Body Acceptance After Miscarriage & Secondary Infertility
We are getting super vulnerable and a little bit raw in this episode of the Feel Good Effect podcast, talking about body acceptance after miscarriage, infertility, and secondary infertility.
In this episode I’m sharing how I learned to accept my body after those really hard times, some of the specific strategies that have really helped, and also how I learned to accept and embrace our little family of three.
This one is deeply personal as both miscarriage and infertility are part of my story.
I wanted to share more about how I learned to accept my body after those really hard times, some of the specific strategies that have really helped, and also how I learned to accept and embrace our little family of three.
If this episode isn’t for you, I totally understand– just come back next week.
My story of infertility, miscarriage, and secondary infertility:
Like many women my age, I grew up in my teens and early-twenties not thinking much about babies.
In fact, my goal was to avoid getting pregnant.
In my early twenties I got married and my husband and I were both on the same page– we wanted to spend time together, go to school, and we really just wanted to enjoy our marriage, so we were not thinking about babies.
My mom is someone who was able to get pregnant pretty easily and who had fairly straightforward, easy pregnancies, and I think I internalized her story about how childbearing is a wonderful thing that happens, so of course it would be the same for me.
As women, we probably all internalize certain stories about children and childbearing depending on how we were raised, the stories we hear, or influences of older women.
So much so that it becomes an ingrained part of our consciousness.
I think we assume certain things will go a certain way.
For me, my assumption was very strongly held that at a certain point, when my husband Andrew and I decided to have kids, we would just have them.
We would just decide, it would happen, and then we would go onto the next stage.
That’s one part of the body acceptance story that becomes difficult.
If you have these assumptions about what your body will do and about how your story will go, and then the reality doesn’t match, that can be really difficult to handle.
Fast forward to 27, my husband and I had been married for several years, I finished school, we had a house, and we decided it would be a wonderful time to start trying for a family.
This story will be relatable for any of you who have dealt with infertility, that crushing blow that happens when you actively decide to get pregnant and it doesn’t work.
And you feel cheated, because all this time you’ve been avoiding pregnancy and then once you actually try, it’s not happening.
After about six months we went to the doctor to check in, and they tell you, especially if you’re in your twenties, that there’s nothing to worry about, six months is nothing to be alarmed about.
Another year of trying went by, and at that point, I felt like every person I knew was starting to get pregnant.
But we kept trying, and I didn’t consider infertility at all; we had time and I wasn’t worried.
And then we did get pregnant, and I was so happy.
I remember the blissful ignorance I had of being pregnant, thinking that meant we were going to have a baby.
We started making plans and arranging our schedules around the pregnancy and we were just really excited and happy planning for the future.
My first miscarriage
And then around 11 and a half weeks I started to have a miscarriage.
At first, I didn’t know what was happening, but pretty quickly I understood and was just absolutely devastated.
I remember the hardest part was telling the few people who I had told that we weren’t pregnant anymore.
Not only was I personally devastated, but I felt like a failure.
Why has this happened? What was my body doing wrong?
Around me, I saw friends and family having babies and they weren’t having miscarriages, so why was I?
And of course now I know that wasn’t totally true.
I’s interesting, when you do experience a miscarriage, everyone comes out of the woodwork to tell you about the miscarriages they’ve had.
I think we tend not to tell other women because it’s too painful to talk about ourselves, but also we don’t want to scare people.
Just because this has happened to me doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you.
So I decided to play the “let’s pretend like this never happened” game, which was very much about shoving my feelings down, pretending like nothing happened, and moving on.
And I know now that this is pretty common.
When you experience a pregnancy loss, even an early miscarriage, it’s really hard to know how to process your feelings.
There aren’t a lot of resources or support, it’s very isolating, and the temptation is to not feel your feelings, to just be stoic and move on.
And that might work for some people, but I will say I wish I could go back and talk to that version of myself and allow her a little more space to process those emotions, to talk to somebody about it, to do a little healing.
Denying my feelings
But instead, I pushed through.
