To the Miscarriage Mamas on Mother’s Day

accidental okie miscarriage mamasDear Mama.

Yes, Mama. Not Almost Mama. Not Someday Mama. You, the grower of life, the incubator of heartbeats and fingernails.

You are not a used-to-be.

I want to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry for the death deep within your womb, for the loss even deeper in your heart. 

I don’t know how it happened, your unique story.

I don’t know when it happened. If it was late, there were probably logistics and procedures, maybe even danger for you. I cannot begin to understand.

If it was early, it probably hurt more than you ever thought possible – losing this life you didn’t even know existed just days or weeks earlier. I know it took me by surprise.

And for some of you, it’s happened again and again. The cruelest of cruel jokes.

This pain might be an ache that’s dulled over time, but will never fully go away. For others it is a sharp, fresh cut full of venom and tears.

We all have so many different stories, different pain. And now for each of us, all that complex grief, the years or months of emotions, the children you now have or the children you still dream of having – all of it – gets balled up into a tangled mess of a thing on this special weekend.

Yes, Mother’s Day is here again.

Last year was my first Mother’s Day. At six months pregnant, everyone who glimpsed me celebrated this new life, and I relished it. Happy Mother’s Day to me! 

The week before Mother’s Day, I floated about in my pregnant bliss, accepting well wishes from grocery store checkers and baristas. When the actual day came, I unexpectedly hid in my bed and sobbed. There was so much to be thankful for, but so much to mourn, too.

The well wishers didn’t know the whole story. That baby bump, our sweet boy, was the third baby I’d carried in my belly since the previous year’s Mother’s Day.

Mourning and joy. I think for many of us, they will forever mingle together on this day.

Whether hands full of kiddos who need bottles, band-aids or help with calculus homework, or hands still empty and heart still longing – we remember the cadence of those heartbeats, the positive pregnancy tests, the sweet dreams for a life that was suddenly gone.

It’s a hard week. A weird week.

Throughout my own season of loss, God was so faithful. He showed me beautiful, life-sustaining things about himself. He gave me comfort when I didn’t think it was possible.

Known

Last year, anchors were suddenly all the rage. You couldn’t click on Pinterest without seeing 20 different variations of the verse, “Hope is the anchor for the soul.” I thought it was sweet…gimmicky, but sweet.

Then after our miscarriages, I struggled to define an ache I couldn’t quite move beyond. Sure there was sadness and there was grief at the loss of these two little lives, but there was something else. Something more.

It festered and grew until one day it hit me: They were never known.

Most of my friends and a lot of our family didn’t even know I was pregnant both times. Life – glorious life that was prayed for and yearned for – came and went. Never known or quickly forgotten. It seemed too cruel. Even I, the holder of those heartbeats, didn’t know them.

Grief finally identified, I wept for the babies I would never know here on earth. Were they boys or girls? Did either have The Professor’s hint  of red hair or my random hatred of apples? Would they have been funny or serious, or maybe a bit of both? 

As I processed my grief over my babies not being known, I felt a strong urge to read Psalms 139. It’s the Psalm that says, “I knit you together in your mother’s womb.” For someone having miscarriages while seeing a fertility doctor, the thought of that passage seemed more like a cruel joke than a divine word from God.

As I begrudgingly read the passage, one section I’d never paid much attention to came alive.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

In that moment, I heard the tender voice of God whisper, “Your babies are known. They are known by me.”

In the depths of the earth – in the secret place where not even I could know them, He knew them. In that instant, I remembered the anchor pictures I kept seeing. The anchor – the same one that was the hope for my soul – it was down there in the depths of the earth, firm and secure.

Jesus knew my babies, and they were never alone. This has become my hope, my anchor. And if you ever wonder why I always wear an anchor necklace, that’s why.

Your babies are known. Fully, perfectly, completely known. Maybe not by you and maybe not by anyone else, but by God who formed them in that secret place.

