April 11

April 11.

Four years ago today, Russ tied a dozen or so notes we’d written each other and strings of lights to the trees by the creek at my mom and dad’s farm and got down on one knee and asked me, in the sweetest way, to marry him. As obnoxious as it sounds, I’d say yes to that again every day.

Today, I’m leaning on that memory. Because today, April 11, four years after that night, was supposed to be the day we got to meet our first baby – a baby we affectionately call “speck”. If I’d known it was the only name our baby would have, I would’ve chosen better.

We’ve been open about this whole process since the early stages and will continue to do so, because there are a lot of people with stories similar to ours and we don’t think anyone should have to feel alone in this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but many people don’t feel they can speak about this kind of loss.

I’m frankly unwilling to be quiet about it. Today I don’t get to meet my baby, but that doesn’t change the feeling that I knew my baby and I love my baby. I know I always will. That may not make sense to some people, but if you’ve carried a baby or watched as your biggest dream shifted on a sonogram and heard its heart beating like nothing in the world could be wrong, you know.

Today, I’m sad. Most days I’m at least a little sad, but today it’s bigger. I’m sad because I remember the week we saw that heartbeat wasn’t as strong and speck didn’t seem to be growing. I’m sad because it’s been more than six months since that day and we haven’t seen another heartbeat on a sonogram since. I’m sad because being a mom is my greatest dream in life and something I took for granted as something I would just get to do.

I have been fundamentally changed by this process, as anyone is by grief.

I’m not at work today. I took the day off to just let myself feel whatever needs to be felt. This is a process and I don’t know what the right way to handle it is, but this is mine.

If you got this far, I’m asking you for a favor, hopefully a simple one – be patient with people. Be kind. Honor the fact that so many people, maybe even you, are fighting really challenging battles while still facing whatever daily routine is required of them. Just spread some love for me today.

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Hormones, people. Ugh.

When I started the medications for the retrieval part of the IVF process my brother joked that I was going to be a bit of an emotional challenge.

It’s not an off-the-wall prediction to say that pumping extra hormones into your body might make your brain react in weird ways.

I actually braced myself for this in those first few weeks. I fully expected to be kind of an emotional handful for those around me. I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from what I believe to be very reasonable fears that the process might not work out, I actually felt pretty mentally stable. It was nice.

Of course, my brother didn’t necessarily believe me when I told him that I never really felt out of my norm. I believe his exact words were “I’ll see what Russ says about it”. That’s fair and it’s also not an unexpected response from a sarcastic brother.

As it turns out, this process I’m in now is ripe for the mental meltdown. I’m taking what feels like a boatload of estrogen – granted, I have no real concept of how much estrogen is normal and how what I’m adding compares – but this feels like a lot.

I’ve been on it for a few days now. It started with two pills a day. I’m now up to seven pills a day.

And I’m noticing.

This week has already been extremely emotional. We have some big changes coming over the next few days as our best buds move away followed by more great friends moving away a few days after that.

I’m not handling any of it well.

To put it lightly: I’m a wreck. I cried when I saw the U-Haul in our friends driveway three days before their actual move. I’ve cried because my body looks and feels different to me right now. I almost cried while Russ and I were running yesterday. I’m tearing up while writing this.

I said when I started sharing this stuff that I would be as honest as possible about the ups and downs. There’ve been a lot of ups. I have to believe that our experience so far has been about as good as it possibly could be. It’s funny how quickly we went from feeling this whole situation is wildly unfair to celebrating the little victories – perspective matters and ours has shifted like crazy over the past few months.

We’ve had a trend of getting better than expected news from each step of the process. It’s been great – kind of like winning the slowest heat in the 100m great –  but still, pretty great.

There are downs. This week is quite clearly one of the low points. I feel physically great, but I’m overly emotional about everything and that’s hard on me and even tougher on Russ.

I’m currently trying to reel it in because the last thing an embryo needs is to try to make a home in a stressed out body. Running helps. Little things like Russ cleaning the kitchen and turning on Jeopardy without my prompting help. Messing around in our garden helps. The new baby birds who just hatched in our yard help. Unexpected text messages from friends who are just checking in help.

We’re getting really close to the end of the first attempt at this whole process. I felt like a superhero during the first part. Giving myself shots without much hesitation really boosted the ol’ ego.

Of course, if you know me well, you know the fact that my emotions are the biggest challenge of this journey makes absolutely perfect sense.

If you’re the praying type, prayers help. Prayers for staying calm and positive and, if it feels appropriate to you, prayers that this whole thing works out. We’re so ready to love on a baby.

Results (so far)

I can’t even tell you how many 400 meter hurdle races I’ve run in my life, but there’s a very distinct pattern to the emotion of my favorite race.

Like every track event it starts with the adrenaline at the starting line, a burst of energy or even a chill as you place your feet in the starting block and give your legs one last shake out. There’s the stillness before the gun goes off that seems far longer than it is.

Then you’re off and facing the first curve and the first hurdle.

You’re confident. At this point there’s no doubting you’ll easily clear all of the hurdles.

But it’s a brutal race. It’s a quarter mile at a full-blown sprint pace with 10 hurdles spread along the way.

When I coached track I always told the 400 runners “I love the 400 because it’s just long enough to make you want to quit and right about the time that feeling hits, you reach the finish line”.

For me, that desire to quit used to hit somewhere around the last straightaway of a hurdle race when I was far enough in to know what I’d already accomplished but tired enough to wonder if I might have trouble with the last hurdle or two.

I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Until IVF.

