4/25/2017

Listen Up: Living Through Loss

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 23-29. This guest post was submitted as part NIAW's theme: "Listen Up." For more stories and features on infertility and NIAW, click HERE.

It seems unimaginable that one journey could span over nine years and encapsulate so much – so much change, so much loss, so much energy and time and money -- and still be unresolved.

But it can.

And that’s our story.

My husband and I began trying to build our family in February of 2008.

My parents struggled with infertility, their own journey inclusive of two confirmed miscarriages, starting the adoption process, my sister, Amanda, who was stillborn in 1981, and then finally me in 1984.

So while disappointed, I wasn’t shocked when nine months went by without success, despite the fact we were only 24 years old.

I was diagnosed with atypical PCOS and prescribed Metformin but could not tolerate the necessary dosage.

We tried several medicated IUI cycles in 2009 but the closest we got was a chemical pregnancy in June.

And then, the unexpected: my diagnosed-at-birth congenital heart condition that had never posed a problem, suddenly was problematic.

While taking the fertility meds, I began experiencing heart palpitations but we thought it was just a reaction to the medication and something we could easily remedy.

To be safe, my local cardiologist referred me to a specialist at UCLA and we were hit with news few are prepared for, especially at age 25: I needed open heart surgery and soon.

The three weeks that followed were a blur of appointments and insurance clearances and readying our life for something we felt absolutely unprepared for.

But somehow, we did it and I underwent surgery on October 29, 2009 to correct my VSD gone rogue.

Several months later, I had a pacemaker implanted due to the development of bradycardia.

Overcoming the hardship of this major surgery at a young age felt like a grueling battle within an already grueling battle against infertility and we were so discouraged.

But we just kept putting one foot in front of the other and in late 2010 (after moving to a new city for my husband’s master’s degree), I was deemed healthy once again and given medical clearance to resume trying to conceive.

The move to a new city also meant a new fertility clinic.

Though we had been told that IVF may be in our future, we weren’t ready to take that path. So, we tried IUI again and finally, in September of 2011, we conceived.

Sadly, the excitement was short lived, as I miscarried in mid-October.

Fast forward another few IUIs, a move across the country for my husband to pursue his doctorate, and yet another clinic.

In 2015, we decided it was time to take the plunge and move on to IVF, and on our 4th and final cycle, we were blessed with another pregnancy.

After eight long years, our pregnancy felt miraculous.

The joy we felt was absolute, and this time, we got to hear the heartbeat.

We passed through the first trimester and sailed in to the second.

It truly didn’t feel real.

I was healthy, our baby girl was healthy; we chose a name and set up our registry.

We planned my shower and decorated her nursery.

And then, the bottom fell out of our world.
Living Through Loss with Infertility
On August 15, 2016, I went in to preterm labor and our Evelyn was born via emergency C-section at 23 weeks 3 days gestation.

From the massive hemorrhaging and the sudden onset of labor, it was determined I had suffered a spontaneous complete placental abruption.

Our tiny warrior fought for 8 hours and 43 minutes but ultimately passed away in her daddy’s arms at 5:05am the following morning.

We will never be the same.
Living Through Loss with Infertility
Evelyn will always be our miracle, and we will love her as fiercely in death as we would have in life.

Somehow, we must find the strength and courage to carry on, with our daughter in our hearts instead of in our arms where she belongs.

Evie is our inspiration, each and every day, to be better, do better, and love harder.

With her help, and with a lot of time, patience, love and support, we will find a path forward.

One day, one moment, one step at a time.

Melissa N. of Bloomington, Indiana, is an Unexplained Infertility Warrior. She honors her daughter and blogs about surviving the hardships of building a family HERE.

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Listen Up: Infertility Never Ends

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 23-29. This guest post was submitted as part NIAW's theme: "Listen Up." For more stories and features on infertility and NIAW, click HERE.

I am on the other side of an infertility battle....kind of.

See, my husband and I struggled to conceive. Our battle was made difficult by my diagnosis of poly-cycstic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

But, we got lucky. Clomid was our friend and we were able to conceive during the first cycle.

We lived on pins and needles for about 9 months and finally welcomed our daughter, Ellen, into the world.

She is now 3, almost 4. She is the joy of our lives. We call her the blonde bombshell, my father calls her the tornado.

She is curious about life.

She loves Paw Patrol, reading books, helping in the kitchen, and tormenting our 2 dogs.

And despite wanting to be a mom for a really long time, there are moments I still suck at mothering.

I am the worst kind of parent two times a day: as we're trying to get out of the house to head to preschool, and bedtime.

I turn into this Sybil-like monster and fear I am doing my daughter irreversible damage by finally giving up sweetly asking and instead demanding that she put shoes on.

Not long ago, we were having one of "those" kinds of mornings.

We had woken up late (stupid sleep button that looks like the off button) and Ellen was on her own time line.

She wanted to get dressed as slow as possible. Eat breakfast as slow as possible. Descend down our stairs like molasses. We moved a glacial speed.

I was already in a fine mood as we headed out the door to the garage when she said (innocently) "'K' is getting a little brother or sister! His mommy has a baby in her tummy." 'K' is one of her preschool friends. Then, as only a 3 year old can, she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, "Mommy? When will you have a baby in your tummy?" 

Not this. Not today. Not now, Sybil.

And what do I say in that moment?

How do I tell a 3 year old that she is a miracle without giving her a complex?

How do I explain that the clomid was a blessing but the side effects were horrible?

How do I tell her that her birth went nothing like I planned and I long to "fix" it but probably will never be able to do that.

We had a plan (like all pregnant people) but that plan didn't go....well....as planned.

Ellen arrived via unscheduled c-section.

For the longest time, I felt like less of a woman, less of a mother, because I didn't deliver her vaginally.

How do you explain that to a 3 year old?

Do I tell her about the nights I spent crying and begging her to latch on to my breast but she just wouldn't?

How do I tell her about the post-partum depression?

What kid wants to hear that her mother doesn't remember the first 3 months of her life thanks to PPD and sleep deprivation.

How do I tell her that my age now makes me an "at risk" pregnant person?

How do I explain preeclampsia??

Do I tell her that there are moments that I want another and then I look at her, our life, my job, her dad, all of it and wonder how in the hell we could handle another?

So what I said was, "Oh honey. Mommy probably won't have another baby in her tummy again. You're my only baby."

For that moment, it was an okay answer. But, I'm sure she'll ask again.

People always ask, don't they?

Curious, well meaning people, always ask.

And in my line of work as a Pastor, they ask a lot. Because what church doesn't love to have babies! And in some churches, the assumption is that the pastor (or the pastor's wife) will be the one to have ALL THE BABIES!! That's not the case where I serve. But, I have been asked, "Pastor, don't you think it's time to add another?" Or, "Pastor, you're such a good mom. You could handle one more." My favorite is, "Don't you think Ellen needs a brother or sister?" What they are really asking is, "Are you having sex?" I don't think they realize this.

The kicker is this: I've been very transparent about our infertility issues. But people still ask.

And even though we have Ellen, it still hurts to know the trials we would need to go through to have another.

Before having Ellen, there were times when I felt like less of a woman because I didn't (and for a while, thought I couldn't) have a baby.

Now, I have a baby...well, toddler. I had no idea that I would be made to feel like less of a mom because I only have one!


I wish I would have known that my battle with infertility wouldn't end with the birth of our daughter.

Because now I have become an infertility advocate.

I support those who are fighting.

I am a listening ear for my fellow warriors undergoing testing.

I pray aloud in church for those suffering from infertility. I refuse to make this a conversation that is had in hushed tones in dark corners.

I was part of the 10%, and I still am.

Jealaine M. is a wife. mother and pastor in Iowa. She is an infertility survivor and an advocate for those who have struggled to grow their family. Read more from her HERE

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4/24/2017

Listen Up: Learning to Embrace The Struggle of Infertility

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 23-29. This guest post was submitted as part NIAW's theme: "Listen Up." For more stories and features on infertility and NIAW, click HERE.
Learning to Embrace The Struggle of Infertility
Photo: Leah Marie Photography
Calendars, ovulation kits, pregnancy tests...hope, worry, doubt...weeks, months, years.

After our 1st wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to “start trying” for a baby.

This just happened to be 3 months after my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Todd and I  were both teachers and eager to have a family of our own.

After a year of negative pregnancy tests, we found out that IVF was the route we needed to take to try to conceive a child.

What?

Just like that, we were submerged in hormones, injections, patches, invasive ultrasounds and uncomfortable procedures.

