The Final Stage of Grief – Acceptace

What does Acceptance look like? It doesn’t look like the pain never happened. It certainly doesn’t pretend it never did.

Maybe you have noticed all of the music I have posted lately. Music ministers to me in a very direct and special way. It always has. God has spoken to me through music and song many times. So, it’s no surprise that I am going to use not one, but two songs as examples of what acceptance looks like to me.

Both songs are actually by the same group; MercyMe. I’ve seen them in concert several times and highly recommend them and their music. The opening of their song Bring The Rain:

I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I’ve gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It’s never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
So I pray

Although I doubt my number is anywhere near a million, I have been asked this question numerous times. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, circumstances do not change who we are in Christ. And, they do NOT have to determine our walk with Him.

So, I think when you boil down all of the questions, all of the grief down to one thought, I am left with one word: why? Why me? Why THIS? Why NEVER? Why NOT? Why???? And, guess what? I don’t have the answer! This side of heaven I will most likely not have the answer. BUT, the difference now is, that IT IS OK.

I still have the questions. I still do not have the answers. But I am ok with that. I can live with that. My surgery is tomorrow. I am having a total hysterectomy. I will never experience pregnancy and labor and delivery. I will never breast feed. I will never have a biological bond with a child. Never. And that is ok. It is. It is hard and sad, but it is ok.

In fact, I know that I will go through the stages of grief again after my surgery. Maybe more than once. Maybe more deeply than ever. Maybe not. But, I will survive and I will thrive and I will be a good wife and a good mother and servant of God. Not only that, but BECAUSE I am having this surgery, I can be a mother AGAIN. We want to adopt again, however the Lord leads.

I leave you with the lyrics and video to The Hurt and The Healer by MercyMe. It describes much more eloquently exactly how I feel right now.

Be blessed in Christ!

The Hurt and The Healer by MercyMe

Why?
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn’t come from the explained
Jesus please don’t let this go in vain
You’re all I have
All that remains

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Breathe
Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

It’s the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all the scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say “It’s over now”

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into your arms open wide
When The hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide [x2]

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here.

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Stages 5 & 6 – Reorganization

These stages are sometimes called “The Upward Turn” or “Working Through.”  I started to crawl slowly into this phase, and then jumped in with both feet when we received one phone call on an April morning in 2008.

I had resolved to take much of my infertility walk in stride, which is clearly easier said than done.  We didn’t know what was going to happen. But we were going to move forward together.  Come what may. My joy had returned for the most part, as had my perspective.  My walk with Christ began to deepen and I began to focus on Him.

Yes, it still hurt when I saw pregnant women. Especially, young, unmarried girls who had not planned for this. But, I chose to trust God. I began to focus on what was right.

We had a great marriage.  Perfect? Um, no. But, very strong.  We’d been through so much together. So very much. We began to look into and pray about adoption.  My research habits kicked in again and I learned about The Dave Thomas Foundation http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/.  I learned that there are approximately 100,000 children in the US alone legally available for adoption.

We attended a meeting for our county’s Department of Family Services to learn about adopting.  We hoped to adopt a child or a sibling group from the foster care system. Less than 2 weeks after attending this meeting we got a call that changed our lives forever.

We got a call from a dear friend about a woman at our church, T, whom we knew was expecting. T knew we desperately wanted children, but didn’t have any yet. She also knew she could not parent at this time in her life.  The whole story is a post for another time, but in six short weeks from this phone call, we were holding our son in our arms.

Many people (including me) would think this would be the END of our grief.  We had a son.  We were parents! But, it actually started a whole new cycle of grief I was completely unprepared for. But God is gracious and although I had to go through the stages all over again, they were shorter, though more complicated in their layers.

I think that’s what is somewhat unique with infertility grief.  It’s never really fully resolved. Another blog I found called “Childless Me” described it this way, “Infertility grief is one of the rarer and more complicated griefs, in that it features both of these sub-types: ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief. Ambiguous grief is the kind that doesn’t want to resolve. I suppose in a way no grief totally resolves, as if the loss never happened, there is healing and there’s a scar. If you think hard about the loss of a loved one even over a decade ago you might start sobbing like it was yesterday. That’s my experience anyway. But that grief process itself is done, I am not breaking down into tears whenever reminded of her. The loss of my grandmother (in 2001) is not effecting my ability to live and thrive. Even the loss of my other grandmother in recent months has markedly healed by each week’s end. It’s like these losses have their defined place inside and timing, but infertility doesn’t have these.” http://childless.me/2013/05/infertility-grief-ambiguous-loss-disenfranchised-grief/

The song below really shows my walk through these stages.  Read the lyrics as you listen.  I pray it ministers to you as it has me.


