My Identity

So many things in this world distract me from my identity.

I can remember a time when I spent five nights a week on a volleyball court. I'll never be thankful for the devastating knee injury that put an end to those days, but I am glad that I'm no longer obsessively worshiping adult league sports. Even though that knee injury landed me in the operating room four times and still plagues me with pain today, it forced me to re-prioritize my life--a lesson I absolutely had to learn (and have had to relearn a few times since then).

Some of you might have seen that this last week has been National Infertility Awareness Week. For those of us who are actively involved in infertility social circles (a club absolutely no one wants to have to join), the stats and stories can be overwhelming.

This season of life can become all-consuming. It can start to define us, if we let it. In my mind, it's easy to start identifying myself by:

  • 1 in 8
  • Infertility
  • Not a mom
  • Left behind
  • Not like everyone else

Over time, those numbers and phrases start sounding more and more like this:

And those, my friends, are the disgusting lies of Satan himself. He waits until our lowest points, our darkest hours and he pounces on us, threatening to steal our identities and our eternity.

I don't want to be consumed and defined by what I don't have. And I don't have to be. My entire identity isn't wrapped up in not being a mom, just like my momma friends are not defined solely by their children.

In the same way, I am not defined by my career, my mistakes, my passions, my bank account, the car I drive, the size of my pants, my relationship status or anything else.

My identity is in Christ alone. Period.

I am:

A child of God (1 John 3:1).
A daughter of the King through Christ (Ephesians 1:5). 
Washed, sanctified and justified in Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:11).
A new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22).
A temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Christ's ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).

In the midst of countless injections, patches, medicines, ultrasounds, consultations, blood draws, tests and surgeries, it can be easy for my focus to be solely on this one facet of my life. But infertility is not who I am.

Friends, I don't know what you're facing in your own lives. But I do know that we all have our own battles. It's no accident that you're reading this blog, just like it's no accident that God put these truths on my heart. You are valued and you are loved and you are worthy in Christ--no matter the season of your life, in spite of your hurts and habits, and instead of your daily responsibilities.

Pursue Christ. Let your identity be in Him alone.

Jenn's Top 5 Tips for Surviving that PIO

Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape or form a medical professional. In fact, I'm a marketing manager in the agricultural field. Please understand that these are tips that helped me survive the PIO, but are not intended to be medical advice. Please talk with your doctor with medical questions. :) 

If the abbreviation PIO means nothing to you, consider yourself lucky. Progesterone in oil is a necessary evil for the IVF crowd, as well as some non-IVF mommas who need to boost this essential hormone during pregnancy. It's a viscous liquid injected via really long needles into the upper/outer quadrant of your hind quarters. It's miraculous that we can supplement progesterone when we need it and it's so worth it when it helps bring beautiful babies into the world.

Those injections, though? They suuuuuuuuck. #KeepingItReal

Just because IVF Cycle #1 didn't end the way I would have hoped, I still learned a few things along the way that make the process a little easier.

So, if you're about to tackle you some PIO, here are my top 5 tips that made it not suck so much:

1. Lidocaine and ice are your best friends forever. For real. Numb that injection site! I found some spray-on lidocaine at my local pharmacy that I could spray on and let dry before applying an ice pack. Leave the ice on for 10-15 minutes (until you're good and numb) and WA-LA! You won't even feel the injection.

2. You're going to want 25 gauge needles. TRUST ME. My IVF nurse told me that they use 18 gauge needles to draw up the PIO, then 22 1/2 gauges to inject it. SHE IS EVIL (okay, she isn't actually evil, but a 22 1/2 gauge needle is a thing of Satan). When you order, ask the pharmacy to send 25 gauge needles. Draw up the PIO with whatever comes on the syringes (mine were 22 1/2 gauge, but yours might be 18), then swap that needle out for a 25. It will take longer to inject the liquid because it's viscous (but you can't feel it because you listened to tip #1 and numbed yourself), but your rump cheeks will thank you.

3. Find a position that is comfortable for you  to receive the shot. For me, that was laying on my side across the end of my bed so that the injection site was visible and easy for my husband to see. Another option is leaning over a counter top. Just make sure you are somewhere that allows you to relax. IM shots are never fun when you're flexed.

4. Have the person administering the shot look carefully for visible blood vessels. It's not the end of the world if you hit one, but it definitely stings and there is lots of bleeding and bruising afterward. Your nurses will tell you to be sure you aspirate the needle once it's in, but it's always best to just avoid hitting a vessel from the start, when at all possible.

