Friday, December 27, 2013

moms who look good

Harriet had her final gymnastics class last Tuesday. Gymnastics class is always a gamble. Some days she loves it - rolling and running and bending and bouncing like a champ. Other days, she scowls at her teacher, buries her face in my lap and walks as slowly as possible down the tumble track while the other kids patiently wait their turn to run and jump. Tuesday was a good day and I was thrilled to end on a happy note. I have to admit I'm a little glad it's over and excited to start a new activity, although I'll really miss seeing Harriet in her absolutely adorable leotard and leg warmers. It's easily my favorite part of gymnastics. But my least favorite part? Those full-length wall mirrors. One quick glance to the side and I startle at the sight of a frumpy, stained-shirt woman...who is me.

As we were walking out of gymnastics class the other day, in strode a woman with three children. She...was...gorgeous - tall and fit, dressed in an equestrian-themed outfit, complete with boots, skinny jeans and the most lovely half-up hairstyle. Her makeup was simple but flawless. I couldn't stop staring. I wanted to go up to her and ask a simple but very important question - how?!?!

Because I don't get it. Honestly, I don't. When I see a mom looking lovely, especially a mom who has a child in tow, I am stunned. Every time. Because every single day, I look like this:

Yep, I just took that picture right now. So as you can see, it's not a great look. And today I'm even wearing makeup! Which I never do. So imagine this photo...but worse. Also, to get the full effect, imagine my pants. They're my husband's sweats. And they're brown. And I rolled them up about five inches. Okay, they are:

So that's me...every day. I look like this at home, at the grocery store, at the library, at playdates. I've even gone to church this way...more than once. I think that over time, one just gets used to seeing herself this way, and then it doesn't seem so bad. Until you run into Kate Middleton at gymnastics class...and she has two more kids than you do.

That's kind of a wakeup call.

But that's the thing! How does she do it? I simply don't have enough time! I'll sit Harriet down in front of Clifford and I'll go take a shower (without shaving my legs), sort of do my hair (usually a ponytail), and make a half-way attempt at my makeup. I routinely do my eye shadow while walking around the house, without the assistance of a mirror, so you can imagine how that goes. No nail polish. No eyebrow tweezing. No eye liner. No hair product. And this is my "going out look."

Typing all of this makes me realize how sad it really is.

I used to look better. I used to take the time and put in more effort. I used to shave my legs. I used to get my hair highlighted. But let's be real...even then, I never looked like those women I'm referring to. The ones who look flawless in a sweatshirt and jeans. The ones who can actually make messy hair look gorgeous. I can't blame it all on motherhood because some of goofy-looking stuff happened beforehand.

I'm the boy in the middle row.

When this is where you start, one would think that you could only go up from there. Au contraire.

When I was younger, I would always picture myself a few years in the future, and I always looked stunning. I would literally envision myself from my feet all the way up to my head - perfect pedicure, legs tan and toned, etc. But high school came, then college, then engagement, and marriage (a bright spot, I'll admit), and I never accomplished the look I thought I'd eventually embody. And then came pregnancy - all hope of that look was lost. About three weeks after finding out I was pregnant with Harriet, I had already stooped to this level:

And that's when I decided to grow out my hair. Things went downhill quickly from there.

Honestly, what is my hair even doing?

So now I'm realizing that perhaps this should have been a post about the challenges of growing out very short hair.

And while we're on the topic of hair, let me just take a moment to speak on behalf of those of us who faced adolescence in the dead zone between "it's-the-eighties-and-everyone's-hair-is-atrocious-so-it's-fine" and the invention of flat irons. Ladies, how did we do it? Not only did we have to brave insurmountable frizz on a daily basis but we also got our braces in high school (not elementary school when they're still cool), AND there really was no such thing as cute comfy clothes. But, we made it. Now, I have two CHI flat irons...which I never use.

We often talk about women who have "let themselves go." It sounds like a quiet thing that takes place over time, a peaceful decision one makes. But let me assure you - the letting go of oneself is not a gentle process. Myself is going, whether I like it or not. I never gave it permission. It just turned its back and started for the door. I tried for a while to hold onto it. I dug in my heels. But alas...