IVF is emotional whiplash. The process, if you’re lucky, is filled with highs, but each one is met with the almost-immediate realization that the next hurdle may take away everything you’ve worked through so far.

Right now, we’re somewhere in the final curve having cleared so many hurdles along the way.

Last week was huge. Russ had surgery on Wednesday and we learned, after months of wondering, that we might actually be able to have a kid (hopefully kids) of his own. I’ve never been so thrilled about anything, but it was followed by the very real fear that my Thursday egg retrieval wouldn’t pan out like it should.

Thursday went well too. They were able to get 19 eggs. 19 eggs! I was IV drunk after the procedure and I think I asked about that number about three times before I believed it.

But here’s the thing, numbers in this process change dramatically. We knew that. So, we reined in our excitement and waited for the Friday phone call about how many embryos we’d have.

16 eggs were mature enough to attempt fertilization. 14 were successfully fertilized.

We started with 14 embryos with the knowledge that the number would again be cut down and probably in a big way. The embryologist estimated five would continue to grow like they should until this week when they would freeze them for later transfer.

The embryologist was correct.

So here we are with a finite number. We have five chances. If you know anything about the statistics of pregnancy and IVF procedures specifically, you know that doesn’t mean five babies.

Though five used to be the number of children I always said I wanted, we’ll be thrilled to have just one and we’ll figure out the sibling thing later, ideally using leftover embryos, if everything works out.

Right now, we’re facing what’s ahead. I get to be normal for a few weeks until I start more shots ahead of the transfer process. I can run and enjoy some beer and just generally feel less like a pin cushion and more like myself.

Those last few hurdles are still there. We don’t know that the embryos will all survive the thawing process and we don’t know that any of them will lead to a successful pregnancy and I’m terrified that we have a maximum number of chances and it’s just five, but we’re also thrilled that it’s not the zero we thought was a very real possibility just 10 days ago.

If my over-the-top metaphor proves true, right about the time this process makes me want to quit, we’ll find some relief.

details

This is a look at my meds through phase one of the process.

One shot and three pills in the mornings.

Two shots and one pill at night.

The box full of meds still waiting for after the egg retrieval is daunting, but I’ll face that when it gets here.

The morning shot is the one I added on Friday and, to be perfectly honest, it sucks. It’s okay going in, though the needle is larger than the others, but it hurts after. Every morning so far I’ve found myself using google to try to determine if I’ve accidentally hit muscle or something.

It turns out I’m doing it right, it just sucks. That’s normal.

To be totally honest, I’m feeling the effects now. Sitting for a long time or riding in the car just aren’t comfortable. I’m also getting tired really easily. All of this is normal and still not as bad as it could be.

Also, missing running was a joke. I haven’t missed any activity this week. I’ve gone on a few two mile walks, but I’m maxed out by the end thanks to the heat and just general fatigue. So running can definitely wait and I’m cool with that.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about the process. I’m fascinated and thrilled with what science can do for us, so I thought I’d share the basics:

The stimulation phase is for pumping up the ovaries so they mature way more than their usual one egg. Basically the ovaries are pumped up from the size of almonds to the size of two bunches of grapes – LOVELY.

In the meantime, there are several doctor visits for ultrasound and labwork.

At my last appointment some follicles were already the size they need to be to release a mature egg, so I started that new morning shot.

It’s meant to stop me from ovulating before the doctor has a chance to go in for the egg retrieval.

The day before my retrieval those shots will stop and they’ll be replaced by one final trigger shot that helps release the eggs for retrieval.

Something that’s been on the back-burner for both of us is Russ’s surgery. It’s a huge deal, but with so many different things to focus on that are happening *right now*, it’s been easy to just put that one out of our minds.

Russ has, to no one’s surprise, been going way out of his way to make sure I’m comfortable and supported and loved. And that probably has a lot to do with why I haven’t been feeling down throughout this process – that and my friends who’ve reached out by phone, text, snail mail and in person just to let me know they’re thinking of us.

Now Russ’s surgery is coming up on Wednesday. It’s a big day and not a small surgery.  My retrieval may be the same day, but the recovery is supposed to be far easier for me. I’m looking forward to my chance to be the support for him. He’s looking forward to playing a lot of Xbox and really good pain meds.

I can do this!

 

I did it.

I survived my first night of giving myself shots and I didn’t even panic. I felt fine about it all day and there was a brief moment right before when I had to pause and just say aloud “this seemed less terrifying before I actually had to do it.” Then, dressed in my ugliest and comfiest shorts, I rolled up my shirt, bent over, pinched some stomach skin and just made it happen.

Having to focus on getting the injection right really helped distract me from my fear of needles.

Russ sat right there with me but I asked him just to talk to me. I think this will all be easier if I can control the situation.

There’s a long road ahead and a lot more shots, plus I’m told my stomach will bruise and it may be tougher once that happens, but getting over the fear of the first night was a big success.

I’m feeling really tough and proud right now.

I think I can handle this.

Update 2

I swear we haven’t forgotten to update, we’re just in a waiting period.

That said, I couldn’t let Infertility Awareness week pass without saying something.

So here’s what’s going on —

The timeline has changed since the last time I wrote. We were originally expecting Russ to have surgery in late May and thought all of this would be behind us (provided there were no major issues) by the end of June.

As it turns out, that won’t be the case, but we’re lucky because the only reason the timeline has changed is scheduling issues. There are about a million little things that can extended the waiting period and many of them are far more frustrating than a doctor’s packed schedule. ((Full disclosure: this was not my attitude when we first found out about the delay, but I’m going to go ahead and blame that on hormonal changes and take credit for the fact that I realized relatively quickly that I was overreacting.))