 

Stages 3 & 4 – Anger, Bargaining and Depression

The song above is very dear to me.  When there were times I couldn’t pray anything, I would pray for Jesus to hold me or help me.  I didn’t understand why I was where I was.  I still don’t. 

Anger was easy to feel, but I honestly didn’t spend much time being angry.  I did, however, bargain.  A lot.  I did not see it that way at the time though.  I felt very guilty because I thought that all of this was somehow my fault. My doing.  If I only prayed more. Studied more. Was more loving. A better friend, wife, sister, daughter, that things would change.  It’s not that I literally thought if I spent more time in prayer, I would suddenly conceive. But that somehow, I could garner God’s favor in these ways. 

I know. That sounds ridiculous. But it’s how I felt. So, legalism swept in and nearly took over my life. I became focused on the doing instead of on the being. On the actions instead of the relationship.  This was my form of bargaining.

In all of the doing and busyness, I only got farther away from God.  Farther away and more focused on myself. My feelings and wants. My needs and desires.  There is a place for expressing these things, don’t get me wrong, but when the focus gets out of balance, so does the walk.

My walk with Christ was out of balance.  This was not due to my circumstances. This was due to my choices. If I have learned anything during these last years, it is this. Circumstances do not HAVE to determine our walk with Christ. 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

I cannot, like Paul, say that I delighted in my weaknesses and hardships.  No. It was ugly. But, this IS possible.  My life isn’t over! That’s the good news! Though I have “tried to be strong” in the past, this verse says clearly what we are to do.  “For when I AM WEAK, then I am strong!” (emphasis added by me.) 

So, in this time of struggle, at the end of my physical struggle with infertility, I will chose to take my weakness to Christ. In Him alone, when I allow him to hold me, then will I be strong.

Pain & Guilt – Stage 2

This is my favorite song.  I clung to this song during my darkest hours.  When I felt like no one could possibly understand what I was feeling.  This song showed me someone did. 

 Pain and Guilt is where I have drifted in and out of for most of my journey.  Not one to quit, I press on with the endless medical tests.  I am now in my 30’s and I learn about endometriosis for the first time when a family member is diagnosed with it.  I had never heard of this condition before.  With all the tests, I thought the doctors were doing everything they could!

When I found out about endometriosis, I immediately began to research.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I had every.single.symptom.  EVERY ONE.  Since it was time for my annual appointment with my OB/GYN, I asked him about it.  He told me I did NOT have endometriosis.  That my pain was from my colon.  And, I was wrong. Period.  I ASKED him to do surgery.  I learned in my research that the ONLY way to diagnose endo is by doing a laparoscopy.  It is impossible to see via scan, ultrasound or ANY other way.  He refused and basically told me I was crazy.  I was shocked.  I left.  And found another doctor.

When I met with the new doctor for the first time, I was a nervous wreck.  I’d been to so many, that I had no idea what to expect.  When I described my symptoms, including years of “undefined infertility” and that I suspected endometriosis, he recommended surgery.  I’d never been so relieved in my life. 

Not only did I have endo, I had stage 4 endometriosis that has since required a total of 4 abdominal surgeries.  But here is the thing.  After each surgery, I was told, that for the following months I would have increased fertility.  Hopes up!!

So, we would continue to try, and try and try and try and try. For years.  We had numerous tests. And the most frustrating part was we never got any answers.  Many people with endometriosis conceive.  We didn’t and the doctors have never been able to tell us why.  We have officially been diagnosed with “undefined infertility”.  How’s that for a non-answer?!?

So, we would be told to plan, and schedule and hope. Only to be disappointed.  Literally crushed emotionally every single month.  Month after month after month, year after year after year.  It begins to wear on me.  Both emotionally and spiritually. 

I began to stop hoping.  Stop wishing.  Stop praying.  I truly could not live with the constant disappointment.  And guilt.  Then, I got pregnant. 

