“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Connor
“Everybody knows it sucks to grow up… The years go on and we’re still fighting it.” -Ben Folds
(Side note: I had the thought the other day that if I could choose anyone to compose and lyricize the soundtrack to my life, it would probably be Ben Folds. This may be partially due to my ongoing obsession with piano-driven singer-songwriter-y music, especially during times of melancholia, but mostly because the guy just knows how to capture the mood perfectly and invoke a “well said” every time. He just gets better with age.)
Even as I sit here typing this, I have no idea if I’ll be able to hit publish and share it with the world. I hope that I do, because I feel like these days I’m always saying how I wish more people spoke openly about the things I want to talk about, but man oh man, will it ever rip me wide open in my most vulnerable state for all to see. Maybe deep down that’s what I actually want to happen. I don’t know.
As you may or may not have noticed, things have been a lot quieter for some time as far as my voice and the Internet are concerned. My sporadic posting and general absenteeism from all things social media was not something I set out to do. I didn’t challenge myself to 90 days of no Internet or anything like that, although I certainly wish I had that kind of self discipline. Holding up that absence next to the extreme oversharing that’s about to take place reminds me of D.W. Winnicott’s observation that “artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.” I’ve been in hiding and allowing these things to build up inside of me for so long that I genuinely feel like the words are busting out of me. And I’ve been putting off the writing of all this because frankly, writing sucks. Forcing myself to sit at the computer with nothing but a blank screen and my thoughts is the worst. And I’ve managed to ignore the urgent pleas inside my head to just write it down for weeks now, until tonight, when I found myself walking over to the computer and turning it on and opening the word processor before I even had the chance to register what was going on. So… I guess this is happening.
Here it is: A little over six months ago, I had a doctor’s appointment that changed everything.
It was July, and Jamie and I had been trying to have a baby for six months.
When we started trying, I was 28 years old and still pretty much thought I was way too young to have a real life baby. But I’ve known since I was still a child myself that I very much wanted to have children of my own, and realizing that there would never really be a perfect time, we just decided to go for it. If Jamie had his way this probably would’ve happened several years ago, but there were still so many things I wanted to accomplish before parenthood changed our lives forever. And I don’t regret that at all. I was able to build a successful business doing something I was deeply passionate about and I got to travel all over the United States for seven years documenting people’s lives. How many people get to say that? It was so good to spend those years just adventuring with Jamie and enjoying our time together and growing both as individuals and as partners. (And moving around. We’ve done a lot of moving around. Not that I need to tell YOU that.)
There’s this weird phenomenon that people don’t warn you about, where as soon as you start trying to conceive, no matter how unprepared you feel, it’s like this switch flips inside of you and suddenly all you can think about is BABY BABY WHAT IF WE HAVE A BABY THIS MONTH OHMYWORD I HOPE WE DO. If you wanted a baby before, you suddenly want one 10000x more. And you begin living your life in these two week increments, spending the time leading up to ovulation feeling so hopeful and excited, and then the dreaded two week wait anxiously wondering whether or not you conceived and counting down the days until you can pee on a stick. Don’t even get me started on the symptom spotting and incessant googling. (If you’ve never typed the phrase “CD13 EWCM what does it mean” into the search bar, consider yourself lucky. Also, I wouldn’t recommend googling this for the first time right now unless you’re ready for an in-depth anatomical education and possibly some images you won’t be able to erase from your mind.) Those first few months, this was still all very exciting. Every single cycle, I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was pregnant. In a cruel twist of fate for women everywhere, it turns out that PMS symptoms and pregnancy symptoms are essentially indistinguishable, so every backache and sugar craving and bizarre dream turned out to just be a sign that ole Aunt Flo was getting ready to pay me a visit. Lovely, right? Nevertheless, I was already dreaming about nursery ideas and spending way too much time on baby name websites. Thinking back to that blissfully ignorant girl happily scrolling through photos of cribs and adorable onesies on Pinterest makes me want to laugh and cry all at once.
