Talking about body image, self-esteem, and infertility. Content warning: some discussion of weight related insecurity.
Last week was National Infertility Awareness week (April 23rd-29th, 2022). The perfect time to talk about the many impacts and struggles faced by those struggling with infertility.
For some background, I’ve never been someone with perfect self-esteem or confidence. As so many others have, I’ve struggled with loving my body, or even liking it. I spent many of my teenage years worrying about being pretty enough, thin enough, or just wanting to look “like everyone else”. I didn’t love my appearance and especially as a cisgender woman this was an area of significant anxiety and stress for me.
In the last few years, prior to infertility, I felt I had finally come to a place of acceptance with my body. I was actually happy with my appearance and was finally starting to feel good in my own skin, a battle hard won. Then along came infertility which surprised me by unearthing old insecurities and bringing with it new ones that I’m still learning how to deal with.
Am I Just Defective? Thoughts About My Body With Infertility
Infertility has significantly changed how I relate to and think about my body. In some good ways, and in many not so good ways. It has challenged my self-esteem and has made me re-evaluate the worth and purpose of my body.
Infertility, and infertility treatment, has made me feel unattractive, undesirable, broken, dysfunctional, defective. It has reignited worries about my appearance that I had previously worked through. Infertility treatments, particularly hormonal medications, can really mess with your perception of your body. Your body changes a lot as a result of the treatments: bloating, weight gain, loss of muscle tone, acne and hair loss to name a few. This can make you feel less like yourself and bring up insecurities you might have or create new insecurities. It also can literally change your body, sometimes permanently, and that can be really hard to accept.
Infertility has made me ask myself a lot of questions: Will my husband still think I’m desirable if my body is defective, if it can’t do what he thought it could? If I were to ever have another partner (i.e. if my spouse died or left me) would that impact whether or not someone could love me or be attracted to me? If others found out about my infertility, will they think my body is strange or dysfunctional? It might seem strange but these are genuine questions and worries that have crossed my mind because of infertility.
Another thing has been how infertility has impacted how I view the natural processes of my body. Since infertility, I loath my period. I never particularly enjoyed it before but what is the point of having a period, going through pain and sickness every single month if I cannot even bear a child?
I was taught growing up that having my period (menstruation) meant I could have kids, “This means you’re a woman now and that you can get pregnant.” While I don’t necessarily blame those who told me this, I just wish it had simply been phrased “might be able” to have kids. And now without that, I’m not sure how I feel about menstruation. It has become just another reminder of what my body can’t seem to do and what we don’t have.
Being infertile has made me angry with my body, resentful even. I used to think of my body as beautiful, strong, and capable of incredible things like growing life but now I almost feel like my body has lied to me, tricked me. If you are beautiful why are you broken? What is the point of you if you don’t work the way I want you to ? Why can’t you do what others can do? I have felt ashamed of my body and like my body is useless.
Nothing ever prepared me for this. I was taught as a cis-gender woman that my body was “made for this”, that it was specially designed to get pregnant, to carry a baby, to birth a baby, and to be a mother. And mine can’t seem to do any of those things.
Some Things I’ve Learned
While I’m definitely still working through a lot of these feelings, doing a lot of thinking about this has led me to a few conclusion.
Ultimately, all of our bodies fail us at some point, but ours and mine has failed me much earlier and differently than I ever would have thought. It is profoundly hard to accept when our bodies fail our hopes and expectations, it is a unique kind of grief. And in a society that is ableist, appearance focused, and conformist as ours, it is especially hard.
While difficult and emotional, this experience continues to push me to believe even more firmly that our value as people, as human beings, and especially as women never relies solely on our body’s ability to function in a certain way, or “as it’s supposed to”. And that even if my body cannot bear a child, it still bears life. My life is not worth less than another’s just because I struggle to conceive.
I try to remind myself that my body does so many other things for me and for other people every single day and there is beauty and wonder to be found in that too. With my body I can also create other things like art, music, dance, and this kind of creation is also valid and life giving in its own way.
I can find enjoyment and gratitude in all the other things my body can do, and I will have to learn to accept what it cannot do. But learning to accept this will not be an easy journey as I am still grieving this reality and loss.
At the end of each day, my body is the only vessel I have to live this life in and even if it isn’t perfect, even if it is dysfunctional, it is mine and it is still beautiful in its own way.