“Why are you wearing those exercise pants?”
I turned toward the direction of the voice, and locked eyes with my mother. We were standing in the hallway of her house on Saturday morning. I’d come over to pick up some of my mail that had been erroneously delivered there. I’d expected to be in and out in five minutes. I had other things to do with my day.
“What?” I asked, looking down at my tight black three quarter length gym pants. “What’s wrong with them?”
“Why do you wear them everywhere?” was my mother’s question in response. “You wear them all the time now.”
Immediately anger and embarrassment started pumping through my veins. The hormones I’d been injecting into my body, coupled with the multitude of medications I’m taking, the fact I had my period and my already emotionally fragile state meant I had very little control over my response. She may as well have been waving a red flag in front of a bull.
“Are you saying I look bad?” I shrieked. “Are you saying I look fat? I look fat, don’t I! That’s what you’re trying to say!”
“No,” my mother said calmly. “It’s just that exercise pants are for the gym. But you wear them everywhere. It’s a bit weird.”
My breathing shallowed and I clenched my fists. I’d worn gym pants after my surgery in January, my last round of IVF and regularly on the weekends after that. Didn’t she understand why?! Wasn’t it obvious? Most of my clothing is Australian size 10 (US size 6) but right now I’m a size 12 pushing a size 14 (US size 10). After my last round of surgery I put on a few kilograms because I couldn’t exercise, and then IVF and OHSS stacked the weight on my body and no amount of trying had managed to move it. I certainly wasn’t going to be able to shift it while I was back on stims. I knew I was sitting 10kg above my “normal” weight.
Suddenly I felt like Regina George from Mean Girls, narrowing my eyes and hissing “Nothing else fits me right now.”
“Well buy new things.” my mother said, as if this were somehow an obvious solution.
“Don’t you understand!” I cried indignantly. “If this round of IVF fails I’ll take a break for a few months and hopefully lose weight. Then I’ll fit into my regular clothes again. But if this round is a success I’ll be pregnant and I’ll need to buy maternity clothes. There is no point buying new clothes now. NO POINT.”
And that’s how I found myself half an hour later in the changing room of a clothing boutique close-by to my mother’s house. She had dragged me there mostly against my will, insisting that she would buy me some new pants if I was unwilling to buy them myself.
Alone in the change room, I looked down at the pair of jeans I was holding in my hands and desperately wanted to break down and cry. Size 14. Elasticized waist. I didn’t buy size 14 clothing. I wasn’t a size 14. I couldn’t be. I was a size 10. I’d been a size 10 for the last 10 years. And I certainly didn’t need an elastic waist on my jeans, I wasn’t a friggen nanna.
Stripping off my gym pants, I looked at myself in the changing room mirror. I hardly recognised myself. My once flat stomach was bloated and wobbly, my thighs thick and flabby.
Who was that person reflected in the glass? It couldn’t have been me. I was young, and slim, and good looking, and men often asked if they could buy me drinks. I wasn’t………this person. I realised suddenly that I hated myself. Hated my body. Hated what I had become. Why was I doing this to myself? Why was I destroying my body, my confidence and my self esteem? What if it was all for nothing? What if I was in that fifty percent of people who don’t end up with a child at the end of IVF? Would I be left fat and childless? Would I bitterly regret my actions?
Then the side of myself that longs so badly to be a mother chimed in and made me feel even worse. What the hell was wrong with me? What kind of disgusting, selfish person are you Sadie? Worried about putting on 10kg? You would put on 100kg if it meant you could be a mother. You would walk through fire to be a mother. You would stop at nothing. And yet here you are lamenting the fact you’re a bit chubby? Grow up. Stop being so vain and selfish. What’s more important to you? Your body or having a child?
So I bought the jeans with the elasticized waist. I bottled up all of those emotions, compartmentalized them, and locked them away in the recesses of my mind. I knew it was the hormones making me feel so strongly about my weight. I didn’t need to dwell on things I couldn’t control. I smiled at my mother and didn’t try to argue with her as we left the shop. I knew she was only trying to help me, only trying to make this process easier for me. She was there to tell me things I needed to hear that no one else would tell me, and that included the fact I looked ridiculous getting around in gym clothes all the time. It was her job as my mother to protect me. She was only doing her job.
That night, Doug held me close as we lay in bed together in the dark. I couldn’t sleep, my mind was a flurry of thoughts and feelings. I still felt bad, and also felt bad for feeling bad, and felt bad for feeling bad for feeling bad. It was a ridiculous and nasty cycle and I couldn’t seem to break free.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself darling,” Doug whispered. “You’re doing a good job. You’re going to be okay. These things you’re feeling are normal. It’s normal. You’re normal.”
Infertility is like a thick fog that falls across your entire world, completely uninvited. It suffocates you, isolates you and blinds you. I know so many infertile women feel these things, think these irrational thoughts, hate themselves, hate their bodies, believe sometimes that they can’t go on.
But we can, and we do.
I’m so very lucky that I have good people like Doug and my mother holding my hands, dragging me out of this fog, helping me to breathe and survive.
Find a support network. It could be your partner (if you have one), a parent, a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a therapist, or even a stranger on a support forum. Don’t do this alone. Don’t let the fog take you. Don’t lose sight of your happiness, or yourself.
Be strong and confident. Know you can get through this. We will all get through this. Together.