Is it too early to take stock of 2015? The sight of Advent calendars at the grocery store (only a month until you can start eating a month's worth of stale chocolate!) has me thinking about last December and the wish I expressed then that I would infuse more genuine optimism into my ways and days this year.
How's that going? Not so great. But I think I've found maybe a better way of framing things.
This year has had its highlights: running the Boston Marathon, a couple of PRs in other races, starting a new job. Honoring Nate's birthday in August in ways that were meaningful to us. The heartwarming experience of running with wonderful friends and family at the Comer Children's Hospital Race for the Kids in October.
But what we most hoped for this year, to conceive again, has yet to happen. And after we've tried and failed and tried and failed for the better part of this year to get pregnant, I feel emotionally and sometimes spiritually exhausted. (And exhausting—Debbie Downer would like some good news to share.) It's not even that long of a time, I realize, but in the moment, when pregnancy doesn't happen, it feels like new heartbreak on top of grief. Cynicism and pessimism start to creep in, and that's not how or who I want to be. It's definitely not a sustainable way to be.
To update the story from last December: Early this year, we started preparations for IVF. But a few weeks before the marathon, we learned that Joe in fact isn't a carrier for the genetic disease we had been told that we were both carriers for—the reason we were pursuing IVF in the first place. That clarity (and our jaw-dropping shock) came courtesy of a second reading of test results —results that had been misread by the physician group I left midway through my pregnancy with Nate. My anger and disgust at the mistake and the great amount of stress it had caused us over the course of 14 months was ultimately trumped by relief: Joe and I could just try on our own to get pregnant without worry. What's more, our pre-IVF testing suggested we were all-systems-go. "You could have a baseball team if you wanted," my IVF physician said during one visit. If that doesn't make you feel like a winner on a Wednesday morning, nothing will.
Last month, though, Joe and I were back at the fertility center, developing a plan for trying to get help with getting pregnant.
We get farther and farther from the time when Nate was here, and though I am proud and honored to carry Nate in my heart always, the light I have sought of parenting a second child, Nate's little brother or sister, seems more distant than it did a year ago. I watch my friends and family members expand their families and see their kids grow, and I feel I am slipping farther behind. Lately, and more so than when I was staring down the holidays last year, I've found myself less eager to be around people and wishing they didn't have to be around me.
That's depression, and that's where I am 10 months into the year. I wish I were writing from the other side of it, from the made-it-through-this-episode-and-this-is-what-I-took-from-it side, but I'm not there yet. I am in the muddy thick of it. I know, though, that this isn't a place where I can stay stuck if I want to preserve relationships with the people and activities I care about.
I can't, or won't, fake a frame of mind I don't feel. But this is what I can do when optimism is in short supply: keep moving. Literally and figuratively. Spend time outside in the morning; make and keep social plans and other commitments; give myself some space and ask for it when I need it but recognize when it's time to get up, get out, go. That is hope in action, and in the moments in which I'm not feeling particularly hopeful, that's sufficient.
I go back to the comment that I've repeated from my former pastor, who's probably embarrassed that I quote him—"Courage is not so much something we feel as something we do." I'll appropriate that in this moment to optimism, too. Doing the things that matter to me—regardless of how I feel when I set out to do them—offers maybe my best chance for getting mentally unstuck.
Yesterday I signed up for a spring half-marathon. Life has to go on. I need to stay connected to things that matter to me and trust that things will be OK and I will be OK regardless of what does or doesn't happen by a certain time.
I am not where, a year ago, I hoped I would be today. And in the face of grief and disappointment, it is damn hard to feel optimistic sometimes. But in the muddy thick of things, I can and will keep moving.
• Christine LaFave Grace works as an editor and writer.
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