Body shame is a hot topic in recent years. Usually, it’s centered around weight. Secretly in shame, I have hated my body for years and it had nothing to do with weight. It started in the doctor’s office. I lay there on the table looking at the screen with excitement about seeing my little baby bean appear. A few weeks ago the test had two lines indicating Luke and I were successful at creating a baby very quickly after deciding it was time to start “trying.” We had been a bit surprised but really happy. I had spent the last few weeks feeling incredible. I had wanted to be a mom since I could remember. Visions of a big swollen belly and then the arrival of our beautiful baby brought me so much joy. My family had waited and waited for a grandchild and would also be thrilled! I had been feeling a bit of weight on my shoulders about this as the daughter that had been married the longest. I felt proud to be able to share that we were triumphant in making a baby for our family. The first grandchild would come from us! I felt like the arrival would be somewhat like Simba being adored as the King to Be in Lion King. This baby was surely going to be loved. I lay there on the table waiting anxiously to see that little blip on the screen. It didn’t take long for the doctor to say in a soft voice, “It doesn’t have a heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
Excuse, me? I thought. Does this happen? Are you for real? He went on to explain that sometimes babies don’t develop a heartbeat and that I will likely miscarry the baby on my own in the next few weeks. Wait! What does that mean? I didn’t have to speak the question. It must have been on my face or part of his usual spiel. He explained what could happen and told me how common it was and offered me the option of letting it happen naturally or to have a procedure at the hospital. He wanted me to go home and think about it. I basically left the office in shock. I hadn’t had a long time to fall in love with this baby, but to me, it was my first baby and I loved it dearly as soon as I knew it was there! I didn’t really know the likelihood of all of this happening and now that I was experiencing it, I was in a little bit of disbelief that I didn’t know. Maybe I could have been more prepared. Maybe I could have done something to take care of myself in a different way to decrease my chances. Maybe I wouldn’t be so surprised. I’m not sure any of that would have helped but it might have. I began to wonder if it was something I did. Secretly I obsessively thought about what I had been doing in the weeks prior to feeling the first symptom and taking the test. How much had I drank? What had I eaten? Did I take a really hot bath? Should we have waited longer after quitting the pill? Why me? Why couldn’t my body get this right? There it is, the thought that somehow this is my body’s fault. My body couldn’t do what I needed and wanted it to do. What was wrong with me?
Several months later. This time was different. I was stronger. I had taken care to eat well and exercise more carefully. I wasn’t drinking much. I knew my body could do this. Another positive test! In some ways I had almost convinced myself that our first pregnancy didn’t count because I didn’t want to have that “on my record.” Obviously, I hadn’t done much work emotionally at this point. I was avoiding. I wanted to “start over” with a clean slate, at least mentally. There was no reason to think we couldn’t have a healthy baby. We were mildly cautious in the sense that we didn’t tell a bunch of people too soon but other than that, we were very positive. We flew straight through the entire first trimester happy and in love with the baby growing in my belly. Every appointment went smoothly and excitement was building. Every time I heard baby’s heartbeat or saw him/her on the screen, I grew more and more confident. Confident that this baby would be healthy and beautiful. Confident that we were completing the dream of having a baby and growing our family just like we were meant to!
It was Good Friday. We were back in the ultrasound room, scheduled for the big important appointment where they can tell the gender. We had decided we wanted to be surprised so this didn’t matter much but we were very excited to see baby and all the progress made in growth from the last ultrasound. We had just been to the doctor two weeks prior and heard it’s heart beating. The ultrasound tech began her work with a smile on her face. After some small talk and the longer she rolled the little monitor over my belly and pushed buttons without saying anything , I became worried. Then she stopped and said she’d be right back. What? Why? What’s wrong? I think other than a few mumbles from Luke, “It’ll be alright.” we were silent. The darkness began to creep in and even though the doctor entered with a smile on his face, I just somehow knew it was going to fade just as the tech’s smile had. Sure enough, like a record on repeat. Only this time the doctor could tell us that our baby’s heart had stopped. He could see some swelling and although he couldn’t be certain about what had happened, he could be certain our baby was no longer living inside me. It’s heart was no longer beating. Again? How did this happen again? We had done everything right! Why?
