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Recently, in a totally unexpected turn of events, we completed our journey with our embryos, not by our will, but by the will of God. For nine long years, we lived in unbearable limbo. From the moment they were conceived, I constantly thought of our babies – what they would look like, who they would be. We agonized for years over our decision before surrendering to God’s call to give every single one a chance. We didn’t want to make a mistake or have any regrets. And we were successful in that endeavor, save one.
Over those long years, although I tried to live in the moment as much as possible, enjoying our babies and raising our kids, in the back of my mind, our embryos were always with me. Their quiet presence invaded every waking moment of my life, reminding me they were patiently waiting, innocently tugging at the hem of my heart.
My thoughts drifted towards the future on a daily basis, even when the present was staring me in the face. Without intending to, my world became “what’s next” instead of “what’s now”. Until recently, we had five more embryos to go with my fortieth birthday just a few short months away. We were constantly forward thinking and in planning mode.
Since I’d had three successful back-to-back pregnancies, resulting in four beautiful children, I wrongly believed – assumed – that somehow any embryo that entered my womb would nestle itself safely in my body and miraculously bloom into a beautiful, perfect human being. I had no reason to believe otherwise. We thought, with five embryos left, only a few might be abnormal. Most, if not all, would make it through the thaw. We were told our embryos were strong when they were frozen in 2010, my cycles were regular as regular can be, and my hormones were on point…so God surely had it in His plan to give us one or two more children.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
God had a totally different plan.
It was the only scenario we had never considered and it stopped us dead in our tracks.
(Are you struggling with what to do with your leftover embryos? We would love to help. Check out our free 10-Step Guide at the bottom of this post.)
The sudden loss of all five of our remaining embryos over the course of a few short weeks hit like a ton of bricks. I, especially, felt absolutely blind-sided, like the rug had been completely pulled out from under me. My emotions surrounding this series of events became deeper, harder, and more and more complicated as time wore on. One blog post wouldn’t even come close to encompassing what went through my mind.
But that’s for another time.
Looking back, Scott and I have absolutely no regrets and no anger or bitterness with how our journey unfolded or how the end turned out. We faithfully followed God’s lead and did exactly as He told us to do. It was His decision, His perfect will, to take our five remaining embryos home. With that, we have unshakable peace.
But even with peace, there is grieving.
A LOT of grieving.
And in the weeks and months following our loss, in addition to the obvious, I realized I was grieving something unexpected, especially as it relates to my kids and my marriage.
I realized I’d lost years of my life worrying about and planning for a future scenario that never happened.
I lost years of joy with the children I have because I was always so preoccupied with the children that were yet to come. I realized I never really fully enjoyed anything because I never felt the freedom to do so. I was always weighed down by this unspeakable and unexplainable burden. It overshadowed even the best of days and affected me most in my roles of wife and mother. Sadly, Scott admits he experienced all of this as well.
Having leftover embryos robbed us of the distinct pleasure of living in the “here and now”.
Not long after our loss, for the first time since we started this whole infertility journey, I felt like my eyes were opened. My marriage began to feel lighter. I felt like I was really seeing my kids because I was allowed to focus completely on them without worrying about their future siblings. Slowly, the fog was beginning to dissipate.
And I knew I’d made a mistake. We’d made a mistake.
We made assumptions about our journey – wrong assumptions – that let the “what ifs” consume us so much that we missed out on the simple joys of living life in the present. We forgot to fully bask in the beauty of our current children. We forgot to nurture and invest in our marriage.
Scott and I were both equally distracted by our circumstances, so, dangerously, we were both caught in this mindset. Overall, I can safely say we were generally unhappy for the majority of the last 10 years, just making it through the days. We had SUCH a hard time enjoying the present because our future seemed so uncertain.
But we were wrong. And, unfortunately, we didn’t catch on until we were well into our journey. And it came into full light once it was finally complete.
We missed so much.
And I don’t want this to happen to you.
Of course, I can’t magically shut off your brain to your embryos or the circumstances around you. That would be impossible. But I can share some thoughts, wisdom, and insights with you so you can make the most of the season you’re currently living in. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? We want you to experience joy amidst the pain and live a full, intentional life today while you wait for tomorrow to come.
Now, some of you may already be really good at this – living in the moment and making the most of every day. If you are, that is truly, truly wonderful and such a gift. I wish that had been me (us). But if your personality doesn’t naturally lean that way, and you’re struggling with living in the “here and now”, I understand what I’m about to propose may never come easily – but it does help to a degree. Just keep practicing, friends.
1) Make a point to celebrate every occasion.
This may sound a little silly to you – after all, of course you’re going to do it up on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or special dates in your family. But there is so much more to celebrate in life.