Naively positive that it would work the first time, we anxiously awaited the call after my blood work, 10 days post embryo transfer.

My cell phone rang while we were on the 2nd floor of Barnes and Noble and immediately I knew it wasn’t positive by the sound of the poor nurses voice.

Round 1 yielded no baby or remaining embryos.

Onto Round 2, this time I started acupuncture, but still, I got the dreaded phone call of no baby, while at the mall food court.

However, we had 4 high quality embryos that were frozen.

By this point, I needed a break...physically, but more so emotionally, and so did my husband.

The highs and lows were extreme, yet each time we came out stronger as a couple.

Ready to tackle a frozen embryo transfer, we implanted 2 embryos on September 27, 2012.

I, again, received acupuncture, but this time Todd prayed with me, out loud, in the cold, stark clinic room just minutes before the transfer.

This time, while sitting at my desk at school, I got the call we were dreaming about...we were pregnant!
Learning to Embrace The Struggle of Infertility
Photo: Leah Marie Photography
Our prayers were answered with our precious daughter, Priya Nadine, born June 7, 2013.

My mother, Nadine, died on August 25, 2014, but I am so happy that she was able to spoil and love her only grandchild for a year.

We tried on our own for nearly 3 more years for another child, but again, with no success.

With 2 remaining embryos, we gave it one last shot on June 3, 2016.
Learning to Embrace The Struggle of Infertility
Photo: Leah Marie Photography
Miraculously, I answered one more positive call while watching our sweet Priya at swimming lessons that June day.
Learning to Embrace The Struggle of Infertility
Photo: Leah Marie Photography
Our strong son, Camden Kelson, completed our family on February 7, 2017.

Fertility treatments gave us our children and such a profound respect for life...it is so precious and unpredictable.

It is hard and unfair, but remember that everyone is fighting a battle.

Embrace the struggles you face and you will come out stronger than ever before.

Talk to those you love and be as open as you can.

Whenever I share with others that we have IVF babies, I am amazed at the number of people that have also experienced infertility, and a bond is instantly formed between us. A bond that neither of us had in our life plans, but it has forever shaped who we are.

We all have a cross to bear, so carry your cross, don’t drag it.

Jenna Hucka is a mom from Harlan, Iowa. She and her husband resolved their male-factor infertility diagnosis with the help of a fertility clinic in Des Moines, IA. 

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4/23/2017

Listen Up: Grieving Infertility While Others Are Pregnant

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 23-29. This guest post was submitted as part NIAW's theme: "Listen Up." For more stories and features on infertility and NIAW, click HERE.
Grieving Infertility When Others Are Pregnant
I hated who I had become: the person people didn’t want to tell they were pregnant.

FaceTime rang on my phone declaring that my sister (in-law) was calling. She is one of my very best friends.

Not knowing why nervousness ensued, my sweaty palm answered the call.

We chatted a bit and I watched her 16-month daughter do what she does best: be wild.

She has short dark thin hair, deep brown eyes, a smile to steal anyone's soul. A fearless sort of girl.

My sister mentioned a doctor visit and a weight of coal dropped in my stomach.

I hated the weight of coal more than I hated my possible-infertility -- it resembled the confusing emotions that made up the mess that was me, it reminded me I was not handling this journey well.

She responded with a “no” when I did my best to enthusiastically and uncomplicatedly ask her if she had any exciting news.

About three minutes after our FaceTime call I received a long text message explaining that she was indeed pregnant and wanted to give me time to process before coming back to the states. I would see her in less than 24 hours. I felt honored she would share with me, loved and well-thought of. And yet, I hurt in the deepest parts of me.

A sob escaped my throat as tears stung my eyes; I felt the ugly cry threatening my trembling lips.

My heart pounded as more blood rushed to my cheeks, teeth clenched, body tense.

I looked in the eyes of my friend and her husband and they clearly knew I need time to myself. But it also felt like their eyes laid into me like an oppressive weight threatening to crush me, begging the question: am I ever going to get passed this?

But they had no idea what this is like, this waiting and trying everything and being completely out of control of conceiving and carrying - how could they?

How could I expect or want them to understand?

I was crumbling beneath the weight of this plague that wasn’t being lifted.

This disease of infertility, desolation, isolation.

This hoping for pregnancy.

