by Dr. Kendra A. O’Hora, LCMFT
We bought a beach house!
We bought a stinkin’ beach house. Before we celebrate this crazy-never-could’ve-imagined-in-a-million-years moment, let me pause to share something really personal today on the blog.
My beach house? It’s my baby balancer.
Have you ever heard of this term, baby balancer?
To be honest, I hadn’t heard this term until about eight weeks ago.
At first it didn’t make sense; I thought I had to “come to terms” with my infertility (yep, we’re infertile).
I thought I had to accept my infertility, be at peace with my infertility, and share it with family if I wanted to be considered “healthy.”
I had no clue something like a baby balancer could be *just as* healthy.
It wasn’t until I heard this phrase that many nuggets of truth I had been collecting in the last year finally clicked and made sense to me.
Today, I’d like to share those nuggets of truth and I’d like to share my story.
I do a lot of helping and loving on others but I’m actually sharing today to help me, to love me. That’s really key here.
So let’s rewind for a second so I can catch you up to speed (also, a heartfelt thank you for reading this very personal note).
About three years ago the good ol’ hubby and me decided to stop “not trying” to have a baby. Such an awkward thing to type out. Ya, know…be a little more wild with our decisions! It was more of a casual decision…we felt like if it happened, we were “stable enough”, “ready enough”, etc.
And then it didn’t happen. And honestly, it didn’t really matter to us because we were traveling the world, growing businesses, and having fun!
And then it kept not happening and it started to be curious to me… such a long time to not have something so natural happen. Could something be wrong?
I never knew the world of infertility, loss, and shame intimately until I met a client about five years ago who I walked through it with. Therapists know clients end up helping and healing us, too; she sure offered me a lot.
Through her story I learned that women are asked things they should never be asked, such as:
I learned that the journey is private for many women and yet super public for others.
I learned that women, mothers, and others are incredibly opinionated, invasive, oblivious, and sometimes cruel with their comments.
I also learned that events and social media: baby showers, gender reveals, maternity photoshoots, we’re expecting announcements, etc. could be incredibly painful. I learned that sometimes it is hard to celebrate someone else when you’re grieving.
I learned a lot about what not to say before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and after pregnancy.
I learned through this client and several sweet friends that there are many things that make this journey hard whether it’s trying, infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.
I learned a lot.
And the world kept sending me more and more sweet women as clients on this journey, all in different places and all eager to heal and grieve and hold a baby in their arms.
Then I was sent Erin. A therapist deeply passionate about women, maternal health, and all things momma. So I spent time cultivating space for Erin to spread her knowledge and expertise in the community all while holding my story so close to my heart.
Holding in was hard and easy all at once.
To be fair, at this point, all I knew was sex does not always equal baby. So I shrugged and continued on.
And then I experienced a shift for myself…
I heard the words infertile spoken about someone else who had been trying for less time than us and I realized that now those words may apply to us, too. I researched definitions and clarified as much as I could through the internet what that word infertile actually meant. I wasn’t going to use that label internally until I knew it was true, I think this is where denial started to surface.
About a year later we finally got to a place where maybe things weren’t adding up. So, we went to check it all out – make sure things were working correctly, if you will.
Months later and countless highly invasive tests later we learned that we were in fact infertile. Not that we could never have children but that various indicators suggest it would be highly unlikely and may result in a lot of loss along the way. The diagnosis and indicators do not matter here because I also learned…
I had learned through clients, and now my own story, that we ask questions, we offer the proverbial “at least” all to help move us through the emotional place that someone is in. Because WE feel uncomfortable, not because we are attuned to what the other person needs.
I was in an emotional place and I needed to be there.
In our culture, emotions are often deemed unhealthy territory. But you know what’s unhealthy for me? Working and not feeling my own heart. Serving and not connecting to my own needs.
Producing and not pausing.
Recently my therapist asked me: “how would you like someone to respond when you tell them?” I sat for a moment and said, “I want someone to give me space to decide for myself how I feel. Silence is OK. And if they need to say anything at all, I would love a hug with ‘Kendra, I’m so sorry.’”
I was far more comfortable setting my grief aside. I was FAR more comfortable sitting with endless hope. I was far more comfortable ignoring my story altogether.
In fact, a mere forty minutes after learning about our infertility we drove over to my sisters home to meet my brand new baby nephew for the first time. And I didn’t.say.a.word. I refused. I wasn’t going to take away from someone else’s moment and make it about me.
That’s exactly what my wound told me: don’t make this about you; you don’t know for sure; anything could happen; don’t be selfish; don’t steal from someone else; place this on hold.
And then the very next day, we got on a plane to visit my husband’s sister and meet another brand new baby nephew. I honestly was excited to celebrate our sisters and their little ones. AND, I was running through my head how I could stay calm if someone threw out one of those “when are you two having kids?” Or, “when you become a mom…” comments.
I saw it for what it was: I was threat forecasting because I could barely stand to hold my own pain.
In truth, I hadn’t told anyone yet so how could they know to be careful? And at the same time, we can practice carefulness and attunement without ever even having some of these conversations.
So here I was, having grace for those I love and barely holding grace for myself. Putting my story on hold to honor another’s. And there’s nothing inherently wrong about these things (sharing vs. not sharing), they are just a piece of my story and my coming to understand myself.
I’ve learned that when I don’t know something about someone (where they are going to college, if they are going to have more kids, if they want to be married, why they are single) I don’t need to know. I can choose how I engage my not knowing and how I engage their personhood.
I strategically decided who I would first tell. Two people I knew would respect what I said without infusing too much emotion that I couldn’t currently handle.
I was 110% trying to control something I’m not in control of.
