My body is not useless…

I was going to do the next cycle right after Christmas, buoyed by the success of the frozen blastocyst. But then… but then… but then I talked to a consultant, and we talked about whether — if I got another blastocyst from this cycle — to do a fresh transfer or to freeze. And there seemed no real reason NOT to do a fresh transfer. But then… but then the timings meant I’d be going straight from a fresh transfer into a two week skiing holiday, the first few days of which would have been with people who like to ski hard, fast and would have found it more than a little odd if I suddenly didn’t.

“Should I cancel my holiday?” I asked. Like some mad woman. “No! Of course not,” the consultant told me, “go, have a holiday, relax, do it when you come back.” And so I did. And I had the best holiday. I had two weeks of doing something I love with people I love, reminding myself that in the mountains is where I love to be, it’s where I feel at home and, crucially, it’s somewhere I feel I can rely on my body to do what I want it to do.

I think this is something Alexandra Heminsley wrote about in her book, Leap In, in which she talked about open water swimming while doing IVF (do read it, she’s a beautiful writer.) In the early days, she is resolute:

I would not yield to any suggestion that my life or my body were lesser if they didn’t incorporate motherhood.

Which sounds so ridiculous to anyone who has either got pregnant easily or not tried to get pregnant. But aside from the idea that you’re not a real woman until you’ve become a mother, there is this common trope that as a woman your body is meant to bear children, and that’s very hard to come to terms with sometimes, if it’s not yet managed to fulfill its so-called “natural function.”

The relationship between a woman and her body during IVF is complicated. You’re subjecting it to so much, and expecting so much from it, and if it hasn’t worked yet, it’s hard not to see your body as failing you. IVF makes you mistrust your body, it makes you see your body as a traitor, as something unreliable, which it’s not. As Heminsley says, not getting pregnant does not make your body useless, but it’s hard not to feel that way. After a second cycle results in miscarriage, she writes something that I feel sure will resonate with any woman who’s had an unsuccessful round of IVF:

My body had betrayed me. Where I had found strength, I now saw inadequacy, insufficiency, weakness. Where I had found beauty, I now saw flesh that served no purpose: a nascent belly, swollen from medication but aching with emptiness, uncontainable breasts bursting with anything but sexuality. Where I had felt self-love, I now saw an unwelcome stranger in the mirror. My body had been rejected, and in turn I rejected my body.

She rediscovers a respect and love for her body through swimming. For me, it’s skiing. Skiing is something physical in a breathtaking natural environment that I love in a complicated, visceral, inexplicable way that doesn’t compare to how I feel about anything else. It’s a place where I feel my body (mostly) rises to the challenge of the things I ask of it.

And it was absolutely what I needed to remind myself that my body is not useless, it’s amazing; and that if this doesn’t happen for me in the way I want it to, there are other joys and pleasures in my life.

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