Own Your Story

I was recently chosen as one of the winners for the BLURB “Share Your Story” contest. I printed my book with them in 2011 and years later, it is still having an impact. I was excited to receive my generous voucher prize but more importantly, have another opportunity to reach people and encourage them to own and share their story too.

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I have learned that nothing in my past can stop me having a good future if I keep a positive attitude and decide to believe that although I’m a mess (aren’t we all!?) with God living on the inside of me, I’ve got what it takes to turn the page when bad things happen and begin a new chapter. You have to keep moving forward because you will never get to where you want to be if you keep complaining about where you’re at.

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With August being Women’s month, various topics are being discussed, from physical well-being to mental health awareness. I am under construction in both these areas and overcoming self-doubt is a big one at the moment. Self-doubt will destroy confidence and cause confusion. I still let people’s remarks tear me up inside from time to time and it makes me second-guess my decision to speak as openly as I do about my life. I wonder if it is worth it. But I am responsible for my path and have discovered you can’t let anyone else write your story for you. I am grateful for the friends who love me because of my imperfections and have been there through the messy bits with me.

I took the vulnerability leap a long time ago and am always sensitive to those who do the same and feel safe enough to share their story with me. Many of them recognize that empathy is lacking in our world today and sadly I have noticed this too. Trying to put a silver lining around your friend’s pain is often not the best way to respond. For example, the words “at least” hurt, especially when the wound is still fresh. “I had a miscarriage.” receives the reply “…At least, you know you can fall pregnant.” If you are at a loss for words, rather say, ‘I don’t know what to say, but thank you for telling me.’ Rarely can a response make something better, but a true connection can speak volumes. That is in my experience anyway.

Those are my Tuesday thoughts. Let me know yours.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” -C.S Lewis

 

Share Your Story

“I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” – Anne Frank

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I had the opportunity to meet new people this week and realized, once again, that we all have a story in us that has to come out. I want to encourage you to use your story as a platform to inspire others and don’t be ashamed.

Extract from my book, ‘Whole Pieces’:

It has been humbling to look back and I can see how much I have matured, not only in my writing style but also in my relationship with God, the way I deal with my circumstances, as well as my attitude towards my situation. Communicating this way became a great source of comfort to me and from what I was told, it added to the lives of those who read the emails too. I know God worked in many ways through this correspondence and I pray He continues to do so through this book.

Most of the material I have read on infertility has been written by people who now have their ‘bundle of joy’. A baby. I used to find it hard to relate to them, thinking that of course they can write about “staying strong” and “keeping the faith” when they aren’t waiting anymore! Not that it makes them unqualified to address this tender topic. Maybe I simply got emotional because they were where I wanted to be.

I haven’t got perfect patience or answers but I have learnt a few things, which I pray will help you too. Like how important it is to appreciate and respect a waiting period in your life. God doesn’t owe me a baby or an explanation, He simply wants me to keep trusting Him. Have faith in His perfect timing. Rest in Him. Be kind to yourself too and don’t forget to enjoy each day.

Embrace where you are now!

Love Debbie

How To Help A Hurting Friend

This month I celebrated with a friend who gave birth to her first child and a few days later grieved with another friend, who lost her baby through miscarriage. I went from happy to sad, having to work my way through the dark despair I felt for her and fight the pain and flash-backs of my own journey. I thought it was worth re-posting this blog I wrote a year ago, as the question about how to support a friend who is hurting, popped up again and it is important to keep the conversation going.

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I was asked by someone today to please give them advice on how to support a family member who is struggling with infertility. As always, I am honoured that others still come to me for help and yet every time I panic. What do I say? Every situation is different and I remember my journey was incredibly hard in the beginning and nobody could say the right thing.

This question comes up often and I have explored it over the years but I thought it was worth writing about again, immediately, not only for this family who are feeling desperate but perhaps in between the lines you can find chunks of helpful information to comfort someone you know who is also hurting, regardless of the circumstances.

Struggling with infertility is not easy because everywhere you turn, you are reminded of the hole in your heart. You are surrounded by babies, prams and pregnant bellies in the shops, at work, at church and it hurts. It makes you want to withdraw from society and at the same time, this makes it hard for your loved ones to know what to do.

