Empathy Fatigue

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I’d like to talk about empathy for a minute.  Or more specifically, empathy burnout.  With so many headlines invading our news feeds about injured, suffering, and dying children it is easy to get fatigued.  Personally, this last week has left me exhausted.  In fact, the last year or so has overflowed my empathy tank.  I can hear the cries of children missing their moms and I can feel the wail of a mom missing her baby.  It can be overwhelming, especially to those who have lost a child, to read about another shooting or death of a child.  Because you know that in a few hours another mom and dad will answer the phone to have their heart shattered.  You’ve answered that call.  And you know their hearts, like yours, will forever be broken.

So what do we do?  Do we turn it all off and just go search recipes on Pinterest?  Honestly, I think it is ok if we all take a little retreat now and then.  I definitely need to limit my intake to protect my fragile heart.  I think we can all retreat for a moment to take care of our families and take care of ourselves.  If you’re a parent, focus on raising kind, loving, emphatic and compassionate children so they can help make a difference in this broken world.

And when you’re ready, come back to the fight.  Even if that just means showing the world that broken is still beautiful.  That shattered hearts still have value.  And that love still wins.


59Four years ago we anxiously awaited the moment our baby girl would arrive.  I think back to the operating room.  Saying it was surreal does not do it justice.  Before that moment, I never even entertained the idea that I’d have a C-section.  Maybe that kept me from being scared while it happened (actually, I’ll admit that the anesthesiologist hovering over me the entire time was a little nerve-wracking!)   My focus was on our little girl, though.  Would she live through the surgery?  Would she live long enough for me to hold her and to tell her how much I loved her?

She did.

I was blessed with a beautiful little soul that day four years ago.  And today was for celebrating that precious life.  Today we celebrated the sweet little coo she’d make when content, the way she’d scrunch her forehead when upset or curious, and the little clenched fist that she’d throw in the air when hungry. We remembered the way she smelled after a bath and the way her hair would get so fluffy.  We looked back on the quiet moments, nestled in our chair with her kitty at my feet.  We celebrated everything that made us a normal little family for as long as we could be.

I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday today, my sweet girl.   I wish I could wrap my arms around you and smother you with birthday kisses.  I love you.9



Earlier this week, we said goodbye to my constant companion of more than 13 years and the kitty I referred to as “Zoey’s kitty”.  Our little Cece had kidney disease and she fought it off many times, but couldn’t fight it anymore. I’ll admit, this one was really, really hard.  I hate losing my pets, but Cece was a special figure in our lives.  We first met her at my friend’s house when a police officer (our friend was an officer as well) stopped by with this tiny little kitten he’d found in the road.  And we were all instantly in love. I asked to take her, but had to leave her with my friend overnight.  The next day, my friend cried as she handed the little kitten over to Joe who was going to keep an eye on her until I got off work.  Later that day, Joe calls me to “come and get the cat”.  I was afraid she’d made a huge mess at his house—then again I wondered how much a tiny little kitten could do in just a few hours?  I arrived to find her tucked under his chin—asleep.  It’s where she’d been for hours and he felt too guilty to move her so he’d also been stuck on the couch.  Cece was definitely a lap cat.  She was always on my lap on the couch, she slept on top of me.  And she followed me from room to room—even in the middle of the night when I’d get up to go to the bathroom.  She’d get up, jump from the bed, follow me to the bathroom and expect a drink from the faucet.  I was nervous about the cats when we had Zoey—would they like her?  Would they hate her?  Most of them were unimpressed.  They just avoided her.  But not Cece.  If Zoey was somewhere, Cece was likely to be nearby.  She seemed to seek out time with her as well.  She joined us for naptime, playtime and bathtime!

My mind cannot detach the experience of losing her and losing Zoey.  Before leaving our house for the vet, I searched for a picture of Zoey and Cece together. I’m not sure why I so badly wanted it with me, but I did.  I found one of the two of them and my mom together. As I was sitting there, holding Cece, the vet tech asked me if I wanted me to put her name on the box with her ashes and asked how we’d like it spelled. I almost started to spell Zoey.  They asked if I wanted to be with her.  And I almost said “well of course. I held my daughter as she died.  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” After she passed, the vet left the room to give us some time with her, but I began to panic. I just couldn’t hold her as her body grew cold and stiff.  I held Zoey like that.  I couldn’t go back to that place.

Cece was very well loved and a wonderful addition to our family.  She brought me great comfort and really wonderful “cozy time”.  She helped me through the most difficult time in my life.  My little cat, Finn, runs away anytime someone in the house cries (which happens more than you’d like to think), but Cece never did.  My sobbing, rattling body never bothered her.  She’d stay in my lap though it all.  Losing pets is always difficult. I won’t begin to compare it to the loss of a child—it is not even close.  But they do have a special place in our lives.  Losing them sucks, but I don’t want to give up the time I have with them.  I will miss her terribly and hope she’s cuddling with Zoey again.


