The subject line popped up on an otherwise uneventful Monday: Team Happy Hour! I smiled at the familiarity of the sender and memory of frequent get togethers in what often feels like a past life.
In reality it has been fewer than six years since I left the comfort and certainty of a job I enjoyed to explore a less traveled path. And while my current venture provides a rhythm that is particularly well suited for this stage in my life, I felt a wave of nostalgia for the past and the people alongside whom I worked long days, experienced significant historical events, and shared major life changes.
Without hesitation I made arrangements to attend. I was eager to reconnect - to learn what others were doing professionally and what had changed in their personal lives. I wanted to hear their stories and marvel at their witty observations. I looked forward to seeing their faces and being, once again, in the presence of smart, driven people united in a common pursuit.
As the day approached, I had flashes of uncertainty: So many of my former colleagues are doing "great things"! Many are still working in the same arena, shaping policies that directly affect the daily lives of millions of Americans. Others had traded their government IDs for business cards bearing the names of well-known companies, industries, and consultancies. Would I even be able to keep up with their conversations?! But I reminded myself of a lesson learned almost exactly one year ago and showed up. And I was so glad I did!!
Upon arrival, I was immediately spotted and welcomed into the fold by a dear friend. I caught up with a former colleague who, since we last spoke, had begun a new job, bought a new home, and become a father. I checked in with my former boss about his life since leaving office. In brief but enjoyable exchanges I learned about new jobs, relationships, and travels.
As the gathering grew, I stood aside and watched: transported back to a time in which this was my "normal." A time when I was constantly surrounded by these personalities and fueled by their energy.
But at the same time, I was also aware of a palpable disconnect. There was still sincere affection in the interactions, but there was a lost intimacy.
I realized that my memories of these people - this team - were rooted in the past. Preserved in amber exactly as they had been six years ago. Seeing them gathered together again - altered by time - disturbed the static image that endured in my mind. I had always imagined being able to slide seamlessly back into the scene, but instead, I realized for the first time that my place in their world had long since ceased to exist.
Change is, of course, inevitable. And in the abstract, it is easy to wax poetic about needing to clear out the old to make room for the new - the importance of turning our focus to where we are going rather than dwelling on where we have been. But in the moment we experience it, change is often unsettling - even painful.
It is tempting to move quickly through such discomfort, but we are better served by instead being still: letting our thoughts and emotions flow and acknowledging them without judgment.
As we continue to grow and change, our path will necessarily take us away from the familiar - whether a job, a community, relationships, or some combination thereof. Even when we leave on the best of terms and believe sincerely that we are exactly where we should be, it is natural to mourn. And I would like to suggest it is also beneficial.
Next time you are confronted with a change - or realize a momentous shift has happened while your focus was elsewhere - give yourself permission to sit with it, perhaps even wrestle a bit. What did you learn from the experience - and its conclusion? What relationships will you carry forward? How have you grown? Explore change and the lessons it brings...
I love to be helpful. But I HATE asking for help. Sound familiar?
No one wants to admit they don't have it all together. We prefer to think (and behave as if) we have everything under control. All is as it should be. Smooth sailing. Easy peasy.
And often this IS the case.
But sometimes it isn't...
A few weeks ago I organized a field trip for my daughter's kindergarten class. The kiddos were excited to learn about seeds and how they travel, take a nature walk to see the process in action, and bring home a plant to observe the cycle coming full circle. I had made arrangements with the nature center, recruited a handful of parents to drive the children, and checked the various administrative boxes.
When the day arrived, the weather was perfect, and I was feeling pleased with how perfectly everything had come together. But as my daughter bounded out of the car to begin her school day, I realized a critical oversight: I had failed to ask the parents of her classmates to leave their children's carseats for the volunteer drivers...