In the meantime, we’ve been able to nail down some of the less exciting, but very important logistical things like…

-We secured our baby loan! We’re not big on carrying debt. We’ve been actively working to knock out a student loan and car payments and we cleared any credit card debt we had over a while ago, so adding a new loan isn’t the most fun thing, BUT we’re really thankful that these kinds of loans exist, because the payment is manageable for us and because a baby is going to be worth it – no doubt.

-We chose a sperm donor. This is still a backup option and we are still hopeful that we’re just paying for something that we’ll never actually need, but it was a necessary step and now it’s behind us. I’ll probably sit down and write about that experience at some point, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet. It was surreal.

-We requested the necessary time off for all of these things. It looks like mid-June we’ll have a nice week of vacation with a side of everyone going through major medical procedures then watching a billion hours of Netflix on the couch.

On top of all of that, I’ve recently had two different in-person conversations with women I know who’ve been or are going through this process and those were incredibly uplifting.

One of them is an old friend I haven’t seen in roughly a decade who is just a month or so ahead of us in the process at the same clinic. We got coffee and spent an hour or so just talking through the strangeness of the process. It was an awesome chance to be candid with someone face to face and just share the ups and downs of all of this. It is also cool to be able to be a cheerleader for someone else’s process. I feel like I’m rooting for her success as much as I’m rooting for my own and I’m really looking forward to the day we both can share great news.

The other was a friend who successfully went through the IVF process twice more than a decade ago and has healthy, beautiful, happy children. She’s one of those people who just glows with positivity and a genuine appreciation for life. As someone whose optimism has waned a bit over the past few months, it was great to be able to talk with her about how she handled it. I left our lunch feeling like Russ and I can totally handle this – That’s an incredibly valuable thing to feel. I’ve been saying it, but to really feel it is different.

OH… AND… it turns out the nurse who will walk us through the IVF orientation process is a friend of a good friend. A familiar face is going to be so helpful, particularly when she’s giving me all of the details of the injections I’m going to have to give myself.

So that’s where we are. That’s a lot of good things! Plus we’ve reached a point where we’ve had long enough to process our situation that we’re feeling pretty calm about it right now.

It’s sort of nice to be in this quiet waiting period where all we have to do is make sure I take one daily pill and we continue to have honest conversations about this whenever either of us needs to.

There’s plenty ahead of us, but right now feels pretty good!

 

 

 

 

Fertility stuff: Update 1

If this seems like it’s out of left field, you might’ve missed my last post. This is an update.

We had an appointment today to get the process started and we both left smiling.

Seriously!

After having a few weeks to process what is ahead and realizing that we are emotionally equipped to handle it, we’re feeling very optimistic.

The genetic odds haven’t changed, but we’ve been able to talk through just about every outcome and process it together.

Not to mention the fact that we’ve had a few weeks of knowing there is literally nothing we can do right now to make this happen on our own and that’s oddly freeing. We’ve just been having fun and enjoying each other’s company – the way it should be and usually is.

Did I mention three years ago today Russ asked me to marry him? Engagement anniversaries aren’t really something we celebrate, but given our appointment happened to be today, it feels worth noting that saying yes to everything that comes with this partnership was and still is a good choice.

Now we have a timeline. In a couple of weeks, I’ll start a process of drugs that, oddly enough, begins with birth control and is followed by a couple of weeks of hormone injections. That part sounds really terrible to a person who just a few years ago cried before getting a tetanus shot (I’m not proud of that, but in the interest of keeping it all way too real…)

Honestly, the injections just sound like an opportunity to finally grow past my way too extreme fear of needles.

Other than that, my job is far easier than Russ’s, at least leading up to the pregnancy (we’ve chosen to believe that it’s going to work out at this point). He’s the one who has to have surgery and that won’t be any sort of party, but the recovery time is short and we really do believe it’s worth it to have a final answer on whether we can have his kids or not.

The biggest bummers (barring the things that *might* go wrong during surgery/implantation/pregnancy that we’re choosing not to dwell on) as we go through this are:

  • Not knowing how I’ll react to the medicines. I’m not a medicine person. I don’t even like to take headache medicine if I can help it. I’m sure my hormonal changes will make me a party and a half to be around for the next couple of months. I’ll do my best to keep those in check…
  • Not being able to run – I’ve gotten back into a really good routine of running about 6 days a week and it’s put me in a great mental space. The doctor says I’ll have to cut that out beginning the month leading up to egg retrieval and then again in the month leading up to implantation. This is a bummer because it means I’ll lose whatever stamina I’ve built up and likely have to forego running for the whole pregnancy since you shouldn’t pick something back up that you haven’t been doing lately. This is honestly probably my biggest loss in the whole process (provided the pregnancy actually works out), so I’m sad about it. But light to moderate activity is okay, so I’ll just start swimming more often, plan on more walks with friends and ramp up my yoga class attendance. And then post-pregnancy, I’ll start running again… from scratch.
  • Cutting alcohol – we’re not heavy drinkers by any stretch of the imagination, but we enjoy the craft beer scene and breweries/taprooms are common hangout spots with friends. Both of us will have to cut this out for the month leading up to retrieval (essentially end of April to end of May). The nice thing for Russ is he can get back to enjoying some beer after his surgery. As for me, hopefully I’ll have to hold off for another 10 months after May… because that would mean everything went as planned. That’s a price I’m definitely willing to pay… in addition to the actual $ price $ we’re having to pay.

