New Year

The very first lettering I posted on my musings blog last year was this one:

I lettered it on January 5, 2016.

It was actually the quote that inspired me to start practicing my lettering. I had found the quote in the late fall of 2015, and I could see the door opening with hope shining through. After some thought I decided that perhaps it would be a good start to practice hand lettering, so in early January last year I sat down with pen and paper and illustrated and lettered the quote.

It came out just how I’d imagined it and I was so pleased to have been able to capture on paper what my mind’s eye had seen… I also thought it was the perfect sentiment to start out the new year. The quote really, really resonated with me… I believed that after what had happened in 2014 and 2015, the new year of 2016 *had* to be a happier year. It had to be.

But it wasn’t. 2016 was pretty miserable for me.

I think about that quote now and how much I believed it a year ago, and I kind of feel like a fool. Looking at this illustration that I once loved actually makes me cringe now. It’s sad. But really, just because I’m hoping life will be better doesn’t mean it will be. Turns out that when you think things can’t possibly get worse, sometimes they do…

And I know things can always get even worse, but I’m not trying to get philosophical or competitive. The facts are that 2016 sucked for us. It doesn’t matter to me what else could have gone wrong too, because in the end, it was not a great year for us. It was full of loss, grief, disappointment, bad news, and tears. Full of procedures, needles, and waiting, waiting, waiting. Last year was full of writing and reading about infertility, and trying (and often failing) to communicate to my loved ones about the extent of my heartache.

And on top of my personal struggles, I feel like our world in general had a bad year. I feel like our nation is crumbling… it feels divided and full of hate. I fear for our future. And the international community is struggling too, with wars and terrorism, refugees and immigration… Every time I turned around in 2016, I felt like there was another horrible thing happening somewhere, either in the US or abroad. 2016 was a tough year for us and, I think, for the world at large too.

And yet, despite all of our loss and heartache, our disappointments and fears, I have a full journal with an entry every day since February 10th of things that I am thankful for.

Life is funny like that sometimes… It may have been a really bad year for us, but because of my gratitude journaling, it’s also probably the year I’m most aware of the things for which I’m grateful. Practicing gratitude certainly doesn’t negate or remove the bad things; it doesn’t fix anything that’s going wrong; it doesn’t fulfill wishes and dreams… but it does remind me that not everything is horrible; it has helped me to be more aware of things that are good in my life; it has helped me to find some balance in this miserable time.

So while I do hope that 2017 will be better, I’m not necessarily counting on it. 2016 reminded me that sometimes things don’t get better. I have no idea what’s going to happen this year… and I’m trying to be realistic. At this point, we’re still trekking through a lot of misery, and we can’t see the way out yet — we don’t know where we’re going.

What I can count on in 2017 is knowing that we have the ability to survive our grief, and the ability to continue finding and creating peace and joy. As we move into this new year we will hang on to a bit of hope that things will in fact get better; we will to continue to look for the light; and we will continue to pay attention to the bits of joy and peace that are present in our lives. In this new year, in whatever comes our way, we will continue to look for the good.

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I started scrapbooking when I was in high school. My mom has scrapbooked for years, and ever since I started my own albums, it’s something we love to do together. We like to go shopping and find fun stickers and paper that will coordinate with photos and mementos. When possible we like to work on our pages together too — but this is a rare treat now since I live across the country. Now we like to sit together with tea and look through each other’s albums that we’ve worked on since our last visit. We look at the pictures, read journal entries and letters, and share memories.

But, like so many other things, infertility and loss have affected my relationship with my scrapbooks, and I have really struggled with scrapbooking since my pregnancy ended. And I think the reasons for this are complicated and tough. It’s been hard to admit to myself the reasons for my disconnect with scrapbooking…

To start, like with my lettering practice and other creative endeavors, I no longer feel inspired. On days when I feel like I might want to scrapbook, I go sit at my desk and look at my pictures and papers, and I have no inspiration, no vision of a completed page, no desire to arrange them nicely and write down thoughts or notes. I look at the completed pages and sometimes it feels like someone else must have completed those ones because I can’t imagine having the inspiration to put that all together. In the last six months, I have scrapbooked only two single-sided pages. My materials have sat out for months with no forward movement.

But it goes so much deeper than *just* a lack of inspiration.

