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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kids, Part 4: Where We Go From Here

Two weeks ago, I finished a rather bleak post on the aftermath of the infertility issues Steph and I have experienced with the question: If two-thirds of all childless marriages end in divorce, how have we made it nearly ten years?  The answer to that query was found in 1 Corinthians 13:7, which says Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  To finish this series, I’d like to show the world that there is life and love in a childless marriage.  That while God blesses most with children, He blesses others differently—and that’s okay.

Love Bears All Things:
It’s very easy to think that love bears all things and endures all things are the same.  In fact, when I looked up with word endures in the Thesaurus, the first synonym listed was bears.  However, in this verse, bears is meant as “being open.”  Sharing your thoughts, feelings, fears, worries, pain, etc with someone you love.  Privately or publicly.

Bearing all things is not something Steph and I have done well for the last 6-7 years.  We have not always shared with each other how we were feeling.  We have not always shared our internal pain.  Not with each other.  Definitely not with friends and family.  We have kept everyone—including ourselves—at an arm’s length.  This is not the secret to our sustained marriage.  As you have read in previous posts, behaving this way has been a detriment to our marriage, and probably cost us relationships with others as our lack of openness likely pushed many away.

Fortunately, we have begun to rectify this situation before it became too late.  Communication was our strongest asset before we started trying for children, and we’re working hard to make it a source of strength again.  Furthermore, these posts have been our way of coming clean to all of you.  We are bearing our souls to you.  Sharing our faults.  Our fears.  It isn’t always easy—nor will it become any easier moving forward.  Finally discussing our infertility publicly does not mean that we’re “over it” or that we’ve “moved on.”  It will always be a struggle.

The future haunts us.  Who will care for us when we’re old?  What will we do for family Christmases once our parents are gone?  What do we do with all the baby stuff we slowly bought when we first started trying?  Steph and I had a strange conversation once where we both acknowledged that while we were closer to accepting the idea of not having children, the idea of not having grandchildren depressed us.

I recently read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love.  In it, he says, “Sometimes when I come home from work, my little girl greets me by running out to the driveway and jumping into my arms before I can even get out of the car.  As you can imagine, arriving home has become one of my favorite moments of the day…Nothing compares to being truly, exuberantly wanted by your children.”  All my life, when I thought of being a father, it was moments like this that excited me.  That warmed my heart.

Barring a miracle, I will never experience this, and sometimes that breaks my heart.

Pay attention to television shows.  Whenever a couple want a child, the process of conceiving is almost always an entire season’s plotline.  This buildup allows for a very emotional moment for the characters (and the viewers) once they finally get their good news.  These moments are usually just slightly more emotional for us.  What sucks is that because infertility is on the rise, it’s actually creeping into these shows as well…and you usually never see it coming.  This season, one of the characters on a show we watch was pregnant (after it took all of last season for it to happen).  While we witnessed all the cliché craziness of sitcom pregnancy, the other main female character—who has never wanted children—found out that she will never be able to have them.  This shocker came out of the blue and hit us like a big rig.  Years of emotional hell came flooding back in an instant.  We bawled.  Needless to say, the rest of that evening was shot.

Love does bear all things, and we’re getting better.  That night, we cried together.  We suffered together.  For years, we would have dealt with that moment separately…which would have caused it to fester in our hearts even longer.  We’re not perfect—we’re very much a work in progress, but as long as that work is being done hand-in-hand, then we’ll see our twentieth anniversary…thirtieth…

Love Believes All Things:
Treasuring Christ is more important than bearing children. – John Piper

When you’re going through infertility, the last thing you want to hear is, “Maybe God has a different plan for you.”  The selfish, human response is, “I don’t care what God’s plan is, I want kids!!”  Full with arms crossed and a foot stomp.  At that moment, God’s plan doesn’t mesh with your plan, and in our puny brains, our plan is the only one that makes sense.  I would say that Steph and I were probably at this stage for 3-4 years.

As the realization hits that children are likely not going to come, the selfish “I want kids” tantrum becomes the pity-cry of “Why me?”  Why was God’s plan different for me?  There were times (“were,” I write…There are times) when I become self-righteous.  I look at all the dead-beat dads in the world.  The workaholics that want nothing to do with their children.  The abusive drunks.  I see them and think, I would have been an amazing dad.  They get to have children, but I don’t?  How is that fair?  Steph and I didn’t always feel this way at the same time, but overall, I would guess that we were at this stage for 2-3 years.

