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) speaking at the morning training session about her own personal story with infertility while serving in the military.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) speaking at the morning training session about her own personal story with infertility while serving in the military.

#startasking: How Infertility Prepared Me to Be a Mom – Camille’s Perspective

Camille Hawkins, MSW, LCSW is the Executive Director of Utah Infertility Resource Center. She reflects on her experience with infertility and shares 5 ways her infertility struggle taught her to be a great mom to her daughters. This post does contain images of babies and parenting. Thank you for sharing your insights, Camille!

I was recently part of a discussion in a “Pregnancy & Parenting after Infertility” Support group. The question was posed: Would you change the fact that you struggled with infertility?

How would life be different if I didn’t struggle with infertility? Even though this was the most difficult experience of my entire life, would I change it? It brought more heart ache, more tears, took more energy, and also more money than any other trial I’ve faced.

The consensus as each group member deeply reflected on this question was a resounding no. If you would have asked each of them in the heat of the struggle, the answer would have been different. But the common theme was that they had gained so much from their infertility journey, and there were still some very difficult parts about it, but they wouldn’t trade it.

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Camille pictured with her infant daughter.

My husband and I met at Utah State University in 2007. Once married, we waited a year to start trying to have a baby. We quickly learned it wouldn’t come easy. After 5 years of tracking monthly cycles, timed intercourse, surgery, fertility medications, injections, intra-uterine inseminations, in vitro fertilizations, a miscarriage, and being completely broken down emotionally, we became parents to two beautiful girls through the miracle of adoption. Becoming a mom was the best day of my entire life. I will never forget that feeling.

Even though my life is now consumed of changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking crying babies during the night, my infertility will always be a part of me. My diagnosis makes it so I will always be infertile. The wound of infertility may be healed in my heart, but the scar will always be there as a reminder of all I went through to get my girls. This journey has shaped my life more than anything else has. It helped me be the best mom I could be.

Here are 5 ways my infertility struggles taught me to be a great mom to my daughters.

  1. Peace – coming to accept my situation was difficult and took a lot of time and energy. I had to grieve every time I had a failed cycle, a failed treatment, grieve the death of my embryos, and the loss of my only pregnancy. I had to grieve having a biological child –the one I always dreamed of looking just like my darling husband. As a woman, I had to grieve not being able to experience pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, and the things I was raised to most closely associate with womanhood. Through this process, frustration and resentment for my imperfect body eventually turned to peace and acceptance. I learned that things aren’t going to be perfect in life, but I can still be okay. I will teach my daughters their bodies are unique and special, and don’t have to be perfect in order to be beautiful. I will help them find peace and acceptance with the situations they find themselves in so they can look for the happiness and joy that surrounds them.
  1. Balance – I grew up in a culture that taught my most important and divine role would be that of a mother. Everything should revolve around that role, even my education, my career choices, everything. When I realized I was unable to conform to that norm, I was forced to either sit around and do nothing while the time passed, or do something productive with my time. I decided to get a master’s degree in social work and begin a career in counseling. I worked at a nonprofit community mental health center helping children heal from trauma. I volunteered with an organization running kids grief groups. I fell in love with my husband over and over again, traveled the world, and I became a dog mom, enjoying the beautiful outdoors hiking with my two retrievers. Infertility tends to consume you completely, like a black hole. The lows were the lowest I could ever imagine. Learning to keep balance in my life was crucial to surviving the black hole of infertility, and I’m learning that balance as a mom is crucial to being the best mom I can be to my daughters. I would like my daughters to have balance in their lives too, and to know it’s okay to be lots of things, do to lots of things, and most importantly to take care of themselves.
  1. Patience – Infertility makes you wait…….and wait……..and wait some more. It makes you cry night after night, feeling hopeless and that all is lost. False hope is sometimes the only thing you have left. I learned that things don’t work out necessarily in the way I expect, but it’s possible for them to work out in some way. My mom told me I was a very impatient child. I wanted things NOW! Patience is something I was forced into learning through my infertility journey. Now as a mother, patience is my saving grace. Motherhood is not easy; I never said it was going to be. Having patience shoved down my throat during infertility has allowed me to see things in motherhood through a different lens. I can make it through my baby’s crying spell. I can make it through my daughter refusing to sleep throughout the night. I can make it through two babies crying at once……Infertility helped me learn the patience for these moments.
  1. Appreciation – When you yearn for a child, you yearn for the good and the bad. Being a mother isn’t easy, but I realize I appreciate all the moments so much more than I would have because I worked so hard to get there. My girls will grow up knowing how much they were wanted, how much they were sought for, and how special they are. I know I am so lucky, so blessed, and so fortunate to be “Mamma” to my sweet baby girls. I have so much gratitude for their birth families for entrusting us to raise these little girls.

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    Camille with her two girls and husband.

  1. Determination –I have met many women who struggle with infertility and I have found that these are some of the strongest women in the world. My husband and I experienced failure month after month, year after year, and still we pressed on. We did this because family is so important to us and we would not stop until we became parents. I learned I can do hard things, and my daughters will learn they can do hard things too. When I face failure and frustrations in motherhood, I remind myself of the obstacles I have overcome and rely on that strength to get me through hard times.