I immediately began berating myself. What was I thinking? And WHAT am I going to do? Parents are already at work and can't be expected to drive back to the school to remedy MY ineptitude. If I don't figure something out - and SOON - it will be up to me to explain to a classroom of sweet faces why they can't go on an adventure they have been looking forward to for weeks!
My mind raced through a litany of possibilities - all of which were dismissed just as quickly as they emerged: I can call a car service with seats! But that would require additional permission slips from parents... I can run to a store and buy extra car seats! But you'll never get to the 'burbs and back in time for the field trip. And do you have any idea how much that would cost?! I had failed - and was failing to fix the problem alone.
Reluctantly, I began to think through people who might be able to help. I started with the easy asks. I reached out to a neighbor friend with whom I regularly trade favors - only to be reminded that she was at the hospital with her son who was having his tonsils removed. I checked with Addie’s godparents - amazingly generous people who have flexible work schedules many days. But their car - and seats - were across town for an important meeting.
I had no choice but to cast a wider net. Feeling wholly inadequate and utterly sheepish, I put out a plea to neighbors I barely knew and parents of classmates I had met only once or twice.
And I waited...
But not for long. Mere moments later, I was the recipient of an outpouring of generosity. Within 30 minutes I had (more than) what I needed. It was a huge relief - and hugely humbling.
While carseats for a kindergarten field trip may seem of little consequence, the experience is representative of our general reluctance to ask for help. As a result, we miss countless opportunities to flex a muscle that serves us well in more important areas of our lives.
Personally, I know that if I had not asked for - and accepted - help from a caring and wise therapist in my early 20s, I might not have overcome a destructive relationship with food and distorted body image. If I had not asked for - and accepted - help from talented doctors and specialists a decade later, I would not be a mother today.
As we enter a new month, I encourage you to think through the areas - large and small - in which you could benefit from seeking assistance. Even the most capable among us can benefit from a helping hand - and in doing so we invite others to play an important supporting role in our journey.
In the coming weeks I am committing to being honest with myself - and others - when things are not going according to plan. I am exploring opportunities to admit when I need help and gracefully accept the assistance that comes my way. Let's explore humility - and discover the freedom it brings.
When my husband announced he wanted to take our daughter on their first father-daughter trip, I was excited for them. It would be a time of special memories for them both, and I looked forward to some quiet moments at home.
I imagined settling in with a few good books, perhaps indulging in a yoga workshop, or enjoying a quiet meal with friends. But as the date approached, I hesitated. I realized that despite good intentions of a relaxing staycation, I was more likely to use the time to be "productive" - cleaning out closets, planting Spring flowers, and mapping out meals for the week ahead. I knew that before I completed my to-do list, the weekend would be over and an opportunity lost...
So I instead booked a train ticket to my happy place. And I found myself in New York City. Alone.
Despite traveling there a few times each year, stepping off the train solo seemed novel. The familiar energy felt somehow different. It was no less the loud, chaotic, and frenetic city I know and love, but I quickly became aware of a steady, almost soothing, undercurrent. The constant commotion coalesced into the perfect backdrop for a moving meditation.
Navigating the city without a companion rendered me more attentive to small details. Rather than sharing and comparing observations, I tuned into the sounds and sights that surrounded me: Snippets of conversation from passersby. Music drifting from the open window of an idling taxi. Banter among street vendors.
Rather than compiling a photographic catalogue of an epic dinner for my food-loving family, I marveled at the choreography of the dining service. The composition of each plate. The texture and taste of each bite.
The weekend became an exercise in mindfulness: stilling the perpetual motion of my inner monologue, breathing fully, and observing with all my senses.
I boarded the train back to Washington feeling refreshed - and inspired. The weekend's itinerary was nearly identical to prior visits, but moving through the days in silence yielded an entirely different experience. As I watched the miles pass by through the window of the train, I wondered: how can I continue to savor this sense of stillness?
The answer is simple - if not easy. It IS possible to experience silence - no matter how raucous our surroundings - but we have to be intentional about it.
