My husband DB and I are blessed with an amazing group of friends on the roads as well as the trails. Friends that care for us deeply, that want the best for us and therefore do their best to look out for us. But when it comes to the (shocking!) topic of infertility, one of two things tends to happen: dead silence or heartfelt – but useless – advice.
Sometimes I hope that it’s simply the taboo of infertility that leads to these quick and simple assessments. Run less. Gain more. Go on a vacation. Relax. Adopt. And I certainly understand that when faced with a) an uncomfortable subject and b) a hurting friend, one’s gut reaction would be to find the fastest, easiest remedy. But infertility is complicated, and each and every couple that faces it has a uniquely different story.
“Why discuss it all?” you might ask. After all, it’s something very private, very painful, and very taboo (sex!).
I myself am an open book. That’s not always the best way to be, and I’m working on more appropriate filters. But imagine that all around you, your contemporaries are having children. Running friends, gym friends, church friends, co-workers. They joke that “you’re next!” They ask if you and your husband have “thought about kids.” Well-meaning older women and moms at church mention that you’re getting older and you’d “better get started soon.”
At some point, you have little left but the truth. Especially by the time you’re having radioactive dye shot through your uterus to make sure your tubes aren’t blocked and taking drugs that are the equivalent of early menopause in a bottle. By the time you start giving yourself shots, you’re really done having people say “Oh, I was sure once so-and-so had a baby you’d be next!”
But being a runner complicates it even more, because there seems to be this immediate assumption by runners and non-runners alike that it’s somehow related to your running. And that if you’d just slow down or stop it for a while – voila! – baby! So with that, I’ve decided to share a brief bit of insight on our infertile running lives, and what living with stroller jealousy is really like. No gory details, I promise.
It’s not my weight. I won’t lie, I love this picture. I wish my abs really looked like this, but skinny girls have body issues too and this picture is seriously the perfect combination of lighting, leaning, greasy sunblock and core work. Think that photo is counterproductive to my point? Wrong. It is meant to be compared to the one below, where I’m eight pounds heavier. When you start out under 100, that’s a pretty significant little cushion. A few more notes: my BMI is in the normal range. My body fat is in the normal range. And I’ve never stopped having my cycle. Putting on weight seems like such an easy answer, right? As a runner, I fought it at first, but I wanted our baby more. But the truth is, the weight did nothing but make my suit pants fit like sausage casings. And vanity issues aside, you really think I wouldn’t prefer pizza and Pop-Tarts to $75 self-administered shots? Come now.
It’s not my running. And I won’t lie, I fought this one tooth and nail. A very close friend of mine did an Ironman, took a few months “off,” eased back into running, and had just run marathons on back to back weekends when she found out she was pregnant. Shannon Farrar-Greifer has admitted she got pregnant on a trip she took immediately after running Badwater. Deena Kastor unexpectedly found out she was pregnant in the middle of heavy training at the elite level! Sure I knew I wasn’t going to be running 100-milers while I was trying to get pregnant, but I thought I could back off to 50 – 60 easy miles a week and be in good shape on both counts. To be truthful, I was kind of looking forward to the break. But after the first year of “trying,” I was left kind of out of shape with no baby. That’s when they told me to back off even more. That’s when I fought tooth and nail. And then did it for three months, while we also started a fertility drug and some procedures to increase our odds every month. That’s the point at which we were a year and a half in and I was both heavier and out of shape. And yes, that’s when we started doing three months “on” (of treatments) and three months “off” (of running and/or a 100-miler) to find some kind of balance for me – emotionally and mentally as well as physically.
It’s a couple’s problem, not mine. The life of the infertile runner isn’t limited to the woman. My husband hurts too. My husband holds our friends’ babies and feels a longing. My husband comes home from runs once in a while and says that it’s a bad day for infertile people on the bike path. That’s code for lots of strollers. My husband wonders why not him, and why not us, and just plain why. We both avoid the diaper aisle in the grocery store, and joke about perfect family photos, and tend to roll our eyes or turn off the tv any time there’s any “big pregnancy news” or birth scene. And we both have to live with it being us. Because it’s not my weight, and it’s not my running. It’s his medical glitch combined with my medical glitch that means there’s a good chance this won’t happen. Yet it’s not impossible, so hope continues to spring eternal … only to be dashed over and over again.
Yes, we know we can adopt. But adoption isn’t for everyone. And the majority of people who so lovingly suggest it have never actually had to consider it for themselves. Adoption, too, is complicated, painful, intrusive and expensive. Of course we’ve explored adoption, and we may decide to explore it again. But moving so quickly to suggest adoption, as so many caring friends lovingly do, denies the couple the grieving process for their lost experience. I repeat, it’s not about the woman, but the couple. It’s not about a big belly and baby showers. It’s about the tiny nuances that most parents revel in, but don’t realize are lost to those who adopt. That first positive pregnancy test. Sharing that enormous secret for the first two or three months. Your heartbeat being the only one your baby has ever heard. Your husband talking to your belly. Getting to feel your baby’s first kicks. Your husband being that proud father in the delivery room. Knowing that you created a life together. Certainly every adoption story has different but no less precious moments; I don’t deny that and I have heard truly beautiful stories. But the infertile couple needs to be allowed to grieve their loss before moving on. Not the loss of the vaunted “biological child,” but the loss of sharing a pregnancy together.
Of course I’m jealous of you. But I’m genuinely happy for you too. I love how tender our friends are about telling us when they’re pregnant. Or when they’re trying to get pregnant. Or when they’re even thinking about starting a family. And I understand why you’d be so, so worried that we’re going to be mad, or sad, or jealous, or upset. And we probably are going to be some of those things. But here’s something even more important: we are really so happy for you. And we want to come to your baby shower, and we want to visit you in the hospital, and we want to go to the baptism and still be a part of your lives – and your family’s life. Because the truth is, our situation has just made us realize even more what a blessing this is – what a miracle this is for you, for your family, and for everyone that knows and loves you. Just do me one little favor, and don’t tell me how much pregnancy sucks, or how lucky we are to be able to sleep in, or how you wish you could do all the traveling that we do. Because the truth is, we are a little jealous. Dorky parents are kind of cool, and we’re still hoping to get our own shot at this soggy Cheerio thing one day. Now, if I could just gain a little weight, stop running, relax, take a vacation and adopt …