So here's where I go back to that head-to-toe fantasy. Someday, I'll have the time and the money to get pampered at the salon, to actually wear the outfits I pin on Pinterest, to try new things with my makeup, to work out regularly. Someday, I'll be tanned and toned and perfectly put together. And I'll sit down around the coffee table with my grown children to look at old photos, and they will say, "Mom, look how pretty you were!" And inside, I will remember that the greatest years of my life had nothing to do with what I was wearing or even whether it was clean.

I'll look into the tired eyes of that puffy young woman in the photos...and I'll feel so proud of her.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

making peace with ivf

It took Andrew and I a long time to make peace with in vitro fertilization (IVF). We had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years. We'd had two losses. I know that a lot of people double, triple, even quadruple our waiting years, but we knew that the heartbreak had gone on long enough and we needed to take the next step - IVF. 

Moving forward with IVF requires all sorts of decisions, conversations and sacrifices. It's a major financial burden. It's a hefty physical undertaking. It's a serious time commitment. But it was the spiritual aspect of IVF that had us completely and utterly stuck. 

In our faith community, there's a healthy skepticism about reproductive technology. I count myself among those who wrestle with the implications of our country's big science and small God. So when we felt ourselves inching down the path that leads to IVF (a place we never, ever thought we'd be), we entered into a wrestling match of our own.

Obviously, this is our journey. Only ours. I am not making any recommendations here. I am not providing a theological lesson. I am simply explaining how Andrew and I made peace with IVF.  I have come across many people along the way who feel much differently than we do about these issues. It's such a personal thing, an individual choice, but one that’s important to dialogue about.

Our biggest concern with fertility treatments was whether IVF was sin. In the beginning, we asked so many questions -Are we not trusting God enough by moving forward with this? Does the procedure itself take God/marriage/love out of the equation and remove God's blessing? When embryos die as part of IVF, how close is that to abortion? These were very difficult questions for us to answer, so difficult that many of them went unanswered. But even with unanswered questions, we eventually came to a place where we felt very comfortable and at peace moving forward with it, and we have never once looked back. 

The freezing/cryogenics part of IVF was a tough issue for me to wrap my head around. It sounded really scary and weird at the beginning and was one of my biggest problems with the process, but I've become more comfortable with the idea over the last couple of years as I've learned more about it. I was fascinated to learn that some clinics have found that frozen IVF cycles can often be even more successful than fresh cycles! Also, some women respond much better to frozen cycles than fresh.

All of this is to say that freezing embryos doesn't necessarily mean that they are less likely to turn into viable pregnancies. If you research miscarriage rates, they’re all over the board, but they’re generally higher than we’d expect. That’s because many women think they're just having a late, heavy period when really, they're miscarrying. I have heard doctors say that the embryos that don't survive the thaw are the ones who may have been chemical pregnancies. I know they can't know that for sure, but it really makes sense to me. Also, even after a baby is inside of you (via IVF or a more natural method), there are all sorts of things that can cause problems - deli meat, car accidents, soft cheeses, overly hot showers, seat warmers in cars, laptops, etc. You do your absolute best to protect them, but there are threats everywhere it seems. For us, the cryogenic process was one of those potential threats. So, we felt like it was important to do everything that we could to protect our embryos (choose a reputable clinic with a good lab, decide ahead of time what we’d do with our remaining embryos, etc) and then pray for them like crazy. We knew we couldn't completely protect them. That part took a lot of faith.

One of my very best friends told me the most freeing thing during one of our conversations about spirituality and IVF. I was going on and on and on about the science behind everything, and she eventually just said, "Em, this is all gray area. God hasn't given any specific instructions about embryos, infertility procedures, etc. You have done your due diligence in educating yourself on the subject, and you've still ended up in the gray. There's just so much we don't know. This is one of those situations where you have no other option than to align your heart with God's and ask Him to show you the way. Ask Him to put a peace in your heart if He wants you to pursue IVF and ask him to put an uneasiness in your heart if He wants you to go a different direction."

So that's what we did. We had already researched like crazy and had tons of conversations to get people’s opinions about what we should do, and we kept ending up in that gray area where there are no clear answers. So we stopped focusing on the science and the debate surrounding IVF and put that energy toward our relationships with God. We spent extra time reading Scripture. We talked to God all the time. We made sure that our hearts were as aligned with His as they'd ever been, and we begged Him to take away the peace that He had already placed in our hearts if He didn't want us to do IVF.