As I said in the beginning, every person is different, so it is impossible to give a blanket answer here. Being a good friend to an infertile is not easy. The situation may change from one day to the next and you have to be prepared for that. Sometimes no matter what you try, you will never get it right but a huge first step is to let them know that you acknowledge how hard it is for them.

A good friend never judges. Show them empathy.

Also educate yourself about their situation (this will help avoid offering pointless advice) and don’t try cheer them up by minimizing their pain (“Want kids? You can borrow mine for the weekend!”)

NEVER SAY ‘JUST RELAX.’ (Would you tell someone who can’t see to just relax? No!) Relaxing will not change the medical diagnosis causing infertility.

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I’m a hardcore vet at this now and have gone through the intense pain of the dark years and while it is unbelievably hard, it is no longer all-consuming. However, everyone moves through stages at their own pace. It can vary from a friend who is at the early stages and is still full of hope and optimism, to the one that is heavily involved in treatment and is carrying great pain (although may not show it). When your loved one is in the dark stage and everything has the power to hurt them it is often best to offer friendship and support from a distance.

It usually has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the situation they find themselves in, as they struggle to cope with their reality. Let them know that you are here for them if they want to talk or cry or scream! But also let them know that if they don’t want to do any of those things, it is okay. You will wait and be there when they are ready. That’s the best advice I can give. If in doubt, ask them. If they don’t want to talk about it, respect that and don’t push.

I hope this helps someone who needs to hear it today.

Thank you to all my friends who have stuck it out with me.

 

A Defining Decade

This is one of those posts where the heart takes over and you have to write quickly, before the head has too much time to think, analyse and object. It is a little before 5am and we have no electricity, so I’m sitting on the couch, using a torch for light, as I scribble on my notepad (I still love writing the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper) and will type it out later. Maybe.

This February marks ten years since I did my last IVF cycle. I have no idea why this thought came to my mind this morning but perhaps it’s because I have had the privilege of meeting several new people recently and it’s interesting to observe how they judge you on the chapter of your life they are walking in on. Of course, I understand this is normal and I often do the same. We forget that everyone has a history that has shaped them into the person you see standing in front of you today.

February 2008 was a watershed moment for me. I had to let go of a dream and choose how I was going to live the rest of my life. Was I going to be bitter or better? Most people who have met me in the last few years, know me as a runner. I am described as a positive person. Always smiling and inspiring. This is humbling and I am grateful to be able to use my past pain for purpose to encourage others. However, I am like everyone else, flawed and vulnerable and have days filled with tears and tantrums too!

Real life is usually messy and sometimes my past catches up with me and I feel anything but strong. Right now, I am doing my best to find that silver lining in the middle of yet another storm and I need to keep reminding myself where I have come from and what I have already overcome. Ten years ago, I was in a foetal position on the bathroom floor, sobbing. I had bad stomach cramps and was bleeding. It was another miscarriage and I honestly didn’t know if I had the will to carry on. I had been there before, literally watching the lives of my unborn children slip away from me and I was helpless once again. Three years before this, another tragedy struck when I lost my dad to depression. I battled to comprehend how someone could feel that level of desperation and pain, until that moment in the bathroom when I experienced it for myself. That day God gave me peace about my Dad’s passing and I understood.

I have left out chunks of what I wrote this morning, as I don’t want to get too graphic and would rather leave some boundaries in place. However, I still believe you need to risk exposure to allow for change to happen in your life and being open about my struggles has allowed me to move forward. I often wonder what my dad would think if he knew that the shy, quiet, academic child he left behind, was now a confident, sporty woman who has completed five Comrades Marathons and has a heart full of goals for the future. I hope he’d be proud.

It’s easy to stay silent and try fit in with the crowd but I dare you to let your true self show up this week. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help and drop the mask, even if it means risking criticism and uncertainty. Our world is rife with perfectionism and needs the real you to stand up. If you do that, you will give someone else the courage to follow.

We are all doing the best we can. Like I said last week, everyone needs compassion. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.

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Find Your Strong

I was surprised recently by receiving news that my Reader’s Letter had been published in Women’s Health magazine and it was the winning letter for the month too! I have copied it below:

“I’ve been battling with infertility for several years and have tried everything, from complementary therapies to in-vitro fertilization. This was a huge financial and physical sacrifice for us and involved enduring drugs, injections and surgery. We have had multiple miscarriages and suffered extreme heartache with despair, disappointment and bitterness being constant companions, but in the process discovered hope, faith and courage like never before. After remaining silent initially, I now share openly and use my experiences to help other women who find themselves in a similar situation.

