Today’s Inspiration: When You Can’t Say No

I am really bad at saying no. I have always been a yes-girl. Are youu looking for someone to watch your kids? Want someone to go out with? Need someone to drive you around because your car broke down? Looking for a last-minute volunteer for a project? I’ll do it. I’m a helper! I want to make sure you are happy. It’s OK if I have to rearrange my day to get you what you need. Ask me whatever you want help with, and I’ll most likely say yes.

But I have to admit, all those times I said yes, I bet 1/3 of the time I really needed to say no. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to help when I can. Some of those times, though, I shouldn’t have said yes. I had other things going on, but I was so worried about letting friends and others down. While I was saying yes so much, I was giving up things I wanted or needed to do for myself. It’s taken me lots of years to figure this out–but I was often saying no to myself in order to say yes to everyone else in my attempt to make them happy and help them.

I now realize that when I say yes to others, I need to make sure I”m not saying no to myself. This year, I will say no when I need to, and I will not feel guilty when I need to say yes to me.

I hope you will take care of yourself, too, and say yes to yourself more often.

Today’s Inspiration: Living With God and Going to Church

I grew up Catholic. I went to a Catholic school when I was younger. I am a preschool teacher at a Baptist church. Despite the role religion has played in my life, I have something to confess–I do not go to church each Sunday.

A couple of months ago, I went to lunch with some co-workers of mine, and they all began to talk about the churches they attend and some of their favorite guest speakers that they had heard during Sunday services. I hadn’t chimed in with any stories from my church (I don’t attend the Catholic church near our house often, and I’ve never registered as a member there). I wondered how I should join in the conversation. I was a little embarrassed when I admitted to the women at the table, “I don’t go to church each Sunday. I’m one of those people that attend services on holidays.” I was nervous that they would think I was an awful, non-religious, non-believing person. Not go to church on Sundays, and we all work for a church school? How in the world can you not go to church but be a religious person? Seriously?

The response from them surprised me. One woman at the table said, “I don’t think you have to go to church to have a strong belief and faith in God. Living his word is more important than visiting a structure to pray.” Everyone at the table agreed. As I reflected on her words, I thought of my own relationship with God. It was true, I have a strong belief in God. I pray and talk with Him daily. I try to live in Grace, I believe in helping others and choosing kindness. I thank God each day for all my blessings and what I have. I read the Bible and reflect on the words often. When I started working at preschool, I questioned what I could bring to the classroom and what could I provide to the children in my class. I prayed to God often and asked him what my purpose was. One day as I was talking to God,  I was questioning how I was making a difference in these children’s lives. I heard a  little voice say to me, “You are their teacher to speak to them and teach them about God, how much God loves them,  and the importance of showing love and kindness to others.”  Sure, the children spend time practicing letters and numbers, and they make crafts and have fun; but I have really tried to connect all my teaching back to God’s love, the importance of living God’s word,  and ways we all can serve and take care of others.

Yes, I do not attend Sunday services weekly to show my dedication to God. But I believe my love for him is just as strong as those that do. I don’t think you have to visit a structure to believe–you just have to live a life He would expect of you.

Today’s Inspiration: When Family Planning Doesn’t Go as Planned

When I was younger, I wasn’t sure if I wanted any children. I didn’t know if I’d be a good mom, I saw myself as a corporate girl, and I hadn’t met the right one yet. I figured I would be single, move around and live alone, working and getting promoted all my life. Then I met Eric, we got married, and I decided I wanted to be a mom. Eric wanted a family too. I dreamed of having lots of kids….first I thought three sounded like a great number. The more I imagined our family, the more children I pictured. At least four, I thought. Lots of children, joyful laughter, big hugs, messy fingerprints on the fridge. It all sounded perfect to me.

Once Eric and I started trying, we got pregnant right away. I was nervous, but so excited. We were going to be parents! I went to the bookstore to pick up books about pregnancy and childbirth. I started eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking lots of water. I couldn’t believe there was a little living bean growing inside me. Then, sadly, I miscarried during my first trimester. I was heartbroken. I remember telling friends I was fine, it was OK. I had read statistics and knew that during the first trimester, about 20 percent of pregnancies ended in miscarriage. These things happen, we would just try again. But at night, I’d cry and talk to God. I was sad. I was angry. Why our baby? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Our first baby was now in Heaven, and I’d have to wait to meet him or her.  Eric and I waited a couple of months, and then we decided if we were going to grow a family, we needed to start trying again.  We were more cautious this time around, keeping our pregnancy attempts to ourselves, and deciding not to let anyone know we were pregnant until we got through the first three months.