So that’s the latest. If all goes as planned, we’ll start meds later this month. By the end of May surgery and retrieval will be behind us and a month after that we’ll start cooking up a little baby, barring any major speed bumps. The timeline is kind of cool actually, because it works out so that we could potentially have a positive pregnancy test almost exactly a year after the original positive pregnancy test that turned out to not be so. It would be nice to finally put that darn ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ book Russ bought me to use.

Like I said, we’re feeling optimistic. We’re choosing to believe this is going to work out and it’s incredibly nice to be moving forward with a plan.

And we’re beyond grateful for the huge amount of support we’ve received.

To the people who’ve asked if we’re doing a GoFundMe or if they can give us money. We so appreciate your support and that you would want to help in such a way. The weight of that gesture is definitely not lost on us, but we’re also very lucky people. We are blessed to be equipped and supported in ways that we recognize many couples are not.We hope that you’ll understand that, while we so appreciate the gesture, what we want most is for you to keep being the amazing, loving, supportive people that you are. 

So here’s the thing

Take a deep breath and ask yourself if you’re cool with reading something very personal before you read this. This is going to get kind of science-y — think body parts, reproduction and things you probably should’ve been taught in health class. Some people may read it and think “I would never put my business out there like that” or feel that they have a better way of handling the situation. Those are not the people who necessarily need to read this, though anyone we love (or anyone with internet access, I guess) is welcome to. Russ and I have chosen *together* to share our story because we firmly believe this is something people should be able to talk about instead of feeling alone in a heartbreaking situation.

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We can’t have children the natural way. That’s a sentence that is somehow easier to write than it is to say aloud, though it’s becoming more natural as the days pass and it’s really just the beginning of the story.

2018 has been a bit like hell. We started the year feeling optimistic. Months of trying to conceive a child and tracking cycles so we could get all of the science down pat felt like it might finally work out.

January was our month.

I’d somehow become so certain that we’d finally gotten the formula right after eight months that I was comforted as we started a new year.

In 2017 I was heartbroken three times.

Once when we had what was either a false positive test or chemical pregnancy in July; the first month after we started trying.

Again in November, when I wasn’t pregnant by the time I turned thirty; an arbitrary deadline I’d set for myself because it seemed so possible when we started trying five months earlier.

And once more when we wrapped up the year without any sign of a baby in the near future.

Science, health, bodies don’t give a crap about my deadlines.

January was fresh and full of optimism –– certainty even.

I was watching ‘Friends’ on the couch in the middle of the night on Jan. 31st, like I do on the very rare nights I can’t get any sleep, when I broke down. I’d been restless all night and had done more than my fair share of crying.

Another month of disappointment.

In a moment of pure weakness, I posted something to Facebook – Facebook… the land of baby pictures and pregnancy announcements. I thought maybe just maybe there might be someone out there drowning in the same sea of “why is this working for everyone but us?”

It wasn’t just one. Dozens of friends and family reached out to me to say they understood the struggle or were close to someone who did.

I was strengthened.

I was heartbroken, but I really felt stronger with the knowledge that it isn’t easy for everyone.

They don’t teach you that in school. My high school health class didn’t spend a lot of time on the reproductive system and what we were taught was focused only on avoiding the risks that come with s-e-x, not what to expect when you are actually ready for your body to make a baby human.

No one ever talked about how difficult it can be for some people, or even how long it typically takes if everything is working right. Did you know, even if everything is functioning perfectly, the odds of getting pregnant in any given cycle are just 20-25%?

I DIDN’T.

That would’ve been nice to know.

But that’s beside the point for us, because everything isn’t working properly. In fact, some things are working so poorly, there’s a pretty significant chance that we won’t be able to have a child that is genetically connected to both of us and we already know we definitely won’t be able to without the help of medical professionals with specialty degrees and sophisticated tools at their disposal.

And that shit (sorry) is devastating.

I mean, it’s heartbreaking. It’s cry in front of the doctor, cry randomly at your desk at work, cry on your husband’s shoulder while you feel him crying on yours as you hug across the center console of your car in the fertility center parking lot level heartbreaking.

For months I was told by so many people that it would work out when I just stopped stressing. I was told to just try to stay calm. I was told so many things by so many sweet friends that honestly turned out to be very well-meaning bullshit.

And I’m thankful for each of those friends who tried. I’m grateful for everyone who’s encouraged us and said whatever felt like the most appropriate thing to us in these moments. I don’t, for even one second, blame someone for not knowing the perfect thing to say. I don’t know the perfect thing to say and it’s my reality. There is not enough thanks in the world for anyone who’s just been there in the last several days, weeks, months.

But it doesn’t always work out. The truth is sometimes life is messy and hard.

Sometimes the plan is absolutely forced to change, no matter how you feel about it.

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Over the past few weeks we’ve been questioned about our medical history, we’ve distracted each other with conversations about the Patriots and why Raleigh is so great (two of our favorite rambling topics) while a nurse named Karen stuck needles in our arms and took our blood for tests. One of us even had our most intimate parts inspected by a doctor in front of the other in a tiny cramped office.

None of that was as uncomfortable as the truth that we learned two weeks ago. We have a huge decision to make if we want to birth children.

We can choose the relatively uncomplicated and inexpensive first option. Choose a sperm donor and try insemination (roughly $1,400 for each month of treatment). It’s straightforward and simple, but it would guarantee any baby conceived would be genetically mine and genetically not Russ’s

or

Spend roughly $20,000 for Russ to go through a complicated procedure to find out if he has any viable sperm (or if there never were any), have backup donor sperm on hand and go through IVF to have an embryo implanted that would either be genetically linked to both of us or just me, depending on the outcome of the first procedure.

