Running up that hill
Before starting our first IVF, about 500 million years ago, way back in the Paleozoic era during that brief but turbulent period geologists like to call the Early Craptaceous, Paul and I had to undergo what our clinic called a psycho-diagnostic interview. This was a two-hour meeting with the staff psychologist that entailed discussion of our expectations, our coping styles, and our approach to some of the ethical issues ART involves.
Part of the assessment was done through conversation; another part was done through a written questionnaire, the kind where you indicate that you "strongly agree," "somewhat agree," et cetera, on down the line to "Okay, wait, you're serious? No, really. Seriously?" The statements at issue ran along these lines:
- I am angry at my partner for selfishly undergoing the lifesaving chemotherapy that rendered his poor beleaguered testes unable to produce sperm.
- Sex drive? Hahahahaha. Ohhhh. Good one, dude.
- I feel guilty that I am unable to give my partner the only thing she truly wants — an Audi. Wait, did I say Audi? Sorry. I meant a child.
- I feel ridiculously unsuccessful at even the most basic of biological functions, although — well, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am pretty excellent at crying.
- Carefree-looking pregnant women can blow me, Jack.
We talked about my insomnia, which is the form my anxiety takes. We talked about my reluctance to discuss the details of our treatment with my family, because, as my grandmother once said, speaking for us all, "I don't like unpleasant things." We talked about stress relief, with the psychologist kindly giving me a thick sheaf of photocopies outlining silent and motionless exercises to do as I lay in bed, wide awake and freaked out while Paul slept solidly next to me. And we talked about my endometriosis, which causes a great deal of pain during the middle and end of my cycle.
"Have you tried running uphill during your period?" she asked. "It will improve the muscle tone in your lower abdomen."
- I stare blankly at well-meaning professionals when they recommend physical activity, particularly of the sort that requires heavy breathing, sweating, and, oh, hey, DID I MENTION MY PERIODS HURT LIKE A LITTLE WHITE BITCH?
Strongly, strongly agree.
Doctor Mama wrote an inspiring series of posts intended to turn her readers into runners. At the time of her first post, I wrote, "Thank you! I promise to consider thinking about it, which is about eight miles closer to doing it than I've ever been before."
I promised, so I considered. And having considered, I thought about it. And having done that, I started today. As she recommended, I went slowly, "so slowly that you could probably walk faster." (I did, on the walking portions of my walk/run alternations.) "So slowly that you will feel humiliated if you see anyone you know." (I did, and I was, so it must be working.) I went so slowly on the trails through the park that I distinctly heard the rev of a slime mold's engine as it blew past me through the leaf mast, every one of its millions of fruiting bodies jeering, "Eat my spore-spewing dust."
I did not hate it. In fact, I sort of enjoyed it. Since that is probably the most enthusiastic endorsement of exercise you will ever hear me utter, you may assume I will continue. Take that, class Mycetozoa!
After our interview with the psychologist, we left feeling disturbed, not because we felt any less equipped for what we thought lay in store, but because it was clear that there were people whose answers were sadder than ours, people who'd been hit harder by infertility than we had. People who disliked themselves or blamed each other. People whose relationships were shaken before even starting.
Later I would read her report from the session, and I would feel I'd been grievously misunderstood. "[Julie and Paul] cite major ambivalence about having a child," she wrote. "I think their ambivalence will enable them to accept the results of any negative outcome of this treatment."
At the time I read the report, after the failure of our third cycle, this infuriated me. How, I wondered, could anyone accept the "negative outcome" — the bizarre ways each try had gone haywire — with anything but anger and grief and the bitterest disappointment? Furthermore, if we were so ambivalent, would we even be doing all this?
But in a certain sense she was right. Although we were sure we wanted one child, we had reservations about how our lives would change; those have been borne out and then some. If those reservations were strong before Charlie, they're stronger now, and it does make the last failures easier. And I suspected even before the last cycle that it wouldn't end up working, but we did it anyway, and are contemplating what comes next.
500 million years later, here in the Middle Labyrinthine, when nothing seems clear anymore, I owe her an apology.
Popular lore has it that the champagne glass — not the flute favored by people who actually like their bubbly bubbly, but the inferior shorter, wide-mouthed coupe that causes carbonation to disperse more quickly — was modeled on the breast of Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henri II of France. It is said that she commissioned a glassblower to recreate her shape because the king had long harbored a fantasy to drink wine from her breast.
(Trust me. I am going somewhere with this. I know! Slime molds, infertility, and champagne all in one post. What can I say? I like to get a little crazy on Saturday nights.)
By contrast, if my breasts had a liquor-related analog, it would be one of those giant 6,000-gallon washbacks used for fermenting single malt.
(Look, I didn't say I was going anywhere good with it.)
What I mean to say is that the restraining of my rack is a serious business indeed. I took to heart the advice of Doctor Mama, who says all you need to start running are half an hour every other day, comfortable running shoes, and a supportive bra. Enter Enell and its Last Resort.
It has approximately a dozen hooks up the front. Its upper edge hits me somewhere between the collarbones. Its satiny fabric conceals, I don't know, guttapercha? Chain mail? Kevlar? Whatever it is, it's strong. Wearing that bra, I am gently but uncompromisingly cradled, my breasts pillowy mounds in the iron fist in the velvet glove. But this flibbertigibbet rhapsody is intended to convey only one thought: On my inaugural run, my breasts went nowhere without me.
The recommendation for this bra came from Jul. I am grateful for the suggestion, and for Doctor Mama's step-by-step course on how to get started. I assume that there are runners here — because, hey, do you know a group more likely to be committed to physical fitness than depressed infertiles, pregnant neurotics, and harried mothers? I would like your advice, if you please.
What do I need to know as a beginning runner? What common mistakes should I try to avoid? What the hell am I going to do come January in New England, because, Jesus, people, it snows here!
Oh, and does running uphill help with menstrual cramps? Because if so, damn, that psychologist's good.