Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Define Your Own Happy Ending

Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Define Your Own Happy Ending

by Justine Brooks Froelker


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“When are you having kids?”

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

These innocent, well-meaning questions everyone asks couples, especially women of a certain age. To those 1 in 8 couples who undergo infertility treatments, these questions do not feel at all innocent or well-meaning, but invalidating to the battle they’re fighting and the difficulty and pain involved in the adoption process.

"Ever Upward" is Justine Froelker’s surprising story of triumph over terrible luck. This is the story of how Justine redefined her childless life and learned to be okay, whole and happy with a full childfree life. "Ever Upward" is a story that resonates with many: a story of pain, struggle, recovery, triumph and acceptance. Ever Upward fills the current gap on the infertility bookshelf, providing a voice to those silenced by infertility, opening the conversation to the other side asking for understanding and acceptance of the path that sadly doesn’t include children; challenging us all to consider more than one happy ending.

"Ever Upward" is Justine’s story, and yet it is every woman’s story, mother or not, because behind the wall of shamed silence, the smile and “I can do everything” attitude lies millions of women suffering with the pain of infertility. Join Justine as she shows us that the connection to our stories is the only way back to the truth of who we are.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781630473488
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Justine Froelker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown) with a private practice in St. Louis, Missouri.She is the author of her blog, Ever Upward, and an infertility advocate for breaking the shamed silence of infertility and fighting to recover thereafter. She also writes for St. Louis Health & Wellness magazine and appears regularly on the mid-day television show Great Day St. Louis.

Read an Excerpt

I’ve spent most of my teenage and adult life convincing myself that I didn’t want to be a mother. Rather than admit the hurt and loss of not being able to physically carry my own child, I emphatically said out loud that I didn’t want kids. As you may have guessed, that was never met with warm and fuzzy opinions from anyone.

“You have to have kids!”

“But, you’re so good with kids!”

“Oh, you’ll change your mind!”

As a therapist, I know now it was all a ruse, a defense mechanism my subconscious had developed to protect me from the heartache of accepting that having children, the traditional way, just wasn’t a possibility for me. Due to medical complications from high school, I knew that carrying a pregnancy was simply not something many doctors would recommend, or a risk I was willing to take. Chad and I got married, him being fully aware that children were probably not in the future for us. However, as he would later admit, he always knew we would figure out a way.
For the most part, people were right: I did change my mind. I can’t tell you when or how, but just that something grew inside of me. The desire to have our own children, to see which characteristics they would get from Chad or I, my red hair and freckles or his height, my love for dance or his decathlete athletic ability, my vivacious laugh or his kind smile? The desire to set out on the hardest journey on earth with the best partner in the world. To build our family. But I knew that I could never go through a pregnancy, the risks were just too great.

While my (and Chad’s) dreams of a child were growing, surrogacy was beginning to get more and more press. Celebrities were publicly sharing their story of using a surrogate to achieve pregnancy, and my world opened up. Frankly, the entire world opened up, especially through some of the surrogate message boards and blogs. Placing a simple ad on a surrogate message board, for some advice and direction on gestational surrogacy was our first step in building our family, our destined family. Little did we know our destined family didn’t even include our baby.

I was overwhelmed by the immediate outpouring of love and bravery. The responses from women came in very quickly. So many women reached out just to offer words of wisdom and advice. I was completely unaware of the vast community available to those going through infertility treatments. I received several emails every day those first couple of weeks. Emails came in from women just offering support. Some offered advice, and some offered their uteruses. I was amazed at how quickly I knew that certain women just were not a good fit for us. With some women I knew right way, such as the women who had just finished a journey with another couple (sometimes their second or third journey) and were ready to start again. I knew I wanted more from my surrogate than a quick and easy business deal. I wanted her to be more than just my internet oven. It was also easy to know when we were just too different. I trusted my instincts when our answers to the difficult questions didn’t match up or our personalities were just too different to get through a year without further trauma.

The messages back and forth with women fell within the trusting space of true authentic vulnerability. You had to lay everything on the line. What do you believe in? What do you want? No reasons necessary and no apologies. Why are you doing this? Do you believe in selective reduction? What is your opinion and willingness on transferring multiple embryos? How much compensation do you want for bed rest? What kind of relationship with the surrogate family do you want after the baby is born? What about termination for special needs? All difficult questions and not ones you tend to open with upon meeting someone for the first time. I was grateful for the anonymous bravery that comes in the online world.

In February 2011, Michelle answered our ad, our prayers, our spirit and our love. She came out of nowhere, and yet from the very beginning I knew we were meant to be in each other’s lives. Michelle and I built our friendship quickly through all of those difficult questions. We talked online for a couple of months before exchanging phone numbers and texting and talking. We finally got the courage to meet in person that August. Chad and I drove to Indianapolis to meet our potential surrogate and her husband. I will never forget how nervous I was. What if they weren’t cool? Or funny? Or even nice? Or, what if I totally misread her intentions in doing this and feel like I can’t really trust her? What if she changes her mind right then and there after meeting us and doesn’t want to do this? What if they think we would be terrible parents?

