Infertility as Destiny

Here goes another attempt at addressing a whole new topic, an important one, so hopefully I don’t muck it up. Infertility is such a sensitive issue, something that so many women experience and so few talk about. Thank goodness that awareness seems to be increasing, but we still have so far to go in terms of supporting couples experiencing infertility. I have wanted to share my thoughts on this topic for a while, but have hesitated because it is such a difficult and painful issue and I don’t want to offend. It seems hard to say anything about infertility without hurting feelings or worrying that the message may be misinterpreted in some way. Thus, I will preface this post by saying that I am speaking only of my personal experience. I am not claiming that this is the right way to think or feel about infertility. I would never want to diminish what other women have gone through, or how other couples cope. We all experience infertility differently, but we can still support each other. I also want to point out that I am writing about infertility specifically. I have never experienced pregnancy or infant loss and don’t claim to have any idea what that must be like. I recognize that the lasting wounds from the loss of a child are different from those of never having conceived, and that the pain of pregnancy and infant loss can never be erased. What follows is simply my take on my specific experience, in hopes that it might foster understanding and bring hope.

Okay, so enough with the disclaimers.

For those of you who do not know this part of my story, let me start with a brief history. My husband and I began trying to start a family in 2009. I had a hunch that we were going to have difficulty because of my own pre-existing health issues, but our doctor was very hopeful and we were told that we had a high chance of conceiving with little intervention. That hopeful beginning led to about two years of pills, injections, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), hundreds of ultrasounds, thousands of dollars and too many tears to count. In September of 2011, emotionally exhausted and physically worn down from all of the treatment, I told my husband that I needed to start looking into other options. We knew that we weren’t going to go as far as IVF and I needed to know that there was hope for us becoming parents eventually. He was not quite ready to let go of the pregnancy dream, but gave me permission to start looking into adoption. Perhaps I will share the details of what happened in those next wild weeks another time. For now I will just tell you that less than three months after that initial conversation about adoption, we received a life changing phone call. Two days later we brought our squishy newborn son home (it still blows my mind). Fast-forward two and a half years and a few piles of paperwork later, smiley little Sawyer became a Freitas and blew our lives up with even more joy. Now we are talking about baby number three (someday), and it is funny to me now how normal it is that talk of another child means calling adoption agencies, saving funds and starting paperwork. That is our norm and we love it.

Since Dawson’s birth we have never even talked about trying to get pregnant again. We don’t “try” to get pregnant anymore, but we have not prevented pregnancy for five years now and have never conceived. Medically there is no explanation for our infertility. If we were to try treatment again, we might have a chance at pregnancy, but I know in my heart that my body was not meant to be pregnant. The doctors can’t explain why I don’t conceive, but I can. There are two reasons that my womb just won’t grow babies: One has blue eyes and one has brown, and they are both little pieces of heaven.

Infertility was part of my destiny.

I could not be a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth and breastfeeds. Life required differently of me. The family I have now required that I be ready and waiting and desperate for motherhood when Dawson was born. God knew, when I was praying for two pink lines on a pregnancy test, that he had already been conceived, and that when he was born he would fill up every single little place inside of me that had longed for a child. Two years later, a pregnancy would’ve gotten in the way of us bringing home the divine fourth piece to our family puzzle, our sweet, silly little lamb of a son, Sawyer.

God knew that every unique thing about both of my boys would be a perfect match for their daddy and I. We needed each other, the boys, their birth parents and us. I needed to be part of this story, and being a woman who can get pregnant at the drop of a hat would have changed all of it.

What I want people to know, and (most importantly) what I want my kids to know, is that our journey to parenthood isn’t second best. This life isn’t a consolation prize for our initial plans for a family. This is the dream. This is the best outcome, one better than we could have ever imagined. I would never wish for anything different now, because any reality where my two boys aren’t my boys just isn’t worth considering. For me infertility isn’t something that got in the way of my dreams, it was simply God’s way of changing my perspective and pointing me in the right direction, toward the children I was meant to raise.