I’ll note too that during that first pregnancy I didn’t gain a whole lot of weight because I felt so sick for those weeks.
So there weren’t a lot of physical changes to deal with in terms of my body, really just that relationship between my brain and body.
For the most part, I move on.
Our doctor encouraged us to wait six months to a year before trying again, which is what we did.
We moved, I started a new job, I started a doctoral program, and I was avoiding trying again because I was scared.
But we did, we tried, again and again.
It took about a year and a half to two years, and again, I had a positive pregnancy test.
This time we were a little more guarded about planning and getting excited, but I really felt so sick that I was convinced that this time it was a go.
But at about ten and a half weeks I could tell I was experiencing signs of early miscarriage, and I was just beyond devastated.
So I went to the doctor, I had to go by myself this time, and I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.
My second miscarriage: An ectopic pregnancy
When I got there, my doctor wasn’t sure what was going on either, so I kind of found myself in a spiral of highly invasive, very traumatizing tests and in the end, she determined that I had an ectopic pregnancy, which means the egg implants outside of the uterus and it’s not viable.
And it’s life-threatening to the mother, so it’s taken very seriously.
And I suppose I’m lucky, I know some women who have had this happen and have had to have emergency surgery to remove the ovary and Fallopian tube, but mine was caught before anything went seriously wrong.
However, the treatment that they offered me was a chemotherapy drug with a lot of side effects, including weight gain.
So I took the drug and really really struggled with that aftermath of slowly losing the pregnancy, being on this drug, gaining weight from the pregnancy and from the drug, and again I had to face telling people that I wasn’t pregnant again.
And that part just sucks.
At this point, the relationship with my body got really complicated, because I was mad, I was disappointed, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t do what I thought it was supposed to do, and really what I was made to do, “If I’m a woman, aren’t I supposed to be able to have babies?”.
“If I’m a woman, aren’t I supposed to be able to have babies?”
I was also really, really frustrated by the fact that I gained all this weight, and I didn’t even have a baby to show for it.
On top of that, no one really knows what to say, a lot of people say things that are well-intended but really not at all helpful.
I felt alone, I felt isolated, I felt frustrated, and I was really angry at my body.
Another year or two went by and I didn’t want to try anymore, I felt like I’d gone through enough and I felt like I couldn’t do it again.
I told Andrew that I wasn’t strong enough to try anymore, that I wasn’t brave enough to go through another loss.
But eventually, somehow, he convinced me and I kind of just closed my eyes, took a breath, and we tried again.
Doing things the right way
I want to interject here that through all this time, through infertility and miscarriages, I was doing everything “right”.
The thing is, when you’re experiencing infertility or miscarriage, people have a lot of advice and a lot of suggestions about what you should be doing.
And I was doing it all.
I was eating really healthy, eating very low sugar, not drinking any alcohol, moving my body but not working out too hard, getting acupuncture, taking all the herbs, and I was also thinking positive thoughts.
This is something that I think perpetuates a lot of the complication around body acceptance when it comes to this kind of stuff.
It’s this pervasive myth that if you just do everything right, you’ll get pregnant and have a healthy baby, that if you just “manifest it”, you’ll have a baby.
And I think it’s been made even worse in recent years, especially in the wellness community on Instagram, I can’t tell you how many high-level influencers I’ve had to unfollow because they say that they’re “manifesting” their pregnancies.
And if you’re out there and you’re working on positive thinking and manifesting and that’s helping you, that’s great and there’s no harm in trying.
But for those of you who see that kind of stuff and it makes you feel like you’re not doing it right, that you’re not trying hard enough, and that basically, you’re the problem, I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true.
“You can do everything right, but sometimes things don’t go the way you want, and it’s not your fault”.
That’s been key for me around this body acceptance issue, is to know that there’s no amount of acupuncture, no amount of healthy eating, and no amount of manifesting that really would have changed the story.
It’s not that I didn’t try hard enough, it’s just that sometimes, things don’t go the way that you planned or wanted, and it’s nothing that you can control, and it’s not your fault.
And like I said, Andrew convinced me to try again and we tried and tried and eventually, I was pregnant.
