Mother's Day

Sharing my love of the ocean with my daughter, the way my mom did with me...

beach with Isla.jpg

While we were going through infertility, Mother's Day was an extremely painful day for me. All my friends were getting pregnant and/or celebrating their first Mother's Day, and I was mourning another month of a negative pregnancy test, my body wrecked with hormonal imbalance from treatments, my mind baffled with how anyone, ever, got pregnant naturally. All I remember feeling was a vast, hollow, void. A numbness that periodically gave way to an all-encompassing, gut-wrenching grief.

Now, here I stand. A mother to a headstrong, vivacious, healthy toddler. I am, quite literally, living the dream. The dream that I had held onto since I was a child was that I would be a mother, at least to a girl and in any case, to a girl first. I'm not sure exactly why I always imagined a daughter rather than a son, but I suspect it has something to do with the close relationship I have with my own mother and the assumption that I would create that with my own daughter someday. This dream was a happy, healthy assumption until I collided with the cold, hard truth that my body would not be able to realize that vision on its own.

It's an interesting thing to have passed through a season of hopelessness and into the life I had hoped for. There are times when I still feel like I am truly dreaming; that none of this could possibly be happening. There are the challenging times, where I feel like a normal mom, exhausted, exasperated and desperate for alone time. Then there are times when my entire being is flooded with a gratitude so intense, so visceral, when I am acutely aware that a true miracle has occurred. It's hard to understand how I am deserving of this reality.

Mother's Day causes the pain to surface. I remember in my body the feeling of failure, disappointment, longing, desperation and hopelessness. I think of my sisters who have lost babies, who have never gotten a positive pregnancy test, who have endured injections and procedures and bad news and baby showers for fertile friends. My sisters who are enduring today, as they watch moms be honored and revered for a job they so desperately want to be doing. Now that I'm a mother, Mother's Day feels extra special but also feels almost awkward. I am acutely aware of the pain this day causes for those still fighting to be a mother, still making incredibly hard choices and undergoing treatments and researching and hoping. I feel guilty for my joy, because I remember trying so hard to be happy for others who succeeded after a season of infertility and how discouraged I was because I couldn't believe we would ever get there.

And yet. Here I am. Standing in my joy. Undeserving. Blessed with a miracle. The remembering, the guilt, the sympathy... my prayer is that instead of causing pain to someone still struggling, it will cause hope. That it will allow someone to feel understood, if nothing else. That it will always remind me to stay in the moment. That it will ensure that I will never, ever, take my daughter for granted. That it will remind me to always stay open-minded to pathways I may not have considered. That it will help me to never judge the choices of another even if I don't understand them.

Mother's Day, for me, is a day to remember the miracle. Not just my daughter, who is the obvious miracle, but the miraculous journeys we all walk during our time on earth. Our dark and troubling times and how they give way to lessons, light, and greater opportunities than we are able to see when we're struggling. Sisters in the dark, keep the faith. We all have a different light at the end of our tunnel. It may not look like the one you're hoping for, but if you keep your heart open and your faith strong, it just may be more glorious than you ever imagined.




Don't be in such a hurry...


As I was nursing my daughter to sleep for her morning nap today, I was thinking about all the things I needed to get done during the 60-90 minutes she would hopefully be asleep.  Clean the kitchen, change and fold laundry, vacuum, make a grocery list and a meal plan, pay bills, take out the trash... I could go on, but all you mamas know this list too well already.  As I'm sure you know this scene: I look down at her little face and see that she's mostly asleep even though she's still nursing a bit.  She's asleep enough to gently take her off the nipple and... nope, nope she's not.  Start over.  Okay now... nope, not yet.  Try again in 10, 9, 8... nope, start over.

As we go through this dance every day I think to myself, I should stop nursing her to sleep.  I'm creating a bad habit.  I need her to go to sleep faster.  I need to maximize nap time.  I have things to do.  Then I notice she's asleep enough for me to stand up out of the glider and make my way to the crib, where we do the second part of the dance, rocking her over her crib until she's asleep enough that I can lower her in without startling her awake.  I count backward in my head, 10, 9, 8, don't move, 7... nope, start again I think as her little hand grasps for my shirt and she nuzzles in closer to me and we're back to nursing.  Don't put me down yet, mom.  I'm not quite ready, I can hear her thoughts as her little sticky hand holds on tight to my shirt and I sigh, my back hurting from the awkward angle and my nose running from allergies that I don't dare wipe away for fear of startling her again.

I look again at her hand and suddenly I'm stunned at how big it looks. When did her hand get so much bigger?  Don't put me down yet, mom. It's been almost five months since she came into our lives and just like everyone says, the days are long but the weeks and months are short and it's hard to believe how fast she's growing. It reminds me to tell the noise in my head to quiet down so I can enjoy this moment.