And because they are fully known, they will never be forgotten.

Seen

I learned that God didn’t just know my babies. He didn’t just see them. He saw me. 

He saw the deep hurt that so many people didn’t. He saw me at my ugliest, saddest, angriest and most confused.

El Roi – The God Who Sees Me.

It has become my favorite name of God. There’s something really special about this name. The context isn’t The God who sees me win races and post Facebook statuses about my perfect life. It was the God who sees when we’re at our most vulnerable and most scared. 

Here’s the really cool part: it is a name given to God by a pregnant lady. Hagar encountered God while trying to run away from the crappy hand she was dealt.

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the one who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13).

He has seen your deepest pain. Not the put-on-a-pretty face you. Not the b.s. The real. The ugly. The lost.

Just like your babies, you are known. You are seen. Your pain is not forgotten.

Dear miscarriage mamas, this Mother’s Day, I pray that you honor it as you need. That might mean hiding under the covers, tear streaked. It might mean putting on a pretty face at church or a family gathering, and screaming in the shower later in the day. It might mean accepting sweet misspelled cards made by tiny fingers, and still giving yourself permission to feel that pinch of grief mingled with great joy. It might mean visiting a grave site.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating life and life givers. I think for us, the miscarriage mamas, who hold this day with interweaving and complicated emotions, we have a piercing reminder that today we can also celebrate the ultimate life giver – the one who ravaged death and will someday make all the sad things come untrue.

Your babies are known. You – your pain, your grief, your joy – they are seen.

You, sweet mama, are not a used to be, and so to you I want to say this: Happy Mother’s Day.

Infertility: How to Support a Friend

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This is post two in my Infertility Series. Read post one here.

In the first post of my Infertility Series, we established a few things: 1 –  we all say stupid things, so we’re all starting fresh together.  2 – you (right now at this exact moment) know someone going through infertility. 3 – infertility treatment is hard. Like really, truly, horribly, life-alteringly difficult. 4 – people going through infertility treatment are attacked with a bevy of bad advice and worse jokes, insults, innuendos, jukes, embarrassments and garden-variety crapola.

But what do you do now?  How do you support a friend going through infertility?

First, I want to say this. You – the one who googled this article in search of answers and advice – YOU ARE A ROCK STAR. You are an awesome friend. Thank you for your intentionality and for wanting to help your friend. You’re already way ahead of the curve.

A typical woman in the trenches of fertility treatments is isolated, physically drained, emotional as hell, and financially depleted. She’s mourning ever-growing losses – miscarriages, failed treatments, the loss of intimacy with her husband (since nothing says romantic quite like hearing a doctor say “you’ll need to have intercourse on Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. sharp”), another month with no success, and the idea that she will “just get pregnant” like all her friends. The unknowns are suffocating. Her arms are empty, her womb barren.

Her dreams of a family are slipping away with every month. Or year.

A family. Her dreams of a family. This isn’t a little thing. It’s not something to make light of, to tell someone to get over, or to use as ammunition in your next round of gossip. This is a big deal.

If your friend has confided her battle with you, strap on your armor and flank her in this fight.

I think the best way to figure out how to help her are to look at her needs. I’ve thought through the basic areas where your friend may need support. This isn’t an all-encompassing list because every person and treatment is unique.

Please don’t read this as a to-do list.

I don’t think any one person should do everything here. That would be overwhelming to you and probably embarrassing for your friend. My hope is that you can read through this list with your friend in mind, and come up with some ideas of how you can support her.

1. Emotional Support

One the first fertility medicines my doctor tried caused some really serious mental side effects. I immediately got off that medicine and thankfully I got back to my normal, mentally balanced self within a day or two. 

accidentalokie flowers

About that time, three friends stopped by with flowers, an Anthropologie mug and Bible verse-saturated note cards. On hard evenings, I would curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea in my beautiful new mug and read those verses over and over, like they were my life line.

