Infertility can mess you up. Can I get an amen? Issues from body image to confidence to emotional capability are all shaken when you plod along the journey to conceive. I'm about to get pretty vulnerable here and talk about body image. I am terrified to start this post, but in an attempt to heal, I need to be honest. Here we go.
I wouldn't say that I have a negative body image. Growing up, I was thankful for a healthy body that could run, jump and play. When I got older and entered high school, I was thankful for a body that was strong enough to lift girls on my cheerleading squad and fast enough to swim competitively. Even though I couldn't fit into a size 2 prom dress, my body did not define me.
And then came infertility.
By now, you know a bit about my story and that it took years of struggling to finally get our son. But what also happened during those years of physically uncomfortable injections and procedures was a deeper emotional wound forming. I waged a war against my body. Month and month again, I was reminded how much my body was failing me and how it wasn't good enough.
Slowly but surely, my body started to define me, and it wasn't pretty. My body was a failure; it was insignificant; it was hopeless; it was weak. I spent most of my time hating my body and thinking that if my body was a failure, then I must be too.
This time around, I have vowed to make our journey to Baby No. 2 different. I want to be proud of my body and of myself. I need to see my body working for me and not against me. I need to take a gentler and more positive approach with my body.
So a few months ago, I tried yoga, and things are changing for the better. Please keep in mind that I am hardly an experienced yogi. I practice at my gym and at home while my son naps. To all of you experienced yogis who can handstand, wheel- and forearm-balance, I salute you. I aim to be like you, but I am not quite there. However, yoga can change you, no matter your strength or flexibility.
Yoga isn't a punishment; it is a celebration.
When we were trying to get pregnant and weren't succeeding the first time, I took up running. Looking back, I was obviously running away from my failure and our inability to get pregnant. While running helped me shed pounds and stress, I used the miles as punishment to my body for being infertile. While I still love a nice run around our neighborhood, I have found that yoga allows me to celebrate my body, not discipline it.
I work hard in my yoga classes. When I finally nail a balancing pose that I have been striving for or when my side bend resembles something graceful, I feel a sense of pride that is better than even the best runner's high. Every time I step on the mat, I face and meet a new challenge. Sinking lower into a pose gives me more confidence, and I know that I can face any fertility challenge that comes my way. My body is getting stronger, and my body is getting more flexible with every practice. My body is working; it isn't a failure. My body is strong; it isn't weak. My body is worth celebrating.
Yoga is making me a more intentional Christian.
Part of yoga is setting an intention, or a reason to practice. I have used this time to set my mind right and train my gaze on a piece of Scripture. I have found that meditating and thinking about Bible verses during challenging classes has reminded me that my strength comes from places other than myself.
I found Holy Yoga, a practice based on connecting yoga practice to Scripture, a few months ago. While there aren't any classes near me, I have found online classes through She Breathes Deeply that have only deepened my intention during practice.
When I step off my mat, I am filled with gratitude for a strong and capable body and for a stronger faith. I am thankful to leave class with a reminder that I need to lean on something bigger than myself to get through times of stress or trouble.
Yoga is teaching me life lessons.
I learn more during my time with my little pink yoga mat than I ever expected. Through yoga, I have learned that I can allow myself to be present during difficult situations. I've learned that hard things don't last forever. I have learned that I am stronger than I thought. Each of these lessons I have taken off the mat, into my life and into my fertility journey.
I can directly relate my body's response to a difficult yoga pose (panic, stress, doubt) to my body's response to a difficult life situation such as infertility (panic, stress, doubt). But I am learning that if I trust my body, trust my mind and trust in something bigger than myself, I can breathe through the pose and find my way out of it. Difficult poses come and go, just as difficult seasons come and go through my life.
Yoga has plenty of physical healing benefits, including hormone balancing and stress-reducing effects. I am certainly hoping that yoga will help get my estrogen, progesterone and thyroid in check. However, I am mostly filled with gratitude that yoga has made me be present and be proud of my body again.
My yoga teacher, Michelle Trispel, recognizes many types of healing that can come from practice. She has seen her students gain confidence in their physical appearance and build emotional and physical strength.
"It is through our yoga practice that we uncover a deeper meaning to our practice," Michelle says. "Yoga is so much more than stretching and breathing. The practice we see in the gym or yoga studio is simply a tool for us to use to uncover what needs healing in our lives."
And she is totally right because I am healing with every pose and every class. Friends, this body of mine isn't skinny or perfect. But my body is strong and capable. My body has carried a child, nursed that child and can hold a beautiful plow pose. My body is something to be proud of. This time around, when I want to start beating up my body when the infertility stuff gets hard, I will choose to love and celebrate it instead.