The physical pain of endometriosis constantly reminded me that my body is so very broken and I was not handling it beautifully nor what most Christians would deem heroically.

The phrase, “This must be His plan” was bouncing around my head like a beach ball and I wanted to pop it with my sorrow, I wanted to vomit on it, I wanted to blow up the phrase with fiery anger.

The barrenness of my womb and soul threatened any hope, creating in me a hunger, opening me up wide for needing Him.

Barrenness always endangers hope and joy.

But it also creates a space for Him to move, to reside, to become salve for our desolate, tired souls.

I wanted so desperately to be purely and only happy for my brother and best friend, but my wounds were gushing a thickness of sorrow, bloody and hell-like, separating me from pure happiness.

I didn’t know if these wounds would ever heal.

These wounds of waiting and wondering.

Confusing thoughts coursed through me feeling selfish and self-centered, while simultaneously happy for them, but continuing to wonder if I could have permission to honestly grieve my broken body.

Wounded and weeping, unable to even pray, I called my sweet husband.

He suggested we see a fertility specialist and begin low-key interventions.

It was much less expensive than beginning the adoption journey and we still had thousands to add to our adoption savings.

In those moments, I loved him so much more than I ever had.

He was willing to enter an even more pain-filled journey to grow our family and experience the miracle of pregnancy. A place of humiliation and costly interventions.

Nervous and scared, I saw a spark of hope sprouting out of the dirty soil of my weary heart.

I wanted so badly to cling to Jesus, not placing my hope in a baby or a pregnancy.

But I also so desperately wanted to grow our family.
Grieving Infertility When Others Are Pregnant
Natalie lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Loren. They are privileged to being mama and daddy to two boys by both love (adoption) and blood (biological), not quite 5 months apart. Natalie is a writer, photographer, mom, and wife. This excerpt is from her book which will be released this September. You can download Natalie’s ebook for free: Wholeness Despite the Brokenness

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4/20/2017

SURPRISE! It's A....!

Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
Boy, oh boy! Talk about a SURPRISE!
Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
Chris and I thought we owned the hashtag #GirlDad and #GirlMom...
Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
Little did we know this fourth miracle that's been tumbling around in my belly was A BABY BOY!
Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
It was fun to have Chris' parents, my sister and niece here when we popped the confetti -- they were the official screamers and photographers!
Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
We video-chatted with my parents to let them know their granddaughter streak is officially OVER!
Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
To say we are thrilled and surprised and grateful is an understatement.
Surprise! Gender Reveal With Kids
Now let's hope this baby boy can handle three big sisters swooning over him 24/7. It'll be a bonus if he likes pink and all things glitter ;) 

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The Moment The World Stopped in The Ultrasound Room

I woke up at 5 a.m.

I couldn't sleep. In fact, I tossed and turned almost all night.

Today was a big day, and my mind seemed to know it.

The house was still quiet when I poured a cup of my favorite coffee (roasted and packaged here in Iowa, by the way). I sipped the smooth liquid goodness in my beloved, coffee-stained mug until I heard the pitter-pattering feet of my toddlers down the hallway.

"Mommy, is baby here today?!" our 3-year old yelled excitedly.

She knew I was going to see Baby at the doctor, but she didn't quite understand that Baby would still be growing inside my belly for a few more months.

After breakfast, my in-laws and our gaggle of girls waved goodbye to my husband and me from the window.

We were going to catch a glimpse of our family's fourth miracle, and we couldn't have been more excited.
Pregnant After Infertility: Waiting Room Selfie
When the ultrasound tech ushered us back, I was nervous. But the moment I saw two little hands and two tiny feet squirming on the screen in front of me, I felt like the world stopped.

The tech handed me a tissue to catch the tears rolling down my cheeks.

There was something about seeing this life inside my belly -- something I never thought I'd get to experience once, let alone twice -- that brought me an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

This journey of ours hasn't been easy. In fact, there are days it's been really, really hard. But then there are moments -- moments like today in that ultrasound room -- where I am in awe at the abundance of gifts given to me. Where I wish I'd be able to go back in time and tell my hurting, infertility-battered self, "Hold tight...the best is yet to come." 

Our family hasn't turned out how I would've planned, but it certainly is more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.

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4/18/2017

Hoda Momma: What I Would've Said Had I Known You Were Adopting

Hoda Momma...

It was November when we met you on a cold, rainy day in New York City.

