8/11/14

Infertility and body image

I have a vivid childhood memory of two adult women in a swimming pool. After a humorous struggle to both climb onto the same double sized floating air mattress, they are lying on their backs, laughing breathlessly and shading their eyes from the sun with their hands. One of them looks down at the other's belly and remarks, "Wow you look so slim!" 

The compliment receiver immediately turns the sentiment on the other, "No way! You're the one who looks great! Look what I've got!" She grabs the soft part of her belly where her babies once grew and gives it a shake. 

"I've go that too!" the other replies, and follows with her own grab and shake. The two continue laughing and firing compliments at one another, jiggling their bellies all the while. 

I remember watching these women both delighted by their laughter but also confused by their words.  I was probably 6 or 7 at the time and it's the first time I remember being confronted with the idea that someone wouldn't like something about their own body. 

At six, my body was for doing. Running, jumping, skipping, playing, eating, smiling, laughing. I had also, around that time, experienced a fairly severe bone infection in my back, wrist and hips, undergoing several related surgeries and treatments. Because of that, I knew bodies could be source of sickness and pain but ultimately, in my experience, healing. I earned two major scars on my body after undergoing two surgeries, however I was never made to feel self conscious about them and even as an adult I never have been. One scar is on my back and sometimes- if I lean over too far so my shirt slips up a little- a person behind me will make a little gasping noise and ask, "What happened??" (It's a big scar.) "I had back surgery when I was a kid," I'll reply and the questioner will quickly catch themselves, "Oh I'm sorry! I shouldn't have asked. I thought you might be hurt." I always wave my hand dismissively because truthfully it doesn't bother me. To me, my scars are a symbol of my healing. 

I've always thought the same about the soft bellies of all the women I know to be blessed with a child by birth. They are symbols of something beautiful: of life and love and this magic thing we call pregnancy and birth. 

From the time I was old enough to understand that I, too, could someday trade my girlish little midsection for one that would grow with new life and then deflate to something puffier in exchange for the gift of motherhood, I promised myself that I would embrace the extra skin with grace. 

I was naive to how difficult that task really is, but I what I thought back then was that I should love my body for what it can do and not how it looks. 

That actually seems laudable, doesn't it? I can see it on Pinterest now: 

original photo source. 

But then... infertility happened. 

And can I say it plainly? At times, infertility has caused me to really hate my body. 

Infertility has caused me to hate my body because I loved my body for what it could do… until then it couldn't do something. It couldn't get pregnant. 

Oh and how well I treated it! The things I ate, the vitamins I took, the supplements, the teas, the chiropractor, the endocrinologist, The Fertility Diet, the exercise, the rest, the medications, the injections, the procedures, the eve.ry.thing. 

My body just won't listen. It won't get pregnant. 

As I cope with jealous feelings toward women whose bodies actually work- whose bodies apparently function like they said they would in my middle school health class (have sex and get pregnant? Imagine that!)- I have to wonder who looks at me with envy. Someone who can't walk or see? A woman who can't hear the world or a girl who wishes she could do something I take for granted every day? Do they get angry at their bodies too? 

"Love your body not for how it looks but for what it does!" That might seem like a great thing to say. Until you're looking into the eyes of a person left quadriplegic in an accident. 

If it's not about how they look or what they do, maybe we shouldn't be trying to love our bodies at all. 

Maybe it's not about love, but about gratitude. 

Maybe it's about being thankful for our bodies we have and the lives they let us live. Thankful for what they can do, regardless of what they can't. 

Maybe I've been so angry at my body for not allowing me to hold a life inside that I've forgotten it already does: my own. 

In Revelation 12, Jesus says of his faithful followers: 

They triumphed over him (Satan)
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.


I believe infertility pleases Satan because it is a perverse twisting of the way God intended things to be. If I am going to triumph over the hold Satan has on me through infertility- whether physically or spiritually- I know I can only do so by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony. 

My testimony can't be that I hate my body. It has to be that I did not love my life so much as to shrink from anything, infertility included. 

This is a new path for me and a hard one. It's easy for me to hate. It's not easy to overcome. But I know I've already got the blood of the lamb... and I'm working on the power of my testimony. 

xo

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous8/11/2014

    You're amazing and your whole life IS a powerful testimony! Be blessed in all your steps - for you are a blessing to all who read and acknowledge these words! :)

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    1. Huge smile on my face reading this! Thank you!!

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  2. This is the perfect post for me right now. You always seem to write what I'm needing to read. It's so easy to hate our bodies and get mad at them for failing to do what we so desperately want and feel is so normal for them. Many times over the past 4 years I have gotten mad at my body and called it stupid and broken. While I have gotten pregnant 3 times, my body can't seem to stay pregnant past 9 weeks. It's so frustrating and heartbreaking and easy to become bitter at it.

    So thank you for the reminder that it isn't what my body can do that counts. You are an encouragement and a blessing to many. Thank you.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles here. Thanks for sharing with me and encouraging me. The blessing is mutual!

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  3. Thanks, Jill. Sweet words, I will need to read again and again. I feel like recently my body image has been changing a lot during this season, and I need to be reminded and reminded again of the truth about our bodies.

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    1. I hear you. Thanks for your words too.

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  4. Thanks Jill for what you wrote! This is something I struggle with a lot. I have a chronic illness called M.E. which has severely curtailed my life for the last decade. My body won't do the things I want it to do, need it to do. It lets me down all the time. My illness is invisible. There are no obvious outwardly signs of how defective my body really is but it fails me every single day. I often get frustrated, annoyed, upset & angry with my body for not working. It doesn't do what its supposed to! Then recently someone pointed out to me that God has said that I am fearfully & wonderfully made, and that includes my body. He doesn't lie and if I say anything other than that I am contradicting God! So I have begun to work on not blaming my body for this illness that has overtaken it. As you say it is not the way God intended it to be for us.

    I have also met lots of people online who are so much sicker than me, who's bodies have let them down in even more serious & frightening ways. Thinking of them helps me to appreciate what I do have & what my body still can do. I have been reading 1000 gifts by Ann Voskamp recently and she talks about how when we concentrate on being thankful there isn't room for anger or frustration. So I'm going to concentrate more on being thankful for my flawed but wonderful body! Thank you! :)

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