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.

Five Tips for Holiday Self Care

Embarking on the next couple of weeks of holiday celebrations, we offer you five tips that we find ourselves practicing as a method of surviving the celebration of a miraculous conception while dealing with infertility.

#5 Send a holiday card. Really! Tired of getting pictures of new babies and growing families in the mail? Send your own card! Remind others that you are a family! Maria does this frequently sending cards featuring herself, husband, and two puppies. For her, this is a form of infertility advocacy.christmasphoto_2016

#4 Treat Yo Self! Take time out and pamper yourself. Get a massage. Get your nails done. Make yourself feel good!

#3 Talk with your partner and ask, “What are we going to do to make the holiday special for us?” Maria recommends this especially as much of the holidays revolve around the excitement of nieces and nephews waiting for Santa to come. Maria tries to go out for a Christmas Eve brunch with her husband to block out a set time for just the two of them.

#2 Remember it’s okay to just say “no”. Not everything is going to be something that you are going to want to attend. Just like baby a baby shower, remember you don’t need to attend every holiday party or every family event. Sometimes you just need to say no. And that’s okay! Elizabeth said no to her extended family Christmas party this year and spent time with child free friends instead.

The lone decoration at Elizabeth’s house, which wasn’t put out until 3 days before Christmas.

#1 Try to step back and enjoy the simple things. To say infertility is complicated is an understatement. Balancing infertility with the holidays can sometimes increase anxieties. We suggest taking a night and escaping. Make a fire, turn on some holiday tree lights (or don’t if you’re on a decorating strike like Elizabeth), cozy-up with a cup of tea, blanket, and a good book to escape. Sometimes taking a moment to remove yourself from it all allows you to better process and handle the ups and downs that will no doubt come with your infertility diagnosis.

We hope some of the suggestions we have implemented over the years will help you navigate the holidays and new year. Most of all, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Wishing you peace this holiday season,

Elizabeth and Maria

Holiday Survival Cheat Sheet

Dealing with the holidays while dealing with infertility can be brutal.

Just a few examples…

  • Seeing jewelry commercials celebrating new moms who gather by trees for their newborns’ first Christmases.
  • Hearing songs on the radio highlighting tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.
  • Family holiday gatherings that make it impossible to ignore that everyone else’s families are growing but yours.
  • Siblings who gift calendars full of adorable photos of your nieces and nephews to your parents while you look on, childless yet another year.

So, we at The ART of Infertility are again sharing this list of tips for surviving the holidays that I compiled several years ago. 

Some of the ideas are mine, some are of those of people I’ve met along the way, some are from online blogs, or resources like RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. I wish now that I had kept track of where I’d found them so I could give credit where credit is due. However, it’s been too helpful to me, and those in my infertility support groups, over the years to keep it to ourselves. So, we’re sharing it with all of you today.

Keep it bookmarked, save it to your computer’s desktop or your phone’s home screen. Or, new this year, follow this link to download a PDF that you can post somewhere you’ll be sure to see it regularly. Heck, maybe a friend, family member, or co-worker will see it and get some more insight about what may be difficult for you this time of year and then be more mindful of their holiday interactions with you :).

I chose number 3 today and baked my first loaf of Paleo bread. I haven’t decided what to do about number 59 yet, but I’m looking forward to fulfilling number 62, with quality time with my nieces and nephews when we take a family vacation to Tampa next month.

Hang in There!
– Elizabeth

Tips for Surviving the Holidays

  1. Treat yourself.
  2. On a good day, make a list of things you’re grateful for and read it when you’re feeling down.
  3. Give yourself an enjoyable challenge.

    After nearly 9 months eating a Paleo diet, I made my first loaf of Paleo bread.

    After nearly 9 months eating a Paleo diet, I made my first loaf of Paleo bread.

