The End or The Beginning?

The decision to end IVF treatments — the finality, the outright severing of any possibility to carry my own child — has broken me wide open in a way I didn’t expect, like someone just sliced me chin to waist…my breath held, mouth agape, wondering…What just happened? As if this wasn’t our decision; as if all of the options hadn’t been carefully weighed and considered and chosen at each turn. It’s that split second moment of fog just after you wake in a strange place; you can’t recall where you are or how you got there, no matter how deliberate and planned your travels were. I’ve awoken in a strange life – confused, shocked and completely disoriented.

My logical self understands that doesn’t make sense, to think I wouldn’t expect devastation and pain in the wake of such an outcome. But, we’ve been dealing with loss regularly for over six years. Loss became an exclamation point during already difficult times or a reminder not to get too comfortable during simpler ones; it was a consistent answer to our questions, a template around which we made decisions, and an unfortunate, unwanted, constant in our lives. I know loss. I know coping with loss. I know surviving after loss. But this is not that.

IVF had become a lifestyle versus a cycle. I was becoming bitter, angry and unable to progress as a person. The focus on and commitment to have a baby was strangling me. We planned for the third round to be the last– It was the only way I was willing to commit. It was time to stop. I wanted to stop. I needed. To. Stop. But, I thought there would be a sense of lightness, if only initially, if only for a moment. Each difficult ending we’d previously navigated gave way to a bit of relief; the feeling was woven amongst the suffering, but it was strong enough to be recognizable. With my ectopics the ease from the physical pain was impossible to ignore. With my miscarriages, the engulfing uncertainty and anxiety of a precarious pregnancy was removed. I then returned to the burdensome, but also familiar path of trying to have a baby.

The blunt end to that familiarity, to the winding sense of hope that lived within it, to the ongoing thread of magnificent, life-changing possibility… No, that end has brought no lightness, no relief; only a weight I am attempting to understand, grow strong enough to carry, and use as constructively as I am able.

A friend recently said to me:

“A lot of people truly walk around on auto pilot, and you are not. You’re painfully alive and aware and there is something to that, even though it sucks.”

For six years I’ve been working and learning and coping within the confines of what is familiar, comfortable. With each loss, set back, surgery, hurdle and waiting period that came to be known as my life, I’ve worked ferociously and continuously to stitch me back together. I’ve put so much effort and energy into covering up and protecting myself; always uncertain of when my tolerance for the pain would end and whether it would be abrupt or soft. But my friend was right. I wasn’t shielding myself this time; I was walking around with a wound…gaping and exposed. I was also stagnant. Sitting still in my brokenness, “the soup of my suffering” as I’d read once, wondering what to do next.

I started thinking my time spent hiking with shelter dogs a few years back, pups that came directly off of the streets, recovering from abuse and neglect. I’d dealt with a variety of issues ranging from dog aggressive pups to those that wanted to sit on my lap as I drove to the trail. On one of my last hikes, I was paired with a sweet, very scared and skittish pup. A few miles in, without thinking, I brushed a tick off her backside, an absolutely absurd move to make with a dog that was already terrified of you. To make matters worse, I was also holding her slip lead incorrectly. In a nanosecond, she jumped back from me, pulling right out of the lead, freeing herself. We both stared at each other in shock, wondering…What just happened?

After several excruciating moments and unsuccessful attempts to get close to her, she took off back up the trail. I followed her from a distance, keeping just close enough so I could see her, but not so close she would dart off into the woods. Eventually, I found myself in the trailhead parking lot, the pup staring at me from the middle of the (fairly busy) road. I’d run out of reliable, obvious tactics with which to coral her and she was seconds from running out of sight or getting hit by a car (or both). I knew the only option I had left was neither reliable nor obvious. It was terrifying.

I turned my back to her and sat on the ground between the parked cars. And waited.

I could feel my heart against my chest and sweat trickling down my back; my breath loud and catching as if I’d just sprinted. I couldn’t see or hear her. I couldn’t tell if she’d run off and if so, whether she left 10 seconds ago or 60; whether she went east or west. I had zero control over what happened next and I was so on edge I nearly jumped out of myself when I saw her come into my peripheral vision.

It worked! It worked! OH MY GOD it worked! Oh shit, now what do I do?

I would only get one chance; my move had to be precise and swift or I would lose her. Again. I slowly opened my hand, without moving any other part of me, and showed her the treats. She stayed. With the lead in one hand (positioned with a loop) and the treat in the other, I raised them both slowly and simultaneously. She stayed. Eyes on the treat. Now, it was her turn. And as she moved forward to retrieve the treat her head slipped right though the lead.

As I reflected on this day – terrifying and triumphant, a failure and a win — it occurred to me I might have it all wrong. Maybe I’d not been giving myself enough credit when it came what my heart and spirit could handle. I AM alive and aware and feeling it all and it is exposing everything that is brutal and beautiful about my life.

And there is something to that. And that something may be everything.

So much of my identity died in the middle of my trauma — sometimes bit-by-bit, other times large pieces fell away. I’m all brand new and re-learning and un-learning and figuring out how to best hold, with the utmost grace and love, this second chance of mine; the one that will look nothing like I’d ever imagined or thought I wanted, but has the potential to be more than I’d ever considered possible.

After each hit, it was naturally my instinct to protect myself, to put myself back together – however tattered and ill fitting — working so hard to go on living just as I had been before, righting myself, attempting to create normalcy. I thought that was the thing to do.

But, what if…what if that isn’t the way to bring me to myself at all? What if that doesn’t allow room for the new pieces of me? What if the lesson is to live broken wide open? What if the thing to do is to go completely against my instincts? What if I should be running towards fear instead of comfort?

Here’s what I know: I’m incapable of stuffing my new self into the old one. Returning to what is familiar will destroy me. Life will not slow down for me.

So, here I am, asking myself: What am I most afraid of?

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