I don’t talk a lot about last year’s Boston Marathon, with the exception of the posts I put up last year after it all went down. As you could tell from those posts, I was deeply, deeply affected by it all. Knowing that it EASILY could have been Charlie and Lucky at that finish line, injured, terrified, while I was doing something I love to do? Families of marathoners already make sacrifices – Charlie and Lucky do lots of errands for me in the hours when I’m gone doing my long runs and speedwork sessions.
And so, I hold strongly: I could never forgive myself if something happened to my son or husband because of me.
Not surprisingly, this year’s marathon coverage started early, with in depth reports about the events of the day, the manhunt, the changes to the marathon this year, the profiling of the victims and what they plan on doing this year. And it’s brought up a lot of the same kind of feelings from last year, reminding me of the ever present fact.
I could lose the two people in my life who mean the most to me. Nothing in this life is safe.
I record my workouts on a website called Dailymile. It’s kind of like Facebook, except everyone who is online is an athlete of some kind. Over the years, I’ve connected with a number of other runners and follow their training. I have met a few local people at meet ups: women who have completed Ironman triathlons, ultramarathoners, marathoners, new runners who just got started, cyclists, yogis, etc.
One of those runners, a woman I will call Dallas, signed up to run two stages, totaling 19.5 miles, of the One Run for Boston a couple of weeks ago, before a calf injury flared up. (As an aside, if you’ve never heard of the One Run for Boston: you should check the link out. It’s a relay from California to Boston, as created by two amazing people from England. All funds raised go to the One Fund, which has actually paid real money to the victims of the bombing. It’s just amazing.)
Anyway, Dallas ran a test 5 mile run the Wednesday before her stages and realized she wasn’t sure she’d be able to do the whole thing. So she went on Dailymile asked for people who might be interested in flying to Texas, then roadtripping with she and her sister to Oklahoma to run with her.
The mileage happened to dovetail perfectly with my training – this weekend I had a 20 mile run on the schedule. And interestingly, I was registered for a 20 mile race that Sunday, but was feeling pretty uninspired. Marathon training this winter has been HARD, weather-wise. More wind and cold rain were in the forecast for Sunday’s race.
I felt like a roadtrip to run in sunny Oklahoma would maybe put the spark back in my own marathon training. Another girl (who I will call Oregon) volunteered too.
I had never met either one of them before the weekend, but they seemed like such great people and I was all for the adventure.
So that’s how I found myself on a plane on Friday morning, heading to into Texas. I met up with Oregon at the airport and Dallas picked us up from there. We all drove to Chickasha, OK for the evening, had a good dinner, and settled into our hotel room for the night.
After a quick half mile warmup, our stage started at 6:45 in the morning. It was dark and chilly, but we were running right into the sunrise, and you could feel the promise of sun and warmth. The route we were running – a 9 and 10.5 mile leg which followed SH 152 from Chickasha to Minco, OK – was a series of hills. It’s funny, because I had this idea that Oklahoma would be more like Kansas – pancake flat, with a road that stretched as far as we could see. I was wrong! The part of Oklahoma we ran was NOT AT ALL FLAT. For most of our 19.5 miles, it was one hill after another.
But still, a great run. Along the way we saw red rocks and valleys, lots of cows and windmills, a couple of dogs that tried to herd us into their cow pasture, and lots of drivers who didn’t want to yield. In fact, one woman called the Oklahoma state police because “there were three high school girls running in the middle of 152!” Which gave us a huge laugh – the three of us are most definitely MANY years out of high school.
And we met such great people: the woman who owned the convenience store at the end of stage 147, who wanted a picture with us, who told us she was proud of us; a former Marine from St. Louis who was running one of the group stages that night and was too excited to wait. And of course, the founders – the amazing people from England who started this all.
When we finished the second stage, literally moments after telling Oregon and Dallas I barely cried in front of my husband… I lost it. I sobbed. For my running club friend, yes. But for me, too.