I remember the pain of infertility now, as if I am watching myself in a movie, crying at the sight of any pregnant woman (and when you can’t conceive, EVERYONE you see is pregnant!). I remember avoiding baby showers because they are a cruel and unique kind of torture for someone hyped up on fertility drugs with no baby of her own in sight. I remember sobbing in my car at work, watching the parents dropping their kids off on the first day of Kindergarten, thinking that would never be me. I remember it enough to empathize with those going through it, but I can’t actually recall the feelings any longer. Pregnancy announcements don’t hurt anymore, I am not jealous of baby bumps, and I am no longer ashamed that my body has never done what it was seemingly designed for. I refuse to live with the lie that I am any less of a woman or mother because my body has never created new life. Screw that. I have let infertility go. I refuse to live with sadness and emptiness, especially when my life is so full of love and life. I am too busy being a mom to be anything less than whole.

I pray fervently that everyone hoping for a child will conceive. I know that for some, even with rainbow babies, surrogacy, or adoption, the pain can remain raw and unpredictable. There is beauty in that pain, and some of the strongest women I have ever met are those with harrowing infertility stories. Let’s all respect each other’s stories and share our experiences, in hopes that we will bring comfort and optimism to those don’t yet know when or how their precious littles will come to them.

There is always hope. Hang in there my waiting mama friends, you are so strong and you are not alone. No matter which road ends up leading you to your babies, it will be so worth the wait. There are so many ways to become a parent, none better than another. As for me, I would not change a thing. Let us not forget that infertility stories don’t have to end in pregnancy in order to end in total healing and mind-blowing happiness.

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May We Sing

I’m gearing up for about seven days of parenting sans husband/daddy over here and I’m trying to bring myself back from the ledge of a poor me mentality about another week without my spouse. I’m honing my skills at choosing my attitude instead of letting my attitude choose me, so here are my thoughts on the matter.

Our days here in the Freitas house start early, often before 5am. God bless the baby, who is a great sleeper and doesn’t make a peep until at least 6:30, but I have one beautiful, insomniac of a child who has been an early riser his whole life, and who thinks that 4:45 is an acceptable time to start most days. I am home full-time and my husband is often out-of-town for work, so a 5am wake-up often means that I have 15 hours, alone, with two kids ahead of me. Some mornings I wake up feeling really excited about the day, with a real June Cleaver kind of attitude toward parenting and homemaking. On those days I feel so lucky to be home with the boys, excited to make the most of every minute and ready to craft and snuggle my way through an idyllic day. Other times I wake up to face the day and feel so daunted by the hours ahead. The simple tasks that await me overwhelm me; the three meals and snacks I have yet to cook and clean up after, the errands to run, appointments to get to, keeping the boys entertained and happy, surviving without adult interaction for another 24 hours, and so on. I would imagine that this is universal to stay-at-home and working parents alike. The many tasks, meetings and care-taking responsibilities can just feel daunting at the beginning of the day. Sometimes bedtime (aka cleaning time followed by junk food and Netflix hour for mommy) just seems so impossibly far away and I find myself checking the clock way too often.

I hate the days that I wish the hours away, because my kids are growing up too quickly and some day I will wish so badly that I had those long days back. I want desperately to enjoy every minute, and I do enjoy so very much of it. Sometimes though, I think that we get caught up in the concept of happiness and enjoying everything to such a degree that we are crippled when parenting just doesn’t seem fun, enjoyable or fulfilling at the moment. Where did I get the idea that the worth of my day as a mother was in how much I enjoyed myself while doing it? I would imagine that this is a first world kind of problem. I wonder if mothers raising children in extreme poverty or in war-torn communities stop to think about whether they are enjoying motherhood on a daily basis. I imagine that when keeping your family fed and safe is a real challenge every day, considering how much personal satisfaction you are getting out of mothering would be a rare luxury. Yet, here I am, concerned about how much I am going to be emotionally fulfilled by my day in my comfy sweat pants, with my latte in hand and two safe, well-fed kids near me all day. Ugh.

