Loving an Ultrarunner

Running has always been a part of our live’s. I began running with my dad when I was probably 8 yrs old. Pete trained and ran several marathons in college building a foundation to his love of the sport today. When we met, it was a passion we continued together eventually training and running my first marathon three years ago. Since moving to Utah, Pete has discovered a whole new world of trail running. The endless peaks and paths along the Wasatch mountain range provide everything and anything a trail runner might begin to dream of. Pete soon found his love for running taking hold of his heart for the outdoors and the mountains. The world became his as he combined these two passions together. Before I knew it, the man I fell in love with was waking before dawn to hit the trails for hours on most warm Saturday and/or Sunday mornings. But as the distances began to grow, so were the hours Pete needed to pound the dirt; and in return came a growing anxiety digging deeper into my heart. Time had passed, and I soon had to begin saying goodbye to the securities I held within my box of outdoor activities. If he wasn’t ultra running 20+ trail miles on a summer morning, he was skiing the back mountains of the serene Wasatch on a winter evening. I began envisioning my life alone lost to a man falling off a cliff, running into a wild animal, crashing under an avalanche, or simply getting lost in endless trails. There have been many many times when I didn’t receive that phone call or Pete miss calculated his return time by hours leaving me in question as to if he was ok. There have been several times when he has walked in the door with bleeding knees, large bruises, or twisted ankles, thanking God his injuries weren’t worse. He plans extreme outdoor vacations for himself, and even our family trips include several hours of exploring a new trerrain of trails. I’d like to say,with increasing age my life will be getting a little less stressful, but with each year the miles seem to have increased. Three years ago, he ran 30 miles for his thirtieth birthday. Last year, he completed over thirty miles, and this year he is trailing for a 100 miler in September. And although Pete is naturally in fantastic condition, the distance doesn’t come without a price of training. When most of us will be going to bed tonight, Pete will be hitting the trails for a 30 mile training run, lasting through the night. I am so thankful, I don’t have to worry about my husband being overseas at war or working a high-profile job, but I do toss and turn some nights wondering if he is going to slip on some rocks and tumble to his death on a cliff, or if that beautiful moose you might see during the day, might bump into him on the trails at night. I worry about his heart giving way after hours of constant stress placed on his body, or passing out from heart stroke, electrolight imbalance, or even just making a wrong turn and sliding down glacers like his run last weekend. Each time I see him drive away, I have to know this could be the case. And more often than not, there is no one to contact or no way to reach him, as many roads don’t reach these remote areas, leaving me with nothing to do but pray. Just recently, we invested in a smartphone which has a program called Endomondo. This GPS based program allows Pete to carry his phone, and me to track him at home on my computer. It’s not a perfect system, I can’t hear his voice or see his thoughts, but it would alarm me if he had stopped running for an extended period of time.

As I look out my window tonight, I know my husband is out there doing what he loves.  There are many days I wish I had married a coach potato, and other days I am so thankful he has found something he can be passionate about. With all the books out about running, trail running, and ultrarunning, I wish I could find one on how to love the outdoor enthusiast. It is not an easy task, and I often remind myself to hold strong; for this race is not yet over.

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Just a loaf of bread

Recently, I posted an entry on Lent and following God. In the article “Feasting on Him”, I mentioned my desire to follow our Maker faithfully over the next several weeks. Besides, honoring God and encouraging others, I had hoped to see God in big ways. What happened a week ago, was not something I was expecting to run across during this process of refinement. For at least a month, I had felt this small nag in my heart to bake a loaf of bread for our neighbors. We had gotten to know the young newlyweds during a couple of dinners, and exchange of words over the fence. Pete and I were excited to have them as a part of our neighborhood and as new friends. I have no idea why God kept laying it on my heart to drop by with a high fiber whole wheat bundle, but last Sunday I finally kneaded my way to their house. I actually had Pete run the bread over while I was cooking dinner, and when he walked in the door with a puzzled look on his face I asked, “what happened.” He said something was going wrong as the wife looked very upset. So I walked next door, and soon found myself sitting in their living room, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she told me of their separation and plan to finalize a divorce. She said to me, “You must have noticed our cars alternating, isn’t that why you brought over the bread.” I felt completely embarrassed responding with, “No, I just wanted to make you guys a loaf a bread, we had no idea.” The conversation was brief, the act was simple, but the pain from a few feet away was incredibly deep. I don’t know why God sent me next door that day. I don’t know why following a simple act of calling, can lead down a confusing and dirty road. I don’t think my offer to help will come to a reconciliation of their marriage. I do know, that the pain that resides in their home feels so close by.  I’ve watched from my window, as the husband pulls up briefly only to load clothes, and books in his car, and to see the light in the bedroom turn off early. It looks cold, dark, and empty inside. I know the brokenness of this world trumps the beauty behind the spring flowers budding in both our yards. The spring life blooming about, means nothing when death surrounds the heart. I suppose I was looking to be wowed by God’s greatness, not used to pray and mourn for the pain literary next door. Whatever, we do as followers of Christ, may we break bread together on a regular basis so that we not only know ourselves, and our friends, but those we see everyday. For a month, I was being asked to knock on my neighbor’s door, and for a month they were going through a separation. If you feel God calling you to move today, it might be more than “just a loaf of bread” you are being ask to deliver.