I enjoy reading your magazines and usually keep them to refer back to, often years down the line. I was recently paging through a 2016 issue, which highlighted miscarriages and it reminded me that I am not alone and how important it is to address subjects like this, which are often considered ‘taboo’. Your magazine certainly does this. Thank you!

It is a roller coaster ride of emotions and at first I felt like I’d failed as a woman when I wasn’t able to conceive and this was only highlighted when friends fell pregnant with ease. I was completely focused on the one thing I couldn’t have, a baby of my own. It has been a long, hard process but I’m doing my best to maintain a good attitude and enjoy my life, while waiting and remaining hopeful. From a place of pain and despair I found a love for sport, which started with running and I have now completed five Comrades Marathons.

When I am running or training in the gym, I feel strong and empowered. I want to encourage women to love themselves enough to live a healthy lifestyle and use their story as a platform to inspire others.”

 

No matter how many years go by, it is always an honour to have my story reach others and remind women that they are stronger than they think and if things don’t go as planned, embrace new opportunities and keep moving forward.

 

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Miscarriage – Shattering But Not Shameful

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.” -Unknown

My previous post – “It Takes Guts To Grieve” struck a cord with readers and it has been humbling to receive such a positive response. It even helped prepare me for an unexpected wave of emotions that followed a few days later, when I comforted a friend who had recently experienced a miscarriage and all my own memories came flooding back. Like I mentioned before, there are no standard ‘stages’ of grief and you can feel the denial, anger, depression and mourning in any order, at any time.

Miscarriage affects nearly one in every three pregnancies, yet it is still considered a taboo subject filled with stigma and misinformation. As a result, women are left feeling emotionally and physically traumatised and totally alone. I have felt this way, more than once, and the same can be said for the estimated one million would-be mothers every year, who lose a baby they have never met.

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Hollywood has a big influence on our world today and society will often follow its example. There have been a few celebrities recently who have come forward and shared their loss, but usually only after they have had a successful pregnancy. It is a topic that makes people uncomfortable but I often write about things like this, on purpose, because it helps to break the silence and start a conversation. Women usually keep their pregnancy to themselves until they have passed the twelve week mark, when the risk of miscarriage decreases and I respect that (and planned to do the same when I fell pregnant.) However, we should not feel ashamed if we do experience a miscarriage and certainly not carry around guilt.

This week proved to me that these emotions will likely carry on for years but I have learned to identify the triggers and prepare myself. It reminded me that if we don’t make enough time to look after ourselves spiritually and emotionally, it leaves us vulnerable when hard times come. For me personally, I am making a deliberate effort to improve in this area and in the same way that I spend hours training my body physically, I need to ensure I am working just as hard on my emotional strength too.

The vast majority of miscarriages are not caused by a mother’s actions and a failed pregnancy does not mean you have failed as a woman. There is no need to suffer in silence and carry this secret. All women will respond differently but every emotion is valid and normal. Couples also need to be aware that each of you may process grief differently and it is important to keep the lines of communication open. It can unite some people but unfortunately tear others apart and you need to support one another, realising that we all have our own coping methods and may go through the stages of grief in waves.

This week three friends announced they are expecting a baby early next year and while watching the final day of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on television, Brandon Grace proudly shared he and his wife had recently found out that they were having a baby boy. Sometimes there is no escaping and you have to ride the waves of emotion, which can rise at the most unexpected time.

Celebrating with friends and family who have announced a pregnancy is easy but when you know someone who has recently experienced a miscarriage, it is hard to know what to say. Ignoring it can minimise their experience but often words like “You can always try again! That’s the fun part!” simply compound the pain and hurt us deeply. I think a simple, honest “I’m sorry for your loss” shows you acknowledge what has happened and then let them know you love them and are there for them, anytime they need you.

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The Best Is Yet To Be

There is a saying that goes, “Only look back to see how far you have come”. So let me dedicate #flashbackfriday to thanking God for helping me through one of the darkest times of my life. My first miscarriage.

