Monday, April 20, 2015

On Becoming the Bearded Lady and Other Infertility Embarrassments...

This week is infertility awareness week. So reach out and hug one of the 10-15% of your friends who must be dealing with this!

Also, feel free to check out my stories on

And one from Abe:

And now, for the sake of awareness, on to a pretty personal aspect of my fertility journey!

This post is actually one of the more embarrassing topics I have addressed. I guess that is because it also addresses some of my insecurities, body issues, and perceptions of my femininity. And I also don't want to be misconstrued as vain or ungrateful or superficial or not focusing on what really matters. But it is part of my story and despite the potential negatives, I am committed to honesty, openness, and sharing for others who may feel the same way. So with that disclaimer, enjoy! 

* * *

As someone with PCOS, I was told early on that I didn't have the luxury of going on and off the birth control pill whenever I wanted. I was told I should stay on birth control as much as possible to decrease my chance of endometrial cancer. I also learned quickly there were some other unpleasant side effects of going off the pill. 

One side effect was my normally beautiful, often complimented complexion would be replaced with uncontrollable acne.

Not only was it worse than I ever had in high school, but it was often painful, extended to my neck and chest, and I noticed minor scars that didn't heal as fast as I remember them doing in my teens. And to top it off, I also had horrible, painful BACK-NE!  I never had that before, and suddenly my poor back looked like a constellation of red stars! (I know you probably don't believe me, so I took a picture documenting it in all its glory. But as you probably didn't want to see that anyway, luckily for you, the picture seems to have vanished.)

Ah nice clear skin!


Thankfully, this went away once I started my IVF medications! 

Yay, clear skin! Feeling like myself again.
Another unfortunate side effect was increased hair growth it seems everywhere. As someone who rarely has to shave her legs, I was not too happy about that. I know any increased hair I have will stay with me forever unless I pay to have it removed by laser or electrolysis (which is expensive, sometimes painful --electrolysis! and sometimes not permanent). Worrying you will become the bearded lady and be asked to join the sideshow before you become pregnant is not the best way to feel feminine and attractive! Those two ailments (acne and extra hair growth) ravaged me for the year and a half we tried to get pregnant on our own and then also while on oral medications. In the beginning, I felt like I could be patient for baby (all in God's time), but I worried about the progressive worsening of these symptoms while we waited! (On top of the increased cancer risk that comes with irregular menstruation.) It felt like adding injury to insult, fuel to the fire, or whatever other appropriate cliche you prefer.

While I knew I had gained some weight in residency, I was coming to accept my body at its new weight. But my fertility journey definitely had an effect on my waistline as well. I would read forums and blogs online, searching for answers. Was it normal to gain weight or was I doing something wrong? I felt like I was the only one who watched the scale climb and climb over a few short weeks so I was so relieved to read a story about another woman undergoing infertility treatments who gained quite a bit of weight, despite the fact her job was in the beauty and fashion industry.  Her story made me feel better as she obviously had incentive to keep off the weight and still struggled with this like I did.

I don't normally feel comfortable posting pictures of me in bikinis online, but I think in this instance it is an accurate and honest way to show the changes. This picture is from the same month I went off my birth control pill February 2014. 

Here is a similar pose of me in Hawaii September 2014 after my embryo harvest and the same week I had my first frozen embryo transfer (on daily progesterone injections and estrogen pills three times per day).  Pre-pregnancy I already have stretch marks on my hips and thighs, probably partially after gaining 7 pounds in a few hours after my embryo harvest (fluid!). Most of that went away and I did lose about six pounds before finally becoming pregnant, but I never bounced back from the 8-10 pounds I gained from the embryo harvest in June 2014.

Ironically, even though these are my "skinny" pictures, only an hour or so later I was asked by a woman if I was pregnant. Great! I've always had a bit of a round tummy!

Here is another similar pose from a recent trip January 2015. When I first looked through pictures of this trip I felt annoyed and frustrated. I couldn't help but thinking, "Look how fat I look in all of these!" (I know even now I am not "fat" but this is a significant change from what I would consider my "normal" weight.)

But after just a moment of reflection, I shoved that thought out of my mind. I decided to look at it as my fertility weight. Yes, my body has changed. I have made some sacrifices already -- both to my own health and emotional status, and also in more superficial ways like suffering through acne and weight gain. But those sacrifices and those changes also got me to where I am now -- pregnant with two healthy babies!

As my body continues to change in pregnancy, I find my anxieties about these changes have been surprisingly minimal. I am grateful to be pregnant. I am grateful my body can do hard things. I am grateful I am healthy.

And I am grateful that finally my little bump is finally there for a good reason! Now when people ask if I am pregnant, even if it is too early to show, I can say YES!

No comments: