Mama Look Up

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After years of struggling with infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss, I’ve been looking for a way to help others in their journey.  I am hoping that I can share my sympathy and compassion for those grieving through this process and the loss of pregnancies.  I decided to share my photography and words of encouragement and support in the form of cards.  My inspiration also comes from the heartache and grief that I experience every Mother’s Day, wishing for acknowledgement of my babies lost and a desire to not feel so alone in my experience of motherhood without my children here with me.  How do you get a Mother’s Day card for someone like me?  Well, I decided to make them so hopefully someone out there who really needs to be seen as a Mother and needs her baby to be remembered on Mother’s Day will get a card and feel less isolated and heartbroken.

I invite you to follow me on my new Instagram account for my Etsy shop (@mamalookup) and to browse through my cards on Etsy, Mama Look Up.  Please also check out the other tab on my blog, “Mama Look Up”.

How has Infertility Changed You? Listen Up! #NIAW

listen up

I was asked this question yesterday…

How has infertility changed you and how you live your life?

It stopped me in my tracks. It takes a brave person to ask that question and I think an even braver person to answer it. So, Listen up!

I thought the words would flow from me like a waterfall of knowledge on the topic of infertility and trying to conceive. I feel like an expert with years of experience and I’m practically a walking science experiment for how to make a baby. But instead of words, my heart jumped to the answer before my head could and I responded with tears. Infertility and the winding journey of trying to find my way to baby has been a life altering experience. It has changed me at my core. I view the creation of a baby as a miracle that always feels out of reach. I’ve been teased by this gift of life in my own belly only to have it stripped away from me. Three times. Infertility is not just about finding alternative ways to conceive or finding alternative paths to parenthood. It is a test of will, a test of relationships, a test of stamina and a test of faith. Infertility will school you on courage, bravery and resilience. Infertility strips you of financial freedom, emotional stability, physical strength, and the ability to freely enjoy the sight, sounds and touch of a baby that is not your own. Infertility creates anxiety, exhaustion, anger, blame, grief, fear and trauma. It stops you from attending baby showers, shopping for onesies for a friend, walking through the baby section of department store, or commenting on a pregnancy announcement on social media. And, infertility asks a lot of nagging, annoying, irritating, painful questions…

Do you mind carrying a high credit card debt? How many credit cards do you have? We’ll have to max those out.
Do you have any savings? I’ll need that too.
Would you like to take out a loan?
You don’t really need to drink wine do you?
Can you give up caffeine, just for me?
What do you think of these stirrups? They look comfy right?
Do you want to do IUI or skip it and go straight to IVF?
Do you have good veins? I’m going to need access to those. Think of me as your favorite vampire. It’s going to be that kind of relationship.
What do you think of needles? Do they scare you? You’re gonna have to get over that.
Can I put this ultrasound wand in your vagina? Can I do that another 100 times?
Do you mind adding biohazard containers to your master bedroom décor?
Isn’t pineapple core delicious?
I know you love to drown your sorrows in comfort food, but would you mind giving up gluten?
Would you please lose some weight?
Are you working out?
Would you like to see an ultrasound of your ovaries and uterine lining? I can’t find your left ovary. Where is your left ovary?
Oh, you are looking for a sperm donor and egg donor? What color hair, eyes, height, weight, education, hobbies, religious background and medical history do you want? I’m going to have to ask you about another 50 characteristics so please think this through.
Are you relaxed? You need to relax.
Do you want to meet the egg donor?
Have you considered adoption?
Would you like to work with a surrogate?
Have you met with your doctor, your cycle coordinator, your nurse, your therapist, your acupuncturist, your naturopath, your personal trainer, and your dietician?
Do you do yoga? C’mon, show me some downward dog.
Do you meditate? I think you should meditate.
Do you have a support group? You’re gonna need that too.
What was the date of your last period?
Do you have normal cycles? How many days are your cycles?
How much do you weigh? Have you gained weight recently?
Do you feel like giving up?
Do you hate me? It feels like you hate me.
Do you still love your husband?
Do you still want to have a baby?
Are you sure you want to have a baby? Cause this is just going to keep getting harder.
How many boxes of home pregnancy tests do you have in your bathroom cupboard?
Do you see a second line? I think I see a faint second line. Nope, just kidding, that was just a line of false hope.
Will you give up sugar for me? Pretty please?
Are you still having sex with your husband? How’s your sex life?
I know you just had a miscarriage but do you think you’ll try again? When will that be? The clocks ticking ya know.
OMG, is it your birthday? Are you getting too old for this?
You look bloated, are you bloated? Seriously, you look 4 months pregnant.
This is when you realize infertility can be a total asshole.

