I know I have touched upon infertility over the past year of writing, but many of my friends and acquaintances only know me now through my role as mom. For anyone, who has never experienced infertility, it is a unique journe, and a source of ongoing grief and trauma through one’s childbearing years. Even once a person has given up on the idea of every getting pregnant or giving birth, there are these monthly reminders of what could have been and isn’t. When I think about the things that have caused me to doubt God the most, it is infertility, and walking along side my son through trauma.

The background is that 10 years ago, my ex and I had been trying to conceive a baby for over a year and finally went through invasive and thorough testing to determine why it wasn’t happening for us. After all, we were young, seemingly healthy, happily married, so next logical step was to build a family together. Interestingly enough, the only indication that could be found for our inability to conceive was severe male-factor infertility, of unknown cause,with a very slim possibility of us ever being able to conceive without medical intervention. So, we began the physically painful and emotionally devastating year of IVF, and, 3 rounds later, finally gave up.

The problem, though, with being a 26-year-old married woman is that all your friends around you are starting families. So, while I was grieving the loss of my dream for motherhood, all my friends around me were popping kids out left and right. There was a period of time where I couldn’t go to baby showers, and even church could be triggering, as I was surrounded by pregnant bellies and babies. Meanwhile, I never gave up hope in a miracle for us and yet, every month I got a reminder of what wasn’t to be. It was only in the past few years that I have been able to celebrate the pregnancy of friends and family, with little challenge and true happiness for them.

I think a lot of people assume that when couples who cannot have children, adopt, that is the end of the grief over infertility. Fortunately, I approached adoption with eyes wide open, in that regards. I never expected my boys to fill the hole left by not being able to get pregnant. I adopted because I wanted to be a mom, but I knew I would still miss out on the experiences of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and cuddling an infant, and I accepted that. I also knew that my own experience gave me even greater capacity for walking with them in their own stories. Being their mom is one of the hardest jobs of my life, but also the greatest joys, but there is an inherent grief in adoption. Jody Lander’s summed up the conflict of being an adoptive mom the best:

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A lot of people reached out to me after my last post and I appreciate the concern. First off, what I want to say, is that often, when I write, it is in the moment. And there is a reason for that. First off, it is helpful for me to write when I am deep in the trenches with whatever is going on. Writing has allowed me to make coherent sense of my thoughts and feelings. Also, I think it is important for people to hear the feelings of people in the midst of the story. So often, things are written through the perspective of time and hindsight (as is some of my writing). For the most part, though, I write without the luxury of distance. For all those of us walking along side people through difficult stories, it is important to “hold space for the feelings” (said by a friend of mine) without trying to convince people that those feelings aren’t real or valid.

So, the reason for sharing all this, is that I am walking in a very difficult space right now and I am only touching on the edge of the story. This whole baby thing, reactivated a lot of my own trauma over my over infertility and brought some of those feelings from 10 years ago back to the surface. But now, I am having to process through them in the middle of trying to grieve through the end of my marriage and the upcoming anniversary of the day I found out my ex was cheating. Oh, and yes, I am still trying to be mom and walk alongside my sons as they try to process their own feelings and as we try to find our footing as a family of three. Don’t worry, we have a therapist to help!

People have expressed concern over my anger and bitterness with God. I have been walking a very hard journey for a decade and there have been glimpses of God’s grace and love, but I have spent many years feeling alone in my faith. I am not saying I am walking away, but lately I feel like my faith hurts. It hurts to see God bless other people while I am struggling. It hurts to hear people tell stories of God turning evil for good, when it isn’t my experience now. I will never understand why so many times God has answered my prayers by saying “no”. I know I have mentioned in the past, I love the show, Gilmore Girls. There is a scene in the end of season 6 that the words keep playing over in my head:

“So I am hanging on to the bumper and life goes on and the car goes on, and I get really badly bruised and I’m hitting potholes. And it hurts. It really hurts. So yesterday I had to let go of the bumper. Because it hurts too much.”

Some days, I just want to let go of the bumper because hoping that God will intervene, hurts too much. Yes, people can give me all the advice in the world, and all the anecdotal stories of people that have had God intervene greatly. But right now, right in this moment, I am badly bruised.

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Of Books, Dates, and Memories