Acknowledge and celebrate other less significant, but noteworthy, moments in the life of your family – riding a bike without help for the first time, an exceptional grade on a test, the anniversary of your first date, or the successful completion of a work project that took months – it can be anything you decide. But make a point to do this often when the situation calls for it. So many things are worth celebrating.
And, to be clear, the celebration doesn’t have to be extravagant by any means. A simple gesture is incredibly meaningful for you and the person you’re celebrating. Go out for ice cream, cook a special dinner, fill out a card, buy flowers, purchase a new book to read together, or have 10 extra minutes of family playtime before bed. I even know some families who celebrate their children’s IVF frozen transfer days with special popsicles. How neat is that? Really, my friends, the ideas are endless.
And remember WHY you’re doing this. Life is worth celebrating. Right here, right now, today. Being intentional and purposeful in this way helps you to be present in the moment. It increases joy. And wouldn’t we all like more of that, especially being on such a tough journey?
You need to highlight how truly special and incredible life can be now, in the day to day routines of living. If you’re always thinking about tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, you’ll miss the beauty and blessings of life all around you. So celebrate everything you can.
2) Be present/Put your phone down.
This is so important and incredibly impactful to everyday living. We need to put our phones down and stop having a love affair with the online world. In addition, I especially encourage you to take a Facebook fast if Facebook is something you’re involved in regularly. I’m highlighting these two things for a purpose.
I’m sure you’re all aware of the connection between technology/cell phones and the decline in family relationships that has been occurring over the last two decades. It’s so easy and addictive to stay virtually connected with everyone else but the people right in front of us. It’s hurting marriages and the parent-child bond. It keeps our attention focused on a reality we can’t touch. It’s replacing family time and memories that need to be made. It’s an epidemic and I honestly don’t know one household that it hasn’t touched, including ours.
At the same time, social media, and especially platforms like Facebook, silently, but effectively, pull us into the comparison trap. And that is SO bad for your emotional and mental health. I can’t tell you how many times I went on Facebook, saw pictures and posts from my friends who had graduated from the baby/toddler stage, living life and doing things they’ve always wanted to do, and my heart immediately started to hurt because I wanted that, too. I wanted to be done. I wanted some freedom, but it wasn’t coming. And it didn’t look like it would for a long, long time.
And, goodness gracious, how both of these things stole my joy (my phone and FB). How it made me look at my circumstances in a negative light. How it took my focus off my blessings and shone a huge spotlight on my struggles and disappointments. How it made me long for a different journey other than the one God had put us on. For years, this effectively killed our ability to live in the present and put us completely in the wrong frame of mind.
So, my advice is to put some guardrails in place around your phone usage. Do whatever you have to do so you’re not tempted to reach for it when the people around you clearly want to spend time with you. Nurture your relationships. And take a FB fast if it’s pulling you into the comparison trap and in the wrong direction mentally or emotionally. Don’t allow what you don’t have to negatively influence your perspective on what you do have. Get your head in the right space and stop comparing your life with others. It’s your journey and your journey only. No one else’s. Be present in it and be proud of it.
3) Nurture close relationships.
Ok, seriously, we lived in a rut for years. We both let our marriage grow dull. We both let friendships slip and wither. Not because we didn’t love those people, or each other, but because we literally had no energy left to connect or socialize, mostly because of how we were functioning mentally and emotionally, which of course affected our physical liveliness.
Of course, we still had several close friends and our church small group that we saw every few weeks. We still went on dates and had husband/wife time. But, in general, we let the weight of our circumstances overshadow us and drain us to the point that we didn’t make the most of the opportunities we were given to connect on an individual and family level. We were exhausted at the end of every day and couldn’t imagine packing our nights or weekends with more things to do.
But every time we got together with friends and family, we always left our time together with a sense of overall well-being and joy. When we went out of our way to do something different, new, or fun together, it increased our bond. We should have done this more often and I would encourage you to do the same. It’s simply good for the soul to muster the energy and go. Humans are made for connection. It keeps you grounded and enjoying life in the present. So nurture your relationships as much as possible.
And just as important – take the time to seek out new social opportunities with people who share your interests. Find your tribe and add to it now and then. You may find you meet someone who energizes you, encourages you, and spurs you to live in the present in a very meaningful way.
4) Take research breaks.
Ok, I was totally guilty of this in the early stages of our journey. I would try to find anything and everything there was to know about leftover embryos, the choices available, how people made decisions, what decisions they made, why, etc. in hopes that it would help me with my own decision.
To be clear, when I could find information, it did help a little. But it also drove me totally crazy because it kept our circumstances at the forefront of my mind all the time. It definitely took away from keeping my focus in the present. Taking research breaks is not only important for your mental health but it also allows you to refocus on your family and enjoy what’s going on all around you. Give yourself a few weeks or a month off to breathe.