Eventually, acceptance settles in, and you begin to look at the big picture.  You read that God does all things for good (Romans 8:28), and start wondering what God’s plan is for you.  Okay, God…I surrender.  You can see all, You know all…please shed some light on me.  Help me to see just a sliver.

Remember, Steph and I have done a poor job of bearing all things for the majority of our season of infertility.  Due to that, we have been privately searching for God’s plan for a couple years.  It should be no coincidence that once we began communicating with each other and asking God to share with us (instead of share with me), answers seemed to fall.

John Piper says (here) that marriage is meant for making children disciples of Jesus.  He says that having children is God’s will.  “Marriage is for making children—that is, procreation.  Having babies.  This is not the main meaning of marriage, however.  It is an important one and a biblical one, (but) the purpose of marriage is not merely to add more bodies to the planet.  The point is to increase the number of followers of Jesus on the planet.  The effect of saying it this way is that couples who cannot make children because of issues of infertility can still aim to make children followers of Jesus.”

There is significantly more to that sermon, and I encourage you all to click on the link and either watch it, or read the transcript.  I honestly believe that this message was God’s answer (or at least His current answer) to me/us.

I’ve said numerous times that I could not be the teacher I am if I had kids.  I simply would not have the energy.  Steph has said similar things about her job.  Maybe that’s why God has told us no.  Look at the lives we play a factor in every year.  I have over one hundred students in my class each year.  I have the chance to be a major influence in one hundred lives every year, and I know that if I had a child, that influence would diminish.  What’s more important in the long run?  Influencing one child their entire life, or one hundred teenagers for one year…and some beyond that (through media outlets like Facebook and this blog)?  It seems God believes the latter for me.

Two weeks ago, I asked the question numerous times: Why weren’t we blessed?  Perhaps the answer resides here.  God has blessed me with the ability to teach and connect with my students.  When I was leaving college, one of my education professors told me that my greatest strength was connecting with my students.  She said my ability to do that was one of the strongest she had ever seen.  The music students at Illinois Wesleyan University (where she works) love Steph.  LOVE her.  They go to her for advice on everything from what classes they should take to problems with professors to problems with friends to problems with romantic relationships to struggles with faith.  It seems as though this is her missionary field as well.

Mark Driscoll: “Do you want God to use you greatly?  Then He must wound you deeply.  You can serve people through your suffering.  When you’re weak, you’re strong.  Suffering is the means by which God will allow you to do great serving.  Serving comes out of suffering.  Your suffering could be God’s gift to you to serve more people than ever before.”

Our purpose as Christians is to bring as many people to Christ as possible.  Each of us will do that differently; meanwhile, God has given us all unique gifts to do exactly this requirement.  If we trust in God and believe in His Will, then we’ll use these gifts rather than reject them in the attempt to fit our own will into His.  Steph and I believe in God’s plan…we believe and trust in each other…and while it took a season of suffering for us to find, realize, and accept these gifts; we are more ready, willing, and focused to do His work than ever before.

Love Hopes All Things:
For the last sevenish years, our lives have been put on hold while we waited for something that wasn’t coming.  Career decisions were tossed aside.  Continuing education plans were dropped.  No vacations.  No updates to the house.

We realize now that it’s time to unpause and resume our lives.

For the time being, we feel as though God has called us to work with the children that our currently in our lives.  Maybe that will change in a year…or five…or ten.  Down the road, if God sees fit to deliver us a miracle baby, we will welcome him/her with open arms…but that does not seem to be our mission presently.  Still, our hope remains that somewhere in the future, God’s plan for us includes children.

Which leads me to the question most of you have been wondering: What about adoption or foster care?  My honest answer: I don’t know.  We don’t know.  There was a time when the issue was discussed, but we’ve rarely been at the same place at the same time.  For example:  Initially, Steph was more interested in going the adoption route than I was.  Later, I was personally starting to warm up to the idea of adoption when Steph made an off-handed comment about becoming more comfortable with the idea of no children ever.  Then, just as I began to tell friends that I was leaning towards no children, Steph made an off-handed comment about being ready to discuss adoption or foster care again.  This back-and-forth has been going on for nearly three years.

