How IVF Changed My Relationship With My Body
Infertility has a funny way of making you experience dual but conflicting feelings: strong yet weak, excited yet entirely worn down, some days quite literally laughing and crying in the same beat. As someone who has long struggled with my body image in the past, one thing I was certainly not expecting out of IVF was gaining a deep admiration for my body and the strength and perseverance it displayed throughout the long road to pregnancy.
During my teen years, my body image was not what I would call particularly healthy. Like many young women, I had struggled with disordered eating in the past, comparing my body to the photos we so often see in airbrushed magazines. I developed a healthy relationship with food and intuitive eating long before beginning my IVF journey, but infertility brought new kinds of body comparisons to the forefront of my mind. I found myself dwelling on one question: why was it so difficult for my “broken” body to get pregnant when it happened for other people so easily?
IVF and Body Image
They say “comparison is the thief of joy," and that couldn’t be more true in the case of infertility. The healthy relationship with my body image which I had worked so hard to cultivate over the years began to crumble, slowly chipping away with every pregnancy announcement or baby shower invitation that popped up.
A diagnosis helped. Once my husband and I began to undergo diagnostic fertility testing and found out that our dual-factor infertility was the reason we had not been able to conceive naturally, it put things into perspective. It gave me a sense of unexpected relief to know that it was not as if I was doing something wrong. The “if onlys” I had been thinking about began to slip away: it had nothing to do with "if only I would eat healthier," "if only I meditated," "if only I would go to the gym more often," "if only I used essential oils," "if only I would just relax." Getting pregnant most likely wasn’t anything I could force my body into doing without medical intervention. After years of trying to conceive, it helped to have an answer. My body wasn’t “broken," it would just need a little bit of assistance.
When I started down the path of infertility treatments—in our case, IVF with ICSI—I'd had enough conversations with our doctors and done enough Googling to feel like I generally knew what to expect. Hormones, injections, and frequent appointments including frequent transvaginal ultrasounds were what my future held. I thought to myself, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be."
But something unexpected happened once the injections began. I suddenly found myself at 6 am, standing alone in my kitchen, preparing and injecting a cocktail of fertility drugs. I remember the first morning vividly, as clear as day. My hands were shaking. I followed along with the step-by-step videos my clinic had sent me, having already viewed them innumerable times in preparation. I counted down the first injection out loud, my voice wavering. "3, 2, 1, go." And then I did it. I felt a rush of pride and excitement. I disposed of the used needle in my sharps container, cleaned my area, texted my husband who was at work during all of my morning injections leading up to egg retrieval and took a photo. Shot #1 was in the books.
As the days of injections and monitoring appointments went on, I continued to feel the same sense of pride and self-worth in my body. My hands steadied. My head was clear. My body was strong, even when the hormones made me bloated and exhausted. My stomach, though bruised, was taking 3 to 4 daily injections like a professional.
This previously unknown-to-me type of love for my body continued at our monitoring appointments. Through a transvaginal ultrasound, our doctors tracked the development of the maturing follicles (which contain the eggs) within my ovaries and tracked their size. In what felt like a miracle, we were tracking multiple follicles and they were all growing at a steady rate. After 11 days of stims, the follicle-stimulating injections, my egg retrieval was scheduled.
Outside of getting my wisdom teeth removed, I had never had surgery before. I felt the fear, but I knew I was ready. I was overwhelmingly appreciative of my body, the same body I had despised for being “broken” earlier in my journey. And once the surgery was over and I was in recovery, my doctor let me know that my body had honored me with 26 mature eggs.
My egg retrieval was in January of 2022, and here in June of 2022, I find myself 11 weeks pregnant with one of those miraculous eggs. With strength, perseverance, a little bit of science, and a lot of love, it became our best quality embryo. I’m still taking the hormones for another week—estrogen pills and progesterone in oil injections—which are a fairly standard part of the protocol for an embryo transfer cycle. But through it all, my body has taken it in stride like an absolute champion. I couldn’t love it more.
Lindsey Williams is a library worker and writer who lives in Arizona with her husband and their dog, Peaches. After 5 years of trying to conceive with dual-factor infertility, she is currently expecting her first child conceived with the help of IVF.