Creation of ART

“You failed!” The Dr said as he walked through the doorway, perplexed, throwing back in his large swivel chair, arms crossed, legs propped up on the desk. “We what?” I asked, laughing, thinking this certainly was some kind of joke. You failed the Sperm Penetration Assay, he said in unbelief; so it looks like you guys are in the right place! Pete and I just looked at one another in complete astonishment. You mean after 3 years, thousands of dollars, here we sat, right place or not, hearing that our chances of natural conception at any point in time, are little to none, is not only surprising and confusing, but heartbreaking to say the least. And so maybe we were in the right place, but what now? According to the Center for Disease Control, we were not alone that day, another 2.1 million married couples are infertile. (Infertile being unable to conceive naturally after 12 consecutive months of trying.) That’s 7.4% of marriages! Today, over 1% of all infants born are conceived through assisted reproductive technology (ART). ART is a term only used when both the man’s sperm and the women’s eggs are manipulated; this would primarily include IVF, and not other assisted reproductive techniques such as intrauterine insemination or alternative and less invasive forms of infertility treatment. (1) Not surprisingly, the statistics keep growing. In 1999, there were 30,629 infants born to ART verses 61,425 in 2008, and a whopping 148,000 women’s cycles underwent IVF. (2) The statistics are even more alarming when you realize that just recently the rates of a successful pregnancy with a fresh IVF cycle creeped up to 60-70% and only 30%-40% for a frozen cycle (3) , along with the average IVF fresh cycle costing on the upward of $12,400, and only 14 of our 51 states mandating some degree of private plan coverage. (4) Not something the average “Joe” can afford. Just like buying a house, there are loan options available; however, who wants a house payment, a car payment, and then a “baby” payment. Despite the costs, and the economic downfall, couples continue to pursue this doorway of opportunity. I suppose if you compare the costs with the average adoption ranging anywhere from $15,000 to $75,000, (4) IVF can look like a bargin…if it works, that is.  At the University of Utah, where Pete and I have undergone our infertility treatment, they offer a 100% money back guarantee program. (6) You’ve got it! If your willing to pay about three times the costs of an average IVF cycle, you can come back as many times as you like until you go home with your dream bundle, or less talked about, until you toss in the towel out of pure exhaustion. I suppose exhaustion is a simple way of describing the emotional turmoil infertility can take on a body, a marriage, and mind. Although, I couldn’t find divorce rates among infertile couples, I did find that 66% of divorced couples never had children. According to one website, some sociologists believe being unable to have children could be a cause for divorce, as it can lead to both loneliness and weariness among couples. (7) Whether the 66% of childless divorcees separated prior to children, they never wanted them, or they couldn’t have them, I don’t know. But it is an interesting fact to consider. Most resources will admit to the impending strain infertility and assisted reproductive technology incurs on a couple. Twice the amount of women admit to not being satisfied with their sexual life who have undergone, or are undergoing the stress of infertility. (5) There really is nothing that can take the romance, spontaneity, and passion out of a marriage like forced planning, forced timing, and the pressure of a fertility clock riding on your shoulders.

When Pete and I left our consult apt that day, few words were exchanged. This was not a death sentence, nor were not told we had cancer, or a serious illness. In fact, life was really pretty good. But we were dealt a stack of cards, I never imaged would turn up on my table. Meeting someone and falling in love is easy, its withstanding life’s circumstances that determine how that marriage might stand in the test of time. Fortunately, for Pete and I we share a common strength of our faith. This has helped guide and lead us down each road we have chosen to pursue. On the flip side, this has not come without much debate and ethical dilemmas. For two believers, life naturally never appears to be a choose, but rather a gift, and the writer our Creator himself. When not given that ability, you can’t help but question God’s plan for your life, and the ultimate “Are we trying to “play” God, or are we pursuing what God has given man?” Again, usually not a topic of conversation for most newlyweds, but quickly became a much heated debate in our home early in marriage. As a medical professional myself, I have gleamed on medical assistance and applauded where man and God have ventured over the decades. For Pete, the educator, and adventurer, I have had to respect his less motivated pursuit of the “unnatural”. When you begin to understand the details of IVF, you can really view it from two sides. The more I learn, the more I can see God’s ultimate control in all things. OR one might begin to see, man’s extreme will to solve what might be best left alone.