But there’s still more…Infertility has made me fear my own birthday, dread another Christmas, made me heartbroken over the photo of a child and an Easter bunny, and has left me lost in tears and depression on Mother’s Day. I have changed my career plans, given up on extravagant vacations, spent thousands of dollars on IVF, donor egg IVF, medications and embryo transfers, and have feared the loss of my marriage. I have said “No” to friends and family so many times because I didn’t have the energy for a fun activity on top of all of my doctor appointments, side effects from hormone injections or emotional exhaustion from another failed cycle or from a miscarriage. I have faced a grief so deep and so intense, I thought it would swallow me whole and never give me back my light. I have hung by my fingertips on the edge of the giving up cliff so many times and have nearly slipped away…but I have learned this…Someone always reaches down for my hands and pulls me back up.

And somehow, hope keeps me standing and love keeps me walking toward my dream. If you keep your eyes open and your heart beating, the journey through infertility happens to be filled with as many gifts as there are pitfalls.

Infertility has convinced me take care of my body and my mind. Infertility has persuaded me to live in the moment. Infertility has taught me to love more deeply, to be vulnerable, and to share my story without fear. Infertility has enabled me to enjoy the small, happy, fleeting moments. Infertility has given me the ability to see beauty everywhere I turn. Infertility has shown me how to have a much deeper compassion for others. Infertility has brought me the most amazing, supportive, loving friendships. Infertility lead me to pregnancy three times and while this left me with a total of five angel babies, it has given me a love so profound that in every challenge and every painful moment, I have this beautiful love that lives within my soul. Infertility has been my teacher to live a full life, to appreciate everything that I have and to never take the miracle of pregnancy for granted. Infertility has changed my life, but made me realize it is not my life. Infertility has altered me, but it has not taken me. Because of infertility, I am beautiful, I am resilient, I am more loving, I am courageous and I am more Me.

Love is an Ocean and other Pretty Things


It hasn’t been an easy couple of months.  My embryo transfer cycle brought a lot of traumatic  memories to the surface and created anxiety at a much higher level than I expected. My husband was out of town quite a bit which meant I had to do many of my IM injections on my own.  My nurse drew a target on my booty to help me hit the right spot.  (Pardon the messy room in the photo)


Ultimately, this cycle ended in bad news…a negative pregnancy test.  I couldn’t bring myself to write about it until now and it took me a couple weeks to talk to my doctor.  Sadly, this bad news lead right into the four year anniversary of losing Jaxon (our first loss at 15 weeks) and I struggled emotionally right up to that date (March 23).  I took a walk that day where I discovered the sign above, “love is an ocean”.  Whoever placed it here has no idea how much love is here.  This is where we spread Jaxon’s ashes.  I took the photo two days later on my birthday.

My husband gave me this necklace for my birthday.  He said it represents our home by the ocean but more importantly is a symbol for Jaxon at the center where my birthstone in aquamarine is placed.  That was the first time I thought about sharing my birthstone with Jaxon and it gave me a sense of peace.  This necklace brought a lot of love to me on my birthday.  “Love is an ocean” is what I now carry around my neck and close to my heart.


I wanted to be around something beautiful for my birthday.  My husband and I went with some friends to a botanical garden.  Tulips ruled the land and the colors painted our day, leaving everyone with smiles…and a peacock to bid us farewell.  