As you enter a new month, consider the possibilities of incorporating silence into your daily routine: Can you savor a cup of tea in the midst of a clamoring coffee shop? Or open a book on a park bench (or your couch) surrounded by the cacophony of children at play? Is it possible to "disconnect" from devices on your commute and instead tune in to the stillness that lies beneath the chaos?
I am committed to finding (and creating) opportunities in the month ahead - and I invite you to join me. Let's explore silence - and experience the serenity it brings.
Have you ever been told “no”? Have you ever been told “no” from God?
I've been told no for years and it took just as long for me to finally say, “Okay God, you got this. I'm done doing it on my own.”
And you know what? Once I let it go and stopped worrying about MY plan for what I thought was good for me, everything changed. God helped me to stop comparing. I could see pictures of my friends with their kids and not get jealous. I could legitimately like a pregnancy announcement and not get mad and wonder “Why God? Why her and not me?” Once I accepted that God's will for my life was SO much better than I could ever imagine, I changed.
Don’t be lazy when it comes to waiting on the Lord’s direction. Don’t think that you’re so wise that you can guide your own life. See your constant need for His leading. Get alone with the Lord and say, like Jacob, “I’m not letting you go Lord until you bless me with wisdom and direction. I’m not leaving until you show me exactly what you want me to do and when! Because I want to be in your perfect will, I’m waiting to hear from you my God!”
“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. ” Lamentations 3:25
God's plan is so perfect. He knew I wasn't ready for kids yet. He knew I needed the time to mature in Him. To trust in Him. To stop thinking I know best. I know my infertility journey is nothing compared to many, but God had me go through that time for a purpose. Now I have empathy for those struggling. I can relate to them. I feel for them. And I am thankful for that. Thankful for views like this. Views that serve as reminders that I am not in control. Reminders that God has got this and I just need to trust what He's got planned.
No one chooses to be infertile. No one wants to discover their journey to parenthood will be more difficult than they imagined. Not one friend or client has confided that they are excited to face so many obstacles on the way to their dream.
But everyone who has walked this path has grown in ways they couldn't have imagined.
I certainly did not ask to experience infertility, but in the process I have learned a great deal: compassion, humility, resilience, and an awareness that it is impossible to know the silent struggles faced by others. I have discovered that maintaining a positive perspective is easiest when my time and energy are directed outward. I have been forced to accept I am not ultimately in control of my future - and I am (still) learning to accept that reality with grace.
Wherever you may be in this process I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and the way in which your story is unfolding. There is no single pathway to parenthood: our stories are as unique as we are. As you travel, I encourage you to pause and look for the lessons. The chances to grow in grace and faith. The opportunities to bless other travelers. We are all on this journey together, and there is much to discover.
My husband and I got married in 2010. I was 32, he was 29. Like many of us who believe we are ready to start a family immediately, we thought for sure we had hit the target during our honeymoon. When that didn't pan out we were confident again that the next month was it. This continued on for about 9 months. Around this time my mother had surgery, and we paused "trying" so I could care for her. When we resumed, I joined an online forum for women trying to conceive and a number of women on the forum eventually became part of my core support group.
A visit to my general practitioner propelled me to make an appointment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE). I remember her telling me in a very matter of fact manner, "Listen - if you are over 30 and its taking you more than 6 months to get pregnant make an appointment with an RE immediately. Forget waiting until you are 35." She herself had struggled with infertility and was currently pursuing treatment for her second child.
My husband and I were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Our RE recommended we start with medically assisted timed intercourse. After three months without success I was already emotionally exhausted and asked to move on to Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). After another three failed rounds, I was done! I switched clinics and decided to pursue In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
With IVF on the horizon, I felt giddy with expectation. At least four of the six other women in my fertility support group had become mothers, and some were starting to think about their second. The year was 2013 and I was 34. Our first IVF cycle seemed picture perfect, but it failed. I was devastated, and my husband went into shock. We pursued second and third opinions. I recall reading a blog about a mother who had struggled through many rounds of treatment. She wanted to give up, but her doctor encouraged her to stay the course, and she ended up having triplets. That story inspired me and gave me strength and perspective to continue as I finally came to understand that this journey we were on may be a very long one.
