Today I am grateful for having a place to write where I can attach a pseudonym instead of my real name. Maybe it has something to do with finding myself in the midst of an online smear campaign aimed at undermining the advocacy work I do. Yesterday when I uncovered the newest display of this vitriolic spree, I alternated between eating mini peanut-butter cups from Trader Joe’s (sorry, mannacakepie) and re-reading excerpts from Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a two-sided coin. On one side, there’s vulnerability that signals fragility, lack of boundaries, neediness. And on the other side, there’s openness to being known, allowing others into our hopes, dreams, disappointments, and fears. The latter gets deemphasized too much in our culture. To me there is nothing braver than letting others know that something is important to us rather than keeping those feelings to ourselves in order to avoid possible shame.

Opening myself up to conception has been one of the most vulnerable things I have ever done. The vulnerability is physical, mental, relational, spiritual, and every other kind of –al there is. At times I’ve comforted myself with reading sound, fact-based research in medical books and making adjustments based on their recommendations. I’ve also scoured not exactly scientific online forum discussions trying to make sense of what my body is doing on any given day post-ovulation. I’ve ordered ovulation strips, basal thermometers, vitamins, fertility books. I’ve downloaded fertility tracking apps for all of my gizmos and gadgets, and log every single aspect of my physical state daily. While these things may prove helpful in our journey of conception, they are mostly a reflection of the inner turmoil I feel about letting go of my non-existent control in the situation.

The deep, honest truth is that I really, really want to get pregnant. And I don’t know if that will ever happen for me, not because I have any reason to believe that I won’t but because it’s out there in the realm of possibility. Truthfully, at this stage the desire to get pregnant is just as much a desire to have affirmation of myself—of being a woman, of being whole, of being “ok”—as it is a desire to parent and to grow our “baby family.” As much as I know I am whole already, I do realize that my inner critic (you know, that little voice in your head that regularly spits out messages about being stupid/ugly/undesirable/unworthy) is ready to make an appearance when I spot that first trickle of menstrual blood.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years telling my inner critic to shut the hell up, and after some practice, it has begun to work. I can shut off most downward spiral patterns of thinking within a few minutes of recognizing what’s happening. The trick for me has been not only coming up with knee-jerk responses to the inner critic (“Gaining five pounds in December means I enjoyed the holidays, not that I’m worthless, fat, and stupid. I’m a fitness badass and this will melt off in a month.”) It’s also been important, as hard as it is, to tell those closest to me what these broken record messages of unworthiness and shame have been doing to me for all of those years. Why struggle alone when you can have your community around you, lifting you up?

This month if I see that my basal body temperature dip, that spot of blood appear, that lack of line on the pregnancy test strip, I won’t hold it in. I won’t let it take hold of my spirit, my sense of worthiness. I will tell my husband, my closest friends, and all of you that I’m disappointed and sad, and I will ask you to help me stand up to that bully of an inner critic. I might even share some of my mini peanut butter cups with you (but don’t count on it.)