We’ve chosen the second option. The decision itself wasn’t even all that difficult for us. I’m still not in a place where I can imagine having a baby that doesn’t have Russ’s blue eyes, chubby cheeks or deep dimples. Maybe it’s denial or maybe it’s hope.

We decided we ultimately couldn’t live with not at least trying to find out if having his own biological children has ever been a viable option for Russ.

The thing is, we know without a doubt what kind of parents we will be whether a child is genetically mine, ours or adopted. I know that there’s not another soul on Earth I’d trust with children more than Russ; the guy who spends hours playing with our nieces and nephews, is absolutely in love with our best friends’ daughters and gets down on any kid’s level to look them in the eye when he talks to them.

If we find out after thousands of dollars and a complicated operation that having children genetically linked to Russ was never a possibility, it won’t be easy to face that fact. I’ll probably be angry. I know I’ll be sad. It would be downright cruel –– honestly, it would be a hell of a loss for a world that could use more eternal optimists with contagious smiles like Russ.

It would be the toughest thing we’ve both personally experienced to date, but adoption is another option and one we are certainly considering.

We’ll come out on the other side of this with children. One way or another, we will be parents. It won’t be an easy process, but we’ll get there and we’ll appreciate the opportunity and each other more after all we’ll go through to get there.

It’s already happening. I can’t imagine going through this with anyone else by my side.

So that’s where this story begins. We intend to share as much of this journey as we comfortably can, because we need to, but also because there are probably others out there who need to know that they’re not the only ones.

Forgive us, please, over the next few weeks or months, if we don’t seem like ourselves. Forgive us if your words of comfort seem to fall on deaf ears. Forgive us if we’re just not ready for advice on how to handle it.

But please, don’t stop loving us. We need that.

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The sky on wedding night

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(Photo credit: Complete Weddings)


 

Sometime between sundown and the final song at our wedding reception I looked out of the barn doors and saw my friend Maddie staring straight up at the sky.

Maddie’s not a person whose shadow you’d mistake for another. She has a distinct way of carrying herself. Her long limbs always seem to move with purpose. Something I’ve never quite accomplished.

I looked out of the barn and through the darkness saw her neck craned upward and her gaze focused on the night sky.

There was not a soul around her.

30 feet away a crowd was dancing to loud pop music and she was undisturbed.

Maddie and I have understood each other for a long time, since we were lanky teenagers with weird senses of humor. I knew what Maddie was doing. I knew it because I do it too.

My parents’ farm has almost no light pollution. There’s nothing to break up the stars, no interruption of the glitter in the sky. It’s my favorite thing about their land. I could swim in the creek or run through the fields, pick fresh vegetables and pop them directly in my mouth or hang from a century old tree limb, but there’s nothing I’d rather do than take in that night sky.

I left the dancing. I set my drink down on a table near the door, walked over to Maddie and turned my face to the sky.

We stood together for a few moments just looking up. Maddie was enjoying what she cannot see from her home in Manhattan. I was enjoying a calm moment with a long time friend in a day otherwise full of quick hellos and hugs, sneaked bites of food and as much dancing as my legs could handle.

On a day when hurried bursts of love were coming at me from all directions, I was welcoming the chance to exchange that love gently and quietly with a friend who’s known me since I was embarrassing myself in high school theater classes.

I could write a million things about what made that day special. I could try to describe the feeling of seeing dozens of people gathered to support you as you commit to a lifetime with another person. I could describe the rush of calm I felt in my bones when Russ and I saw each other for photos before the ceremony. I could try to explain all the ways my husband, friends, sisters, brothers and parents made me feel like the most special person on Earth for a day.

But I’d rather stand in a quiet, dark field beside you looking up at the stars and not have to explain any of it.

 

 

One month

Today is my parents’ 36th anniversary. They’ve postponed anniversary celebrations until after our wedding because they’re working their butts off to get the farm ready for ours. This is not a fact I take lightly. I’m certain there’ve been more times than not in my life when my parents have put much more effort into me than into themselves.

Tomorrow marks one month until Russ and I get married. Anyone who ever comes to this blog is probably getting pretty tired of hearing about wedding related things. I can’t blame you. For two years the majority of my posts have been somehow related to my relationship with Russ. It’s hard not to be that way, when you write about your own life and the biggest thing in your life is this all-encompassing love for another person.

For the better part of 11 months the majority of my posts have been related to wedding plans. Planning a wedding is all-encompassing in another, far more trivial way.

We’re a month away now which seems like an appropriate time to take a few steps back from buying bridal party gifts and choosing flowers — to take a few minutes to just soak in what’s ahead.

When we’re not planning a huge life event, Russ and I like to do certain things together. We love to camp, hike, go to concerts, run on trails and run through neighborhood streets. We love to drink wine and sit in the backyard. We love to visit with family and hang out by the pool with friends. We love to “chill”.

Our life this past year has been anything but “chill”. It’s been a fast-paced blur of colors and fittings, barn buildings and mass alcohol purchases (for the wedding, thank you!). It’s been a whole lot of weekends taken up by other people and things — all of which are wonderful, but most of which don’t allow us to spend too much quality time just hanging out together.

I’m ready to get back to what we do best. We’re a month away from getting married and I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it. Should I be nervous? Should I be a little scared because forever is such a huge concept? Should I be more excited about a huge event where we will be the center of attention? I don’t know.

