How Infertility Destroyed My Self-Esteem (and How I Got It Back)
I’ve always been a relatively confident, self-possessed person. I was the first to raise my hand in school. First to ask the kids playing basketball if I could join. I once even asked a boy to prom (he said no). I just wasn’t a meek or mild person. And while I still had all the normal self-conscious thoughts young women have (primarily, “Does this dress make my hips look big?”), I mostly felt pretty good about myself. I felt worthy….of my voice…of love…of success.
Fast forward to 2014 when my husband Brad and I first started trying to have children. Each month felt like a complete and total failure. Even the first few months of trying made me panic and turn against my body. Why was it not working? What was I doing wrong? Was my body malfunctioning?
The longer we tried, the more worthless I felt. The more worthless I felt, the more I hated myself for letting infertility dictate my moods, life, and personality.
As time ticked on, more and more of my friends got pregnant without drama. This of course made me feel even worse. I grew jealous, impatient, and bitter. I started throwing daily pity parties. I played my favorite game, “Why them? Why not me?” which made me even more reclusive. I disappeared from Facebook. I sunk into my bed. I watched a lot of Netflix. I couldn’t deal with anyone who was happy or well-adjusted or confident. I only wanted to be around other self-loathing, depressed people. Or, preferably, no people at all.
I’ve never felt worse about myself than I did those first two years battling infertility. All of my bad breakups, pimples, final exams, hungover mornings, bad decisions, and embarrassing moments combined didn’t make me feel half as worthless as my infertility did. I felt defective. Like I just wasn’t willing my ovaries into submission hard enough. Like they were dogs that just needed to be trained to ovulate.
The worst part? I could feel my personality shifting underneath me, like some emotional tectonic plates. And I hated it. Who was I if I wasn’t the brash, strong, creative, confident woman asking for what she needed? I hated this new turn my personality was taking. This woman was not me. And this self-loathing made me retreat even further into myself.
A thought I kept returning to was: if a relatively well-adjusted, confident, outgoing woman like myself was reacting this way to infertility, what havoc was it wrecking on quieter, more emotionally vulnerable women? What were they going through? How was this changing them? How was this affecting their lives, friendships, and marriages?
It was an intense question, mostly because there wasn’t a definitive answer. There was only my speculation that infertility felt like one long Game-of-Thrones-style winter that would never melt into spring.
But we cannot let infertility define us. I know it feels like the most important thing in our lives right now. The defining feature. But I assure you, IT IS NOT.
We are so much more than our infertility. We are strong, creative, compassionate, curious humans. We change the world with our work. We push our bodies. We snuggle our pets. We support our friends. I know it feels like we will not be complete people until we conceive…but we are complete now. Our lives are still churning and we miss the joy and the beautiful moments when we choose to collapse into ourselves.
It’s our responsibility to not allow infertility to change the best parts of who we are, and to not let it take one more thing away from us. Especially our personality, our spark. We need to actively fight against it and reclaim our joy, and our confidence. Infertility can destroy everything if we let it. It ruins bank accounts, friendships, and marriages, but that's (mostly) optional.
Overcoming the emotional trials of infertility is not easy. And it’s certainly not fast. It’s a marathon in discomfort, for sure. And I for one, have always hated marathons. Hell, I even hate 5Ks! But it’s our job to stay strong and to stay true to ourselves. To refuse to collapse under its weight. And together? I know we can do it.
Elyse Ash and her husband Brad went through three years of infertility, two rounds of IVF, and one frozen embryo transfer before seeing their first positive pregnancy test, which brought them their daughter, born in March 2018. Elyse lives in Minneapolis and loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce, and pretending she’s into yoga.