Yesterday Bolt and I had a couple of hours to kill while someone was cleaning our house.  What to do with a quiet 13-year-old in sub-freezing temperatures on a holiday?  My initial thought was the library, until I realized it would be closed for the holiday.  He isn’t the type of kid who likes to sit and chat over a meal, so that option too was out.  A friend suggested we go hang out at Barnes and Noble, which he reluctantly agreed to do.  So, after getting a small breakfast sandwich we headed there.  At first, he didn’t seem to know what to do, but I helped guide him to the teen and comic sections while I went in search of travel books.  After browsing for a while, we sat down at a table and begin sorting through our chosen books.  Before we knew it two hours had flown by.  I let him pick a pair of comics to purchase and as we left the store he said, “I thought that would be boring, but it was actually kind of fun”.  He is a hard kid to please, but he also doesn’t ask for much, so this was a huge win for us to be able to spend a few comfortable hours in each other’s presence.  As we were leaving the store, I was struck by a wave of nostalgia.  Sitting for hours in Barnes and Noble pouring over books reminded me of the countless hours my ex and I spent doing the same thing when we were dating and early in our marriage.  My ex passed on his love for comics to both of our sons.  It was so strange to sit there with my son, doing something my ex and I used to do, while he is across the country creating a new life.  Oddly, though, the memory didn’t bring a wave a sadness or grief, but fondness.  I am not romanticizing anything, but this memory wasn’t entrenched in the lies of the past decade, but rather in the man I knew then…before…before infertility, before all the lies, before all the affairs.  It was a memory that I could dwell in without wondering what and who he was lying to me about.   Unfortunately, when the affair came to light, the affairs of the previous decade did as well, and for that reason, I really struggle with my memories with him.  However, there is the brief window of time – 4 or so years – that I can think about fondly.  So, as Bolt and I hopped in the car, I shared that memory with him too.  I want him to know that, while his dad hurt me deeply, I loved him and have some very pleasant memories and hopefully, one day, he will say the same.

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Misfit Island

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For most of my life, I have often felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a teenager, I felt like I was meant to live in a different time. I felt like I started to find myself towards the end of high school and in college, I developed an excellent group of friends who I felt “got me”.  Then, when I got married, I thought “this is it, I finally found someone who loves me, and all will be good”.  Then, came the infertility…as I watched other couples and friends start to build families, I again felt left out.  Suddenly, my friends were busy raising kids and even being around them was a painful reminder.  When we adopted the boys, I again thought “this is it”, but I quickly found that in a small community, many families already had their “groups”.  As Bolt began to really struggle, it felt further isolating.  Why couldn’t I have the American Dream?  We then picked up and moved across the country right when I was just starting to feel like I might have found a community.  As I have said before, the move was the right decision, but also reactivated that feeling of isolation.  Then, well, you know the rest.

Interestingly, in the past few months, I have really connected with the adoptive families group at church.  It was feeling so alone that really allowed me to step outside my comfort zone for new friendships.  However, with that, the feeling of not belonging has been emerged its ugly head again.  While I now feel like I found a group of women who understand what parenting a kid from a “hard place” looks like, I look around the room and still feel so very much like a misfit watching couples mingle with other couples.

The other challenge I find, that churches are designed around families.  You look around a service on a Sunday morning and are surrounded by families.  I stand there in worship and often find myself overwhelmed by how alone I feel.  I have one son who sits who his hands over his ears and both regularly excuse themselves for a bathroom run.  I worry that people are judging me for the behavior of my sons.  Part of me wants to shout from the rooftops, “I am doing the best I can”.  Then, as I joined the sparsely attended singles group I hear that the church has so many groups that it can’t “publicize” groups that don’t feed a majority…

All while these thoughts are going through my head, I can’t help wondering if these experiences are teaching me empathy for the lonely…the left out…the misfits.  I must take hold of the truth that we all have our own stories and those stories can either make us or break us. I don’t know the future, but I also believe that God can make beauty from ashes.

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Let me just start by saying, I am writing this from a really raw place.  Yesterday I received some news that set my healing process backwards and plunged me back into a state of confusion and anger and grief.  It is like the scab that was beginning to develop was ripped off, along with several layers of skin.  My two deepest sorrows – my ex-husband’s infidelity and our infertility have merged into this mess that feels like it may destroy me.

I have talked about how prior to adopting the boys, we (as in my ex and I) struggled through the lonely road of infertility and then several failed in-vitro fertilizations.  What I didn’t explain is that our infertility was what they call “male factor” meaning that I was seemingly healthy, but my ex was told that without scientific intervention the likelihood of him ever fathering a child was slim to none.  We spent about 9 months in the thick of IVF without success.  I subsequently gained 30 pounds as a result (something I have never been able to lose) and developed polycystic ovarian syndrome…a condition worsened by weight gain, but also makes it harder to lose weight.  So, for the past 10 years we have not used birth control in hopes that one-day God would grant us a miracle.  Bolt and Messi did not heal that hurt that the infertility caused, nor did I expect them too.  I had always wanted to adopt, but I had also wanted to experience pregnancy and a newborn sharing the traits of the man I loved and myself.  When my ex left, I closed the door on us ever becoming biological parents.

Yesterday morning I awoke to several messages from around the country asking how I was dealing with “the announcement”.  It was several hours before I would find out what this “announcement” was and yes, you guessed it, my ex and the woman he left me for are expecting a baby that was conceived while we were still married.  One son found out via Instagram (since my ex posted it before he had actually spoken to both boys) and the other found out from a phone call, but I had to find out from everyone else.