It’s too much sometimes, to think about. We went through so much suffering to bring Lucky home, and the idea I could lose him because I’m doing something I love… it’s just too much to process.
I swear, runners are amazing people. Because we ALL exchanged hugs – real hugs, real comfort – and tears. And, too: the amazement that we could play a small part in a this huge undertaking.
And then it was time to drive back to Texas, so I could catch my flight back home. Within 4 hours of finishing this amazing run, I was back on a plane, heading to my family.I don’t really believe in fate, or that all things happen for a reason.
But I also love how the weekend worked out. It was my reminder from the universe: we are all connected… and all drops cause ripples.
The thing about not writing that much is that when you DO try and go back and write, it’s full of starts and stops and messy and rust and nails.
I really have so much to say, but it’s all jumbled in my head.
I suppose the cleanest topic I can write about is running.
Last year was our Break Year; after my miscarriage in Fall 2012 I decided I’d focus on losing weight and running a marathon. In hindsight, it was an attempt to take back control over my body. I had this idea that okay, I might not be able to nourish another life, but if my body did something USEFUL – got me a Boston qualifier marathon time while remaining uninjured – then maybe I could make peace with it.
Except that’s not how it turned out.
I had an AMAZING training cycle. There was a 22 mile run I had where I hit my my goal marathon pace for the last 2 miles and finished on SUCH a runner’s high I smile when I think of it today, more than 6 months later. There were speed workouts where I felt like the pace was SLOW, like I could go faster and run harder and I just wanted to laugh with the sheer joy of it. I ran a half marathon comfortably, without a watch, finishing JUST over my personal best time for that distance.
And then race day came, and I held marathon pace for the first half of the race, and then the wheels started to fall off. And I ended up walking far more than I ever wanted, watching precious minutes off my goal time slip off.
The thing with a marathon is that you can’t just go out and run another marathon if you fuck up. You have to recover and start the process all over again.
So I came away from my marathon experience in October with renewed focus. I could qualify for Boston, I knew it. I just needed more marathon experience. Which meant I should run more marathons, OBVIOUSLY.
This winter, my training experience has not been at ALL what last summer was. I’ve had a plethora of runs where I’ve loathed every minute of my run. I’m cold ALL THE EFFING TIME. Granted, it’s been a ridiculously cold winter with little thawing and lots of snow, but still. But even discovering the magic of those throwaway hand warmer things? They’ve only made my runs for the past three weeks tolerable.
Tolerable. More runs than not that feel hard and cold and are without joy. The ones that I like are merely tolerable.
So I cried uncle, and had coffee with my coach last night. I truly expected him to tell me it was marathon training combined with winter training blues, and that I should just suck it up and get through it.
He didn’t say that.
Instead, he told me that marathon training was a huge time suck, and that maybe it was better for me to aim at lower mileage weeks and race shorter distance races. He said, People would be SO much happier if they just went out for a 5 mile run every day. He recommended that I let go of the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, at least in the near future, and find the happy in my running again.
Let’s bring the fun Serenity back! he said.
I don’t know why it is that I’ve decided I need to qualify for the Boston Marathon. After what happened last year, even thinking about running it gives me nightmares. Running the race means I’d have to training in winter. And the course is not one of the best marathon courses, either – through the suburbs. Granted, with tons of crowd support.
But still. Suburbs aren’t pretty to run through.
I think, quite honestly, this idea that I need to get better at running marathons comes from this idea that I have to be getting better, showing progress. I can’t just run because I love it – I need to get faster and be better at it with every race. And with marathons, I have this idea that I have to PROVE to myself I am a “real” marathoner by getting better at it. I’m a good runner, so clearly I need to focus on running to my capability, yes?
What that means is I turn it into Work. And making it Work sucks the joy right out of it for me. Instead of running for fun, I’m looking at my watch and worrying about my pace. Instead of finding a comfortable easy pace on the mile long hill in mile 3 of a 5 mile run, I’m pushing myself up and over so I don’t get slower. Instead of feeling strong and capable, I feel sluggish and worn out.