Out of the Darkness, the Light of an Angel

light-in-the-darkness

There have now been many times in my life that I reflect on as my darkest hour.  Not just one.  Many.  Many, many hours of darkness.  Every pregnancy loss, every failed embryo transfer, the death of a loved one.  My third pregnancy loss left me feeling empty and hopeless like I was living in a blank space for a while.  Yet somehow as I crawl or walk or fall down or stumble through the periods of grief, trauma and pain that turn life colorless and dark, there is someone there reaching out a hand and bringing the light back.  I’ve worked very hard since my third pregnancy loss to make my world colorful and bright again.  But it wouldn’t be the same beautiful place without the gifts of light coming to me from my friends, my family and my husband.  This experience with infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss has created new relationships.  Bonds created easily through similar experiences of loss and struggles to make a baby.  The online support group I joined (that I now consider a miraculous discovery) has brought some amazing women into my life.  One of whom reached out to me after my last miscarriage and sent me an open invitation to her home…whenever I was ready…whenever I needed to get away…whenever I just needed some girl time and a break from my life.  It took me about 4 months to take her up on that offer.

A couple weeks ago I flew to LA and there she was – my new friend, my sister in this journey, an open heart and an open hand.  A woman full of words of hope and support and encouragement.  A woman full of hugs that would carry me through another embryo transfer cycle and another set of holidays without a baby in my arms.  A woman who knew my pain and shared in it so deeply, her eyes would tear up when she talked to me about what I had been through.  A woman full of so much generosity and sincerity, she warmed my heart and re-filled my soul with her kindness and optimism.

There she was – The light in the darkness – An angel reaching out to me and her name is Carolina.

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moon-angel

I captured this photo at the beginning of this year.  Thinking I was just trying to capture the moon, I somehow ended up with the image of an Angel.  The moon is her heart.  I can see her wings.  The light of our babies’ souls being held in her hands, preparing them to be angels too.

Everyone wants to be the sun to lighten up someone’s life,

but why not be the moon,

to brighten in the darkest hour.

A Blessing for Mamas

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Mother’s Day was hard.  No words would come to me.  I couldn’t think of anything to write in my blog.  My thoughts and pain were stuck in my head and in my heart.  The day felt like a complete disappointment.  I thought about my Mom and how much I love her.  I’m so grateful for the life she has given me and what she continues to give every day of my life. And I’m thankful that she is just a phone call away.  I wished her a Happy Mother’s Day, but I couldn’t hide the sadness that had settled behind my voice.  The heartache of my losses beat me up yesterday and overpowered the love and appreciation I have for all the Moms in my life.   In the jumble of thoughts and emotions stuck in my brain yesterday, there was one thing that I kept hearing in my head over and over and over again throughout the day.  

A Blessing for Mamas

Late last night I couldn’t sleep and the words came out and I started writing.  One day late for Mother’s Day, I share this with you because it wasn’t just a hard day for me.  I know for many of you, it was a tough day too.

A blessing for mamas whose babies are here
They grow, they love, and they learn with you near.
They roll, they crawl, they walk and they run
Play chase, tumble and sing and have fun.
They stumble and trip and cry and throw fits
But you hold them and squeeze them and love them to bits.
First smile, first word, first step, and first giggle
She runs to your arms with love and a wiggle.
Your heart beats for her, a soul meant to be
A mama like you, I’d be proud if it’s me.

A blessing for mamas whose babies were gifted
A heart broken down now suddenly lifted.
A woman let go and now he is placed
In the warm, open arms of your soft embrace.
The long wait is over and in his eyes you know
This little one is mine; the love will blossom and grow.
Miracles do happen, do not overlook them
Your faith lead you here and you get to keep him.
Your heart beats for him, a soul meant to be
A mama like you, I’d be proud if it’s me.