I had suspected for days that I was pregnant.  But I was terrified to say it and I was terrified to take a pregnancy test.  I had literally taken dozens that had all been negative.  I finally shared my thoughts and fears with my loving and supportive husband. And on a Monday morning, took the test.  It was positive. A miracle. Wow.

We were elated.  We called our parents. And our Pastor. And the doctor, of course. We found out that I was 7 weeks along, due June 11, 2007. I had never been so elated.

Late that night, I began to feel the familiar pain of cramping.  At first, I brushed it off, then was concerned.  By Tuesday morning, I was in the emergency room, having a miscarriage.  There was nothing they could do.  I sobbed like I had never cried before.  I questioned God that day like I never had before.  My grief was as low as it had ever been.  Our best friends came, my mom came (from 1000 miles away), my dad, our pastors, but really all I remember is sobbing. 

For months, I was a walking zombie.  I had no emotion.  I had always been a smiling, outgoing, enthusiastic, loud person.  Now, nothing.  Just  . . . . . . . . . .  there.  I didn’t even realize how dramatic the change was. 

For those of you that have never been through this, let me offer you one piece of advice.  A miscarriage is a REAL loss.  It is life changing loss.  It will always be with me. Always. PLEASE be sensitive to that.  The Sunday after my miscarriage, I had a woman walk up to me at church.  This is what she said to me.  “I’m sorry about your miscarriage.  You’ll get pregnant again.  No worries.  I went to the best baby shower a couple months ago where the lady had a miscarriage and got pregnant again right away! It was so great!!!”  She then described the baby shower in detail for 10 minutes.  Yes, this really happened.  Knife to my heart.  The LAST thing I wanted to hear about was a BABY SHOWER.  Don’t promise something you have no control over.  They might conceive again, but that doesn’t undo this loss. 

What CAN you do for someone in this situation? In the pain and grief of infertility? Pray. Encourage.  Bring flowers. Or, better yet, a meal.  For NO reason. Just because. Invite them out to dinner.  If you have children, get the grandparents to babysit and take them out for an evening.  It’s a very lonely feeling to be the only couple in your circle of friends without children.  Trust me.

Don’t ask personal questions about when they are going to have kids, or what they have tried.  Don’t give advice on what worked for you, your sister, your neighbor, or your friend’s mother’s cousin. But most important don’t ignore them!! Do ask how they are doing. Do ask how they are feeling and what (if anything) you can do to help. It means so much just to know you care.

Infertility is considered a silent epidemic because no one wants to talk about it.  I never wanted to talk about it.  But, now that my journey is nearly over, I realize that there are so many other people that are suffering in silence too.  And if they aren’t, they know someone who is. And, they want to help, but have no idea how. 

Although it does not feel like it at times, I promise this verse is true. Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Shock & Denial – Stage 1 of grieving infertility

doctor's hand holding stethascope WITH TEXT

The question about grief I have asked myself the most is, “How can I MISS someone I NEVER HAD?!?!”  I denied there was anything TO grieve for a very long time.  Well, I suppose I should start at the beginning.

When we had been married 6 months, I began to have more serious issues with my cycle.  I’d actually had issues since I was 14 years old, but the birth control medications the doctors had put me on caused more problems than they solved.  So, we prayed.  We were deeply in debt, I was a full time college student, we had one car, and commuted 30 minutes each way to work and school.  It was NOT good timing to start a family, but I couldn’t take the medication anymore.  So, we decided to trust God and I went off the medicine.

For about the first year or so, I was relieved each month I wasn’t pregnant.  Even typing that sentence now feels absurd.  But it is true.  I felt like Hannah when God closed her womb.  If you are unfamiliar with her story you can read all about her in 1 Samuel 1.  Verse 5 (speaking of her husband) says, “And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children.”  Later in verse 19 it is recorded, “the Lord remembered her plea” and Hannah conceived a son.  I saw myself as the Hannah in the first verse.  But when God’s timing was right, he would remember my prayers and I would conceive.  You may see this as either naïve or faith.  I’m not sure if it wasn’t a little bit of both.

Fast forward 3 or 4 years, and still no babies and no pregnancies.  Now I am the sobbing Hannah on my knees in the temple so upset I am mistaken for being drunk. (1 Samuel 1:12-14), well at least the sobbing part.  I’m now on at least my third OB/GYN doctor by now.  My cycles are getting worse, but no one can figure out why.  I begin a 5 year run of countless tests.  I am diagnosed with everything from gall bladder issues, to IBS, to Crohn’s Disease, to “it all being in my head.”

