Me in bluebonnets2

This one’s of me! All rights to Kaeleigh MacDonald.

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.

But why?

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.

Of course, there are instances where the reason a couple cannot get pregnant is because of the man, however. For example, a friend of ours struggled to get pregnant because her partner often experienced premature ejaculations. They looked into all kinds of male enhancement products such as VigRX delay wipes (check out the info here) and found that these helped to make things a little easier in the bedroom.

As for us though, I always believed the fault lied at my door.

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.

With love,

The Chicken

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16 thoughts on “My Body Image-My Infertile Struggle

  • July 9, 2015 at 9:17 am
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    This was a very powerful post for me — it hit home on so many levels. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your journey and of yourself! The hubs and I started on our own infertility journey at the beginning of 2008 and we’re still walking the path. And it’s been a rocky one — after my PCOS diagnosis, I found out I needed open heart surgery. Shortly thereafter, I had a pacemaker implanted. Then, against all odds, thanks to our 4th IUI, our miracle happened in 2011 — a pregnancy FINALLY after so much pain and disappointment…but it was not meant to be. I miscarried at 8 wks. It was then that I lost myself. I was angry — at the situation, sure, but mostly at myself. I hated my body for all the ways I felt it had failed me and us. I hated the way my pain and anger had depleted my sense of self-worth and self-confidence. What with the physical and emotional scars of my heart surgery coupled with the emotional scars of the infertility journey, I barely recognized myself . I hit rock bottom in the summer of 2012 — depression and severe self-loathing. It was time for a change. So, we’ve spent the last three years rebuilding (which included taking a hiatus from trying to build our family) and it has been incredibly cathartic and therapeutic! Even without a child, we have felt happy again. What an amazing gift contentedness is. We are doing so well in fact that we have decided to give IVF a try — seven years have passed since initially starting down this road and in so many ways, it’s just time. Beyond time. And even more amazing? Even though we know this will be a challenging leg of our journey, we’re excited and hopeful. Hope. Now there’s a word we could all use more of.

    Sorry for the novel but your post just really spoke to me and it was the “story of hope” I needed today. I will carry your optimism with me these next few weeks as we begin our first IVF at the end of this month. Thank you!

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    • July 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm
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      Melissa,
      Thank you so much for writting this comment! Sometimes it can be really hard to share intimate personal details and be really raw for everyone to see. Your comment reminds me why I do it. We are all in the same river struggling upstream. Some boats are different but were all trying to get the same place. I am happy to have given you some hope. I wish you the very best on your IVF cycle and I am so glad you have found your equilibrium again in the meantime.
      XOXXO, The Chicken

      Reply
  • July 9, 2015 at 1:05 pm
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    Thank you for a such a raw, honest post. I am happy to hear that you are reclaiming exercise and activity as part of your identity and that you are enjoying your body again. For me the body image crisis was worst during pregnancy (especially early pregnancy when I had bleeding). A different situation from yours but similar in that my confidence was rocked and I no longer felt like myself, and like you I didn’t even realize how much moving and enjoying my body was part of my sense of self, until I stopped doing it. My body did not feel so much broken as untrustworthy and dangerous: The metaphor I used was an old fashioned hydrogen filled airship (e.g. the Hindenburg LOL) 🙂 But we only have one body and whatever we go through in life, we’ll still need it afterwards until it’s time to leave this life. So it’s important to enjoy it and keep it healthy. xoxo

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      • July 10, 2015 at 2:49 pm
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        Thanks!

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    • July 10, 2015 at 2:49 pm
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      Turtle,
      Thank you as always for reading it! It can be so hard when your body seems to fail you to keep treating it with respect and treasuring all that it can do. It’s true, have to love your body, it’s the only one you’ll get for this life! Haha.
      XOXXO, The Chicken

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  • July 9, 2015 at 7:54 pm
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    Good for you for not letting fear take over, and getting back in the game! It will also help you shed the pregnancy pounds (post birth) more easily!

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    • July 10, 2015 at 2:50 pm
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      Jen,
      Absolutely. I am looking forward to already being in pretty good muscular and cardio vascular shape at the time of birth so that “getting my body back” isn’t as big of a struggle. I’m feeling so much calmer and centered from working out too, another bonus!
      XOXXO, The Chicken

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  • July 9, 2015 at 8:34 pm
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    I do think that getting the happy ending you’re shooting for does make things easier to get yourself back. Those who have gotten to a comfortable place childless still hurt. There is no child to make them believe all the pain and suffering is worth it.

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    • July 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm
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      Greg,
      No doubt being pregnant right now makes it easier for me to gain distance (Though I cringe to say I’ve reached the happy ending until baby is hear and healthy). I agree with you on that. But I was already starting this progression before I became pregnant so, while it might be easier for me at this moment, it certainly was not impossible before. It’s hard work to move past fear and anger no matter when you do it.
      XOXXO, The Chicken

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  • July 15, 2015 at 2:52 pm
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    Thank you for this post. I am currently pregnant with twins after IUI and a battle with loss and infertility. Your post really struck a cord with me. Exercise has always been my outlet and a major part of my life. I also put it all on hold when I realized that we were having trouble. I was worried that I might shake it loose if I were to run to hard, or go over a bump while biking. Then after I started treatment, I was told not to increase my temperature. I am still in the first trimester so am still only walking which feels boring and mundane. It struck me when I got together with friends recently who asked what I am training for, and what goals I have set for myself for summer, that exercise is a huge part of who I am. I miss exercise terribly. I look forward to getting to the place you’re at right now. Thanks again for sharing this perspective.

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    • July 20, 2015 at 8:44 am
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      Sarah,
      I am so glad to have reached another lady like myself! I also didn’t really work out during the first trimester. I am happy to report that muscle memory is amazing and it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things once I passed 14 weeks. Always listen to your body, it will be different than before you were pregnant, but I think it has been so worth it!
      XOXXO, The Chicken

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  • July 20, 2015 at 9:07 am
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    Great post and I’m so glad you found yourself again! And another little person!

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    • July 20, 2015 at 1:14 pm
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      Deathstar,
      Thanks! Haha, Love the comment about the other person. Yes, I am so grateful to be feeling more like me and doubly happy to have found this little one.
      XOXXO, The Chicken

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  • July 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm
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    This post makes a lot of sense to me for sure. Every month after ovulation and IUI, I have been reducing my activity level. I do still walk just about every day, but I skip the strenuous exercise and lifting weights. My fertility specialist often tells me there’s no need because she goes to the gym with her friend who does IUI right after the procedure. But it’s a mental block I have, and if I get a negative test after working myself super hard then I might think that was a contributing factor, so I just go with my gut feeling. It may sound silly, especially after the doctor telling me to go ahead with exercise, but if I feel like I’m going against my better judgement in doing so then I think it’s best to rest.

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    • July 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm
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      Heather,
      I am glad you related to this post. I also took it really easy. Even after being reassured that working out was fine I just could not shake that feeling. I was so worried I would jinx anything. Hoping you’re doing well and cycles are successful!
      XOXXO, The Chicken

      Reply

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