5. Make sure the person administering the shot does not hesitate when doing it. The shots really don't hurt at all since you're bum is numb, but if your spouse starts to stick the needle in, then panics and yanks it back out, that's not going to feel so nice. Plus, then you'll have two stab wounds instead of one (okay, they aren't stab wounds, but you know what I mean). My husband assured me the needles went in easily. In fact, he compared it to sticking a needle in butter (I'm not sure whether I should be offended by that or not). So tell your shot administrator not to panic. Just hold that syringe like a dart and go!

My husband and I were told to learn how to administer these shots via a video on a pharmacy website. As I told my friend Joanna this morning, the video is awful and looks like it was shot on someone's VHS camcorder in 1987. Thankfully, there are lots of other tutorials on YouTube that are far more helpful. Two of my favorite PIO video resources come from a YouTube channel called Heartships of Hope. Maybe you'll find these helpful too:

Live PIO Shot (AKA Progesterone Party)

5 PIO Tips

On the topic of faith and grief

As long as we're being totally transparent and vulnerable here, there's something I think we need to

talk about.

Since my last blog went live, I've had several people comment to me about the strength of my faith in the midst of grief. Friend, find yourself a comfy seat, grab a cup of coffee and let's chat.

First of all, you should probably know that over the last few weeks, I have had to absolutely fight and scratch and claw to cling to the tiny shred of faith that was left behind after years of infertility, months of fertility treatments, and the shocking reality of a grief I could never have imagined until I lived it.

While I've not questioned whether God is real, I have admittedly questioned his character. I have been angry. God and I have had some seriously unpleasant discussions (and by "discussions" I mean that I've been angrily lecturing God about how I think this whole situation is complete crap).

I have cried out to him in absolute anguish and have begged him to tell me why he doesn't deem me worthy of motherhood. There have been moments when the only word I could even muster to God through the sobs is, "WHY?"

I'm ashamed to admit all of that, because let's be real: I have zero right to question the Creator of the universe. At the same time, I don't want to mislead anyone about where I've been. I wish I could say I've handled all of this with complete grace, but that would be a lie.

With each passing day, however, the emotions settle a bit more and the moments of clarity become more frequent and I can again remember that God knows and shares my sorrows. One reminder comes from David in Psalm 56:8:

"You keep track of all of my sorrows. You have collected all of my tears
in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." (NLT)

Friend, when I'm posting scriptures, song quotes and references to God's faithfulness on social media, it's as much a reminder to myself that God is good as it is a message of hope and encouragement for those who see it. I never want those posts to come off as a message that says, "Hey! I have it all together! I never sin! I have it all figured out!" Y'all, I am a holy HOT MESS.

Yesterday, our pastor reminded us that the church is a hospital for sinners. Thank you and amen.

No, this life isn't fair and yes, my heart aches from unfulfilled dreams, but this life also is not my own. Sometimes I have to be refined by fire. Nobody ever promised that by following Jesus, life would be easy. We can see that all throughout the Bible. Job tends to be our favorite example of faith in suffering, but he's certainly not the only one.

Regardless of what life season we find ourselves in, we have to remember that God hears every single one of our prayers. And he answers them. But sometimes the answer is no and sometimes the answer is wait.

Friend, I don't know if his answer to us is the no, or if it's the wait. The unknown is almost as hard as the loss and, if I'm being completely honest with you, I don't have peace about that right now. But I believe that peace is coming. I believe that if God doesn't fulfill the desires of my heart to be a mom, it will be because he has a different calling for my life that he will reveal in his time.

Yesterday morning in worship service, we sang the song "Enough" (which I believe is originally a Barlowgirl song, but don't quote me on that). I've known and loved that song for years, but as I sang it yesterday, the meaning of the words washed over me more meaningfully than they have before. Singing it reminded me that as a follower of Christ, I have to come to a place where he alone is genuinely enough for me. I will never be fulfilled by motherhood or anything else until I am completely satisfied in Christ.

My brain knows that and believes it. My heart is working hard to catch up.

"All of you is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with your love
And all I have in you is more than enough"

This isn't the blog I wanted to write.

I have had visions of resurrecting this blog for a few months now. Back in November, my husband and I finally decided to embark on an IVF journey to try to build our family after many years of silently struggling with infertility.

