Infertility and the holidays

I am currently sitting in the car, with a load of groceries, waiting for my 16 month-old miracle baby to wake up.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in this very moment my heart is so full of joy and excitement, thinking about all of the amazing family time that is coming over the next few days.

I can’t wait to watch Elias eat all the food, shimmying his happy “yummy food” dance in his high chair. I can’t wait to watch him crack up at all his older boy cousins as they run around and play together.

I can’t wait to talk about all the mom things and toddler-life things, and hear stories from the matriarchs in our family.

It hasn’t always been this way, though.

After missing out on Thanksgiving for the 5 years I lived in Colombia, we were finally able to participate when we moved here 6 years ago. Right after my sister had her baby…. and my cousin was pregnant.

I felt like I had absolutely nothing to give to any conversation. I felt so out of place. Truly, most of Thanksgiving Day, I just avoided any conversation and hung out with the younger kids in the basement, hiding.

On top of culture shock, I was having anxiety about my place in the family, my value; and truly struggled to even be happy for how the family was growing. I found myself feeling jealous and bitter that it wasn’t happening for us.

When I voiced some hesitation and anxiety I was feeling to a family member, it was countered with “why can’t you just get outside of yourself and be happy!”

Yeah… not really helpful.

I know that I have friends who might be feeling anxious in these days as well. It might be for different reasons… maybe you aren’t happy in your job, in your marriage, or in your singleness… or maybe you’re just not feeling joyful and you can’t put your finger on “why”.

In my counseling sessions leading up to the holidays the following year, my counselor told me 2 things that helped me.

1) Find my “safe person”… someone I know loves me no matter what I bring to the table. Someone who either won’t ask me the hard questions, or someone who I feel comfortable talking about the hard things with.

2) Breathe in “I can do all things”…. breathe out “through Christ who gives me strength”.

As I breathed my way through one holiday after another, I realized that I was able to show up for my family members.

Instead of feeling shame and anxiety about what I was lacking, I was able to be a non-distracted listener. And, while family members shared their struggles, especially when it came to kids, I was able to stay calm.

(Don’t get me wrong… in my head I was still saying “at least you can have kids”… but I was able to keep that thought to myself and just keep listening.)

What I learned as I would ask questions and listen, is that ALL of us feel like we’re missing out on something… we all have pain from life not turning out as we thought it would… even those who seem like they have it all together.

So, if you’re dreading family time like I did for years, know that you’re not alone. You don’t need to give anything that you don’t have. It’s ok to just.show.up.

Breathe.

Listen.

Play.

I promise you will find joy in a tiny moment, if you’ll just have courage to look for it.

And, if you’re one of those annoying family members, (like we are this year) for whom things are all going pretty well, be the safe person for your struggling family members.

Listen.

Play.

Make inclusive, memorable moments.

Be the person that your struggling family members are grateful for.

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I am the hot mess mom

We have had a crazy week. One of those weeks that I would totally judge my mom-friends for when I would hear them complain. I would think to myself “at least you can HAVE that kind of week”.

Infertility made me judgmental and jealous when I would hear how hard being a mom is.

And I catch myself all the time when I am tempted to complain.

This gift of being a mom is hard, and I am so grateful! I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not even for the chance to take a shower by myself. Lol!

This picture was taken at 9:45 pm last night. Inside a Wendy’s. As my soon-to-be 15 month-old was having his first experience of dipping fries in ketchup, and then subsequently going to town on the little plastic container to get every last bit of ketchup onto his hands, in his hair, on his shirt and possibly some in his mouth.

His wonderful silicon bib became the placemat because I haven’t gotten his nice little silicon placemat back in the diaper bag since we left it at a friend’s house last week and they mailed it back to us. It still sits in the package on the counter.

I told a friend the other day that our “schedule” is a little different that most… we are all in bed by 10:30, and that we are usually up by 10 at the latest. She looked shocked, and said “well, that’s great if that’s what works for you”. Lol.

A few years ago, a buzzfeed video came out, showing different kinds of moms. The PTA Mom who had it all together, the parenting expert Mom who had read all the articles about all the things, the crunchy Mom who was still nursing her 3rd grader, the hipster Mom who was raising her child with a typewriter and vinyl records….

