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PREGNANCY, PLANNING, AND PANDEMICS

PREGNANCY, PLANNING, AND PANDEMICS

Teal Burrell / Apr 02, 2020

Is there any calculus as tricky as deciding when to start a family? Waiting any amount of time may seem selfish, especially to your overbearing Great Aunt Mildred, but parenting is not a decision to be made according to anyone else’s schedule. Ultimately, it may come down to timing that just feels right to you and your partner. Even then, there is so much uncertainty in the best laid plans.

When my husband and I tied the knot in 2013, we planned to enjoy married life for a few years before adding kids. After I qualified for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials — a dream years in the making — it made sense to us to wait until after the Trials to have children. Still, I didn’t like to admit running produced the timeline; I felt guilty that my hobby dictated family planning. When people asked, I usually deferred to wanting to be “just married” for a while rather than admitting running had anything to do with it.

Having kids changes your life, and you need to do it on your terms.

After giving birth to my daughter Maya in the spring of 2017, I learned having a kid does not make the questions about your family’s size go away. It makes them worse. “Aren’t you going to give her a sibling?” Just after Maya’s first birthday, her friends’ moms started getting pregnant one by one and I marveled at their ability to take it all on again. I wasn’t emotionally ready for postpartum struggles or mentally ready for the realities of a newborn. Physically, I was just getting back to running, to feeling like I had my body back and could chase down PRs again. I had finally turned the page and I wanted to stay on that page for a while. The next chapter could wait.

Again, running provided a timeline that made sense to me: I hoped to qualify for the 2020 Trials, why not have another post-Trials pregnancy? If I waited until after the 2020 Trials, my kids would be a little more spread out and I could spend more time with a baby as Maya started school. I would hopefully be a little more emotionally and mentally ready. The plan seemed right to my husband and me, which is all that truly mattered.

It didn’t make sense to everyone else. “Don’t you want your kids to be friends?” Running seemed like an insufficient and selfish excuse. It’s just a hobby; I’m not an Olympian so do I need to procreate in four-year cycles like one? Again, ashamed of the running-driven logic, I deferred to other reasons.

Having kids changes your life, and you need to do it on your terms. It’s ok to wait before you start because you have unfinished business on the race course. It’s okay to wait between kids if you need a break to feel like yourself on the roads, trails, or track again. Alternatively, it’s okay if you want to focus on having children and say goodbye to diapers for good.  

But as much as we try to plan, pregnancies often work on their own timetable. There is always uncertainty around pregnancy, labor, and parenting. Now, in a world overrun by coronavirus, there seems to be even more. What I was sure would be a moment of celebration (finally trying to grow our family!) seems selfish in a new way I couldn’t have expected. Should I feel guilty for embarking on something that requires so many doctor’s visits and a hospital stay in nine months? There’s no evidence yet of prenatal effects of the virus, but infants may be particularly vulnerable. And these new questions are on top of the previous uncertainties. Will I even be able to get pregnant?

Parenting is constantly wondering if we’re doing the right thing and not knowing what the world will hold in the months or years to come. We have to pray that our gut feelings combined with whatever divine fertility intervention we believe in won’t lead us astray. And hope that we’ll be able to bring more love and joy into this world at just the right time.

4 comments

  • Annie: April 07, 2020

    Thank you for your openness and candor! What an excellent and thoughtful reflection of a really, really difficult decision. This has reminded me that my own hesitations to pregnancy are valid and they are mine. Thank you for the real talk.

  • Stephanie : April 04, 2020

    It has astounded me for years how deeply personal people can get around the topic of pregnancy. We have fertility struggles too that make pregnancy the slimmest chance without medical help, and the first thing my sis-in-law said to me as we started our shelter-in-place 3 weeks ago was “I hope you spend your time wisely because I want a niece/nephew by Christmas”.

    Thank you, Teal, for sharing.

  • Erica Z: April 03, 2020

    I needed to read this. Thanks for sharing on such a deeply personal topic!!!

  • Erin : April 03, 2020

    I get this on so many levels. I had just gotten back into running when I met my husband. The year we got married I was training for my first marathon. Then chasing BQ times… and the whole time my in laws were begging for grandkids. So when I didn’t make it into Boston by 1:41 seconds, I cried and then we attempted a family. Of course, we had fertility struggles. My in laws wanted to blame my running, “well maybe if you weren’t running so much, you’d get pregnant” were the words of my father in law more than once. Never mind that fertility struggles were on both sides… never mind we’d been trying for years. Running was to blame.

    Now that I have given birth, it’s taken time to get back to running. I’m seven months postpartum and already the questions of, “wouldn’t a sibling be nice?” have come up. Yes, they would. But don’t tell me to slow down my running – my time to be me and bond with baby in the jogging stroller. I want to be fast again before I have to slow down again!

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