As the months passed, I began getting nervous. Like most people probably do, I just assumed that when I was ready to have children, my body would do its thing and make it happen. After all, every single female in my entire extended family had been able to give birth to at least one child by the age of 27, so I naively assumed I had no reason to worry. Infertile? NOT ME. Women in my family get pregnant with ease! But I kept remembering when, at 21, I received a diagnosis of hypothyroidism (which means I have an under-active thyroid), and the doctor told me that one potential complication could be my future fertility. At the time, babies were the furthest thing from my mind, so I didn’t take the time to fully process this. My mom reminded me recently that after that appointment, I had assured her that it would be ok, and I would just adopt if that’s the way it was going to be.
If only things were as black and white to me now as they were in my wide-eyed early 20s.
Anyway, the doctor had prescribed me medication all those years ago to manage my thyroid, but since I didn’t notice any significant improvement in my symptoms and because I was still in my “I’m invincible!” stage of life I just didn’t see much of a point in continuing to take it. Fast forward to last spring, when I began thinking that maybe it was time to take this seriously. So I made an appointment with my family doctor and requested blood work. No surprise that the results came back showing that I still had an under-active thyroid— oh, and surprise! You’ve got a tilted uterus! What’s one more thing, right?! But my doctor told me not to worry, prescribed me the meds again, and I started taking them, and I thought, “Okay. This is it. This was the problem. I’ll be able to conceive in no time.” (If only I knew then how many times I would say that exact thing to myself in the months to come.)
Meanwhile, when you last heard from me here on this blog, Jamie and I had made the huge decision to move back to Knoxville, so he was in the process of starting a new job and commuting and living with my parents, while I worked on getting our house sold during the busiest part of wedding season, so needless to say, our lives had become pretty crazy. Admittedly, I was happy to have an all-you-can-eat buffet of distractions from the mounting anxiety I was beginning to feel as we approached that “6 months of trying” mark. For young and healthy women, the doctors say to try for a year before you come in to start testing. Six months is how long they give women over the age of 35 and those who have a known history of infertility or any irregularities in their cycles. But my gut just kept telling me that something wasn’t right and I wanted more answers, so I finally worked up the nerve to make an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist, i.e., a fertility doctor. I called Dr. Harris, who had many great reviews and was listed on a reputable website for hypothyroidism, and I was excited when she told me they had had a cancellation and they could see me much sooner than they could a typical new patient. I was suddenly feeling so optimistic that I didn’t think twice when I found out that Jamie would be in Texas on a work trip on the day of my appointment. I didn’t even tell anyone I was going except my friend Kelly. (Not even our parents knew, because this was back in that magical time when Jamie and I thought we’d be able to give all of them the surprise of a lifetime when we announced we were expecting their first grandchild, without them even suspecting we were trying.)
So I went to the appointment. It was Monday, July 27th. A sunny and beautiful day. After writing out and talking about every single detail of my medical history and having to answer very uncomfortable questions about very private things with a total stranger, I laid on the table and Dr. Harris began the ultrasound. She immediately went to my ovaries, and I could tell by the look on her face that it wasn’t good. She pointed to a giant black blob on the screen and said, “Do you see this? This is a cyst inside your ovary. It’s measuring a little over 5 cm, or roughly the size of a baseball.” I barely had time to register that information before she quickly moved to the other ovary and said, “Oh. There’s another one the same size here too.” She swiftly finished the ultrasound and flipped on the light and I could tell that this was not just a routine appointment and that she meant business. She explained that these cysts were most likely indicative of Stage 4 endometriosis. I didn’t know anything about endometriosis, but Stage 4 Anything sounded fairly terrifying, so I instinctively resolved to fight back tears and bury my emotions deep deep down for the rest of this conversation until I was alone in my car. I numbly nodded along as she gave it to me straight: my case was bad. (Later, she would describe the state of my insides as one of the worst cases she had seen in awhile and told me that if there were a such thing as Stage 4+++, that’s what I would have.) She recommended an immediate laparoscopic surgery, and said that my best chance and hope for conceiving a child would be the six cycles immediately following the surgery, and that she wanted to be aggressive with Clomid (a fertility drug that stimulates ovulation and causes you to produce more eggs each month) and IUI’s, and if that didn’t work, she would want to move straight to IVF at the end of those 6 months. She then said that if I was able to conceive, pregnancy would actually help dissolve the endometriosis. (Again, such a cruel twist: endometriosis makes getting pregnant difficult, but pregnancy is the only natural way to fight the growth of endometriosis.) And she said if I wanted more than one child, I would need to plan to try to conceive again pretty much right after the birth of the first baby, before the endometriosis could grow back, because I would likely need a total hysterectomy by the age of 35 whether or not I had conceived.