Even though the first pregnancy happened right away as we tried to conceive, that wasn’t the case the second time around. I expected I’d get pregnant quickly, like last time; and although we didn’t have to wait too long (it took seven months to get pregnant again), it felt like an eternity.

I discovered I was pregnant with Avery on what would’ve been our first baby’s due date—December 7th. Avery arrived in August, and we instantly fell in love with our sweet-tempered, happy little baby girl. Eric and I were both almost 34 at this point, so when Avery was six months old, we decided it was time to work on having another child.

Unfortunately, one month turned into a year. My obstetrician ran some tests and said everything looked good, and since I had gotten pregnant twice before there was most likely nothing wrong with me or Eric. We just needed to keep trying. She prescribed Clomid, a fertility medicine, to see if that would help us. We tried another year, and still nothing. I was depressed. It seemed like all my friends were getting pregnant during that time or had a few babies and had completed their families. I had friends tell me, “My husband just looks at me and I get pregnant.” I was happy for my fertile friends, but it was so heartbreaking to want more children and not succeeding. We would both be 37 soon. We were running out of time, and my dream of having a large family was diminishing. Family members and friends would say to me, “You have one child, isn’t that enough?” or “Maybe it’s just not meant to be.” I think it’s hard for someone who hasn’t dealt with long-term infertility issues to understand how it feels to want one child or more children and not succeeding month after month, year after year. Yes, we both loved Avery very much, and she meant the world to us. But we wanted her to have siblings to grow up with. We understood that maybe she would be our only child, and we were so blessed to have her. But we wanted to see if there was any chance we could be parents again. I asked my obstetrician what our next step was.

We were referred to an infertility clinic, and after many tests, we were diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”. Basically, there was no medical reason found for our infertility issues. The doctor we met with said we could keep trying, and eventually we should be able to get pregnant again. His other suggestion was in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Eric and I went home and talked about what we should do. IVF was expensive, not covered by insurance—and not always successful. Two-plus years of trying and not having any success had worn on us already. Physically, IVF would mean a lot of tests, a lot of shots, and a lot of procedures and rules to follow to try to become pregnant. It would mean a lot psychologically too—I’d have to be mentally prepared to go through the entire process and put my body through a lot, knowing that there wasn’t a 100 percent guarantee that IVF would be successful.

After our discussions, we decided we would only try two rounds of IVF. If we were unsuccessful both times, we would call it quits. (Looking back on how stressful our first round of IVF was, I am glad we decided to limit our IVF tries to a couple of rounds—as much as I wanted to grow our family, I don’t know if I would’ve been strong enough to do more than that). If we weren’t successful, we knew that was God’s plan for us.

Everything started moving quickly once we decided to go ahead with the IVF process. I met with a nurse at the fertility clinic who showed me how to give myself shots. Then, a few days later, I received a box in the mail, full of needles, medications, and everything I would need for all the injections that I would need to take. It was overwhelming—so many shots!  Once my body was ready to begin, we got moving.

Eric gave me all of my shots—I was grateful for his help. There would be two or more each day. Every few days, I’d have to drive downtown to the clinic for ultrasounds or blood work. Many shots were timed, so Eric and I needed to make sure we were home at specific hours during the day. Hyperstimulation was the biggest side effect concern, so I had to make sure I was well-hydrated each day.

Egg retrieval day arrived, and the doctors were able to retrieve 12 eggs. Each day, a nurse from the clinic would call me and let me know how my eggs were doing. “Hi Julie, just calling to tell you that 11 eggs look great and are still viable”. “Just calling to let you know that you still have 10  eggs growing, and they all look wonderful.” Up until egg implantation day, I got a daily call to give me an update on how the eggs were doing.