The journey of infertility is treacherous. No one deserves the pain that comes from an inability to get or remain pregnant when that is their deepest desire. The wound of infertility often runs deep. But there is hope. There is a lot we can learn. And we can have tremendous growth which can prepare us to be great parents when that glorious day finally comes.

 

 

 

#startasking How does infertility impact loved ones?

Infertility doesn’t just impact the patient but their entire family and social circle as well. Family relationships can be particularly difficult to navigate after an infertility diagnosis. I asked my mother, Judy Horn, to write a blog post reflecting on how it feels to have a loved one with infertility. She shares her thoughts below. Thanks, Mom, for sharing your story.

– Elizabeth

In the late 1980s, when my daughters were small, I watched a movie on television. The story line was of a family with four daughters. As the story unfolded three of the daughters were either pregnant or had children and it was apparent that the other daughter was struggling with infertility. It was a Lifetime movie, full of drama and at the conclusion had a typical happy ending. I can remember thinking of my girls and hoping that I never had to deal with that situation. For some reason, perhaps a vague premonition of events to come, I never forgot that movie. And so today, nearly thirty years later, I am sitting at my computer trying to find the adequate words to describe what it is like to have a loved one with infertility.

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A Polaroid of Judy with Elizabeth at her kindergarten registration in the early 1980s.

When my daughter Elizabeth finally told me about her struggle with infertility she was a couple of years into it. I can remember immediately thinking that this would be an easy fix. She was working with a doctor and I was pretty confident that they would find a solution and before I knew it she would be pregnant. At the time I had no idea how complicated it would become and how low the success rate is. I can remember waiting for months for information. Because of the nature of this disease and because Elizabeth was like most women dealing with infertility, we didn’t talk much about the process, so, I began searching the internet for any information I could on the subject of infertility.  When I would see or talk to her I would look for any indication that she was or was not pregnant and as the months passed the assurance I had felt before about the “easy fix” began to evaporate. I became frustrated and just wanted to do something, anything that would help, but there was nothing I could really do. At one point I began to feel guilty and wonder if in some way this was my fault, that I had done something during my pregnancy that resulted in Elizabeth’s infertility.

I often worry about saying the wrong thing, about saying something unintentionally that will be hurtful or inappropriate. There is a list of words and phrases not to say to someone dealing with infertility, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember and I know I’ve said things without thinking. When that happens, I feel so bad and I get angry with myself for not getting it right. Once the words are out, there is nothing that can take them back and never the right words to express my regret for speaking them.

I began to feel guilty and wonder if in some way this was my fault.

Eventually, three years ago Elizabeth did become pregnant. We were going away together on a weekend trip and when I stopped by to pick her up, for some reason I had a good feeling she was pregnant. She said nothing about it, but when I had to give her an injection that evening, I was even surer that I was right. The next day we went shopping and I sat while she tried on clothing and enjoyed the fashion show. The good feeling grew as I noted the number of shorts and skirts that had elastic or drawstring waists. Sadly, the good feeling would not last more than a few more hours. Elizabeth had gone for blood work that morning and received a call as we were shopping that her numbers were down and the two little ones that had implanted after IVF were no longer living. We drove back to the hotel in silence, Liz crying quietly and me struggling to concentrate on my driving as the tears blurred my vision. I spent that afternoon watching her sleep, feeling helpless and useless, knowing there was nothing to do but just be there and that seemed incredibly insignificant.

Elizabeth and Judy at Antiques Roadshow in Detroit, the day after learning of Elizabeth's miscarriage.

Elizabeth and Judy at Antiques Roadshow in Detroit, the day after learning of Elizabeth’s miscarriage.

Several months later Elizabeth had her last embryo transfer. It was unsuccessful. I have five living grandchildren that give so much happiness. I am thankful for them every day. However, I will forever be reminded of Elizabeth’s children and mourn their loss. There is a list that will never end of things that I will miss with them. I will never give them a bath or have the joy of watching them grow, run my fingers through their soft hair, tell them how much I love them or hear their sweet voices. I will always long to know what they would have looked like and I will never forget them.

There are many words I could use to describe the past five years. Just of few of them are disappointment, guilt, worry, regret, loss, love and balance. Balance because I have to balance my feelings about all of this and remember to appreciate the good things and not dwell too much on the sadness. I have much to be thankful for.

Last and most importantly, I love her so much and I am proud. I am so proud of Elizabeth and how she has taken a personal tragedy and made it into something that will help others cope with their own heartaches. In just two years ART of Infertility, an exhibit she created, has helped others tell their stories and deal with their own infertility journeys. It has grown into an organization that educates, raises awareness and provides a creative outlet and a community of support for those experiencing the effects of their own infertility disease. I will never know how many people she has touched with her work or the effect that it will have on them and the lives of others, but I am confident that this legacy she is creating will be long-lasting and a catalyst for positive change for many years to come.