To them it was probably a small thing. To me, it was everything.

Supporting your friend emotionally means a card in the mail, a mug on the doorstep, or a shoulder to cry on. It means remembering the due date of the baby who died in her belly (no matter how early). It means listening to her unedited fears and unrestrained yells, and not shushing her.

Like really, actually listening.

It means asking questions, googling medical procedures and joining her on this journey. If she’s told you her treatment plan and schedule, it’s a text the morning of a procedure.

It’s not hard. It’s not expensive. It just takes a little time and intentionality.

If you know someone who has already walked down the infertility road and you want to connect her with your friend in the current struggle, I think that is an excellent idea. Love and support from this sisterhood of women is invaluable. It’s best to get your friend’s permission first. Always err on the side of honoring her vulnerability and confidentiality.

2. Physical Support

Fertility treatment really wears on a person. There’s medicine, doctor’s appointments (sometimes three a week) and procedures that somehow have to be crammed into a schedule, and all the emotions in all the world swirling all at once.

And all that is exhausting.

Let me tell you how awesome our homemade dinners…weren’t. Frozen gluten-free chicken fingers for two, please.

Supporting a friend physically is as simple as dropping by a rotisserie chicken. It’s offering to come over for a Saturday of freezer meal cooking so she can get ready for another treatment cycle. It’s folding towels and vacuuming, or getting the guys to take her husband to a baseball game. Guys go through a lot during this, too.

It’s babysitting so she can go to a doctor’s appointment. (Many people have to do the same treatment for every child or didn’t have to treatment before, but have to now). It’s driving her to an appointment where she has to be sedated or take pain medicine before.

If you love through logistics, love well friends, love well.

3. Financial Support

One cycle of fertility treatment can be as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as $15,000. Gulp. They might be siphoning money from their grocery budget, or they might have taken out a second-mortgage.

If you have the ability and the desire, meeting financial needs is really cool.

Financial support can mean really big gestures. But it can also mean a needed grocery store gift card, gas money – especially if her fertility doctor is far away, or a coupon to a night at a romantic hotel. It’s a few $20’s exchanged in a cool James Bond handshake –  you know, if you’re cool enough to pull that off.

I’m not.

Dollars meet logistical, real needs, but they also say, “we haven’t forgotten you.”

4. Spiritual Support

Get on your knees for your friend.

Yes, pray that she’ll get pregnant! Pray that prayer with yearning and confidence.

But pray for other things, too. Pray that she wouldn’t believe the lies streaming into her head – the ones that say she’s worthless, that she’s been forgotten by God, that her husband won’t love a woman who can’t make a baby. Pray for physical strength, for healing from the cause of the infertility. Pray for her heart. Pray for her marriage.

Speak Truth into her life. Pray that you have the words to say. Pray that the Lord would be near and that she would feel his presence.

Your friend may be feeling deep shame. She might be trying to isolate herself because this is all, it’s just so much. She might be angry at God. She could be spiritually spent, emotionally empty and her roughest spots exposed.

At this moment, she might not be her best self. She needs you in spite of all that.

You know your gifts and you know your friend, and I bet you know a way you can come along side her to bring courage, comfort and truth.

5. Do I Ask?

In my previous post, I listed all the stupid things people say to someone going through infertility. Reading though it, just about half of the items are different forms of someone asking “what’s going on?” But without the social skills.

Don’t be that person.

You suspect a friend may be struggling with infertility. Do you outright ask her?

I don’t know your friend, but I’m going to say in most cases, no. You could tell her you’re worried about her, that it seems like she’s going through something, and is everything is okay? If she wants to tell you, you’ve opened the door for a conversation.

But please PLEASE examine your heart first.

If you think infertility is the only possible excuse for wasting her best child-bearing years, and you need to give her a talking to about having a baby before it’s too late, please keep your mouth shut. If you’re sort of wondering what’s going on so you can tell another girlfriend at your next gab session, please mind your own business.