A blessing for mamas whose babies were taken
Your world was shattered, shredded and shaken.
Your angel in heaven; she guides you with love
She sees every tear, and watches from above.
Your arms are empty, no baby to hold
Don’t live in silence, your story must be told.
Let your pain be replaced over time with her light
An angel you made; your life worth the fight.
Your heart beats for her, a soul meant to be
A mama like you, I’d be proud if it’s me.

A blessing for mama who’s waiting; why me?
Your faith and sweet hope given so openly.
There’s no answers, no timeline, no promise or end
You are stuck in the middle knowing fate might not bend.
There are doctors and needles and so many tests
What will it take to fill up my nest?
Your heart, your marriage, your life feels broken
What do you do when no answers are spoken?
Your heart beats for him, a soul still to be
A mama like you, I’d be proud if it’s me.

 

Poem and Photo by CJE, 31chances.com

Do you have a question? #startasking

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This week is National Infertility Awareness Week #NIAW sponsored by Resolve.org.

I started blogging in November of 2014 as a way to start healing from the loss of my second pregnancy.  Now that I’m immersed in a social media community of those also struggling with infertility as well as recurrent pregnancy loss, it’s great to see all the support out there through blogs, private facebook groups and instagram, among many others.  It’s amazing to me that we are able to connect with each other through common ground, even though we’ve never met in person.  It’s incredibly powerful to read a comment on my blog saying that my writing brought them to tears because they’ve been through it too (thank you so much for that and for the courage to share your heartbreak).  And I’ve read other blogs where every word could have been my own because I’ve been walking the same journey.

This week is a great opportunity for us to come together to share our stories, help each other realize we are not alone in our heartbreak and our struggles and to raise awareness in our communities.  It’s also an opportunity to educate those around us that do not understand what we face through infertility and how we can be better supported.  The theme for NIAW this year is #startasking.

I have several new followers and some that have stuck with me for quite some time now.  To support the theme this year of #startasking, I thought instead of asking my own questions, I’d leave this open to you.  Do you have a question?  I now have nearly 4 years of experience directly dealing with infertility and trying to conceive…so feel free to ask me a question.

If you leave a question for me in the comments, I will collect all questions and answer them to the best of my ability on an upcoming blog post.  My answers will be based on my own personal experience (not medical advice) and I can respond to the following topics:

  • IVF
  • Embryo Transfer (fresh and frozen) and personal medical protocol (injections)
  • Donor egg IVF
  • Sperm donation
  • Early pregnancy following embryo transfer
  • Miscarriage, pregnancy loss
  • D&C procedure due to pregnancy loss
  • Endometrial biopsy (AKA “scratch test”) to improve stickiness of lining for embryo attachment
  • Grief, loss and recovery (surviving miscarriage, surviving negative pregnancy test after embryo transfers)
  • helping a friend through infertility and/or miscarriage

Are you looking for more connections to help you through your journey?  My favorite place to be is the private facebook group through www.missconceptioncoach.com.  Many of us are already connected here, but if you are new to this journey, it’s a great place to start.  You can request to become part of the group through her website.  I’ve also found instagram to be a great source of connection for infertility and ttc.  Here are some people that I follow on instagram:

  • howtobuyababy
  • dont_talk_about_the_baby
  • thescientificstork
  • ttcgreetingcards
  • caroline_induetime
  • thenilookupatthesky
  • lifeabundant_jw
  • missconceptioncoach
  • waitingforbabybird

As of this week, I’ve decided to link my own instagram to this blog, so I will be posting more on this topic and relating it to my blog on instagram (up until now, it’s mostly pictures of my dog and she’ll continue to make appearances).  You can follow me at chrissyj_31chances

For additional support and resources, feel free to check out my resources tab on my website.  I continue to add resources there as I learn about them. You can also view other blogs that I follow on my website if you are trying to find others to connect with in the blogging community regarding infertility and pregnancy loss.

Keep asking questions, reach out for support, connect with others.  Please post your questions in the comments!