So yeah. That day was awful. All my previous ideals about the wonder and mystery and magic of conceiving and birthing a child were left completely shattered on that sterile linoleum floor.
I got in the car, immediately began to sob uncontrollably, and called my mom. (I knew Jamie was still in an important work meeting so I texted to tell him to call whenever he was finished.) I’m sure I was barely comprehensible, and she told me she was going to leave work early and just to meet her at my parents’ house. The next few hours were a blur of tears, lots of Googling, and phone calls to family members to tell them what was going on. From those conversations, we gleaned some important information: both my maternal aunt and my great-aunt had severe endometriosis, and although they were (fortunately!) able to have children, my aunt had to have a hysterectomy at age 32 and my great-aunt at age 29. TWENTY NINE. The exact age I am now.
Basically, endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside of your uterus. Instead of shedding all of that tissue every cycle, it just builds up inside the body, growing all over the ovaries, bowels, and other pelvic regions. So even though on the outside I’ve looked “healthy,” my insides tell a much different story. This is why endometriosis is often called an “invisible illness.” The only way to definitively diagnose it is to do the laparoscopic surgery, which is why it is also extremely under-diagnosed. I guess I was “lucky” that I happened to have cysts inside my ovaries that were large enough to show up on an ultrasound so that my doctor knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed the surgery. I guess the good thing to come out of all of the googling and open discussions with family members and friends (which I wish had happened much sooner in my life, honestly, and is part of the reason why I’ve decided to be open about it now) was that so many things made SO much more sense. I’ve had horrendous periods my entire life, accompanied by cramps that would often cause me to leave school or work early and be bed-ridden with a heating pad and a bottle of Advil for a full day or more. My mom had always told me that women in our family just had bad periods, but I didn’t really know why, or that what I was experiencing was even that abnormal. On top of that, in the last couple of years, I started having these horrific stomach pain episodes that would strike out of nowhere and leave me crumpled in a fetal position on the floor. I wasn’t ever able to associate it with anything I ate, so I just began accepting these attacks as part of my new normal existence. Only recently, when reading Lena Dunham’s spot-on essay about her experiences with endometriosis, did I feel like “OH. Yes. This is me too. I’m not alone. This is not normal. I’m not crazy.”
Shortly after my diagnosis, I also learned that Dolly Parton (you know, my hero) also had severe endometriosis, which caused her to struggle with infertility and have an emergency hysterectomy in the middle of a huge tour at 36 years old. She became suicidal when the doctors told her she’d never be able to get pregnant. Dolly Parton. Suicidal.
I began feeling less alone, but not exactly encouraged or comforted by these revelations.
