Sunday, November 27, 2016

But what if not?

To my mamas with empty arms, my sisters who long to be loved, and to anyone with unfulfilled dreams, this one is for you—for us.

I’ve longed for someone to come alongside me, to take my hand, and to speak this truth to me. Let’s face it. We don’t need more empty phrases, even though they are often uttered with the purest of intentions. We need truth and we need love.

Some of us may not get what we so desperately long for. Some of us may not ever get the “happy ending” that we had once envisioned. Some of us may never receive the things we think we always wanted—but no matter what happens, our arms will not be empty. We may end up with so much more than we ever would have dreamed up for ourselves.

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother. I’ve never had elaborate career aspirations. I went to college with the intent of studying something that I enjoyed so that one day I could help support my family—as a mother.

I never expected infertility to be a part of my story. I never expected to struggle for years to conceive. I never expected to lose my firstborn only 93 minutes after his birth. I never expected to have had three pregnancies, yet no living children at home. I never expected that our three-bedroom house would still have two empty rooms after all this time.

One month into our first attempt at an infertility therapy, I found myself staring at a negative pregnancy test and feeling incredibly defeated. I needed encouragement so I went to the place where almost any millennial would go to find it—Google.

I searched and searched for words from someone who was infertile, yet satisfied. Someone who longed for children, never had them, yet had hope to offer. In today’s society, surely someone had blogged about this.

I cried even harder when I couldn’t find it. Almost every person who shared their story of infertility shared it from the other side of the vast canyon—every story I found was written by someone who now held a living child in their arms.

 Okay, now hear me out. There is nothing wrong with their ending. I rejoice each time that I hear that anyone--especially a barren womb or a sister-in-loss--is expecting a child. Children are a blessing. Fulfilled dreams are a blessing.

 I don’t know where my story will end. My prayer for myself, and for you, is that one day our desires will be fulfilled. My hope is that one day our home is filled with the sounds of children laughing, and even screaming. But right now, I’m not there—which is why I needed to write this now. For all of us. For the one who never gets their “rainbow”. Because some of us may not receive the thing we always longed for and I can’t let you walk away feeling as if your life is less valuable because of it.

 Do I believe that God can open my womb? Yes. Do I believe that He will? I don’t know. I know that He can—and that He has my best interest in mind. I know that He will not leave me with empty arms—I just don’t know exactly what He will fill them with.

 For you, it may not be children. Maybe it’s healing from an illness. Maybe it’s a desire to be married. Maybe it’s a longing for something different.

 For years, people have been telling me that it will happen when the time was right. Maybe you’ve heard similar sayings. People say a lot of empty phrases, laced with the purest intentions.

 Give it time—it’ll happen.

 You’ll have more children.

 Just wait—the right guy will come along.

 But what if not?

 What if I never have a living child?

 What if my life doesn’t ever end up looking anything like I imagined it?

 What if my story is different?

 Am I less valuable because of it?

 My dear friend—I know it may feel as if your value died with your dreams. I know that these phrases can often hurt, despite the caring intent behind them, because they place a pressure that the world expects your life to look a certain way too. I know you may feel so lost and so broken. Please hear me when I say that you are so precious, so loved, and so valuable, despite the things that you do or do not have. Despite how empty your arms may feel.

 You have the potential to leave an outstanding impact on this world, despite what you are lacking—despite your weaknesses and your hurts. You have so much to offer. You are valuable in spite of your pain. You are valuable in spite of your loss. You are valuable in spite of it all.

 Psalm 107:9 says, “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”

A woman in my church that I admire told me something once that I will always cling to. She said, “No matter what happens, I promise you that God will not leave you empty handed.” This was the truth that I needed to hear. Not an empty promise that my dreams would come true. I needed to be reminded that in this world, I may have nothing—but if I have Christ, I have everything.   

Matthew 7:11, Jesus says,  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Our Heavenly Father loves us. Like a loving Father, He will provide. He will satisfy. He will fill our arms with good things.

