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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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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The Arrival of Fall

the_arrival_of_fall2My favorite time of the year, fall, is officially here. I love fall weather and the clothing it accommodates — sweaters, scarves, cute boots. I love the colors in the leaves and the way the leaves take flight and dance in the wind. Fall brings the harvest and asks for warm, comforting foods — soup, apples, apple cider, and all things pumpkin. Fall means my birthday is coming and all the best holidays of the year. But some of these things I that love about fall have become difficult for us during infertility. Instead of celebrating the season change and looking forward to upcoming events, fall is now the beginning of a rough time of year for us: it signals that more time has passed, it brings my birthday, and it starts the big holiday season. Infertility has made all these things painful and it’s threatening to ruin fall for me.

Strike One: Fall is a Marker of Time

It was hard for me to acknowledge the arrival of fall this year… I love to decorate for the seasons, changing out my decor with every season. But this fall I struggled — I sat on my sofa and stared around the room for days before deciding that I would decorate. It seemed like a lot of work, and my heart wasn’t in it… but I ultimately decided that if I didn’t change my decor for the season, the lack of pumpkins and leaves and yummy scented candles would probably make me more depressed than I already was. So I asked Matt to go fetch my totes in the basement and I put out a few things.

I know that acknowledging the arrival of fall doesn’t seem like such a big deal… but it is: the turn of every calendar page marks another month of our heartbreak. Every season change marks more time in which we have tried, and failed, to grow our family. Time keeps moving on while Matt and I feel stuck, going nowhere, waiting for our miracle. We are doing everything we can to grow our family, but so much is out of our hands and it feels like every month we’re right back where we were before.

Strike Two: Fall Means My Birthday is Coming

My birthday is less than a month away. Birthdays used to give me great joy — a day for me! But my birthday has been hard the past couple of years, and this year I expect it to be worse. It’s not necessarily that I’m getting older; it’s that birthdays mark time. My birthday puts me another year older in my quest to become a mother. And if I’m not dreading my birthday enough, I’m reminded of it all the time — my age and birth date are all over my medical paperwork, prescriptions, and instructions. My nurses mention my age when they discuss treatment or try to encourage me. I confirm my birth date at the lab before having blood drawn and at the pharmacy when I pick up meds. And having my birthday celebrated… well, it’s a day I’m not looking forward to this year. I’m certainly not where I thought I’d be by now and turning another year older without a child here with me makes me so, so very sad.

Strike Three: Fall Means Holidays are Coming

The arrival of fall means that holidays are just around the corner: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. I’m dreading the holidays already and they haven’t even begun. Holidays are hard because they naturally emphasize the very thing we are lacking: our own family. Please don’t get me wrong — we LOVE our families. And we have, for many years, travelled back across the country for both Thanksgiving and Christmas to celebrate with our families. But sometimes just being with our families, even just our parents and our siblings, reminds us that we have yet to create that magic of our own. We want so badly to have children to share these special moments with and to create new traditions with, and holidays brutally remind us of how much joy and love we are missing due to our infertility. Holidays make our hearts ache for our losses.

The upcoming holidays again mark time that has passed. This will be our third holiday season since we’ve been trying to conceive. This will be the third Halloween where we hand out candy to other people’s children while feeling sad for ourselves. And I so hope I’m wrong, but at this point, we are potentially looking at a third Thanksgiving and Christmas without a pregnancy announcement to share with our loved ones. This could be our third New Year where we have tried, and failed to meet our goal from the previous year: grow our family. For the third autumn, already I’m anxiously wondering if next year’s holidays will be different. I hope so.

Three Strikes: You’re Out? Fall Officially Sucks?

Good thing I have at least a small say in how infertility affects me — I hate the idea of letting infertility ruin my favorite season. Infertility has already taken so much away from us, and caused us so much pain. Is it really fair for it to take my favorite season too? Absolutely not. But there’s only so much I can do — the painful reminders of the time passing, the disappointment of my birthday, and the heartbreak over the holidays are all probably still going to happen. I can’t stop them and I’m not going to try — I’ve learned it’s not good for me to fight my feelings.

But I can do little things to reclaim fall and the upcoming holidays for myself. I did decorate a bit for the season. I like my pumpkins and leaves and spiced autumn candles. We will make soups and drink apple cider. And I certainly will wear cute scarves and boots. However, I will need to do more than dress myself and my home for the part; I will need to take care of myself in order to survive what’s coming. I will need to give myself plenty of time to sit with my grief during this hard time of the year. I will need to be ok with feeling sad on my birthday. I will need to be gentle with myself over the holidays. I will need to give myself space during family events or large social gatherings. Resolve has a list of recommendations for surviving the holidays that I have found helpful. I will need to make sure Matt and I have enough time for each other. I will need to remember that we are not alone… there are many others having a hard time too: here and here just to name a few. In short, I will need to practice a lot of self care in the months to come. And I hope that with enough love and care for Matt and myself, we will be able to get through this hard time of year and maybe even enjoy some parts of it.

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