…and then the hot-mess Mom ran into the scene with her pj’s on, and a stain on her shirt that could’ve been poop or chocolate.

Even though I didn’t know if we would ever have kids, I knew at that moment that I was going to be the hot mess mom.

Elias takes at least one nap a day in the car as we drive home from somewhere, and most days I just chill out in the Cheerio, library book, empty Kombucha-bottle, dirty clothes, toy-filled car while its running and try to decide if it’s worth getting him out or contributing to global warming while having the car run for a few hours (because as soon as it shuts off, the nap is OVER…).

I’m grateful that Leo and I both mostly work from home, but we don’t have any kind of schedule. We sleep at crazy hours, have clients and students coming in anywhere from 9am to midnight.

And 15 months into this, we aren’t much better at communicating our schedules.

Last week?

Total hot-mess family week.

We took off 2 days to drive out to Fort Wayne to spend time with friends. We left Thursday morning with plans of taking our time and getting back Saturday afternoon.

Well, my brother and his family had to evacuate because of Hurricane Florence, and they were only going to be in town to see us on Saturday… so we squished all of our plans to see friends into 2 days instead of 3, and got home at midnight Friday night (luckily, Elias is used to sleeping in the car, and he slept the entire 2 1/2 hour ride home!).

Saturday, we spent a good chunk of time with family at my parents farm, but now that Elias can get into EVERY GOD-BLESSED thing, it was more like chasing him around, making sure he wasn’t getting into all the things he could. Somehow, we didn’t watch closely enough (big shocker), and he hid he remote.

That night, we led worship at a Spanish-speaking church with our band. The event started at 8pm, and we led worship from 8:30-9:30 pm. I couldn’t find a babysitter, so I was wearing Elias the whole time. He was trying to grab the mic from me while I was bouncing around singing to keep him distracted and happy.

I was drenched by the end of it.

The next day was Sunday, AKA: “chase Elias around the church and keep him from going on the stage while Papa is leading worship” day.

I have no idea who thought up the idea of an 11:30 church service, but they don’t have babies. I’m convinced.

He gets so crabby, and I can’t even think about taking him to the nursery because he just screams when either one of us leaves him with strangers. So, that day, just because I was so tired of chasing him around, we went to hang out in the nursery.

Side note: there needs to be a “toddler room” right next to the “cry room” where parents can watch the sermon and let their toddlers play in a semi-confined space.

Then, Sunday night, some dear friends had their last concert in Columbus before moving to Texas. Leo went early because he was running sound, and Elias and I got there right at 7:30. We were there until 10:30pm. Elias fell asleep in the car before we even pulled out of the driveway of church.

The rest of the week was filled with friends coming in from out of town, 2 more gigs, on top of a normally pretty crazy schedule. One night, we were even up until 1:30!

There are days I look at us and am so grateful that we are old 1st-time parents. We have seen so many of our friends learn the hard way that this parenting journey is one of Grace. Their best-laid plans sometimes fail, and the best toys aren’t the ones that cost the most money, but usually the boxes that the toys come in.

We treasure each moment, and try to be as present as possible as we navigate schedules and obligations.

But other days? I feel my age. I am exhausted and frustrated with myself that I can’t have it all together.

As my little man’s personality and desire for independence grows, I am trying to guide him into making the right decisions for himself… letting him fall a little, letting him eat that random piece of breakfast off the floor that the dogs obviously weren’t interested in when he “shared” it with them.

And I’m trying to just keep everything in perspective. It’s ok if the dishes get done once a week. It’s ok to wear the same clothes a few days in a row. It’s ok to put Elias in whatever clothes are clean, regardless if they match.

At the end of the day, God gave us the gift of parenting Elias’ precious soul. He knows who we are. We have already changed so much in this whole process, but one thing will remain the same: we will always be “in it” together. Whether that’s traveling, serving, helping friends, leading worship, eating, cleaning, playing…

We are doing this “hot-mess” life together.