On implantation day, our doctor met with us to discuss how many eggs to implant. Given my age, the doctor advised we would have about a 50% chance that conception would be successful with one egg. With two eggs, there would be a 25% chance that both would be successful. He recommended implanting two eggs, but he said he was willing to implant three if we could give him some valid reasons to do so. Eric and I talked, and we decided that for our first round, we would go with implanting two eggs. If we were unsuccessful, we would consider implanting three for our second round.  The doctor completed the procedure, I went home and stayed in bed for 24 hours, and we waited to see if we were successful.

After a few weeks, I went in for blood work to determine if I was pregnant. I won’t forget the phone call from a nurse the next day. She advised me that my blood work came back and she read off a number to me. “What does that mean?” I asked. I had no idea what the number stood for. “Don’t get nervous just yet, but you either have one very healthy baby or you are pregnant with multiples given the result.” I hung up, excited and nervous. I called Eric right away—multiples! But there was only a 25% chance of that. Could it really be twins (or by some chance, more?). An ultrasound was scheduled, and I drove to the clinic a few weeks later to find out how many babies we would be expecting.

God works in amazing ways, and we were so happy to find out that we were having two babies. How blessed! I remember sitting in the chairs outside the ultrasound room, still a bit shocked that there was a Baby A and a Baby B growing in my belly. We had tried for so long, and now we were given the amazing gift of not one child, but two. I cried because I was happy, I cried because we had been unsuccessful for so long, I cried because little Avery would have two siblings, I cried because I knew there were other women in the waiting room who wanted this news too, and I cried because I had another baby in Heaven who was missing from our family here on Earth.

Claire and Madison were born seven years ago, and we cannot imagine our family without them. I thank God for them, and for Avery, each day. If we hadn’t gone through all that we had gone through, Avery might not be here, and our twins would not be here with us. They help complete our family. I do think about our first baby, and I have days where I feel like someone is missing here with us, and sometimes tears fall because I wonder what that child would’ve been like. I know he or she is in Heaven, and we will all get to meet that little someone when we join him/her.  For now, we are blessed here with the sweet family we have, and despite the long journey to grow our family, we are so grateful for it.

Today’s Inspiration: Undervaluing What You Have

I bet you’ve done it too, at some point.

All of us have that one friend (or two or three friends) that seems to have it all. She is beautiful—perfect complexion, fit, and isn’t bigger than a size four.  She’s funny, and everyone loves to be around her.  Her clothes aren’t purchased at Old Navy, and she carries a designer purse. She lives in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. She has two children that are smart, involved in everything, and they are happy kids. Her husband helps with it all–dinner, driving kids to their activities, homework–and he always compliments and supports your amazing friend.

You envy her—because it looks like she has the perfect, most incredible life.

Why can’t you have a life like that? Instead, you run around in workout clothes all day, hair thrown back in a ponytail or headband, but you haven’t worked out—this is just your usual getup. No makeup or Botox here, just a bunch of wrinkles and blemishes. Your kids stress you out because they argue with each other the entire time in the car. They don’t do too many after-school activities because honestly you just don’t have the energy (or the money) to have them partake in a million interests. You feel like the worst mom, the least attractive wife, and you are a complete failure. Why can’t you do it all and have it all like your friend?

It’s really sad how we can suck our own happiness out of our own lives because we compare our lives to our friends’ highlight reels. We easily perceive someone’s life as being perfect, shiny, and incredible. We wish we had more money like them, went on vacations like they do, and were blessed with model-like looks.  It’s so unfair.

Here’s the deal, though. We cannot compare our lives to others. We need to look at and value what we have. When we don’t appreciate what we have, how can we possibly be happy?

I have a lot to be grateful for….my husband has a job that allows me to choose if I want to work or stay home. My kids might argue often, but they are great kids and they respect each other and would do anything for their friends. We are all relatively healthy. My family can afford food. Vacation might be to visit family members, but how lucky we are to have family to spend time with.  Many of my clothes are purchased at Marshall’s or Target, but I can still rock it with these less expensive clothes when I want to.

A happy life is a grateful life. Overvaluing what someone else has will only bring unhappiness—how can you possibly be happy if you are grumbling about someone else’s life and complaining about what they have?

I found this quote online—it goes perfectly with this post. Never undervalue what you have—and never overvalue what others have. There is so much to appreciate right in front of you—know and believe that.

