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Rehearsal for a New Life
What comes next after infertility?
It’s a Friday morning in the middle of April, and I’m sitting on a picnic blanket that’s designed with a groovy rainbow-colored image of a retro camping trailer, trees, and mountains. I’m barefoot, with my tie-dye Crocs lying on the grass next to me. There’s a bug crawling along the top of my iPad, my dogs are sticking their tongues in my face because I’m at snoot-level, and Baxter just stepped on my Bluetooth keyboard. I am aware that a majority of people in the world who are my age are currently sending kids off to school and heading to work, stuck on the same gridlocked highways that transported me to my campground last night. At the moment, I am pleased with my life circumstances.
On the other side of the picnic table and campfire ring, my green Honda Element sits waiting for the day’s adventure. The three of us (Baxter, Laney, and I) slept in the back of the car together last night—our first camping trip of the year, and the initiation of our beloved new EleTent, as we call it. We pulled into our campsite around 7pm and went for a 2-mile run to stretch our legs after the long drive from northern New Hampshire to Cape Cod. Then after a trip to the bathouse for a shower, I slid the Element’s front seats forward to extend the bed platform, crawled in through the tailgate, and shimmied up under the blankets on top of my 3-inch foam mattress. The dogs curled up next to me, and I fell asleep watching branches sway and stars shine through the moonroof above my head.
I stayed warm all night thanks to the insulation of the car and the two puppa-furnaces leaning against my back, even though temperatures dipped into the 40s. I awoke at 7am to a thick fog and decided to stay in my cocoon until the sun burned it off. Now the day is shaping up to be cool and clear, with just enough sun to keep it comfortable.
The campsite I chose is the most private one in the campground, at the end of a dead-end dirt road that abuts a stockade fence along the campground property line. I’m as far as I can get from the rows of big-rig RVs, fifth-wheels, and travel trailers that line the flat central part of the campground. Being off by myself means fewer things for the dogs to bark at, and it makes it possible to pee behind a tree rather than hike to the bathroom. It turns out I’m not without neighbors, though; a friendly couple that lives in the house on the other side of the fence just peeked their heads over the gate to say hello. Barbara and Sam told me that they stayed at this campground in 1999 while they were building their house, and they’ve lived here ever since. They also tipped me off about a new dog park in town that we can walk to.
I still haven’t made breakfast; camp cooking is my final frontier. Seth is the chef when we travel together, but he’s home this week earning money to pay the mortgage while I’m traveling 200 miles south to practice living out of my car. He’s fine with the arrangement; it means he gets to binge-watch sci-fi series every night instead of watching one of my cheezy TV shows, or listening to me babble about the same old things (“Blah blah blah fertility treatments, blah blah blah what should we do next?”) The best advice I ever got about marriage was to take plenty of time to pursue your own interests, and it’s true that after being apart for a few days or weeks, we are eager and affectionate and have much to talk about.
My goal for this trip is to learn how to be self-sufficient on a future road trip: how to take care of all of my basic needs (sleeping, eating, toileting, and maybe even bathing) within the 40-square-foot space of my 20-year-old SUV. I’m easing myself in with a campground stay because I need to dial-in my systems, get organized, and minimize my gear before I can successfully stealth-camp at a rest area, Wal-Mart, or a trailhead parking lot. My ultimate goal is to take my Element camping on the public lands out West, where we can post up along a dirt road in a national forest or BLM land, filter water from a mountain stream, and hang out until we run out of food. The main benefit of stealth camping is that it’s free; a $40/night campsite adds up to more than my monthly mortgage, so for long-term travel, campgrounds are a luxury.
This is my modern-day fantasy of the pioneer life; a cross between the Yellowstone prequel 1884 and the leather-tramp adventures of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild. I’m inspired by the book and movie Nomadland, and the Cheap RV Living website run by Bob Wells, who teaches people how to safely and comfortably live out of their vehicles (I wrote more about Bob here, when I was hoping to make it to Arizona for his annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in January). All my life I’ve dreamed of having the freedom to travel and explore North America, but whenever I’ve had the time (like summer breaks from teaching, or in between jobs), I haven’t had the money. For the past few years I thought I’d grow my online coaching business to the point where I could afford a fancy RV and expensive campsite hookups to run my business on the road, but after trying to balance internet-dependent work with a nomadic life, I realized that the constant struggle for a reliable cell signal and electric hookup was stressing me out and limiting my freedom. So I closed my group coaching program and bought my 2004 Element last fall, determined to travel cheaply and freely, no Zoom calls required!
