My assumption is that a woman who does not or has not struggled with body image is the exception to the rule. (And if that is you – cheers!) As for myself, although I have always been healthy and never more than few pounds overweight, body image has been a focus and a battle throughout my adolescent and adult life. I could write a book on everything I put myself through up to the point we started trying to conceive 2 years ago – the constant scrutiny, multitude of diets, intense workout plans, personal trainers, comparing myself to my much thinner sister, indulging then sacrificing and all the while blaming my lack of self discipline. But there is nothing like trying to conceive to mess with your body image once and for all. Fortunately, my story has a happy ending.
The books I read and the advice I was given said that intense or excessive exercise can impede fertility. So, after a few unsuccessful months of trying, I cut down my running and exercise routine. I realized, reluctantly, that I would have to loosen my grip on how my body looked in order to make it a healthy place for a baby to make its home. I started eating full fat dairy and stopped counting calories. I ordered cheeseburgers without shame. As a result, of course, I gained some weight. But the reward was quick and I became pregnant in October 2009. At that point, the goal of my eating was no longer staying fit and trim, it was about combating nausea, avoiding “dangerous” foods and giving my baby the important nutrients it needed. I embraced my little growing belly.
In a future post I plan to expand more fully on the story of my miscarriage. But for now I will just say that I lost the baby at about 7 weeks. It was the second most devastating experience of my life. But here’s one side effect of miscarriage that I did not expect: the happy weight I’d gained did not go away. The terrible breakouts did not quickly subside. I still had all the physical side effects of being pregnant, but I was no longer pregnant.
I hated my body. Not only did I feel let down in the most primal of ways, but I also couldn’t stand the way I looked. Every negative thought I ever had about myself and my looks rose to the surface. I cursed myself every time I looked in the mirror and every time I stepped on the scale. I made myself a New Year’s resolution to work out every day for 2 weeks and eat a strict diet. My hope was to make my weight loss quick and dramatic and, once I was back down to my previous weight, I would feel better. Do you know what happened? I did it, and I did not lose one pound. Not one.
The many months that followed taught me the very tough lesson of letting go. I mentioned previously that I have some “control issues,” and those contributed greatly to the difficulty I had in accepting myself and my situation, rather than fighting it. It was a two steps forward, one step back kind of journey. For a year. I did eventually come to peace, though, and there were several things that helped me do it. None more important than the unwavering support and adoration of my husband. He told me daily that I was beautiful – even on the days when I really wasn’t. I started doing fertility yoga and getting in tune with the workings of my body. I learned to respect it, to honor it and to appreciate it.
And now I begin a new chapter. For those who’ve read this far hoping I would reveal the result of my first IVF attempt – thank you. Your support has been indescribably important to me as I’ve endured the excruciating wait. And the happy news is that I am pregnant. Five weeks today. I feel excited and fearful and anxious and hopeful. I have been here before, after all. I know that we are still in the thick of the woods, and it will be some time before we are out. But I am going to trust and love my body in the meantime. I am going to be thankful for what it has accomplished and faithful about what it will do next.