All my life I've lived with internal pressure to perform. Get straight A's. Nail the interview. Get the job. Be organized. Be efficient. Don't waste time. Contribute. Find your purpose. Make a difference. Go. Go. Go. I'm not sure where or when the constant noise in my head started, all I know is that it's always been there, so much so that when I started college (thankfully at a J.C.), I purposefully rebelled against it, taking all theater and dance classes and purposefully failing out of them just to see what it felt like to throw caution to the wind. (Let's just say yes, that was a dumb thing to do and yes, part of me regrets it but it also taught me a lot about myself.)

My quest for motherhood, and now motherhood itself, has challenged that part of myself that needs to be "performing" at all times.  At the age of 36, I knew deep down that my high-stress job was probably interfering with my ability to become a mother. So I resigned. It was one of the boldest moves I've ever made and I was terrified, but it was a life-affirming decision to choose my health and family goals over my career path at that moment in time. It allowed me to slow down, to explore other passions, to focus on myself for the first time in my entire life. Family, friends and colleagues were all stunned by this choice and many gently expressed worry: "but you worked so hard for this." Yes, I did work hard for this, I would explain, but I need a break. It was so hard not to let their silent judgment get to me. It was so hard to trust my gut which was telling me, this needs to take a backseat for now. I knew I could still be a lawyer later on. My career wasn't going anywhere. I wouldn't lose my skills overnight. But if I didn't take a step back, I could lose my chance to be a mother for good. Still, my self-worth was tied into my performance at work and stepping away from that left me with a nagging feeling that I needed to hurry up and find the next thing.  If that was motherhood, well then I better hurry up with that.

Looking down at her growing hand on my shirt, I remember everything I've learned since quitting my fast-paced job. It still doesn't come naturally to me to slow down. To take it in. To put my relationship with my daughter before my internal pressure to perform.  I'm positive there is a reason that, despite my determination to hurry up and become a mother, she didn't arrive according to my timetable.  She took her sweet time to arrive earth-side as our daughter, teaching me a lot about patience and faith along the way. Maybe these were lessons I needed to learn before her appearance, so that I could remember to slow down with her and be present. After all, mothering is not an endeavor for which we receive outside accolades for the most part. There is no need to "perform." All your child cares about is that you are there.

Mama, it's so important to savor these moments. Study the size of that little hand, her pudgy little arm, her eyelashes fluttering as she dreams. Remember the importance of the role you're playing now. This role that you risked everything for, not even knowing if you'd get the part. The chores can wait. Work can wait. Live in the miracle. Listen to the message your baby is sending you: Don't be in such a hurry. 

One Year: From Blastocyst to Baby

April 14, 2017 was a super special day for our family because on this day last year, we conceived Isla. One cool thing about infertility is that you get to commemorate the day your baby is placed in your body, with prayers that he or she will take root in your womb, grow and thrive and become your son or daughter.

Me waiting for our precious embryo with my lucky socks on :)

Me waiting for our precious embryo with my lucky socks on :)

It's so wild to look at her now and look at her as a ball of cells, just waiting to be transferred into me. She was our third try with IVF, the second try with our donor-egg-embryos, and my first positive pregnancy test after trying every month for just over three years. Some women fight much longer than we had to and I am always aware that our struggle could easily have lasted longer!

Right after our transfer, holding a photo of our daughter-to-be!

Right after our transfer, holding a photo of our daughter-to-be!

Before facing infertility, I never thought I would undergo IVF. I always thought it was taking things too far, that it was too difficult and too expensive and messing with nature too much. I certainly NEVER thought I would choose to use an egg donor.  But I always knew I was meant to be a mother and once this was our only choice, I found that my heart opened to it and I embraced roads to motherhood that I hadn't expected to.

Growing up, I was raised by the man who married my mom and adopted me when I was about a year and a half old.  He is my Dad.  Since I grew up in a family where genetic connection isn't the most important thing, it was maybe a little easier for me to come around to the idea of letting go of that connection with our own child.  I also know, when the time comes that my daughter has questions about our donor, I'll be better equipped to help her through them.  I understand what it is to be curious about your genetic background and I understand the undeniable link to our genetic parents. That being said, using an egg donor rather than a sperm donor is complex in that the recipient/parent still carries the baby. Isla and I are still connected on a biological level, even though she carries a different genetic code than I do.

I was told by several healers that the soul who was meant to be our baby would come to us the way he or she was intended to and that I needed to be open to receiving him or her in whatever way I could. Once I was able to see it that way, our dreams came true. I am beyond certain that Isla chose us to be her parents and was the child meant for us. Even with scientific help, God doesn't make mistakes.

Our miracle baby at 5 months old

Our miracle baby at 5 months old

Dear Mom after infertility: Yes, you deserve this.

Being a mother after struggling through an infertility journey is full of so much emotion.  So much joy and gratitude, certainly.  Amazement, absolutely.  Wonder.  And yet... so many of us still struggle with difficult feelings after going through what we went through to get here. 

Do I deserve this?  Will it last?  Is something horrible going to happen to my baby?  We're so used to a cycle of heartbreak that sometimes it's hard not to find ourselves gripped with anxiety, certain that our world is going to collapse at any moment and our longed-for child is going to be taken from us. 

