Seeing as this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d chat a little about the affects infertility has on body image, mental well-being and self esteem.
A few weeks back for National Infertility Awareness Week, (April 21st - 27th), I talked over on Instagram about how much infertility has shaped and robbed us in so many ways. I talked about the negative headspace I have found myself in of late and how it’s been all consuming, affecting my ability to feel positive and motivated. I spoke about my feelings of guilt when it comes to not being able to provide the same amount of support to this amazing community as I have done in the past. Through it all I have had to realize my limits and recognize when it’s time for me to take a step back and focus on healing. I’ve had to learn to protect my mental health and avoid emotional triggers. It’s been acknowledging that it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to admit you need time and/or help. Sometimes you just need to prioritize YOU.
[ links to my Instagram posts are at the bottom of this page if you fancy a read ]
When it comes to self esteem, years of fertility treatments, and in my case failed IVF & miscarriages, can often change your body physically in many ways… Over time my weight has fluctuated, I developed a moon face due to the steroids I was taking for my elevated NK cells, my hair became even thinner & more brittle than it ever was before.
Not only does infertility affect you physically, but it also takes a toll on your state of mind. It’s the constant doubting and worrying. When things don’t go to plan, if feels like your life has been flipped on its head. All of your hopes and dreams constantly needing to be adjusted and changed. Anxiety creeps in and feeds you with niggling negativity… something you must constantly do your best to try and combat in the healthiest way possible.
You start to question everything… which direction to go, whether your body CAN in fact do what it was built to do. Not trusting your body is such an internal battle. One battle I’ve tried to defeat with daily affirmations. But when you know your body can’t keep your babies safe, and you have valid fears and doubts constantly circling your mind, affirmations sometimes just aren’t enough.
Infertility is hard.
Miscarriage is hard.
Pregnancy after miscarriage is hard.
Not getting pregnant at all is hard.
And there are so many people in our lives who will never understand what any of it is like; people we all come across along the way who THINK they have you all figured out, but have no idea the battles you have had to face.
A few weekends ago, at a fundraiser for my dear Dad, who is battling ALS, a lady who is friends with my Dad started chatting with me, before realising I wasn’t the sister she thought I was. She had confused me with my younger sister, and I of course told her not to stress and that it was an easy mistake to make, especially as I hadn’t seen her in well over 5 years or more. Later she came up to me and said, “I can tell you’re not your sister now - you don’t really look that similar, but if I ever get you confused again, I’ll just remember your sister is the taller, thinner one.” GEEZ, lady - thanks! Thanks for reminding me of all my body’s been through and for pointing out in front of a group of people how I’m the “shorter, fatter one”. Cheers! I was feeling especially vulnerable at the time, so this kind of comment was internally not well received. To her comment I just replied, “Yep, just think of her as the taller, thinner one,” and politely smiled… Clueless & plain rude. She has no idea the struggles I’ve faced or the insecurities I’ve felt. Comparison can be dangerous and soul crushing, so when someone else does it for you to point out the physical differences, basically calling you “ short and fat”, that’s never great.. However, thanks to infertility, I’ve sadly become very used to receiving unwelcome comments and unsolicited advice. It’s unbelievable how many people just don’t have the wisdom or life experience to think before they speak, or even take a short moment to think about how their words could cause extra unnecessary hurt. Of course, often these comments that cut deep are well intentioned, but it makes social occasions that much more challenging.
People don’t think before they speak and it’s a real issue. If you don’t already follow the lovely This Is Alice Rose over on Instagram, I suggest you do - she also has a blog and a podcast, and she is bloody amazing! She launched a fantastic campaign - “Think What Not To Say” #TWNTS, as a way of trying to help shift perceptions and change conversations for the better. It is a campaign that will hopefully continue to encourage people, including medical professionals, to realise the power their words can have on those navigating this intensely difficult path.
I’ve heard it all over these past 5 years of trying;
It’ll happen when it’s meant to happen
Go on a holiday
Miscarriage is common
Everything happens for a reason
Everything happens for a reason was something I used to believe and say, but not anymore. When life shakes you to the core with an unfathomable loss, it’s impossible to be okay with these words, as there’s never a good enough reason for such terrible things to happen.
Many people in our lives just don’t understand how deep the pain lies. Which is why I will be forever grateful for the empathetic angels who do, including those of you in this incredible community.
What are some of the things people have said to you along the way that you wish they hadn’t, or would’ve liked for them to have rephrased?
At the end of the day we must protect our mental health and distance ourselves from people and things that don’t serve us positively. As I said in one of my Instagram posts a few weeks ago, living with infertility requires a strength and bravery that only those who have lived through it will ever truly understand. As long as we prevent the ugly side of infertility to engulf too much of what is beautiful in our lives, it will never win. Whether you are living in the wait or have moved on from trying, you deserve to live a happy and fullfilled life, with or without children. When your life plans change and they are completely different to what you had ever imagined, acceptance isn’t often an easy thing to grasp. It’s coming to the realisation that things are very much out of your control. And with that we must find some sort of peace. Trust that whatever will be will be. I’m definitely not where I thought I would be in my life right now, and that deep longing is something that has most definitely not faded, but finding reasons to smile through it makes all the difference to the life you’re living now. And NOW is all we are guaranteed.
Do not allow infertility and the ignorance of others to destroy your spirit. Be kind to you and your body - your mind, body and soul have been through so much already.