When I look at older pictures, I see myself before infertility, innocent and happy, with no idea of what’s in store for my future with infertility. I’m reminded of the dreams and expectations my former self held close, and then I think of my present state, heartbroken and disappointed… In those moments I struggle with acceptance of what’s happened. (“This wasn’t how it was *supposed* to be!”) I feel like I look different now too, and I struggle with acceptance of those changes — whether they are physical or psychological. Sometimes it’s hard to even look at pictures of myself because it reminds me of all of the innocence, hopes, and dreams that I’ve lost since the photo was taken.

And to be quite honest, I’ve really struggled with the thought that if I do not have children, who even cares if I’ve preserved our memories in scrapbooks? Who cares about our photos, our travel journals and mementos, or our progress on house projects and landscaping? Who cares about the silly things our cats do or the presents Matt received on his birthday? What does any of it matter?

I admitted this to Matt recently and I think he was pretty horrified… But seriously, my mind goes there and I think it’s important that I’m honest with myself about it. Because scrapbooking is (or was…) a favorite hobby of mine and if I’m going to be able to continue doing it, I need to make peace with the things holding me back. Inspiration is one thing — I’m ok with waiting for inspiration and exploring other ways to be creative in the meantime. However, accepting my situation and facing my concerns about preserving memories without children to pass them to definitely need to be addressed if I want to continue scrapbooking.

Accepting this disappointment and the gap between what I *thought* family building would be like for us, and what it is *actually* like is a constant practice, a work in progress. I’m working on accepting what’s happened and what continues to happen. I’m working on accepting this new me, scarred — both physically and emotionally — by my experience. But acceptance is a lot harder than it might seem. In time I hope that when I look at old pictures, it won’t hurt so much, but right now it does. So in the meantime, I’m trying to be patient while I give myself space for acceptance.

When I asked Matt, “Who even cares if I scrapbook if we don’t have children?” after the initial shock subsided, he responded that *we* care if our memories are recorded; that we like having our photos printed and journaled; that it’s for us. And I suppose he’s right…

After all, I didn’t start scrapbooking as a highschooler years ago with the intent of passing them down to my children — I scrapbooked for me. Because I liked it. Because it was fun. Because I enjoyed revisiting my photos, writing down reflections, and sharing the finished product with friends and family. We like having our finished albums on the shelf, ready to look over together. Not everyday, but sometimes. And I’ve enjoyed showing albums to friends and family who are featured in them, or to someone who is soon to be visiting a place we’ve traveled to previously.

But at the same time, there was always a part of me that was excited and proud to have our photo albums ready to share with future generations… and not knowing if I will have children to pass our memories to is hard for me. So I’m working on letting go of that and reclaiming scrapbooking for myself. Like accepting my situation, letting go of the desire to preserve our memories for children is a work in progress. I’m trying to be patient and give myself space to feel these things and let them go; to acknowledge that this is holding me back; to accept that whether or not we have kids doesn’t matter for my photo preservation — if I like scrapbooking I should do it for me.

However, it’s easy for me to sit here and type out the list of what I need to do. Knowing that I need to accept these things is different from actually doing them. But I’m working on it.

One of these days I’ll get back upstairs and I’ll finish scrapbooking that trip I’m working on. I’ll tackle the next year, and revisit all of the things we did that year and memorialize the loved ones we lost. I’ll work through our photos and record memories so that Matt and I can revisit them when we want. I’ll finish pages so that my mom and I can drink tea and look through my albums. I’ll work on my scrapbooks because it’s something that used to bring me joy, and I believe it still can — when I’m ready.

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At the beginning of this year I decided that I would work on my hand lettering skills… I intended to pick a theme for each month, then letter and illustrate quotes in that theme, and post them on my other blog. For five months I stayed the course and I lettered some really nice quotes — quotes about new beginnings, love and friendship, life, home, and gardens. I drew pictures of flowers, bikes, and houses, and found new ways to design letters.

After my ectopic pregnancy, however, my lettering pretty much stopped. I have managed to letter a few here and there, but overall I’ve done very little practice since the beginning of June. I still have a large collection of quotes on a spreadsheet and I occasionally sit down with my materials and attempt to design something… but I don’t feel inspired like I used to. The ideas don’t come to me like they used to. I’ve abandoned a variety of attempts and not had the energy to start others.

I really wanted to letter something for Thanksgiving. Something on gratitude. I stared for days at gratitude quotes. Only one whispered any kind of an idea to me, and when I put pen to paper I failed to capture it. I closed my notebook and put my pens away. They’ll keep until I’m ready to letter again.

