Lessons from a loser: 4 lessons I learnt from divorce

Man, I honestly don’t even know where to begin. I’ve got so much to talk about, but I also feel so fiercely protective of my life now. This ‘journey’ I have been on has taught me so much, but it’s also heightened my already Everest-level cynicisms about life, love, luck and loss.

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For any newbies to this half-abandoned archive of my PMS emotions, the story is pretty simple: my high-school sweetheart husband and I tried unsuccessfully for 8 years to make a family, attempting au naturel, IVF, and adoption. This deeply affected our marriage and my health, and culminated in said high school sweetheart lying, cheating scumbag having an affair with an 18 year old strumpet (who I had idiotically welcomed into my house and treated like a daughter). I was in hospital with deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism when I found this out, and subsequently, our 15 year long relationship came to an abrupt and fiery end.

I’ve now been divorced for over a year, and, while I grew up with divorced parents (and therefore thought I knew a thing or two about it), it turns out that there has been some pret-ty major lessons along the way. Some have been surprising refreshing, while others have felt like great and incomparable injustices.

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  1. Divorce time is D I V O R C E time

So you just heard your not-so-close friends Kim K and Kanye are getting a divorce?* Guess what – this most likely means that they are getting a divorce. The truth is, unless you are besties or family with a couple, by the time you find out about relationship problems it is probably unsalvageable. While miracles can and do happen, generally people take that D word super seriously. Marriage is a huge investment and a massive commitment, not many people throw it away lightly (*cough* Kim K *cough*).

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I can’t tell you the amount of people who contacted me once the news broke to plead/beg/pray/demand the restoration of my marriage. Not only was this highly hurtful and insulting as I had absolutely no way of restoring something my ex didn’t want, I obviously had tried with my heart and soul to ‘fix’ things before the horrible reality hit home – it was over and there was nothing I could do about it. By the time divorce news was out in the open, I was well into the long road of acceptance and recovery.

  1. Nobody cares

This was one of those refreshing realisations. When my marriage failed, I felt absolutely and utterly humiliated. I felt as though I had very publically declared to the world that I would stick by this guy until death, and yet, here I was, very, very publically failing at that. I felt disgraced – like my life had been a lie, and I now had to face the world with egg on my face. I felt like people were judging the kind of woman I was, the kind of wife I was, even the kind of human I was to ‘allow’ this to happen.

Thankfully my experience has been different from my diabolically low presumptions. People (well, the ones that matter at least) don’t actually give a damn D word about divorce. They care heaps and heaps about what is going on personally for you, but they, by-and-large, don’t view divorce in judgmental terms.

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  1. You lose, lose, lose, lose

This has been undoubtedly the hardest lesson. No matter whose fault it was, no matter who ended it – everybody loses.

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Of course I was always well aware that divorce would cost me my husband, my house, my lifestyle and half of all my things, but I never realised how much more you actually do lose. On top of the deep connection you have to your spouse and any material assets you have accumulated together, there are plenty of other unavoidable losses, for example:

a. Your legacy

One of the loveliest things about being in a partnership is the witness you bear to each other’s lives. Someone observes your successes and failures, they watch you grow and change, and can remind you of your achievements and goals. They can look back with you, knowing how hard you’ve worked to get where you are. This might not be relevant to everyone, but for me my ex-husband was there when I graduated high school, when I first went overseas, when I first moved out of home, when I graduated uni, when I underwent IVF, when I bought my first house, etc. I find it incredibly strange to enter a world where the people I date haven’t witnessed any of this journey.

b. Your future plans

Leading on from the previous thought, you also lose every notion you had of your future. Even though life (obviously) doesn’t go according to plan, people generally have an idea of what they are working towards. At the very least, I thought I knew where I would be living and who I would be married to. I now have a completely blank canvas, which is in some ways nice, but there is also a grief involved with closing the door on things long hoped and strived for.