If your heart is hurting for your friend, maybe you can bring it up. But it should be in 1 – in private. Not in a group ambush, not shouted across a crowded room of friends or family, and not on social media. 2 – you should not come armed with a list of advice, but instead with a concerned heart, ready to listen.  3 – it should only be if you are very close friends.

6. I’m Pregnant. What Do I Do?

Oh, this one is hard. I’ve been the infertility-stricken one around pregnant friends, and I’ve been the pregnant one around friends who I know are struggling. It can feel like a minefield.

Here are my suggestions.

Tell her your good news privately.
Don’t tell her in a group of friends. I remember this happened once to me. I was incredibly happy for my friend, but at the same time I was sad, too, for me. And then I felt horrible about being sad in the midst of her answered prayers. It was a lot of conflicting emotions at once.

Some of the people in the room knew our struggles. Suddenly, I was worried that people were looking at me to gauge my reaction. Were all these weird, warring emotions on my face? I was so worried that I plastered on this big, dopey grin, and probably looked a bit high.

She might be totally fine. But she might also want to give you a huge hug and celebrate this new life, and then retreat to her house and have a good cry.

Respect her journey during your happy time.

Don’t complain about your pregnancy to her.
I get it. Sometimes pregnancy sucks. You projectile vomit Chipotle across the living room. Your hips stop working. And having a few girlfriends to complain at is a good thing. But your friend going through infertility treatment should not be your sounding board.

7. The Long Road

The Professor and I were really fortunate. They figured out our problems, and I responded well to treatment. Our fertility journey was nothing compared to what it is for some people.

As you encourage your friend, please know, this might be a short journey or it might be a very long one.

Fertility treatment ends in one of three ways: 1 – They become pregnant. 2 – They have a child through adoption or fostering. 3 – They decide they’re done trying.

Those are a lot of different things, each with very different needs.

Be there – be there for the long haul. That means listening to her fears, even if she’s two years into this. It means staying engaged. It means keeping your eyes and ears open for needs.

Here’s the most important thing I want you to know – I believe in you.

You, who are seeking. You, who are trying. You, who are making a difference, showing up, and flanking your friend.

You, yes you, are phenomenal.

Infertility & Ten Horrible Things People Say

fertility-01

Infertility.

If you’ve walked this road, even seeing the word makes you wince.

It’s a word that means failure, despair, and all the money. It is what if’s and hope deferred.

And it means people saying the shittiest things to you. Seriously.

I want to talk about some of the horrible and unfortunately common things people said to me while going through this difficult season, and explain why those comments – while seldom malicious – were deeply painful.

Why do any of us ever put our foot in our mouth? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what we’re talking about, or we’re scared. That naturally leads to the spewing the first and stupidest thing that comes to mind.  So, in my next blog post, I’m going to offer suggestions for helpful things you can say or do if you know someone going through infertility.

Also, there’s something I need you to understand. I wasn’t like – Oh I have a blog. Let’s go shame people. If you read this and you think…”hmmm, I might have said that.” Truth is, I don’t really remember who said what. Or maybe we had to have a conversation about what you said. All is forgiven. Or forgotten. Or both. 

This isn’t about you and it’s not about me. It’s about her.

The one who knows all the internet acronyms – she’s TTC, measures her life by DPO, did the BD, or a had a MC, counted her follies and had an IUI, endured yet another 2WW, again a BFN, and later a BFP, then a M/C.

She might have mortgaged her house for a few rounds of IVF. Or she’s had so many miscarriages, she got her own Doppler for this pregnancy.

You pass her at church or the grocery store and she’s drowning in hopelessness and synthetic hormones. She’s the only 20 or 30-something sticking her head in the store’s frozen pizza case because of her hot flashes. She can’t tell where her emotions end and the medicine’s side effects begin, and she truly wonders if she’s losing her mind.