Here’s what I know: I have had an ache in my heart for foster kids since my mom read The Pinballs to me as a child.  My problem, however, is I couldn’t be one of those foster parents that takes a kid in for a few weeks or months and then lets them go back to their parents.  That would kill me.  If foster care is the way we’re going to look, then it would have to be some form of a fostering-to-adopt program.  This idea is the closest Steph and I have come to agreement.  Furthermore, if this is our destined route, we have discussed looking into slightly older kids (somewhere in the 5-10 years old range) and possibly even siblings.  We even went so far as to meet with an agency a few years ago.  It was not a pleasant experience, however, and the topic died quickly after that.

Overall, it’s a conversation that really hasn’t come up in almost a year.  Then, a couple months ago, I felt a pull at my heart to revisit the idea of fostering-to-adopt.  I just assumed it was part of the emotional rollercoaster that we’re always riding.  The tugging eventually led me to writing this series.  Following the second post in this series, a friend contacted me via Facebook.  She said that she was going to stay out of it, but couldn’t anymore because it felt like “God was literally YELLING at me to write this to you…and has continued to nag me all day” (her words and CAPS).  She went on to ask if Steph and I had not only considered foster care…not only considered fostering-to-adopt…not only considered fostering-to-adopt older kids…but had we considered fostering-to-adopt older siblings?

Goosebumps literally ran up and down my arms when I read that.  I believe my exact words (out loud, in my empty classroom) were, “Touche, God!!”  When I shared this with Steph, we both agreed that we had some serious talking to do.  In fact, we’ve set a date to do just that…while we’re in Hawaii in July for our ten-year anniversary/honeymoon we never went on/years of skipped vacations.  Hey…we finally pressed unpause on our lives, why not do it in style, right?

So…please pray for that.  Pray for the discussion.  Pray that we can reach an agreement.  Pray for His guidance to make the right decision, whether it’s adoption or foster care, or fostering-to-adopt, or holding out for the miracle of our own child.  Even if the decision is to accept no children at all, let it be a decision we come to together with God’s guidance.  While we hope for children in some way, if it is God’s Will for us to do something else, please pray that we understand that and find peace—and excitement—in that.

Love Endures All Things:
In marriage, it gets better or it gets bitter. – Mark Driscoll

Why do so many childless marriage end in divorce?  Honestly—they probably aren’t very good friends.  When it’s just the two of you, that’s a LOOOOOOT of time together, so you’d better like that person.  Hanging out with that person.  Watching movies with that person.  Sharing hobbies with that person.  Talking with that person.  Mark Driscoll tells us that God created man and woman to stand face-to-face.  That we are to be friends with our spouse.  He says, “The most important friendship you have (outside of your relationship with Christ) is with your spouse.”

This is my lover, this is my friend – Song of Solomon 5:16
A friend loves at all times – Proverbs 17:17

Steph was my best friend once upon a time.  No exaggeration, the first time we spoke to each other, we spent the next ten hours together…just talking.  Eventually, that friendship blossomed into a relationship and into a marriage.  It wasn’t until we began trying to have children that our friendship drifted.  Our love for each other never waned, but the friendship suffered.  That’s what we’re working on now.  Things that help: Looking at the positives of not having children.  Yes…there are positives with a childless marriage, and while we would trade any and all of these for children, allowing yourself to look at the positives 1) helps you unpause your life, which ultimately leads to 2) helps rebuild that friendship with your spouse.

-         More personal time with each other.
-         We’re not exhausted every minute of every day.  If I want to come home from a long day at school and take a nap, I can.
-         More focus on our careers and God’s purpose behind them (see above).
-         More money.  No allowances…no college…no wedding…no braces…no clothes they constantly outgrow.
-         We can travel anywhere at any time if we choose.
-         We can have more junk food in the house (more or less).
-         We don’t have to sneak sex while the kids are sleeping.
-         We can watch whatever programming on television that we want.
-         We have time for our hobbies instead of theirs.
-         During the teenage years, we won’t have the constant fear of where they are at night.  No worries about drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex, etc.
-         No diapers…ever.  Friends and family with kids almost never ask you to change their baby because they assume you don’t know how.  It’s awesome.
-         It’s a lot easier to switch careers, pack up, and move if that’s what we decide.
-         I sleep about 6-7 hours a night.  Uninterrupted.  Due to this, I have never shown up to work wearing two different shoes (parents know what I’m talking about).