So yeah, I think it’s time to step back and stop this pattern I have of making everything into work.
I will run my marathon on Mother’s Day this year, but I’m not going to do it with any sort of time goal in mind. I want to run the whole thing – the only walk breaks I want to take are at the water stops – and finish feeling happy that I ran the whole thing.
And then, this summer, I’m going to focus on racing shorter distances. Maybe run a half marathon in the fall. Run with lots of my friends. Run without a watch. Run in pretty places where I can swim in the ocean afterwards. Run happy.
Six years ago, he made me a mom.
In some ways, it feels like he’s been with us forever.
But I remember the day he was born as if it were yesterday.
He makes my heart full, even when the whining and negotiating and “Not FAIR!” and the Not-Listening.
So I have a draft saved, an update post – all about how infertility has affected my body image, my parenting, and my marriage. And every time I go back to it, I keep tweaking things here and there… but I can’t seem to press the “publish” button.
I’m not actually sure I can blame IF for the way I feel about myself, my parenting, or my marriage.
What I know: Right now I seem to be in a place that’s bleak and dreary. Maybe it’s the awful winter, or maybe it’s knowing we’re done with family building, or maybe it’s because I’m coming up on 40 and am realizing that the horizon is NOT wide open for me anymore.
I feel as if I’ve spent my whole life, up until this time, looking for the Golden Ticket, always looking ahead for that next chocolate bar – the bar which might actually hold my ticket to lasting contentment and happiness.
My whole life has looked like that. Wow, I’m in kindergarten – hey, next year I’ll be a first grader! Wow, a fifth grader! A middle schooler! And look how old I am now, I’m in high school. Cannot WAIT until college. Wow, I’m here, in college. What will I major in? Crap, I am graduating college in May. I need a career. Nope, that career isn’t awesome. I’ll go back to graduate school for a practical career. Except, wait, I hate marketing. Another graduate degree – accounting would be recession-proof! I’ll never have to worry about being out of work. Now what? Oh. Pick a partner. Marriage. Let’s start trying for kids. Oh, no kids yet? Okay, fine, let’s look for a house. Found one? Great! Wow, I’m pregnant, finally. He’s two, we should start trying for a sibling… all right, well, that didn’t work out so well, but thank GOODNESS it’s over. Shit. Now what?
I never did find that Golden Ticket. And I feel like I’m standing outside of the Chocolate Factory gate, looking at all the lucky kids who DID get their Golden Ticket – the people that completed their families AND work a career they love AND qualified for the Boston Marathon AND can actually be photographed in a bikini.
At some point, we enter a place in our lives where we run out of milestones yet to meet. My education: complete. My family building efforts: complete. I have a husband, and a son, and a house, and a dog, and a job, and many responsibilities. There are options open to me, of course, but all require sacrifice and energy and time I no longer seem to have.
And all of a sudden, it’s my kid who has the milestones ahead of him: my kindergartener, who is turning 6 in two weeks. It’s his turn to search for his Golden Ticket.
But wait! I want to scream. I didn’t imagine my life like looking LIKE THIS!
And so it’s easy to get mad, and blame all sorts of things for why this wasn’t the life I wanted. Infertility robbed us of our second child. My body is to blame for why we can’t complete our family. My husband is to blame for why we need to struggle with doctors and IVF in order to get pregnant. My parents are to blame why I ended up in the career I’m in. If my cousin hadn’t committed suicide 20 years ago, I wouldn’t be such a perfectionist who is worried about making sure her friends and family get the support they need all the time, to the detriment of my own life.
Et cetera et cetera.
But the thing is?
*I* made the decisions on the paths I’ve walked. Not infertility, not my parents, not my body, not my husband, or son, or Amy.
And if I was making choices mindlessly, because I was focused on looking for that Golden Ticket?
It’s really no fault but my own.
I acknowledge that “fault” is a bad word here. It implies that I was wrong somehow, that I made bad choices. But I made those with knowledge and experience I had at the time. Which means they were just choices, not wrong or bad.