Or maybe she’s wrapping her heart around adoption – turning what she thought was Plan B into a glorious Plan A. And trying to find $30k under the couch cushions.

And then on top of everything, friends and vague acquaintances – most well-intentioned, a few careless, gossipy or judgmental – lob flaming arrows of bad advice, not-so-subtle jabs, and plain ole crap her direction.  

So I thought, maybe you’ll read this blog post and maybe you’ll see that friend sticking her head in the pizza case at the grocery store or avoiding looking at the cute baby in the ruffled dress at church, and maybe you’ll be able to say something helpful and encouraging to her. 

Because I really do believe that most of the people who said these things to me, whether they knew what was going on or not, genuinely thought they were being helpful.

But they weren’t. At all.

Next, you might be thinking, But I don’t know anyone going through infertility.

Yes you do.

As I went through my comparably short battle with infertility, I was very private. I still don’t know how all of them arrived at my door step and inbox, but I developed a sisterhood of women who’d walked this road before. And there are a lot of us. I now find this journey such an integral part of the story of our miracle boy and the story of God’s faithfulness, that I don’t mind sharing, especially if it will help someone else.

So here’s the deal, if you have a friend who’s been married a more than a few years, is not in some sort of big life moment – her or her husband finishing law school, a deployment, they’re still in college – and she hasn’t outwardly expressed that she doesn’t want kids, she might be going through infertility.

Wondering why your friend with no kids stopped coming to girl’s nights out when it became a big mommy gab fest. She might be going through infertility. (Or maybe y’all are being a little insufferable).

Wondering why one of your friends stopped signing up to take meals to friends who just had babies? It might be hurting her heart too much.

I think that if you have a friend who has begun isolating herself, something’s wrong. 

The reality is this:  You know someone who is struggling right now with infertility.

And if you know someone in this fight, isn’t helpful to know what not to say? I think so. So without further adieu, here is a list of the nine weirdest, worst, most head-scratching things people told to us while we struggled to have a baby.

1. You need to try (insert fad diet of the month) and you WILL get pregnant.

Now, I know there is a correlation between weight loss and ovulation. I know because I talked about it. With my doctor.

No matter how close we are, if you told me that the only reason I wasn’t pregnant was because I hadn’t tried your friend’s fad diet, you found out that I was pregnant when I announced it on Facebook in the middle of my second trimester.

2. You just need to relax / Stop trying and it will just happen.

Apparently you weren’t in the room when my doctor read pages and pages of lab work, looked up at us and said that AT MOST I’d ovulated twice my whole life. Also, all those years we weren’t trying, I was relaxed, and it didn’t “just happen.”

These sorts of comments place subtle blame on the very person they’re trying to help. That’s a big deal. 

Hashtag not helpful.

3. You two know how this works, right? / Maybe it’s time you start practicing a bit more…Wink Wink. 

I can’t even comment. Wait, yes I can. I must.

We don’t have a kid, so you take it upon yourself to walk up to my husband and me and tell us we don’t know how to have sex? I think we can figure it out. After we’d been married for a few years and bought a house, these demeaning, bizarro comments came with head-pounding regularity.

Really, people? Really? 

4. You’re not getting any younger. You need to get on this.

My biological clock had run out of batteries. Thank you for reminding me I’m old.

5. We’re at a family or friend gathering. Everyone is in one room – people I know well, people I don’t know well at all. There’s a lull in the conversation. Suddenly someone loudly says from across the room, “So, Sarah, why don’t you have a kid yet?”

This is probably the worst. Face turning red, embarrassment shifting to shame, sometimes I’d have the wherewithal to say, “Hopefully I will when God and our team of medical professionals make a miracle happen.” Most of the time, I’d just shrug my shoulders.

