Coming to terms with it all

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while.  In all honesty, probably even before starting to write for the blog.  How to write it, what exactly to say, and doing it with honesty and vulnerability.  I’ve written a lot here that is bare bones honest and maybe overly direct.  I’ve talked about my diagnosis, my first sexual experiences, my counseling and therapy, and even my time in the military.  If you’ve purchased Courageous products from me, you’ve seen this blurb: “On that day, {the day of my diagnosis} my world quietly shattered.  My hopes, my dreams, my plans, everything I thought I would or could do with my life…shattered.  Yet, somehow my life continued.  As I look back on my young life, the things I did and didn’t do…I look back at a young woman who learned to be Courageous.”

I work to spread the message that you WILL get through this.  You WILL grow and you WILL find the inner strength you need to also be Courageous.  I also work to ensure that every young woman who is diagnosed with MRKH never has to feel the utter isolation I felt for over 25 years.  I never met another woman with MRKH until an evening in August 2014 when I met and had dinner with 2 MRKH sisters.  I’ve since had many more occasions to get together with MRKH sisters; time to bond and share stories, but to share hope and to heal as well.  I do believe it’s a necessary part of the healing process: to meet someone who has the same thing as you do, to remove the isolation and to talk with someone who totally gets it!

But for 25 years, I essentially walked this path on my own.  I knew what I had, I knew what it was called, and I knew what it kept me from doing.  I didn’t have trusted girlfriends and sisters that I could ask awkward questions to.  I had to vaguely explain to acquaintances that no, we don’t have children, I was born without a uterus.  Family and close friends knew some of my struggles and the inner fear and sorrow I felt, but most did not.  I’m a pretty private person about most things.  I sit on the fringes and watch rather than participate fully in picnics and parties.  I can’t relate to most women my age because I don’t have children or grandchildren of my own – both because I hold myself back…but also because they unwittingly say “oh, how would you know, you’ve never raised a child!” That comment in particular hurts me, because there have been many times in my life where I’ve wanted a child of my own so badly I cry and scream and shout at the unfairness of it all.

Through many therapy sessions, and over 100 pages of journaling for answers I began to notice a pattern.  Times when I was distraught, angry, grieving, and the paths I took in those times to find some peace.  Some were destructive paths that I’m not proud to have traveled – but travel them I did.  Over time it became clear that I got the most peace and comfort when I spent more time on my relationship with God.  Please, don’t run for the hills because I’m bringing up religion.  Give me a chance to explain.

I was raised in the early 70s by two loving hardworking parents.  My dad worked in the shipyards of Seattle – blue collar union jobs.  It wasn’t glamorous, and he got laid off a few times.  We had a beat up, run-down farm house.  The roof leaked, the floor creaked, it had character…and it had love.  My mom stayed home and managed our little farm and raised “us kids”.  We had dairy goats, a garden, she baked bread and cookies, and we had chickens, pigs, and raised cows for beef every year.  She did everything to give us the best she could on a very fixed income – we even received food baskets a few times.  We said Grace before dinner for the holidays, but we didn’t go to church – it just wasn’t important to them.

As a little girl, I went to Sunday School and/or church with different friends in the neighborhood sometimes, and a few times with my Grandma.  With Kathy, we sat near the front of the church and I was fascinated by the organ and watching her feet when she played.  I was part of the Christmas pageant that year and we learned to sing the alphabet backwards.  I still can!  With Tina and Lori, we went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School in the summer.  One year we got invited to participate in AWANA.  It was a group meeting in the evenings, and we played games and learned bible stories and we learned to pray and ask Jesus to forgive our sins.  It was at an AWANA meeting that I asked Jesus to be my savior and accepted him into my heart.  I asked my parents for a bible, and they bought me one.  When I asked them why we didn’t go to church, my mom told me that she believed that you don’t have to go to church to believe and to pray and ask God for forgiveness and help when you need it.  She said you just have to close your eyes and believe.  I took it at face value, and used it as my model to follow as I grew up.  I went to church with my friends when I could, but I mostly just believed that God was there if I needed him.

