Stroller Jealousy: The Life of the Infertile Runner

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.


Damn skinny people! That MUST be why I’m not pregnant! (Note: this photo was taken two weeks after I took third in the USATF 100 Mile Championship. I was NOT trying to get pregnant while practically emaciated.)

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.

A muscular, but meatier Clove about 8 pounds heavier. When you start under 100, that’s considered significant.

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.

NOT a quality alternative to running. Or a very fun way to conceive either.  Image via Google Images.
Blackfords for Parents! Vote Now!  Image via

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 …

We love vacation … but no, it doesn’t get us pregnant. (It does make us incredibly grateful for all of the blessings we do have, though.)

Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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  1. Clove – I’m in tears reading this post as I’ve been through ALL of the same things you are going through. I am also a runner (although never more than marathons!), and spent YEARS trying to conceive. We were eventually fortunate enough to have twin girls through IVF. I wish I could offer some helpful words – but I will just say that you are not alone and that it’s ok to grieve and to be upset/pissed/jealous/etc. about what you are going through. I wish you peace on this difficult journey. Email me if you ever want to vent. Sounds like we have very similar stories.

  2. Have you tried standing on your head after sex for 10 minutes? Always works for me! Also if you ever need a kid, I’ll have a coupla spares soon. Just let me know!

    Seriously though, hearing your struggle just breaks my heart and knowing how badly you and others want to be in my position really helps me get through those tough times with pregnancy and parenting when I really wonder if I do! Thank you so much for sharing your story!!! LOVE YOU!!!

  3. You guys are in my thoughts! You hit the nail on the head in that it becomes a grieving process. I think that’s where the big misundestanding happens and then you get such silly but trying to be helpful comments and suggestions. Loss applies to more than just death. But the hope that you two still have is inspiring and encouraging. Even though I’m not in that position, I admire the strength and honesty. I think this post will help (and comfort) a lot of people!

  4. Clove- this subject holds near & dear to my heart. I’m tearing up just reading this. I have a story as well. You are so, so brave to share this with everyone. I’ll share a short version of mine. I was told 7 years ago that I was too skinny & running was the cause of my infertility too. My husband & I were told point blank by our reproductive endocrinologist that IVF would be the only shot we had. We’re both teachers who don’t have insurance that would cover any of this. I was devastated. She told me to gain about 10 lbs & gave me a script for Clomid (this was after extensive testing for both my hubby & I. I also have had the dye experience you mention. NOT fun). Fortunately for us (and completely surprising) it worked on the first round, only to have a miscarriage at 7 weeks. More devastation. Long story short & 4 kids later, Clomid did work with 2 out of 4 kids. My twins were a comlplete surprise after another devastating miscarriage. I learned many things about myself, faith, and God throughout my experience. I don’t want to offer you any advice other than please do not give up hope. I wanted nothing more than to be a mother. I prayed & prayed & prayed. I prayed every day to St. Gerard, the Saint of Motherhood. There are online support groups & those helped me deal with the baby bump & stroller envy. I wish I could offer up the magical solution, but I firmly believe you WILL be a mother. I look at my 4 kids every single day as the most sacred blessings from God. As hard as parenthood is, all I have to do is remind myself how truly lucky I am.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Im not going to offer any advice, because I don’t have any. But I want you to know that your story touched me, and I wish you and your husband peace and a happy ending.

  6. I’m with you, Clove. Last week my best friend in the world was afraid to share with me that she was pregnant with her 4th. She is my age, 37. Tick tock. I am always happy for my friends when they have big news. Like yours, my husband hurts too. He’s a child psychiatrist, so he loves kids. At every family function we attend, he is hanging with the little people. We have tried all the natural tricks…travel, weird diets, relaxation bla bla bla…we have even broken furniture (hope he doesn’t read this). We have joked about becoming a Brangelina couple and adopt babies from all over the world. I do have some advice. There is some evidence that joining a support group increases your chance of conceiving. You can trust me, I have a medical degree on my wall. Hugs from Cinci- heidi
    Here is a good web resource:

  7. Or my favorite…you just need to relax. Honey, I’m in my mid-30s. I don’t have time to relax.

  8. Count me in on those in tears reading this. I am so sorry you and DB are going through this and I hope that, like Michelle, your dreams will come true. As Jimmy V would say, don’t give up – don’t ever give up.