My second IVF cycle was, indeed, challenging, and I leaned on my core support group. One friend in particular called me daily to check in. As fate would have it, that was the cycle that worked and gave us our beautiful son.
The love and support from and for others is what gave me strength during the many bleak days of infertility. Not being consumed by feelings of "woe is me" because I became vested in other people's journeys became critical to my ability to carry on. Their successes became my successes. I was able to tap into their knowledge base and learn far more than I could have on my own.
The power of community is what sustained me throughout. I've since started a free program in Washington DC called Fertile Ground Growing Families as a means of giving back to others still in the trenches. The goal of the 8-week program is to both educate those trying to expand their families on all of the options that are available to them and create community. We go over the fundamentals of getting pregnant spontaneously and through assisted reproductive technology, and bring in speakers who've pursued other options such as adoption, fostering, and surrogacy as a means to grow their family. I'm currently in the second semester of piloting the program. My advice to those still in the trenches is to know you are not alone and that you do not have to walk this journey alone.
One of the biggest challenges of navigating infertility is the accompanying feeling of isolation and powerlessness. Despite the fact that one in eight couples struggle to start a family, those walking through the experience often feel as though they are alone. Finding a community with whom you can share your experiences, learn from theirs, and feel supported can be incredibly empowering.
Fortunately, in recent years, opportunities to make such connections have expanded dramatically. Below you will find a round-up of fertility-related resources in the D.C. area. Read on to learn more about these community-building offerings - and please share with anyone you know who might benefit! If you know of other opportunities to add to the list, please let me know!
New Beginnings Yoga: Monthly Yoga and Fertility classes take place the first Monday of each month at 7:30pm at the Viva Center. These drop-in classes bring together women who are sharing the infertility journey - from those who are beginning to explore their options to those who have been struggling for years. Seasoned yogis and newbies alike will benefit from a therapeutic asana practice, time for reflection, and the opportunity to create community. Details and registration are available here.
Heal from Within: Licensed acupuncturist Lisa Eaves hosts an infertility support group the second Sunday of each month from 9:30am-noon in the Tenleytown neighborhood. More information and a full schedule of meeting dates for 2019 are available here.
Jessica Burdge: Local photographer and blogger Jessica Burdge is hosting her second annual one-day retreat for women struggling with infertility. The event will take place in Lancaster City, PA on August 3. To register or learn more, visit her website here.
Fertile Ground Building Families: D.C.-based mama and fertility warrior Soundia Duche has developed an eight-week program designed to educate those trying to expand their families about all available options. Additional details about the program are available here.
When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
After trying for 6 months, I was not feeling myself and had put on some extra weight but was still very active. In order to better understand what was going on, I decided to go to the fertility clinic that my doctor recommended for a general assessment which revealed that I had a serious case of hypothyroidism. Thankfully there is a simple solution with a daily medication to treat it, however it can take some time to get the dosage and hormone levels in the optimal range for pregnancy so it took a specialist and some patience. A year later my blood work revealed that I have an autoimmune disease that led to the under-active thyroid. While it was helpful to find out the source of the problem, it was hard to add this news to the mix while trying tirelessly to get pregnant.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
The fear of the unknown was most difficult. I wasn't confident that I'd be successful or what lengths we might have to go to in order to get pregnant, if we could at all. It was also really tough to understand all of the information and terminology at first. We did a couple of IUIs to begin with but soon realized the chance for success was very low and I was disappointed we spent nearly 6 months on something that wasn't likely to work. Finding trustworthy sources to educate myself with was difficult at first.
What gave you motivation and confidence to move forward?