Chaos and Hope

Every October since Zoey died, I have taken part in the Capture Your Grief project.  That is until this year.  This year I just never could find the time, space or words.  It’s been a bit hectic since I last wrote.  We’ve started the adoption process.  And with it the mounds of paperwork.  It is a bit overwhelming and I wonder how we’ll ever get through all of the steps.  I need to keep reminding myself that it is one day at a time.  One form at a time.  One online learning module.  I feel like I’m back in college, but this time I’m writing essays about myself and asking for letters of reference regarding my ability to parent rather than my ability to hold a job!  But with the chaos comes the hope.  Hope that we will once again get to parent a living child.

Next month we will invite a stranger into our home, allow her to wander through our house checking for smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.  She’ll look into our cabinets and make sure our medications are safely out of reach of children.  And she’ll open the door to Zoey’s room.  A room that has been empty for more than three years now, but remains as it was the day she died.   We have another spare room in our house so we could use that for another child.  But that just doesn’t feel right.  Zoey’s room feels right.  Allowing the sun to shine through the blinds once again.  Swaying under the ceiling fan where my mom attached a homemade mobile.  Pulling a book from the shelf of stories our family and friends sent to her.  Breathing new life into the space.  That room is where I felt Zoey belonged.  And it’s where I believe another child can make new memories while still feeling her presence. I am not trying to replace my daughter.  But Joe and I know there is more love to give.

My most recent story for Still Standing was just published. You can find it here: http://stillstandingmag.com/2017/11/body-betrayal/



Embryo #3

anchor-2409278_640The last time I was here, we’d just found out that the first embryo transfer failed.  We had one frozen embryo left to try.  After giving it some thought, we went ahead and transferred the 3rd embryo in early August.

And then we waited.  Held our breath.  Tried not to hope too hard.

But you can’t help yourself sometimes, can you?  I started imagining life with a baby again.  A boy this time.  And I wondered if he’d have my eyes.  And how cute he’d look in that little outfit at Target.  I thought about how I’d tell my husband that he’s going to be a dad again– this time to a son.  My mind wandered and I begin to dream despite my best efforts to avoid those possibilities.

But then the phone rang.  And I knew as soon as I answered.  I kind of knew all along. Because not everything is puppies and rainbows.

The second transfer– the one with the only remaining embryo– failed.

I’m not ready to give up on having another child.  But I’m ready to have my  body back. I’m tired of feeling like a science experiment. I’m tired of the poking, prodding and drugs. I’m tired of the mood swings and irrationality.  I’m tired of a group of doctor’s sitting around a table talking about me.  I’m tired of statistics. I’m tired of failing.

I’m ready to move to the next path.  To at least explore what other options are available to us.  I don’t know where it will take us.  We’ll just have to keep hiking as we have through all of this.

**I am now a contributor for Still Standing magazine.  It’s an online source for families dealing with child loss and infertility.  Some of my blog posts will appear there instead of here, but I’ll try to remember to post them here as well.  As always, thank you for allowing me to share our journey with you.  My first was in July.  Here’s the link**




I wonder how often your heart can be broken before you’re no longer able to piece it back together.

I wonder how many times you can open yourself to possibility only to be disappointed before you give up.

I wonder when you’ve laid on your bathroom floor sobbing too often to find the strength to shuffle to the couch instead.

I wonder how angry you can get before punching the wall or running through the baby isle at Walgreens throwing the diapers at other customers.

And I wonder how many times a 30 second phone call can completely wreck you before you stop answering.

The hope I try so hard to grasp to has once again been ripped away. And the weight of all the frustration, disappointment, pain, and failure are crushing me today.

I knew this was a possibility.  I’m a realist. I knew the statistics.  I knew our odds.  I thought I was prepared to hear the news.  I wasn’t.  You can’t adequately prepare yourself for hope being snatched away again.

I don’t understand any of it.  Why we seem destined for heartache. Why others get to raise their kids and mine die.  Why I give myself to hope only to be met with heartbreak.

The world is not fair. I know that. But I’m tired.  I’m mad at everything. God. The universe. Mother nature. The doctors. Myself.  No amount of praying, believing, wishing or hoping makes any difference.  My daughter still died.  The embryos still died.  Possibility still died.

I know we have one more frozen one. But today I can’t even go there.  I am devastated and can’t imagine walking this path again. Maybe time will soften the blow.  But right now, I am not interested in spending any more weeks dreaming only to have hope shattered.