6. The Baby Juke: It’s a term made up based on Jon Acuff’s term, the Jesus Juke.

You’re in a simple conversation and out of no where, JUKE! They just turned it into a conversation about why you haven’t sprung forth fruit from your loins. You realize that the entire conversation was just a prop to get you to this point. Baby jukers also believe they get bonus points for doing this in front of spectators or on social media.

See, watch:
Annoying Person: “What are you getting your parents for Christmas?
Me: “I was thinking a cast-iron skillet for my mom and a golf shirt for my dad.”
Annoying Person: “You know, they’d probably rather have a grandbaby than a stupid skillet. You’re not getting any younger. You need to get on this.(To the crowd) Am I right?”

Or:
Annoying Person: “I love those new pants!”
Me: “Thanks! They fit great!”
Annoying Person: “Well, watch out. They won’t fit after you have a baby. Speaking of, why don’t you have kids?”

Friends don’t Baby Juke their friends. That’s all I gotta say about that.

7. Why are you spending money on (home or car repair, vet bill, haircut) when you could be spending that money on a baby?

Well, we have a car and a house and (we used to have) a cat. And we don’t spend much on them. Would you like me to get out the calendar and show you the last time – three years ago – that we went on even a small weekend getaway? Or have you call my parents, who helped with our groceries when our fertility treatment costs began mounting?

Like the Baby Jukers, these helpful people really only asked their questions in front of an audience, as if enough of a mob got together and started shouting, “baby! baby! baby!” a tiny human would actually fall out of my nether regions.

Maybe everyone could just mind their own business.

8. You’re going to be a stay-at-home mom, right?

I don’t have a kid yet, but thanks for throwing me into the mommy wars. At the most inappropriate time ever.

9. Why aren’t you praying for a miracle?

This one really pisses me off.

First, why do you think I’m not? Don’t you think that I’ve yearned to have a romantic night with my husband, and then few weeks later to pee on a stick, see the magic plus sign, and then get to surprise our families? Instead, I was impregnated at a doctor’s office while The Professor was at work, and had no parents to surprise because they all knew our treatment schedule.

Yes, I prayed for that miracle with our sweet boy, and I’ll pray for it again.

Second, just ponder this. There’s a medicine that forces the very first part of a woman’s monthly cycle. That medicine causes her body to retrieve and grow a follicle, which will eventually turn into an egg. After a week or so, an ultrasound checks to make sure the follicle is ripe. Then a shot forces ovulation. And then exactly 36 hours after the shot, another procedure gets the swimmers in the mix. That, boys and girls, is sometimes where babies come from.

And you know what? That sounds pretty miraculous to me.

Thank you Jesus for doctors, researchers and chemists who solve these complex problems. Thank you for miracles, whether they are driven by science or defy explanation. I for one don’t like to rank my miracles.

And finally, hopefully you’re not the sort of person who goes around telling people with cancer to get off their chemo and pray instead. So why would you say that to someone using medicine to solve legitimate medical problems with fertility?

10. At least…

When you’re talking to someone who’s hurting, you need to remove the words at least from your vocabulary.

“We’re going through infertility treatment. It’s hard financially and the medicine is making me really sick.” 

“At least you don’t have cancer.”
“At least you already have a child.”
“At least you’re married and at a place in life to have kids. Some people aren’t.”

At least says this – Your pain is invalid because it is more than or less than someone else’s. (And equally infuriating, many times the person you’re being compared to is hypothetical!)

At least shames. It shuts down. It silences.

***

So there you have it. I heard these things over and over.  Do you feel equal parts amused, sad and frustrated? And maybe you sort of want to take a shower? I do.

Here is my conclusion.

It is hard out there, no matter what you’re going through. And I know you are all going through something.

And I think we can do better.

Can’t we encourage without embarrassing? Can’t we ask without shaming? Can’t we be a tribe of support, not a mush pit of grief? Can’t we? 

I think we can. I think you can, and I think I can.

In my follow-up post, I will be discussing practical things you can say or do if you have a friend going through this or many other hard times in life. I hope you stay tuned.