These feelings start in the very beginning of pregnancy, a time that should be full of excitement and joy.  For the 12 weeks that followed those two pink lines, I literally counted the hours.  Every morning that I woke up and realized I was still pregnant, I felt a wave of relief so strong it often brought me to tears.  As the day went on, I would fight away the anxious feeling that I might miscarry at any moment.  I was afraid to exercise, drink a latte, play with my dogs, go to work, have sex...I felt like I was holding my breath and if I just stayed still and quiet, everything might be okay.  Stay put, little one.  Just hold on.  We can do this.  I had lost all trust in my body to perform its intended function to procreate, so every day that passed successfully was a miracle to me.  Yet I also knew that stress was bad, so I would close my eyes and try to breathe away the negative thoughts.  I am a life-giver.  I am capable.  My baby is healthy. 

After we reached the 12 week mark, this anxiety subsided somewhat.  I started to have a little more trust.  Was this girl going to stick around?  We knew it was a girl at week 11 thanks to the NIPT chromosome test.  All was normal.  A girl.  I could breathe a little easier.  The fear came in waves from then on, but it came less and less frequently.  When I would hear another woman's story of loss, the fear would take root in my lower back and press itself upward, squeezing my lungs and making it hard to breathe.  People who haven't struggled with infertility may hear stories of pregnancy loss and easily think optimistically: "that would never happen to me."  For us infertiles, we tend to think, "that is for sure going to happen to me."  And then we immediately try to erase the thought, lest we manifest it into reality.

When I knew for sure that I would never get pregnant with my own eggs, it felt unimaginably crushing.  As if the Universe was sending me a message:  you're not meant to be a mother.  You don't deserve this.  Every time I heard another mom say, "When you have your own child, you'll understand," I would scream inside.  It's not my fault that I'm not in that position!!  I want that more than you can possibly imagine!!  Their comments felt like a reflection on my "choice" to be childless.  They felt dismissive, as though I was automatically on the outside of the "club" of motherhood.  Standing at the window looking in and longing to join, but without the body that would allow me to join.  It was a reminder that I was physically unable to progress to what felt like my perfect "next step" in life. 

We finally succeeded after three years of trying every month.  But not your average, normal, we-just-relaxed-and-that's-when-it-happened kind of trying.  One operation.  One HSG and a tubal recannalization.  (Post on these procedures to come!)  Countless blood tests.  Oral medications.  IUIs.  Monthly high hopes followed by negative pregnancy tests with accompanying heartbreak.  News of friends' pregnancies left and right.  Hormonal imbalance.  Doubt.  Bloat.  Frustration.  Failed IVF.  Hopelessness. And then the thing I never thought I would do:  Egg donor IVF.  The most incredible gift I've ever been given, and the thing I still feel a slight discomfort sharing about (but will be sharing more about in another post, because there is so much to say and not enough is said on this topic in my humble opinion).

And now... motherhood.  It's here.  It's real.  Now I'm rooted in the place I wanted to get to.  And the love is greater and stronger than I even imagined, just as everyone told me it would be.  Yet I find myself still struggling at times to let myself enjoy it.  To see it in the same, easy way that "normal" moms probably do.  I still have the voices in my ear.  You cheated.  You don't deserve to be a mom.  When people comment, "she looks just like you!", I feel a strange discomfort and pride all at the same time.

Becoming a mother via egg donation is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is an unimaginable gift and miracle.  I have to remind myself.  When these negative voices chime in, I go back to my breathing.  I remind myself what I was told by a Shaman I went to see shortly before I successfully conceived our daughter (also food for another post to come):  The soul that is your child is waiting for his or her perfect avenue to you.  When that avenue opens, he or she will come to earth and join your family.  Egg donation was that avenue for our family.  I knew it when I felt joy at the idea of a 65% success rate after being told my chances of conceiving with IVF with my own eggs were less than 1%.  I knew it when we found our donor and I had that feeling of peace wash over my body.  I knew it through the whole process because we kept getting positive signs that we were on the right path.  I could visualize that little soul whispering, thank you for opening the door.  I'm on my way.

I look in my daughter's eyes when I want to silence my internal discomfort and fear.  She is here.  She is strong and healthy.  My body grew her.  She is safe.  She is the one we were waiting for.  We deserve this.  When she looks at me with love and joy, my heart explodes knowing she is meant to be with us. 

To all the mothers who struggled:  it doesn't matter how your child came to you.  She or he is the one you were meant to have.  It doesn't matter whether you conceived naturally after a struggle, if it's your rainbow baby, if you underwent IVF, if you used an egg or sperm donor or adopted an embryo, or adopted a baby or a foster child.   You are already an amazing, warrior of a mama, even before your child arrives.  You are allowed to be a mother.  You deserve to be a mother.  You are no less a mother than any other mother.  You did not cheat.  You were rewarded richly for your faith and your fight.  You endured disappointment, loss and heartbreak and still, you persisted in following your heart. You come to the table with the strongest love imaginable.  That is all any child needs.  Your child is so lucky to have you. 

You deserve this.  xo