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c. Friends

Yep, this one really sucks. In my experience this has been a gradual and prolonged loss. Many of my friends were really there for me when the shit hit the fan, but then slowly withered away as time went on. My understanding is that something like this is just very difficult for people to know how to navigate.

The ex and I spent most of our time with other couples, so to begin with there’s always that awks problem of feeling the need to ‘choose a side’. Then, there’s the relationship dynamics – two couples having dinner, going to the park, watching movies, etc. works really well. A couple with their distraught, single friend bitching and moaning on the couch isn’t an ideal Saturday night for anyone. The invitations dry up very quickly. And finally, some ‘friends’ simply can’t deal with the changes you go through during this hellish process. Thankfully, there are some absolute gemstones who have carried me and loved me throughout it all.

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d. Family

This one tears me in half. I come from a very small family – it’s really just my mum and I who live in the same state. So every year, for fifteen years, we joined together with my ex’s family to celebrate Christmases, Easters, birthdays, graduations, weddings blah blah blah.

And now there is nowhere to go.

For fifteen years I had a large, loud Italian support structure around me. For fifteen years I had in-laws and siblings and grandparents and cousins and aunties, and now they are largely inaccessible to me. Sure, I’m still loved and cared about deeply by them, but I can’t exactly show up at a family BBQ comfortably. This is a loss that seems enormously unfair, and I would be lying if I said I don’t spend a lot of time creepily watching families at the park wishing I had what they’re having.

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e. Innocence

By innocence I mean trust and optimism and faith and hope – God help any of my potential suitors. Being cheated on, and lied to, in such an extreme way, over such a prolonged period of time, has all but destroyed my trust and faith in the opposite sex. I am filled with anxiety and dread that it might happen to me again. And, it’s simply not something I feel that I could survive a second time. If the man in my life so much as goes into the bathroom with his phone, my stomach starts doing backflips – men are now presumed guilty until they prove and prove and prove themselves innocent. This is clearly not a good launchpad for healthy and successful relationships, but it is unfortunately a reality for me now which will take bucket loads of counselling and good fortune to correct.

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  1. You are stronger than you realise.

Obvs I would never recommend divorce to anyone, unless of course you have a penchant for being dragged arse-first through personal annihilation and then pushed unwillingly back into the same body to restart life all pessimistic, fearful, scared, empty and alone… but, having somehow made it out the other side, I can confirm that what doesn’t kill you does indeed make you stronger.

Last year I was in a place where I was sick, I was going through a divorce with 8 years of infertility pain under my belt, I had no job, I had no house and then my car decided to die as well. I had zero hope for the future. But somehow, piece by piece, the jigsaw of my life began to come together again. I just had to push through that most awful part. Life isn’t all sunshine and French bulldog puppies now, but it’s a life I have pushed hard for, and I’m thankful for that.

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Phew… that ended up being a lot longer than I expected! As I said, I’ve got heaps and heaps to share and this one has been bubbling away in my mind for ages. I wish that I could have made my first post back a little more upbeat and positive, but the nature of this blog is to say things as they are, and, believe it or not, divorce is pretty shitty. So, sorry for my absence and sorry for the downer deluge but I still love this site, and all the incredible support and stories I receive on here.

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*As far as I know Kim K and Kanye are doing juuuust fine.

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Accepting IVF

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It may sound crazy to the fertile ear, but deciding to start reproductive treatment was a massive decision for us. Our first IVF cycle was a full three years after we sat hand-in-hand on the couch and decided to try and bring new life into the world.

It seems almost crazy to look back on. If you get diagnosed with practically any other disease you just suck it up and start treatment. But, as usual, infertility seems to work differently.

Of course there were massive financial connotations, but that wasn’t the major thing that held us back – having a child was worth more than money could buy. No, deciding to start treatment meant conceding that something was very, very wrong. Beginning IVF meant swallowing the thought that we weren’t special enough for a random, unexpected miracle, unlike your cousin’s neighbour’s cat’s friend who fell pregnant despite all the odds.