I don’t have this all figured out yet—I’m still in the trenches with you. We’re in this battle together. It’s hard. Oh man, it’s so hard to surrender our dreams. But I do have hope that our Father sees all things, and He cares more than I know. And in that, I find peace.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Who I was and who I am

Photo by Lexi Danielle Photography

The following is a summary of session that I wrote for the On Coming Alive Bereaved Parent’s Workshops this past weekend, in the Midwest. The topic came to me after weeks of wrestling with that to say—with what to offer these families, when I’m still walking this road myself. So, with days to spare, I decided to simply share my heart—to address the very thing that I’ve been learning so much about in these last few months, and to lead others in an interactive discussion about our identities. 

Grief and devastation can shake you at the very core. It is heart-wrenching. Confusing. Disorienting. Challenging. Crushing.

Nothing shakes your reality quite like losing a child does. After I lost my son, Ethan, I found myself questioning so many things that I had once been so confident in. It wasn’t only the world around me that suddenly felt so foreign—I had changed.

Who am I? I asked myself this I’ve asked myself this question so many times since the day the doctor looked me straight in the eye and told me that my son may die. Since the day I held my sweet baby boy as his soul passed into heaven. Since that trying season in between his diagnosis and death that pushed me toward change—that season I walked into with such naivety and walked out of feeling 30 years older.

I remember the first few times I had the courage to return to places that had once felt so safe and familiar—the grocery store, my favorite coffee shop, my church, and even my own home. I was lost and out of place, though nothing around me had changed. I was not the same person anymore and felt like a stranger to everyone around me, including myself.
A child who loses their parents is called an orphan and a person who loses their spouse is called a widow or a widower, but no one knows what to call a person who has lost a child. Just as we have no title, our identities are left in shambles. I didn’t fit anywhere. I don’t know many 28-year-old empty nesters. The world doesn’t know what to do with a childless mother.

One of the things I grieved after losing Ethan was the person that I was before. It’s hard to explain this to someone until they’ve experienced it themselves, but I think anyone who has faced any devastating circumstance can relate. Sure, the most profound and obvious loss that I grieved was the loss of my son. I grieved that he was no longer in my arms. I grieved that we had to say goodbye. I grieved the two babies that I lost after him. I grieved that I never may have children. But in addition to these obvious losses, I grieved myself. I mourned over the parts of myself that died with my son, and with each subsequent loss.

I missed the optimist. I missed living in a world where loss felt rare. I missed the girl who didn’t have anxiety. The girl who didn’t feel everything so deeply. Who watched the news without sobbing. The girl who could focus on tasks for hours on end. The girl who could actually remember what she did last Christmas—the girl who didn’t have spots of post-traumatic memory loss. The girl who loved small talk. The girl who thought you could have anything you wanted in life if you just worked hard enough. 

RIP to the old me.

In the last few months, I’ve begun to see the beauty in this transformation. I’ve taken steps toward embracing the pre-loss Kristin and the after-loss Kristin, and how both can operate together to form a “me” that I am proud of. There is such beauty in allowing goodness to grow from the darkness.

I am more than a childless parent. I am more than infant loss. I am more than recurrent miscarriage. I am more than infertility. My children have added so much to who I am, but there is still so much more that defines me. There is more to my story.

I like the realist—the girl who hopes, but knows that pain is real and empathizes with the broken hearts of this world. I like the girl who feels everything so deeply. I love the girl who has learned to slow down and stray from the task for the sake of caring for others. I love the girl who is learning not to sweat the small stuff so much. I love the girl who loves deeper. I love the girl who realizes her weakness. I love the girl who isn’t afraid to question and to seek answers. I love the girl who knows that she is not in control—being out of control can be terrifying, but is also so very freeing. I love the girl who has been given the gift of suffering.

There are parts of me that have been lost, parts that have been gained, and parts that will always be a part of me. Some things will never change.

Finding those constant, unmovable things has been reassuring and comforting. Those things that I can cling to with confidence, despite what other changes may come. My love for my children will never change. The love that God has for me will never change.

So, who am I? I am a wife and a mother to 3 children—one that I held in my arms, two that I never met, and all who now live in heaven. I’m a friend, a sister, a believer. I am broken, yet full of hope.