Today’s Inspiration: Do It Your Way

How I load my dishwasher does not define who I am. Eating ice cream for breakfast if I want to doesn’t make me a bad person. Letting the clothes in the dresser drawers get messy and unfolded doesn’t mean I am completely disorganized. Taking a nap in the afternoon does not mean I’m lazy. Allowing my kids to sleep on the couch or somewhere other than their own bed doesn’t make me a worse mom than you. I’m packaged differently than you are, and just like presents, what is important is what’s inside the package, not the paper it’s wrapped in. Those things aren’t who I am. So don’t define me (or anyone) by it. #weallaregifts #doityourway

Today’s Inspiration: Resolving to Find Myself

I have a big New Year’s resolution that I’m hoping I can achieve. It’s a tough one, and I’m guessing I’m not the only mom that might have this goal. So, somewhere through all the years of marriage and kids, I feel like I’ve lost myself. I am happy to give all my time and energy to my family, but along the way I have given up a lot of things that I love and I enjoy. I have a very supportive husband, and I know my girls want me to do whatever brings me joy. Losing myself is not their fault—it’s mine. As a mom, I have allowed myself to feel guilty if I am not helping kids with homework, if I’m not volunteering at school when I’m not at work, or if I’m not taking my kids to activities and events that they enjoy. As a wife of a husband that works many hours, I feel guilty if I make plans when Eric is home because that would mean not spending time with him during his off hours. Making sure he has plenty of clean clothes each week and making sure he has time on the weekends to get his to-do list completed without having kids in tow (even though he wouldn’t mind taking them along) has become super-important to me. I’ve gotten so caught up in giving to everyone around me and constantly helping them that I’ve forgotten to give to myself.

This year, I’m going to find me again.

I don’t completely know what all that will entail, but I do know that it will mean reconnecting with parts of my old self that I have been missing.

I’m going to write more. I have missed writing for a long time, and when it was suggested I start writing a blog, the idea of it brought me so much joy. I love, love, love to write. This blog is the perfect place for me to do something I enjoy. And I get to share my ideas with others that might feel the same way.

I’m going to exercise more. This used to be a big part of who I was. A few years ago before I went back to work, I was a bit of a gym rat. If I didn’t get a run or workout in each day, I was grumpy and angry. Exercise made me feel good, gave me more energy, and provided time to relieve stress. These days, I’m lucky if I can get three workouts in each week. Part of my resolution to rediscover myself is to work out more often. If this means some push-ups and sit-ups while the girls read books to me or if it means a quick ten-minute walk around the block while waiting for the school bus in the afternoon, then so be it.

I am going to make more time for my friends. I have some of the most amazing friends. They are my biggest supporters. They are always there to help—watching my girls if an emergency comes up, listening and encouraging me through challenges, and providing laughter when I need some cheering up. Unfortunately, kids’ activities, work and other commitments tend to take over my week, and I miss out on spending time with the people I love. This year, I am going to make an effort to get together with friends every couple of weeks, and enjoy more time with them.

I’m going to take care of me by doing more of what brings me joy and peace. If I want to take a nap one afternoon, I’m going to do it instead of feeling guilty that the kitchen isn’t clean. I’m going to read the book that’s been sitting on my nightstand for months, and I will be OK with letting the laundry wait a few more hours. If I want to get a pedicure, I am going to do it instead of worrying about spending $25 on something I could do sloppily at home by myself. I will do more things that bring me joy, rather than worry about chores or how clean the house looks.

Finally, while I’m finding myself again this year, I’m going to continue to keep my family a priority. They are my life and mean more to me than anything else. I also realize that occasionally saying no and signing myself up for less is perfectly ok so I can give some time to myself.  I think that while reconnecting with myself and things that bring me joy, I’ll be more joyful around my husband and girls.  It just might make our happy family life much more peaceful and happier.

I can’t wait to find me again this year.

Today’s Inspiration: Graves’ Disease

Five years ago, I had a day where I noticed things were off.

After my twin girls were born, I made a commitment to myself to get fit. I started Weight Watchers, and I began going to the gym five or six days a week to run or take strength or cycle classes. By the time the girls were two, I was in pretty good shape and was eating healthier than I ever had. I felt great.