Fast forward to me as a late teen, getting diagnosed with MRKH, graduating high school, and planning a wedding.  My fiance was raised Catholic – I didn’t know what that meant really, just that it was one of the Christian denominations, but he wasn’t a practicing Catholic, wasn’t a member of any church or anything.  So the whole “where are we going to get married?” question came up.  My grandparents had attended a Unity church in Seattle, but now they had moved, so we looked at the Unity churches north of Seattle.  My grandma made a connection with a Unity pastor she knew and asked her if she would marry us.  We also got in touch with the Unity church in Everett.  And so that’s what happened…we had a place and a preacher…problem solved.  But I really liked that pretty little church on the corner, and so we started attending services.  I was an adult now (in my mind anyway!), and with my new found adult freedom and these really friendly people in the church office, it felt right to attend.  Unity is a Christian based non-denominational church.  We sang hymns, we read scripture, we prayed, and we drank coffee and ate cookies.  But Unity’s focus is leaning a bit on the side of metaphysical, inner peace, spirituality, connection with the world as a whole, and less on the ritualistic side of religion.  Each sermon ended with some guided meditative prayer and visualization to promote peace.  It worked well for me.  It wasn’t scripture being shoved down my throat, but it afforded me an opportunity to foster a connection with faith and like minded people.  When I joined the Army I kept in touch with my pastor for several months, and again it gave me the strength and peace I needed in a time of great stress and transition.

In Colorado, once I was settled into a routine with the Army, I started looking for a church home.  I found a couple of Unity churches in the yellow pages, found out their worship times and packed myself off to church on Sunday morning.  The first one I went to was a bit shocking.  I kind of felt like Forrest Gump in church, with lots of large black women in choir robes and me the only “white chick” in the building.  They welcomed me profusely, but this was way out of my comfort zone, and so I did some more research.  The second Unity church I found was quite a bit further form where I lived, but I felt much more at home there.  I went several times, but the congregation was much larger than my small church “back home” so I struggled to make any connections.  But I went whenever I had the time.  I had a few friends in the Army too, and as so many of us were the same age and same stages of life, we often were doing the same kinds of things and trying to find our niche.  My friend Donna had found a great church that she was LOVING, and she asked me to come with them to service.  While I enjoyed the time with Donna, it was not a church I was comfortable in.  It was one of those mega-churches with several hundred people, pastors with head sets and lots of charisma.  There was no quiet time with solemn connection with the Lord.  It was not for me, and I only went the one time.  And so I just kind of quietly drifted away, feeling a bit like an outsider, but remembering the lessons from my mom and the Unity church that “where ever you are, God is, and always will be.”

The next chapter of my life, I met Jeremy and his family.  His mother’s family was from the Lutheran church, and while they didn’t attend regularly, they were members along with his grandparents.  We said Grace before holiday meals, and when we decided to get married, were married by their friend and Lutheran Pastor Darlene.  I was content in my life and my relationship with God.  I knew if I needed something, I could (and would) quietly close my eyes and ask for help – aka divine intervention.  It was trivial and superficial, but it was a connection I knew I could fall back on if I needed it.  And so my life continued on – quietly content but without any true religious structure.

Eventually Jeremy and I moved to Idaho, and we started our lives up here.  We met many people over the years, and got a few invitations to attend services with this or that friend.  We never went.  We attended a couple funerals, a couple of weddings, but that was pretty much the only time we spent in churches.  As time went on, and “life happened”, and the seasons of our life started shifting I started struggling more with depression and my overall state of mind.  It affected relationships, decisions, and came to a point when I realized I needed to get back into counseling to try and mediate some of my stress.  This started the ball rolling.  I started to really work at my life and to take a good hard honest look at what I had going on and who was in my life and the rolls they played.  I started journaling at my counselor’s suggestion, and as I’ve said, patterns started to reveal themselves.  It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t without a lot of anger and frustration and pain.  I thought long and hard about my life, my actions, my behaviors, and what I was going to do about it all.  What was I going to change in order to be a better/stronger/healthier person?

It was a long process, but eventually I saw what had been in front of my face for a long time, just waiting for me to notice.  When I had been at my most peaceful were at the times following great strains in my life.  I instinctively knew that when I was at my lowest, I had relied solely on my faith to get me through.  Where ever you are, God is, and always will be.  I of course had to question the obvious, deny it over and over…but then maybe?  Once the thought was planted, and I allowed myself the chance to acknowledge it…things started to make themselves known to me.  How many times did God send me a sign that I didn’t ever really see?  How many times was I nudged a certain direction?  So I really opened my eyes to it….started keeping track.  I looked at the people in my life that had been there for ages, and some that were new.  I started watering that seed….checking on it regularly to see what was growing there….and making adjustments.  I read a lot.  I searched the internet.  I searched my heart.  I started to ask God for some input, and he finally gave me the strength and courage to reach out.  Or maybe he just showed me that I had it all along.  So I called her.  Then I emailed her, and I asked her to walk with me, pray with and for me, and be my rock as I fostered my faith in a more deliberate way.

