Hey there Lovelies,
So this post is about my mental health and gaining a modicum of my life back. While I mention that I successfully conceived via IVF and am now pregnant this is in NO way the focus of this post. This was a raw one to write. I hope you’ll read it and find it interesting. Here we go:
I have always been athletic. I love this about myself. I enjoy moving my body and being seen as sporty. Or, that is to say, I WAS always very athletic, until we started trying for a baby. This version of myself was one of the first to go when we were hit with the reality of infertility, it happened even before we got the official diagnosis. I’ve written some about this transition before but I’m ready to dive deeper into it and look at it head on for what it was.
It was fear.
I let fear take over my identity when we couldn’t get pregnant.
Pre-TTC I was always moving. I worked out HARD 4x a week, for the last 5 years this was doing Crossfit, but I also did things like surfing, I went hiking and rock climbing and for a while I also added in Yoga. I moved a lot. I looked fucking amazing, if I can be so bold as to say that. But over and above how I looked (which I didn’t always feel was good enough, truth be told) I FELT amazing.
I FELT like me.
Having always been sporty and into clubs and all that I didn’t recognize this at the time. I had no idea how tied up in my identity my ability to move was. This was about to become one of my greatest hurdles while trying to get knocked up. Because when we first started trying, and my body went haywire from coming off the pill, exercise was the first thing to go.
The fear crept in slowly.
I remember, I started to get this feeling of absolute dread when I had completed a particularly challenging WOD… worried that I was maybe underweight (I wasn’t but was very lean, which can also be problematic) or working my body into a state of shock which was not conducive to giving life. So I started to pull back during really hard workouts. Giving it 60% of my effort. Then when that didn’t work I started to work out less scaling back to only 3x a week. When that wasn’t enough I started eating more so I would put on a little bit more weight.
None of these things worked. I still wasn’t getting pregnant and the fear kept getting stronger. Month after month I searched in vain for a reason I was still unable to conceive. So, I stopped working out entirely every month after ovulation. Convinced that I was knocking any embryos loose with my box jumps and hand stand pushups. I had allowed the quest for our baby to radically shift who I was.
I no longer felt the exhilarating rush after a hard workout. I no longer looked for more and more ways to challenge my body. I decided to no longer strive for better times or higher reps. I no longer enjoyed playing in the surf on my board. I no longer enjoyed finding healthy menu options or creating from scratch in my home kitchen.
I no longer FELT like me.
I also no longer looked like me. The body changes happened slowly. I put on a little more fat, first around my thighs and butt and then around my mid-section. I could no longer see the ripples of sinew and determination when I got into my bathing suit. I no longer knew what looked good on my body, I couldn’t find much to do my new figure justice in my closet.
Without moving my body, and with a new layer of me to adjust to I felt I had no idea who I was anymore. And that was really just the beginning. Because I still wasn’t getting pregnant. It had been over a year. We then got our referral to a reproductive endocrinologist and started down the actual road of infertility treatments.
Getting the diagnosis that my ovaries were our main problem should have alleviated my fears regarding the amount of exercise and my body weight. Since neither of those things, it turns out, were factors in our journey. But it didn’t. The fear was there, palpable and real. I continued to be unsure of how to treat this new body that wasn’t performing the way I was used to. I always erred on the side of caution. I became even more afraid to work out.
The working out hadn’t been stopping me from getting pregnant. Why was I now still afraid of it? After looking back on it I can say that while the fear started out due to the unexplained nature of our lack of conception it continued on due to a much deeper emotional cause.
I felt broken.
My body, this amazing machine that I had always enjoyed using, that had always done what I asked it to do, which had always been better, faster, stronger… had failed me. I was afraid to work out and eat well because I was unsure of the rules anymore. I didn’t understand this new reality, where my ovaries were rebelling against my biological age, where I was unable to get pregnant like other women everywhere.
And I was ANGRY.
Not working out became a way for me to punish my body for its failures. I love working out, I loved how I felt as that person, but when I was sure I was no longer that person, I took away the things that person loved out of spite. Because I was hurting, and I had no one to blame but me.
Our infertility was a me issue. I took that to heart in the worst way possible.
Now I didn’t care as much about not knowing the body I had found myself in, the one with more fat and less stamina. I didn’t care about the way I was alienated from myself, from my core values. I didn’t WANT to know this new me. I hated her. I hated the way clothes fit her body, I hated that working out was a challenge emotionally and physically, I hated the fear that gripped her chest at all times of the day. I wanted MORE distance from her. I wanted nothing about this new person to resemble ME.
The catch here was, she was still me, whether I wanted that part of me or not.
Infertility drugs did not help the situation. Messing with my body’s chemical balance added weight to places I had never had weight before. Paying for treatments meant I was even more terrified that I would somehow cause them to not work, and we’d have wasted all our money, so during treatment cycles I refused to do much of anything besides walk (which I find highly unsatisfying as far as exercise goes). Not to mention the horrible emotional fall out that I endured month after crushing month when treatment failed to produce a pregnancy. I am not ashamed to say that was harder than I would have ever anticipated and I did in fact eat my feelings after each and every failed round.
