Sometimes life is just hard. And it’s often birthdays and holidays that mark the passage of time, and remind us when life isn’t going as planned.

I write most of the posts on this blog, but I have a small team behind me. Rebecca (my daughter) writes a ton, moderates comments, and does a lot of the product development. Connor (my son-in-law) does all the technical stuff and the SEO, which is a huge help because I don’t have to panic about it. Tammy (my long-time friend) answers all my emails, books all my speaking, and in general just makes sure stuff is running. Emily does the formatting. Rochelle does some research.

And then there’s Joanna, who is my main researcher, but who is also co-authoring our upcoming book with Rebecca and me. She’s been a godsend to the blog.

She’s also had a rough year, and tomorrow is her birthday. She asked if she could share some thoughts she had, and I thought that these may resonate with some of you. So here’s Joanna, on the last day that she’s 28:


A lot of the time, when we’re ready to talk about the hard things in our lives, it’s nice to have a lesson and tie it up with a bow.

But today, I need to give a bit of a lament, as I’m working my way through the valley.

Lamenting a Sad Birthday

Tomorrow is my 29th birthday! I’m ready(?) to say hello to the last year in my 20s. I love birthdays and Christmas and all opportunities for gift giving and celebration, so I was surprised when I realized last week that I’m, quite frankly, dreading my birthday.

The Paris attack happened a few years ago on my birthday and my husband was out of town so I was alone, watching the news, and feeling hurt that terrorists had stolen my special day from me. It was le crappy.

But this feels different.

Part of it is that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer on the day after my birthday last year (I then got to watch my favorite show and play my favorite board game with Rebecca, Connor, and my husband, Josiah, so it was better than it could have been). And that anniversary is definitely part of my birthday dread. But I don’t think that’s all, or even MOST, of it.

2019 has not gone entirely to plan, you see.

We’ve had some amazing things – my book deal with Rebecca and Sheila ranks very high, but the biggest joy is our 20 month old who is all sweetness and light and amazes us with how much she is learning and growing.

Joanna with Mari miscarriage

But my big hope for this year was that we’d have our second baby. I’m 20 months older than my brother and I really wanted kids close in age. Plus, I needed fertility help to conceive my daughter, so I didn’t want to wait and regret it later.

We were thrilled in April when we found out we were expecting and everything went beautifully (easier than it had with my daughter) until June 13, when I woke up with cramps in the wee hours of the morning and miscarried. We didn’t know it at the time, but I have a bleeding disorder and so once the miscarriage started, I began to bleed profusely. I knew Keith was around so I considered calling him, but then I suggested phoning 911. My husband told me that if that’s your instinct, you call. I’m so glad the ambulance came because if we had delayed, I could very easily have bled to death or have had severe long term effects from blood loss.

By the time I reached the hospital, I was in hypovolemic shock and I had a bp of 52/26. (Keith and Sheila came to be with us in the ER – Keith showed me where the sick bags are and kept my family in the loop about my care as I gave the doctors a bit of a scare, and Sheila kept me company for hours while Josiah sorted out childcare for our toddler. They were a huge help to us on a truly horrible day.)

We’ve done a lot of healing since then, but it’s been especially hard since I haven’t managed to get pregnant again.

I’m on medication because of my cancer, and that could be causing the problems, and I’ve been referred to a fertility center, but the fact remains that the 2 year-ish gap between kids I’d always dreamed of is simply not going to happen. Hopefully I’ll be able to get help soon, but still, this isn’t the way I wanted it to happen.

It’s been a lot for us to process – the not being pregnant, the miscarriage, the bleeding disorder, the coming scarily close to bleeding to death on the vinyl floor of my foyer… all of it.

Plus, I’d really wanted to have another baby before I turned 30, and I realized that that was getting in the way of my enjoying my upcoming birthday – I feel the clock ticking.

I know what you’re thinking – why does this matter? What’s the difference between 29 and 9 months and 30 and 0 months? The answer, of course, is nothing. But it’s been a very interesting journey to do some thinking about WHY this is bothering me SO MUCH. (Quite frankly, I’m upset more than I ought to be.)

It’s wrapped up in a lot, and I’ve been able to process the whys. And a lot of the time, that helps. But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes life is just hard. And it’s often birthdays and holidays that mark the passage of time, and remind us when life isn’t going as planned.

Sometimes, I just feel very disappointed.

Our daughter is more than enough for us, and our family will be full and wonderful if she’s the only child we ever have. Having one baby is more than many folks who deal with infertility can boast, so I’m trying really hard to count my blessings and to focus on the good things in my life. I’m celebrating with the people in my life who are expecting. I’m doing my very, very best. But I’m still sad about my birthday and I don’t like it.

Here’s the deal – I’m a huge believer in rejoicing with those who rejoice. I believe in doing hard things. I remind myself regularly to “suck it up, buttercup.” But I’m also learning to sort out what is MINE to do and what is NOT. I’m also learning about being honest with myself AND with other people about how I’m feeling. So here’s my plan of attack as my birthday approaches.