My husband and I were in town for an event. Without our gaggle of girls, we trudged through miles of crowds and puddles; we even survived a handful of street corner taxi-cab splashes before making our way to Rockefeller Plaza where I caught a glimpse of you and Kathie Lee through a large window.

Your program had just finished taping. I grabbed the handle on the nearest door, and to my surprise it effortlessly pulled open.

"Hoda!" I yelled, waving to you. I felt like you were a friend I'd known forever.

Despite my disheveled, frazzled fan-girly self, you walked over and grabbed my hand.

I introduced myself. I told you I loved your books and your work and God only knows what else I said.
You asked about my husband and me, our family and what we were doing in town from Iowa.

I told you a condensed version of our family's story -- how we survived years of heartache with infertility, grieved the loss of having biological children, felt a nudge to pursue adoption, adopted a beautiful daughter, adopted another beautiful daughter, then got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter...all within three years.

Your smile radiated after hearing how we found happiness in the way our family was built.

But what I didn't know -- and couldn't have known then -- was that you were on a similar journey. That you, too, had experienced the inkling to pursue adoption and the unflinching desire to be a momma.

If I had the chance, here's what I would've said had I known you were adopting:

Congratulations, momma-to-be!

I'm so excited to watch this journey unfold.

It's not an easy road, but neither was the road that likely led you here.

The coming weeks and months may drag on. Paperwork and background questionnaires will consume you, but this is only temporary.

One day the paperwork will subside, and the waiting will begin.

There will be days where fear and doubt occasionally creep their way into your heart. But when they do, remember this is part of your purpose. Your plan. Your family's journey.

"Don't dig up in doubt what you planted in faith." - Elisabeth Elliot

There will be moments of despair along the way. Moments of hurt. Moments of heartache. Moments you wish others understood the pure joy and bittersweetness of it all.

There will be days you want to give up. Days you feel like your journey to motherhood hasn't been fair. Days you feel like you've had to work extra hard for what has come so easily and freely for others.

There will be days you question your decision to pursue adoption. Whether it's worth the financial and emotional risks involved.

But there will be a day when your waiting will end. When you get that phone call, nervously embrace your child for the first time and cry tears of joy and sadness all at once.

There will be a day you forget what life was like before you were a mother. Where you forget what sleep felt like because all you want to do is stare at your daughter swaddled in her bassinet and watch her breathe.

There will be a day your daughter reaches her arms up for you and finds comfort only you can provide. A day she takes her first wobbly step into your arms. A day she runs to you as you walk through the front door after work. A day she says, "Mommy!" for the first time. A day she waves goodbye with a backpack so big it hits behind her knees as she runs off to preschool.

There will be a day you wonder what you talked about, thought about and prayed about before this baby girl stole your heart. And it will be unfathomable to imagine what life would've been like without her.

There will be a day -- multiple days, actually -- where you pinch yourself and wonder how you were handpicked to raise this beautiful daughter as her mother. How you were deemed worthy of such a precious, beautiful perfect gift.

There will be a day you realize the journey to your daughter wasn't always easy, but it was worth it.

It was absolutely worth it all.

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This post also appeared on TODAY's Parenting Team.

4/03/2017

How Transracial Adoption Wrecked Me In the Very Best Ways

I walked into the lobby and pushed the arrow for the elevator.
The metal doors slid open and a black man was standing inside. He had baggy pants on, dreads and a flat-billed baseball hat. 
Eyes wide, I quickly scanned the situation. 
Is he grabbing his waist band? Does he have drugs on him? What about a gun? Or a knife? What’s he holding in his hand? Do I want to be stuck in an elevator with this man?
My mind raced. My heart nearly thumped out of my chest.
As the metal doors began closing, I made a decision. 
I stepped in that elevator and rode it up to the third floor. 
But when I got to my destination – a work-related meeting – I was angry. My blood was boiling, and I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. 
You see, by all physical accounts, that man could have been my daughter’s birth father.
My daughter was two weeks old when I had that epiphany on the elevator.

She was a perfect mix of chubby cheeks and thick curly hair when I realized that perhaps I held some deep prejudices and unfair stereotypes against people who look like her.

Boy, that’s a hard pill to swallow. As a mother raising two children of color, this admission is not something I’ve ever been proud of.

In fact, this is the first time I’m sharing it publicly.