Below is my poem I wrote ten and a half years ago and I can’t begin to imagine how different my life may have been, if I had stayed in that place of bitterness, self-pity and depression, which threatened to smother me. I was stuck there for some time but by the grace of God and the daily decision to choose to move forward, even when I didn’t feel like it, eventually it was possible to slowly crawl out from under that blanket of despair and find joy again.

“Don’t stay in a place that causes you pain. The world is too big and beautiful.” – Unknown

With the final school term underway, Grade 12 learners finishing school today, and children’s Christmas photos being taken, the phrase “…they are growing up too fast…” is thrown around in conversations with friends and I can’t help but respond (in my head of course), if you think that is hard, try not seeing them grow up at all! I am only human and battle to control my thoughts at times but generally I’m able to delight in sharing these milestones with the moms but it doesn’t mean my heart isn’t breaking too.

As always, I share my story to encourage others to do the same. I challenge you to be vulnerable this weekend. If you need to talk to someone about your own struggles, find a person you trust and share with them.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

PAIN TO PURPOSE

First it was one, then another two.

Painfully, I lost the three of you.

A few short weeks was all we had.

May I grieve, Lord, perhaps be mad?

You gave them to me, then took them away.

It was hard to understand You on that day.

My dream of becoming a mom has not come true,

But I’m doing my best to bring glory to You.

I’ll focus on blessing others to help ease the pain.

Not hang on to questions no one can explain.

Must capture my thoughts, learn to control my mind,

Still believe a more caring God, you cannot find.

I know I will see them face to face,

And this promise, along with Your daily grace,

Lets me live a life of freedom and victory.

Even without child, still leave a mark in history.

My precious little angels whose early flight,

Carried them into my Saviour’s sight.

I’ll never forget you, simply trust and obey,

That we’ll love and play in heaven someday.

 

Debbie Ivins, April 2007

How To Be A Supportive Friend To Someone Who Is Hurting

I was asked by someone today to please give them advice on how to support a family member who is struggling with infertility. As always, I am honoured that others still come to me for help and yet every time I panic. What do I say? Every situation is different and I remember my journey was incredibly hard in the beginning and nobody could say the right thing.

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This question comes up often and I have explored it over the years but I thought it was worth writing about again, immediately, not only for this family who are feeling desperate but perhaps in between the lines you can find chunks of helpful information to comfort someone you know who is also hurting, regardless of the circumstances.

Struggling with infertility is not easy because everywhere you turn, you are reminded of the hole in your heart. You are surrounded by babies, prams and pregnant bellies in the shops, at work, at church and it hurts. It makes you want to withdraw from society and at the same time, this makes it hard for your loved ones to know what to do.

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As I said in the beginning, every person is different, so it is impossible to give a blanket answer here. Being a good friend to an infertile is not easy. The situation may change from one day to the next and you have to be prepared for that. Sometimes no matter what you try, you will never get it right but a huge first step is to let them know that you acknowledge how hard it is for them. A good friend never judges. Show them empathy.

Also educate yourself about their situation (this will help avoid offering pointless advice) and don’t try cheer them up by minimizing their pain (“Want kids? You can borrow mine for the weekend!”)

NEVER SAY ‘JUST RELAX.’ (Would you tell someone who can’t see to just relax? No!) Relaxing will not change the medical diagnosis causing infertility.

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I’m a hardcore vet at this now and have gone through the intense pain of the dark years and while it is unbelievably hard, it is no longer all-consuming. However, everyone moves through stages at their own pace. It can vary from a friend who is at the early stages and is still full of hope and optimism, to the one that is heavily involved in treatment and is carrying great pain (although may not show it). When your loved one is in the dark stage and everything has the power to hurt them it is often best to offer friendship and support from a distance.

It usually has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the situation they find themselves in, as they struggle to cope with their reality. Let them know that you are here for them if they want to talk or cry or scream! But also let them know that if they don’t want to do any of those things, it is okay. You will wait and be there when they are ready. That’s the best advice I can give. If in doubt, ask them. If they don’t want to talk about it, respect that and don’t push.

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I hope this helps someone who needs to hear it today.

Thank you to all my friends who have stuck it out with me.

Mourning Sickness

For the first time this year I wrote some poetry yesterday. Putting pen to paper is always healing for me. The words poured out without much effort and although there is often a risk in exposing my thoughts, I am sharing it on my blog anyway (and if you think I am a little strange after reading it, you’re probably right!)