Joanna and Josiah and Mari on Walk

A spring walk last year–that’s Keith in the background!

1. Focus on a happy thing coming soon

Right now, that’s Thanksgiving (I’m an American living in Canada, and we’ll be heading back to Pennsylvania for the holidays!)! We’ll be having a friends-giving (35 years running) and then will be hosting a bunch of extended family. Plus, my husband saved up his vacation days so he can take the whole week off, so we’ll have time to relax, visit friends, and get some R&R. Having something to look forward to is really helping me.

2. Be honest with how I’m feeling

It’s okay to be sad. I try to rush through bad emotions because I don’t want to wallow, but I’m learning to make space for the hard things and not to push them aside. This isn’t what I wanted and it’s hard. So I’m going to be sad, if I need to be sad.

3. Count my blessings

Because yeah, its hard. And no, it is NOT fair that I got a cancer diagnosis, a bleeding disorder diagnosis, a miscarriage, infertility, and severe allergies in my baby which forced me to rehome my beloved bunny all in about a year. Not fun. But my suffering is a pittance compared to the difficulties other folks I know are dealing with and they do it with a lot of grace. I’m doing my best to remember how much I have in my life to be thankful for.

4. Remember & be grateful

The big reason I’ve been particular about my age at childbearing is that my grandmother died when I was 10.

I know that’s out of left field, so let me explain. Grandma came to live with us when I was 6 and she was one of my primary caregivers until her death. I’m named after her – she was Joann Amelia (get it? Take the “a” from Amelia and you have my name) and I still miss her a lot. Her death feels unfair to me – she was super sick for 30+ years, right up until her death at 67 and really, I feel like she should still be here. I wish she could have met my baby girl and talked to me about my book. I wish I’d had her wisdom as I grew to be a teenager. I was old enough at the time that I remember it all – her coming to live with us, her illness, her death, everything. I remember. And I’m terrified that my kids won’t remember, that they won’t have their grandparents or their parents for as long as they need them. While I KNOW that isn’t logical or likely, a lot of my emotions swirl around that deep fear.

So when my mom asked me what I want to do for my birthday when we’re home for Thanksgiving, it was pretty easy – I want to see Mrs. Bailey in New Wilmington and I want to visit my grandmother who is still living, who I call Nanny.

Mrs. Bailey is in her mid-eighties and she is a paragon of moral courage. SHE MOUTH PIPETTED POLIO VIRUS TO HELP JONAS SALK DEVELOP THE POLIO VACCINE. She literally risked her life by sucking polio-containing liquid up into a straw so that she could save the world. AND THEN SHE DID. Then she became a missionary and lived in the middle east for decades and taught microbiology in Arabic and she is my hero. Nanny got a job offer to work at a very-important-government-agency but turned it down so she could be with her kids. She had 9 in 11 years – no multiples! She’s a hero and she’s the actual BEST with babies. I can’t wait to see her and to enjoy my daughter’s joy at having some special time with her great-grandmother.

I don’t get to have my Grandma. But I do get Mrs. Bailey and I have Nanny. We won’t have them forever, so this year, I’m so glad that we can make the drive with my mom and my baby so that we can all enjoy each other for awhile. I’ll remember my grandma in heaven, the grandma who is holding my precious baby who we never got to hold, and I know that she and my other loved ones who are with Jesus are looking after our little one. And I’ll be thankful for the gift that Mrs. Bailey & Nanny are to us here.

So now that I’ve made my confession of definitely-not-being-totally-fine-with-this-no-pregnancy-situation let me ask you for a favor.

What I’d really like for my birthday, is for you to help me find women to do our survey on marital and sexual satisafaction. I know, LAME BIRTHDAY REQUEST! Except, of course, it isn’t. I really want for our survey to be as inclusive as possible and have a diverse cross section of women from different backgrounds and experiences – so we need to share it! If it’s just all people who read the blog, that’s a lot less powerful than if we’re getting people who you know!

And yes, I did give myself a treat today while my daughter was napping and let myself calculate one statistic from the survey. It was super fast and *I let myself do it by hand because it would be more fun.* THAT is the depth of my nerd-dom. It’s terrifying. So seriously, if you help me find people to do my survey, I will feel so happy!

Joanna excited about our marriage survey

So here’s my wish list

  1. Take the survey!
  2. Send the link to 5 of your friends (just click through and copy the URL)
  3. Share the link to the survey on social media (

    www.research.net/r/tolovehonorandvacuum)

We could easily get to 10,000 responses today (we’re almost there!) if everyone reading this did that. And that would give me something else to smile about for my birthday!

How have you handled milestones that you’ve reached when life hasn’t gone as planned? Any thoughts for Joanna today? Let’s talk in the comments!

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