At 15 I detested my tummy. It was the target for the anger I felt at having just had my future ripped away from me. The future you’re taught to expect in life, in amongst the sex ed lessons telling you “you will get pregnant the first time you have sex without a condom, don’t do it!” and the story injected into society that after school comes a job a marriage and then out pops a family.
Suddenly I couldn’t picture what the future held and I couldn’t trust this body of mine.
Through my twenties, clogged up with PTSD from the diagnosis and everything else that had been going on (and professionals seemingly out of their depth in how to help me outside of their medical box) and feeling crippled with social anxiety, my body felt like it had a huge neon sign hanging from it saying “different”. My body felt uncomfortable, uneasy, awkward and confusing. I had boyfriends, but there was always this quiet shame about my body, not of what was on the outside but on the inside. How does a partner reassure you on that? Especially those who aren’t equipped to understand it. I even felt sometimes, as I danced with around a club with friends as if the crowds could see a giant tattoo on my torso saying “broken, avoid”.
I found myself the most amazing counsellor as I crept towards 30 years old. She pushed me to remember that I wasn’t the only one that was different. Everyone was. She used to joke that the person next to us in the coffee shop could have an STI and we wouldn’t know it. What she meant was that everyone has their own story, their own shit going on in the minds, that we don’t know about.
One: they are thinking about that, not judging me. And two: I still had similarities with others. I wasn’t a total alien. We are all plodding on in life, with our baggage, trying to make the best of things. With many of the similar feelings, just on different subjects, and when we talk about them, let go of our shame, we realise this.
That our different stories are actually what make us unique. Beautiful even in our own ways.
When adoption finally happened for us and my son came home, there was a new challenge for my body. One I was grateful for but a shock all the same. It was exhausted. I softened as the beautiful days of being stuck under a sleeping baby rolled ahead. I became “mumsy”. A word I both revelled in and felt frustrated with. On the one hand wishing I had those “tiger stripes” often mentioned as a “badge of motherhood” and happy to accept a Keeling boobs, feeling at least seeing a changed body could be more justified and reasoned .
By the time we moved down to Somerset, for a my husband to do a course for a year, sleep was a reality and the quest for a sibling was on the horizon. Suddenly I had the energy to start exercising, and desperation for IVF to work often leads to researching every healthy eating plan out there.
I started the Couch to 5k (I’d so recommend this by the way. I would always have said I just can’t run, but this proved me wrong). We became pretty strict at clean eating, which while we aren’t strict now, taught me so much about healthy alternatives. I lost weight, I had more energy…but none of it was for me. It was in the hope our chances of IVF working would be higher. That I’d be able to give my boy a sibling. Experience the right of passage of pregnancy with my husband.
I started sharing about our fertility struggles online, and the support was at times overwhelming (in a good way).
So after the hormones treatments ravaged my body and IVF abroad didn’t work, all those old haunting thoughts about my body returned. I’d look in the mirror and cry. Which ever way I turned, I saw the scars of infertility in the bulge around my tummy, the wobbles in my arms, the dark circles under my eyes and bumps on my face. Grieving a tiny life lost in my tummy, feeling like my womb was a grave yard.
The uneasy feeling that something hadn’t been right after our experience at the clinic but being made to feel stupid for feeling that way, just added to the mistrust I felt in myself.
Last year though, a sort of angel entered my life, in the form of Amber, offering to donate us her eggs, it restored a little of my faith in the world I guess. That humans could be so amazingly kind. That I, for all the faults I saw in myself, could be cared about by someone who at that point was really a stranger. It’s hard to explain how much of a difference her act made to us, not just in our fertility journey, but also to my heart.
Whilst our last, 3rd, IVF cycle didn’t work, the recovery and views on my body from this one has been different somehow. There was still the frustration and feeling my body let me down. The confusion and fear that something is going on inside it to cause all this implantation failure (failure, that word really needs to be replaced doesn’t it? I wonder if it’s really a healthy word to have in infertility). That I still don’t know my body well.
But I’ve also started to look at it differently. Each day trying to find a reason to say something positive about it. Trying to respect it. Women on social media have gone a long way for me towards this. People like
I had a tiny tattoo so I could see the mark of motherhood on my body in a healthier way.
Whilst not posting about fertility, they are posting about the uniqueness of our bodies. Self-acceptance. Beauty in diversity whilst seeing that actually in so many ways we are the same anyhow. It’s all this airbrushing and advertising that pushes us to think we aren’t so that we buy the next product brands are touting.
I’ve started exercising for me, which yep is making me feel better. In fun ways like scootering through the park today with Josh. We meandered past a Sue Rider home by the park. A charity that provides amazing hospice care, and I thought to myself, whilst my body might not work exactly how I’d like, it does give me each day. A luxury not everyone has. I looked in the mirror today at those wobbly bits and thought “well you have kept me alive another day body. You’re pretty awesome”.
I’ve started learning to feel infertility as separate to my body. Outside it. Yeah it tries to attack me every now and again, but my body fights back. My body is the strong one, trying to protect me the best it can. By me trying to talk more kindly to it in my head and give it more respect my how I move it (I give it a little time every day, whether that’s just 5 minutes of yoga moves or a T25 session with Steve. Just a little sign of respect for it) and what I put into it, I am giving it strength.
It’s also given me my son in a roundabout way. Whilst adoption was something even as a kid I wanted to do, I wonder if I would have had the confidence to take that step if my body hadn’t pushed me to. There’s a part of me grateful to my dodgy ovaries for that. For my brain for managing to function on nights with a couple of hours sleep. For my chubby years giving my son a soft place to rest his head. For my heart growing enough for all the love I feel for that little guy. For my legs being able to run fast enough to keep up with him in the park.
So I guess what I’m saying is this. It’s totally normal to be livid with your body when fertility problems strike. It’s also something that dam common, and that’s becoming more and more obvious as people open up about it so it doesn’t really make you different. That despite it feeling like it’s working against us, it is actually fighting the battle along side us and giving us the chance of life each day. It’s what we choose to do with that life that counts. I know I’ll have days where I’ll still look in the mirror and wish I was that commercial kind of pretty, or had those lean lines on my tummy, hiding a perfect set of ovaries and super fertile womb, but there are women doing amazing things without being “standard”. Being perfectly imperfect, as all humans beautifully are. So maybe it’s time we allowed ourselves to enjoy being that way too.