One of my favorite songs lately has been Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons. I heard it for the first time in church a while back and one of the verses became a sort of theme song for my days at home with the kids. Said verse is as follows:

The sun comes up

It’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes……….

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

Recently I wrote these lyrics on a chalkboard at the bottom of my staircase. The hope is that I will see it when I walk down the stairs at 4:45 am with a kid who is ready to play ninja turtles and already asking what I will be making him for breakfast. The verse reminds me that I have a choice to make at the beginning of each day. Like choosing what to wear in the morning, I have to choose what attitude I will bring to that day with my kids, regardless of what kind of day lies ahead. I have a choice whether I focus my attention on the piles of dishes and number of tantrums ahead of me, or on the sparkling eyes and eager faces of the kids who miraculously have been placed in my care for another fleeting day.

I can decide that the day is going to be long and tedious and hard (which, of course means that it pretty much will end up being so). I can start throwing my mental pity party right then and there, dwelling on how hard the stay-at-home gig can be, counting how many hours I haven’t slept or how long it’s been since I’ve eaten a meal sitting down. Those pity parties usually involve stupidly angry texts to my innocent husband, simply because he has been sleeping for 8 hours uninterrupted in a hotel room and eating at nice restaurants, while I drown in mac and cheese and spend hours building Lego forts. (Luckily, he has learned to take these belligerent messages as a sign that I just need a little pat on the back and a few hours sleep when he gets home, and he forgives me). When I decide to start the day off with a mental rundown of why the day is going to be long and hard, I typically only last about two hours before I am grouchy with the kids, can see my mood rubbing off on them, have to ask their forgiveness for being said grouch, and consciously reset my attitude before we all melt down. Worse, I totally miss out on what could’ve been a nice morning with my kids.

My other option is to forgo the mental drama and decide (like the song says) to “sing praise” from the start, even if it doesn’t feel natural or gratifying to do so. I can decide that whatever the day brings I will find the good, I will be thankful, and I will try to give even when I feel like I have nothing left. I can pray that whatever may pass (kids may get sick, plumbing might break, car might not start, boys may be fussy all day) and whatever lies before me (meals to cook, laundry to do, kids to entertain), I will be “singing” when the day ends. This doesn’t mean that I’ll always feel like singing. The point isn’t that I’ll always feel joyful, even when the day is long and tedious and full of frustration. It means that I’ll praise anyway. I will be grateful for what was, I will focus on evaluating what I gave to my family and others, rather than dwelling what I got out of the day, and I will seek peace and strength for the next day to come so that I can be better at finding and giving joy tomorrow.

Justification for praise surpasses circumstances and emotions (good or bad) and means acknowledging that God is good no matter what. It means recognizing that the value in a day isn’t measured by how fulfilled we were by it, or how great it felt for us. This is true about life in general, but especially about parenthood. We aren’t missing out on the parenting experience just because some days don’t feel awesome and inspiring. We are missing out if we fail to recognize that the privilege of raising our kids is wonderful and beautiful, even when the daily tasks parenting requires sometimes feel totally sucky. (You following me here?) A great side effect of this approach is that when I focus on singing praise from the beginning of the day, even when it feels un-natural, I often end up in a much better mood, and thus a more patient, kind parent than I would’ve been otherwise. It’s a fake it ’till you make it kind of thing.

So sing through the dishes, sing through the diaper blowouts, the school drop-off lines, the meetings with your boss, and the grocery store line toddler meltdowns. There are always 10,000 reasons, and if you have small children in your home you don’t have to look far to see a few of those reasons right in front of you. Sing on friends, and please feel free to remind me to do so the next time you hear me complaining when I should be praising.

