VLOG SERIES // you are not broken…
A real, raw, and unedited response to secondary infertility.
VLOG SERIES // you are not broken…
A real, raw, and unedited response to secondary infertility.
Where are you at, my friend? Are you well?
The thing with having fertility issues is that it’s all consuming, isn’t it? It almost becomes who we are. Or rather, who we are not.
The ability to have a child or not, shapes our entire life’s course. It’s big. Not being pregnant goes against the grain of what our bodies are designed to do – life will only continue to be life, if we procreate. This is how I feel. And we can have a philosophical debate about the truth in that – but it would mean absolutely nothing. Because this is how I _feel_. This is _my_ truth. My desire to have another child is primal. It’s just a part of me like my heartbeat. I won’t question it. I couldn’t. I don’t have to.
But in this process of conception, with no clear path or timeline ahead of me, just the getting through of one day after the other… maybe it doesn’t need to be like this. Maybe it doesn’t need to be so consuming. Or defining.
Maybe we can focus less on getting through it, and more on just being here. Just embracing and accepting life and all it is and isn’t.
What’s going on in your world that’s really great right now? Do you have a vocation that you’re really good at? Do you have a relationship that makes you feel loved every day? Do you have friends who know just how to make you laugh – have you picked good ones? Do you live amongst nature and can appreciate its beauty from your own home, or do you live in the City and are surrounded by arts and culture and all kinds of interesting people doing wonderful things? What have you achieved lately? What have you done well? What have you learned?
Don’t make plans today – just look around you. Look at where you are. It’s good isn’t it? You’ve shaped a wonderful life for yourself. Special people are in it with you.
Then maybe tomorrow… do you have space in your life for something new? Is there something you’d like to study, to travel to, to create? Or is there something you just want to enjoy without expectations of it being something more? Can you be spontaneous? Frivolous!
I urge you to be.
I urge you to put yourself first – not at the exclusion of others, but at the inclusion of yourself.
Look at yourself in the mirror every morning – directly into your eyes – and see the beautiful soul in front of you. Someone who is deserving of love and kindness and generosity.
Let it come from you, first.
How are you taking care of yourself this week?
Well, I hope.
Image found via the lovely Be and Bloom NZ.
Today is a good day. And it’s important I write about that too, because I don’t want this blog to be a downer!
This fertility stuff is a real challenge, but life is actually great isn’t it? There’s so much to enjoy. And a lot to be grateful for. I’m blessed with a lot of things in my life – my health, a peaceful country, a loving family, a roof over my head, and nutritious food. That really is everything and I know it is. And today I can really feel and appreciate all that. It’s practically euphoric!
Yesterday I ovulated. Husband and I managed to have sex… and actually enjoy it!… so today is a really good day.
Those hormones which have suffocated me for the last couple of weeks have released their grip… floating away like little balloons over the ocean… further and further from view… until gone.
Today I feel lighter. I can breathe easier. The sun is shining a bit brighter – I’m sure of it. It’s Saturday and I started my day with a warm shower, fruit for breakfast, and a yoga class in Greenlane – driving there with windows down and music for company.
I usually work on Saturdays, but have decided self-care is higher up the priority list. So, after yoga, I bought lunch at my favourite cafe and then walked for an hour along the beach – sand underfoot and salt air in my lungs. Not yet wanting to return to my car, I bought a coffee and sat in the sunshine for a while, feeling the warmth seeping into the marrow of my bones. No where to be in a hurry, no one but myself to be mindful of. Bliss.
I went for a massage in the afternoon, which was a birthday gift from a few weeks ago, and then floated home again. Husband is cooking dinner, son is playing with his toys, and I’m just sitting over here breathing.
I feel alive.
Just in case no one has told you yet today, let it be me: you are so lovely.
I encourage you to do that thing, which makes your heart sing.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Cliché – because it’s so true.
Just two months into my fertility journey, I know this without a shadow of a doubt – because right now I have never felt more weak, or insecure, or shit in my entire life. I feel broken. But the only way is to keep going. The only constant is change. And this too shall pass.
Being optimistic, and remaining positive, and choosing to have faith in the process is great. It’s important, even, to face life this way. But those things don’t make you pregnant, do they?
Being strong doesn’t make you pregnant.