Another creative endeavor that’s currently on hold for me is scrapbooking… I usually love to scrapbook. But since my pregnancy it’s been really hard for me to even consider working on my scrapbooks. At this time I have so many complicated feelings about scrapbooking that I’m working on a blog post about it. Stay tuned.

Additionally, I’m no longer interested in playing my piano. I used to practice nearly every day, and now… I can’t even remember the last time I touched the keys. I actually had the piano tuned two weeks ago for the first time in over a year in hopes that I might get inspired soon and start playing again, but so far I haven’t played a single note.

Infertility, loss, and their close companion depression have seemingly killed my creativity.  And I hate it. I’ve tried so hard to not let infertility ruin everything, but it is sneaky and has managed to impact all kinds of things in my life — including limiting my ability to be creative in the ways I’m used to. I’m no longer inspired to create music or art or scrapbooks. I used to love these things and now the thought of doing them brings me no joy.

So what does a depressed, infertile, hurting girl do when her normal creative outlets aren’t inspiring, interesting, or enjoyable?

Well. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far for myself:

Let it be.

I don’t force it. I see no point in making myself work on a creative project if I’m not interested or inspired. Sometimes when I wish I were inspired, I go sit with my materials and see what happens. If inspiration strikes, I run with it (see my second to last point) and if not, I get up and do something else. I’m not happy that I haven’t scrapbooked more than two pages over the last six months, for example, but I’m not going to beat myself up about my lack of progress. It is what it is. I let it be.

Find other outlets for creativity.

At times it has been useful for me to find different ways to explore creativity. I don’t always have to be doing the same activities as I would normally do… infertility and loss are extreme experiences, so I think it’s ok if I change up other things in my life too. When I need a creative outlet and my “go-to” activities aren’t working, I look to what else I have enjoyed in the past or don’t do very often, or I try new activities.

Sometimes I color. I have a variety of coloring books — all gifts from loved ones — and sometimes coloring is just the thing I need for a calming, creative activity.  

Sometimes I crochet. This requires thinking of something to make, but when I’m inspired for a project, I’ve found that crocheting can be very soothing and enjoyable.

Sometimes I dabble in painting. I have taken a few painting classes with friends since June… you know — the kind where you sip on your wine and the instructor tells you which color to use next and where? Turns out those are pretty fun! In addition to canvas painting, I also painted some pottery this summer, and I love the mug I designed.

And sometimes I do something completely different: earlier this year I was inspired to create new playlists. I made playlist after playlist with different themes. My favorite one is a list that I named “this too shall pass”. It’s full of songs about getting through hard times and being ok. We also have a fun “wake up music” list with songs about the morning and waking up. There’s one called “pretty sweet” with songs about sugar, sweetness, and honey. We have lists called “dreamy” and “sky songs” and many more… Sorting through our music and creating new playlists was such a great project for me, and it’s been useful too — the lists have received lots of playtime on our stereo and iPods.

Find other activities to do.

Other times, I do something else entirely… Just because I’m normally pretty creative doesn’t mean I need to be creative all the time. Sometimes I need to do something else. Read. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Play a game. Sometimes my mind just needs a break or a change of scene or focus.

Run with it when inspiration strikes.

When inspiration does strike, I go with it. I try to take advantage of any and all inspiration when it presents itself. I’ve always kind of been like that, so I’ve had a lot of practice running with inspiration. I do feel like inspiration strikes less and less these days, but when it does hit, I switch gears as soon as I can and get working.

Give myself space.

When I look back over my time with infertility I sometimes feel guilty for having accomplished what feels like so little. My former self would have been working on this project and that project, and being useful and productive. But sitting with the grief of infertility and loss is hard, hard work. It’s demanding and exhausting. Sometimes I feel so depleted from dealing with everything in my reality that there’s just no room for anything else, and I have give myself time and space to heal. And by giving myself that space, I also think that I’m keeping myself open for inspiration to present itself, and that I’m open to my creativity even if it’s different from what I’m used to. I hope that in time, once I’ve had space to heal, some of my former creative endeavors will be enjoyable and meaningful again. And until then, we’ll see what else comes up.