Ultimately, why are Steph and I still together?  Because we love each other.  This love has helped us endure the biggest obstacle we’ve faced.  We haven’t come out of this battle unscathed, but we came out of it together.  While I was reading about the marital strains of infertility, I really liked what one husband said to his wife:  “Couples have to get married because they love each other, not because they want to start a family.  Having children should be considered a bonus not the decisive prize.”

A lot of people want to define love, but you cannot put some dictionary-level definition on it.  Love is defined by the actions of each couple.  Want to know what love is?  Steph knew how badly I wanted kids.  Emotionally, it killed her that she couldn’t give me something that I yearned for that much.  So when the infertility treatments didn’t work, even though we put an end mark on the treatments, even though Steph was physically and emotionally tortured through every step in the process, she said that she would continue and do the injections and in vitro fertilization if I wanted her to.  Steph was willing to do all of that—was willing to sacrifice her body, her emotions, her sanity—because of her love for me.  That’s love.

You know what else is love?  I told her no.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kids, Part 3: For Those on the Outside

For the past two weeks, I have shared the personal experiences of infertility Steph and I have gone through during the last 6-7 years.  I have one more post to write from a personal level, but this week’s post is directed at you, Reader.  Specifically, the fertile reader.  The family member or friend of someone who is going through this unfortunate experience.  Many of you want to know what to do or say…or not do or say to your loved one as they battle infertility.  So…here you go.

I should point out that this post stems from a collection of a lot of reading, so some of what is here isn’t necessarily our opinion—though we would agree with a lot of it.  I will occasionally add a personal example along the way, but the basic information is a compilation of endless amounts of research.  I will generally stick with first person pronouns, however, for the sake of consistency.  Obviously, every infertile couple is different.  What’s provided here is not some textbook way for you to deal with your infertile loved one.  It’s meant as more of a guide.  A way for you to better understand what they are emotionally dealing with, and how you can handle that.

*Note: You will not find any links or sources provided in this post because what’s written is literally a mixture of everything I’ve read.  If I found a common thread from multiple sources, I included it.  While I may use an exact line from one site every once in awhile, the overall idea of the statement was found in numerous places.  If I stumbled across something unique to a specific site or author, it’s probably not here.