So we got together, and we talked, and laughed, and cried…and we prayed.  And I went to church.  And she held my hand as I cried and we prayed some more.  Week after week I continued to go to church.  I cried a lot.  I prayed a lot.  It was emotionally draining – but necessary.  I made connections within the church, and bolstered myself as I listened to the sermons and reaffirmed my faith and fostered my relationship with God.  It’s been a couple months now, and I can see and feel a difference in my life.  I am more peaceful, loving, and forgiving.  I still cry some, moved by the humble grace and mercy shown by these beautiful souls that I have chosen to spend my Sunday’s with.  I’ve journaled a lot about my first few weeks attending services, and can recognize that I was finally letting go of some long held grief and sorrow and worries, and by doing so I was overcome with profound relief.  There is freedom in letting go.  There is freedom in trusting a belief in something greater than yourself.  While I have been walking this planet mostly on my own for the better part of 45 years, carrying the burdens of normal life – I’ve also been carrying around a diagnosis that has shaped my life, and at times overpowered my life.  What I try to see clearly now is that I can allow my diagnosis of MRKH to empower me to do bigger and better things.  I can trust in my faith and my relationship with God to ease my worried mind and let him do the heavy lifting.

I know this is long, and I’m wrapping up I promise, I just want to give a shout out to some beautiful women in my life who have inspired me and impacted me and my decision to walk closer to God recently.  My thanks to each of you! xoxo     Janice, Karen, Eileen, Chel, Lisa, Angela, Julie, Diane, Amy, Janine, Erica, Chris, Lindsie, Janet, Debbie, Linda, Carole, Sally, Mary, Crystal, Christina, Judy, Cathy, Phyllis, Carrie, Leslie, Tina, Kristen, Janna, Laura, Denise, Laurie, Barb, Dawn, and probably a million or so others.



Putting it out there

Today is move-in-day for one of the bigger craft shows I do each year.  So this morning after making coffee, milking the goats, and feeding the dogs…I also loaded the soap trailer.  I hope I haven’t forgotten anything, although I do already have a list of “don’t forget to grab tonight” things rattling around in my head.  It would probably be a better plan to write the list down…but where’s the challenge in that?

So, after my day job, I’ll trek back across campus where I had to park with my trailer, drive around the block and hopefully get a spot close to the main door and start unloading the trailer.  It takes a lot to do a craft show…let’s start from the bottom and work up…this is an indoor show, so no tent, walls, and weights:

  • squishy floor mats
  • carpet
  • 3 tables
  • table risers (PVC pipe)
  • 1 small cash table
  • fabric back drop
  • signs
  • tape to hang the back drop and signs
  • wooden shelf risers
  • table covers
  • display baskets of various sizes and shapes
  • fake pine trees
  • box of kleenex
  • bath tub and stand
  • box of “bubbles”
  • 40-ish scents of soap (12-20 bars of each)
  • 3 primary lotion scents (5-10 assorted sizes of each)
  • foot cream (10-15 jars)
  • Courageous box – soap, lotion, cream, lip balm
  • 3 lip balm options (20 or so tubes of each)
  • crochet wash cloths (20 or so)
  • Salves – tattoo and newborn (4-8 of each)
  • lotion bars (20 or so)
  • display signs and pictures
  • decorative miniature bathtubs
  • directors chair
  • cash box
  • assorted bags for purchases
  • business cards, information sheets, pens, notebooks, stylus, CC reader
  • COFFEE, Water, Food

I think that about sums it up.  If I hustle I can get unloaded and completely set up in about an hour and a half – but I usually plan on 2 hours.  Tonight I’ll mostly just get the floor, tables, and probably the back drop up.  I will unload everything, but tuck it away overnight and not have the whole display ready to go.  An hour or so is my guess.  Friday morning I’ll arrive about an hour before the show starts to set up the product and make sure I’m all set for the day.  After a very long day on Friday, I’ll cover everything for the night and head home.  Saturday morning, I’ll grab more stock from the soap room if need be and head back in to do it all over again.  Except that Saturday we are done at 5pm, and I have to pack it all up and haul it all back out to my trailer and load up again before driving home.  Sunday I’ll unload the trailer and probably do some restocking of my boxes to get ready for the next show.  I know I need to place a couple supply orders, and I need to make some more lotions and lip balms and such for more shows this fall and winter.  Good thing I have boundless idle time on my hand and zero other responsibilities, right???