Then that day came. I don’t know why I remember it, because what I felt was nothing overly significant, just different. I went to a cycle class that morning. I was fine as the instructor started her routine, but after the first few minutes, my arms started aching badly and I could barely hold the handlebars of the bike. My arms felt really weak–and I hadn’t done any recent exercises that would’ve caused the weakness. I had been sick with bronchitis a few weeks before, so I chalked it up to that and didn’t think much more about it as I left the class.

But then that evening, I noticed a fleshy lump along my ribs near my breast. Again, I thought nothing of it. My ribs did ache, but again I figured it was due to the bronchitis episode a few weeks back.

The lump didn’t go away, so I called my gynecologist who decided it was most likely a swollen lymph node and needed checked right away.  A surgeon I met with believed it was probably nothing, but he went ahead and ordered a mammogram. Luckily all came back normal.

Then, that month, I started noticing other things and I became more worried that something was wrong. There were more lymph nodes (all were small) near my ears and in my neck. I lost seven or eight pounds in a couple of weeks without trying to. While I loved to work out before, I was finding myself too fatigued to. I was used to running a few miles a day.  Now when I got on the treadmill,  I couldn’t run a mile without needing to stop because I was so tired.

The list of symptoms went on: insomnia, awful anxiety (so much so, that I drove my family crazy with all my fears and constant worry), itchy skin, night sweats, and tremors. I called my family doctor, and he scheduled blood work. Again, all came back normal. I called my doctor every few days to find out what all my symptoms could mean (the anxiety kicking in)  and I was sure that something was dreadfully wrong. Because of all my concern over my symptoms,  my doctor referred me to a surgical oncologist. He, too, advised me that based on the ultrasounds and blood work he reviewed, everything seemed normal. I asked him why I was having all these symptoms. He didn’t have a good answer, and told me his only suggestion would be to see an infectious disease specialist.

I never did, and some of the symptoms disappeared within the next month or two. Then some would return, or new symptoms would appear. Rib pain was a big issue often, anxiety was always there, and insomnia wouldn’t go away. Joint pain was awful. I told myself that I still had toddlers that didn’t sleep well and that’s why I worried so much and couldn’t sleep at night. I decided all the joint pain was probably due to my weekly workouts at the gym.

Fast forward to last winter.  Exercise started becoming difficult. I would run a few miles with my sister each weekend, and suddenly I started having a difficult time keeping up with her on our runs. In addition I would have to stop every couple of miles and walk, something I never had to do in the past. Then the heart palpitations started. We were at home watching the Super Bowl, and my heart was fluttering so much and skipping beats that I thought I might have to visit the ER. I texted a doctor friend and asked her what to do. Since there was no pain with my symptoms, she suggested I call my doctor in the morning to schedule an appointment. During my visit, the doctor ran some tests that indicated my heart was fine. The doctor also ordered blood work to check on things. This time, he asked for more thyroid tests (TSH, T3 and T4).

I’m so glad he decided to check thyroid levels, because it showed that my numbers were off and I had hyperthyroidism. As we talked about symptoms, I realized that the past four years, I had been blaming my symptoms on other things.  Every symptom was most likely because of my thyroid problem. Finally, an answer! I was referred to an endocrinologist who ordered more tests, and those tests indicated Graves’ disease. This is the most common form of hyperthyroidism and an autoimmune disease. Thyroid conditions are also often hereditary, and I learned that while my grandmother was alive, she had also been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

I have been on medication for six months now, and I am finally starting to feel better. There are days where anxiety shows up, or my heart races.  Some days, I’m more irritable than I should be.  But it’s so much better than the past few years. Since the medication, I have no more joint pain, the rib pain has disappeared, and the itchy skin is gone.  Other symptoms seem to come and go, but are much more manageable than they had been.

It seemed to take forever to finally have a diagnosis. I’m glad that I finally do.  Now I know to slow down on days I don’t feel good, try to minimize stressful situations that can trigger Graves’ symptoms, and change my eating patterns (I’m now gluten-and-dairy-free) to help me feel better. I also know that I wasn’t imagining things when I felt so awful the past few years. I’m frustrated that I was not diagnosed with Graves’ for so many years, but I’m so grateful to finally have the knowledge that something was off with my thyroid so my numbers can get back into range and I can continue to get back to feeling better.