I just want to say to you, my friend – you, beautiful reader – that sometimes this journey is not about being strong at all. It’s about doing what you have to do, without much choice. It’s about acceptance. It’s about figuring out another plan, taking deliberate steps down an unexpected path.
It’s uncertain, and unclear, and unrelenting.
And often it’s uncomfortable – it’s challenging thoughts, confronting emotions, and difficult conversations.
It’s cancelling plans and changing your mind and feeling alone as well as bombarded. It’s high highs and low lows and not being ready and being too late. IT’S NOT WANTING TO DO THE THING YOU NEED TO DO TO GET THE THING YOU WANT. It’s confusing.
And it’s unfair and shit.
You don’t need to be strong, you know. But you do need to be strong together. Because this will challenge the very essence of who you are and you’ll ask “why” more times than you have reasons for the question.
This is about saying sorry when you need to, and I love you as often as you can. It’s unconditional love. It’s the bigger picture. And it’s not letting the small moments define us… even though they’re consuming, and not small at all.
It’s remembering how to breath… those deep breaths that we have to stop and think about. It’s hitting pause. It’s the profound impact of a warm shower and a modest cup of coffee on your ability to face the rest of the day.
You’re gonna ride some big waves. You’re gonna draw some strong lines in the proverbial sand. And you won’t be able to go back.
You’re going to see your deepest, darkest, ugliest selves – and all the beauty that lies within you. You’ll discover parts of yourself that you had no idea were hurting. And you’re going to see sides of your partner that will surprise you. You’ll push them away and they’ll carry you in.
Sometimes, you will break each other apart. And even though you aren’t strong – your love must be. Because you’ll be able to heal one another in a single moment. Coming together as you come undone; your love is like glue. It’s like diamonds – more beautiful under pressure.
You are going to loose yourself and feel the weight of the whole world closing in. The air will become so heavy it’ll be an effort to breathe. You’ll want to run but have no ability to move. I think this is what it must be – to become consumed by longing and hope and despair. Some days you simply won’t get past it. Other days you won’t be able to see it at all.
Wherever you are at in your journey – just started, or deeply entrenched – and however you are feeling today – hopeful, or hopeless – it doesn’t matter. Because you’re in deep from the very beginning.
And so, whilst it’s true that I have never felt more weak, or insecure, or shit in my entire life – what’s more significant is that I’ve never lived my life so fully either.
I’m right here, right in the thick of it…. and this is it. And it’s good, and it’s bad, and it’s mine. And it’s the only one I’ve got and am ever going to have. And I’m doing my best.
So I’ll be broken and weak and messy and ugly – and then I’ll find those moments of joy and beauty and strength and I will cherish them.
For there are many.
Since my last post, I’ve been waiting for my period – it’s now 3 days late.
I’ve done 3 home pregnancy tests, over the course of 6 days – all negative. I don’t feel pregnant, nor do I feel pre-menstrual… to be honest, I’m not really feeling anything.
I called Fertility Associates yesterday and was sent off for more blood testing, along with new hope.
After they took my blood and I went home with my son – we spent the rest of the afternoon snuggling on the couch and talking, using all of his new language, and learning new ways to say ‘I love you.’ There were the smiles with the eye lashes, and the blowing raspberries on my tummy, and the gentle twirling of my hair. And then I felt something. I felt overjoyed.
This morning still no bleeding… so, whilst I waited for the phone to ring with news from the clinic, I got on with some work.
What a lovely morning it’s been – Nick took Beau to buy bed-sheets for his very first “big boy bed,” which he will begin sleeping in tonight, and they came back with green dinosaur ones and the world’s most excited little boy (whose heart broke when we had to put them in the washing machine!). It felt so fulfilling, to guide him through his confusion and upset, reassuring him that the green dinosaurs will be back clean and dry ready for bed-time. And it felt wonderful to see him so reassured by me.
I wrote two wedding ceremonies, for some lovely couples that I am marrying next summer – and it felt so rewarding to have this job, to be able to use my words to create clarity and precious memories for people. I felt as I always have done, since beginning this role, so honoured and privileged to meet so many good people, living good lives, who want to share their stories with me.
And then my phone rang.
Every fibre in my body felt something, the whole of me came alive… a faster heart beat, blood moving quicker, more breath coming in and out… in the seconds it took to answer that phone call the world had stopped.