Building a Sensory Library

As a mom with two energetic little boys to entertain, I am always looking for new activities to break up our day and keep the kids engaged and learning. A while back I stumbled upon the idea of sensory bins on Pinterest and I started making themed sensory bins to coordinate with whatever concept we were working on that month. The boys loved them so much, and wanted to play with them so often that I thought it would be nice to have a variety of them on hand to easily access when the kids needed something new to do. In addition to just being fun and easy to make, they are great for my sweet, sensory-seeking three-year-old, who can’t get enough stimulation. We are always looking for ways to help him meet his sensory needs in a socially appropriate way and sensory bins have become a really great tool for him. I find that when he is starting to have a hard time, stopping what we are doing and finding a calm, sensory stimulating activity for him can really help us avoid meltdown. For all of the above reasons, I decided to create a library of sensory bins for daily use here at our house.

I started by buying a variety of plastic bins of various sizes and depths. It is hard to tell from the photos below, but most of mine are about the size of a 9×13 baking pan. I wanted mine to stack in a cupboard so I bought ones with lids that stack easily on each other. Then I scoured Walmart and Joanns for anything affordable that looked like it might be fun to feel, scoop, dump, squish, etcetera. I tried to look for items that provided a variety of textures and ended up with the following:

  • Dry Oatsimage_7
  • White Rice (there are a million ways to color and scent rice for added variety)image_6
  • Lentilsimage_8
  • Pinto Beansimage
  • Plastic Beadsimage_3
  • Buttonsimage_4
  • Craft Pom Pomsimage_1 image
  • Foam Peanuts (the colored, crafting version that can be sculpted into shapes)image_2
  • Vase Filler/Water Beadsimage_2

Note that some of these objects (especially the water beads) aren’t for the little siblings, as they could be choking hazards. Even big brother is only allowed to play with them when I am watching, but the water beads are his favorite. They have a slimy feel that is just too much fun. The lentils are also great. They have a sort of silky texture that is kind of addicting. The really inexpensive materials, like the rice, I bought lots of, and filled a large bin so that there is enough for the kids to bury their arms up to the elbows. I also bought a clear, vinyl tablecloth to use on the ground when we get these out to play. That way, if there is any overflow the mess is easily contained.

At least once a day I let the boys choose one of these bins and then I mix up the tools that we use in them.  Examples of ways to play with these are:

  • Scooping and dumping with measuring cups
  • Blowing the contents around with straws (this is especially fun with the pom poms and is a great way to get a kid to focus on their breathing, something else we work on with D).
  • Using plastic funnels
  • Kid friendly tweezers make for a great, challenging fine motor task with these materials. GW school supply has many varieties of plastic tweezers and really cute animal-shaped tongs that the kids love.
  • Using kitchen utensils like a ladle, slotted spoon, potato masher
  • Hiding objects inside for the kids to dig out
  • Manipulative objects such as small, plastic animals can make for hours of fun pretend play in any sensory bin
  • When using more for a therapeutic purpose, we just sit and listen to soft music while the boys use their hands inside the bins without toys or tools. It is so simple but it really is calming for them.

Never once have my boys turned down playing with these bins and I usually end up taking them away before the kids decide that they are finished. The great thing is that the possibilities are endless and you can mix it up every day. Plus, if there is ever a global disaster and we can’t access food, we could live for a good while off of the contents of our sensory library. Have fun!

Address Learning Activities (Free Download)

We’ve been working on personal information like phone numbers and addresses around here. With one pre-reader and one pre-talker in the house this is kind of tricky, so we are focusing on learning to recognize their written address, and reciting it aloud (for big brother). As a life skill, reciting the address aloud is really most useful anyway at this age (for example, if they were to get lost and have to tell a stranger where they live).

Here are some ideas that we have used around here for practice, including a free download you can personalize with your own information. Some of the photos here are funky looking as I am trying to hide our personal address (probably a parenting fail to put my kids faces and home address out on the web simultaneously). Enjoy!