So this begs the question:  Heidi, why do you do it?  Well, lots of reasons…I like to make my products available to the public.  With a scented product, internet sales are difficult (would someone PLEEEEEEZE invent scratch and sniff internet????), so getting my soaps out in the public space where people can pick them up and smell is great.  Goats milk soap is kind of the Cadillac of the soap world – true soap snobs generally enjoy goats milk soap above just water based soaps because they are so much more gentle and nourishing.  I also focus on natural colorants and the highest quality oils – no hot pink soap or neon green in my stuff – sorry!  My target audience is generally women ages 28-63….ready to spend a little more money on a high quality treat for their skin.  They have some discretionary money to spend, and they are paying closer attention to health and wellness.  I also want to appeal to the local people, and the local economy – buy local, use locally sourced ingredients, and that sort of thing.  So I like promoting my small local business, my excellent products….but you know what???  In a lot of ways…I totally hate it.  I’m socially anxious.  I hate small talk.  I hate pushy sales people who get all up in my business.  I hate obnoxious customers who tell me what is wrong with everything I do, how terrible something smells, and how I’m committing highway robbery charging FIVE DOLLARS FOR A BAR OF SOAP….do you know how many bars of soap I can get at the Dollar store for $5???  Ugh.  I hate the long hours.  I hate the way my muscles ache after sitting in one chair for 12 hours.   I hate the back aches after carrying in and out HEAVY boxes of soap.  It’s exhausting…the planning, the execution, the tear down and go home.

And again:  So, why do you do it then???

To challenge myself.  To make myself get out of my comfort zone.  To talk to strangers, to start conversations, to push my own boundaries.  To inform the public about the benefits of my products, and to encourage them to support their local artists, farmers, crafters, and business owners.

I’ve also used this platform – this venue to spread awareness about MRKH through my Courageous Project.  It’s my voice, my way of putting MRKH in the public.  By simply setting up a display in soft feminine appealing colors, adding a selection of elegantly packaged products, and a subtly framed sign with basic details about MRKH, I am letting the world see our beautiful flower logo attached to lovely products and a name that begs the question – What is Courageous?  What is MRKH?  And I take a deep breath and I tell them it’s a congenital form of infertility that affects 1 in 4500 women world wide, I was born without a uterus, cervix, and the upper 2/3rds of my vaginal canal.  Responses vary of course, everything from pity to embarrassment to respect.  I’ve had many poignant conversations over the past year while standing in my soap booth – and THAT is why I do this.

To challenge myself.  To push myself out of my comfort zone.  To spread awareness about my life and my experience with MRKH.  To learn to be more Courageous.

Be Strong.  Be Courageous.  Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9

Do you have kids?

I think figuring out a tactful way to answer this is pretty simple really, and not really the issue.

“No, we don’t have children.” Is sometimes enough for the person asking.  And it’s the answer that is easiest to give, because it doesn’t give anything away.  It doesn’t elude to the heartbreak that is infertility.  The inability to have a child no matter what you do.  It’s the simple answer to the basic and simple question.

When I was younger, and in my “prime child bearing years”, often the question was followed up with a more probing question of “why not?” or “when are you planning them?”.  Sometimes I was brutally honest, and very blunt in my response, “I was born without a uterus and can’t get pregnant.”  And sometimes, I would give an answer along the lines of, “we are considering our options for adoption, but the timing just isn’t right yet.”  I tried not to get too involved with the details, giving just enough information that the questions would stop.  I didn’t share the hurt that comes along with being told at 18 that you are infertile, that you will never carry a child in your body.  I would never shop for maternity clothes, I would never pee on a stick and wait with wild anticipation of the results.  That option was ripped away from me when I was diagnosed with MRKH.

I still wanted to have children.  I would adopt.  I would get that perfect newborn baby to love and cherish, and that would somehow make me normal and my life would be as I had perfectly planned it to be.  And a couple years later I would get another perfect baby and be a doting mother to 2 charming children – maybe even 3.

Things were falling into place in my life, and so I started really thinking about motherhood and adoption.  I met with social workers, attended support groups, wrote biographies, and talked with doctors about pursing parenthood.  I bought baby clothes and supplies, knowing that if I could just get a baby then my life would be complete.