My faith in God and the support from my husband. While I was really anxious and scared throughout the year and a half long process, I kept having an overwhelming feeling that God made me who I am for this very reason. I'm a focused and driven person and I truly believe that these qualities helped me persevere, along with the unwavering support from my husband. While he certainly couldn't fully identify with how I was feeling, he never made me feel badly for the struggles and he always agreed with my choices as we navigated the options. I know without a doubt that I could not have seen infertility to the other side without God and my husband.
What types of therapy/ies did you pursue (reproductive endocrinologist/acupuncture/yoga/herbal therapy/etc.)?
YES! I did it all. I relied heavily on my endocrinologists and even sought out second opinions for my thyroid and my fertility. In hindsight I'm glad I asked tough questions, went looking for other opinions and didn't stop until I felt like a plan was developed that felt right. While acupuncture was a nice way to force me to take a break during the workweek, I truly believe that yoga helped me to listen more closely to my body, to feel comfortable with myself during an unpleasant time physically, and to exhale the negative thoughts that would creep into my thinking at the least helpful times.
What is the best piece of advice you received during your journey?
Someone I do not know personally but had a strong inclination to reach out to via social media kindly wrote me and shared that it's overwhelming to think of the process from start to finish. Instead, she recommended that I have a plan for one step ahead. For me this meant having a game plan should the thing we were about to do not work out. That way I could give myself some time to grieve but then would be able to dust myself off quickly and get back in the fight. I truly believe it is a journey of endurance. You really find out how strong you are when you are going to almost daily doctors appointments and receive repeated test results all while trying to juggle your career and trying to appear like you have it together. I now realize that IVF was great preparation for being a mom because the challenges and exhaustion never ends!
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
I wish I would have reached out to people who had experienced infertility and tackled IVF, successfully or not, sooner. I waited for some reason but it helped tremendously once I had developed a nice circle of people who were willing to share the nitty gritty of their journey, listen to my worries/fears, and allow me the space to be upset whenever I needed. It was a lot for my husband to constantly hear about my thyroid problems and the IVF process so having others to vent to was crucial for him and I both. I think it's important to take some pressure off of yourself and your partner in order to get through the journey.
What encouragement can you offer someone who is struggling with infertility?
One of my dear friends who also struggled with infertility and ultimately chose adoption said to me, "Jamie, if you want to be a mother you WILL be. You will be a mom one way or another and you have to remind yourself of that." At the time I found it hard to understand how she could be so certain but she was absolutely right. I repeated this to myself once it sunk in and it was a mantra that really helped me stay positive. And here I am today writing this as a new mom to a little girl who is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
Each year during National Infertility Awareness Week, we devote a week of content on the blog to sharing stories, encouragement, and resources for women and men experiencing infertility - and those who support them. This year's theme, #InfertilityUncovered, seeks to highlight awareness of the significant lack of access to family building options and emotional support for the millions of women and men struggling to build a family.
Throughout the week, I invite you to visit the blog to hear from individuals who have chosen very different paths en route to parenthood, as well as tools for those who continue to struggle. Please also feel free to reach out to share YOUR story and the resources helping you navigate your own journey.
No one chooses to be infertile. We don't desire drama, hardship, or unfulfilled longing in our pursuit of a family. No friend or client has ever confided that they are glad to have found so many obstacles standing between them and their dream.
While I never would have opted to experience infertility, it has taught me a great deal: compassion, humility, resilience, and an awareness that it is impossible to know what silent struggles other people are facing. I have discovered that maintaining a positive perspective is easiest when my time and energy are directed outward. I am learning to be patient with myself and others and to stop clinging to the illusion of control.
Wherever you may be in this process I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and the way in which your story is unfolding. There is no singular path to parenthood: our journeys are as unique as we are, and each struggle holds valuable lessons. As you travel, you will learn and grow - and perhaps have an opportunity to be a light to others who are struggling. We are all on this journey together, and there is much to discover.