What I’m struggling with now is how to change my ingrained habits: Focusing too much on the future and forcing choices upon myself because I need to get out of where I am today. I am realizing that it’s a control thing – this idea that I have to DO something when I’m not as happy as I expected to be. I have to change up SOMETHING, I have to structure a new goal for myself to work towards, because THAT’S my Golden Ticket to happiness!
Why wouldn’t we try again, since our doctor recommends another fresh cycle? Why couldn’t we take another break and then do a fresh cycle, maybe in the fall once running season is over? Okay, if we don’t do that, why wouldn’t I focus then on running the best marathon EVER and qualify for Boston so I can prove to myself that my body doesn’t suck? Or maybe I can totally change up my careers, because accounting doesn’t really make me happy even though it’s pretty flexible and I make good money, it’s just not what I wanted. I think I want to [insert a new career here].
These are all goals for the sake of making goals. If I can’t find the Golden Ticket to Happiness, then maybe I can create happiness by looking for multiple mini-tickets. More is better, and I’ll DEFINITELY be happy when I meet all of my goals, right?
So here’s what I need to be doing, instead of all of this mindless goal-making.
Do nothing, Serenity. Just focus on the path you are walking right now.
Running-wise, I am training for a marathon in the spring. But my goal is ONLY to run the whole thing. I’d LOVE to have a comfortable marathon experience, since my last two marathons had a LOT of walking in them, a factor of injury and then starting way too fast and not being able to sustain.
Family-wise, We are done with family building. No matter how much the idea of trying again – maybe the next one will work! – niggles at me, we’re done. We’ve spent enough time and energy on family building. We’re done.
Career-wise, the more I think on my current work, the more I wonder if I’m selling myself short. I am a good accountant, and I actually really enjoy the work I do as treasurer of my running club. I love doing budgets and discussing options with people. Why COULDN’T I stay in the field in which I work – except go and get my own clients, maybe small businesses that might need some reporting/budgeting/accounting help? It won’t pay as much as the corporate work for sure, but I bet I could make my own hours.
Marriage-wise, I need to rediscover the man I married without the pall of procreation fail hanging over our heads. It’s so hard to carve out the time and energy to do this when you have the incessant, unceasing needs of an almost 6 year old only child competing with your marriage. There are days where all I want to do is enjoy the SILENCE of my house when Lucky is in bed. But that’s shortchanging Charlie and my marriage, and we really need to tend to it right now.
And maybe, just maybe, when I can figure out how to be still, I’ll find that my Golden Ticket has been in my pocket all along, and I never really noticed it before.
It’s funny. Even when I believe have found a lasting peace in walking away from treatments?
Any reminder of how much time and energy and suffering we spent on treatments brings on a flare of grief and anger with a depth that scares me.
We couldn’t have known how things would turn out, though. I mean, I was able to carry a baby to term. Why wouldn’t we think we could do it again?
Whenever I get mad at how much time we wasted on treatments, I keep reminding myself: We couldn’t have known.
We didn’t know. We thought that all the struggle would be worth it when we brought home our baby.
But the fact is, we did not bring home a baby. We are done.
So what now?
I don’t want to use this space to mourn my lost chances anymore. I need to change the way I think and feel about our infertility.
I used to refer to it as making lemonade. Back when we were trying for Lucky, I had hoped that it would being good karma to our cycles; that if I looked at things in a positive light, it might help it work.
The fallout from my last miscarriage scared the shit out of me; it took me months to claw out of that dark hole of hopelessness.
Changing the way I view our infertility and the End of Treatments is more than just a way to make lemonade or create good karma now.
It is essential – so we can move on. And heal.
So. What now?
I have always been the kind of person who looks ahead and changes up my life when I feel like I am unhappy. Hate my career? No problem – go back to school for a new one. Can’t have a baby? No problem – go to a new clinic and try a new protocol.