And if you’ve experienced pregnancy loss, miscarriage, infertility, it sucks all the joy out of the early stages of pregnancy because you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You can’t celebrate with other people, you probably don’t want to say anything to anyone anyway, and you’re basically just waiting every day to see if things are going to go wrong this time.
I think I held my breath the entire time I was pregnant with Elle.
But eventually, as we got toward the end, I started being able to relax.
A baby is born
And we’re so lucky that Elle was born happy and healthy and weighing an enormous 10 pounds.
Of course that 10 pounds and that pregnancy was a little difficult; it had an enormous impact on my body, changing it in a number of ways.
I gained a lot of weight in that pregnancy, but in the end, I had my healthy baby so I accepted all of the things that happened to my body as part of the process.
After I recovered and I had this infant, I looked down at myself and I didn’t recognize the body I was in.
I was still kind of reeling from all the infertility, miscarriage, and treatments and I found that I kind of hated my body.
Yes, it had produced this miracle baby, but there had been all these things along the way that it let me down, then the weight gain, the whole thing– I just felt very disconnected from myself.
I couldn’t look in the mirror without crying, I was disgusted by what I saw.
It breaks my heart to say that because if I could have shown myself a little more compassion for what I’ve walked through and what I’ve been brave enough to survive, maybe I could have shown myself a little more grace, but that’s not the way it went.
It was really a situation of beating myself up, being incredibly hard on myself, and being a body bully.
And that bullying takes a toll, it’s exhausting.
At this point, many of you are familiar with the story, so I’ll fast forward a little bit.
I was at this all-time low, I was exhausted, I was burned out, and burning the candle at both ends, working 60 hours a week, in a full-time doctoral program, and I realized that things had to change.
I could no longer put myself at the bottom of the list.
I needed to change how I ate, how I moved, and how I took care of myself.
So I changed everything.
But spoiler alert: I approached wellness just like I had approached everything else in my life, with a striving mindset of all or nothing, perfectionism, and comparison.
I went super extreme working out every single day, I was hyper-focused about everything I ate, which was effective but sucked the joy right out of food.
And by hyper-focusing on all or nothing, perfectionism, and comparison in exercise and food, I really forgot about self-care, mental health, and I found myself super burned out once again.
Part of this was that I hadn’t learned to accept my body, I hadn’t learned body love.
I was just trying to force it into a box, to get it all right, and focusing more on weight loss rather than overall well being.
This is the place where Real Food Whole Life was born.
I realized I needed to find a better way.
I needed to find a way to fit movement, mind, and meals into my every day, in a way that wasn’t striving, in a way that was sustainable, and a way that was gentle.
I started learning about ancient mindfulness teachings, yoga, self-compassion, and realized that this was what I was missing.
When I first started all of this, Elle was two.
It took me about two years to recover myself, to go super extreme, to come back to the middle, and to start sharing my story.
For those of you who have young children, maybe around the age of two, you know how quickly the questions start about siblings.
When are you going to have another baby? Are you going to give that cute daughter of yours a sibling?
Again, maybe well-meaning but not super helpful.
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that we wanted to have another baby.
The whole experience of getting Elle was so difficult, so long, and I was really just starting to recover my mental health, my body was starting to feel good again.
I really couldn’t imagine going through any of that again.
But there’s tremendous pressure to have more than one child.
It comes from everywhere, from family members, from random people you meet on the street, from your kid’s friends’ parents, maybe even from your spouse, or yourself.
You think, “am I letting my child down by not giving them a sibling?”
I have several friends who have one child and totally embraced that, standing firm in their decision, knowing that it was the very best choice for them.
I love that.
“Anytime you can make your own decision and stand behind it… I think that’s a beautiful thing”.
Nobody knows what’s best for your family or yourself, than you.
I really was on the fence.
But eventually, we decided if we’re going to do it, we better try.
And we went for it, we tried to have a second baby.
For three years.
By this point, the infertility story was boring to me, like “this is happening again? Great”.
Secondary infertility is not talked about a lot.
