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.


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.

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


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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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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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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