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So, if you ask me how I am doing, the answer is “not well at all”.  This has triggered so many things in my heart and soul.  It has reopened the barely healing wound of the affair and divorce.  It has opened the scar left by infertility.  More than that, the rejection I faced from my ex, I now feel from God.  They posted what a “blessing” this baby is and it feels like a rubber stamp on their affair and God’s way of saying that he blesses it.  I know God doesn’t, but how could he reward their infidelity with the most beautiful gift…a child?  Talk about kicking a person when they are down.

I am sitting here alone tonight while my kids are 3000 miles away on a vacation with their grandparents.  My ex not only didn’t have the balls to at least email me in compassion over our shared grief and story, but he let me find out through the web of social media.  He also told our sons when they were on vacation and when they weren’t with me to help them process and understand.  The boys claim to be excited, but in their voices, is an undercurrent of confusion.

I feel like I am living in some nightmare.  This isn’t my life.  This announcement was absolutely my worst nightmare.  I feel like the God who had taken me into his lifeboat to rest has thrown me overboard and now I am drowning.

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Who Am I?

He would get these far-off looks in his eyes and he would say ‘Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan’. I just wish I’d realized at the time, he was talking about MY life.” – Lucy, referencing a conversation with her father, in While You Were Sleeping

This has been a recurring theme in my life.  I am a planner and, yes, a little bit of a control freak.  I think God has a sense of humor about this character trait in me and has allowed my life to live in a perpetual state of detour.  The last time I remember anything go according to MY plan was when my then husband and I bought our first house in 2004.  You see, grew up a “typical” white, middle class, Christian girl.  I graduated from high school, went to a Christian university, met the man who would become my husband, got married just before my senior year, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, got my “dream job” as an ICU nurse right out of school, bought a house, and got a yellow lab.

A few years into our marriage is when my life on detour began.  For us, the next natural step was children, and we started trying, with the plan that 9 months or so later a baby would emerge at the beginning of the summer and we could spend that summer learning to be parents.  Instead, what transpired was one of the darkest periods of my life as not only did I not get pregnant, but a year later found out that our only option to conceive was through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which we did, hopefully, three times, without success.  It was a brutal two years and we emerged broken and hurting and angry with God.

In 2008, about 6 weeks after our last failed IVF, in a moment of clarity, we felt God lead us to international adoption.  I did the research and found an agency to work with and chose to adopt from Ethiopia.  Initially, the plan was for a “waiting” infant and toddler (waiting, as in a child already in an orphanage in need of a home).  Oddly, our agency had recently place a lot of children, and only had two children under the age of 5 (which is what we were approved for due to our age) available.  We looked at their profiles, talked to people who had met them, and soon accepted the referral of the two boys who would become our sons, then aged 3 and 4.  We foolishly believed the process would be smooth sailing and would have the boys home around Christmas.  By the following January, we still had no date in sight, so for my birthday in February, I made my first international trip, solo, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I spent a week getting to know my sons and it broke my heart to say goodbye, not knowing when they could come home.  It wouldn’t be until September of 2009, one year after we accepted the referral, that we would travel to Ethiopia to bring the boys home.

Many would think that bringing the boys home would be the beginning our “happy ever after”, but adoption is messy and hard.  We brought into our home two boys (nicknames used), then aged 4 (Messi) and 5 (Bolt), who spoke no English, and had spent years living in an orphanage.  The first few months were exhausting, but we were hopeful that with a lot of love, we would all settle quickly.  That didn’t happen and we began the journey of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD) with Bolt.  Years into therapy, I was sitting talking to his therapist as we both began to question that we might be dealing with something else as well, autism.  Sure enough, about 18 months after that conversation, Bolt was given the official diagnosis of autism.  We then spent the next year trying to find therapists and providers to work with him and hit road block after road block.  I remember asking his psychiatrist what he would do in our situation and he told us he would relocate to another state with better services for those on the spectrum.  I spent the next month doing research and talking to people who are experts in autism and was basically told some of the best states for services, most of which were on the East Coast.  A month later, we put our house on the market and travelled to Pennsylvania to interview for jobs.  We both accepted jobs on that trip and found a house to rent the school district we had already chosen.  We returned home, our house quickly sold, we packed up everything, and began the cross-country journey in January of 2015.

As far as the move went, it was absolutely the right decision for my sons.  Both have flourished in Pennsylvania.  The school autism support has made a night and day difference in Bolt’s coping skills and social skills.  For Messi, he has developed friends and found an awesome soccer club.  I, on the other hand, really struggled with the move and found my introvert tendencies fully blossom in an area where I knew no one.  My job as an emergency room nurse was no longer fulfilling and I found myself angry and withdrawn and almost paralyzed by fear in social situations.  By October of 2016, I realized that I needed to do something for myself and began seriously thinking and praying about going back to school.  In early December, I was accepted into a master of public health (MPH) program and found the fog I had experienced since the move begin to lift.  Little did I know that while I was busy finding myself again, my husband was finding himself…with another woman.

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