It’s really really tricky, especially if you didn’t go through it the first time, you pretty much go into it thinking this is going to be great.
But again, I’m telling you, the pressure to have a second kid is tremendous and the guilt pile on moms who aren’t having second children is overwhelming.
Whether that guilt is coming from others, or from yourself, it can be really really hard.
And here’s the thing, I did all the things.
I went to a specialty acupuncturist who has really high success rates around infertility, I did the diet, I did the herbs, I did the positive thinking, and I’m also very well aware of other options for growing a family, and I think they’re all beautiful.
I think if you’re seeking infertility treatments, I’m so happy for you.
If you’ve gone through adoption, I think that’s a beautiful, amazing way to grow a family.
There’s fostering, there’s surrogacy, there are so many ways to grow a family, but I really know those aren’t a good fit for our family.
I knew that we would give it a good, try but eventually we would have to call it.
I wanted to share this part of the story too, because I think a lot of people publicly share their infertility story and it ends with some kind of happy ending.
And ours is a happy ending too, but not in the way you would think.
What if it’s not meant to be
Because eventually, after several years, Andrew and I talked and said if this isn’t happening, maybe it’s not meant to happen.
That can be so hard, especially when there are options, like with infertility there’s always something else to try.
And if we didn’t already have Elle, I’m sure we would have gone down one of those paths.
But we have this beautiful healthy child, who’s thriving, we have this incredible family of three, we’re out of the infant stage and into the elementary school years and we are having a blast.
And when I got really quiet, when I got into some of my body love practices, the gratitude and forgiveness in that stillness and quiet, it became very clear to me that we’re meant to be a family of three.
“we were meant to be a family of three”
That doesn’t mean that my body failed me, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure as a mom, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we are robbing Elle of some kind of opportunity to have siblings.
It just means this is how our story was supposed to go.
I probably wouldn’t have written it this way, but that’s how life is.
And sometimes Andrew and I still talk about how weird it is to have a life that doesn’t match your expectations.
Both of us grew up assuming that we’d get married and have two kids, but how often does that fictional life we grew up imagining ever match reality?
We had to actively let go of that assumption of what we thought it was going to look like, and embrace what it actually does look like.
And I certainly can’t tell you what to do if you’re experiencing secondary infertility.
But first of all, my heart it with you, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this.
That goes for all of you, whatever you’re struggling with, I wish it didn’t have to be this way, I see you and you’re not alone.
But if you’re feeling that sense of guilt, or if you’re unsure if you can be satisfied and happy with a family of three, I do want to tell you that we really have gotten to a place where I feel nothing but joy and happiness when I think about it.
And Elle has a pretty rad life.
I’m not letting her down as a mom by not giving her siblings.
She has this amazing life, two parents who are super into hanging out with her and give her amazing experiences.
And I’m so lucky that my sister has two little girls so she has cousins, she’s constantly around other children, and we just feel really happy and complete as a family of three.
Part of that process has really been embracing those body love practices, I did a whole episode to walk you through those five practices.
Forgivness and Gratitude
Two of those practices that have been instrumental are gratitude and forgiveness.
Forgiving my body for the things I thought it wasn’t doing right, or the ways I felt it had let me down.
And then unbelievable, overwhelming, incredible gratitude for all that my body does.
Gratitude for all that I have, instead of focusing on the things I don’t.
Gratitude for getting back up and keeping on going.
Gratitude for healing.
And so much self-compassion for my own humanness, for knowing that being human means you don’t get to control everything and that things don’t always go the way that you want.
“You can work hard and you can try hard, and some things happen the way you want them to, and sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes you a human”.
And showing myself the same kind of compassion that I want Elle to show herself and that I hope you can show to yourself.
For anyone who’s in that dark, isolating place: I see you, you’re not alone.
I hope you can find some healing and just know that your story won’t be mine, but I hope that you find a sense of ease, a sense of peace, as you walk through this season.
For all of you navigating this stuff, whether you’re trying for a family, whether you don’t want children at all, or anywhere in between, I salute you.
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