But I knew it before she said anything. “I’m sorry sweetheart, there’s no sign of pregnancy, your hormone levels are dropping away.”
Just like my spirit.
“It’s OK, it’s OK…” I reassured her, as well as my husband who was standing in the doorway of my office. She sounded so sorry for me. And after I rang off the phone Nick held me and I spoke words which I don’t remember and cried tears which I didn’t feel.
I think I feel so much of everything at once that it’s all gone neutral.
Now they’ve gone to the park and to get ice-cream and I’m going to finish my work and then cry and cry and cry – until all the effort and energy and emotion from the last 6 weeks goes away, and I can move on from it, and start again. Which I will.
This was our first month of fertility treatment – and it’s not going to be our last.
When I went to give my blood yesterday, did I go with false hope? No of course I didn’t. Because hope is never false. Hope is desire. Hope is trust. Hope is our truth. It’s what keeps us moving, keeps us going, and gives us faith. I still have all the hope in the world.
I really ache for you little one. And I will wait for as long as I need to, because my hope will never run out, nor will it falter.
I think this is my greatest challenge in life so far – your daddy taught me what it is to love, and your brother is teaching me how. And you – you are teaching me why.
I love you little one – as hard as I try, I just can’t get my head around the fact that you don’t yet exist. Because, to me, you do.
Yesterday was my birthday! Yesterday was also the day I could finally take a pregnancy test, after my first month of fertility treatment.
It was negative.
But yesterday was actually the most positive day I’ve had for quite some time. Instead of feeling the weight of that disappointment, I felt overwhelmed with love, coming at me from all angles, as I was reminded of just how blessed I am to have so many wonderful, amazing, loving people in my life – people who had the ability to lift my spirit, even though they had no idea it needed lifting.
I write about being positive, and it’s certainly a way I endeavour to live by – but that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally, easily, or even at all! Let me tell you honestly how it’s been:
After my initial consultation with the Fertility Associates (read here), followed by a plan of action (as per here) – I began my fertility journey feeling motivated, excited, and full of faith. I still am all of those things – but I didn’t expect this first month to be so arduous.
Things started well – as advised, I made the time to do 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio each day – I was off! It felt great to be able to do something really practical to help myself, and the effect of regular exercise on my overall well-being was as beneficial as it always is. I felt great!
Alongside this, I was given a course of drugs to bring on menstruation – and around two weeks later it finally came and I could officially begin my fertility treatment. Those first couple of weeks were definitely positive.
“Day 1” was the first day of my period and the start of my first cycle.
Days 3-7 saw me take 2 x pills each evening after dinner – these were my ovulation induction drugs. The effect on my mood was moderate – I was definitely sensitive and more easily upset, but overall I was still able to find those lovely feelings deep down and I clung onto them.
During this time, I became an Auntie again – for the third time – with my first little niece! She is absolutely gorgeous and it was instant love the moment I met her. I really enjoyed visiting her, and my brother and sister-in-law at the the hospital, and hearing all about her birth and feeling really close with them all.
Also during this time, some very special friends of mine told me they are expecting their first baby! I can’t begin to tell you how happy this makes me. They have had their own journey to get there – and are set to become such wonderful parents.
And to top it off – a dearly loved person in my life has finally conceived after a very long and very difficult journey. I was so overwhelmed with happiness, that so far I have been unable to express it to her. I know she will be feeling elated, but also fragile.
Day 10 and it was time to go for my scan to see if the drugs had worked. It was the day before my first born’s 2nd birthday and the day of a party we were hosting for a family friend who is battling cancer like a warrior. I had just come down with a cold, following Beau having one, so to say I was emotionally charged and feeling sensitive would be an understatement.
It was a really positive result – the drugs had worked! Both of my ovaries had developed a good number of follicles and the likelihood of ovulation was extremely high. Both doctors who saw me were lovely – I was so pleased to have had Nick and Beau there with me, too – but for some reason I couldn’t express how I was feeling to any of them. I was of course delighted with the result – but I also felt tired and exposed and vulnerable and as we walked to the lift I just wanted to cry and cry and cry. The lump in my throat and tears stinging my eyes made no sense whatsoever.
“Hi Hayley. Good time for intercourse from tomorrow. Min 4 days if poss.”