  9. Thank you all so much for your comments and your feedback – I am truly touched. I’ll have a little more time this weekend to respond to some individually, but I really wanted to say “thank you” to everyone that reached back now. I’ve always known I’m not alone in this, but KNOWING you are not alone is so much different. Thank you.

  10. I am a champion infertile. HSG x 3. Clomid x 3. IUI x 2. IVF x 6. As a runner (yeah, quit it for years…) or as a healthy skinny person told to gain weight (gained 6-10 lbs…did nothing) or as someone that had to put my life on hold for years just to do the one thing that stupid crackwhores (and just about anyone else) can do without even trying, I am happy to talk to you. We were able to have 2 kids through all of this, but it was an awful, terrible, depressing, some days I just wish I was dead experience. And, I still have to guard myself around fertile people…and even some only slightly infertile people…because they just do. not. get. it. It’s not malicious; you can’t really understand something unless you have been through it. I am hoping the bitterness will subside with time, but I will never get those years back. Anyway, I really appreciate that you are open about your struggles. There aren’t many athlete/infertile bloggers out there and I am happy to have found a comrade in your blog.

  11. Clove, as a woman who has gone through exactly what you are going through, I truly feel your pain. The exact same advice has been given to me on more than one occasion, therefor, I will not be providing any. Just know that your story touched my heart and you are in my thoughts.

  12. Wow. Spot on. I just read this to my husband while we went to bed. We think I wrote it! We are on round 2 of IVF – after clomid, the dye thing, fibroid surgery, IUI, etc. These extra pounds on this triathlete/runner/surfer are not easy. Being told to stop running, cycling, and surfing is very hard on the psyche. I totally get it, girl. I totally get every single word you wrote.

  13. This is so beautiful and so sad. As the very lucky mother of one, I’m a little cautious about commenting – the danger of being a ‘smug mum’. But I’m not smug, just grateful and I don’t pity you, I’m just so sad for you. I identify a little because I have a heart condition and we’ve been advised strongly not to have a second child and I had to grieve a little for that unborn second child that I wanted so badly..but pretty quickly I learned to be grateful for what I had rather than moan about what I don’t. In many respects, it was easier for us because we were able to take the decision about not having second child ourselves instead of having it taken for us by our bodies.

    I hope so badly that a miracle happens. I’m now off to hug my little boy very hard and promise to remember how lucky we are at 4.30 when he wakes up and shouts for us 😉

  14. I thought you were writing about me! I was charting 35-40 miles a week and after two years of unsuccessfully trying on our own, we saw an RE. All tests results normal. One cycle on clomid, 7 cycles on injections and 3 failed IVFs. I couldn’t run while on injectibles for fear of ovarian torsion. After two years of on and off medications (break only long enough to train for an uncoming race), all I have to show for is 11 extra pounds and a $23K debt. Though we’re nearly broke, we won’t give up as long as I still get monthly periods.

  15. I just found this post (thanks to Bart Yasso who posted a picture of you and him down in FL.)
    It reflects a lots about what I am going through right now and how I feel, particularly about the adoption issue. I know plenty of successful adoption stories, but my husband and I have strong feelings about it and are not considering adoption. It’s always people’s first suggestion AFTER telling me maybe I work out too much or am too thin.

    I am 5’10” and 150 lbs. I work out moderatly 5-6 days a week. I love training for long races (though not ultras). I don’t think it’s fair that I have to sacrifice one for the other, but it’s better than having a twisted ovary thanks to these stupid shots. Unfortunately, my husband is not as supportive of the running and a year ago told me I was running too much and it could be affecting the fertility. That hurt, and still does. So I might have to enact that compromise and hold off on trying until I get some spring half marathons done.

