When I’m being melodramatic, I like to say that my sister saved my life. In actuality, I think she saved my sanity. I’m quite certain I would have gone into a deep depression after my second miscarriage had it not been for my sister.
My second loss was a psychological turning point for me. My first loss, while devastating, was possible to rationalize. It was common, a likely genetic aberration, no cause for concern. The second loss, however, seemed ominous. Our experience no longer felt ordinary. It felt wrong.
My sister was living in LA at the time with her husband and my nephew, who had just turned one. We were in Chicago. Wisely, in October, about a month after the loss, my husband forced me cross-country for a weekend of emotional fortification, family and fall festivities.
We did, in fact, carve pumpkins – really awesome ones that were shaped and painted to look like Elmo and Cookie Monster. I believe they melted in the LA heat long before Halloween. More importantly, the visit launched me into a physical and mental endeavor that ferried me through my pain.
In an effort to lose her baby weight, my sister had decided to train for a half marathon. During my visit, she dragged me along on one of her training runs. It was only three miles, but I barely made it. I remember being an entire block behind as she finished the run, yet she patiently waited for me as I hobbled the last length. I was impressed, inspired and just low enough to allow her to convince me I should train with her for the full race.
Let me be very, very clear that I am NOT a runner and never imagined I would run 13.1 miles. At the start, I’m not even sure I believed I would make it to the end. The longest I’d ever run up until that point was a 10k Turkey Trot, and I distinctly remember hearing a spectator say, “oh, this must be the walking group” as I jogged slowly by. But somewhere in the middle of the training, the race shifted from something I was doing solely to support my sister to a goal I HAD to achieve at a point in my life when I really needed a win.
I know some of my readers are runners, and to you it may seem like I’m overhyping the experience, but for me the struggle was real. We all have something (or many things) in life we wish we could achieve but believe we’re incapable of. Our “big goal.” Our albatross. We want to run a marathon (or an iron man), write a novel, own a home, find true love, start a business, or… grow a family.
My miscarriages made me feel like a failure. I felt impatient for a family and completely out of control. But running 13.1 miles was a goal big enough to counterbalance the weight of my grief. It gave me back a sense of accomplishment and reminded me I had unknown strengths and faculties.
The training hurt my body. I honestly almost ran in a shirt that read “everything hurts and I’m dying” because that’s how I felt a lot. But the lesson I learned was that big achievements don’t come easy and that I shouldn’t expect them to. Accomplishing something big takes time. I am not a patient person. Like Veruca Salt, I want everything now. But that is not the way running works. It is slow progress. I have such an appreciation for the time it took to train, because it made me recognize that I can do big things, they just won’t happen all at once. The important thing is to keep moving forward and making incremental progress – one foot in front of the other.
For months, my sister and I trained alone together from separate parts of the country. We mapped our runs and shared our routes. We encouraged one another and held each other accountable, and in February of 2016 we finished the race. I was overwhelmingly proud of myself. I finally understood that “a done something is better than a perfect nothing.” Up until then, I had often let fear of failure or judgement stop me from doing things. My perfectionism was debilitating and often lead to shame and unnecessary guilt. But I never expected to break any records with the half-marathon. I wasn’t trying to be perfect; I was just trying to finish. Sometimes, the bravest and most perfect thing we can do is to begin and then begin again.
My fertility journey reminds me a lot of my training for the half marathon. It has been an imperfect mess. It has been physically and emotionally taxing. It has required commitment and perseverance. It has seemed never ending. But the goal is clear, and in the end, all I can do is run my own race.