There is a difference between making love and making a baby… a difference I was not aware of when I conceived Beau. There is a lot of pressure and great expectations. The first couple of days were quite exciting… but by the 3rd day I found myself to be so cold and irritable towards my husband, for no reason I could fathom at the time. I would even go as far as to say it was very difficult to let him touch me – I felt used and resentful and repulsed by the whole process, which in turn made me really confused and upset. “I can’t imagine we’ll ever have another baby!” I wailed at one point. My husband is truly the most gentle and kind of anyone I’ve ever met. He was struggling too… you can imagine the distress we were in! It was a really difficult few days for us. I’ve no idea what was going on in the rest of the world at that time. I cancelled plans and stayed at home for 3 full days. 4 – if you exclude one lowly supermarket trip.
After a SOS call of sorts to the Fertility Associates, we were soon laughing about the whole situation – reassured at how normal we were reacting, and told not to put so much pressure on ourselves. We talked it through, found a place of kindness and compassion, and, like all challenges we face, it brought us even closer together.
We were also told that I would likely have already ovulated by now – so we rejoiced in lots of early nights with our thermal PJs and respective books. Romance isn’t dead in this house, my friends!
We also allowed ourselves to believe that we could have conceived.
I dared to long for a girl.
The next week was a bit of a blur – the cold I caught from Beau was lingering, I had no energy to do my workouts, and, despite a building anxiety about this, ultimately I gave myself the grace I needed – and rested. It was a lovely week, actually. Calm and restful. I read a book.
Day 19 – I was scheduled to have a blood test to confirm if I had ovulated or not. I was convinced I had – but it was still a delight to get the text that afternoon: “Hi Hayley. Blood shows that you have ovulated. Please call us in 7-10 days if no period. Best wishes!” I took a screenshot.
And I bought myself a pregnancy test – placing it carefully on my bedside cabinet – as I waited for the moment of truth to arrive.
I spent the next few days surreptitiously re-reading the instructions on the back of the packet, so I could re-calculate when would be my first chance to take the test. And wondering if my low immune system (the lingering cold) could be due to early pregnancy. And being certain that my boobs were sore and my sense of smell was heightened. And really over-analysing my text message which concluded with “best wishes!” Do they know something I don’t know yet?
I pictured a little cluster of dividing cells, moving their way through my Fallopian tube… probably the left one… and I suddenly remembered the surreal dream I had had, the very night after my first fertility appointment, where my old midwife sat with me and Beau in our living room:
“Hayley, you have a daughter in there,” she’d said, pointing to my midriff. “She’s not ready to come, yet. But she’s in there.”
I had believed it. It felt divine.
And now that my first pregnancy test has come back negative – I believe it more than ever.
Over the last 24 hours – in the moments of stillness I’ve had (few admittedly) – I’ve questioned timing. Is this the right time? Am I really ready? Is my body in the best shape and health it could be? And I realised the answer is no. There is never a “right” time. You are never “ready.” You just are. It just is.
I think it’s OK to have this longing. And it’s OK to step right into that dark and uncertain space and to feel comfortable and loved whilst there.
It currently feels right for me to be open about my journey – and I’ve been so moved by the number of people contacting me with messages of support, and stories of their own. I know I’m not the only person going through this and I know I won’t be the last. I intend to keep writing and sharing my experiences, for as long as I feel able to.
And I will continue to move forward through this – not without expectations – but taking life, as I should – one day at a time.
A special lady recently wrote to me… “Your journey will consume you at times, and then one day (for no apparent reason at all) the next wee one will slip into your lives.” – I truly believe it.
Love and blessings,
That’s the treatment plan I have from the Fertility Associates: Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Literally!
Here’s how it went:
B L O O D
After visiting my doctor last week – with questions around “why am I not ovulating?” – I was immediately sent for blood testing and referred to the Fertility Associates. At this appointment, which my husband joined me at, we discussed my results.
“Well, you’ve got poly-cystic ovaries – and you’ve probably always had.”
Just as suspected!
(NB: I have done a fair amount of research around reproductive hormones and processes – including learning about FSH, LH, estradiol, and what is actually happening when we do/don’t ovulate etc. – but I won’t go into that here, as I am not a medical professional or trying to give anyone advice. All I am doing is sharing my own experiences, in the hopes it might help, or encourage, or comfort someone else. But what I will say, is this: inform yourself as best you can throughout your journey and take ownership of it.)