  4. Shop Therapy!
  5. Enjoy one on one time with your partner.
  6. Take good care of yourself.
  7. Tell parents and other family members how you are feeling using “I” statements.
  8. Limit time spent with family if you find it too stressful.
  9. Change the way you celebrate.
  10. Create new traditions.
  11. Volunteer.
  12. Plan at least one day during the holiday that you are really looking forward to.
  13. Make a date to see your siblings and/or parents away from children so you can really catch up.
  14. If you think you may act badly under stress, decide ahead of time how to behave.
  15. Be sure to incorporate the usual events that are meaningful and joyful for you into your plans. Don’t let infertility rob you of your joys.
  16. Don’t go to holiday events.
  17. If you do go to holiday events, have an escape plan.
  18. Instead of attending an entire event, go to only the portion of the event that you find enjoyable or tolerable.
  19. Don’t feel like you have to hold babies.
  20. Alternatively, hold every baby available to get your “fix.”
  21. Be prepared for the “When are you having kids?” question.
  22. Decide ahead of time whether or not to tell your family about your infertility.
  23. Don’t be afraid to cut off uncomfortable conversations.
  24. Be ready to cope with pregnancy announcements.
  25. Be forgiving of yourself.
  26. Hide in the bathroom for a few minutes (or more) when necessary.
  27. Put yourself first.
  28. Be interesting! Adjust the focus from your inability to have a baby to something positive about you.
  29. Shop online instead of in the stores to control what you see and when.
  30. Ban the baby department if you must go into stores.
  31. Create mantras.
  32. Cry.
  33. Focus on the lighter side of infertility by joking with your partner or friends who understand.
  34. Don’t open holiday cards. It’s okay to throw them away or put them aside to open on a good day.
  35. Get exercise.
  36. Avoid television to avoid the holiday commercials.
  37. Party with adults only!
  38. Rely on your support person/people.
  39. Have an emergency to-do list of enjoyable activities. Write it when you’re having a good day and then pick an item from the list when you’re having a bad one.
  40. Take a break from Facebook.
  41. Be honest with others about your feelings.
  42. Dress up!
  43. Think positive! Let yourself dream about future holidays as a parent.
  44. Remember the reason for the season, whatever it is to you.
  45. Plan a January “get away” or other reward.
  46. Ask for/tell others what you need from them.
  47. If it’s too hard to shop for baby and kid items, buy a gift card instead.
  48. Try to avoid sitting next to new/expectant moms at dinner.
  49. Slow down.
  50. Start each day with intention.
  51. Do what you need to do for yourself without an apology.
  52. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence. You don’t need an excuse.
  53. Do what’s right for you.
  54. Find a way to honor your lost baby or babies.
  55. Schedule time to grieve.
  56. Don’t expect to live up to others expectations.
  57. Practice empathy.
  58. Make your own holiday cards and avoid the card aisle.
  59. Decorate for the holidays or don’t. Either way, do what feels right to you.

    Maria and Kevin's tree one Christmas.

    Maria and Kevin’s tree one Christmas.

  60. Write an uplifting note to yourself on a good day. Keep it in your purse or a pocket to read when you are feeling down.
  61. Journal your feelings.
  62. Create memories with a special child in your life.
  63. Write down your favorite childhood memories.
  64. Avoid talking about Infertility at holiday parties. If someone brings it up, say you’d rather enjoy the holidays instead.
  65. Watch a holiday classic.
  66. Make a list of resolutions, sticking to things you can control.
  67. Give yourself an infertility break by not trying to get pregnant over the holidays.
  68. Educate others by being ready with infertility statistics when the topic comes up.
  69. Find a creative outlet like coloring, painting, or another kind of crafting.
  70. Remember that it won’t feel like this forever.

Taking a Time Out to Grieve During the Holidays – Perspectives from Elizabeth

Thanksgiving, 2009 was the last holiday before my world came crashing down. The illness and death of my sister-in-law, the relocation of three of my nieces who my husband and I had been caring for in my home, our infertility diagnosis.

I’ve been weepy the past few days. Okay, more than weepy. I’ve indulged in an ugly cry a few times. There isn’t anything current that is contributing to this. It’s like my body remembers that we’re entering the season of traumas past and is working through emotions that are rarely as close to the surface as they once were, but must need some attention.

In the months following that holiday season that everything went wrong, it wasn’t hard to grieve. It was something I did constantly, both intentionally and unintentionally. I had a play list of songs, that I’d deemed “sad” that I listened to every day on my commute to and from work. I attended therapy sessions and grief support group meetings, I told everyone who’d listen what I’d been through. I journaled. However, as time has passed, and I’ve adjusted to life without my sister-in-law, without the girls, WITH infertility, I don’t often take time out to acknowledge what I’ve been through and grieve it. Years of unsuccessful infertility treatments, the miscarriage of my twins, the strain that infertility has put on my relationships.