Please don’t get me started on prayer, God’s will or whatever platitudes people throw your way while you’re grieving.  I’m not interested.  Not today.

Maybe I will be less angry tomorrow.  Maybe I won’t. Because again, I don’t know how much you can take before you can’t take it any longer.  Today my spirit and my hope are broken.


PC Load Letter

Has anyone seen “Office Space”?  In the movie, the main set of characters have an ongoing battle with a printer.  They are often heard screaming obscenities at it: “PC load letter.  What the $uck does that mean?”  That was my basic reaction to the embryo transfer on Friday.


I’ve really tried to keep a realistic outlook on the chances of IVF working for us.  Joe and I have been waiting at each step for the bad news.  Because that’s what we’re used to.  We are used to the “other shoe dropping”.   Surprisingly, everything had been going very smoothly.  The medications did what they were supposed to do and they were able to retrieve multiple eggs.  Many fertilized.  We had three genetically healthy embryos.  This round of medications was also going well.  The uterine lining looked good. I went in on Friday actually feeling pretty positive.  And then the doctor came in with a piece of paper.  Photos of our embryos.  The ones that had previously been described as “beautiful”.  The ones that were healthy.  The ones that survived the thaw.  The ones that held our last chance at having another daughter.  But these photos showed that the embryos had degenerated since thawing.  And while I cried while sitting there in that ridiculous hospital gown, what I really wanted to scream was “Degenerated? What the $uck does that mean?”  But I didn’t.  My mind was reeling.  Overwhelmed. Shocked. Unable to fully comprehend what the doctor was telling us.  He said we should still go ahead and transfer them and see what happens.  I heard that our chances of this working took a nosedive.


So we proceeded.  The procedure itself is fairly quick but really uncomfortable.  Anyone who has been on a road trip with me will understand why drinking a ton of water and then the appointment running late is a bad combination.  We watched the ultrasound as the embryos were transferred.  I have a photo of that too, but quite honestly I have no idea what I’m looking at.

Once it was over, Joe and I headed to Echo Bluff State Park.  We thought it might be good to just be away, relax and to spend some time in nature.  On the way there, I reached in my purse and found the photos.  And I started to cry again.  These grainy images are the first photos of what could potentially be our child.  But all I knew about them is that they were degenerated by about 15%.  My best google research didn’t even really tell me what that means.  Does it mean that they wouldn’t have even bothered with them if they’d looked like this before freezing?  Does it mean that they transferred them just because they didn’t want to steal our hope from us right there in that sad little hospital room?  Does it mean I’ve really pissed off the universe somewhere along the line?  I know that the hope I woke up with on Friday was shattered by evening.  I tried to maintain a thread of it over the weekend… a little frayed thread.  I told Joe that I felt like I was already moving into anticipatory grief—the same type I became all too familiar with before Zoey died.  I try to be positive. I swear I do.  But you can only be punched in the gut so many times before you just start to expect it.

I called my doctor’s office this morning, and while I still haven’t spoken to my usual doctor I did get to speak to another one.  She was very encouraging.  She said they give you that information in an effort to be fully transparent.  They obviously don’t want the embryos to look like they’ve had degeneration, but they’ve had perfect looking embryos fail to implant or develop and they’ve had degenerated ones go on to produce healthy babies.  If they embryos had degenerated over 50% they would not have transferred them, but since ours were only degenerated 15% , the doctor felt they were worth having a chance.  Hope remains.

So two my two little embryos… I know you’re just a cluster of cells right now. I know you were created in a lab and a petri dish.  But don’t for one minute ever think that love was not involved. I would argue the exact opposite.  Going through all of this requires great love. And I already love the idea of you.  I already love the potential of you.  I already love the possibility. So just stick in there little embryos and I hope I get to meet you soon!

Echo Bluff State Park is on the site of the former Camp Zoe, a summer camp for kids from the city. It was open from 1929-1986.  Although I would argue that the name is misspelled.


Beautiful Little Miracles

If you see me this week and ask me how I’m doing, I will likely reply “fine”.  But the truth is—I’m not really sure how I am!  I’ve struggled to find words recently—words for what the past few weeks have looked like and how I’m feeling about our impending embryo transfer.  My mind has been a rambling, meandering cluster.  I’m disjointed and exhausted.  So if you ask me, and I say “fine” what I really mean is “Tired.  Scared. Nervous. Anxious.  And hopeful”.

I’ve definitely been beating myself up throughout this IVF process.  While I’ve never really had great self-esteem to begin with, it’s taken another hit. I had all of these great intentions to eat better, lose weight, and be in the best shape I could for this moment—our last hope.  But I feel like I’ve failed.  I’m still overweight.  I still eat too much ice cream.  I feel like this almost 40 year old body is just too old for this.  Are we crazy for trying to have another baby?  Is my body trying to tell me to knock it off?  If it doesn’t work, will I blame myself?