At one point during our decision-making process, I pictured myself in heaven having a conversation with God. I imagined Him telling me that the IVF that brought us Harriet was a sin. This probably sounds a bit heretical to even say, but I imagined myself stating my case to Him. I imagined myself describing the way that I put myself out there and pursued Him like crazy and sought His heart and mind on this issue. I imagined myself asking Him why He didn't take away that peace. I just couldn’t imagine God frowning on us for doing something that we had decided to do after such soul-searching and while really, truly, fully pursuing holiness in this. That imagery of having that conversation with God gave me an even more intense peace about it.

Lastly, when we finally decided to do IVF, we created very firm parameters around it. We decided that we would give every single embryo the very best chance at life, whatever that looked like. We decided that we were uncomfortable with the idea of selective reduction. We felt like God had been very faithful in leading us to this decision, and we wanted to be just as faithful in our part of it.

I was talking to a friend about the spiritual aspects of IVF this past summer, and she made an excellent point, one I’d never considered before. She said that what is sin for one person isn't always sin for another person. So the fact that we did IVF and have a peace about it and some friends of ours have decided against IVF for spiritual/ethical reasons doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is going against God’s direction. Maybe, for whatever reason, God calls certain people to something else, so pursing IVF would be wrong for them. It took me a while to wrap my head around this concept but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. I can think of examples of other things in life that would be a sin for me but wouldn't be a sin for other people, or vice versa. Like some people can have a couple drinks and it's just fine, but other people have been called to complete sobriety so even one drink is a sin for them. Maybe IVF is the same way.

As far as books and other resources on this topic, I haven't come across much. I think that the ethical/spiritual part of IVF is something that people stray away from for fear of offending people and/or being judged. I really wish that there were more resources out there. I did read one book about the ethics of reproductive technology. It was very black-and-white about the issue and discouraged readers from doing anything in that gray area. Is that probably the "safest" way to go? Some would say yes. They would ask why you'd even want to walk that line of "is it sin or is it not?" To us, the science and academics behind all of this stuff just wasn't cutting it. We needed to feel and experience God's answer in our hearts/souls/bodies rather than keeping it all in our head. So we went a different direction than the book recommended...and I'm fine with that. To me, that felt safer than just having a blanket, black-and-white answer...but many would disagree with that. Again, I wish that there were more resources out there for people who are wrestling with these questions. If you know of any, let me know!

To those of you who are in the midst of this decision, my heart is with you. It’s a tough thing to feel that the thing your heart longs for the most might be in conflict with the One who holds your heart in His hands. I wish I had concrete answers to the many questions that arise around IVF and spirituality, but I don’t. All I have is my own story. Hope it was helpful.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

for real

Hello, friends...we have quite a bit of catching up to do.

We had our last IUI (intrauterine insemination) in August. It was a "hail Mary" cycle. We knew it wouldn't work. It never had before. We were fixing our eyes on IVF and this IUI was our method of killing time until we could take the plunge.

I didn't get a beta (blood pregnancy test) done after the two-week wait because I never do. Those beta days are the worst. I'd much rather find out that I'm not pregnant at home, in my own bathroom, by myself than over the phone with a nurse I've never met. But my period was late...and then later...and later.

One morning, while Andrew was finishing up his night shift at the hospital, Harriet and I went to Walmart for a pregnancy test. I got there just as they were opening and I seemed to be the only one in the store besides the two young check-out girls. One of them attempted to put my purchase in a bag, and I told her I didn't need a bag.

"I bet you're going right into that bathroom to take it," said the other.

"Yes, I am," I replied.

"What are you hoping for?"

"I really, really want it to be positive," I said, and I told them a little bit of my story.

I entered the bathroom, set Harriet down far away from the toilets and told her not to touch anything. I unwrapped the pregnancy test with shaky hands and left the stall door open as I did my thing. The digital hourglass blinked and blinked and blinked...forever. And then I saw something flash onto that screen for the very first time - pregnant.

And then I sobbed.

"Mama's crying because she's happy. Mama's crying because she's happy," I told my concerned daughter over and over.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," I told a less-than-concerned God.