So I of course opted to have the surgery. I had never had surgery before, so it was all very new to me. My case was so bad that I had to do bowel prep the day before, and if you haven’t gotten to experience that in your life yet, JUST YOU WAIT. So many fun times. I was so dehydrated that the anesthetist had to jab me with a giant needle in approximately seven different places on my arms and hands to find a vein. Fun! They knocked me out shortly thereafter, and then the next thing I remember is slowly awakening in the recovery room. The nurses gave me the news that my surgery had lasted not one hour (the average length of a typical laparoscopy), not two hours (what my doctor estimated based on her guess of the extent of the growth), but FIVE HOURS. That’s how much of a mess she found, and it took a long time for her to laser off as many of the endometrial growths as she could. What was supposed to be a relatively “easy” non-invasive surgery (“You’ll have the procedure done on Friday and be back to work on Monday!”) resulted in a very slow and painful recovery. I’m so thankful to my mom and Jamie for taking good care of me during this time and for our friends and family who reached out with sweet gestures and encouraging notes. It’s not easy for a strong-willed and independent person like myself to be essentially incapacitated, requiring round-the-clock care, but it was an extremely humbling experience and I’m grateful for it.
That brings me to the first big shift that happened after getting my diagnosis. Right before the surgery, I made an appointment to see an acupuncturist in town. I had heard stories of acupuncture doing wonders for fertility, so I thought, hey, why not. I will seriously do ANYTHING at this point. That first meeting, she spent well over an hour asking detailed questions about my medical history and lifestyle, and she took my pulse with the Chinese method and examined my tongue and my eyes and my skin. She told me that from an eastern medical perspective, I certainly had signs of endometriosis (though the Chinese refer to it as being “stuck”), and then she started asking questions specifically about my diet. I told her (with probably a bit of pride in my voice) that I had been trying to be healthier since we started this whole process, and that I had cut back on alcohol and coffee and was supplementing my 5th-grader diet with juicing and smoothies. She informed me in a kind but firm voice that that wasn’t enough. Not even close to it. And that if I wanted to truly restore all of the crazy imbalances inside me (because really, that’s what all my conditions point to: severe hormonal imbalance), it would have to start with food. She said that my diet needed to be composed of primarily vegetables, some whole grains, fruit, and very small amounts of meat. No wheat, sugar, dairy, soy, caffeine, or alcohol. No more of all the things I loved and thought I couldn’t live without, as these were all things that promoted inflammation inside the body, and inflammation is apparently BFF’s with endometriosis. This is because endometriosis functions like an autoimmune disorder (like arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, diabetes, etc.), though it has yet to be officially classified as one. (More research, please!) I also learned that an inflammatory diet has been linked to SO MANY bad things like cancer and heart problems later in life, and I was glad to at least finally have a definitive reason and framework for this vague notion of “eating healthier.” It turned out that most foods could be divided into two categories: inflammatory and anti-inflammatory. And for people like me, anti-inflammatory foods promoted balance and wellness and helped with the management of symptoms like pain, fatigue, and mood swings, whereas those pesky inflammatory foods actually worsened symptoms and prevented the body from healing and restoring itself.
So yeah. That was a wakeup call.
While I was couch-ridden for close to a week following my surgery, I had ample opportunity to binge watch TV and movies, so now that I was intrigued by and borderline obsessed with this newfound Eastern medical perspective, I decided to watch every single food documentary available on Netflix. Spoiler alert: they were all horrifying. But my favorites, and the most eye-opening to me, were Fed Up (HIGHLY recommend), Forks Over Knives, and Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk. I can’t possibly recount all of the staggering statistics and life-changing information that each offered, but essentially, they backed up what my acupuncturist had told me. Our Western diet is so screwed up, and many of us unwittingly consume (and over-consume) foods that only in recent decades became “normal.” One of the biggest culprits, just to zero in on one, is sugar intake. Did you know, for example, that the recommended daily sugar intake for an adult is 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons? A single can of Coke contains 39 GRAMS. The average American adult is currently consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar per day— nearly 4 times the recommended amount. And once you start becoming aware of it and actually reading your labels, you realize that sugar is in EVERYTHING now, from spaghetti sauce to peanut butter. It’s so messed up.