Miracle Morales

Between Leo’s accident, a rough pregnancy, and the exhaustion of the first year of being parents, I feel like I’ve lost the last 2 years of my life.  Lol! I also realized that I hadn’t written out the story of our miracle.

It’s long, but worth the read!  Even as I’m typing this out, it isn’t lost on me that some of the characters in this story were people God used to bring other seasons of my life full-circle in HIS story of redemption.

For those of you who have known us for a while, you know that I had quite a few years when I struggled with my health.  As soon as we were married, we took the “we’ll trust God” approach with growing our family, and didn’t really use any measures to prevent it from happening.

After a while, we knew something was wrong.

After finally seeing a fertility specialist here once we go to the States, we got some heartbreaking news:  I probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant.  He said “we could pump you full of hormones and try, but if I were you, I’d think about just saving my money.”  We were determined to do something, but the day I went in for another check-up, the doctor found yet another cyst on my ovaries and said that there was nothing he could do.

That was in 2014, right around when we got Canela.

Our marriage had been through some hard times before, but nothing like that year.  I felt so guilty, so ashamed, so sorry that Leo had married me.  I knew he would be an amazing dad, and I felt like I was holding him back from something he was made to do.

We had to take an honest look at each other and ask 

“Am I enough for you?”

“Are we enough for each other?”

“If it is just the two of us for the rest of our lives, will we be ok?”

We had to die to the idea of being parents. 

Sidenote: Yes, adoption is an option for most couples, but this is before Leo was able to become a citizen, and we knew we weren’t in the place to even try to adopt or foster. 

Fast forward 2 years to the accident.  Leo had taken a brave step to quit his job so he could focus on his ministry and music full-time, and 2 days later falls and shatters his elbow.

Our dog was about to have puppies.

It was crazy!

As people were coming over to our house to pray for Leo’s healing, a few of them bluntly said

“I feel like Jesus not only wants to heal Leo, but wants to heal you, too”. 

Not just one person… but a few!

*I have had MANY people pray for me over the years… hands on my belly, crying out to Jesus kinds of prayers… “seeing- us-with-a-crib” kind of prayers… and I had honestly not really put any stock in prayers for a baby for a LONG time… but this time was different.

Leo’s mom had come to visit and celebrate Leo’s citizenship ceremony with us, and in the stress of it all, I went off the rails with my diet.  (I had completely changed my eating habits after the news of our infertility to try to help keep my hormones balanced).  I had another bout with a cyst and anemia that about took me down for a while.  The worst days of bleeding, I was in a dear friend’s wedding, or else I would’ve gone to the hospital.

It didn’t feel like God had heard any of the prayers that I was finally willing to let others pray.

In desperation, I found a Groupon for acupuncture.  I was willing to try anything to get my hormones and cycle back on track. And, just as God would have it, the precious acupuncturist is a Chinese Christian who goes to Vineyard!  She spoke life over my body, almost prophesying as I laid there on her table for 6 sessions over the few weeks.  My period finally stopped.  I was so grateful!

I had also made an appointment at my OB’s office to see if they could figure out what was going on.  I remember going in, and having the ultrasound tech look at everything.  I hadn’t seen my ovaries since the fertility doc, and all I remember then was seeing the cyst.  This time was different, however.  This time, instead of cysts, my ovaries were full of follicles.  I mean, I had never seen that with all the different ultrasounds over the years!  The tech said

“I don’t know… everything looks perfectly healthy and normal.” 

I laughed.  I had never heard that before!

In that moment, I felt the Lord say “Get ready!”. 

The following week, we were having a worship and healing night at our church.  I always stand towards the back of the sanctuary, just hanging back and watching what Jesus is doing.  Leo was running sound that night, so I just sat in my own little section of chairs on the main floor in the back.

I remember seeing a precious Indian family up in the next section.  During the ministry time, I walked over and offered to pray for them.  They were grateful, and Jesus really moved!  After I was done, the woman looked at me and said

“While we were worshipping, I saw you in the corner.  The Lord told me that you were going to come pray for me, and that I need to pray for you to have a baby.”