What Not To Do Or Say:
1)    To start with, chit-chat questions like, “Do you have kids?” to someone you don’t know is okay.  For us, it emotionally brings the issue front-and-center, but it’s an unavoidable question.  I have begun answering with, “No, we can’t,” and then watching the awkwardness slide over to them.  I’m evil that way.  However, never ask someone, “Why don’t you have kids?”  Even if the couple is fertile, that’s just rude.
2)    Do not pity us.  We do enough of that on our own, thank you.
3)    Don’t judge us.  I was talking with someone once who was unaware of our situation, and she was complaining about her sister, who was going through fertility treatments.  The sister decided to stop after the injections, however, because she didn’t want to do in vitro fertilization (IVF).  The woman I was talking to flipped her lid.  She said things to me like, “Now she’s moping around the house because she can’t have a kid.  I’m like, ‘Shut up!!  You haven’t tried everything yet!!’” and “Now I’m never going to be an aunt because she’s ‘morally’ (Yes, she used air-quotes there) against IVF.”  What this woman said sounds horrible—and it is—but understand that this is exactly what we fear you are thinking/saying behind our backs.  This is why we are so terrified to say anything at all.  Ever.
4)    Don’t act like you know what we’re going through just because it took you five or six months to get pregnant.  By definition, one is considered infertile after one year of consistent, unsuccessful attempts OR three consecutive miscarriages.  I’m sorry that you didn’t get pregnant on your first attempt, but that doesn’t mean you have a clue what we’re going through.  That’s like comparing your friend’s cancer to a time when you had a week-long bout of the flu.
5)    Don’t give any form of advice.  We know you’re trying to be helpful, but you’re not.  Especially if you have children.  Saying, “Just try to relax” makes us just want to slap you.  Would you say to a cancer patient “just relax”?  Would you say to someone who can’t see “just relax”?  Of course you wouldn’t.  Plus, you have to know that “just relaxing” will not change the medical diagnosis that is causing our infertility.
6)    Know your audience.  If you know the person you’re talking to is having problems, don’t say things like, “I got pregnant right away!!”  That may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people say things like that.  They don’t mean anything by it—they’re not even thinking about our infertility—but that’s just it.  They’re not thinking about what they’re saying.  Be smart in your off-hand comments if you know we are having problems.
7)    No jokes.  Period.  “Maybe you’re not doing it right”…“Guess we know what isn’t happening in your house!!”  Jokes like that are usually said when the person doesn’t know infertility is the issue for a lack of children, but because infertility is on the rise and most of us don’t discuss it openly, if you know a couple wants kids and they don’t have any—stay away from jokes to be safe.
8)    Don’t tell us that we can adopt.  We know what our options are.
9)    Don’t act like our pet is our child.  Slight pun intended, but while this was on most places I read, it is a pet peeve of mine as well (Steph thinks I’m over-reacting).  We have a dog.  Sadie is not our child, so please stop calling her our furry kid.  I don’t like it when people call our nieces or nephew “Sadie’s cousins.”  Referring to last week’s post—to me, it feels like you’re trying to include me in your club, but I’m walking around with an asterisk over my head.  To be fair, most people in my family do it because we started it.  To Sadie, I am “Dad” and Steph is “Mom.”  It’s not something I wanted to do, but for some reason, she learned those words faster than Josh and Steph…so we went with what worked.  Kim, Steph’s sister, has always called Sadie her “puppy-niece.”  I don’t know why, but putting the word “puppy” in front of niece has always made it easier for me to swallow.  That contradiction is probably why Steph rolls her eyes at me when I talk about this issue.
10)                       Don’t ignore us.  We understand that your life is significantly busier than it used to be, but don’t stop calling us (or returning calls).  Stop texting.  Stop Facebooking.  Stop going out with us.  You have no idea how much that hurts.  It’s the shut-out-of-the-club thing all over again.
11)                       I know this list is long and intimidating and will continue to grow, but don’t walk on glass around us.  We can tell.  Generally speaking, the elephant is only in the room if you put it there.
12)                       If we love you, we love your kids too.  Don’t keep them from us.  Share stories.  Share pictures.  While we occasionally want some childfree-time with you (as I’m sure you could use the occasional childfree time), we desperately want to be around your kids as well.  We absolutely do not resent your child for coming between you and us, so don’t protect us or them by behaving that way.  We’re happy for you.  We love your child.  We want to be part of both your lives.  In fact, we crave that.
13)                       Saying “maybe you are not meant to have children” is an incredibly stupid thing to say.  You wouldn’t say to a diabetic “maybe you weren’t meant to have insulin.”  Infertility is a medical condition.  Tread carefully with the whole idea of God’s will too.  You don’t know where I am with my walk with Christ.  If my faith is solid, it’s something I’m already praying fervently over.  If my faith is rocky, you saying that my inability to have children might be God’s will could very easily make me angry at God and cause me to lose my faith altogether.  If I am not a faithful person, this statement could ultimately cause me to stay away from God forever.
14)                       Please don’t tell me about your friend/cousin/co-worker who got pregnant naturally after eight years of trying.  It doesn’t make me feel better, it depresses me.  Good for her.  It’s got nothing to do with my situation.
15)                       Announcing pregnancies, baby showers, and other kid things can be complicated.  The best advice I can give here is trust us to know what we can or can’t handle.  Don’t hide things from us, but respect it when we say, “I don’t think I am going to be able to handle that.”  We know when our good days and bad days are, and what we can or can’t handle.  But do invite us.  Then respect whatever our decision is.