I’ll be thrilled to celebrate with so many people I love on April 23rd. The only bit of wedding planning I’ve been absolutely certain about is this — I want to be married to Russ and I want to celebrate that with as many people I love as possible.

And then I want to get back to what we do best. We’ll have a couple of days to explore Savannah right after the wedding and in June we’ll take a week long honeymoon. The wedding and all related celebrations will come and go. I’ll try my best to be in those moments and soak in the joy of having so many family and friends around at once. It will be as beautiful as I want it to be and I’ll be able to let go of little things that don’t go perfectly as planned — because I know that once April 23rd passes, our forever will be filled with cook-outs, campfires, concerts, hammocks, hikes, Sunday nights drinking wine in the backyard that will someday become quiet moments we, as exhausted parents, savor after the kids are in bed and summer days lazing by the pool that will turn into summer nights volunteering to time races at our kids’ swim meets.

Forever is understated. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t always easy. It doesn’t involve a lot of fanfare. Forever doesn’t scare me. It’s exactly what I want.IMG_4176

 

 

Like your mother taught you…

I know in this age of Facebook and Twitter and texting our normal communication inherently helps us avoid the horror of a phone call or actually using the U.S. Postal Service, but there are some things that still matter. RSVPs matter. Letting people know they either can or shouldn’t expect you to be at the party they are taking time and energy to plan is important, lest they be left with favor bags full of baked goods and tons of uneaten (and VERY delicious) food.

A lot has changed over the time I’ve been alive, but the work that goes into throwing a nice invitation-only party has not. There is preparation that goes into these things. We’re talking about a lot of hard work – food prep, favors, games (if it’s that kind of party), many different things that require knowing a number and names of guests.

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This weekend I sat with a few friends and some family around a campfire at the home of a very nice couple who know my parents better than they know me. Months ago they generously offered to throw us a wedding shower. To my left sat my freaking awesome fiance (more on that guy here), and just over his shoulder was a table covered in snacks, and white bags individually labeled for each expected guest. The bags weren’t there because we were waiting patiently to grab our own. The bags on the table were left by people who never showed and never called to say they wouldn’t. The party in question required a “regrets only” RSVP – A phone call from those who wouldn’t make it. Most (certainly not all) didn’t give that courtesy.

Yes, I was hurt by my friends not showing up or calling the hosts. I show up for a lot of people. I’m sure I screw up a lot of things in relationships, but I do show up. I make a genuine effort for those who matter to me. For years I’ve gone to bachelorette parties and kids birthday parties, more baby and bridal showers than I can count, and every wedding I could possibly make it to. Some people tell me I “should say no more often”, but I don’t, because when it comes down to it, I want people to know they matter to me. If I miss something you’ve formally invited me to, I guarantee there is a very good reason. This weekend I felt like a lot of people didn’t give us the same courtesy. It may be small in the grand scheme of life. It may seem petty. In fact, it is smaller and more petty than some unrelated tough things I’m dealing with in other realms of life right now, but it still hurt.

Yes, for me, it was embarrassing, rude and a little hurtful… but it really doesn’t matter what it meant for me.

At the end of the day, I know it doesn’t really say anything about the caliber of the friends we have. I know it says more about how busy we’ve all become. I know this issue is not exclusive to our party. I’ve attended several others that played out the same way, but this one hit home for me. I know this is about a larger societal shift, not just me and Russ and whether we’re loved (Spoiler alert: we are and we’re lucky). It’s a sign of the times. Society’s priorities are changing and maybe not in the best ways when it comes to nurturing relationships.

The truth is, Russ and I had a really great time celebrating with the friends who showed up. It was a solid group of incredibly special people — those who remind us on a regular basis that we have all of the love and support and friendship we need in this world.

If I could change anything, it wouldn’t be a change to those who showed up. I’d love to have had any combination of the invited guests there. They were all invited because they’re important to me. I had a wonderful night and left feeling, once again, like we are two of the luckiest people to be able to start this life together with so much support.

No, what I’d change is the lack of courtesy shown for those who worked hard to plan the night. I’d like to give the host and hostess a simple heads up about the bags of baked goods and party favors that wouldn’t be needed.

This isn’t about the sting I felt on Saturday. I woke up on Sunday feeling as loved as any other day of the year.  This is a bigger issue about manners. I’m not one to take people to task or call individuals out and I wouldn’t dream of doing so, because we’ve all gotten too busy at one time or another, but we can do better. We can take a tiny moment out of our sometimes hectic lives to respect the time and efforts of other people. We can show them they’re at least important enough for common courtesy.

Show up or don’t, but at the very least please just make the phone call.

I don’t see my fiance during the week, except for occasional lunches. We work different schedules. I arrive home from work an hour or so after he leaves to start his day.

Most weeks we meet for lunch on Wednesday. He usually comes downtown and we pick a spot on a bench or by the river to have a picnic.

It’s both ordinary and extraordinary.

Two weeks ago a group of adults on some sort of work-related scavenger hunt stopped us to ask if we’re together. They needed to find a couple to tell how they got together in a short recorded video clip. They hit record and I said “we were friends for a couple of years and now we’re engaged”.

I didn’t simplify that for the sake of saving space on this website. That is literally all I said. They thanked us and moved on, probably to find a couple with a better story to tell.

But we do have a better story to tell. I left out so many things.

I didn’t mention the story he tells of the first day he met me at work – how he remembers what I was wearing.

I didn’t mention the nights we went out with co-workers to our favorite pizza spot downtown and played pool.

I didn’t say one word about the night we carpooled, entirely out of convenience, and a simple conversation about concerts made us realize there was something more.