We met Michelle and Ben at their favorite restaurant in their quaint town, quite possibly the cutest town in America, Gilmore Girls cute. It was awkward, really awkward, but for maybe 15 seconds. We ate, we drank wine, we laughed and we just put everything on the table. It fit, we fit; we were supposed to meet these people. In many ways it was like meeting my soul’s match, there sitting across the table was my soul sister. The weekend ended in hilarity and a story that will go down in our history of our lifelong friendship and chosen family. A high school reunion, too much wine, amazing laughs and the first realization that Michelle and I are more alike than different, our hearts being more similar than just our physical red hair; it was the first of many memories of our new chosen family.

The next step before moving forward with the drugs and procedures was to meet Ben and Michelle’s children. We discovered the tiny town of Effingham, Illinois, directly in the middle between Saint Louis and Indianapolis with a clean and cheap hotel with a pool for the kids to swim. It was a cold, dreary day in the fall. I remember because the kids walked Maddie and Bosco (our dogs at that time) and you can see Nathan and Lyla’s (and Maddie’s) hair blowing in the wind in one of my favorite pictures from our journey.

We ate some of the best pizza we’ve ever eaten before, swam, laughed and further solidified our chosen family in the little town of Effingham, IL, most infamous for the giant white cross off the highway. Michelle let us know that Nathan had an idea of who we were, but Nathan had never said anything in front of us. As for Lyla, we just became part of her extended family; little did we know she had already formed a soul mate like connection of her own with our Yorkie-poo, Maddie.

The toughest part of my friendship with Michelle was during the contract process. At the end of the day, gestational surrogacy is a business deal, not a friendship or family matter. Going back and forth with the lawyers, and not really talking much, took a toll on our friendship. The contract negotiations were difficult considering we were in different states, which therefore meant different surrogacy laws. It was confusing in the least, but also very anxiety provoking. You are paying someone to carry your baby and give birth. It is business, with a lot of money involved, but we also loved and respected these people. Chad looked at me one night and said, “I think we have to prepare that they aren’t ready for this. You have to call her.” I called Michelle, with my heart pounding out of my chest and a huge lump in my throat, to ask what could have been the question to end it all, “Are you sure you are ready for this and want to do this?” We had gone back and forth so many times, and gone over our attorney retainers more than once. It was one of the first times that I simply put everything on the table, even though it would have been much easier to avoid or minimize. I was scared to death that her answer might be no, that she’d changed her mind. We both cried and realized we were feeling the exact same way: torn, confused, uncomfortable and just wanting to skip over this mandatory part of the process. This is a business deal, as our husbands kept reminding us, but it was so much more. We were friends, we had started to become family, and we were both just scared shitless. It was during the contract negotiations that I felt the fear of losing them forever for the first time. What if this doesn’t work out? I was scared to death of having to start over with a new surrogate. To go through the difficult questions again and find someone who believed in and would honor our wishes, felt so daunting. But this was not my greatest fear in the slightest. I was scared most of losing my chosen family forever.

Finally, we were ready for what would be the first round of our In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) adventure. IVF protocol may look different for every woman. It was medically recommended I do mini-IVF due to my medical history. Mini-IVF includes a ten-day medication protocol, as opposed to the traditional thirty days. I was started on Clomid, an oral fertility medication, often used as the first step on the traditional infertility journey for most women. During the first part of the round, I would go to the hospital for blood work. A few days into the round, I began injecting Follistim into my abdomen every other day (pending test results). Follistim is a hormone that regulates ovulation and the growth and development of eggs. I would report to the hospital at least every other day (again, pending test results) for blood work and a vaginal ultrasound. The blood work measured my blood levels to ensure that I would not ovulate too soon before the egg retrieval. The vaginal ultrasound monitored the follicles: how many were developing and how big they were getting. It was always a fine balance between allowing them to mature, but not let them get too mature. Once things were looking good, meaning the follicles were of a certain size and maturity, I started Lupron (a medication used in IVF protocol to recruit and develop follicles) injections, also in the abdomen, and the egg retrieval was scheduled a couple of days later.

My stimulation did not ever go as planned or according to the original timeline. My egg retrieval was moved up due to hyperstimulation, my body responding too well to the drugs. Upon the day of egg retrieval, we reported to the hospital very early for Chad to give his semen sample (in a cold stark room, without internet access, at 5:30am is nothing short of asking a man for a miracle). I was then started on light IV anesthetics. I was unconscious during the egg retrieval itself, which lasted about thirty minutes. During the egg retrieval, doctors used a vaginal ultrasound and needle to drain each follicle, hoping for an egg that could then be extracted. The viable eggs were sent to the lab to meet up with Chad’s sperm. They had dirty martinis, made small talk, and united in the hopes than one would form a healthy embryo, which would then be frozen five days later.