  1. Stacking House puzzle. This fun and easy puzzle has the address in sections on various parts of the house. They have to be stacked in the correct order to complete the address. You can talk to your kids about what the house number, street name, city and state mean. Note that the top will have the house number and second section will have the street name, I just didn’t want to show ours here. You can type your address in accordingly in the power point attached below.  image
  2. Personalized address puzzle. I took a photo of our house and used it here, but you can use the generic house graphic in my download. Type your address below the photo, print, cut into strips and laminate (optional). The kids have to put the numbers and words in your address in the correct order to complete the photo.image_1
  3. Envelope addressing activity. This printable can be personalized with your family’s information and the kids can practice putting the address in correct order, as you would to address a letter. Add the stamp and it’s ready to go! I cut, laminated and used velcro with this to make it re-usable.image image_1
  4. Mail sorting game. This was my boys’ favorite of the activities listed here. They were given about 20 pieces of pretend mail, half of which were addressed to them. The other half of the letters were addressed to fictional characters. They had to sort out the letters that were addressed to them, with our address, and put them in the mail box. Because of the stage my kids are in, they aren’t actually reading the addresses, but they are learning to visually identify their own, which is a great first step. 
    image_2
    5. Singing a song with your address to the tune of a nursery rhyme is another fun activity. Songs help us all to memorize auditory information and this has worked great for my kids. I used the tune to Do You Know the Muffin Man and made up the lyrics that follow. It’s not going to win me a record deal any time soon, but it does the job! Here is an example:

Do you know my address, my address, my address? Do you know my address? It is where I live. 

1113 North Brown Street, North Brown Street, North Brown Street. 1113 North Brown Street, that is where I live. 

Fresno California, California, California. Fresno California, that is where I live. 

93722, 93722, 93722, that is my zip code.

Lets put it all together now, together now, together now. Lets put it all together now, this is where I live. 

1113 North Brown Street, Fresno California, 93722, that is my address. 

Finally, we downloaded this great freebie from Powerful Mothering Name Tracing Printable and instead of putting their names in them, we used our address. This allows for practice with writing and reciting the address aloud as they trace.

That’s all for today. Here is the free download from my Teachers Pay Teachers store: Address Learning Packet

The Mom I Was Supposed To Be

Here goes my first attempt at writing about more than my pinterest-obsessive preschool parenting, so bear with me. I think the key to a good mommy article is being relatable and real without being a total narcissist, so hopefully I accomplish that here. I’m more than aware that no one is sitting around hoping for insight into my deepest thoughts. On the other hand, I know that motherhood can be terrifying and lonely sometimes, so if someone out there can relate to anything I have to say and feel less alone, then mission accomplished.

Motherhood is wonderful and motherhood is terribly hard. Hard beyond anything I could’ve imagined and for reasons I couldn’t have imagined. I would venture to guess that if you ask most moms, everyone has their own version of hard, things they thought they would be good at but aren’t, things that they feel guilty about, aspects of this privilege of raising children that they just plain don’t enjoy. For me the hardest thing about motherhood, and also one of the greatest gifts motherhood has brought me, is having to mourn the loss of the picturesque mother I thought I would be.

I was one of those girls who always wanted to be a mommy. I played house like the best of them, I knew my future kids names by age 10, and when I met my now husband at 15, we talked about our future children pretty early on in our relationship. I spent my early twenties in college, graduate school and starting my career, but I always saw parenting as the end goal in my list of life plans. My short career as a school psychologist gave me plenty of opportunity to contemplate the super awesome mother I was going to be. My job entailed advising parents and teachers on various student issues, something I think I did with empathy and at least some degree of success, but I often laugh now at how much I thought I knew back then and how much better I thought I could do things compared to some of the parents I worked with. It was easy to know it all when I was still a perfect future parent in my own mind. I was recently in the check out line at Toys R Us (a.k.a. hell for parents with toddlers) with my two boys. Of course my three-year old was throwing a tantrum of epic proportions because we were buying a gift for someone and he wasn’t going to be getting anything. He was lying on the ground kicking and telling me how truly difficult his life is. I turned around and in line behind me was a family I had worked closely with at an elementary school three years prior. I knew that they recognized me, and all I could think was, “Yep, its me! Aren’t you glad you had me advising you on your kid’s behavior? Clearly I have my kids totally under control!” Insert laughing and crying emoji here. Karma…….

