I've shared this analogy with a few ladies who are "moms-after-IF". They have all agreed that it is accurate, so I will share it here, along with some additional thoughts. To those of you with whom I've had this conversation, thank-you for them. You've helped me to take it a bit further and given me the courage to share it here. It's not perfect, no analogy is, but this one seems to "fit" pretty well - for all of us, wherever on the road of infertility we are.
Last year, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.
I trained for it.
I signed up for it.
I mapped out the route (obsessively).
I lined up at the start line.
When my legs hurt; when I was tired; when I wanted to just sit down and cry....
All of that was valid and real. Just as valid and real as if I had not trained for it.
Sure, I had perhaps a different perspective because I did sign up for it, than if I hadn't signed up for it and someone had just stuck me on a marathon route and said "go!".
I knew it was worth it. I knew finishing would make the pain worth it. But it didn't make the pain go away. Nor does it make the memory of it go away. Nor the impact of it.
And so it is with infertility.
For those who are still waiting for their outcome (be it biological children, adopted children, or no children), we signed up for our race thinking we knew the distance and the route, only it keeps changing. At some point we admit that we do not know how or when it will end, but we remain hopeful that God knows and is running alongside with us. Our friends cheer for us along the route and some run right along with us, encouraging us and telling us we can do it. Ultimately though, deep within us, we know that this is a race we must run on our own and ask for God's strength, love and patience to carry us through. Signing up for this race and continuing to run it in no way lessens the pain, difficulty, or struggle along the way.
For those who know their outcome (be it biological children, adopted children, or no children), they have come to the end of one race. But having children or embracing a life as two does not lessen the pain and struggle they felt along the way. It doesn't lessen the importance of those friends who cheered them on or who ran with them. If anything, it strengthen's those bonds because they can look back and see very clearly how those friends carried them through. Only, it strains that bond because some of those friends are still running the first race, and now they are on different race path.
For those who know their outcome, specifically for those who are parents. Who are now on another race path for which they signed up, not one that was chosen for them, it can seem easy for those still on the un-chosen race to say they have no reason to complain their legs hurt, or they are tired, or they just want to sit down and cry. I mean, they signed up for it, didn't they?
And yet, it is no less real than the pain and struggle of the race they didn't sign up for. Do they realize it is something they signed up for? Yes. Do they realize they have much for which to be grateful? Yes. Does it make it easier? Not necessarily. Will it make them a perfect runner in their new race? Not even close.
Having that medal around my neck eased the pain in my legs a bit temporarily, but it didn't go away. It took work to get over it, and I will never forget it. It is taking courage to begin running again, for fear that those leg cramps will come back. It is taking courage to begin running again because I know I finished once but I'm scared I wouldn't be able to do it again. Just because I "finished" doesn't make any of this less real, less valid, less important.
And so, to those of us still running the race of infertility, still wondering how long it is, what exactly the route is, and what the finish line looks like, we need and rely on the support of those who are cheering us on along the way, who are further along than us saying "you can do it!" and those who run along with us for a time. But, we also owe it to those who were once running the race with us, but are now running a different race, to cheer them on. To encourage them and to run along with them for a time, even if we are weary from our own race.
And to those who are running that new race, you need to be able to say "this is hard" and "this hurts" and "I just want to sit down and cry" and take comfort in the fact that your experience is valid and real, no matter how badly your longed for it or how easy or hard your first race was. Please still cheer those of us in that first race along, validate how hard it is and be patient when we are out of breath and just can't see past how badly it hurts in that moment. And be patient with yourselves, honor all that was hard about the first race, how it impacts your new race, and honor all that is hard about your new race. Also, share your experiences with this new race, just as you did with the first race. Remember that many were learning from you and praying for you without your ever knowing it in the first race, and the same would be true in the second. Finally, share your joys in this new race. To those of us running this first race, we need to know that either parenthood is as wonderful and joyful and awesome (and hard and humbling and difficult) as we imagine it or that life as two is more wonderful and joyful and awesome (and hard and humbling and difficult) than we imagine.