Several months ago, Pete and I began pursuing our second round of IVF. Fortunately, for us, we had enough embryos left over from our previous fresh cycle that we had several to choose from. Through the process, I began to understand the grades and imperfections in human embryo’s. I think our Dr. actually said, the fact of the matter is, “humans make bad embryos.” Pete and I pulled three embryos from our cryopreservation, one looked good, one looked ok, and one well, got donated to research. When the one embryo “took”, but then quickly stop developing, I realized there was so much more involved in human life than the ability to understand grading and quality of human embryo’s. Embryologists can give a pretty good prediction on the quality and likelihood of life transforming within any chosen embryo, but what doctors are having a hard time predicting is the genetics of the embryo, and the “other” factors in the implantation process. Today, these remain the “black hole” of infertility. This hole, may never be uncovered as, one might say, there are aspects of human life, left only up to God. I suppose, this is when one comes to the realization, man can do so much, but no matter, how much we as humans plan, prepare for, and implement, there is only One who has the last say, and no matter how far we get in ART, this is something we will never grasp. I do predict, genetic sampling in the future, as we are already in the beginning stages of this, and the success of IVF increasing to a nearly perfect percentage over the next thirty years. I’m not sure how miraculous this will look versus how spooky it will become. There is one thing you can count on, an increase in the number of births to ART babies, the number of infertile couples, and hopefully a government mandating insurance coverage on one of the most untalked about medical conditions out there.

From a personnel standpoint, I would say that every part of the road we have taken during the infertility process has been worth the side effects and negatives associated with my journey. Each center, Dr, and individual offer different expectations and a unique story of their experiences. I can only a tail to my own, and the “nitty gritty” along the walk many must take to have a child through ART. It is more than I would imagine many might bare easily. These are the things, less talked about, and often discovered through the process. Many women repeat this over and over again, sacrificing so much of themselves for the dream of a child. In many ways, it begins the process of loosing oneself, even before you hold that 100% dependent being in your arms. Prior to our first and only fresh IVF cycle, I underwent exploratory surgery, many hormonal medications that actually began to drive me into insanity with their extreme side effects, and months/years of waiting. I worked full-time to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket towards “waisted” experiments along the open road Dr’s only danced down. Pete and I spent hours at counseling, many days and nights arguing over treatment plans, and worked hard to keep our heads afloat during the journey. I became really good at self injections, predicting, charting, and obsessing over ovulation, and often walked around with scabby knees and red eyes from many long prayers and tears. Through the first IVF process, I became sick with over stimulated ovaries, spent a total of a week and a half on bedrest, and suffered all side effects of pregnancy before actually becoming pregnant. Both cycles, I quite all vices cold turkey, coffee, running, and wine, spent five days in bed,  and was not allowed sexual intercourse for two weeks all part of the recommeded protocol. This time around I had to have my mother fly in to help care for my toddler whom I was advised constituted heavy lifting, and it was recommended as little picking up as possible. My own caffeine withdrawal, allergic reactions and hives to some of the medications all occured during the dreaded two week wait before my failed pregnancy test. Not to mention, several blood draws to determine failing HCG levels, depression, and continued allergic reactions treated by a week of steroids. All for the “chance” of bringing home a child, nine months later. While others only need a romantic night out with their spouse to find out their expecting. The ultimate question is, Is it all worth it? Some would say, NO WAY! I would say, Yes, time and time again. There are days I have felt hit by a truck and left out in the road, and other days stronger and more empowered than ever. It is a card I can play, but I know some could not, and would rather choose a road less taken. I am not trying to minimize the effects and turmoil many women face with miscarriages, and their own natural yet rough pregnancies. No matter how you conceive risks are there, life is precious, and pregnancy can be hard. This story is shared to help others understand the process, pain, and prevalence behind this alternative form of creation, that is progresively increasing among our friends and loved ones. Despite the card you are dealt in this lifetime, you are here, and that means God has planned your life out perfectly by His design. May we all find the miraculous in the creation of life, no matter how it comes about.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because you are fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13

(1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/art/

(2)  Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology: http://www.cdc.gov/art/ART2008/section5.htm

(3) University of Utah: http://healthcare.utah.edu/ucrm/documents/UCRM%202008%20Success%20Rates.pdf

(4) http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org/docs/infertility.pdf

(5) http://www.slate.com/id/2250361/

(6) http://healthcare.utah.edu/ucrm/: This was mentioned at a clinic visit but was unable to find on their website.

