swimming upstream and other random thoughts

Behind our house is a creek that runs for miles until it reaches the Pacific Ocean. Every year around this time, wild coho salmon slowly make their way upstream — battling the strong swift current and any obstacle they encounter — until they reach the very place where they were born, miles from the open sea. This behavior may be innate, it may be learned. No one really knows how or why they do this. But somehow, these incredible fish find their way back to the place of their birth, where they will literally spawn and die.

The salmon struggling to migrate upstream right now were hatched nearly three years ago, not far from here. (For those of you thinking, “mmm, dinner,” this particular species is protected by law and off-limits to would-be fishers.) Soon, the strongest among them will reach their final resting place. But first, they will nest and lay their eggs which will hatch in spring and help ensure the continuation of their species.

Any idea where I’m going with this yet? Yes, the swimming upstream analogy is too easy. Going against the current, things get in the way, it’s hard but they still have their babies, yada yada yada. No, that’s not it, quite.

Like most every creature on the planet, these fish are driven to procreate and will overcome great odds to ensure their survival. They are meant to do this. No one told them, but somehow they know. But the thing is, they don’t all make it…

In nature, only the strongest survive. In our reality, yes, we need strength and determination. But sometimes that’s just not enough. If it was, every one of us would have all of the children we ever wanted by now. We are all incredibly strong people, even when we don’t feel it. None of us could have made it this far without tenacity and endurance. No, sometimes there is no accounting for why things come so easy to some while the rest of us struggle. Odds are that some of us might make it, some of us might not. It’s not that any one of us isn’t as strong or good or worthy. It’s just that life can be radically unfair. Some people get without trying and some people try without getting. The amount of effort we expend does not always equate to results. There is no logic, it just is. Another law of nature? 

Last week I was in the safe haven of my home during a series of nasty storms, when the sky abruptly changed and there was a brief respite from the dark and pounding rain. I was staring out the window and heard a scuffle in a tall tree that is home to a family of small birds (wrens?). Suddenly I saw a beautiful 
red tailed hawk swoop down from the tree to the ground right in front of me, grasping a small bird in its claws. As tiny feathers floated to the ground, the hawk sat there clenching its grip, just feet from my window, while the little bird tried in vain to escape. My husband and I watched in awe as it slowly squeezed the life out of its prey and flew away. I had wanted to stop it, to somehow prevent the death of this helpless little bird, but I knew I couldn’t. The hawk was hungry, and such is the “circle of life.”

Witnessing this rare event made me think about the random nature of infertility. (Yeah, I know, it’s practically all I think about these days.) How it strikes unsuspecting victims. How some will escape its grip but others might not be so lucky. But because there seems to be no good reason for our struggle — i.e., it does not nourish a hungry mammal or its family, it is
not part of the circle of life — I have to wonder what if any purpose it serves. Sure, I know infertility has made me a stronger, more compassionate person. It has deepened my relationship with the Amazing M. I believe it will make me a better parent if and when that day ever comes. And I think I’ve been able to help others along the way. But maybe there is no good reason, really. Maybe it’s all completely random and I’m just screwed, like that scared, helpless bird.

Besides, right now I’m looking for more. Besides why, I want to know
if and when. The uncertainty of the ultimate outcome is often said to be one of the hardest things to accept about infertility. How will this end? When will this end? Will this ever end? We seek comfort in information, in the reason, the why, because we think it will help fix the problem. We could find peace in knowing the how and when because it could help ease our minds, or help us move on… Without this, we are left in the dark to find our own way. Maybe our need to know (and our unwillingness to accept our uncertain fates) is part of what separates us from the animal kingdom. But what other choice do we have?

A final unrelated note, since I’m way off on a nature trip here, I have to recommend the most magnificent documentaries to my fellow nature geeks
. “Planet Earth,” an 11-part BBC series, is the most astonishing set of nature films I have ever seen, featuring gorgeous, breathtaking scenery and all kinds of amazing creatures in their natural habitat, incredible time-lapse photography, and fantastic storytelling. Enough adjectives for you? It’s that good. Check it out.

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~ by luna on January 13, 2008.

6 Responses to “swimming upstream and other random thoughts”

  1. “The uncertainty of the ultimate outcome is often said to be one of the hardest things to accept about infertility. How will this end? When will this end? Will this ever end? We seek comfort in information, in the reason, the why, because we think it will help fix the problem. We could find peace in knowing the how and when because it could help ease our minds, or help us move on… Without this, we are left in the dark to find our own way.”

    Truer words have never been spoken, Luna. My dh and I each had contributing factors (caused by varicocele and endometriosis), but these were factors that had been overcome by others through ICSI IVF. Our doctors at Stanford Hospital were very encouraging. Everything step of the way things progressed nicely. The end result, a negative beta, surprised us all. I tortured myself trying to understand why. Our doctor described one possible reason as akin to the engineering concept of ‘tolerance stack up.’ It’s a great analogy.

    Imagine if each component of an engine (aka our bodies) is on the outer edge of its allowed variance and is ‘technically acceptable.’ I mean, nothing is broken per se. The engine will run, but the sum of those minor imperfections (our combined bio contributions) prevents it (our combined fertility) from ever achieving its full potential.”

    It’s a pretty technical description but I found comfort in having some type of rationale.

    Another gorgeous post. I so enjoy hearing what’s in your heart and in your head.

  2. “Without this, we are left in the dark to find our own way” also rang so true with me. If someone could just tell me, “Katie, THIS is why you lose your babies, you can never have any,” well, that would make it. . . easier some how. Don’t get me wrong, it would still be sad, but we could move on, secure in the knowledge that we had done everything that we could.

    When there is no why, there is no path, no way to move forward, no reason to believe that there is another way.

    It is that that makes IF so hard.

    I am sorry, my friend. This is an unfair place you are in. I wish there was more that I could do.

  3. What a heartfelt post. It is all so unexplainable and I am sure that’s what makes it so difficult.

    I’ve ofter wondered if I’ve not to have children for some greater reason, or if my babies dies due to some larger picture. I don’t know, of course, but I don’t think so any more. I’ve seen children born into families who don’t bring them up well, who, for one reason or another, can’t look after their needs. These cycles seem to continue. Surely if there was a point there would be a pattern?

    No answers here, I wish there were.

  4. “But maybe there is no good reason, really. Maybe it’s all completely random and I’m just screwed, like that scared, helpless bird.” I often think that it is random and that we are all caught like your poor little bird, but the difference is that we don’t have to be completely screwed. Unlike the bird, we can use our minds and spirit/humanity to struggle free a bit, to make a difference out of it, no matter how small. We can choose to try to help others, as you note, or to become wiser, more compassionate people; we can choose to savor life, to recognize and celebrate good fortune when we see it, and to just live every day fully, instead of sleepwalking like so many do. Of course, none of that aspirational talk is very helpful when we’re in the middle of one of the dark times. But thinking about all of it and writing in the way you do can only be a good thing.

  5. […] and watch it slowly rise to healthy levels. (Unfortunately the wild salmon that should now be swimming upstream to spawn and die are reported to be at their lowest numbers in […]

  6. […] not really afford to either stay or go. We love where we live now — wonderful home, close to nature, great community, good neighbors, excellent schools, an edible garden, wild berries out back, etc. […]

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