Our wonderful fertility specialist had analysed my blood results, conducted an internal ultra-sound so that we could all look at my ovaries together, and asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle and patterns – before coming to this conclusion.
My poly-cystic ovaries (PCO) are inhibiting ovulation. So, to induce ovulation, I have now been prescribed a medication (following a detailed discussion around how this works). I left immediately for more blood tests (so that we know where I am at, every step of the way) and, once the results were back, I was told I could now begin taking the medication.
(I’ve also been advised what to expect going forward, next steps etc., and am continuing to be impressed with the quality of care (particularly around pregnancy) in this country. It’s just fantastic.)
After beginning medication, alongside regular ultrasounds and MORE BLOODY blood-testing, we will monitor my ovaries to make sure they are doing their job/responding well to the drugs – and then… when the doctor says it is so… we will go home like obedient children, bonk and report back!
If the drugs don’t work for me… then we will cross that next bridge, if we come to it.
I am currently feeling positive and productive (hopefully, in more ways than one!).
S W E A T
So, not forgetting the ever-so-slightly pertinent fact that I already have a son! – we of course discussed this too.
This is, obviously, good news for me – but if you are struggling with poly-cystic ovaries and haven’t yet conceived, then it could be good news for you too…
(NB: Again, I am not a medical professional, or giving advice. I am purely writing from my own experience.)
The one time in my whole life that I have had a regular menstrual cycle, was the year before I conceived Beau. It also happened to be a year of very regular cardiovascular exercise, for me – specifically, high intensity interval training (HIIT). I would go to the gym every morning before work, and smash out 30 minutes in the cardio room – using the treadmill and rowing machine.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then – that I was able to conceive a baby so easily, despite having poly-cystic ovaries – as high intensity cardio exercise has been found to play a crucial role in managing poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It’s to do with managing insulin and some such…
So – my fertility specialist has sent me off with medication, as well as the motivation to get my sweat on! He was almost willing to bet that a few weeks/months of regular HIIT could do the trick before I even need to consider ovulation stimuling drugs… but knowing I want to get the ball rolling, he has suggested I do both. So blood and sweat it is!
I’ve maintained a regular exercise routine, since Beau came along – lots of long, hilly walks and some moderate resistance exercises, mostly – but now it’s time to step it up a notch. I will blog more about this, later.
T E A R S
Well, this wasn’t exactly on the treatment plan… but it’s an emotional and physical journey I’m embarking on – so there’ll be plenty, I’m sure!
I’m trying to stay as positive and pro-active as I can – but if things get the better of me at times, then that’s totally OK. I deserve all of the love and the grace I have to give… we all do!… so here’s to the blood, the sweat, and all the tears to come! For me, for you, for all of us!
And here I am. My journey to conception has begun.
I’m not sure how long my journey will be – but the fact that I can be found in a fertility clinic, asking questions… means I have already come so far.
As I sit waiting for my appointment at the Fertility Associates, the irony of the fact that I am simultaneously trying to entertain my rambunctious toddler – so he doesn’t loose his cool and disturb the peace – is not lost on me. But…
Here I am.
That’s right. I’m a mother to a beautiful, healthy, little boy who turns two next month, I’m having fertility issues… and I plan to write about it.
It’s not the done thing, really, is it? I’m not even sure how to go about it… but I do know that it will help me. And, if it helps one other person in the process – perhaps someone going through a similar experience – then that’s all that matters to me.
Firstly, I kind of feel a little awkward about the whole thing… I mean, I already have a child, so who am I to complain about my fertility problems – I should be grateful, right? I am grateful.
Let me please start by expressing the gratitude that I have, in abundance – for my health, my wonderful marriage, our healthy son, and the doctor who looked at me with deeply compassionate eyes this morning – when, after 6 months, I decided it was time to ask some questions and I came to him for help.
Whatever your circumstance, whoever you are – your desire to have a child is valid. You have every right to be a parent. And it’s OK to fight for it.