There were also moral issues. We desperately wanted Egg and Sperm to work things out and meet somewhere in the middle, but what if we ended up with 10 embryos shivering in storage?

How could something so precious and longed for suddenly become disposable? We asked around. Some people told us that IVF was a sin; others suggested that it was forcing God’s hand to do something unnatural. Others were beautifully and wholeheartedly supportive.

We were young, conflicted, tired and broken.

The doctors laughed at us when we asked to attempt the more ‘ethical’ GIFT program. GIFT will never work for you, they sneered. I counted nine friends who were first time preggars around me. It all felt like a cruel joke.

Eventually we came to what we thought was an ethical compromise: we would just get a few embryos made up at the one time and freeze the rest of the eggs. It seemed perfect; eggs are disposable, embryos are not. We settled on the number 6 because it left room for a reasonable amount of failure, but also an adequate likelihood of success.

The doctors responded to us like we were mental patients (probably because they foresaw us throwing a lot of money down the drain) but they eventually obliged. One Doctor told us that she couldn’t tell us what our chances were because there were no statistics for couples under 25. Another remarked that our chance of naturally conceiving was so low Woman’s Day would publish a story about it. We got used to being the youngest people in the waiting room.

The decision to fertilise only 6 eggs – if 6 were even collected – seemed so wise at the time, but in hindsight it was yet another decision made with rose-coloured, youthful, ignorant optimism.

For our first cycle they suctioned a massive 19 eggs out of me, and while my friends enjoyed an Australia Day BBQ, I, at 23 years old, lay in bed with hyper stimulation fears and unbridled hope in my heart.

Today is not the day to go into the nitty gritty of what happened for us and why it didn’t work, today I just wanted to show that it’s often not as easy as ‘just go and do IVF.’

There are financial, moral and relational issues to work through. You have to decide whether your workplace will be understanding or not – I had to quit my job to start treatment. You have to work out who to tell and who not to. There are needles and prodding and, quite possibly, pessaries. Your inconsolable and erratic baby hormones are exacerbated a hundred- fold. Friends will tell you that they accidentally fell pregnant after – wait for it – having sex! Sex will become associated with failure. Doctors will treat you like incompetent cattle. You will have to get a police check and counselling to be allowed to do something that heroin addicts can do thoughtlessly.

But…You will survive. You will get through it. You will become stronger. You may even be rewarded with a miraculous gift. Countless women have gone before you and survived. You will too.

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Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

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In the UK this week it’s National Infertility Awareness Week (I think our one is in April), so I thought it would be a good time to continue ‘breaking the silence.’

In Australia, it’s estimated that one in six couples suffer from infertility, which is a heck-load when you think about it, yet no one really wants to talk about it. And trust me – I completely understand why. When you first decide you would like to bring a bundle of joy into the world you tend to keep it fairly private. You imagine breaking the news to your elated parents and friends, and there being hugs and kisses and joy and rainbows all round.

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Image courtesy of Giphy http://gph.is/XL2weq

If the people around you already know that you’re trying some of that magic will just disappear.

So what happens when it doesn’t happen? This is where it gets tricky. As you get slammed down each month (rather inhumanely by a Carrie-style blood bath) your anxiety and depression levels grow. I remember I spent our entire first year wedding anniversary sobbing. We had been trying for six months and I had hoped it would be a day to celebrate the new life our love had created. It wasn’t. It was a day where a new, unperceived darkening reality was beginning to envelop us.

There are so many misconceptions about infertility it’s hard to know where to start. The reality is if someone shares with you their struggle to conceive they have probably already been trying for quite some time, and they’ve probably read every solution Google has to offer.

While (most) people don’t have bad intentions – trust me, there are some that just love to stick the knife in – many of the things that people say reinforce messages of blame or shame back to the couple who are already heavy with feelings of failure.

I was planning on including a big list of all the comments I find hurtful but then I came across an article that did it a lot more sensitively than I ever could. The “Infertility Etiquette” guide on the National Infertility Association’s website is a really helpful tool if you are struggling to know how to respond to a friend’s infertility. It spells out what not to say, but also explains why not in great detail.

