I desperately wanted a baby, but after all the injections and hormones and restrictions on my activity, I was reaching a point where I desperately wanted something else—I wanted a self.
[Content warning: body dysmorphia, infertility, hippy spirituality, art…]
The doctor had just called to reschedule the date of IVF implantation. It was simple logistics, but for me it was the last straw. My body had been pushed and pulled and prodded in every way imaginable for months. For years! I desperately wanted a baby, but after all the injections and hormones and restrictions on my activity, I was reaching a point where I desperately wanted something else—I wanted a self.
Wanting a self seems a little ridiculous. Don’t we all have selves? But looking back in my life, it was clear to me that when it came to owning my body, I let outside forces take control. For decades, maybe for my entire life, I found comfort in delegating control of my body.
Bodies can be challenging. Gender can be challenging. It’s hard to feel empowered in one’s own body when you’re a 13 year old awkwardly bleeding onto a pad in PE class—but my answer to that awkwardness for years was “this is okay, because I’ll get pregnant and be a parent one day.” It seemed healthy at the time; in a certain way I was delegating control of my body to Gd.
Wrong. As months of trying to conceive grew into years, as each month brought a new soul crushing disappointment, my connection to Gd and my own body made less and less sense.
What good was my body if it couldn’t conceive? What good was my life? I would look down at my belly and fume at how useless it was—useless belly, useless uterus, useless heart and breasts and skin and bones and everything. Why was I alive?
Community was not helpful. I knew that everyone loved and supported me and I had approximately 100 rabbis praying for me every month, but the hollowness in my body and soul was not something I could share. My grief was mine alone.
And then the strangest thing happened. My body started showing me how it wasn’t useless. Every day, the numbers on the treadmill grew a little bit more, and every night I slept a little more soundly. My heart beat strongly, its cheerful “lub-dup, lub-dup” singing “I’m here! I’m here!”
“But why?” I whispered to myself. Why was I alive? Why had I ever been alive, in this body that did strange and inconvenient things? My body offered no answers for my existence, just steady growth and strength.
Why was my body doing this? Where did it get this endurance? How was it manifesting this physical energy? I thought I was so weak and broken I couldn’t go on, but here were my legs telling me other things.
I threw myself into art at home, like I always did when my soul ached for mysterious reasons. I would sit on the floor, surrounded by canvases, paints and sketchbooks, yearning for something I couldn’t even explain. In my raw and wounded deepest darkness, I wanted connection.
I opened my art supplies and opened my heart, and I found Gd was still there. The paints and fabrics, the brushes and canvases and tools—the smell of acrylic uncorked my soul; I was alive.
In my paint-splattered openness, I thought of all the pain and emptiness of my infertility, and I turned to Gd and demanded, “if I’m not here for babies, why am I here?”
The answer came at last: for me.
For the feeling of my own body as my heart beats and my lungs breathe, for the magical spark I get when dipping a paintbrush in lush orange paint, I am alive. For the joy I receive when I feel sunlight warm my back and shoulders, for the shivering thrill of diving into clear water, I am here.
Out of all that darkness, came my deep and holy answer, and I am forever grateful.
I think many people, and women in particular, don’t know that we are enough. Even those of us who are strong feminists and feel like we know better. Even those of us who know we shouldn’t be defined by our jobs, etc. We care so deeply about our roles in the world, but sometimes it’s important to pause and care deeply about our selves.
I finished that round of IVF, looking forward to getting back to running after the restrictions on my exercise were lifted. I had rediscovered my connection with Gd, and I had learned how to be a self in the world. Even in the midst of pain and sorrow and uncertainty, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of life—my life.
And now, in the most joyous of ironies, I find myself pregnant. The IVF cycle worked, and I find myself holding two miracles: my own self, and the life growing inside of me.
The little one who is yet to be is an exciting new adventure for an exciting new post, and we look forward to sharing further happy news soon.