Uh… what?!  Ok.

She went on to say “Do you mind if I pray for you in my native language?”

She poured out her heart to God on my behalf for what seemed like 30 minutes.  It was beautiful.  I felt something break off of me, and there was so much peace!

2 days later we left for Colombia for a month.

We got back from our vacation, and while Leo was leading worship at church, I was home.  I decided to take a pregnancy test, since I hadn’t had my period since the bleeding episode almost 2 months before.

It was positive.

I can’t tell you how many tests I’ve taken.

This was the first one that was ever positive.

I was sitting in the bathroom, shaking.  I doubted the test.  I took another one.  Positive.  I thought that maybe it was just that brand, so I took another one that used words instead of symbols.

“Pregnant”

I cried.  I debated calling my best friend, but decided that I should wait to tell Leo first.

But how?

On one of our more hopeful trips to Colombia, we had purchased a baby-sized Colombian soccer jersey.  We kept it out until I couldn’t look at it anymore, and I buried it in a dresser drawer.

It took a while to remember, but I found the little jersey, and wrapped the pregnancy tests up in it. 

When Leo got home, I presented it to him.

“What is this?” He asked?

“I think we’re going to have a baby!” I cried.

We laughed and cried all night!

The next day was Friday, and I called the OB’s office to schedule a blood test and another ultrasound.

They were able to get me in right away for the blood test, and confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant.

We saw my parents that weekend, for the first time since we had been back from Colombia.

My mom pulled me aside and asked

“Honey, were you in a place where you could foster or adopt any kids?”

“No, why?” I replied

“I had an incredible, tangible experience with the Lord, where I felt Him tell me that you were going to meet your child in Colombia.” 

Silence…
Because of all the pain we’d experienced, we didn’t really include our parents in any of our infertility journey… we didn’t want to cause them pain as well… and we had lost  previous pregnancies (that we found out about after the fact) that we also hadn’t included them in on, so I wasn’t really ready to share. 

So, I just kept sipping my water, and without looking at my mom said

“Nope, we weren’t doing any ministry with kids this time.”

She slowly replied “That is so weird.  It was such an intense experience, and I just prayed for you everyday you were there.”

“Huh”.

When we had the ultrasound that following week and heard the little heartbeat, we called both sets of parents to share the news and to ask for prayer.

I told my mom “We didn’t meet our baby in Colombia, but it looks like we made it there.”

Our little miracle baby was “made in Colombia” and due on the 4th of July.

Already showing his bi-cultural side!16177700_10158168584320215_2479383839146418530_o

Processing… and waiting

Leo and I are about to celebrate 3 years of marriage!  It’s crazy how fast these few years have gone, and how many obstacles we’ve had to overcome in such a short time!  The few months leading up to our wedding, and even a year and a half into our marriage, it felt like it was us against the world!  Or, at least, us against the US Immigration laws and other issues that had to do with Leo not being able to get to the States.  Now, things have kinda switched around a bit.  Leo even took his first trip by himself to the States in March… a kind-of expensive requirement that comes with having a resident Visa… he can’t be out of the States for longer than 6 months.

We are at a bit of a stand-still now, however.  Leo would really like for us to have a year-long furlough in the States sometime soon, and I agree that we need a break!  Back in October, we were thinking that we could do it this coming January… but things haven’t worked out how we hoped.  We were thinking I could get pregnant, have the baby here in Colombia (I don’t have insurance in the States), and then live the last year of Leo’s residency requirement, before he gets US citizenship, in the States being close to family in a kind-of utopian, rest-filled existence.  Well, obviously, I’m not pregnant yet, and from what we’ve seen and heard from doctors, even visiting the States isn’t a good option for me because of my hormone issues and how connected my body is to seasons.  The two 2-month trips we took during opposite seasons knocked my body off again, and that’s the reason I’m still having a hard time getting pregnant.  And, if we went to the States and were able to get insurance, we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until we’ve paid into the system for 9 months.  So, everything is on hold, and it’s not very fun.

All that to say…I’m not doing well… in many ways.

