A Sloth, some Smog, and a Step.
That is my spirit animal. Amongst family and friends I am notorious for my duvet-days, chilled demeanour (“so laid back she’s basically horizontal” - which I also am most of the time), and general lack of movement. When I announced that I was thinking of taking up running I was greeted by stunned silence and wry smiles awaiting the punchline. There was no punchline.
Running was exactly what I needed, but it wasn’t until I started putting one foot in front of the other that I realised just how much I needed it.
My story is one of miscarriage, heartbreak, infertility and failure. I wish I could say these occurrences were rare and unusual but unfortunately, as many of us have learnt the hard way, this isn’t the case. Worse still they are suffered in silence, hidden in the shadows, shrouded in shame. I loved my body when I was pregnant. In fact it was the first time in over ten years that I didn’t hate my body. I marveled at the magic of it, gently holding and caressing my squidgy belly in a way I hadn’t ever. I stared in grateful wonder in the mirror astounded by what was happening inside: my body was building and growing and nourishing a brand new human. I fell in love. But the wonder and awe and love that I felt turned in on itself when a missed miscarriage took our baby away. Pride that once bubbled joyfully beneath the surface had erupted and cooled on the skin in a sticky coating of shame. Why had my body failed me? What had I done wrong? Why me? And as the year passed by with no rainbow baby in sight, these feelings only grew stronger.
Twelve months on from our miscarriage and I was desperate for answers. An impassioned debate with the GP (no, I do not want anti-depressants, I want a baby!), led to us finally being referred for fertility tests. Then came the diagnosis: male factor infertility. The chances were “very slim” that we would be able to conceive without IVF (ICSI). Suddenly our miscarriage was not the "oh-so-common-at-least-you-can-get-pregnantyou’ll-have-a-rainbow-baby-soon" affair, as everyone had been (insensitively) trying to assure us; it was a lost miracle. A double-edged sword. Two clubs I was now part of. I turned to instagram, joining the hidden community of secret strength. I followed the infertility influencers and #IVFwarriors, I wrote and researched and tried to process the sci-fi madness of IVF that was now our lives. I was adamant I wasn’t going to stress or obsess or give in to the superstitions. It would work. Why wouldn’t it work?
We had a “perfect” cycle, retrieving an enormous amount of eggs - a large number of which fertilised. We had a top quality embryo transferred, and then some more for the freezer. If IVF is a numbers game, then we had luck on our side. Surely? It didn’t work.
Heartbreak once again. But this pain was familiar now; grief must have memory because the breath wasn't so much snatched from my lungs this time but surrendered. Wonder and awe and love, again exhaled, were replaced with the sticky smog of shame.
As coronavirus forced the world into lockdown, I barely even noticed that my dreary, jobless days indoors were the perfect environment for darkness to fester. For five months I did not move. I did not acknowledge my body. I did not want to see it or hear it. This was a break-up; ghosting of epic proportions. The sadness and shame grew so heavy and consuming that I couldn’t sit under the weight of it anymore. It was unbearable: I needed to run away, somehow, from myself.
For months I'd scrolled through instagram, my face pressed to the figurative glass of the Rainbow Running Club window in jealous awe of the women able to move and celebrate their bodies. In a half-hearted plea for a hand out of my pit of self-neglect and grief I reached out, expecting to never hear a word - which was perfect because then I would never have to change out of my pyjamas. Except I did hear back. I received wonderful messages of encouragement and compassion and advice; an arm around a shoulder that was heavy from carrying the weight of sadness.
I bought a pair of trainers that very day and downloaded the ‘One You: Couch to 5k’ app. Sixty seconds of running, how hard could it be? I almost died. I fumbled and sweated and panted and nearly vomited. But I ran. And after a rest day I ran again. And again. And with each step the feelings of wonder and awe and love came back. They grew stronger and shouted louder, above the thumping of blistered feet on pavement, the smog dissipating with every desperate breath. The cure for shame, it turns out, is compassion.
Within 7 weeks I had completed all 27 runs of the training schedule and (somehow!) this once slothy sack of sadness was running 5 kilometres. My body hadn’t failed me. My body had carried me. Through miscarriage, heartbreak, infertility and failure my body had enveloped me and picked me up off the floor, it had supported me when I needed to rest and strengthened me when I needed to move, it had nourished me and empowered me, forgiven me for every unkindness I had shown it and loved me unconditionally.
My body is a warrior; brimming with strength and resilience and compassion, and she deserves to be celebrated with every single step.