3/21/2017

WANTED: Infertility Features for National Infertility Awareness Week

It's that time of year again where I ask YOU to share your stories.

National Infertility Awareness Week is next month, and I'd love to feature raw, real, inspirational stories of surviving infertility.

You may be in the trenches of infertile hell or a survivor on the other side. You may be experiencing secondary infertility or grieving the loss of having a biological child. You may have resolved your infertility through donor egg, donor sperm or donor embryos. You may be in the middle of your 5th round of IVF or consulting with a specialist about an IUI. You may be injecting gonadotropins daily and praying for this cycle to be the BFP you've been dreaming of. 

Wherever you're at on your journey through infertility -- I want to hear from YOU.

Your story -- your journey -- is valuable and worth sharing.

Please contact me via the contact form found HERE with your name, email and a few sentences about your journey. Please note in your initial contact if you would like to remain anonymous so I can be sure to honor your request.

Those selected for a feature will be contacted via email no later than April 1, 2017, with details re: word count, deadlines and a temporary publish date on ShelleySkuster.com

Thank you for being brave and sharing your story. 

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3/08/2017

The Incident in First Grade That Profoundly Changed My Life

It was stuffed with pre-sharpened pencils, bright eraser tops and glossy Lisa Frank folders (remember these?!) with wide-rule notebook paper placed neatly inside.

My maroon JanSport backpack was so big, the bottom of it brushed against the back of my knees as I skipped excitedly in my sparkly Jelly sandals into Mrs. Janssen’s first grade classroom.
The Incident in First Grade That Profoundly Changed My Life
There were a lot of things I loved about first grade: My dog came for ‘Show & Tell.’ I made my first best friend (we even exchanged BFF heart necklaces). I got to read on pillow forts, decorate windows with construction paper art projects and make animal homes out of shoe boxes and twigs.

But what I didn’t realize until decades later was how one particular incident in my first grade classroom would profoundly change my life.

It was November. My scrawny six-year old body leaned over my metal desk. I clenched my jaws, my tongue trapped between the window of my two front teeth I had recently lost. I was writing a book report about the rain forest, and I was focused. We had 20-minutes to finish before leaving for Thanksgiving break, but I had run out of paper. My large elementary handwriting on the exceptionally wide-ruled notebook paper took up too much space, and I couldn’t finish my story.

I raised my hand to explain my unique predicament – that I had run out of PAPER writing about the rain forest. Mrs. Janssen didn't laugh at the irony, though. She knelt down and smiled.

I don't remember exactly what she said. But I do remember exactly how she made me feel.

She made me feel like I had a tremendous gift of writing; like I was a special storyteller and budding young author. And as she handed me more paper I remember thinking, "Wow. She really believes in me. Maybe I am a good writer."

Decades later I met Mrs. Janssen for coffee in my hometown. By this time, she had retired from teaching, and I had spent most of my 20’s chasing news stories as a television reporter.

While the topics I covered weren't always as fun as the rain forest unit I remembered from her classroom, I wanted to thank Mrs. Janssen in person for instilling confidence in my ability to tell stories at such a young age.

It was over our cups of coffee years ago that my now elderly teacher and young professional self found ourselves smiling and laughing – not as a teacher and former student, but as friends. We talked about life and reminisced over memories from years ago.
The Incident in First Grade That Profoundly Changed My Life
We shared old photographs and notes; she had saved every letter I wrote her.

Minutes after a waitress topped off our coffee, my cell phone rang. It was my boss. He needed me to head 30-miles away and cover breaking news. There was a fire was in small-town Iowa that destroyed an entire Main Street. “The clean-up is going to be our lead story tonight,” he said. “I need you to head there now.”

I stood up and hugged Mrs. Janssen.

Now more than a foot taller than her, she looked up at me and firmly gripped both of my hands with hers.

I didn’t have to explain a thing. She already knew I had an important story to tell.

“I’m so proud of who you’ve become,” she said. “I never doubted how special you were.”

But the truth is, I never doubted how special she was to me.
TV News
During the remaining time I spent in TV news, we occasionally exchanged emails. And in typical Mrs. Janssen style, she’d always offer a comforting word, seemingly when I’d need it most.

Three months ago, Mrs. Janssen died. But the encouragement she gave me at the mere age of 6-years old -- and later at the age of 30 – will always have a profound impact on my life.

You see, she taught me much more than how to be a good storyteller; she taught me how to be a good person, and she showed me by her example.