Michelle began her medication once the healthy embryos were frozen. Michelle’s protocol was much longer than my ten days; the goal of my protocol was to stimulate the eggs and time ovulation with the retrieval, her protocol’s goal was to get her uterine lining nice and thick, and ready to accept our embryos. Michelle was also on Lupron injections, along with Estrodial pills and patches; basically, a lot of estrogen storming her system at once. She then started the progesterone injections a few days prior to the embryo transfers. Progesterone injections are not easy; big needles and the medication is actually administered within a thick oil. They are painful injections in the butt. She would also get ultrasounds to check how well her uterine lining was thickening up.

Both Michelle and I had had minimal side effects and frustrations during this round of IVF. We talked often about our anxieties and excitements and planned for Ben and Michelle’s trip to Saint Louis for the transfer. I was very uncomfortable during my minimal stimulation IVF protocol due to medical complications with my back. I lived in sundresses because my abdomen had become so swollen with growing follicles, putting more and more pressure on my lower back. This round for retrieval was pretty standard, although it was unpredictable that I responded so well to the drugs and came close to being hyperstimulated. Hyperstimulation is when the ovaries become overly swollen and sore and the increased estrogen and progesterone levels can create bloating and digestion difficulties. When you read the message boards and get the numbers and statistic low downs from the clinics, you realize how unsuccessful IVF really can be. You continue to feel hopeful and excited but nervous and scared…and angry, cynical, etc. all at the same time, but to be in the hell of IVF and get the numbers yourself, is something none of the message boards or the doctors can prepare you for. I had fifteen follicles develop, the doctors retrieved seven eggs, two of which were not viable and of the remaining five, only two grew into healthy embryos, which were then frozen while Michelle started her medication back in Indianapolis. Our clinic recommended that we transfer both embryos, especially since we had planned for this to be our only round. Chad and I, Ben and Michelle all agreed.
In December, Ben and Michelle left Nathan and Lyla with friends and family and came to Saint Louis for the transfer. It was a quick trip, but one that felt right all the way around. We continued to bond with one another, and again realized how similar Michelle and I are. We both have red hair, we both love dancing, we both have the same sense of humor, and we both put others ahead of ourselves and tend to be overly sensitive. But it was also the weird and quirky parts of our personality that were eerily similar, silly things like how we both eat the bottom half of cupcakes and the chocolate sides off of candy bars first.
Her numbers looked good. Her uterine lining was nice and thick and the transfer went very well. Michelle let me be present in the operating room during the transfer. I would have never guessed that just thirty seconds of my life could mean so much. Looking into Michelle’s eyes, both of ours full of tears of joy and sheer terror, I knew with all my heart that I was supposed to have her in my life forever. It was like looking in the mirror, but also like looking at the reflection of who you know you are meant to be all at the same time. This was going to work! We were all going to live happily ever after, just like all the IVF clinics promise.

After the transfer, we went back to our house and vegged out the rest of the day. We hoped and prayed that the next two weeks would pass quickly. We also hoped Bosco, our rescue Chihuahua, knew something we didn’t. Bosco didn’t leave Michelle’s side the day of the transfer, almost as if he had a sense that something very important was happening. Looking for hopeful confirmation, we had faith that his keen sense with children and babies was spot on.

There are a lot of things the IVF clinics don’t tell you before the journey or throughout. The first is how difficult that two-week wait is, especially in the situation of surrogacy. The two-week wait is the time between the day of the embryo transfer and the first pregnancy blood test. During this time, Michelle and I stumbled to find our balance of not talking too much or in too much detail about everything little thing she felt. It was torture! Our two-week wait also happened to fall right over the Christmas holiday. Since we had been so open with our friends and family about our journey, we were able to go home and share with them our amazing story thus far. We also had pictures of the embryos to show off. They looked so strong and healthy in the picture, everyone was sure it had worked. We had already been through so much. . .we knew we deserved this. Our two-week wait ended on December 28, 2011, when we got the phone call that stopped our world.

Table of Contents

Why Ever Upward?

Chapter 1 ~ Conceiving Our Chosen Family

Chapter 2 ~ Setting a Surgical Foundation

Chapter 3 ~ Owning Adoption

Chapter 4 ~ Choosing Change

Chapter 5 ~ Evolving Relationships

Chapter 6 ~ Reigniting the Spark

Chapter 7 ~ Building Our Family Home

vChapter 8 ~ Emerging to Own Myself


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