So I decided on the spot to radically change my diet and lifestyle in an effort to help combat the inevitable return of the endometriosis. In addition to getting rid of almost all gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol from my diet (goodbye, beloved coffee and brownies and mac ’n cheese, hello herbal tea and broccoli and brown rice), I also began going to the acupuncturist once a week to help keep things balanced, and I started doing yoga. I began cooking more, mostly out of necessity, and found myself actually enjoying it. I used to HATE going to the grocery store and planning out meals and buying actual ingredients to make things. Now, I weirdly look forward to my new Sunday afternoon ritual of Trader Joe’s. (Side note: Trader Joe’s has been a lifesaver through all this. I cannot sing its praises enough. It’s about 1/10th the size of a regular grocery store but they still have pretty much everything I need, with many organic options and even packaged foods with no added sugars or chemicals, all at super reasonable prices. And everyone is so dang cheerful there! It’s kinda hard to be in a bad mood.) I also began taking lots of supplements, and I now swallow exactly 43 pills per day. (It’s a nuisance, yes. But when they help, it’s worth it.) And I felt really, really good for the first time in a long time. My energy levels went way up, my skin cleared, any mood swings and pains I felt before began subsiding, and I honestly just felt on top of the world.
But I was also convinced that I was going to get pregnant immediately after the surgery. Surely a five-hour-long surgery and a 180 degree lifestyle change would fix all my problems, right? I read story after story on numerous trying-to-conceive forums and blogs that many, if not most women, even those with advanced endometriosis, were miraculously able to get pregnant in the 2-4 months following the surgery. So I was extremely hopeful. I also felt like I had “taken control” over something that had controlled me for so many years, and that alone can make a person dizzy with optimism. (Or maybe you have to be a Type A person like me who LOVES to be or feel in control at all times, who has spent most of her life dreaming and scheming and accomplishing pretty much anything she set out to do. I honestly felt that if I just applied myself enough to this new “project” of mine, there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to achieve it. Pride cometh before the fall, friends.)
While we waited with hope and patience throughout the fall season, two more big things happened. We decided to buy a house in the neighborhood we coveted, a historic area just a mile or two north of downtown. We got tired of paying a ton of money each month in rent, and I was itching to start nesting again, so we were pretty thrilled to find our 1910 green house that needed lots and lots of lovin’. We bit the bullet and put in an offer and next thing we knew, we had keys to the place.
Meanwhile, I was smack dab in the middle of shooting my nonstop stretch of weddings through October and November, traveling like crazy while trying my best to maintain my new diet and lifestyle— no easy feat. And I finally felt complete peace about a decision that I had felt coming for some time but I was so dreading:
I decided to officially retire from wedding photography.
It’s a decision that ultimately just made so much sense for my current season of life. I hope to write more in depth in the future about this decision, because there is SO much I want to say about it. But for now, here are the basic facts. For seven years of my adventurous 20’s, I got paid to do something I loved with reckless abandon. So many people took chances on me and bet on me and I am forever indebted to them for instilling in me a confidence I didn’t know I had. I’ve gotten to be around people on one of the happiest days of their lives most of my weekends, and it has been insanely hard work but also nothing short of magical. I got to see and do so many good things because of shooting weddings, from visiting the mid-century mecca of Palm Springs to eating at food trucks in Portland (before the South knew what food trucks were) to going to Graceland in Memphis to experiencing a snowy Vermont Christmas. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I am fully aware of how lucky I have been to start my career with this amazing chapter. So I don’t want anyone to think that my heart wasn’t in the weddings I was shooting, because it SO was. If anything, those weddings kept me inspired and focused during some really uncertain times, and it’s a beautiful thing to be reminded so often of the beauty and sacredness of marriage vows on a weekly basis. I loved it.