I need to learn how to change my feelings without changing my life.
I am considering learning mediation. I have the idea that creating space in my life for stillness might be a good thing for me.
I am also still working with my therapist. After three years of working together, I trust her to help me get down into the heart of the real issues: 38 years of mental and emotional habits are hard to break.
I know that healing is not linear. I also know that I need to take this a day at a time.
And I do know that we will all be okay in the end.
That is something, for sure.
I show up in the usual ultrasound department this morning at 6:30, knowing that the first blood draw starts at 6:45.
At 6:45, I’m directed upstairs to the OB/GYN department – apparent there are too many monitoring patients, and for bloodwork only you are seen on the 3rd floor.
I am the first there. They call my name at 7:00 sharp, and I walk in. There are two phlebotomists in the office, one all business, the other quietly waiting by the chairs.
What test? The business one asks me.
Pregnancy, I respond. I nearly choke on the word in my throat.
The quiet one asks me, How are you today?
I admit: It’s not one of my better days. As I roll up the sleeve on my left arm, I point out the pinhead scar on the vein from so many other draws. Think you can work around this? Or do you want to draw from my other arm?
She confirms she can work from it, there’s another vein in that arm that looks good.
And as she’s putting the needle in, she asks me, so kindly: How many is this?
I pause. I have no idea. I don’t know, I say. I’ve lost count. But we did get lucky once – I have a son who is going to be 6 next month.
She finishes my draw, gives me the pad to hold to the vein, and then tapes me up. And she says something which I can’t remember now. Probably empathetic and sweet and nice, because she was the first person who has taken my blood that has really asked me how I am. And I really have the sense she CARES about my response.
But all I can hear, as I’m putting my sweater and coat back on, is her question.
How many is this?
I really have no idea.
How many cycles, how much hope lost, how many embryos squandered?
How much suffering, how much loss?
The tears come unbidden. I can’t stop them – it’s all I can do to get down the three flights of stairs to the main lobby so I can escape into the winter air. I manage to get to my car before completely breaking down.
We started this second round of treatments almost 4 years ago. Of course we’d get pregnant again; after all, we fixed my uterus with surgery and then got pregnant and had our son at term – 37 weeks. It was resolved – we fixed Ute.
But here I am – however many cycles later. With no baby to show for it.
I know it was a fight worth fighting; it’s our FAMILY, after all. But if I had known that we’d lose the war, I would have stopped a long, long time ago.
Because this time around, it’s affected everything. My marriage, my happiness, my identity, my dreams, my hopes, my fears; the very foundation of who I am and what I believe.
I used to believe that if you worked hard enough, you’d succeed. I used to believe that there were battles worth fighting. I used to believe that infertility might bring me and my husband closer together. I used to believe that infertility helped make my heart bigger; it gave me a huge reservoir of empathy and gratitude for where I did get Lucky. I used to believe that if you put something out into the universe, you’d get it eventually, even if it wasn’t in the form you expected.
Today, though, I don’t know that I believe in any of it. I loathe my body. There’s a chasm between my husband and I that I’m not sure we can ever bridge. I have so little control over anything in this life.
And I sometimes want to smack the little girl inside me who thinks that by wishing on a fucking star, I’ll make my wishes come true.
We worked so hard to make our dreams come true.
So hard, we lost count.
I’m not sure if any of you even reads this blog anymore.
What happened last spring: I was heartbroken, tired of writing about heartbreak, and I had a falling out with someone over a post I had written in this space.
I felt like I couldn’t write here anymore, I felt as if I needed space. And time. And distance.
And I had another blog anyway – using my real name. It was about running and parenting and I linked it to Bacefook and thought maybe I’d try my hand at writing as the REAL me.
I’m not sure if it’s surprising to any of you, but I have a really hard time writing there. Mostly because I use my writing as a way to work things/issues/problems out.
And in that space, when I’m writing something, I have this question I can’t shake. Who cares?
Really, who cares?