As we left the office and drove home solemnly, my heart began to hurt. It fell way down low. My belly was swollen with a baby that was no longer living. I would have to give birth to a baby that wasn’t breathing. This is so unfair. This is wrong. How is this happening again? Why won’t my body cooperate? Why can’t we have a baby? What is wrong with me? As those thoughts returned ever present in my mind, they settled in. This time for the long haul. The hate for my body and it’s inability to do what it was supposed to do grew and grew. As it grew larger, it also grew darker. As if losing my baby again, wasn’t enough to make me hate my body. A couple of days after having the baby and leaving the hospital with a box of momentos instead of our baby, which no one should have to do, my fucking milk came in! How do you like that? My body which can’t seem to keep a baby alive, can still provide the milk it would need. So, now my belly was empty, my arms were empty, and I was leaking milk from my breasts with no one to give it to. I’m pretty sure this is the worst form of toture for any woman. Tender, swollen, breasts leaking all over my clothes, empty arms, empty belly, aching heart. How cruel can my body be? This definitely fueled the hate. A hate that really settled in for the long haul without me really even noticing. I stopped listening to my body or paying attention to my body. I’m not sure I had ever really tuned in to it in the first place. That could have been part of the problem. I wanted what I wanted and according to me, my body couldn’t keep me from having it a third time. Surely, the third time is the charm, right? I grieved, we grieved and when I felt like my heart could take it, I wanted to try again. I didn’t care about my body or for that matter too much about what my husband wanted either. I tried. But the desire for a baby was so strong, I couldn’t ignore it.
Pushing to get pregnant was just what was happening. I didn’t stop and ask questions, I just did what it took to get what I thought we both wanted. I was kind of like a machine at this point. It worked, eventually. We conceived again and emotions were high. But we went through the motions again and this time we had a happy ending. Wouldn’t all of our problems be solved now? We had our healthy little baby in our arms.
Fast forward about two years and my husband decides to bring my likeness to a machine to my attention. Of course he was more gentle about it. I had been living on autopilot. I hadn’t noticed. But he was right. He had all kinds of questions for me on the topic of intimacy and I had absolutely no idea what the answer was for any of them. I hadn’t been paying attention. I didn’t know what I liked or didn’t like. I thought I was fulfilling my duty as his wife to follow his lead. This was not what he wanted. Honestly, once I took time to think about it, it wasn’t what I wanted either. It’s just what had become reality since I disconnected from my body because of the hate. The hate for my body that didn’t do what I wanted it to do, what it was supposed to do, for so long. Reconnecting brought about hate for different reasons. Why couldn’t I have an orgasm? I think he knows I’m faking it. What he does feels good. Why can’t my body show that? Why don’t I enjoy it as much as him? Why don’t I feel “in the mood?” All of these thoughts took place as I tried to reconnect with my husband intimately. With time, education, and practice, I was able to overcome this mental and emotional roadblock.
I guess you could say I’m still working on this body hate recovery, so to speak. In fact, it became really strong again this past year when I began to have health problems. Health problems that made me feel weak and tired. I had muscle weakness and joint pain. I wasn’t sleeping well. I had digestion issues. I had to stop running because it hurt my body. I couldn’t exercise like I had become accustomed to. Doctors didn’t have answers and nothing I did seemed to help a whole lot. I tried not to hate my body, but I had worked hard to rebuild the relationship I had with it and the intimacy I had with my husband. I didn’t want to lose it all. I hated that once again my body was keeping me from having or at least making it difficult to have a strong intimate connection with the man I love. I became ashamed all over again about what my body couldn’t do.
Body shame doesn’t just come from size. We are raised and taught by society not only that our bodies should be a certain size, but should function and perform in certain ways and given few resources and support when they don’t. Yes, there are resources for weight loss, tons of them. I’m just not sure they support people’s whole selves in the right way for sustained positive change. A lot of weight loss support comes about from feelings of shame. There is little support for people suffering sexual health issues but at least the support for people in the area of pregnancy loss and infertility is growing. People dealing with serious disease or chronic illness are also probably dealing with body shame on some level too.
We need to be modeling, teaching, and practicing body love and acceptance. We need to spend time in gratitude for all of the wonderful things our bodies are doing for us. If we start here, we can move to a place of acceptance about the things our bodies may need some help with and find some self-compassion. Then, we can begin to love ourselves where we are at as we also make mindful decisions about how to get where we want to be.