After 2.5 years of trying nothing had worked. Not cutting out exercise, not adding more fat to my frame, not clomid nor IUI. Nothing. I was broken. I had become a shell of the vibrant woman I had been before this. The woman I knew was gone. I didn’t have likes and dislikes anymore, I had fear and anger instead, and that ruled my world. I also had an extra 20 pounds but no child. I looked puffy like a new mom but still had not produced a baby. And now we needed IVF.
To say I was crushed would not do it justice. But I signed up. The thing about IVF is that at our clinic you need to wait 3 months after your last medicated cycle (all my IUI’s had been medicated. So after a little more than 2.5 years of trying every-single-month I was literally told to STOP and wait. This was not easy. Ideally the clinic likes you to be in the optimal BMI range for IVF, that gives you the best odds for conception. Luckily, due to the peak form I was in before I gained the extra 20 lbs, I was at a 24.8 BMI… squeaking me juuuust under the cut off for overweight. But I decided to exercise during the three months off anyways because I was beginning to realize just how much of myself I had given up to try to have a baby. I needed to find myself a little more again before delving into the hellish world of IVF. On top of working out again I was put on a strict fertility diet by my wonderful acupuncturist and was unable to drown my sorrows in vats of ice cream leading up to IVF either. Both of these things helped.
I started slowly and was finally hitting my stride by the time IVF rolled around. I had lost about 5 pounds and was feeling much better. Then I was told I was unable to work out during IVF because the stimulation meds swell your ovaries to scary hulk proportions and you could do all sorts of damage to them by exercising. For the first time in forever I wanted to work out during a treatment cycle and I was told I wasn’t allowed to. I was devastated. I was just beginning to feel more like myself again, more in control of my life and my emotions, and now I was supposed to stop?! If you follow me on twitter there was a lot of rage and disbelief about this.
But I wanted to get pregnant.
Not only is IVF hard on your body it is also expensive. Being as I didn’t want to damage my lady goods or waste all that coin by fucking things up being bull headed I dutifully went back to my couch. The IVF cycle was a trip all around. I gained about 6 lbs during the cycle (which I understand is actually at the low end of normal) and did my best not to move much or breathe, lest I jinx it. When it was finally time to pee on the stick I hadn’t really thought much about working out in weeks. I was much more focused on the TREATMENT working out than the state of my body. And then I saw two lines.
Time stood still.
I was told not to do ANYTHING until the viability scan. I mean literally anything. I wasn’t allowed to vacuum or lift more than 5 lbs or jump up and down. Dr.’s orders. So I did… nothing. We passed the viability scan and I was told that I was able to resume normal activities, like vacuuming (drat) and lifting up to 10 lbs. But that I was still not allowed to do much working out (except walking, yawn) until 12 weeks as it takes a while for the hulk ovaries to start receding in size. So I went back to cleaning duties but was mostly still holding my breath and crossing my legs.
When, at our 12 week scan, I was told that my ovaries were back to a normal size I was so excited! This meant I could reinstate my Crossfit membership and go back to class!I could hardly believe it!
So, I did just that. I refused to bow to the fear I had let take over my life and the following Monday I went back to Crossfit and completed the WOD with everyone else. Mind you, I did take it easier than I would have and modified activities that were no longer appropriate for me during pregnancy. But I did it. And I loved it. And while I didn’t work out to my fullest capacity I was pulled back not from FEAR, but from joy! What a change!It felt amazing to really move again.
There are lots of reasons I should exercise in pregnancy: I want to give birth without intervention if possible… so they recommend exercise. I want to gain an appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy… so they recommend exercise. I want to ensure as much as I can that this baby is healthy… so they recommend exercise.
But that’s not why I’m doing it.
Yes, you read that right. I am thrilled to have achieved this pregnancy. And exercise in pregnancy is good. But that is not the reason I will continue to do it. I’m doing it because I want to remember who I am. I am doing it because I want to be true to myself, and the me before infertility would have continued to work out. The me before I learned about my diminished ovarian reserve would have eaten well and continued to move as much as her changing body would allow. I WANT to remember me. I WANT to embrace the person I thought I had lost. I want to reconcile the two halves of myself because I am sick of feeling torn in two.
I am sick of hating myself for my infertile diagnosis.
I am not angry that my journey has been different from others. I am no longer angry that we didn’t get pregnant our first try, or our first IUI and instead needed IVF. Why? My journey is my journey. It does not define me it GROWS me. I know it sounds easy for me to say that now because I am pregnant. But it’s not the pregnancy. I have been moving in this direction for a while… I’m sure you’ve noticed it in my posts. Even pre-pregnancy I was all about finding yourself in the MIDST of your infertility journey. Everyone’s ending is different. Not everyone winds up at the finish line having conceived. But you can arrive at a place where you no longer want infertility to take away your soul. I know others who are childless who have gotten there. It’s hard work. But I want you to know it’s possible.
As for me, I have slowly increased my workouts to include 2 days at Crossfit, 2 days swimming, and 2 days walking a week. With one day left over to say fuck it, lol. Because I want to be true to who I am. And who I am is a person who loves moving her body, who does her very best to never give up, who pushes through pain to reach goals. Interestingly, these are the many things I would have said about myself physically before infertility, now I know them to be true of myself emotionally as well.
I thought I was so different during this process, it turns out I just didn’t see all the ways in which I was still me. I thought I was lost but it turns out I was here all along. I just didn’t see it. Maybe you are really still in there, too.