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Coping This Christmas

christmas2016Well. It’s officially that time of year — the “most wonderful” time of year. Christmas.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I’ve always loved it. It is such a special time for families — being together, sharing meals and gifts. Baking cookies. Watching Christmas movies. Making snowmen. Driving around looking at lights. Going to the candlelight Christmas Eve service and singing carols. Drinking hot chocolate and playing games. It’s such a happy time of year.

At least for most people.

Not for me this year. Or last year. Or the year before. Christmas has become a sad time for us because it emphasizes family and traditions, and it marks another year gone without having children. Matt and I want so badly to have our own family to share traditions with, to make new memories with, and instead of being a joyous time, Christmas reminds us of what we are missing. Our hearts have been ready for children for years now, but instead of growing our family, our heartbreak grows. With each passing year of involuntary childlessness, the holiday season becomes more difficult.

The past two years I tried hard to stay joyful at Christmas, despite heartache. In 2014 and 2015 my family suffered some significant losses, and those in combination with our infertility made my holidays hard. But I pulled myself together and did my best to celebrate. I decorated my house, sent cards, and made cookies. We hosted parties, and visited with friends and family. I did my best to be happy, even though I was feeling more and more broken as the days passed.

Now for a third year I am still struggling with infertility. I have no baby to introduce to my family and no happy announcement to share. Instead, I have a pregnancy loss added to my list of losses, and I have the hard job of accepting that again my life is not where I’d hoped it would be a year ago.

I think back to a conversation I had in early June with my mom about how I’d be close enough to my due date by Christmas that I shouldn’t be traveling… But as it turns out I’m not lucky enough to still be pregnant, and we’re not staying here for the holidays. Instead of welcoming a baby into our home soon, we’re preparing for IVF. This month we’re having procedures done, having blood drawn and genetics tested, and waiting for financial estimates. And in the meantime, I’ve been searching for the right ornament to add to my collection to memorialize our lost baby. No surprise, there’s no good ornament for “lost baby 2016”.

So I’m having a hard time with Christmas this year, and I’ve decided that to make it more bearable, I’m going to make some changes. To start, I’m not going to pretend this year. Because things aren’t great right now for me. I’m not happy and there’s no point pretending otherwise. I’m distraught at what 2016 brought us and I’m so disappointed to be facing yet another holiday season feeling broken and lost. So instead of going through the motions of things we usually do and pretending that things are ok, I’m going to focus on what brings us joy. I’m trying to leave myself open to whatever strikes me as fun or meaningful. I’m not interested in doing things that we feel like we should do just because we’ve always done them or because someone expects it. I want to do what I can to find some happiness for us. For example, Matt and I have planned dates for the month to make sure that at least twice a week we’re doing something fun together. In addition to those planned dates, I’m going to make sure we watch the best of our favorite Christmas movies. And I’m only going to send out Christmas cards if I think it would make me happy. I’m only going to put out Christmas decorations that really bring me joy in that moment. I’m only going to put up a tree if I feel it would bring me more joy than pain…

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In addition to focusing on activities that bring me joy, as I said in my fall post, I’m going to make sure I continue to practice self care. I have been doing that as best I can and I will keep it up. I’ve been outside walking and hiking, and going to the gym. I’ve treated myself to massages and manicures. I’ve been reading and writing. I’ve been saying “no” to social events when I need to,  and saying “yes” when I want to. I practice gratitude to find something good in everyday. I’m doing what I can to take care of myself — mind, body, and spirit.

And I’m going to make sure I give myself space to feel sad. Because not all things are going to bring me joy, and some Christmas traditions now make me really sad. I’m not going to pretend that I’m ok, because I’m not — I’m hurting. I will need to take time to check in with myself and give myself breaks and quiet time. I ask in advance that my family accept that I’m in a sad place. Holidays during infertility and after loss are painful, and I’m carrying a lot of pain right now. You don’t have to feel sad too, but please respect where I am with my grief.

Another thing we’re doing this year is rewarding ourselves — after visiting our families we’re going to take a trip with some friends to a city we’ve never visited and ring in the new year with them. We will see the sights, eat good food, and we will toast to our survival of this miserable year and hope together that 2017 will be better.

After writing all of these things down it seems like maybe I’m being a little bit selfish this Christmas season, but I really don’t think I am…. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s necessary. And besides, if we can’t care for ourselves or show love to ourselves, then how can we possibly care for or love others? If our vessel is empty, how do we expect to pour from it? I believe that by focusing on myself and Matt, we will better be able to survive this tough time; that we will be able to create some joy together, share some happiness with others, and find more things for which to be grateful.