Believe it or not people do actually feel entitled to say things like: “Maybe you are just not meant to be parents” to which my response would be more likely to involve slapping the fertile, smugness off their self-righteous faces than the well-reasoned response given in the article, so I do really encourage reading it.

In the meantime I guess I’ll get back to “Just relaxing until it happens.”

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Image courtesy of Giphy http://giphy.com/gifs/AFjfPUJ0mjWJG/

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Reality Hits You Hard

Well after the last heavy post I thought it might be good to backtrack a bit and share a little snippet of our story. If you can’t be bothered reading you could just watch the clip from ‘Up’ which basically tells the first half of our story in heart-wrenchingly beautiful detail.

Mr. Lady Breaks (who coincidentally doesn’t exactly like being referred to as “Mr. Lady Breaks” because apparently it a) “sounds like he’s a lady-man”; and b) “sounds like he breaks ladies”) started dating me back in 1999. I was 14 and he had just turned 15. I’m not going to bore you with too many soppy recollections of high-school romance, but to say it felt like the most normal and natural thing in the world.

So we dated and dreamed about our future. There was going to be retro cars, murals on the walls, and two studios (one for music and the other for art, obviously). We would own a weatherboard cottage and a café and together we would change the world. We picked out songs for our wedding and names for our children. We couldn’t wait for our adult life to begin.

At my 16th Birthday in 2001

At my 16th Birthday in 2001

Needless to say, most of these things didn’t happen (well, my first car was a 1967 HR Holden but we – ironically – sold it to buy a “family car” when we started trying). We did get married, but finance and reality limited life and dreams – as it seems to do to everyone.

Man, I loved that car

Man, I loved that car

What was never expected though was infertility. We were young, really young, and healthy. In fact the doctors refused to even test us at first. Then, after eighteen months of trying, we were referred to reproductive specialists who told us that there would be a very long ladder of options available to us before we would need to consider something as serious as IVF. They were wrong. After the results came back it was clear that IVF would be our only option to ever conceive.

I realise at this point of the story it might be handy to say what the problem actually is, but I’m choosing not to. It’s not that it’s a closely guarded secret at all; it’s just that it doesn’t really matter. The thing about struggling with infertility as a couple is that you struggle as a couple. Infertility is a shared disease – if one person is diagnosed, both are diagnosed. Yes, one may be technically fully able to procreate, but, as we know, it takes two to tango. Also, there is a big, burdensome load of blame and inadequacy that comes with being The Infertile One (read: the reason behind all the pain and sadness), which I’m sure I will discuss some other day. So suffice it to say that “we are infertile.”

Anyway, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of deciding to do IVF today either, as it was quite a huge decision that took over us a year, but just know for now that we tried and failed. Of course it’s something that we could keep trying but for that damn ‘finance and reality’ thing again.

The thing I really wanted to share today was how brutally unfair the whole thing felt/ feels. Having grown up in a broken home, I really longed for that stable family unit. Part of the reason I loved Mr. Lady Breaks so much was that I knew he would make a great dad, and I doubted he would ever walk out on his children. I could give my children something I never had, and I could finally experience the much-lauded nuclear family thing. But, of course, life had other plans.

Mr. Lady Breaks (the name is sticking, so get over it) and my story isn’t over, but we just have no idea the direction it will go. We have come to so many closed doors and dead-ends after almost eight years of fighting and struggling that we hardly know how to dream anymore.

But the story isn’t over, and we have to keep dreaming. We need to fill our own Adventure Book (‘Up’ reference) and I love the fact that you are now along for the ride. Thank you.

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How Does it Feel?

I am so very hesitant to post this.

I’ve been weighing it up all weekend, trying to decide whether now is the right time or not. I think I’ve decided that there will never be a perfect time and I just have to trust that it reaches the right people.

