My size . . . Resilient!
I’ve always been chubby. Since college, I’ve been overweight. Self-esteem has never come easily to me. Whenever I look at my adorable baby pictures, I feel a disconnect. Sometimes it’s hard to associate that precious child with the woman I see in the mirror.
The first time I really remember feeling confident was during college while wearing my favorite outfit: a pair of jeans, corduroy jacket, and a knitted pageboy cap. I look back at that time in my life as the baseline for how I want to feel about myself. I’ve experienced that completely at-ease feeling since, but not near as often as I wish I did.
Despite my continuous battle with self-esteem, not even middle school bullies could compare to the blow that infertility dealt to my self-image. The strongest word I can associate with my body’s struggle to conceive is defective. That’s how I’ve felt since I realized I wasn’t going to get pregnant without reproductive assistance. Being pregnant is an expectation for my gender. Bearing a child is supposed to be natural for a woman. Even if you don’t want children, the ability to carry one is an innate part of your makeup.
So what happens when your body refuses to perform as expected? I can answer that. Your self-worth crashes. Realizing that I had PCOS and would need help to conceive was a lot to handle. At first, my natural optimism helped me deal with needing fertility treatments, but, as the bumps in the road got bigger and bigger, my positive outlook melted away. My body seemed to be constantly betraying me, and each negative pregnancy test chipped away a little more at my self-esteem.
It didn’t matter that my husband, Chuck, made me feel safe and loved. It didn’t matter that I had amazing, supportive parents and a best friend in my sister. It didn’t matter that people told me that I was a fantastic teacher, a promising writer, and a great friend. It didn’t matter that I preached self-esteem, confidence, and optimism to my students. Becoming a mother was my central focus and all my insecurities seemed connected to the results of my latest pregnancy blood draw.
I found solace in food—it was my escape and my pick-me-up. I kept telling myself that I was going to get pregnant soon, so it didn’t matter what I ate. You can probably guess that the result was quite a bit of weight gain, which didn’t help my confidence.
The harsh truth is that infertility gives you a whole new list of reasons to hate your body. It is so hard to watch an ultrasound on that little screen, hear that your follicles are great, be told that the sperm is excellent, and then get another “no pregnancy” phone call. Each failed cycle wheedles away at your self-image and makes you feel like your body is broken. It was very difficult to make myself see past the fact that nothing seemed to be working. Sometimes hope felt too far away to grasp.
One of my strongest recollections of my time with CNY Fertility was a meeting that Chuck and I had with Dr. Kiltz. We knew that we needed to change our treatment plan because we’d done several failed IUI cycles. I can still hear Dr. Kiltz saying “you’re beautiful” at the beginning of that meeting. I smile every time I think of that moment. He also said that I didn’t need to change anything about myself, but, if I was willing, I should try the Keto Diet. Chuck and I were already committed to losing weight together, so starting Keto made sense. Between that meeting and our successful embryo transfer—about three months—I lost thirty pounds.
I’m not suggesting that you need to lose weight to get pregnant. I’m also not implying that you need to lose weight to feel good about yourself. But, if you’ve read anything about the emotional side of infertility, you know that mindset matters. Losing that weight made me feel good. It helped me get my head in a better place. I have no doubt that increased self-esteem was a factor in our ability to finally—after almost five years—achieve a pregnancy. For you, losing weight may not be the key, but there is something you can do to make yourself feel more fabulous.
And that is my challenge to you for the remainder of 2019: learn to love yourself a little more. Do not underestimate the power of positivity. For people struggling with their body not “working right,” getting into a healthy mindset concerning your physical appearance is really important. More than that, learning to embrace or at least make peace with whatever is causing your infertility is vital.
Let me use myself as an example. My PCOS shows itself in two ways: irregular periods and extra facial hair. Honestly, the periods don’t bother me. Who wouldn’t want to deal with that a few less times per year? But the facial hair is difficult. Luckily, I’m blonde so it’s not blatantly obvious, but I know it’s there, and it makes me feel super self-conscious. I used to struggle with it much more than I do now. For years, all I did was pluck the darker hairs. I find many of my honeymoon pictures embarrassing because I can see the fine fuzz on my chin. I used to work at a pretty serious alternative school, and I had students call me names like “sasquatch” and “lumberjack” behind my back. Whenever one of them got angry, I was afraid a comment about my facial hair would be part of the ensuing rant. It only happened once, but I barely kept it together.
One August, I decided to do something about my facial hair. I felt amazing on the day that I first shaved. I felt like a woman again. I wondered if people would notice because, to me, the change in my appearance was huge. No one commented, of course, but that’s just because people are polite.
Since then, there are days when I run out of time in the morning and walk out the door with a dusting of hair on my chin, meaning I can feel the stubble. Inevitably, I look in the mirror at some point and the resulting wave of anxiety almost crushes me. Will someone notice? Will someone say something? I remember vividly, on one of those days, my niece looking at me and saying, “You’ve got stuff on your face like Daddy.” Talk about a punch to my fragile self-esteem.
Recently, I’ve been trying to reframe my insecurities to something more positive. I know that the key to becoming my best self lies in letting go of the perception that I—specifically my body—am not good enough. Over the last couple of years, one of the things I’m really proud of is how open and honest I’ve been about my infertility and PCOS. So, whenever I look in the mirror and feel embarrassment sneaking in, I tell myself that my facial hair is a badge of honor. It’s the physical evidence of my PCOS, the thing that tells the world that my body struggles to reproduce. I still worry that someone will notice or say something, but that’s the attitude that I’m striving for. My goal is to counter any rude comment—if that ever happens—with a graceful response about how my PCOS made me work for and be that much more grateful for my children.
Besides my facial hair, my weight is always looming over me. Losing thirty pounds on Keto was amazing, but I want to make something clear. I wasn’t skinny. According to the BMI calculator, I was still overweight, not even close to “normal” at my new weight of just over 200 pounds (I’m 5’11’’). The big difference was that I was doing something super positive for my body. I was getting healthier and lowering the inflammation in my body (one of the main reasons why Dr. Kiltz supports Keto). Before the diet, I had been at my emotional low, almost to the point of believing that we would never have children. With my weight loss, my attitude evolved, and I was finally able to make the life-changing decision to try IVF.
Right now, I weigh about 10 pounds less than I did before our first successful embryo transfer, and I still struggle with my self-image. But this year I’m going to be different. I’m going to embrace the idea that a positive mindset makes a difference. I’ve seen that work in so many aspects of my life—from getting pregnant to landing my dream teaching job. Why wouldn’t it work for empowering myself to have a healthy relationship with my body?
I challenge you to go with me on this journey in 2019. Ask yourself: what is it about your body that you hate the most? I’m guessing the answer is something to do with your infertility. Despite my chronic struggle with self-esteem, my real battle with my body started with my infertility. From not being able to conceive until we tried IVF to struggling to breastfeed my first son, my PCOS has made me feel damaged and defective. My body has caused me too many tears, swear words, and negative emotions.
And I’m done with that. I’m going to figure out how to love myself, even with my body’s struggles. I’m going to make my PCOS a defining part of who I am in a positive way. After all, if Chuck and I hadn’t gone through our infertility journey to have our sons, our lives and attitudes would probably be very different. Everything I’ve experienced has led me to where I am today, and I’ve got to start embracing my body for what it is.
No matter where you are in your infertility journey, you can do the same. One of the most important steps you can take while you’re trying to conceive is making the decision to be positive. Your body can do incredible things, and, even if it’s not working the way you want it to, it still deserves some love. Do that in 2019. Love yourself.