My original goal of driving out West this winter was put on hold by a new round of fertility treatments, and now four months later, it’s finally warm enough in New England to sleep outside. I had to drive 200 miles south because the campgrounds near me won’t open for another month, but the Cape is mild enough for a few hardy camp hosts to open in April. It’s also early enough in the season that I can take my dogs to the beach.
Next week I’m taking what may be my final trips to the fertility clinic. The doctor said I can do one more treatment—maybe two—and I’ve been waffling about whether to get it over with, or take a few more months off to dial in my nutrition and supplements. But when I checked the calendar and checked in with my heart, I realized that I don’t want to prolong the agony of the fertility hamster wheel into the summer and fall, which would mean putting off my travel dreams for another year. The odds of conceiving are stacked against me, and at 43, I’m at the part of the fertility bell-curve that drops off vertically towards zero with every passing month. I will do all I can to give it one last shot, but at a certain point I’ll have to tap out of the game.
I’m still figuring out how I feel about giving up. With every infertility story, there is an inevitable end-point; either the hoped-for child finally arrives, or the aspiring parent(s) run out of eggs or money or the emotional capacity for sustained disappointment. In many ways, the uncertainty is the worst part, along with the waiting, the putting off everything else in life, and trying to plan around the whims of one’s ovaries (I was supposed to arrive at this campground a week ago, but had to stay home and wait for my period so I could get blood work done so I could get medication to take for 5 days leading up to my procedure). The decision to stop treatment would restore my freedom, my bodily autonomy, and my sanity. It would also start the next phase of grieving the biological children I’ll never have, and deciding whether to move forward with egg donation, adoption, or to remain childless.
This camping trip feels like an essential piece of the what-comes-next puzzle. It’s my shake-down for the longer trip I’m planning as a consolation prize for my infertility—the trip that will take me West, maybe as far as Alaska or Baja. I need time and space to recover from the physical and emotional toll of four miscarriages, two surgeries, and six cycles of hormones. I need a big enough break from everyday life to remember who I am and figure out what I want. And I know that break involves two adorable pups, one shiny green box of a car, ten thousand miles of highway, and at least a hundred nights sleeping under the stars.
I’m thinking of opening up a paid-subscription option on this blog for anyone who wants to follow along on my adventures and help support my travels. The cheapest option I can offer through Substack is $50/year or $5/month. I’d still do a few free public posts every month, but the subscription would include more detailed stories about my adventures as they’re happening. Having a couple hundred paid subscriptions would go a long way toward funding my travels while compensating me for all the hours it takes to write, post, share, and engage (each of these essays represents a full day of work, from start to finish).
If you would be willing to pay the price of a nice coffee-table book to read a year of my writing (basically, subscribing to the book of my life as it’s being written), would you please let me know in the comments? I’ve also opened up the “pledge” feature, which allows you to enter your payment info now and you won’t be charged until I start the paid content. If you can think of anyone else who’d enjoy my writing, please send them to www.lizexplores.com to sign up for a free subscription and see if they want to come along on the journey. My subscriber list has been growing organically by about 10 people a month, so I’m going to need a little help to get to 200 by this summer!
As I’ve been lounging in the sun writing, a man around my age walked by pushing two little ones who are learning to ride bikes. “The only way you’re ever going to get up a hill is you’ve got to pedal,” he said as he shoved them up the incline on the campground’s gravelly, dusty roads. My first thought was: I’m OK with the fact that I’m not pushing kids on bikes up hills right now. It would be awesome if that were my life, but I’m happy to be sitting here in the sun writing while my dogs snooze at my side. My second thought was that he’s right: I’ve got to keep pedaling, at least until I crest the next hill and can cruise down the other side.
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