I did not include these next two in the above list because I wanted them to stand out.  It’s not that they are necessarily more important than the others, but they do have a tendency to cause more anger in an infertile couple:

Never, ever look at your rowdy children and even jokingly say that we’re lucky.  Or, “You can borrow mine anytime you want.”  Or, “Are you sure you want kids?”  No, I am spending thousands of dollars and enduring physical, emotional, and mental anguish just because I am obscenely stupid.  I said this last week, but let me reiterate: Children are a blessing.  They are not a burden.  If you act or actually believe that they are a burden, you will piss us off to no end.  That’s like eating a fillet mignon in front of someone who is literally starving and commenting on how disgusting it is…while continuing to eat it in front of him.

If you say “You don’t understand,” to someone that’s infertile, it’s a sure-fire way to lose a friend.  I’ve actually experienced this in numerous ways:
A)  I had a parent in my classroom once for a conference.  I was explaining a particular practice of discipline I use.  The parent didn’t approve and asked, “Do you have kids?”  I said no.  He gave me the typical, sympathetic/understanding look (head tilted with a brief nod and a slight sigh through the nose as the mouth stays closed and flattened), and said, “Oh…well, you’ll change your practices when you do.”
B)   I’ve had people vent to me about their kids.  The things they do or say that just drive the parent crazy.  When I’ve offered some advice, they’ve given me a look that says, “Aww…how cute.  You don’t know any better, but at least you’re trying.”
C)   Same situation, different look.  This one is nastier.  It’s more of a “Who the crap are you to give me—an actual parent—advice?” look.  Nevermind my years of training and years of teaching elementary and junior high students.  Nevermind the numerous books, classes, conferences, and workshops on the psychology of children and teenagers I’ve poured myself into.  Nevermind the thousands of children I have dealt with daily over the last ten years.  I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about and/or doing.