That last Thanksgiving, I saved the wish bone from the turkey and put it in a dish on the shelf above the sink in my kitchen. It’s been there since. There have been a few times I’ve reached inside to make sure it was still there. Traced my finger along its curves. I’ve even taken it out a time or two. It was only recently that my husband knew it was there and that I started thinking that it’s time for the wish bone to move on.

thanksgiving-art

So, I spent some time, intentionally grieving the primary and secondary losses of infertility while creating this piece. Doing so was painful, messy. I had to face emotions that aren’t pleasant and sit with them for a while. It’s a remembrance of the lives that were, a prayer for wishes long desired to come to fruition, and an acknowledgement of not just the fragility of it all, but the strength that we find in community.

While there are many things about this season that are difficult, I’m thankful for those I have in my corner, both at home and around the world, because of this infertility journey I’ve been on. I send you wishes for peace as you enter this difficult season.

Embarking on the Holidays: A Thanksgiving Reflection from Maria

This week marks the beginning of the 2016 holiday season. For many of us, this means time spent with family. Memories are often made over the sharing of a meal and laughter at the table. But this time is also a reminder of how another year has passed without a family of your own. Here, at The ART of Infertility, we wanted to take this week and reflect on the joys and pains that Thanksgiving brings. Today, we share some thoughts from Maria. Tomorrow, Elizabeth will offer her insights. And on Thursday, we offer some tips on how to survive the holidays while dealing with infertility and grieving loss. We hope that in sharing our stories you feel less alone this holiday season. 

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago.

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago.

Infertility and the holidays are simply the worst. I wish that I had another phrase or expression to really represent the anxiety, frustration and sadness that comes with the holiday season when you are infertile. But, I don’t. All I can say is that infertility and the holidays are the worst.  On a daily basis you are reminded – consciously and subconsciously that you are infertile. From the family Christmas cards arriving in your mail, to nativity scenes displayed around town celebrating immaculate conception, to even the holiday weight gain in which you may look like you are early in your pregnancy but really had a bit too many cookies and holiday punch. Infertility and the holidays are the worst.

And so, when the week of Thanksgiving begins, so do the daily reminders of infertility. On top of that, with Thanksgiving, there is extra pressure to give thanks.

Give thanks?!?! For what?! My body that refuses to become pregnant? The thousands of personal and professional decisions I have had to make because of my infertility? The baby that I still do not have? The reality that I may never be a mother, that my husband may never be a dad?

The list of questions could go on. But you all know – when you sit around the table and are going on year 2, 3, 4 even 6 or 7 of your infertility – it becomes harder and harder to find something you are genuinely thankful for.

Kevin and I got our dog, Gia, over Thanksgiving one year.

Kevin and I got our dog, Gia, over Thanksgiving one year.

Talking to Elizabeth recently about the reality that giving thanks is hard when you are infertile, I came to the realization that I do have a few things that I am thankful for. I am thankful that I am still married to my husband. Infertility has been hard on us as a couple. It has forced us to talk about a lot of things couples/partners who are fertile do not need to talk nor even think about.

And I am thankful that despite all of the challenges we have faced, that we decided we still wanted to be together. I am also thankful that I no longer feel that deep despair that I felt when initially diagnosed. You know, that feeling like you will always be crying, always be angry, never be able to smile at a young baby. I felt that way for a long, long time. And today, I am thankful that I allowed myself to feel those feelings and slowly get used to figuring out what it means to be infertile. Today, while it is still not easy to see a mom with her newborn or get a baby shower invitation in the mail, I am no longer angry or upset to the point where I feel like I can’t go on. I can. I have all of you – my fellow infertile warriors. And for that, I am thankful to know that I am not alone.

-Maria

Infertile for the Holidays

Need a Holiday Survival Guide? Our guest blogger, Angela Bergmann, has one for you! Maria and I first met Angela at Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. this year. Thanks, Angela, for sharing your tips for dealing with Infertility during the holidays!

Elizabeth

dreams

Infertile for the Holidays

The holidays are trying at the best of times. Add in being infertile, and the holidays can be a true test of will. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be!  Well, at the very least, we can take steps to make it through in one piece.