I didn’t tell them how we went on our first date to waffle house because it was the only place open when we got off work at midnight on a Wednesday, or how our second date was spent throwing a football back and forth on a local high school field.

I didn’t tell them Russ waited until the fourth date to kiss me (and I was *this* close to thinking I had misinterpreted the whole thing).

I didn’t say one word about how Russ came into my life at a time when I was struggling more than ever with friendships and heartbreak – and how he unknowingly saved me from a weird, stupid spiral of sadness that was so unlike me.

I left out the part about how he makes me laugh hard every single day, and that he laughs at all of my stupid jokes. He even laughs when I tell him (all the time) that he is “the weirdest one in this relationship” because we both know I’m deflecting.

I didn’t tell them this is the easiest thing I’ve ever done, or that his family made me feel like part of their family the minute I met them.

I didn’t tell them that planning a wedding is my worst nightmare and somehow Russ makes it fun.

Somewhere in town there are three co-workers who think they met a nice, boring couple with a terrible story to tell their future children.

Because some things are too big for conversation.

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A week or two after we started dating – both of our hairstyles are unreasonably long.

Just a technicality

So I did this little thing that, lord knows, Elizabeth Wren Sanders at many different ages probably thought would never happen. I said yes to loving someone forever. These are funny things, proposals. If done correctly then you already know you’re in it forever and saying yes is just a technicality. Regardless, what a thrill.

For weeks I’ve known Russ was going on a guy weekend in Atlanta. He and a couple of good friends do this trip down there to hit a brewery and tour some Walking Dead set sites. They’ve done it twice before. This was going to be the third time, and I made fun of him pretty relentlessly for not being creative enough to come up with a new trip.

We make fun of each other a lot. It’s what we do.

Russ wasn’t in Atlanta. None of the guys were in Atlanta. Their instagram accounts would have you believe otherwise, a detail that proved handy as I sat by the pool with some girlfriends on Saturday and casually scrolled through the ol’ IG (is that what the kids call it?)

That’s right. Russ planned a guys weekend and I very quickly planned a girls weekend to counter it. I spent most of my day laying poolside, chatting with friends, and letting the sun zap all my energy while turning my skin a little darker. My guy was out of town and I’d be alone the rest of the night, though I assumed I’d be headed to dinner with at least a couple of the girls.

-My mom called and attempted to make dinner plans with me. I knew I’d be tired from the pool day and still hoped for dinner plans with the girls. I declined.-

Let me take a moment right now to just tell you that when Russell A. LaFleur makes a plan, he really makes a plan. I can’t even tell you how many people knew about the proposal before I did, but it was the majority of the people within a 60 mile radius who might potentially ask me to hang out on this particular Saturday night.

I continued to hang out with my friends, still assuming someone would probably stick around for dinner.

-My mom called again. This time to make a plan for me to come over to see about a baby goat that would be moving to the farm. I was still tired, and really not interested in taking the 40 minute drive to Liberty. I declined again.-

My friends left. I couldn’t convince anyone to stick around for dinner and by this point I was tired enough to not try very hard to do so.

-My mom called for a third time. Seriously, why won’t she give this thing up, right? I’m tired. She tells me they need to talk to me and it’s important. Everything is okay, but they need to have this conversation while Russ is out of town.-

If you know me at all you know that I heard everything in this conversation except “Everything is okay”. I threw on some decent clothes, didn’t shower, didn’t wash my hair or the sunscreen off my face, and hurried to my car.

They didn’t think I’d come over so quickly. Sunset wasn’t until 8ish.

As soon as I walked in the door my dad stopped me. He told me to get in the car we were going to see about a baby goat. At this point I was frustrated and confused because we were supposed to be having some serious talk and now there I was talking about a baby goat again.

You know where this is going. Distraction after distraction as they stalled until it got close to sunset. Around the time the sky normally glows orange my mom made up an excuse for us to ride on the tractor to the bottom of the hill where we have our legendary (among family and close friends) campfires.

I’m questioning my intelligence now as I share this story with you and wonder how I didn’t pick up on any of the quirks of my day, but I’d also like to take this moment to swear to you that it’s totally normal for my parents to be mid-conversation then randomly suggest we “take the tractor down by the creek to make sure the fire is out before the wind picks up.”

My parents’ property is a giant hill. The house sits on top, and my favorite corner of the land is on the back left at the bottom of the hill. A creek wraps around much of the back property line. The path we take over the hill carries the tractor through a fence on the far right side of the back pasture. From there you can see the trees by the campfire from about eye level on up to the sky, but you can’t see the ground. I stopped my mom near the bottom of the hill and told her I thought the fire had already spread. I could see tiny flames scattered through the branches. She played along and told my dad to hurry up (hurry up on a tractor — nice one, mom).

As we rounded the corner I saw a figure in my favorite blue and red checkerboard shirt sitting nervously by a fire. I burst into tears, because that’s my move, and because I finally knew what was happening.

My sweet parents dropped me off, waved goodbye, then made the slowest exit of all time on a decade old Case tractor that probably moves about 3 miles an hour.

The flames in the trees were candles.

There was no Atlanta.

There was just a boy who’d spent his entire day with my parents hanging candles in mason jars, string lights, and old notes we’ve written each other all across my favorite clearing by the creek.

We read the notes that were hanging. They were some of our favorites. He told me he’d spent the week preparing while I thought he was at the gym. He told me that he picked up topaz colored glitter to cover the insides of the mason jars. He told me he chose notes because he knows how important words and writing are to me.

