Learning to Love My Body Through Recurrent Loss
The title is aspirational, mostly. After infertility and recurrent miscarriages loving my body is a daily challenge. As a woman, I’ve struggled with body image my whole life. Too thin, too chubby, not athletic enough, way too short. My hips are too big and my head is too small. But there were things I appreciated about my body even as I picked it apart for its flaws. I danced for many years and felt strong and graceful. My legs were capable of walking me to work, to the bus, to the store, for many years living without a car. Even if I didn’t like it all the time, it worked.
Part of the brokenness of infertility and pregnancy loss is having your body fail at the most mundane of tasks. Getting pregnant, a basic function for many people, became an impossibility for me. “Where is your biological imperative!? Why can’t you manage this simple thing?” the voice inside my head angrily scolds my body, which helps nothing and changes nothing. Staying pregnant proved even harder. In moments of desperation I tried the opposite approach. “Please, please work. Please keep my baby alive. You can do it.” But my body doesn’t – can’t – meet that plea.
Some days I feel trapped inside this skin. Disembodied. Acutely aware that with every breath I take that I am coexisting with this shell I live in, the body that killed my babies. I feel hatred and guilt. If I could claw my way out I would, but there is no easy fix for this pain.
After each miscarriage I’ve slid into mistreatment of my body in a combination of grief and anger. Sometimes I eat only cereal for four days in a row. An entire package of chocolate candies in one sitting. Or I don’t eat at all, the hunger pains dulled by the emotional fog. When we start the next IVF cycle each injection, each ultrasound, feels like penance and punishment. This is what you get for failing again. More needles, more discomfort, more heartbreak. More loss.
When I prioritize “self care” it isn’t me I am prioritizing. It is easier to focus on eating well or exercising when I think of it as something I must do to maximize our chances of a successful pregnancy. I do it dutifully, like homework. Less than 50g of carbs a day, barre classes 3 times a week, a pill box overflowing with supplements and vitamins. Not to care for myself but to coerce my body into sustaining a baby. Trying to punish good eggs out of the scrambled mess of my insides. I am thin and hollow. I am afraid to fail.
Over time, I’ve tried to reconnect with my physical self. My therapist recommends deep breathing and mindfulness exercises. At first I couldn’t do them at all because the thought of being present in my body-prison was terrifying. With practice it comes more easily. Breathe in, breathe out. Center yourself. Hear your inner thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them pass.
Acknowledge them. “Wow, those are strong feelings. Do you really hate yourself that much? What could you have done differently? It’s not your fault, don’t blame yourself.” I come to my own defense. I rescue myself. I begin to think of that subconscious voice beating up on myself like a bully hurting my inner child. No! Be gentle to her. Nurture her.
I practice on other people experiencing infertility and loss, treating them how I wish I could treat myself. I’m not alone in these feelings of self-loathing. In my support group circle I’m the first to jump in: “You did everything you could. Don’t blame yourself.” I nurture and caress those scared inner children and try to help them heal to wholeness.
Not your fault. Not your fault. Not your fault. Not our fault. Not my fault.
I try to love them like I want to be loved, like I want to love myself. And slowly I reclaim my sense of self, and with it some of my self worth. It’s a work in progress.