Over the course of a few months, things changed pretty rapidly in my life.  Or rather, the accumulation of events led to some difficult decisions.  I put the brakes on starting a family in an attempt to truly have control over my life.  I comforted myself in the thought that I could always start again, but first I needed to get MY life in line.

In the months and years that followed, I had several friends start families either through planned or unplanned pregnancies.  I just kept waiting for the right time and worked on filling my life with other activities – putting my infertility on the back burner.  I stumbled around for several years trying to figure out just what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I listened as my biological clock ticked telling me you need to get busy with this parenting thing…you need to get that baby by the time you’re 30.  As I got closer and closer to 30, I thought…well maybe 35.  I could get my life together by the time I’m 35 and still be a mom.  I’d be more responsible and “ready” then to truly give my child the life they deserved.

I wanted to be a mother, but I started to question if I needed to be a mother to be complete in my life.  Was I destined to be a mother, or was my purpose in life to be something else?  I wasn’t sure anymore.  I enjoyed the life I was leading, and I knew that I would be a good mother if a child came into my life. But I had a choice.  My husband and I had a choice, and we could chose to NOT be parents.  After-all, our default option was to not be parents.  There was no way we could accidentally become parents, get unexpectedly pregnant.  We truly had to make a choice – just let the default option be the answer, or actively pursue parenthood. In all honesty, we pretty much just let the default option take over.  We didn’t talk for hours and hours about the pros and cons of parenthood.  We didn’t discuss financial implications of adopting a child or pursuing surrogacy.   We didn’t talk about savings accounts and college funds and baby nurseries and family friendly cars.  We just let the default option be.  We were complete in our individual lives, and in our married lives.  We loved our nieces and nephews, and we would have loved a child.  But we didn’t NEED a child to be whole.

So now, when people ask us, “Do you have children?”, we usually answer “No, we never got around to that.”  Somehow, in your mid 40s if you state that you haven’t had children, it’s an acceptable thing.  Whatever lead to the choice isn’t as important, and they just accept the fact that you chose not to be parents.

I now use the question as an opportunity to talk about infertility and MRKH.  Sometimes I share just a little, and sometimes I spend close to an hour talking about it.  We begin with a recitation of facts:

  • 1 in 8 couples struggles with infertility in some form
  • up to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first trimester
  • 1 in 33 babies are born with some sort of congenital birth defect
  • 1 in 4500 women world wide are diagnosed with MRKH

And then I start to discuss my own diagnosis, being born without a uterus, cervix, and the upper portion of my vaginal canal.  I tell them about abnormal kidneys and skeletal and joint issues.  I explain that I do have ovaries and hormones, and all the outward signs of being a woman.  I explain that I still have hormonal cycles – PMS if you will – I just don’t have the punctuation in the form of menstrual bleeding – no period.  Often a full discussion follows where my anatomy is discussed in great detail, to include how I had to stretch my vaginal canal in order to have penetrative vaginal intercourse.  We sometimes talk about other treatment options of vaginal dilators and surgical creation of a neovagina.  And I talk about WHY I talk about it.  How I went over 25 years thinking I was so different, never meeting another woman who had the same thing as me – feeling ashamed of my “otherness” – depression – adoption – surrogacy.  I never want another women to feel so utterly alone.

While I don’t particularly enjoy talking about my physical differences, I feel it’s important – no VITAL – to remove the shame associated with having MRKH.  I am no less a woman than someone who is born with one blue eye and one brown eye.  I am no less a woman than someone who is born with a cleft palate.  I am no less a woman than someone who is born without a fully developed hand or foot.  I am in a unique position where I can say that while I will forever carry this diagnosis – but my diagnosis will not hold me back.  Plenty of my MRKH sisters are mothers.  Some have adopted children, some have used gestational carriers, some are foster parents, and many more of us are pet-parents.  And we are scientists, teachers, engineers, veterinarians, authors, fitness coaches, yogis, accountants, farmers, librarians, politicians, pastors, truck drivers, day care workers, business owners, beauty queens, doctors, counselors, sailors, soldiers, MRKH Warriors.

We are stronger than we ever thought possible.  We are compassionate.  We are fighters, survivalists.  We learn to make a life with what we have, and not focus on what we don’t have.  We learn to improvise, adapt and overcome.  Our path may not be clear, well lit, and obvious – but we will follow it none the less.  We are Courageous.

“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.”  Benjamin Franklin