What You Can Do Or Say:
1)    “I’m sorry.”  It’s simple, it’s basic, and sometimes…it’s all that’s needed.
2)    “I’m here whenever you need to talk.”  And you’d better mean that.  Again—mean it.  Do not say that you’re there for me, but then fail to answer the phone when I call.  It’s okay if you simply can’t answer at that exact moment, but then you’d better return the call (prepared to talk…or more likely listen) as soon as you can.  I normally turn off my cell phone at night when I go to bed.  However, when Christen passed away, I told Joe that if he needed anything—ever—I would be there.  I said that I didn’t care if it was three in the morning and all he wanted me to do was talk until he fell asleep…if he called, I would answer.  Since then, I have never shut off my phone.  I have checked text messages in the middle of class.  If I receive one from Joe, I respond…in the middle of class.  Occasionally, I’ve had some kids call me on it.  All I’ve said is that it’s my brother.  They either stop saying stuff, or they ask if everything is okay.  (See—parents—kids are not a burden.  They are beautiful, understanding, caring people…even as eighth graders.)  There was a time a couple weeks ago when Joe fired off a few texts just after midnight.  He didn’t know this, but I was in bed.  I had already begun drifting off.  His texts weren’t important in any kind of emotional way—they were about a TV show he was watching—but I responded to every text he sent.  Gladly.  And not (just) because I really enjoyed the program he was texting about, but because I wanted him to know that regardless of how big or small the topic was, regardless of the time, if he wanted to talk—I would be there (and it’s because of this that my relationship with Joe is closer than it has been in years).  I’m not trying to brag, I’m just trying to show the importance of meaning something you pledge.  If you tell me that you’ll be there but don’t mean it…I’ll stop coming to you.
3)    “Is there anything I can do?”  Once again, you have to mean it.  Some women going through the infertility treatments want to go and be alone.  Some want their husbands with them.  Some want their mothers.  Some want a friend.  Just ask.  And be prepared to act if needed.
4)    That’s actually good advice right there.  Don’t know how to act around us?  Don’t know what to say?  Just ask.  We’ll tell you what we want or what we need.
5)    Pray.  Depending on our walk with Christ (as mentioned earlier), you may not want to tell us that you’re praying for us…but do pray.  Pray for both us and you.  Pray for patience.  For understanding.  For love.  For strength.  For knowledge of what to do next.  For our health.  For our marriage.  Just pray.
6)    If you truly love us and want to know what we’re dealing with, then educate yourself.  Read up about infertility so that you know what’s going on.  If there’s an actual diagnosis (like Steph’s PCOS), read up on that as well.  The more you know on your own, the less we have to explain.  The less we have to explain, the more we’ll talk about the emotional stuff.  Sometimes, just explaining the process or the science of it all exhausts us to the point where we don’t have the energy or desire to discuss anything else.  If we know that you already understand all of that, we would be more willing (and able) to dive into how we’re feeling.  Plus…doing stuff like that really shows how much you care.
7)    Recognize that titles take on a more significant meaning to us.  A common feeling we experience is that we have all this love to give, but no child to give it to.  Enter nieces and nephews.  We love these kids.  LOVE THEM.  The problem (for Steph and I) is that we live so far away from all of them…which means limited time.  Meanwhile, Audrey and Hudson call people from their church Aunt X or Uncle X (as the adults call each other Sister X or Brother X).  For awhile, that hurt more than just about anything else we were going through.  Due to geography, they were developing closer bonds to people who weren’t related to them.  It felt like the title of Aunt and Uncle was not going to be as special and unique as they grew up because they had so many of them.  They don’t call anyone else Mom or Dad.  Since we couldn’t have kids, these kids are what we have…and even that felt like it was being kept from us.  We will not ever own the beautiful titles of Mom and Dad, so the title of Aunt and Uncle mean just a little bit more to us…and hearing others called that stung a bit.  This is selfish and completely irrational, but welcome to our world.  To be fair, I was getting ready to say something to Joe and Christen last year when Steph noticed that the kids had begun to say Auntie X to those at church, but Aunt Steph to her…so it seemed they did truly know the difference…and that helped a lot.  For the infertile couple, that title, that relationship takes an added significance.  Please understand and respect that.  As for friends—sometimes, when adults are really close, they’ll have their kids call the adults Aunt X or Uncle X.  The way they see it, those adults are as close (or even closer) than the actual aunts and uncles.  It’s like an honorary title.  If your friends are infertile, ask before you start having your kids call them aunt or uncle.  Some infertile couples love it.  Some don’t (It ranks up there with the pet-as-your-child annoyance).
8)    Be understanding.  Be patient.  If you’re a family member, you’re stuck with us.  If you’re a friend and love us, then you’ll do these things and stay by our side throughout.  However, regardless of how good of a friend you’ve been—if you manage to avoid all of the Don’ts in this post and successfully do all of the Dos in this post—some infertile couples/friends will still leave you.  They will simply stop calling or hanging out with you.  For some, it’s just too hard.  It sucks, but you need to accept it.  Don’t be angry with them…feel sad for them.  They don’t want to stop being your friend, but the child-thing just emotionally cripples them.  This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  Please be understanding if it does.  Sometimes, the infertile couple/friend just needs some space.  Be patient.  When they’re ready to be in your life again, they’ll come to you.  Understand what they went through and welcome them back into your life.
9)    A lot of the stuff in this post sounds contradicting.  A lot of it is contradicting.  Welcome to the struggle within that we battle.  As a friend or family member, it is your burden to deal with it when you’re around us.  If you love us, you’ll do just that—deal with it.  See…you only have to deal with it for a brief time while we’re around.  We battle it every day.
10)                       Just be yourself.  Don’t act any differently around us then you normally do…we can tell.  Acting differently is what makes things awkward.  If your kids are driving you insane—it’s okay to vent (there’s a huge difference between venting about your children and acting like they’re a burden).  If your child did something amazing—it’s okay to brag (we want to celebrate with you, believe it or not).  Just.  Be.  You.  Now…some of you are probably thinking, Easy for you to say…you don’t have to remember rule-after-rule that’s posted here.  That’s fair.  However, even before children, we loved you.  You.  We loved you for a reason.  We considered you a friend for a reason.  If the relationship has reached that beautifully special status of friend, then you won’t need to memorize this post.  Be yourself and all of this will simply fall into place.