This Christmas marks the ninth year since I started trying to conceive that there won’t be a baby in my Christmas photos. Last year, for the first time ever, I had some small hope as I completed my first IVF retrieval and subsequent transfers around Thanksgiving and Christmas. After those failed, I was so sure I would cycle again and be pregnant before this holiday season. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Knowing how hard the past several holidays have been for me, and feeling like this one may be the worst yet, I tried to proactively prepare myself for this holiday season. I found a counselor that works for me, and I have actively tried to practice self-care. I also put together a “Holiday Survival Guide” for my RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association peer-led support group.  Knowing how hard the holidays can be, I wanted to share some of the tips from that guide- lessons I’ve learned over the years that can help ease the pain of being infertile for the holidays:

  1. Practice self-care. Having a tough time? Stressed out? Treat yourself to a manicure, or a couple hours snuggled on the couch with a blanket and Netflix or a book. Whatever it is that makes you feel good, do it.
  2. Ask for help. A lot of the time people don’t realize we’re suffering because our disease isn’t visible. Communicate with those around you so that they know what you need (My husband says he would like to see this tip bolded and underlined).
  3. Say no. Remember, it’s okay to say no to things. The only way we can protect ourselves is by being our own advocate.
  4. Have an exit strategy. If you want or need to go to something, have an exit strategy. Conversation getting hard for you? Have a password to let your spouse know you need some air or that you want to go home. It’s also a good idea to have a way to tell them if you’re having a good time!
  5. Grieve. What we’re dealing with is sad, and is a grieving process. Those around us may not recognize that. Allow yourself the space to grieve what you are going through. If you’re comfortable, explain it to those around you.

It can be difficult, but try to remember that our family and friends aren’t trying stress us out… They just don’t understand what we are going through, and often just want to be helpful. They don’t realize that what they are saying is not helpful to us, as we are suffering from a disease.

The majority of the time they have our best interest at heart. If you are open in your struggle, educate them on the best ways to help you. Remind them that you are suffering from a disease, and that it’s a process. If that doesn’t work, excuse yourself and don’t feel bad for doing so. As someone once said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  You have to take care of your own well-being if you hope to have any good cheer to spread!

 

 

Ornament Kits Available – Starting New Traditions

The holiday season is upon us. Raise your hand if you’re less than thrilled. Growing up, my parents had all kinds of holiday traditions that I figured I’d carry on one day with my own child. My mother read us a Christmas themed book every day until Christmas and we received small gifts that were tucked into the pockets of the advent calendar. There was the large family Christmas party on my mom’s side with a slew of cousins of all ages on the Saturday before Christmas and Christmas Eve dinner at my paternal grandparents’ house with silver taper candles on the table, mistletoe, and a fire burning in the fireplace. We received new pajamas to wear to bed on Christmas Eve and my dad had a special style of handwriting that he painstakingly squeezed onto the tags of the gifts from Santa.

Every year, I look at the advent calendars in the stores, consider buying one, and then decide to wait until I have a child in the house to purchase one. A few years ago, I had a melt down in the Christmas aisle in Kohl’s as a result. I have a large collection of ornaments that I usually can’t wait to get out of storage and unwrap. I love them because they’re all like tiny pieces of art. However, the past couple of years, I’ve downsized, getting a small table top tree and only displaying a small amount of them, or just doing a garland on the fireplace and no tree at all. I just don’t feel like I have the energy to deal with it all. Infertility has drained so much of it from me.

So, in an effort to start some new traditions of my own, a child in the house or not, I decided to do a limited edition, commemorative ornament making kit for ART of IF. My hope is that we’ll have a different kit each year and it will be an opportunity for me, and those of you who would also like to participate, to set aside some time and space for creative expression around the holidays and have an outlet for some of the less than comfortable feelings that come along with them.


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The kits come with everything you need to make the ornament. In this case, the shatterproof plastic bulb (safe for fur babies and human babies alike), strips of paper, ribbon, a metallic silver pen, step by step photo instructions, and a list of ideas for what you might like to write on the strips before curling them up and tucking them inside. They’re available in our ART of IF colors in either shades of blue, or shades of red and are $10 each plus shipping and handling. We have 50 kits available and you can buy them until they are gone. However, if you’d like them in time for Christmas, please submit your order by December 10. You can fill out the order form here. The money that we make will go back into the project and used toward our mission of raising awareness about infertility and providing creative outlets to those dealing with the disease.

Hang in there! Together, we’ll make it through.

Elizabeth