But for me, that moment in the elevator was the beginning of an important journey – not just as a mother, but as a human being.
The Des Moines Urban Experience

Adopting transracially has cracked my heart wide open, exposed the ugliest parts of me and forced me to unpack years of prejudices I learned through growing up in a predominantly white small town, while marrying a white police officer serving in a large metropolitan area while pursuing my own career in TV news as a crime and courts reporter.

It wasn’t until after we adopted our oldest daughter that my husband and I began learning about our roles as well as the complexities and responsibilities that come with raising children of color. Nothing could have prepared us for our inadequacies at doing so.

Nothing.

From hairstyling techniques and skin care routines, to prioritizing diversity in absolutely everything we do, adopting transracially has wrecked us in the best of ways.

We’ve begun listening – and I mean really listening – to people of color and their experiences. We’ve shed tears over the guilt and shame we felt for spending decades in careers systematically embedded with racism. We went through a phase of self-resentment, and we’re continuing to grapple with how to leverage our inherited and unearned privilege for good in our family and community.

Our family’s journey hasn’t been easy. In fact, there have been days it’s been really, really hard.

I’ve lost friends who have claimed I talk about race “too much.” I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with family members who claim to love my children yet support systems, programs and people in power who indirectly [or directly] discriminate against people who resemble my children and their birth families. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve said the wrong things. But my goodness, I have been on a significant learning journey – not just for my daughter’s sake, but for my own – and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

It’s been nearly four years since I had that life-changing moment in the elevator.

My husband and I now have two daughters who came to us via adoption, ages 3 and 2; a biological daughter, 1, and another baby on the way.

Our blended family will likely always garner second-glances and the occasional comment from a stranger. We will attempt to understand how we can best navigate a divisive culture with unity and solidarity. And perhaps most importantly, our family will continue to be a prime example of pure love and commitment – one that acknowledges yet transcends racial complexities and barriers.

Sure, our familial structure is more complicated than some, but it is much more beautiful and purpose-driven than it ever would have been had my husband and I not adopted transracially.

My young children have taught me more lessons about tolerance, acceptance and love than other people may learn in an entire lifetime; and for that – I am so, deeply grateful.

This piece was originally published in The Des Moines Urban Experience.

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4/02/2017

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I came across this recipe a few days ago and decided to give it a try with my favorite cookie-bakers.
The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
THIS IS THE BEST RECIPE FOR CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES.

The secret ingredient: Maple syrup.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think! 
1 Cup Butter
1 1/2 Cups Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla (this is our favorite!)
1/4 cup Maple Syrup
3 1/4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp. Cream of Tarter
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
2 Cups Chocolate Chips

Directions:

Mix butter, sugars, eggs, vanilla and maple syrup in one bowl.
Whisk together flour, cream of tarter, baking powder, baking soda and salt in separate bowl.
Fold into the butter mixture. 
Add chocolate chips.
Cover and chill for 30-minutes. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Scoop 1-2 Tbsp of dough into a ball on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 13-minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

Recipe adapted from Sugar Spun Run.

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3/28/2017

I Used to be One of Them

I used to be one of 'em.

You know, one of those women who envied other women that could easily get pregnant for the fifth time just by sneezing without even trying.
What I've Learned: Pregnant After Infertility
When we were in the trenches of struggling with infertility, I would often distance myself from those relationships. Not because of anything they did necessarily, but simply to protect my own heart.

And if I'm being honest, I was jealous.

I was envious that my body was broken and theirs wasn't.

I was bitter because their life seemed perfect, and mine was in shambles.

I was angry that my family's situation was nothing short of a nightmare.

It became easier to distance myself from those particular relationships because they served as constant reminders of how imperfect my life was. And how much I was hurting. Sometimes, this came at the expense of a friendship altogether; other times, the distance served as a temporary arrangement for self-care with wounds I simply wasn't sure how to cope with or heal from.

Years later, I would come to realize nothing cures the sting of a friend, colleague or acquaintance touting an unplanned pregnancy. No -- not even adopting a child [or two] takes away the pain associated with infertility.

As with a lot of things in life, these lessons have come full circle for me; you see, I now know what it's like to be on the receiving end of those strained and distanced relationships because of the blessing of a pregnancy.

While many of my friendships remain, some that were once close hang by a thread.

