The bubble gum pink iridescent ribbons stick out of the overhead bin as if there is a tiny Disney princess taking a nap up there.
I stare at the delicate ribbons, the prized possession of a little girl from what was probably her first visit to the happiest place on earth.
I take a deep breath, a breath filled with the complicated gray of sadness and gratitude, as a tear makes its way down my face.
5 years ago, 3 years ago, hell just seven weeks ago those ribbons would have brought me to a different kind of cry.
This day, though, they are tears of trust, freedom, and appreciation of how life is, not how I try to will it to be.
Chad and I are on our flight home from Orlando as I write this. We just spent the last three days at Disney World and Universal surrounded by damsels, princes, and heroes. A vacation we purchased at the Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Angel Ball last year. And, a trip that also happened to fall during National Infertility Week because it’s timing with my best friend’s wedding in Florida was too good not to schedule together.
The Justine I was, post failed fertility treatments would have never been able to make this trip, she was too destroyed by bitter and anger, comparison and shame to go to the happiest place on earth filled with thousands of reminders of the life she would never have. It has not been until very recently that I have realized how much work I still had to do to truly thrive after infertility.
Instead, I was present this trip and allowed myself to experience things in a way I haven’t before. I didn’t overly judge any parents out of a broken and incomplete heart ravaged by our missing three or hold on to ignorant comments made by people who aren’t touched by the devastation of infertility. Being at Disney without children, trust me, were there comments.
I noticed the shift in my reaction after a comment at the end of our very first day at Disney. We sat our tired bodies on the hard comfort of the tram bench across from a couple and their devastated four year daughter who was hysterically shouting, “But I don’t want to leave yet!”
They tried to reason with her, assuring her they had a great dinner surprise for her for her birthday, undoubtedly dinner with a princess or Mickey himself. But, she would not take this peace offering and only shouted and cried louder, “But I don’t want to leave yet!”
This is when her dad noticed my “My 1st visit” button and said, “Enjoy this magical time, you know, before you come back here with kids.”
Chad and I simply smiled and I joked back, “You guys are such jerks making her leave the park for a birthday surprise.”
No need for my advocate heart to educate him that not everyone will get to bring their children to Disney, hell, some of us don’t get to have them at all, he is already down for the count as the biggest asshole parent ever, at least in the eyes of his devastated four year old.
The uneventfulness, infertility-wise, of our trip culminated on our last day at Universal. Our morning started as we walked past a “book shop” called Embryo Books Booksellers and Publishers. I looked at Chad, “Wonder if they would have given me a publishing contract?”
I snapped this picture feeling the tiniest of tugs in my heart as I allowed it to pass choosing instead sad and joy in the exact same moment because as uncomfortable as the complicated gray is, I am finding my wholehearted home in it.
We spent the day moving quickly through just about every ride line as we people watched and I stared in awe of the creativity that is Universal often exclaiming, “I mean the attention to detail, the creativity, it is so amazing!”
Line after line the Universal employee would ask, “How many?”
Nope, you can’t see my three.
Only I can feel them.
And, no less than ten times at Universal that day we were told to go to three.
Finally after the third time, Chad and I looked at one another, knowing this never was a coincidence, as if God was reminding us,
He’s got them, we will see them again and they will always be a part of you.
We are more than two.
The bitter, the anger and the pain-filled grief almost completely gone, which I’ll admit kind of scares me. Well, the shame and scarcity part of me, the part of me that can feel so invisible a lot of the time, saying, then they never mattered.
What I know now is that this is actually the exact opposite, they matter more than ever, just in a much different way than I’ve ever allowed them to and than society may ever, especially if I stopped doing this work.
I advocate for healthier messages in the infertility journey, even though at times it feels as if I am the only one saying them and that no one will ever listen.
I advocate for women like me who end this journey without children holding their hands, because I know I am not the only one, I get messages every single day from my fellow warriors.
I advocate for myself because this life, my story, is hard and beautiful…and incredible.
This is life, a complicated gray of struggle and triumph, a really freaking beautiful triumph if we do the work.
So I will write, I will speak and I will keep helping and creating because the shining of my own complicated gray triumph can push, walk alongside and guide you into your own.
My story is not tragic.
My story is not one to be pitied, and it does not lack hope because it didn’t turn out how I, and you and society, hoped, dreamed and planned.
I am not a victim.
My story is not one to be admired either.
I am not a hero.
My story is a rising a rising out of the ashes and into the awakened and colorful life of the complicated gray.
I am the author.
A couple hours into the flight and those bubble gum pink iridescent ribbons still flutter in the stale cabin
air of the plane, no one has rescued the princess and they don’t need to.
She has already rescued herself.
Justine Froelker, MEd, LPC