One of the added bonuses of our family being built via adoption is that I have detailed written proof of the mom I planned to be before my boys were born. In the album that was shown by our agency to expecting birth mothers, ultimately the book that led D’s birth mother to choose us to be his parents, there is a two-page letter from me explaining what kind of parent I planned to be. A similar letter was shown to S’s birth mother in our second album, at a time when I was more realistic but hopeful that with my second child I would do it all right. After all, I had learned my lessons with the first! Then S was born and, lo and behold, a plethora of second-child specific parenting challenges and new types of guilt.IMG_5465

Some of the things in those letters came to fruition, others I’m working on but failing at regularly. Sometimes thinking of those letters brings me heartache. I wish I could go back to the beginning when I was blissfully unaware of the many mistakes I would make. I didn’t know then that sleep deprivation could drive you to literal insanity. The first day I met my eldest son I didn’t think that I could ever lose my temper with that sweet blue-eyed baby. IMG_0986I didn’t know that I was capable of being as frustrated as I’ve been sometimes. I didn’t know then that my husband would have to love me through days when I would be just plain ugly because I’m tired and frustrated and fed up with the hard task of keeping two kids alive (and I’m not referring to the kind of ugly I am when I don’t get a shower and have been wearing the same yoga pants for three days, though I’m glad he loves me through that kind of ugly too). Sometimes thinking about the ideal me that I planned to be with my kids brings me guilt. I sometimes struggle with feeling like I don’t deserve to be my boys’ mother, because they deserve someone who would never ever lose patience or say no to their hundredth request to play Candy Land, or grip their arm a bit too tight on the way to time out. They deserve a perfect mommy because they are perfect and innocent and amazing.

Some days I really kick butt at motherhood and at the end of the day I hit the pillow feeling pretty good about myself and about my relationships with my kids. Other days I am crushed by sadness because I am still broken and flawed and unfortunately, my kids are going to have to see some of the yuck that is in me. About a month ago I was having a hard week with my boys and I think I had lost my temper with my oldest and I just started crying for no reason and couldn’t stop. I found myself crying on my bedroom floor, texting my angel of a friend Whitney. I was basically begging her to relate to me on the total crappiness of being a flawed person who is trying to raise good people. She reminded me (like she frequently does when I have a mommy meltdown) that I am not alone, and of the hope in all of this. Here comes the take home message………

GRACE. I am a million miles from truly understanding the depths of God’s grace, but motherhood has shown me that it is real. I HAVE to believe in His grace and, even more important and difficult, I have to accept it or I will be ruined. I completely believe that my children were meant to be mine way before they were ever conceived. If I believe that, and I believe that God is good and has my children’s best interest at heart, I have to believe that He thinks I can be the mother they need. Here’s the catch: I can only do it with Him. I can only do it if I wake up every morning and say, “God, I’m pretty much going to suck at this job without you so please show up and help me be enough for them.” Then, when I inevitably do or say things I wish I hadn’t, or am emotionally absent or anxious or edgy or (insert one of many possible mommy fails here), I have to remember for the hundredth time that day that His grace is enough. This doesn’t mean that I resign myself to my parenting mistakes and not try to improve. I will try every day to be better than the day before because my kids deserve that. I will take action and seek wisdom and help and rest so that I can be better for them every day (a topic for a whole other blog post). It does mean that when I slip up I can get out from under the guilt and move forward. I can try to see myself as my God sees me, a child myself, learning and growing and broken and trying to do a decent job at raising two little men in a really harsh world. I adore author and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton and her blog, Momastery (if you haven’t read her books or blog you are missing out, I want to BE her). Glennon says when you mess up or are just feeling too tired or down to face life, you have to just do “the next right thing.” That has become a parenting mantra for me. I can always make the day better. I can always apologize to my kids and make amends. I can ignore the laundry and (literal) spilled milk, and be kind and patient and fun for the next hour.

Forgive yourselves moms!! Don’t let guilt and shame steal what is amazing and wonderful about this job you are doing. When you figure out how to actually be infinitely patient and perfect and fun every moment of every day, please let me know. Until then: GRACE! You are enough.