I documented the steps in photos, from the seemingly endless hormone shots to hormone patches on top of hormone patches. I thought through the insane financial burden and tips for how we might have done things differently in that regard. All of the things I wish I had known before diving in were swirling around my head.

Look, I know the struggle of seeing pregnancy announcements and happy families on my social media feeds and simultaneously celebrating for friends while mourning my own unfulfilled dreams. I had envisioned a gentle announcement via this blog that gave encouragement to others who are facing the same hurdles. I wanted to encourage them not to give up hope--that help is available and they aren't alone in the struggle. I wanted to share tips and tricks for making the roller coaster infertility and IVF process go more smoothly. I wanted to tell the things the doctors don't tell. I wanted to use my story to help others fighting the battle.

As you've probably already guessed, that's not where this post is going.

Throughout early January, I did my stims (Menopur injections to stimulate my ovaries to lay about a dozen eggs) and after about a blue million monitoring appointments, I finally had my retrieval. They got 10 eggs, seven fertilized and only four made it the week. All four were biopsied and frozen. Biopsies were sent off to a specialized lab for a type of genetic testing called Preimplantation Genetic Screening, or PGS. When the results came in, we were left with three embryos that were considered genetically normal. On March 3, we transferred the two our doctor deemed best.

The Nightmare Begins
The 10-day wait for results was pretty brutal. The entire week of March 13th was full of hour-long commutes to the doc's office, blood draws and anxiously awaiting beta results. By Friday of that week, we had an answer: We were expecting. It was finally our turn.

Enter March 27 and our 6w1d ultrasound. We laughed on the way down to the doctor's office, covering all of the scenarios. We had transferred two embryos, so we wondered: Would there be one? Two? More? Embryos can split, you know. When would I get to stop the hormones? When would they release me back to my normal doctor? Would our due date actually end up being Nov. 19 or would it change based on the ultrasound? Normal excited banter.

But none of it was to be.

I'll never forget my doctor turning the ultrasound screen around and instantly realizing what he was about to tell us wasn't good. My heart sank. There was no heartbeat, no fetal pole, no nothing--just an empty gestational sac where our baby should have been.

Because it was still early, the doctor went ahead and did another blood draw to check my beta numbers again. They were perfect, so he asked me to stay on the hormones and come back a few days later for another ultrasound in case the first had been too soon to see anything.

March 30 would confirm a heartbreak I've absolutely never known before. It hadn't been too soon. Then, the dreaded words: blighted ovum due to genetic abnormality. But how could this happen? We had our embryos genetically screened before the transfer. They were normal. Nothing made sense. And to be honest, nothing about it ever will.

The doctor expressed his condolences and sent me home to stop the injections. Terms like "miscarriage" and "D&C" were suddenly swirling about. It was like I was on the outside looking in on someone else's horrible nightmare.

My doctor didn't thoroughly explain anything to me about what was to come. He didn't gently try to talk to me about my options. He just sent me home and told me that if things hadn't taken care of themselves within two weeks, I'd need surgery. That's it. Little compassion. No warning about the ungodly pain that was ahead. Nothing.

After suffering with extreme pain for days on end, I found myself on an operating room table. My doctor was away that day, so his practice partner ended up being my Earth angel in my greatest time of need. She offered me the most kind, gentle, honest, dignified care that I have ever received (needless to say, she is now my doctor).

God's Timing
The decision to pursue IVF isn't one we took lightly. It was a decision several years in the making. We looked at our options. We saw specialist after specialist. We researched adoption. We did our homework. I prayed countless prayers about our situation. I really believed that God was steering us to IVF. Now that we've suffered such a gut-wrenching loss, I'm not so sure.

Throughout the journey, God has been faithful to surround me with the right people to pray me through this. My husband, my family, my friends, my coworkers (who, for the most part, haven't even known what was happening), my medical team the day of surgery--all of them have contributed to the fact that I'm still standing in the aftermath.

So even though this isn't what I envisioned for my life, I can still see glimpses of God's faithfulness and I am working hard to cling to His word and promises. Regardless of whether He one day grants me the title of "Mom" that I so long for, I have to remember that He is God and I am not. His ways and plans are not my own and I'm only hurting myself by not willingly relinquishing control.

This isn't the blog I wanted to write. But I'm praying that God is going to create beauty from the scattered ashes.