But it’s 2016 and we’re still not OK talking about infertility, are we? It’s such a highly sensitive and deeply personal experience, that no one really knows the rules. We can’t ask our friends or relations if they want to have children, in case it’s assumed we’re saying that they should. We’re not allowed to ask the newlyweds if they hope to start a family soon, in case they are trying and struggling and our question rubs salt into an unseen wound. We can’t ask our single friends if they might want children someday, because it’s insensitive to the fact that they don’t currently have a partner. We can’t ask anything at all, because it’s apparently none of our business and we’re making people feel bad.
I get it. I really, truly do. But of course – all we are creating is a society that can’t talk about it, even when we want to.
So many of us experience fertility issues, yet so few of us talk about it. And I guess all I want to do is put my story out there, as it unfolds, because I feel that I can. And so I should. For as long as I am able, anyway. With no expectations.
SO, HERE IS MY STORY:
I got my first period when I was 13 years old (on the first day of summer holidays, for goodness sake). I spent most of those days watching my siblings from the bathroom window, splashing around freely in the paddling pool, as my own childhood escaped between my legs. I didn’t want to tell my mother yet, but of course she knew everything already – so utterly excited to be able to talk with me about it all – this next, exciting journey in my life.
A whole year later, I finally got my next period. And so… it begins. A hormonal cycle as erratic as the English summer-time.
For 2 years my periods were irregular and painful and heavy. Blood tests always came back as “normal” and I was to “wait it out, you’ll regulate eventually.”
Aged 16, I went to the doctor again – who popped me onto a contraceptive pill and sent me home to get on with it.
Three years of “regular menstruation” later, I decided to take a break from the pill… mainly because I was off on my OE and wouldn’t have a budget for doctors appointments. How ironic… as it was 10 months later before I eventually got my next period, after countless doctors visits, blood tests, and enough herbal remedies to fund a small pharmacy. Consistently, I was told “nothing appears to be the matter” – and, once my periods returned, there was finally some level of regularity with 5-6 weekly cycles.
I should highlight that, throughout all of this, I was a very fit and healthy young woman with no known health or medical problems.
Aged 22 or so I went back on the pill – this time for genuine contraceptive reasons. Then, by age 26, I decided enough was enough – it was time to come off the pill for good, as the thought of becoming a mother someday (even though I was single at the time!) was getting closer. Being a mother is all I have ever, truly wanted – from as early as my memories begin.
At that time, another 6 months or so of no menstruation had passed before I went to see a doctor. It could be “early menopause” she said, “or, most likely, poly-cystic ovaries” she said with gravity. I left scared witless and carried on taking Dong Quai (and other herbal remedies).
As with the first time, nearly a whole year passed after I stopped talking the pill – before eventually my periods returned and then settled into a 5-6 weekly cycle.
By now, this was December 2012 – I had just moved in with my now husband, and we were married in November 2013.
On December 20th, 2013, I had a period that saw me deep breathing in the bath-tub for several hours, imagining myself in labour someday… and then, as I would later learn, I conceived my first baby on December 27th.
That’s right – on “day 7” of an otherwise 40 day cycle.
So what kind of normality do I have? None whatsoever, my friends! None, whatsoever.
Beau, my son, was born in September 2014 – I breast-fed him for nearly a year, and had 2-3 periods in the second half of 2015 (I didn’t really pay attention). At the start of this year, 2016, we started to talk about “trying for another baby,” so I started to take note of things again.
I had menstruated in December, again in February, not again until May (oh yes… after deciding we were ready to conceive again in March you can just imagine the relaxed time this was!), and then again in July… it’s now mid-August and I am certainly not pregnant.
I take excellent care of myself – with a good diet, regular exercise, and plenty of rest. My stress levels are minimal / none-existent, I meditate, and take supplements. I have regular chiropractic appointments and consider myself in great health overall. My husband and I still have the hots for each other and – because I have no idea when I actually ovulate – we’ve been banging away every other night for months on end. But I am most definitely not pregnant.
After finally visiting my (new and utterly wonderful) Doctor this morning, he confirmed what I had already suspected; I’m not ovulating. So it’s time now to start asking those questions, finding out why, and getting it sorted.
And so here I am.
I’m a mother to a beautiful, healthy, little boy who turns two next month, I’m having fertility issues… and I plan to write about it.
I’m not sure what to expect – but one thing I do know: life is good. Everything is, and will be, ok.
Much love and blessings,