It’s August 8, 2015. I’m relaxing post-run, breakfast, coffee, and shower in my (hot) house in El Paso, Texas. I don’t know if I’ll share this post today, tomorrow, or five years from now, but a voice in my soul is yearning to be heard, even if it becomes a draft somewhere in cyberspace. I don’t want to wait until I’m out of this particular tunnel before I get some thoughts down.
Sometimes the hardest things in life have no explanation. In fact, looking back on the nearly 30 years I’ve lived, I’d say most hard things have no explanation, or best case scenario, a very complicated one.
In the going-on-30 years I’ve lived, I’ve been running for roughly five of those. And I would say the past five years contain some of the most difficult life situations. I ramped up my training and signed up for a marathon when I knew that I would not be joining my husband in Korea, despite quitting my full-time teaching job and packing up half our belongings. I’ve trained through my sister’s horrible car accident that almost took her life. I continued a run streak while in Illinois for my grandfather’s funeral. I ran through mental and physical obstacles (i.e. hills and mountains) during my husband’s first and (thank God) only deployment.
Now I’m running through infertility. There. I said it. That’s tough, to see that word attached to you, your life, your experience on the earth. There’s something about that word being on the page that evokes emotions. Emotions that I haven’t always let myself fully feel or share. Somehow in 2015 there is still a resounding gong of pursed lips and shhh that surrounds talking about infertility, miscarriage, or if you put it all together, the failure to do what we’ve been told our whole lives is our biological charge in this world.
For the first six to eight months that we were “trying” (although I’d quip that anytime someone has unprotected sex, they’re trying), I stopped running altogether. We were adjusting post-deployment, which was hard. Inexplicably hard. I graduated from my Master’s program and had jumped in head first (or belly-flopped?) into a demanding four-week summer gig teaching beginning English eight hours a day. After that I was to begin my first year as university faculty, in what was pretty much my dream job. I was busy. And tired. And fulfilled from teaching.. but month after month went by and pregnancy test after pregnancy test found its way into the trash can.
Excitement. I can’t quite describe how it feels to be so excited, to think, Wow, now THIS will be the month! THIS will be the cycle! Better make plans because man, we’re gonna have a baby in nine months. I think about our baby announcement, names we’ve picked out (for years actually), logistics of taking maternity leave, where I want to deliver. Mind you, that lovely pink line hasn’t even been provoked yet and the mind goes crazy with these thoughts.
Anger. Then the one biological sign we as women have really been programmed to hate shows up. And it can’t just come quietly, either. It has to remind us with cramps and mood swings and acne (all of which are worse off the pill, of course) that yet again, my womb is empty. I’m angry. Angry at the world for telling me that this would be so easy. Okay, kids, if you have sex, you will get pregnant. You guys are healthy and active – it will happen quickly for you! My so-and-so was on the pill too and when she came off of it, she got pregnant in the first month! It’s okay if you guys don’t get pregnant right away, you’re young and you have time. So much anger and bitterness towards these words and attitudes, even if they’re meant without harm.
I’m angry. At myself for thinking this would be so easy. At my uterus, without a doubt. At the fact that I had given up “strenuous exercise” that gives me peace of mind in order to make my uterus apparently more hospitable (???). Judging by the first week of the cycle, nothing in my body is hospitable to anything except coffee and ice cream. Typical. Rinse and repeat.
Bitterness. This is the most dangerous part of the process, but the most difficult part to avoid. We’re at the age where people have been married a few years and are actually getting pregnant on purpose with first, second, third children. Twins! Natural triplets! IVF triplets! Wow! If I just hide enough friends on Facebook or unfollow enough people on Instagram, I won’t have to deal with it. The lies and comparisons creep in anyway. I think, Wow, by the time she’s my age, her kid will be in first grade. Then my heart sinks again. If I have a baby in the next year, I’ll be almost 50 when he or she graduates from high school. My parents are in their early 50’s now, and we’re all out of the house. They have a grandbaby. Congratu-freaking-lations, Elizabeth. You’re gonna be one of those “old” moms. Ugh.
So I start running again, through the excitement soon replaced by anger and bitterness. It’s my revenge at the world. Hey! Look at me! You’re sitting over there using your pregnant belly as a shelf and here I am! Running! On trails! With my husband! And I didn’t need a babysitter! Because we have no baby at home! Your kid is being a brat? Your kid is puking? Fantastic! Not my circus, not my monkeys, that’s what I say. I walk away thinking, Maybe this not-getting-pregnant thing is a blessing in disguise.
Grief. No one tells you about this. No one ever says when you’re in sex ed, Now kids, keep in mind that not everyone is going to be able to have their own biological children, so just, ya know, keep that in mind when you’re actually ready to take on the socially-acclaimed-to-be-prestigious and little-thanked full-time job of parenting. No one tells you that you could have dreams about your future children, see them, their faces, their hair, have names picked out but your dreams might not ever realize. No one tells you that this grief is actually real, though there’s not a tangible representation.
I run through the grief. It comes and goes, and sometimes I think about it on a run and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I just think about how I need water or how I wish a different song would come on my random playlist or, not surprisingly, that the run would be over. The endorphins afterwards help, especially paired with sugary coffee and a good ole West Texas sunrise.
Acceptance. I think I was at this stage prematurely, and because of that, it’s taken away most of my motivation to keep going. To endure more procedures. More tests. Set aside more money for co-pays. Our life is pretty darn amazing. I always knew it would be. But even a decade ago, I had this feeling like maybe our life would be hard. Na, I totally knew that it would be hard. We’ve seen others take a longer, more drawn out, more expensive road to parenthood. It’s not just the medical bills that are expensive. It’s the toll it takes on a marriage, on each person’s self esteem. On the hope that you had that one day you’d have a mini-you running around. Or many mini-yous.
I had it all planned out. Never in my life did I envision that I’d have trouble getting pregnant. Maybe I never thought about it because before we truly weren’t ready to bring kids into our life. Now that we’ve been married awhile and the military has graciously let our lives calm down a bit and actually live together for once, I’m becoming more and more accepting if this is not going to happen.
Contentment. I’m not quite there yet. I have a pretty optimistic and go-getter personality that I think can get me there sooner rather than later. I feel contentment in waves, much like grief. When I watch the sunrise from the rearview mirror. Or feel the warm water of a lake. Or watch fog evaporate over mountains. Or sit in cozy silence with my husband, not having to say a word. In the laughter of nieces and nephews. My contentment will be found in other places, if not in my womb. Those places I will find as time goes on.
I’ll keep on running and training. I will focus on what my body can do rather than what it can’t do. Running provides mental stability and repair. It gives me an opportunity to pray and seek, whether over six miles or twenty-six miles. This is where I’m at. We all have different reasons for running; here’s mine.
This doesn’t make sense. I might even let my
twenty-nine-year-old five-year-old self say that it’s not fair. It’s not logical. Egg, meet sperm. Sperm, meet egg. Ok? Ok. Or not. But you know what is logical? Feet on pavement. Step after step, mile after mile. The gently used stroller I preemptively bought from a friend might sit in the closet and collect dust, but my running shoes won’t.