I composed myself and walked out of the bathroom where the two check-out girls were nervously waiting.

"It's positive," I said, and they seemed very happy to be the first to know.

I strapped Harriet back into her carseat while taking deep, tear-filled breaths and settled myself in the driver's seat before deciding that I needed to go back in for donuts. But first, I texted Andrew...

Just got my period. What a bummer. 

We were going to meet him at a playground, so I quickly planned a fun way to share the news. I'd have Harriet at the top of a curly slide and he'd be at the bottom to catch her. But rather than sending her down, I'd slide the pregnancy test down. Well, like most plans that involve children, this one never panned out because Harriet was zonked in the back of the car when he got to the park. Instead, I just took the test out of the waistband of my shorts and handed it to him.

"You're joking," he said. And he cried.

The next day, I had a beta drawn. Two-hundred-something.

Two days later, I had another one. Four-hundred-something.

We scheduled an ultrasound for about eight weeks but I couldn't wait that long. My doctor agreed to see me just short of seven weeks. Unfortunately, Andrew was hiking the Superior Hiking Trail with my brother and we hadn't told our families yet. Also, hand foot and mouth disease was hitting our community hard around that time, so all of my babysitters were out of commission with sick babies of their own to care for. I had one option - to bring Harriet with me.

She fell asleep on the way to the appointment, so I picked her up and carried her into the clinic. I had called the front desk to warn them that I was bringing my daughter and to ask if it would be possible for me to be taken directly back to an ultrasound room if one was available. I've never brought Harriet to an appointment before and I fully support the no kids allowed rule, so I wanted to be as respectful as possible under the circumstances. There wasn't a room available, which I found odd since the waiting room was empty. I stood there in the fertility clinic waiting room with my lovely little daughter sleeping soundly in my shoulder and (hopefully) another baby in my belly. And all of a sudden, I was that woman...something for another day, another post...something that has been on my heart so heavily during this blogging absence.

They called me back and I managed to somehow undress and situate myself on the table, all the while snuggling my sleeping dear. In came the doctor and ultrasound tech and I told them what I always tell them, "As soon as you have any information, tell me. I get really freaked out when you're silent."

I couldn't really see the screen because Harriet's head was in the way, but I did see the ultrasound tech flash the doctor a sideways peace sign, and that was enough for me to crank my neck around the top of Harriet's head to see two black blobs on the screen, each with its own teeny heartbeat, fluttering away.

More tears. More gratitude wrapped in disbelief.

The next twenty-four hours were tough because I couldn't get ahold of Andrew over the phone and I didn't want to tell him we were having twins via text. The next day, Harriet and I drove up to Duluth with the rest of my family to meet Andrew and my brother for a weekend away. They still didn't know I was pregnant. When we got to the hotel, I pulled Andrew into the bathroom and told him that I wanted him to see the ultrasound picture before we shared the news with my family. I took the grainy photo out of the envelope and handed it to him. He stared at it for a few seconds before the "twin A" and "twin B" labels clicked. "Nuh-uh," he said and stared at me with wide, wide eyes. More tears. This time, some laughter too.

So, that's what's been happening during my absence. Oh, and I took (and passed...whew) my final licensing exam. And we moved three days ago. It's been an intense couple of months, and I'm finally starting to feel like I'm catching up with life. I swore off blogging during my studying period and it was pretty much impossible to get any writing done during the move, but I know that the real reason I put off posting about this pregnancy is the fact that I have been waiting for similar announcements from my blogging friends. I have been praying and dreaming that somehow, someway Caroline, Amanda, Risa, Suz, Liz, Annie, Jessah and all of my other dear friends online and in "real life" would be able to make announcements of their own first. I knew it couldn't happen - not for all of you and not all at once - but every time I sat down to type this post, I couldn't get your faces out of my mind. I am so glad that I have returned to the blogosphere now so that I can at least offer some support and encouragement. I am with you in this.

So here I sit - thirteen weeks pregnant (but looking about twenty-five), in a new home (which I love but still feels like someone else's), with tears in my eyes because as silly as it sounds, in posting this entry, I truly feel like I'm coming home.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


"When do you think Andrew will propose?" asked a good friend.