    Our infertility is in that little 10% piece of the pie chart called “unexplained.” It’s like a kick in the junk. No idea why, despite shots and 4 follicles and a “beautiful” uterus lining plus an IUI, that the sperm and egg don’t come together and party hardy.

    I feel your pain, wish you the best, and am now subscribing to your posts!

  16. I totally get it. 5 years into our glorious “infertility journey”, we were finally told that we could give up.

    I am naturally thin, had been a runner until 28 years old.
    Gave up running, became even thinner, got married, had a great two years or so before we decided it was time.
    Discovered a fibroid, had it removed to help along the process. My cycle came out with the fibroid. Now 37, I haven’t had a natural cycle in 5 years, no matter what weight, what nutrition plan or whatever form of exercise had been banished from my kingdom.

    5 years of weekly “magic wands,” estrogen patches, two ivfs, needles galore (I have track marks on my arm from all the blood draws), stories of “someone I know couldn’t conceive and then they gave up and went on vacation and then-BAM!” stories.

    Sadly, these five years also included stories like some of those posted in the comments. I don’t mean to diminish the pain of those who have gone through a long fertility struggle on the way to parenthood. But I do wish to maintain that the experience is inherently different if you come out on the other side of it with a child.

    With our handed-down judgement came the freedom to start running again. No more do I have to fear I might become “too-thin” to conceive (BTW Paula Radcliffe has children!)

    I am running my first marathon in two days. I am overjoyed. I stumbled upon this blog post while looking for tips. I found so much more.

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you, KellyJo! Sharing our stories is both difficult and important, and it’s always good to hear that a shared story has touched another runner! Congratulations on having trained for your first marathon! We’d love to hear how it goes – send us a shout on our facebook page, or in the comments of our first marathon post!

  17. Loved reading your post and the replies – thanks so much for sharing. I have been trying to get pregnant for the past year and no luck – and have had the same experience – stopping/ reducing running = slow and no baby…

  18. I see this is dated, but hope I can help in any way, as a guy chiming in (for both you, and your husband, or anyone else)…
    You, are, not, alone.
    And: I’m sorry. (I know *that’s* a hard one to parse: what does it *mean*? I mean, I’m sorry it’s hard and you don’t get something you deserve, that comes seemingly easy to many. And in the running community, it feels like there are other other parents who didn’t go through it, so they don’t ‘get’ it, or childless-by-choice, so they don’t ‘get’ it, either).

    We are infertile as well. And we now have a beautiful adopted baby boy — I needed to tell you that upfront before going on…

    Damn right, it’s always “we.” One person is destroyed and feels like their body betrayed them. The other person would give anything for it to be them, instead. An extra pain as a fit person is the ‘unfairness’ of taking care of your body, while so many others don’t…let alone the number of unplanned pregnancies and common socially-acceptable complainting about pregnancy and childrearing.
    If you go through medical procedures, you end up with more of a financial and physical and emotional pain similar to pregnancy…yet with no end result.

    You are right, it absolutely is a mourning period of a loss. It took us a few years to process that fully (with some help). I simply ran more and tried not to think about it, but had a hard time concentrating on work. My wife pressed on as long as she could, but things slowly built up…

    I know exactly what you mean about people tip-toeing the entire issue, and pregnancies and kids in general, which is ironic. I mean, the point is, you *want* to be parents more than anything…so why *wouldn’t* you be happy about kids in general?
    In all honesty, though, the whole thing has made me a better person towards all kids, especially my little niece (born right before we found out): we cherished every little milestone and time with her because we never knew if we’d experience it otherwise.