SO many people post to Bacefook about their plans and hopes and dreams, only to have people “like” and move on. There are so many voices out there, all yelling to be heard.
What then, is the point, of putting my point of view out there?
And over the past year or so, I’ve had people comment here, wondering how things were for me, wondering about our leftover embryos, wondering how me, Charlie, and Lucky were doing.
So last fall I ran another marathon. I had an amazing training cycle, nothing hurt, it was wonderful and amazing. And on race day, I finished with a 45 minute personal best. Our dog, Happy, is growing, and aside from the times he’s a complete butthole, is turning into a wonderful, stinky, goofy, happy dog. Lucky started kindergarten, is learning how to read, and incessantly tells us stories about the amazing things that Bear can do.
And we used up the remaining three embryos we had left in two separate cycles. Both cycles were BFNs.
In fact, I got the last BFN this very morning; at 14dpo, after a night of insomnia where I just kind of KNEW. So this morning I made it official: I photographed the snowy white HPT, and threw away all my meds.
We have reached the very End of Family Building. We are done. There are no more embryos. There will be no more treatments, no what-ifs.
In a lot of respects, the end of treatments is a relief. This last cycle, in particular, was a pain in the ass. It was delayed by nearly two weeks because my uterine lining wasn’t thick enough to meet the clinic’s minimum criteria. And my clinic had a flood, which meant that they weren’t doing transfers and retrievals at New Clinic – instead they leased space at Old Clinic. We ended up back at our old clinic for our last transfer. In fact, we had a bit of a run in with our old doctor, Dr. Hang-In-There, on the day of transfer.
Full fucking circle, indeed.
I’m not surprised it didn’t work. I’m not even heartbroken. There was no more heart to break, no real hope left for us, not really.
And I’ll admit it: I have spent much of the past number of months feeling alone. I am one of the few bloggers left who was able to have one child through treatments, but not have any others. It’s an in-between kind of hell, honestly – when you have a child, you can’t escape other families, all of whom seem to have multiple children, very easily. You are forced to confront lots of pregnant bellies at daycare, at school, at playdates. There are always questions, Is he your only? or How many kids do you have?
And there are people in the grocery store who have actually said to Charlie, when seeing how good he is with Lucky, You are a great dad, and you need to have more kids.
Seriously, people? SERIOUSLY?
So to cope, I’ve been searching out people in my real life who have older kids and have announced that they are done with family building so I’m not taken by surprise when they are pregnant again. I have actually sought out people with one child, usually older, and have asked them how they feel about having an only child, in order to suss out whether or not they want to have more. It’s been kind of ridiculous.
But what I’ve discovered over the past few months, too?
The more I talk with women who HAVE completed their families, the more I’m starting to see that I am NOT alone. My grief over the End of Family Building is shared by so many other women – even the ones who have completed their families. I talk with so many women who STILL, even now, look at babies and sigh in longing, remembering what it was like to have a little person so completely helpless and dependent on you.
It’s intimacy on the most pure level, those first few months with your baby.
And it makes sense that all women would feel strongly about letting that go; regardless of whether or not they feel like their family is complete.
The more I’ve talked with women, and discovered they feel similarly to me, the less alone I feel.
The less alone I feel, the more peace I feel about The End of Family Building.
Because instead of seeing it as a choice I was forced into making, I can see it as the natural progress of being female. At one point or another, we ALL come to the point of the End of Family Building, and we are forced to start a new chapter in our lives.
I feel like maybe by focusing on what I DO have – an amazing almost 6 year old, a good man as a husband, a loving dog, a career that affords us financial security and opportunity – that the next chapter will be full enough that I won’t feel as if we are missing something.
So that’s where I am, right now. And though I can’t promise anything, I think I’d like to use this space again for working things out, particularly as it relates to this new chapter. Because I am left with so many questions, after nearly 9 years of trying to complete our family.
Who am I? What will this life – the one I have right now – look like? What do I need to do to find lasting contentment in what I have, and how can I make our life as full as possible?
I hope you all are well.