This post originally appeared on TODAY Parents.
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3/02/2017

What You're Missing About That Viral Photo of Two "Colorblind" Boys

You've seen it on your social media newsfeeds and all over the internet today, right?
What You're Missing About That Viral Photo of Two "Colorblind" Boys


A mom shared this sweet photo of her son and his preschool buddy who -- despite clear differences in skin color -- got the same haircut to confuse their teacher.

It's adorable, and just thinking about the innocence between these two friends makes me smile.

While I believe this story is well-intentioned the headlines are nothing short of cringe-worthy.
What You're Missing About That Viral Photo of Two "Colorblind" Boys

I understand why "colorblindness" was brought into this story.

In the original Facebook post, Jax's mom states: "The only difference Jax sees in the two of them is their hair."

I have a hard time with believing this is true. And if it is, I'm really sad Jax doesn't see his friend for who he is and the skin he lives in.

My oldest daughters are 3 and 2. They know they have brown skin and my husband, our youngest daughter and I have white skin. Sure, at one point our two year-old thought we had blue skin, but that's not important - HA!

But the fact is, if our daughters can acknowledge skin color at such young ages, these five year-old boys can, too. To imply or claim they are "colorblind" and spin it as something good is neither possible nor true.

Now before you all beat me down for bursting what appears to be an uplifting news piece in our country's current state of affairs, let me tell you a story.

I was having coffee with a girlfriend of mine over the weekend. She is Black. We talked about our families -- the good, the complex and everything in between. She asked how our girls were getting along.

"As best as a 3, 2 and 1-year old can!" I said.

But then I went on to say -- and I think it's relevant here -- that I believe the world could learn so much from my children.

My daughters know they are different, and that's not a bad thing.

They view their differences as special and unique, not as superior or threatening or better or worse.

The world hasn't yet tainted them with judgments that coincide with skin colors, and the love shared between them is pure and innocent and genuine. They know no different.

So while I think this story has good intentions, and I can certainly relate to the innocence of raising young children with tolerance and acceptance, I think it sends the wrong message to parents, educators and even the general public.

You see, being "colorblind" isn't something to be proud of. In fact, when we start to believe that being "colorblind" or "not seeing race" is a good thing, then our children grow up wondering why seeing it is so bad.

We need to validate -- not ignore -- our children's curiosity about skin color and differences. Otherwise, they'll feel ashamed for wondering in the first place.

Ignoring race and our differences is not better than acknowledging them. And pretending our differences don't exist isn't doing any of our children a favor.

Related content:
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2/26/2017

A Heartfelt Apology to Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

A Heartfelt Apology to Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
It's been five years.

Five years ago this very minute -- at 7:17 p.m. -- the bloody body of your precious son lay face-down in the grass after he was shot and killed in cold blood by a man who saw him and -- with no evidence -- deemed he was "up to no good."

I'm sorry that days later you were forced to review gruesome crime scene photographs to confirm the dead body stored in the morgue and tagged as "John Doe" was actually that of your beloved son.

I'm sorry you had to hear painful details of the bullet shot straight into your son's chest by his killer who, according to the autopsy report, stood just inches away from the boy you loved more than life itself and pulled the trigger.

I'm sorry you didn't get to watch your son, an honor's English student who loved math, walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma.

I'm sorry your chances of sending him off to college were robbed by a man who claimed he was scared of your son who had nothing but teenage innocence, a hooded sweatshirt, a bag of Skittles and brown skin on him.

I'm sorry he'll never get to be a pilot like he excitedly talked about and set goals to achieve.

I'm sorry you'll never know what Trayvon Martin would've accomplished in his 20s.

I'm sorry his life was unfairly and unjustifiably cut short.

I'm sorry so much of the world still doesn't understand the magnitude of your loss and what it represents in this country about our dangerous and prejudiced perceptions of Black people.

I'm sorry that not much has changed in these past five years with our deadly policing, racist legislation, violence and continued devaluing of Black bodies.

I'm sorry that even here in Iowa, our Republican-controlled legislature is pushing the same racist "Stand Your Ground" legislation that has unfairly protected and allowed your son's killer to walk freely.

No parent should have to bury their child. No parent should have to go through what you've gone through these past five years.

And I am so, deeply sorry.

To honor Trayvon's memory, I encourage you to learn about him. Order this book written by his parents:
To join the family's commitment to ending gun violence, please consider making a contribution to the Trayvon Martin Foundation here.