 

The Unopened Gift

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Trigger warning:  This post is about pregnancy loss

Last Tuesday we went to what was supposed to be our “graduation day” from our fertility center.  It was our 10 week ultrasound, one day early.  I brought a gift for my doctor.  I had framed the photo for him from  “One Little White Light”  as it was such a symbol of hope for all of us in the room.  With high anticipation and holding our breath, we looked for the baby.  But to our complete shock, there was no heartbeat.  Again, our happiness crashing down around us in an instant.  Darkness invading my mind.  My heart breaking into a million pieces.  Tears streaming.  Shock.  It’s not possible.  This can’t be happening. I can’t do this again.  I can’t do this again.  I can’t do this again.

I was two days away from celebrating my last intra-muscular injection.  I was in so much pain from those injections and was so close to this milestone.  I had been counting down the days for the past two weeks, willing myself to get through each one, knowing it was best for the pregnancy.  And then suddenly there was nothing to celebrate.  Coming home from the doctor appointment, I had the gift bag in my hand and there is no one to give it to and there is no longer a reason to open it.  What do I do with it?

And so it begins… the un-doing of a pregnancy and the dreams that came with it.  I have to tell my friends and family that know I’m pregnant.  Canceling doctor appointments, figuring out how to write the email to my work to let them know I won’t be back for awhile.  Phone calls with my OB, a grueling confirmatory ultrasound, and calls with the hospital to schedule and prep for another D&C.  Fighting the agony that comes from every image and thought that I’ve had in my head over the past 6 weeks since we got the positive pregnancy test.  Realizing my morning sickness is quickly disappearing and fully aware that the hormonal changes coming my way are going to feel like crap.  Watching my husband grieve but I can’t help him because I’m in too much pain and I can’t stop crying for hours and hours and hours.  Letting go of how happy I felt every day waking up pregnant.  Now faced with the fear of waking up in the night forced to realize that my baby is gone.

I had become so attached to an online support group for women who had become pregnant after their long time struggles with infertility.  In the six weeks I was with the group, I had seen several babies born and several more were very close to coming into this world.  There was a list of due dates going into December.  There must have been at least 30 of us, with mine listed as November 16.   November 16.  Another date to add to my list of haunting dates.  I had become attached to their stories, their daily posts about food cravings and appreciated discomforts, and birthing plans, and what to put on a registry, and photos of nurseries, and photos of newborns and simply the unwritten word that we all just understood each other…And I had to say goodbye.

In the doctor’s office after getting the news, my husband and I were left alone for awhile to deal with our new reality.  I kept telling him, “I don’t want to go back, I don’t want to go back to the way it was before.”  I had crossed the line from infertility and TTC to Babyland.  I loved it here in Babyland.  I did not want to go back to the stories of struggles and pain and suffering and what if’s and waiting and loss and heartbreak.  I didn’t want to go back.  Please don’t make me go back.

The framed photo I brought for my doctor was now an image that tore through my heart like the most cruel joke that could be played on me.  I had wanted to hang that photo in our nursery.  That day on the beach…it was our beautiful gift.  Now, never to be opened.

 

The Tire Swing

 

tire swing

Last week on the evening of our 7 week ultrasound where we had discovered we had two babies, I went for a walk with the dog. There is a very pretty section of eucalyptus trees in the neighborhood with a nice dirt path lined with tall grass. And it’s been so green lately following all the rain we’ve had. At one end of this path is a tire swing. I’ve walked down this path so many times and had never seen anyone on the tire swing. I’ve tried to convince my dog to try it out but she’s just not having it. This particular evening, with babies on my mind, I came up to the tire swing to discover a mom and dad swinging their cute little twin boys. In that instant, I felt so happy and reassured that all would be well with my babies, despite the doctor’s warning that Baby A might not make it. I kept walking down the path for a few minutes and then stopped myself. I wanted another glimpse at that beautiful family and what could potentially be my future. I turned around and headed back. As I walked closer I couldn’t quite see who was there, but I could still hear voices, so I was happy I’d get a chance to set my eyes on those sweet twins again. But as I approached, I was startled to see that the family was no longer there. As if within the blink of an eye, without skipping a beat, these two little boys were replaced with one little girl being pushed on the swing by her Dad. It gave me chills and knocked the wind out of my sails.  This vision of the future placed in front of me like a dream played a trick on me. I felt so strongly in that moment that I was being forced to be prepared to grasp the possibility that I may be losing Baby A. This moment felt so intense to me that I cried all the way home.