Mourning Sickness

When my daily intake of peanut butter declines, you know I’m not well.

I normally have several spoons at a time, but now could barely tolerate the smell.

A chronic stomach virus was doing the rounds and everyone was falling prey.

Suddenly I was feeling sick too and it seemed the bug was here to stay.

To be honest, as time went on, the possibility of pregnancy crossed my mind.

A metallic mouth, swollen stomach, what other evidence could I find?

Nausea and fatigue crept in, I seemed to be building a good case,

And all the while still training cautiously for my upcoming marathon race.

You see, despite the many years that go by, I never give up hope,

Continuing to believe in miracles while I wait, helps me to cope.

I had mixed emotions when I felt better and the symptoms slowly subsided.

My body was playing games with my head. I had been misguided.

Free from the fear of causing any harm, I could now focus on my run.

(I had debated skipping the race, despite all the training I had done).

I ran with all my heart and let the pavement absorb the disappointment and pain.

As I crossed the finished line I knew, running was a good way to keep sane.

Many of you will think I am crazy and my imagination is wild.

How could I jump to conclusions and believe I was carrying a child?

The truth is, I have felt this way before, as real as can be,

And losing those children is a scar that will always remain with me.

We all have battles we are fighting, some we win, some we lose.

Things may be out of your control but a good attitude you can choose.

So have a little compassion and be kind to those you meet.

You can’t always judge someone, simply by passing them on the street.

World Book Day

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I have always loved reading and writing and a few years ago I published my own book, entitled “Pain to Purpose”. The book is a compilation of some of the emails, journal entries and poems I wrote during the first five years of my infertility journey. It is a very basic, softcover book, only 80 pages in total and yet from its humble beginnings, this personal project went from being “just for me” to having almost 200 people request copies of their own. God took a journey that was once very private and painful and turned it into something powerful, healing and beautiful. Infertility may be the topic, but I hoped the reader would be able to relate to some of the more common raw emotions we all experience in our daily lives: the searching, suffering, smiles and silliness that emerge from everyday trials and triumphs.

Since today is “World Book Day” I thought it would be interesting to take a trip down memory lane and share some extracts with you:

“First it was one, then another two. Painfully I lost the three of you. A few short weeks was all we had. May I grieve, Lord, perhaps be mad? You gave them to me, then took them away. It was hard to understand you on that day. My dream to become a mom has not come true. But I’m doing my best to bring glory to You.” (Page 14)

“9 March 2007 – Dear Family and Friends….Here is some unexpected news for you… Bruce and I have been dealing with an ongoing battle to have children for just over two years now and had decided to keep this private, even though it meant losing out on the support of family and friends. It was going to stay that way, but a series of recent events made us realise we now need to share it with you all, so you can understand where we stand and to clear up any future questions.” (page 19)

“The fertilization was a success and two days later, they put them back in (this is called an embryo transfer, also done in theatre). Quite an amazing experience. I cannot describe the feeling when you see the embryos moving around before your eyes.” (page 21)

“I’ve never been (still am) so devastated and traumatized in my whole life. I just had to accept that I was losing my twins and was helpless to save them. Experiencing a miscarriage after all we’ve been through is too hard to understand.” (page 23)

“14-06-2007 – I am praying for our little frozen specs today. May they thaw well and grow strong. I know Your hand is over them, Lord. This is going to be my ministry. I can feel it. My life and testimony an example to others to bring glory to You. How exciting! My hope is in You. No one else. Nothing else. I trust You with my life and the lives of my unborn children.” (page 36)

“After all the prayers, emotional, physical, mental and financial sacrifices, years of trying…it ends like this. Can’t comprehend it right now.” (page 43)

“In spite of our disappointment and present confusion we still hold on to the belief that God sees the overall picture of our lives and has great things in store for Bruce and me. We will continue trusting in Him, as this is the key to victory in any painful and seemingly unjust situation…” (page 60)

“I haven’t got perfect patience or answers but I have learnt a few things, which I pray will help you too. Like how important it is to appreciate and respect a waiting period in your life. God doesn’t owe me a baby or an explanation, He simply wants me to keep trusting Him. Have faith in His perfect timing. Rest in Him. Be kind to yourself too and don’t forget to enjoy each day. Embrace where you are now!” (page 14)