I’ve read 2 books lately that have really helped put words to my emotions.  One is “God on Mute” by Peter Greig.  He skillfully writes about the many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Ultimately, it’s because our life is meant to glorify Him, and He will do what He wants with us.  We can’t manipulate Him, have enough faith, or do enough good things to change His mind.  He knows what is best for us in the long-run, and He will have His way.

The second book I devoured this week is “A Million MIles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.  I know it’s been out for a long time, but I finally had time to read it this week… I was sick at home for 2 days.   He writes about the importance of having a story, but yet knowing that our personal story ties in with the big Story that is weaved through generations of lives.   The greatest stories are those that have an obstacle too big for the main character to overcome without great sacrifice.

We don’t have many helpful answers to my health issues, but I can’t help think that somehow malaria has something to do with it.  My liver was pretty damaged during the whole ordeal, and your liver is what processes your hormones. Almost 7 years ago, I had to understand that if facing death was the price, it was worth knowing Jesus through the pain.  I knew the presence of the Lord through my pain… a kind of knowing that gets into your bones and holds everything together.   However, the last few years, I haven’t wanted to know Him in my pain and suffering.  I have wanted to know Him in the blessing… in the easy things… and nothing has been easy.  It’s been rather crazy actually.  But, in the area of my health, I’ve had to face another, very real thought:  if malaria is the price of not having natural children, is it still worth it? Is this my obstacle that comes with great personal sacrifice?

I don’t know why being in pain as a wife is so much harder than it was being single.  Maybe it’s because as a single person, serving Jesus, I knew that He was all I had… it was just me and Him, and as much as I was hurting, He was the only one who could hold me and bring healing… and I was willing to trust Him.  Now, as a wife, I serve my husband and Jesus, and my focus gets all off when I forget that my husband, while he can hold me, can’t bring healing or light to the dark, almost hopeless areas of my soul.  And while the tangible is seemingly more available than the eternal, I’m mad at both.   It was easier to believe in God’s sovereignty and timing when I thought it more closely lined up with mine.  More closely being “o.k. maybe not this month… but definitely this year, right?”.  2 years, and more un-answered questions later, I’m not doing well.

We have a beautiful tangerine tree in our apartment.  Our first Christmas together, we couldn’t agree on what kind of tree to have because Leo couldn’t understand the tradition of cutting down a beautiful, living thing just to decorate and watch die; and I couldn’t handle the feel of fake trees. So, we compromised and bought a small tree to decorate.  Bogota isn’t the best place for any kind of fruit trees because it’s so cold; but when we got the tree, it had 7 little tangerines growing.  The tree is supposed to bloom every 4 months, and then from those blooms, produce fruit.  I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s bloomed since it has stayed in the little corner of our living room that gets sunlight, and we’ve only had 1 tangerine grow since we plucked the first 7.

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This month, however, I saw little buds forming.  It was interesting to see them coming up from all different parts of the tree.  The buds have since turned into leaves or little white balls that will burst open into the most delicate, sweet smelling flowers.  This past week, I’ve been waiting for the first flowers to bloom, and just this morning, we had 3.  I remember thinking as I was tending to the tree this week that I don’t know how much bigger those little white buds can get before they break open.  They have such tension before they burst!

We are living an overwhelming amount of tension right now, and it’s easy to get mad at the tangible elements: our non-existent savings account, our tiny apartment that wouldn’t even fit a baby if we wanted it to, our lack of material things that would supposedly make things so much easier (… if I could just have a fancy mixer with all those fancy attachments so we could eat even healthier than we do now,  or a juicer so we could do one of those “cleanse” diets…), Leo’s citizenship process that is still so expensive (and will continue to be for another year and a half) that he needs to finish before we can adopt, etc.  It is overwhelming!

In the midst of this waiting for whatever is supposed to come next, however it’s supposed to come, I’m trying to choose to believe that this tension we are feeling is going to break forth into something beautiful and sweet-smelling soon.  It just has to.  We are desperate.

Pray for me… pray for Leo… pray for our hearts to be willing to line-up with God’s timing for many different things.  Pray for balance between being faithful with what we can control, and having faith for what we can’t.