Once again I am searching for that inner place where I can be proud of how strong my body is and how it will carry me forward no matter what struggles I face.  It’s taking another beating now with estrogen and progesterone shots.  I gave myself two shots in the thigh this weekend, bled and am sore, but I still went to spinning this morning.  I’m choosing to keep moving even though it’s hard. I need to focus on those moments more often.

The truth is, I don’t even think I’m the most beautiful back in the days when I was in the best shape.  I’m most beautiful holding my newborn daughter—where she could hear my heart beating. The heart that’s strong enough to keep beating even after hers stopped.

I just spoke with my doctor’s office to confirm which embryos we want them to thaw before Friday. Life is crazy.  I know I’m strong enough to get through this.  And I’m counting on this body to stick it out and hopefully carry another beautiful little miracle.


As I was on my way to acupuncture today (something I’m doing in hopes of preparing my body for the transfer), one of the songs that reminds me of Zoey came on the radio.  And I began to cry.  I was thinking about just how beautiful she was.  I was thinking about one of the summer evenings I took her outside and she was taking in the world in absolute awe.  Her eyes were even bigger than usual that night.  She was cooing.  She was stunning.
I recently had the honor of speaking at Blooms and Butterflies, a Friends of Wings fundraiser.  I shared our story of how the Wings program impacted our family—everything from our amazing nurses to helping ink Zoey’s footprints in a book and the care we received after Zoey passed away.  I am extremely grateful they allowed me a few moments to talk about my beautiful girl once again.

Roller Coasters

People often refer to life as a roller coaster.  The IVF process is definitely fitting of that analogy.  The physical part of it has been a minor challenge—kind of like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  It tosses you around a bit, has a few ups and down, and leaves you a little queasy: but it is tolerable.


The emotional side is more along the lines of Expedition Everest.  Bigger climbs.  Steeper drops.  Gives you a headache.

Here’s a brief description or those who have not been (compliments of Disney’s website)

The Adventure Begins 
Board a weather-beaten train and ascend a series of rolling hills overlooking a serene green forest. Climb a steep incline and navigate through a ceremonial stone tunnel before reaching the summit. Once at the “top of the world,” hold on tight as you pick up speed and race inside the dreaded mountain.

An Unexpected Encounter 
Without warning, your train screeches to a halt: A broken and twisted track appears in front of you. Brace yourself as your train unpredictably begins to race backward into the darkened mountain, furiously swooping up into a double-looping turn. Inside the windswept passage, the shadowy figure of a growling creature can be seen on a cavern wall. It is the Yeti—the legend is real.

Hurl 80 feet down the base of the cursed mountain and swoop in and out of murky caves and along jagged rocky ledges as you race to escape the dreaded monster before he catches up with you.

Will you make it back to civilization safely? Or will the Yeti claim another victim?


That damn Yeti.  You know he’s there, but he still takes you by surprise.

We started with 16 eggs after the retrieval.  Twelve fertilized.  Honestly, with each passing day I was waiting to be told none were viable. By day 5, which is when they biopsy them, we were down to four.  And then we waited again for the results of the genetic testing to come back.  We’ve waited for genetic tests before.  I remember where I was when I received the phone call with Zoey’s official diagnosis.  I was waiting for a similar call.

On Good Friday we finally heard from my doctor.  And three are healthy.  Now we must make decisions.  How many do we transfer?  Do we choose the gender or let someone else pick (yes, we already know we have two of one sex and one of the other).

It’s all just so…complicated!  Right now, those embryos are a frozen set of cells.  But that little set of cells was Zoey once.  I am again reminded how easily she could have left us at any point.  A millions things just slightly different and she never would have taken a breath in this world.  Had we done IVF then, Zoey would not be our daughter.  She would have been #4—the one that has chromosome abnormalities and has been deemed not healthy enough for transfer.

While I know deep in my heart we made the right decisions for Zoey, there’s always that little voice.  We’re in the same place now.  We will follow our doctor’s advice, we will think through all of our options and we will make the choices we feel are best for our family.  It’s why we did the genetic testing in the first place—after all of this we want a baby.  We are maximizing the chance of that little embryo to implant and grow.

Zoey was due on Easter.  She would have been three this May.  Maybe she has a hand in all of this.

We still have a long way to go—the roller coaster has not made its way back to the platform.  There are mountains to climb and twisted tracks to navigate.  And Yeti’s. But we still have hope.  Hope in three tiny little embryos.