But when we started trying to get pregnant, I suddenly felt panicked about how to approach booking weddings. Many people book their weddings a year or more out, and it only takes 9 months to grow a baby, so I knew that even though I’d be able to uphold all of my currently booked contracts, I had no idea what the future would hold and the fear of letting other people down became somewhat paralyzing. So I just kind of played things by ear through the rest of the spring and told myself I’d make the decision after our move back to Knoxville. Then, of course, I had the fateful doctor’s appointment and everything changed. I began to realize the toll that shooting weddings had taken on my physical and mental health. Not everyone will come right out and say it, but no matter HOW much we photographers love weddings, they are incredibly stressful and hard on our bodies. And though I don’t consider myself much of a worrier, generally speaking, I’ve always been fairly paranoid about losing wedding images from a lost or corrupted card or hard drive, and I would never be able to fully relax until I had safely delivered those files to the client. The problem is, once I would deliver one wedding, I would of course have another immediately after it to stress about. And then the stress on wedding days themselves can be so, so grueling. You’ve got adrenaline pumping through your veins for 14 straight hours so you don’t actually realize it until you’re laying in bed that night, but you’ve been on your feet for 10+ hours, carrying around really heavy equipment, often in extreme temperatures and weather conditions, and barely having time to drink water and stay hydrated, let alone eat, while having to be very much “ON” creatively and socially. That’s why you hear photographers complaining about “wedding hangovers.” They are a VERY REAL thing. Most Sundays would be worthless after shooting a wedding the Saturday before. But Sundays were also the only shared “off” day that Jamie and I had, so sometimes it felt like I barely got to spend time with him. I came to the realization that I simply was no longer willing to put my health and happiness on the back burner in the pursuit of a career and traditional success. So I quit. I shot my last wedding on November 6th without any future plans or prospects. I just knew it was what I needed to do.
Again, there is just so much more I want to say on this topic, about having the courage (and good sense) to know when to walk away from what many would consider to be a “dream career.” How scary it is, not knowing what your future holds or what people will think. Doubting yourself constantly and wondering if you’re making a huge mistake. But for now, if you too find yourself at a crossroads, I would like to introduce you to three ladies who gave me the guts to face this transition head on and with as much grace as possible: Brené Brown, whose book Rising Strong is the only one of hers I’ve read but already I love her; Elizabeth Gilbert, for her absolutely incredible podcast Magic Lessons and book Big Magic; and Jess Lively, who inspires listeners to live with intention in her podcast The Lively Show (specifically her interviews with John and Sherry Petersik of Young House Love a year after they walked away from their massively successful blog and with Melissa Gruntkosky on quitting a full-time business to pursue more joy in life).
So now where are we? November. A crazy month of shooting my last weddings, traveling to Colorado for our dear friend’s wedding and then to New York City for a fun trip with my friend Sarah, celebrating Jamie’s 30th birthday with our friends, closing on our new house, and making the big move on Thanksgiving weekend, when I conveniently also got really sick. More crazy times. And I can’t really explain what happened next, but as you know, I WILL TRY. ha.
For a pretty solid 6-8 weeks between Thanksgiving and the first half of January, I was in a bad place. A really bad place. Like, the crying-almost-every-day kind of bad place. And I recognized it very early on as depression, since I had been diagnosed with clinical depression at age 21 and put on anti-depressants to help manage it until I weaned off of them before we started trying to conceive. Even so, I hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to be in those dark days, when depression turned me into an almost unrecognizable ghost of my normal self. I’m typically very much a doer, and I thrive when I’m busy juggling various home, work, and creative projects. I don’t like wasting time and I’m mad at myself if I don’t get out of the house and do things on any given day. But when depression takes over, all motivation and energy are completely gone. Simple tasks like showering and emptying the dishwasher seem to require monumental effort. And you can forget about all those house projects or creative activities or even simply going outside and breathing fresh air. Everything just feels totally pointless. You know what you should do to help yourself claw your way out, but you don’t.
I realized that I was in the middle of a perfect storm. Right around Thanksgiving was when life as I had known it had screeched to a grinding halt. I was finished with weddings and was still uncertain about what to do next. We moved into the house but we needed to save more money before we could tackle renovations, so not only could I not into projects right away as I had been used to doing, but I also was staring at our less-than-ideal bathrooms and kitchen every day, all day, by myself, reminded of all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t, panicking about how I was going to make the money those projects would require.
