When you’re dealing with a long-term stressor like mental health or grief or chronic pain, the daily struggle to care for yourself can be exhausting. It’s a challenge to step out beyond whatever walls have you boxed in. Sarah and her husband had reached a low point in their journey through infertility when they found a new source of love and joy: a puppy that got them back into the sunshine.
I sat on the floor sobbing. I was not pregnant — again.
It was clear that we had moved from “it is just taking us a while” territory into “there is a problem.”
Later that day, my husband suggested we get a dog. I will be eternally grateful that my partner, the dog-owner-skeptic, recognized in that moment that we needed an influx of love and joy into our lives.
Everything takes effort when you are living through infertility — in my experience, it is a struggle basically every minute of every day:
Talking on the phone with a friend you love dearly? Exhausting. Especially when you are trying to be joyful so she knows she can talk with you about her new baby girl.
Going out for dinner with your family? Exhausting. Especially when you know that they are worried about you, and you feel like you have to prove you are okay.
Putting effort into the details and relationships of your job? Exhausting. Especially on the many, many mornings where you go from an emotionally and physically invasive doctor appointment directly into the office.
When pretty much every moment requires such intense energy, it is easy to abandon the structures and the good habits you know make you feel better. Curling up on the couch can feel like the only option. Things I normally love — like cooking and yoga and meeting up for dinners — can feel utterly impossible.
But the adorable ragamuffin labradoodle puppy we welcomed into our lives still needs to go for walks. She demands cuddles and playfulness. This year, Poppy forced us into the sunshine.
She brought movement, fresh air and laughter into our days. Caring for her brought structure to a time that could otherwise pass in a sad blur. She was our reason to be outside and to notice the way the trees changed on our street from season to season. Her presence encouraged regular morning and evening routines and these rhythms brought us a little peace in a chapter that desperately needed it.
There is a real loneliness in this journey — one that even our spectacular support system can’t fix. I had a vision of our family and how our lives would progress, you know? And each day, I am being asked to let go of that a little bit more, to accept that I have no idea what tomorrow holds and what our path to family will look like — all the while being surrounded by loving friends and family with beautiful babies and rambunctious children.
Most of the time that makes me sad, grateful, angry, hopeful, and about 87 other unregulated emotions (because, oh yeah, my body is being pumped with hormones) and there are very few places where it is okay to express all of that. And so I am lonely. But then we have this pup who follows us from room to room, never letting us out of her sight.
It is an interesting and effective method of combating loneliness, having a creature who will follow you to the bathroom and headbutt the door, just to ensure you are still on the other side. And there is this phenomenon (I think due to the earnest cuteness of her face) where it is pretty much impossible for people to walk past Poppy without smiling at her (and by extension, us). We know our neighbors, and our neighbors know us, in a really beautiful way that can be entirely attributed to our pup.
None of this gets rid of the weird loneliness that accompanies infertility. But it does soften it.
I know that my experience is not unique. While it is infertility for me, there are a million other reasons why people feel tired and lonely. I thank God every day for the support system I have, for my husband and my parents and my best friends. I do not take for granted for a single second the support given by my excellent therapist and wise spiritual director. But surprisingly enough, the effusive, indefatigable love of a puppy has been one of the biggest blessings during this chapter of life.