People who I desperately still want in my life have fallen off the grid. They've taken some time away, and that's okay because I see my [former] self in them.

I see their heartache. Their doubts. And their pain.

I understand it, but it certainly hasn't made it any easier.

As I've embarked on this pregnancy, though, I have a new perspective.

I'm grateful for the women who allowed me space and time to grieve when I needed it, even if it came at the price of me not being the friend I wanted to be -- and should've been -- during such an important time in their lives.

I'm grateful they didn't interpret my absence as a lack of caring.

And perhaps most importantly, I've realized I owe others the same amount of grace that was extended toward me.
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Note: A version of this post was originally posted on 3/1/2016.

3/27/2017

To My Husband, the Social Worker

To my social worker husband:

I don't know how you do it.

Every morning you wake up while the rest of our house is still fast asleep. You feed the dog and pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Lord knows you're gonna need it as you prepare for a day that rarely stays on schedule.

Day in and day out, you kiss our daughters goodbye.

They wave at you through the window as you drive away, not knowing whether you'll be home in time for dinner or baths or nighttime books and bedtime prayers... but knowing full well you'll at least try.
To My Husband, the Social Worker
Everyday I watch you load your overflowing work bag into the front seat of your car. And I think to myself -- If that thing is any indication as to the heavy caseload you're carrying, I'd imagine it can sometimes be overwhelming.

After you're gone while I scrape out leftover oatmeal from our breakfast dishes still sitting on the table, I know you're clocking into work and heading to your desk piled high with court cases and files and important documents to sift through about children stuck in hard places and foster homes and group homes and treatment facilities.
To My Husband, the Social Worker
And despite the clutter and work sprawled across your desk, I know you well enough to know you glance up at the photos of our daughters pinned on the wall and think, "I love what I do, but I sure do miss them."

We miss you, too.
To My Husband, the Social Worker
But we also understand you have important work to do.

We know your phone rarely sits without a voicemail blinking because someone's child or someone's family needs you. And they need you now.

We know your staff of social workers may call during dinner or our nightly game of "hide-and-seek."

We know you see people at their worst. You encourage them to change. You testify in emotional court hearings.

We know you rarely have time to scarf down a cold sandwich unless you somehow find a 10-minute break in a day spent reminding kids and fellow social workers they're not forgotten in a system they can sometimes feel lost and overwhelmed in.

We know you're personally invested in the relationships you build with families and that you genuinely care about the people you help.

That's what makes you such a great social worker.

This month -- Social Work Month -- we're recognizing the work you do, 
and the work all social workers do. 

In a vocation that's often times thankless, we applaud you for the sacrifices you make each and everyday, and we recognize the difference you make in the lives of those around you.

Thanks for making us so proud.

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Note: A version of this post was originally published on 3/23/2016.

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.

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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. 

2/02/2017

The Important Lesson I Learned At The Playground

"Look, Mommy! Look!”

Her beady brown eyes peer up at me, she flashes a toothy grin and points toward the distance.

Her little legs have only been walking on solid ground for two years, but she’s eager to explore the world around her.

The soles of her hot pink light-up shoes flash while she skips across the playground.

Wide-eyed, she stands at the base of 15 steep, metal steps. Her little brown hands clench the old, narrow metal railings beside her.

Right foot. Left foot.

Slow and steady, she carefully makes her way up the tall, twisty tunnel slide.

My heart pounds.

The gaps between the railings and those cute little light-up shoes are wide. One misstep will send her petite 30-pound body plummeting onto the rocks below.

THUD. Thud-thud.

Click HERE to read "The Important Lesson I Learned At The Playground."

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2/01/2017

Top 24 Books to Celebrate Black History Month

This post contains affiliate links.

"Mommy, I have brown skin and you have white skin!" my 3-year old daughter says excitedly as we read our 238th book today.

She's smart, observant and doesn't yet understand the complexities that come with our differing skin colors, but she knows a difference exists. I love that innocence about her.

The reality is it won't always be this simple, though. I know there will be a day where she'll have questions -- lots of questions -- and experiences -- different from my own -- that cause her to stop and wonder, and maybe even hurt. That's why I feel like it's our duty as parents, regardless of what race or ethnicity our children are, to teach them love and acceptance from the earliest of days.

Here are 24 books to celebrate diversity and Black History Month with your children (click the book's image to read more):