Using stories to initiate a dialogue with my children
Fast forward five years after the birth of our daughter, Scarlett, to September 4, 2020: this is the date that I released my first children’s book, A Lemon Tree for Wilshire, which is a tribute to my two beautiful children and their very special birth story. The concept for the book was inspired by my family’s personal journey with infertility and pregnancy loss and highlights the experience of families like mine growing through non-traditional paths to parenthood.
My husband and I were very fortunate in the sense that our fertility clinic provided us with the resources to speak with a staff psychologist as we were navigating this journey through infertility and egg-donation. She stressed the importance of initiating dialogue with our children at a very early age regarding their birth story and, in theory, we were in total agreement with this approach. But, in practice, I personally struggled with how to communicate their birth story in a way that was relatable to our children but also completely transparent.
What I discovered through the process of retelling our story was that there was almost this torrent of emotion, the most extreme joy and pain, that was now inextricably fused. And although that’s completely normal, my reaction was quite visceral; I couldn’t start this conversation with my children without immediately crying. And my children at 5 and 3 would ask, “Mommy why are you sad?” But it was quite the opposite. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for these two beautiful children that I wanted them to know how special their story is, how exceptional they are, and how we wanted them so badly that we were willing to do anything.
We once again reached out to the psychologist we’d been working with to explain the challenge and she recommended using children’s books as a way to initiate the conversation. We set out to find children’s books that we could use as a tool to help guide this discussion, and, although we found countless books that focused on adoption and other alternative family dynamics, I found there was a bit of gap specific to books for infertility and egg-donors that would appeal to children. Once I recognized there was a space in the market, I set out to write a story that focused on these important topics in a format that children could truly embrace. And just like that the concept for A Lemon Tree for Wilshire was born.
What the book is about
The story focuses on a young superhero and his magical expedition to fulfill his greatest desire, which is to grow a beautiful garden with tall trees at his home Wilshire, trees tall enough to climb and plan superhero missions. Unfortunately, he and his family will experience some challenges with making this dream a reality. At that point, the story poses the question: What if your greatest wish as a child seemed unattainable or just slightly out of reach? Would you simply give up on your dream? Or would you tie on a cape and become the superhero you were always meant to be? And ultimately, the book will follow the magical journey of this superhero as he chases his dream.
Writing as healing
The book took me over a year to write and publish and, of course, a portion of this time can be attributed to the fact that I had absolutely no idea how to publish a book. But there was also a lot of time spent healing and coming to terms with feelings that I had held at bay for many years—feelings that were still raw and untouched, feelings that had been supressed for many years.
On September 4, 2020, when I officially announced the release of my book, it was truly one of the most defining moments of my life, but, equally, the most vulnerable I had ever felt. Those closest to us knew of our struggle, but up until this point, I hadn’t shared my story fully. Similarly, I didn’t write this speech overnight. In truth, it feels as if I’ve been narrating this story for many years but unable to accurately capture the experience in words. I’m grateful for this opportunity, I’m grateful to share my story and my book with others because there is power in broken silence.
I believe that the book and its message is timely given how families are speaking more freely about the struggles of infertility and pregnancy loss. I think, as a society, we’ve made significant strides to support this dialogue, but the reality is that many families continue to carry this grief silently. The silence isn’t intentional; it’s very difficult to share the depth and the severity of that grief with others in those fragile moments. So often families will suffer and endure this hardship in solitude. And to those families, I hope this book, our journey, and my children, William and Scarlett, can offer hope.
Please return next Friday to watch the next seventh, and final, episode in this series. In it, I’ll speak about the role my husband played in this entire process and offer his takeaway from our journey in the hope that it will help others struggling with loss.