On top of that, it was the holiday season, which can be both really happy and exciting but also a sad and bittersweet time for those who have lost loved ones or are going through hard times. I took a pregnancy test the day after Thanksgiving. Negative. I took another on Christmas Eve. Yet another negative. It was devastating, to put it mildly.
I had no job, no baby, and seemingly no purpose in life anymore. I was not the best friend or wife or daughter I could have and should have been during this time. I didn’t like myself very much. I could feel my hope and optimism being replaced with doubt and bitterness, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I wanted to run to God for comfort and peace, but truth be told, I was mad at Him. After all, hadn’t He radically changed my heart back in the spring and whispered to me to move back to Knoxville? We followed that calling for the good of our family. But we had been happy in Birmingham. We loved our friends and our newly renovated house and our church community, and my business was thriving, and we had planned on being there for many years. It felt like God had just taken that happiness away from us… for no reason. On top of that, some of my closest friends were also suffering through infertility and multiple miscarriages, and I didn’t know how to reconcile a God who loves and cares for us daily with a God who would allow so many babies to die. Or to never be conceived in the first place. Why would He give us the deepest human desire to become mothers and not fulfill that desire? If everything happens for a reason (which, by the way, is probably one of the worst things you could say to someone who is grieving and struggling), what is the reason? I recently sat with one of my close friends in the car in a Starbucks parking lot, and we cried many bitter tears together over our battles with infertility and her lost babies. But she told me that if we weren’t willing to be honest with God and confess to Him our anger and frustration at the lack of answers or direction we were so desperately seeking, then we were refusing to acknowledge that He is ultimately in control. That stuck with me SO MUCH.
For a long time, I was afraid to acknowledge in the deepest parts of me that I was angry with God. After all, it just felt like such a spoiled brat move: “Listen, God, I know you’ve already given me so much that I don’t deserve, like a loving family and a safe and warm house and a wonderful marriage and a fulfilling career and amazing friends and a (mostly) healthy body, but I WANT MORE.” Who was I to plead with Him for the miracle of pregnancy when I had already been blessed beyond measure with things that a large portion of people in the world would never experience? It just felt icky and narcissistic and wrong.
At the same time, I couldn’t ignore that deep longing that had been placed inside of me so long ago. The desire to experience pregnancy. To be a mother. So recently I boldly asked God that if it was not His will for me to have children, to please take away the desire from my heart. He has not yet answered that prayer in one way or another but I am choosing to have faith that even though I don’t understand anything right now, that He is still good and He is still working. It’s really the only thing I can do.
We are now on our 6th cycle since the surgery. The end of our window for our best chance of conception ever, according to my doctor. It also marks exactly a year since we began trying, so we’re officially in the “infertile” category now. And we’re a little overwhelmed by the decisions we’re going to have to make pretty shortly. I will soon have to stop taking fertility drugs and we’ll have to decide whether or not we want to gamble $12,000-15,000 on IVF, with success rates for women with stage 4 endometriosis being dismal at best. Or whether we would be okay with forfeiting maybe our only shot at having a biological child because it wasn’t worth the financial and emotional risk. At this point, I’m almost scared to get pregnant, especially through IVF, because hypothyroidism, endometriosis, and low progesterone ALL increase the risk of miscarriage. What if we pour our savings into having a child and we’re not able to conceive, or worse yet, we conceive and then lose the baby? Would I be able to survive that? Would that be the trial that breaks me?
One thing I am very grateful for is that Jamie and I have both felt a desire to adopt. We realize that may be the way that God chooses to answer our longing for parenthood, and we’re at peace with that. If that is the case, we will be so thankful and we will love those children as much as we would our own. But make no mistake— adoption is not a “fix” for infertility. It’s not even a bandaid. As long as the wish to experience pregnancy and childbirth is still in my heart, it will be still be painful to scroll through a social media feed full of pregnancy announcements and ultrasound photos and newborn babies. (Not because I do not want the best for my friends, but because they are just these constant little reminders of something you want so badly but may never get to have.) It will still be difficult to watch a pregnancy or birth in TV shows and movies and wonder if I’ll ever get to experience that, and to wonder if I will ever know what it’s like to see myself in another human being. I will always feel the ache of a barren womb. And that is why I am praying fervently that if God doesn’t want that for me, that He removes from me the desire for pregnancy and the pain of infertility. If you feel inclined to pray over this situation, and I would be so grateful if you did, I ask that you pray the same thing. (To that end, if you too need some prayers on this front– please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to talk to you and to pray for you, too.)