Truth is, I hadn't really thought about marrying him yet. We had never said the words engaged or marriage. We hadn't discussed how many children we'd like to have or where we'd want to live. Andrew had purchased a townhouse two weeks before and although he took me to see it once before finalizing the deal, it was his home. I hadn't pictured myself cooking in the kitchen or decorating the bedroom.

I threw out a wild guess. "Hmm...maybe next summer?"

Little did I know that just two days later, I'd lug a laundry basket into my deserted dorm room, covered head-to-toe in flour from a day of Christmas cookie baking, to find eight dozen roses, a bottle of my favorite perfume, a lovely dress I'd been eyeing for weeks, a pair of delicate silver heals, and a handwritten letter tied up like a scroll. The letter told me to get myself ready and meet him at the bench on campus where he first told me he loved me. I knew just where to go.

Lots of candles.
Lots of flowers.
Sweet words I've long forgotten.
And a ring.

And so it began...No, that's not right. Our story began long before that moment. Long before we met for the first time, close to midnight in my freshman dorm room - no makeup, hair a mess, ratty pajama shorts and glasses, studying at my desk. He said hi from the doorway and I startled like one of those fainting goats. Yep, romance was already in the air.

Our story started long before I was a goofy high school student whose only dating prospect was a guy who left a sickly flower in my locker with a note that said "when I seen this rose, I think of you." It started long before I hurriedly made my way to the front of the auditorium with the rest of the summer campers to pick out my "promise key," thinking, Okay...yeah, I won't have sex til I'm married but do I seriously need to wear a Chevrolet key on a fake leather string around my neck?

I think our story may have started with a wild-haired little girl, asleep in the pre-dawn stillness, only aware of her dad's hand on her little head, praying for her daily before he left for work - praying that she would know God intimately and live life joyfully, and also praying for another child somewhere out there in the world whom God was already preparing to hold her hand through the brightest and darkest moments of life. My dad prayed for me and for Andrew every single day from the time I was born. If our journey was a storybook, those whispered prayers would grace page one.

We prepared for our wedding, looking so young and thin and tan and not even realizing that a few short years later, we'd look more like...parents.

And then, six years ago today, there was a wedding. Our very own heavenly day.

Marriage is beautiful. A most precious gift. But it is certainly...certainly one we have to fight for. I can be annoyingly persistent during arguments, refusing to let things go until they are fully resolved...whatever that means. I am perpetually late and always have a half-baked excuse. I tend to over-promise and under-deliver. I'm hard on our belongings, mindlessly slamming down faucets til they leak or denting walls with my carelessness.

And my wonderful. He cooks deliciously, cleans efficiently, takes care of everything automotive, manages our bills and finances, works his butt off to provide for us, makes me laugh all the time, tells me I'm beautiful, is fully engaged in parenting, has a generous servant's heart...and he drives me crazy. His communication skills leave something to be desired, although he's getting better every year. His pride can sometimes overshadow his gracious nature. When he's tired, he gets bossy and critical. Our fights can feel incredibly unproductive, almost one-sided. We get angrier and angier - him shutting down and me pushing the issue until neither of us have a clue what we're fighting about or how we'll know when it's over. In the ugliest moments, we sling the "d-word" at one another like a hand grenade with an intact pin.

Even six years in, sometimes we suck at marriage.

But six years in, this is exactly where I want to be. With my man and our girl and our pup. We have lots of chapters ahead of us. A new home is on the horizon, and hopefully we'll follow up that chapter with one about another pregnancy, a new baby.

I read this quote by Shauna Niequist the other day...and then I read it again and again and again. Maybe some of you can relate.

"I had thought that we became a family on the day we were married. What I have found, though, is that the web starts as just one fine filament on that day, and spins and spins around us as life presents itself to us day by day. And on some days, the strands spin around us double-time, spinning us like a top and binding us like rubber cement."

Oh how I feel that! Dizzy from the spinning, sticky with that glue.

And this quote, authored by an unknown poet, I'll leave just for Andrew...

"I cannot take the chance that you don't know how much it means to me - you carrying my hopes like precious cargo and traveling with me to dreams come true. So I will tell you again and again as if it were the first time - it is an honor, it is a privilege, it is a joy to share with you the path."

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