(7) http://www.divorcerate.org/

Helpful resources:

http://www.americanpregnancy.org/infertility/

Home for the Holidays

During the last leg of my flight home from Thanksgiving, I sat and watched Ella sleep in my arms. The sun set over the vastly wide sky as we flew eastward to Salt Lake. As I looked at Ella, I thought to myself, “Why are we doing this? Why do we go home for the holidays?” And sadly, it took me a little bit to fully grasp why I was sitting on that airplane amongst a group of strangers, with what felt like my life packed in a suitcase down below. It wasn’t the view, or the moment of silence, but the innocence I saw in my child at rest. Ella had no choice to be born into our home, she has no say in where she spends the holidays, but I had the opportunity to introduce her to a part of what makes Ella, Ella. A family, a set of genes, a history behind the people, and a personality that resembles those closest to her. The line is passed on; it does not define our existence but a part of the past that is a piece to which we become. And so it was then that I realized, I visit family, to understand and appreciate where Pete and I came from, what has contributed to who we are, and to enjoy what gifts I have been given. I take Ella along, so that one day she will learn these things too. Family is a gift that not everyone is given. It may be complicated, it may be messy, it may be inconvenient, and even obligatory, but seeing the larger picture is creating a home wherever you may be. It won’t be for forever that I am sitting on an airplane holding a child on my lap, but the knowledge and memories that are created certainly go beyond what any book can teach you about who you are. And in understanding this, we can begin to understand what God created us to become.


Frozen in Time

There have been so many events in my life I have wished for time to stand still. I can remember being at our wedding reception wishing I could freeze the night to sit for hours capturing the emotion of the moment. I remember the few minutes I was able to hold Ella after she was born, before they rushed her to the NICU, wanting to hold on to the moment forever. So often, time seems to pass us by without a blink, and there is no replacement for what was, or prediction of what is to come. Two years ago, I had the unique option to freeze time. After, undergoing our first round of IVF, Pete and I were left with fourteen five-day-old embryos. After implanting two, we made the choose to freeze the remaining. As we begin to consider having a second child, I can’t help but ponder the lives that could be, as they lie deep within the walls of a freezer. The concept, I admit, is frankly bizarre, frightening, and amazing all in one. Fourteen embryos, that if implanted at the same time would be twins, but implanted years later become siblings. Now that I have watched this life before me develop into this beautiful little girl, I feel the obligation to give twelve other embryos the same chance Ella had. The ethics and moral behind IVF and cryopreservation is debatable and full of great discussion and frustration. It’s hard to know, what to believe when it comes to your own infertility mixed with a deep desire to love children of your own. I don’t know the right answers or choices for everyone who stands in these same shoes, but I do know that I have had the privilege to put time to a stand still. A choice that we made two years ago has not dissolved, it has not died away, it remains the same as it was back then. Is there an effect on the twelve remaining embryo? Yes, supposedly, the defrosting process can be harsh and the likelihood of pregnancy after cryopreservation is less than with fresh embryo. I worry that another life may not come to be from what remains. I now understand that unleashing this timetable could mean finding out the realization that Ella may be the only survivor from the group selected two years ago. Being reminded of the miracle needed to create a life, has given me the opportunity to again be thankful for my own life, and the life’s placed along my path, and in my home.

Any Reason to Celebrate

Pete and I love hosting. Not only do we enjoy the company of others, we love watching different groups of friends meet and interact. I love to cook and open up my home, Pete loves to share a cold beer with some good friends, and we both love to eat. Summer time and holidays are perfect for entertaining. Last night, we hosted our 3rd annual fish fry. Lots of deep fried fish, zucchini, hushpuppies, and corn on the cob. But more importantly a new group of friends that weren’t a part of our celebration last year. A home gives us a chance to bring together and get to know new faces. It also, brings back memories of past celebrations where old faces have come and gone; those we miss dearly. But there is some great satisfaction in knowing you’ve provided a place where others could come and feel relaxed, refreshed, and satiated on food and life. That is our hope anyway. In the past, Pete and I have hosted wine tasting parties, Christmas parties, Thanksgiving feasts, annual spring and fall fests, work get-togethers, showers, Easter brunches, birthday bashes, church barbecues, you name it. And we LOVE it! It gives us something to talk about, plan together, prep together, and lastly clean up together. But the main reason we share in this passion, is the desire to be a part of something bigger; a community. We believe in bringing different groups of people together to build stronger communities and to share in the one body of Christ. We hope others are even slightly blessed by what God has given us. For we need one another, to lean on, to support and encourage one another, and to remind each other that our ultimate goal is to glorify our Lord forever. May those who enter our home know we are saved by a King who longs to see us celebrate with Him in eternity.