But I made it through those two phone calls sharing the story, sharing the news, and then sobbing when I got off the phone.
And those two people? They were very loving, very supportive, and very kind because…
After telling a few, it became easier to hold but not altogether easy. Nothing about this was easy. Every month was painful, every period was painful. Every baby announcement, baby shower, baby-whatever was a moment of pain-breathe-pause for me.
To be fair though, many people are inept at walking through this journey with someone. They can have all the love and kindheartedness in the world but that does not mean they are able to manage their own internal landscape enough to help hold a healthy or helpful space.
I remember seeing a client the day after we found out and thinking (even though their reason for coming to therapy had NOTHING to do with babies, parenting, etc.) that I would never be the same. That I would never sit in my office chair and experience my clients in the same way. That I was forever changed. It was a similar feeling when I learned my cousin had died. This sentiment that you are not the same person in this moment that you just were.
That fact scared me.
Would I be changed for the worse because of this wound? Would I still be me? Would I still provide quality therapy? I remember thinking everything I had ever thought about myself was forever altered by this new world of infertility.
Connecting with J became hard. We experienced this loss differently. He felt distant and of course he did, he didn’t have monthly PMS, cycles, hormonal shifts, etc. to constantly remind him of this loss.
I needed to make room for him being in a different place. AND, I needed to make room for inviting him into my space. My mental and emotional landscape.
One evening when I was feeling particularly alone I hugged him, sat on the bed, and was crying.
I said: “I just never thought I wouldn’t be able to braid a little girls hair. Or, tell the kids to go play outside. Or, pack their lunches. Or, comfort them when they had a bad day at school. Or, have them love and lose the pups.”
And then J cried. The damn dogs and the thought of some future child becoming best friends with our animals and losing them someday finally opened the flood gates. I was so grateful for his emotion and his presence in that moment.
A few months ago I was speaking with a colleague, a dear friend who had grown a successful business and then some. We had met at an Enneagram retreat in California and I was planning to pick his brain for some business advice. I had been looking forward to the conversation for weeks.
Then, the week of, I was disconnected. Something was off that week. And I was so mad at myself for not taking full advantage of that moment and all the wisdom this friend had to offer.
And he was so so gracious. We spent over an hour chatting and none of it was about business. Instead, we had a beautiful, painful conversation about this journey for me and how I’m making sense of it.
And in a brief, quiet, tearful moment on the phone he offered: “Kendra, fertility can’t be absent.”
It clicked. It painfully, overwhelmingly clicked. There is not a single part of my story now that doesn’t have an undertone of this infertility journey. That’s not good or bad, it just is.
My fertility cannot be absent. It can’t be absent in business decisions, in family relationships, in spiritual growth, in moments of darkness and moments of light, in COVID-19, in buying a beach house. The fertility narrative is there.
When I was first getting testing done I ran into one of my clients at the facility. I was completely taken by surprise. I was nearly speechless and had to quickly remember all the rules of protecting clients in public. We navigated the moment and then at the next appointment she brought it up…
She was kind and concerned. I offered reassurance that I was able to celebrate her success story and that I was OK.
And here’s the thing. I am OK. I can still do therapy, I can still celebrate with my clients (several have had babies and I’m OVERJOYED), and I can still navigate my own internal landscape.
Because, when you’re present with yourself, real, and intentional with your own healing, you can maintain boundaries and authenticity. Not perfectly but with a certain courage and grace.
Recently, I remember laughing and telling my sister that although this made NO scientific sense my period came three days late and I was going to use some positive reinforcement to continue encouraging it to come late until it just didn’t come anymore. Oh the things we will do and say to process our pain.
There is no right way to heal.
Mother’s Day was hard. I didn’t expect it to be. J and I went to Home Depot and Lowes to look at flooring for the new beach house and treated ourselves to a Starbucks in the midst of this frustrating pandemic time.
We napped, we relaxed. I called my loved ones and celebrated them.
Later, all I had to do was ask J for a hug and then it all came pouring out. I cried and cried and cried. I sobbed.
I didn’t even know I was holding all that in.
I never intend to be fully “recovered” in this journey. In fact, even if we were to get pregnant, it doesn’t change that this was a piece of our story. It doesn’t mean I’m healed or over this infertility piece.
This piece is not something to get over but something to lean into and experience. I recently wrote a blog about the difference between acceptance and attunement.
This is without a doubt a journey of attunement.
Months ago I had no clue what a baby balancer even was. A colleague mentioned her PhD was her baby balancer when she figured out she was infertile and she wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
A baby balancer can be anything that helps you cope, grieve, celebrate, mourn, explore, and experience your infertility.
Here’s what it’s not: it’s not an excuse, it’s not an escape, it’s not an avoidance, and it’s not a solution.
It’s an opportunity to move energy around. Taking energy from one place and sharing it in another.
A baby balancer can be a new exercise routine, a nightly bubble bath, a trip to a new place, a book, scheduling an appointment with a therapist, a new car, a puzzle, a playlist. It truly can be anything.
For me, this beach home baby balancer will allow me to work with my hands (here we come renovations!), be with nature (we’re right on the canal/bay), and pause more in this journey.
All of these things can be helpful during a season of loss, confusion, pain, suffering, and waiting.
We certainly didn’t buy a beach house for this reason but one thing I know it will offer me? Balance.
So, that’s the scoop – we bought a beach house *and* we’re infertile. We’re here and present for both.
Incase you’re new here – at Wellness & Co. we believe in authenticity, intentionality, vulnerability, self-awareness, and practical change.
These values? We’re infusing them BIG time in our upcoming live EnneaLearn: Summer Connect Series. If you want to see more of Dr. K’s vulnerability or the stories of local Harford County heroes and friends all over the country, join in!