Basically it’s something I angrily scrawled down late one night just before we started IVF. I want to be clear that time has softened the severity of pain I feel – yes, the pain still twinges and burns, but it is no longer agonising. I have had to learn to accept what has happened, and derive my happiness from other things. Some days I do better than others, but overall I am much, much, much happier.

When I read what I wrote five years ago, I almost can’t believe that it was me. There is so much resentment, pain, anger, disappointment and jealousy. It’s really not pretty! But I’m sharing something so personal and so raw in the hope that it helps articulate what failing to conceive for years feels like. Well, even more basic than that, I’m sharing what grieving can feel like.

It is my hope that this story is able to voice the pain that other couples are silently enduring right now.

It’s probably an uncomfortable read, especially if you’ve never seen this side of me before, and for that I apologise. Also, beware of the over-abundance of adjectives and melodrama; I was in the middle of a Literature degree at the time!

Ok – Brace yourselves!

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27th December 2008

IVF.  So this is how it begins.  We have spent the last three years trying to come to terms with the whole thing.  Infertility.  That dirty, rotten, seldom-spoken, sympathy-ridden, gut-wrenchingly painful word.  That word that consumes every breath, every thought, every growing belly, or rolling pram or playground or commercial or waking or sleeping.

Infertility.  It is the demon child that grows within you, but only grows and grows and threatens to burst you apart from the womb to the heart.  It is the devil inside that mocks, taunts, burns, throbs and feasts upon any moments of happiness.  And, as each month slithers past that beast takes even more of you, even though you were quite sure there is nothing – no dream, want, need, or yearning – that it hasn’t already devoured.  But, as surely as winter follows autumn, the pain can deepen.  Suddenly, sharply and with increasingly regular intensity, the infertility tumour within you bursts forth like a volcano, spitting and spewing hate and hurt into the faces of all those around you.  It takes all.  It destroys the truest parts of you.

But, most of all, that awful monster within scrapes.  Day and night.  Long lazy summer afternoons and bone-chilling mornings.  It writhes inside, grating its sharp yellowed claws along your insides.  Dragging itself down your spine then tearing back up through your stomach, trying to fight its way out of your barren cage.  But you know it can never be born.  No.  That gnawing pain, those tears that are only seconds from your eyes, they are yours alone to own, yours alone to carry.

How has three years passed?  Three Christmases, three Easters, six birthdays, countless dreams.

“Don’t worry- you can have mine!” Well-meaning, insensitive friends tease.  Or, “Are you sure you’re doing it right?”  Oh, for goodness sake, sometimes I just want to hit people. And for the countless people that find it fit to remind me that, “Once I’ve got them, I’ll long for the days without them” – Thanks – but I think I would sacrifice any asset, any career, perky breasts or quiet nights for a touch of flesh I’ve made, tiny fingers reaching for me, cries of trust and longing, need and urgency, a toothless smile and those chubby, ticklish thighs that are mine.  Mine.

But even as you think those greedy, guilty thoughts you can almost hear all those “real-life mothers” chuckling quietly with nostalgic sympathy for you.  If only she knew, they tut.  Those nappies, those screams, those rotten loud toys, the spoiled Pumpkin Patch jumpsuit that was just washed, those sexless screaming nights, every shopping trip, every girlfriend visit, every loss of liberty, every wanting hand, everything.  If only she knew.

And, yes I agree, if only I did.

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Phew! You made it through that roller-coaster of anguish! And so did I, thank God. And that’s what I really want to reiterate if you are grieving right now – you can make it through. I’m definitely not at the end of my journey yet, and I doubt I ever will be, but the intensity of the pain has decreased, and my strength has increased ten-fold.

Again, I thank you for being brave and open enough to walk alongside me and many other couples.
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Capture Your Grief

Day 22. Words.

Today things start to get a bit (more) personal. Below is an excerpt from journal entry from a 21 year old me – bursting with hope, faith, innocence, naivety and sickening youthful optimism.