    I know exactly what you mean about ‘stroller days.’ We wouldn’t go out in town (with lots of restaurants) on Mother’s Day. Father’s Day, 2 years ago, I knowingly went for a jog on one of the most popular trails in town, that I frequented all year.
    On Father’s Day, of course, families that I never otherwise see (likely watching sports most other weekends) take token hikes on the hill.
    I wavered between smiling and encouraging kids making their way up the hill, to running down the more secluded parts of the trail with tears streaming down my face.

    We looked into adoption for about a year and a half, and were still daunted by the whole thing. By incredible circumstance — and, I’ll say it, luck — we met a teenage couple that were 8 months pregnant. Not to hide anything, he is the absolute joy of our life. I will tell you about it if you want, it is a good story and the best thing that happened to us. I also know that it’s not easy and by no means expected to be so. So many things are, unfairly, out of our control that you don’t know how it’s going to go.
    (And even if it goes well, you still don’t have the capacity to choose, easily, if you want 2 or 3 kids or not; adopting a second child is just as complicated and uncertain, again).

    It was expensive and ‘screwed up’ our calculated plans for jobs and houses and stuff. I ended up being a work-from-home, stay-at-home Dad, which wasn’t planned, but it has been fantastic. I’m not hiding anything, I’m just telling you, our experience means we haven’t taken a single moment for granted. We’ve never complained once. I don’t know what the future is in store for you, but through children of your own, or relatives, or friends, you will have a deeper appreciation for them than many other people could imagine.

    Although the world seemed dark, I wonder now, how many of those strollers and kids in backpacks actually were hard-fought pregnancies and adoptions? I hope, for you, that you can be one as well. Please know that anybody who has been through infertility does NOT forget those who have or are going through it. Please know that so many people out there are heartbroken for you, and wish nothing but the best, and appreciate your openness.

    So, there isn’t really advice, or a one-size-fits-all-solution. Just, thank you for sharing, and I hope more people will listen.

  19. Wow you really hit the nail on the head. This is EXACTLY how I feel- triathlon competitor for 13 years, age group nationals, Ironman, serious racer. I can’t stand it when people blame it on my “working out” and tell me to relax and back off. It’s who I am! I may workout a ton BUT I get my period completely regularly, have enough body fat (and then some!!), and weigh plenty. I even took two seasons off from racing so I could drop the intensity and that did nothing. No baby and no feeling good about winning races either.

    Don’t tell me I can just “borrow” your kids. Don’t “envy” me because I still “get to” sleep in, go to bed early, workout whenever I want, or tell me to “enjoy it while it lasts” when I so badly want a baby. For the love of god don’t tell me to “relax” and that it will happen when I least expect it or that you friends cousins brothers wife got pregnent when they stopped trying so hard. Ugh.

    I am curious If there is a happy ending for you? This is the first blog or article I found online that really resonates with me so thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Monique! I so wish you didn’t have to be facing this struggle – it is truly something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Such a unique pain and emptiness to sit with.

      “Happy ending” is a complicated question. If you had told me five years ago that we could have a happy ending without a baby, I would have just started crying all over again. So yes, I will be one of the few to tell you that our story didn’t end with a baby. Maybe that will actually make you feel better; my sister-in-law jokes with me that real infertility stories never end with a baby.

      I should also tell you that we didn’t avail ourselves of all of the options available to us. We chose not to do IVF for personal/ethical reasons. I support IVF for many people and we MAY have considered it had we wanted more than one child, but we weren’t going to create embryos that we knew we might not use (since we only wanted one child). Adoption was not the best option for us, though we think it is a beautiful way to form a family.

      I will say that the wound has healed, but the scar is there. There are times that you realize it’s not just kids – you won’t have grandchildren. Your husband won’t walk your daughter down the aisle at her wedding. It reverberates. But it also gets better. We’ve re-imagined our life, and it’s a beautiful, wonderful, HAPPY, full and blessed life.

      But no, we didn’t have a baby. That really does happen sometimes. No matter what happened to your brother’s cousin’s college roommate’s wife. (You know, hey, good for them, but my plumbing is still broken!)