There were two, then I turned around and there was one. I couldn’t shake it.

Today was our 8 week ultrasound appointment and we were terribly nervous. To our relief, Baby B quickly popped up on the screen with a strong heartbeat, but sadly Baby A did not make it. There was no heartbeat. I was lying there trying to wrap my head around which emotion to attach to. I was balancing grief and joy simultaneously. Grief tipped the scale and it has been winning today. We have our fourth angel baby. And then I felt guilt for not focusing my love and happiness on Baby B. Honestly, I’ve been an emotional wreck today. I’m so in love and so heartbroken, I’m so hopeful and so hurt. I know I have to grieve this loss before I can give full attention to the very special beating heart that is still with us and depending on me.

I’ve been given solid, heartfelt words to lean on by those close to me with kind texts and emails and there have been wonderful words of compassion from those in my support group. Everybody has said something to me that has touched me deeply and meant the world to me. Each of them expressing their love in a way so unique to our individual relationships. There was one thing however, that took my feelings and thoughts to a very comforting place, and it was this, “So sorry. At least Baby A did not pass alone.”

Baby A did not pass alone and there were three of our angels waiting and ready.  And they will be watching over Baby B.

There were two, and now there is one. That is where all of our love will go.

tree path

“Don’t Talk about the Baby”

Donttalkaboutthebaby-Match Me

For those of you who have suffered through infertility and/or pregnancy loss,  I think you’ll be very interested in this documentary currently in the works.  It’s called, “Don’t Talk About the Baby.”

Check them out at Seed&Spark, where they are working to raise funds for the project:

https://www.seedandspark.com/studio/dont-talk-about-the-baby#updates

You can also follow them on their website and Instagram:

http://www.donttalkaboutthebaby.com

https://www.instagram.com/dont_talk_about_the_baby/

 

Walking Toward Hopefulness

I remember how excited I was at every ultrasound of my first pregnancy. I couldn’t wait to see him move around, such a cute little thing. My mind was not consumed by thoughts of fearing a stopped heart, or possible abnormalities or anything that would get in the way of a happy ending with a baby in my arms. In my second pregnancy I was cautiously optimistic but also relied on my faith in life, and statistics and the universe, that I would not suffer trauma and loss two pregnancies in a row. I did my time in grieftown. I paid my dues in depression and tears. But to my complete shock, it didn’t matter how much I had already suffered. I was there suffering again. Sadly, I learned the hard way. The very hard, painful, devastating way, that pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean you get to have a baby.

But here I am now with pregnancy number three. I’m trying to wade through recurring grief and memories that have been triggered while re-experiencing the first trimester. With each heavy step through (and against) fear, I’m walking closer to hopefulness. I’m trying to remind myself that I can enjoy this pregnancy one day at a time. I’m doing everything in my power to keep my baby’s heartbeat strong. I’m fighting the scary thoughts away and looking at this as a new and different pregnancy.

On Friday, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. It’s the first time I’ve been pregnant on my birthday and what an amazing gift! While it made me very happy to celebrate this new little life with me, it wasn’t easy to stop the thoughts of my first loss which happened two days before my 39th birthday. But I also realized that my baby now has three angels watching over him or her. All that pain and loss has left us with a lot of love from these sweet little souls. I was able to really enjoy the day and the entire weekend looking in the forward direction, enjoying the sun and spring flowers which allowed me to push away the darkness from the past.

My first ultrasound is on Wednesday. I’m excited, nervous, and hopeful. This will feel real when I can see a heartbeat.

Birthday walk

A Birthday walk in the sun!