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It reads:

12 June 2006

I would like this book to be my pregnancy journal. I’m actually not pregnant yet but I want to write down my feelings about having a baby. We have tried for 6 months to conceive and, although my baby doesn’t exist in the natural, I love him or her with all my being. Already I treasure my future children inside my soul and desperately long for their arrival. In fact thinking about them consumes me – I yearn to touch them, kiss them and watch them grow… I am satisfied yet impatient in the knowledge that the Lord is slowly, steadily crafting these perfect angels in his mind and I am eager and terrified of the fact that one day he will entrust them to me. I hope I do a good job.

Of course the rest of the journal remains unused and blank, but I’m determined that my life doesn’t.

‘Capture your grief’ is a great initiative by Carly Marie Project Heal. It is a daily photographic challenge for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month designed to explore grief and raise awareness around baby loss. The theme for October 22 is words, which is kind of perfect for me.

Except… I’m not sure if I really belong there. I’m not sure if my grief could ever compare to holding your stillborn child. In fact I know it can’t.

And while it’s never helpful comparing grief with grief, I have a constant feeling of exclusion from nearly everyone. I don’t fit in either box – I’ve never been a mother, but I’ve fought for my child for the longest time.

Yes, I know the feeling of longing desire for a child probably better than many, but I don’t know the feeling of absolute need for that particular child, the one who was gone too soon.

I have seen my perfect four-cell embryos created outside my body flickering on a screen filled with life and potential, but I don’t know the elation of a positive pregnancy test. I don’t know the slamming pain of miscarriage, but I know the drowning quicksand of constant failure and hopelessness.

And I think that’s the problem with infertility, you’re always in the middle somewhere, stuck in some vast, heavy no-mans land.

You are constantly grieving and constantly hoping, yet there is nothing solid to grieve or hope for. It’s a tug-of-war between two maybes – maybe you will be a mother one day, and maybe you won’t. You are pulled along, year after year, tirelessly chasing a dangling carrot that you just can’t catch. It’s exhausting and debilitating.

So how can you grieve for something that may not be lost? For me, it’s about acknowledging that some dreams are over and grieving that. The dream of being a mum in my early twenties, the dream of having babies alongside my best friends, the dream of natural conception.

But when, if ever, should you grieve the entire fruitless dream? ‘Never’ is too unrealistic and discounts the constant suffering, but ‘now’ is too pessimistic. My only answer at this stage is to somehow have other dreams as well, something else to cling to and strive for through the path strewn with landmines of failure.

Lady Breaks is what I’m clinging to at the moment, it’s helping me ‘Capture my Grief’ by being honest and vulnerable with it. It sucks and it’s nasty and uncomfortable but it’s also real and a very big part of me. ‘Capturing’ it means making it visible and accessible to others, hopefully giving a voice to other people’s pain.

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Welcome to Lady Breaks!

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Lady Breaks is something that I have wanted to do for a really long time, and for so many reasons.

While I’ve often been paralysed by the thought of joining the never-ending league of Millennials who have begun narcissistic blogs about their super-interesting or struggle-town lives, I’ve decided that maybe my journey can help someone out there.

Somewhat inspired by Nick Vujicic’s TEDx talk, and the incredible woman behind Pharaoh’s Page, I am deciding that through my struggle and suffering, perhaps I can offer someone else hope.

Over the years I have received a number of private messages from courageous friends in the throes of infertility, loss, IVF, depression and so on. It is my guess that for every brave person who is able to reach out for help, there must be many that can’t. I also guess that there are many people who may have never been personally affected by these topics but would love to know more. I want to bridge that silence.

You may or may not know this but October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and November is Adoption Awareness Month. I wanted the release of Lady Breaks to hinge on these two powerful initiatives aimed at breaking down the barriers and stigma surrounding baby loss and adoption.

Finally, Lady Breaks does confront some hard and deeply personal struggles, but it is not about creating a sad-and-sorry-sob-fest. It’s about realistically sharing what it means to crawl through the darkest valleys, and if it’s possible to find hope and meaning there.