Another thing I am extremely thankful for is that God intervened during the depths of my depression several weeks ago and lifted me out by giving me a new job. A— dun dun dunnnnn— corporate job. 8-5, Monday through Friday, 401k matching and benefits, the whole shebang. I now work as a photographer and editor for Clayton Homes, where Jamie also works. Yep, we carpool to work. It’s pretty cute. :) I was so nervous about embarking on such a new path, but all of my fears and doubts have been completely erased. It has been so good for me to have a daily routine. To go to bed earlier, wake up earlier, shower and get dressed in something other than yoga pants first thing in the morning, to plan and pack my dorky healthy bento box lunches every day. And it’s been really good to be around other human beings during the day. The team that I work on is so kind and fun and wonderful, and I actually get excited to go into work, even if I’m doing the same kinds of tasks (editing, emailing, etc.) that I was doing when I was self-employed. It just feels different somehow. Different and better. I feel fortunate to have gotten a job still within my field and skill set, but in a corporate environment. There aren’t exactly tons of good-paying salaried photographer positions out there, so I know I’m lucky. Long term, I have no idea what my career path will look like, but I’m just going to continue following my instincts. It’s the only way I know how.
I’m getting to the point where I feel like I should wrap this thing up (‘bout time, eh?), but I don’t exactly know how. I want to leave you on a hopeful note, but I also don’t want to throw out any empty Sunday School sentiments. When I first began feeling the push to share my story, I kept putting it off until the next pregnancy test, because I wanted to be able to give you a happy ending. Aren’t stories of heartache and longing and pain so much better with tidy happy endings? But instead I’m realizing that all I can offer is my messy, broken, still-unfinished story, just as it is. I’m writing this not to ask for pity (please, no), but to expose myself at my rawest in the hopes that it will help someone else. Judd Apatow repeated over and over again in interviews with comedians in his very good book Sick in the Head that he had once heard that the greatest gift you can give someone is your story, and that had really stuck with him through the years. It’s stuck with me, too. I’ve been so grateful to all the anonymous people who have had the courage to spill their hearts, even all the black pieces, onto the internet, the people whose stories have provided so much comfort to me this past year. So I figure the least I can do to show my gratitude is to pay it forward with my own story.
You are not alone in this. Whatever demons you’re facing right now, you aren’t alone. Never, ever hold up someone else’s perfect Instagram feed as a mirror to your own life, because whether or not we choose to share the innermost workings of our hearts, you’d better believe we’ve all got ugliness in there. This is just my particular flavor of ugly. I pray that if you, too, feel like you’re just trying to make it one day to the next, that you experience the kind of comfort and peace I have only been able to find in God. Even when we don’t understand, even when things aren’t working out like we planned or hoped, we just gotta keep on swimming. Even when our hearts are filled with ugliness— especially when our hearts are filled with ugliness— He’s there. He’s working. I don’t have all the answers and suspect I never will on this side of heaven, but I just gotta keep trusting that He does. You know?
And finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has continued to reach out and check on me during this time, whether or not they even knew what was going on. Your kind words and encouragement mean so much more than you could ever know. Thank you to the friends who were so understanding when I had to cancel photography commitments during my surgery. And I’m so sorry that I haven’t been the most present and available friend in return that I could have and should have been over the last six months or so. From here on out, I firmly believe that things will get better— that I will get better— and we’ll be right back to talking about house projects and new TV and work stuff and other normal things in no time, starting with the rebirth of this little blog of mine. :)