Just as before, I wanted the final Do to stand alone:

Some couples will carry this weight their whole lives.  Others will heal over time.  The two easiest things you can do for us—regardless of where we are in the hurting/healing stage—are to be yourself and let us talk.  Let us talk.  You don’t have to say anything.  When we’re ready—if we ever are—we’ll talk.  When we start talking, let us dictate the direction of the conversation.  If it’s the first time we’re being open and up-front about everything, we generally just need to get it out.  We don’t need advice.  We don’t need you to say that you’re sorry.  We just need to get it off our chest.  Please let us.  As we open up more and more, let us dictate the direction of the conversation, but get a feel for the mood.  If it’s heavy and emotional, stay quiet.  If it’s light and closer to the typical loquacious manner we have with you, feel free to ask questions.  But tread lightly.  Realize that at any second, an emotional thought could strike us, forcing us to shut down.  (You’ll know it’s happening when more detailed responses to your questions turn into short, simple sentences or even just a couple of words.)  If that happens, recognize that it’s nothing you did, but the conversation is probably over, and that needs to be okay with you.

I guess this series is my way of telling all of you that Steph and I are ready to talk.  I think we’ve reached as much of a level of peace as we can hope to obtain right now, and we’re tired of carrying all the baggage.  While these posts have contained intense, heavy material—and while it hasn’t always been easy to write—there is something very cathartic about putting it out there for loved ones (and strangers) to read.  Do feel free to ask us anything…just understand that if we’re having a down day, we may not be up for talking.  Rather than shutting down completely, we’ll try our best to politely say that we’re not up for talking.  If we do, please leave it at that and move on to a different topic.  If we fail to stop the conversation on our own, please try to read the signs, and switch gears on your own.

I’d like to close by saying what a great family and set of friends we have.  Yes, nearly all of them at some point have done something on the Don’t list and have failed to do something on the Do list.  It happens.  You aren’t going to lose a friend because you slipped up.  Now…if you consistently are doing the Don’ts and not doing the Dos, then you will likely see that friendship deteriorate.  But don’t panic just because you accidentally did #7 on the Don’t list once.

Our family and friends have been awesome.  When we were going through treatments, they asked a lot of questions.  Nothing personal, they were just trying to understand what was happening and what the next step was.  Once the treatments stopped and we had to admit that children was just not going to happen for us, our family asked two great questions:  “What can we do?” and “How do you want us to deal with people who ask us questions?”  We basically gave them permission to tell people whatever they wanted, but we weren’t ready to talk yet.  When we were ready…we would open up.  That was almost three years ago, and our family has been quiet the whole time.  Now we’re opening up in a way that even our parents are seeing for the first time.  You, dear Reader, are getting the deepest look into our emotional state, mindset, and marriage while our parents are also seeing this for the first time.

I imagine that they wish we would have (or could have) come to them with all of this first.  Talked with them instead of having to read it on the internet along with any other stranger that stumbles across it.  However, they haven’t said anything but positive, loving support.  They recognize that the next time they see us, we’ll be more open for discussion—but right now, this is the best way to get it all out there.  Uninterrupted.  If a section is hard—I can leave mid-sentence for some quiet time, return the next day, and pick up where I left off.  I can’t do that in a discussion.  They’ve been patient.

Our friends are the same.  Steph has a friend who, upon hearing the news, reacted as if Steph had just described what she ate for lunch.  The friend didn’t over or under-react.  She was the same friend to Steph post-infertility news as she was pre-news.  She’s even asked Steph to babysit her kids a couple of times.  We have a couple-friend.  A few weeks ago, I was talking with the guy and mentioned that I was working on this series.  He told me that it was good to get it all out there.  That he and his wife had been worried for us—praying for us—but ultimately, they never brought it up because it was our burden.  When we were ready to talk—we’d talk.  So…they remained loyal friends, and patiently waited until we were ready.

For three years, our family and friends have been loving and patient with us.  It hasn’t always been easy for them, but they loved us, so they waited.  Could you have waited this long if it was your friend?  If it was your sibling?  If it was your child?  You need to.  You need to be willing to wait even longer if that’s what is required.  I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating: In the infamous 1 Corinthians 13 in which love is defined, what comes first?  Love is patient…

Next week, I’m going to wrap-up the series by returning to my marriage.  Last week, I painted a fairly bleak picture of what infertility did to us, but the post finished with the hint of hope.  If all of this nearly wrecked our marriage, how have we managed to stay together for ten years?  Is it possible to have a happy marriage without children (keeping in mind that two-thirds of all childless marriages end in divorce)?  I will tackle all of this and more next week.