5) Commit to focusing on THIS month.
We all know how incredibly easy it is to think waaaaay beyond the current events of life to an undefined place in the future that hasn’t happened yet. Our minds and our anxious thoughts can easily get the best of us. Of course, we have to discuss our embryos and we have to plan ahead for certain things (vacations, work trips, school commitments, etc). But we shouldn’t spend the majority of our thought-life living so far ahead of where we are. Plan for what is necessary in your current season of life and then return your focus to what’s happening now. In this month. Or this season. You can only live one moment and one day at a time. So focus on what’s coming up soon, not what may or may not come up years from now.
6) Plan special vacations/weekend trips as a couple or family.
Speaking of vacations, don’t wait until life has settled down or you’ve made a decision about your embryos to get away. Take a fun weekend trip, or go on that adventure. You never get this time back. Have fun and enjoy your spouse and family in fun, fulfilling ways. Put things on the calendar to look forward to.
7) Get involved in hobbies, activities, service projects, etc (individually, as a couple, or as a family).
This is a great way to live in the present, increase joy, and find purpose. It can also work wonders for family bonding, individual satisfaction, and expanding your perspectives on life. We didn’t take nearly enough time to do this in the early years of our journey and we suffered for it.
Remember, there is more to you, and more to life, than your journey with your embryos. No doubt it’s a significant part of your story, but it’s not the whole story of who you are, what you’re capable of, or what you’re meant to do in this world.
8) Realize you can only live one moment and one day at a time.
You only get one moment and one day to live at a time. However, although you can’t physically live in the future, you can absolutely mentally and emotionally live there. And it’s exhausting trying to figure out what’s going to happen 6 months from now, a year from now, or five years from now. Most of the time we’re wrong anyways, so why are we driving ourselves crazy and sending our anxiety through the roof when we really have no idea what life will be like in a year? It’s a lot of energy wasted and moments missed. As best as you can, try to let each day come in its own time and just be present where you are.
9) Spend serious time in prayer and stay close to God.
In the last half of our journey (after letting our worries get the best of us during the early years), we committed to spending serious time in prayer and remaining as close to God as possible. It’s not that we hadn’t gone to Him in prayer about this before – we had, quite a bit actually – but we approached it in a different manner this time, circling God’s promises over and over and over again and absolutely clinging to His word, even when it contradicted our emotions.
At the same time, we also distanced ourselves from several well-meaning friends and family in order to drown out outside opinions and clearly hear the voice of God. In this time, not only did we experience His peace that surpasses understanding, but our joy increased exponentially. We were strengthened and renewed and more capable of living fully in the present without worrying about the future.
10) Understand you are forgiven and loved, no matter your decision.
Last, but MOST importantly, one of the most difficult thought processes that can steal your joy and keep your mind off the present is feeling and believing that you will make the wrong decision and, ultimately, that your decision determines who you are as a person. You believe God won’t love you, He will be disappointed in you, your family won’t love you, or YOU won’t love you. This is a lie straight from Satan and, unfortunately, many of us buy into it and it eats us alive from the inside out.
We ourselves fell into this trap in the early years of our journey. It induces guilt, anxiety, worry, and fear. And those things are NOT FROM GOD. It’s not His nature and never has been and never will be. The truth is you are loved no matter what. You are forgiven no matter which option you ultimately choose. You are dearly loved. This choice does not ultimately define your character or determine who you really are. Give yourself some grace. It’s one of the hardest choices you will ever have to make, with no cookie-cutter answer that will fit every situation. None of the paths are easy.
So release the guilt and live joyfully in the present. When the time comes to make your decision, know you made your choice with the best possible information available to you and rest in God’s unending mercy and grace.
Friends, I hope this has helped you in some way. I know it’s easier said than done. But my prayer is this gives you some food for thought so you don’t make the same mistake that we did when you reach the end of the road and look back over your journey. This is a long road. Learning to live intentionally and joyfully each step of the way will help you embrace the present on the way to the future.
Praying over your families, your embryos, and your decisions.
Are You Struggling With What To Do With Your Leftover Embryos? We would love to help.
Get our free 10-Step Guide to help you take the next steps on your journey with your leftover frozen embryos and begin to live with peace in your hearts. We’ve personally followed each step in this guide on our own journey – and over time we’ve received discernment, clear direction, and hope. We pray you find it helpful, encouraging, thought-provoking, and full of inspiration for your journey. Access the guide here.
P.S. If you need additional support or guidance as you consider your choices with your embryos, please join our private FB community, Leftover Frozen Embryos Support Group. Here, we talk in real time with other parents about the difficulties of living life with leftover frozen embryos and the options we have moving forward.