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Who’s that girl in the mirror?

I was trying to take a picture of myself to send to some of my far-away loved ones who haven’t seen my purple hair in person… I just had my hair re-purpled and it is most brilliant when it’s freshly dyed, so I wanted to take the picture right away so it would show up well in the photo.

I stood in my bathroom and took some selfies, but they weren’t turning out right. I deleted every one. Thinking that the light in the bathroom wasn’t quite right, I decided to move to the living room.

I took a series of pictures in the living room with the natural afternoon light shining through the big windows. The pictures still weren’t right. Something was still off.

I turned on the lights to supplement the natural light in the living room. I took more pictures.

After more selfies I realized that the light had nothing to do with it. I didn’t like the pictures because they didn’t look like me. I couldn’t bring myself to send these pictures to anyone, because that’s not how I look. Or is it?

I looked through the pictures we’ve in taken the last few months and although there were some good ones of my hair, I felt like there was something off about those pictures too.

There’s just something about recent pictures that isn’t right, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it. There’s nothing necessarily *wrong* with the girl I see in the mirror or in pictures; it’s just that she’s not me. I feel like I’m looking at someone else or some fragmented or altered version of myself. Like all of our cameras are stuck on some strange filter that is changing my face and no one else’s.

Apparently I don’t have a single current picture of myself that I feel looks like me. But why? What’s different? Has my appearance really changed? What’s going on?

Has my face changed shape? Is my face thinner or rounder than it used to be? Or do I look different because my hair is longer than it used to be? If I think about that closely though, I don’t think either of those are the problem. My weight has fluctuated slightly all my adult life and I always thought I still looked like me, so I don’t think face shape is throwing me off. I’ve had long hair and short hair and all kinds of lengths in between, and I feel like pictures of myself still look like me.

Or are the dark circles under my eyes throwing me off? Because they are definitely there. I try to get as much sleep as I can, but some nights just aren’t meant for good sleeping, apparently. And even after a good night of sleep, the circles are still there… constantly reminding me of my exhausting journey walking the road of infertility and loss. I’m so tired. Physically. Emotionally. And it’s hard to hide it. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to with makeup; it just doesn’t work. But do circles under my eyes really make enough of an impact to make me feel disconnected from my reflection? I doubt it.

I look hard at the pictures. I think I look sad… Have I lost some kind of sparkle in my eyes? Is my smile less authentic? Do I just look sad all the time now?

When I smile for a camera I feel like a fraud. Like I’m lying to the world. Because I’m not happy right now. Unless I’m really in the moment and actually feeling truly happy, I don’t think I’m smiling too much these days. When I was trying to take a selfie to show off my purple hair, I struggled with smiling or not smiling. Smiling for my own camera feels so fake to me, but not smiling for the camera feels weird too. And when I do smile, even for someone else’s camera, I feel too often like the picture shows a smile that’s forced, a smile that’s not authentic. Maybe when I see pictures of myself I’m uncomfortable with the smile I see.

Or it could be that this disconnect is all psychological. Maybe because I feel different now, I also feel like I look different when see my reflection and pictures of myself… Do I think I look sad because I *am* sad? Do I think I look tired because I *am* tired? Is this some kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do I see the world through lenses of sadness? I like to think that my infertility couldn’t possibly affect the way I view my reflection, but our minds are quite powerful. Maybe the change I sense is psychological.

I asked Matt if he thinks I look different now. He doesn’t think so… but if a change has actually taken place, if it’s not all psychological, I think maybe because he sees me every single day he hasn’t noticed the change. Maybe whatever change I think I see has happened slowly, over time… Because when I look back at older pictures, I think I look different.

When I see pictures of myself taken before infertility, I see myself happy and full of hopes and dreams for my future. I see real, authentic smiles. I don’t see sad eyes or dark circles. I look at those photos and think of how innocent I was then, with my heart mostly intact and not yet shattered to pieces. I see those pictures and I yearn to be back in a place where my heart didn’t know this kind of loss. Back when I felt and looked like myself.

I do think I’m a different person now compared to before, but I thought that was all in my heart and mind. Infertility has changed me in a lot of ways… but I didn’t realize infertility was changing my appearance too. But I think it is… because when I look in the mirror and when I see pictures of myself, I hardly even recognize that girl. Who is she and what is she doing there? Where did the girl I once knew go? Will she ever come back?

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