It is at this point that I think I moved from Shock & Denial to Pain & Guilt.  I could no longer deny SOMETHING was wrong.  After 8 years of what doctor’s classify as “not trying to prevent pregnancy” and/or “actively trying to conceive,” we should have gotten pregnant by now. Several times.  Even without “trying”.

More to come tomorrow.

Image courtesy of [smokedsalmon] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 Stages of Grief…. Infertilty style

Sad woman from free digital photos dot net

I had no idea the effect of simply writing what I was feeling 2 days ago would have on me.  I have never been much of a writer, let alone about something so deeply personal.  But, it was very cathartic.  I was thinking about my post in relation to the traditional seven stages of grief.  Here they are according to recover-from-grief.com:

  1. Shock & Denial
  2. Pain & Guilt
  3. Anger & Bargaining
  4. Depression & Reflection
  5. The Upward Turn
  6. Reconstruction & Working through
  7. Acceptance & Hope

As I pondered each of these, I realized that I had gone through each step many times in these past 18 years.  Sometimes monthly.  Especially after my miscarriage.

So, over the next 2 weeks, as part of my pledge to embrace my grief, I will be doing a series on what these 7 steps have looked like in my life in regards to infertility and hopefully in the lives of others as well.

If you know someone who is going through infertility, encourage them to read these.  I hope they will be a blessing.

In Christ.

Image courtesy of [stockimages] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Grief is an odd thing…

I’ve been feeling down for the past few days, and I honestly could not figure out why.  We missed church Sunday.  Again. 3 was up all.night.long and we were all completely exhausted.  He hasn’t transitioned to a new church well.  But that’s a post for another day. 

I always struggle with depression more when we miss church.  But this week it has been more.  Deeper.  Different.  I knew I needed to spend more time in the Word, but didn’t. I knew I needed to eat better, but didn’t.  I knew I needed to exercise, but didn’t. Honestly, I just didn’t care. If you’ve never struggled with depression, this may sound odd to you. I understand.  It used to sound odd to me too.  Depression isn’t (always) about sadness.  It isn’t about a lack of gratitude.  It isn’t about not being happy.  For me, it’s apathy.  I know there are things, like diet, exercise and especially time with Jesus that make a big difference.  But I can’t do any of them.  I just can’t.

Then, I stumbled upon a blog post that brought my grief back to the surface again.  Proverbs 30:15a-16 (NLT) says, “There are three things that are never satisfied— no, four that never say, “Enough!”: the grave, the barren womb, the thirsty desert, the blazing fire.”  Wow. This is very true. My womb has been barren all 18 years of our marriage.  Except for one 7 week stretch, when I was pregnant.  Then miscarried. Now, I am 2 weeks away from a total hysterectomy. 14 days.

I thought I had dealt with the emotions surrounding this decision. I knew they would resurface. But, I didn’t think it would come BEFORE the surgery and in such a debilitating way.  The barren womb is never satisfied.  Even though I am a mom. Even though I don’t really feel like the surgery is taking away my fertility.  I truly don’t feel like I ever had it. Not really.  But here I am, grieving. 

I think I am grieving what I think SHOULD have been.  Or, at least what COULD have been.  I always wanted to be a mother.  ALWAYS. I always wanted a big family.  My husband and I have 3 and 5 siblings respectively and my best friend has always been my sister.  We are just over 2 years apart in age, and still very close.  I wanted all that for my kids.  But, instead, we have one son.  Who is now 5. Even if/when we do another infant adoption, he will be an only child because of the age difference. I grieve that for him. I grieve that over my 20’s I was so focused on what I was MISSING that I wasn’t at all thankful for what I HAD! I grieve that I still feel physical and emotional pain every time I see a pregnant woman or a breastfeeding mom. Every.time.

So, what now? Instead of pretending like I don’t feel the way I do, or pushing it down, I’ve decided to live with my grief for the next 14 days.  Live with it.  Embrace it.  Walk through it.  Somehow, I still have to cook dinner, do the dishes, play cars (again!) with my wonderful gift from God.  I will choose to feel the grief and still be thankful.  Feel the pain and still move forward.  Feel the disappointments and still get things ready for my 6 week recovery.  I will because I must.  I will because “Greater is HE that is in me than he that is in the world.”