And finally, if you live in Iowa, I encourage you to contact your legislators NOW and urge them to oppose HSB 133 which would allow senseless shootings like this to take place in our state by the passage of "Stand Your Ground" legislation. Click here for more information.


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2/19/2017

Life is Full of Exciting Surprises: Our Fourth Miracle is On The Way

My stomach was churning all day. I was exhausted.

But our kids only turn two once, and those Minnie Mouse decorations and special birthday sprinkles weren’t going to be delivered to our house before her party.

As soon as we tucked our daughters in for bed, I left – queasy stomach and all.

I parked the minivan in Row 10, turned off the ignition and walked inside. Apparently post-toddler-bedtime shopping is the thing to do around here because EVERYONE was doin' it.

I took a deep breath and convinced myself I couldn’t get sick for my daughter’s birthday. Moms can't be sick for their children's birthdays, amiright?

Once I walked into the store, I grabbed a disinfectant wipe, swiped it across the shopping cart handle and off I went.

First stop: Toilet bowl cleaner. Because who wants dirty toilets with company in town?

Crossed that off the list.

Then I got a whiff of some guy wearing far too much cologne. Whew. It was so overpowering, I nearly hurled myself over the metal wires of the cart and onto the toilet bowl cleaner I had just thrown into it.

And then it happened.

As my eyes scanned back and forth searching for my husband’s shaving cream, they stopped point blank at the white boxes: PREGNANCY TESTS.

I got hot. My cheeks felt like they were burning. I felt myself breaking into a sweat in the dead of winter.

BUY ME. BUY ME.

The more I stared at those white cardboard boxes, the more they jumped out at me.

My mind raced.

This couldn’t happen again, could it? My cycles hadn't been regular since giving birth to our daughter nine months ago.

Plus, after all those years of infertility treatments, then adopting two kiddos and spontaneously getting pregnant with our third all within three years…

Nah. Couldn’t be.

RIGHT?

I scanned the prices listed for those white boxes, picked up the cheapest store brand and threw it in the cart. It could apparently detect a pregnancy up to five days before a missed period (whenever THAT would be), and it was only $3.94 so no big dent in the pocketbook if it was all in my head.

I buried the box underneath my husband's shaving cream, the toilet bowl cleaner and party supplies so no shoppers could see it.

I went through the self-check-out line (again, so no one could see it).

And when I made it home that night, I discretely brought it up to our bathroom so no one could see it.

I chugged water and waited. Chugged more water, and waited.

It was just me and that white cardboard box in the bathroom. My hands shook as I opened it up and read the directions.

I unwrapped the plastic test, let my stream hit the tip for a few seconds, and then I set it down.

I blinked, and I saw the plus sign.

IT WAS THERE.

I did a triple-take. I didn’t have my glasses on and thought I surely wasn’t seeing straight.

That can’t be a plus sign, can it? It’s faint. Oh my God, it’s dark.

IT WAS THERE.

And so here we are. Pregnant.
Pregnant After Infertility
Our fourth miracle child is on its way, and we couldn't be more excited and terrified and grateful for this amazing gift.
Pregnancy Announcement: Tess Irene Photography
Our family's journey is about to get even more exciting (and exhausting, but mostly exciting!) -- proof that prayers are always answered, just not in the exact ways we expect them to be.

In the coming days -- and months -- I'll be writing more about the chaos and real-life experiences of expecting our "littlest little" while raising our still-little daughters; I know we've got our hands full here. I know this is CRAZY. I also know God has a sense of humor because we most certainly would've never dreamed of a family like the one we've been blessed with.

Also, as a side note: I understand this news may pour salt in wounds for my fellow infertility warriors; I fully understand some you reading this will feel angry or sad or bitter, and I want you to know however you're feeling about this is okay. It really, truly is. While I hope you stick around, if you decide to step away and unfollow my blog or Facebook page, please know that's okay. I recognize the difficult season you may find yourself in, and I believe self-care is important. I've chosen to embrace this pregnancy, just as I did the last one -- yes, the nausea, fatigue and impending gestational diabetes -- because I fully comprehend this gift does not come freely for many of you, and I so desperately wish it did.

Our hearts are incredibly grateful for the ways we have been able to grow our family, and I hope our twisty, non-traditional journey to happiness offers you much hope.


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Many thanks to Tess Irene Photography for photos of the gorgeous + proud big sisters.