I cried like a baby as he handed me one last note with my name on the outside and “Will you marry me?” on the inside. Then he got down on one knee, held up my Mamaw’s ring, and said all the things I could possibly want him to say about sharing this life. I’m not going to tell you he cried (but he totally did).

I said yes (spoiler alert).

The craziest thing about it is I’ve been saying yes. For months we’ve been saying yes. We’ve laughed and cried (again, mostly me). We’ve hiked in some old favorite spots and found some new ones. We’ve run together. We’ve thrown the football around almost every week just like we did on our first date. We’ve spent time with each other’s families, and shared big holidays. We’ve grown together into this thing that already felt like forever. The proposal was beautiful. It was perfect. It included all of the things I love most in this world, but it was ultimately just a technicality.

That tree in the back has my parents initials carved into it. Russ and I are hoping to add ours.
That tree in the back has my parents initials carved into it. Russ and I are hoping to add ours.
Shoutout to me for not showering or fixing my hair prior to all of this
Shoutout to me for not showering or fixing my hair prior to all of this
This is me grinning like a crazy person/showing off the ring. Mamaw and Papaw got married in 1949. So it's at least 66 years old. Mamaw and Papaw happen to be two of the most important people in my life. I am honored to wear this ring.
This is me grinning like a crazy person/showing off the ring. Mamaw and Papaw got married in 1949. So it’s at least 66 years old. Mamaw and Papaw happen to be two of the most important people in my life. I am honored to wear this ring.

Still finding goldfish.

It’s me and you, sitting on top of my car, legs dangling through the sunroof.

You’ll ask me if we’re going to dent the roof.
I’ll say no.
I’ll find out later I was wrong, but really, you can barely tell.

We’re tossing goldfish crackers in the air and trying to catch them on our tongues. A pink and orange glow bathes your face as you lean forward for a catch. The sun is quickly dropping behind the blue ridge. Our laughter muffles the already faint sound of live music playing from a stage nearly a mile away. We’ve walked back to our campsite from a show we don’t really care to see, because the company we’re keeping is immeasurably better than a band we’ve already seen play an early set.

Every campsite around us seems empty. If anyone is nearby, they must be napping.

In this moment our lives go on forever, and we’re somehow younger than our birth certificates would actually show.

We’re just two kids on a car, and months from now I’ll still be finding old goldfish between my car seats.

I’m no expert on love

I remember the phone ringing pretty early in the morning on Valentine’s day 1995. It was the only phone line in the house. I wasn’t expecting a call, seven year olds rarely do… particularly when they’re the youngest person in a household of five. The phone hung on the wall in the kitchen and had one of those long loopy cords that meant it could stretch a long way. I didn’t care to stretch it out into the hallway. First graders don’t need privacy for their personal calls.

I heard his voice on the other end of the line. A sheepish little boy telling me he had a special Valentine’s gift for me and asking if it’d be okay to bring it to school. Obviously I said yes, which is how I ended up, a few hours later, standing with my jaw dropped in the middle of Mrs. Russ’s classroom as Paul stood on a table with his arms outstretched yelling “I LOVE ELIZABETH!”. He’d made me cookies and bought me stickers, which would’ve sufficed, but the real “gift” appeared to be a public declaration of his love.

That particular Valentine’s Day was followed by two decades of what we’ll generously call less eventful Valentine’s Days.

I make no effort to hide the fact that I haven’t had many boyfriends. I’m not embarrassed by it. I don’t feel like less of a woman for it. I can easily pinpoint stages of goofiness, awkwardness, total naivety as the reasons behind several of my single Valentine’s days. If I was 19 I could think there was something terribly wrong with me. Thank god for wisdom that comes with age, right? I’m not 19, and I AM entirely comfortable with my history.

It’s easy to say all of that now. I’ve found the person I plan to love forever, so it’s easy to look back and laugh at any time I ever spent worrying that I’d never find that real love I always heard about.

Believe me, if I were reading this post on this same day last year, I’d be on the verge of vomiting. That’s incredibly dramatic, and not true.. but I’d be rolling my eyes pretty hard.

So if that’s where you are as you read this, if you’re single and don’t want to be, if you’re in some way hurt by the idea of celebrating all of the happy relationships around you, then I want you to know what I’ve learned.

Forget the cards. Forget the flowers. Forget the candy — I mean, don’t entirely forget it, because those delicious chocolates and conversation hearts go on mega-sale Sunday and you don’t want to miss that.– Forget the pink and red hearts all over everything. Forget all the facebook posts you’ll see from one lover tagging another. None of that is love in it’s entirety. Love is a man who makes it known that he supports your dreams. It’s a man who really doesn’t get why you’re crying but wants to fix it anyway. It’s a man who doesn’t want anyone to hurt you. Love is a man who makes you feel strong and powerful. Love is a man who opens doors or carries heavy things for you sometimes… OR it’s a man who does neither of those things because he respects that you feel they counteract how far we’ve come as women and you can open the damned door yourself. Love is a man who cares about the issues that matter to you, because they matter to you. Love is a man who makes a Tuesday morning feel like a Saturday afternoon. Love doesn’t manifest itself one day a year for the whole world to see. That can be a piece of it, but it can’t be the whole thing.

And YOU… You can’t sit at home clicking through the highlight reels of other people’s attached holidays and think that you deserve anything less than all those gritty, real bits of love.

And if you’re really rolling your eyes at me now, if you’re single and you don’t want to be and you’re entirely convinced that I’m blinded to reality now that I’ve found love — just know this — unattached means nothing outside of right now. You could be staring at forever as early as next month. Trust me.
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