As a teen, I was chunky. The pre-teen and teen years were uncertain ones, living through a revolution and a war, moving from country to country and dealing with adolescent angst while trying to keep up with different languages and the ever-shifting circumstances. While everything kept changing, food was the one constant, so I began to take comfort in it. It never went beyond emotional eating, but it was nonetheless unhealthy and my body suffered for it. It didn’t help that misguided but well-meaning family members began calling me “chaghool che”, Persian for fatty. They thought it was a cute nickname. I felt ashamed and anxious, which only led to more eating.
When I lost 50 pounds in college and turned into a tall 125-pound twenty-two-year-old, the world opened up. Having lived most of my adolescence as a heavy, awkwardly shy wall-flower, my twenties were anything but wall-flowery. In many ways, I came into my own once I dropped the extra weight. I discovered that, while an introvert at heart, I was excellent at being an extrovert. I realized I liked attention, enjoyed shocking people, and excelled at playing the part of the Bell of the Ball. A friend once told me his perception of me was that I liked to put myself on display, like a painting at a museum. He may have meant this as an insult, but I was complimented by that description. I was my own creation, my own work of art. And I loved it.
Years went by. Life went on. I moved from Texas to Michigan to California. I got older. The responsibilities got heavier. And so did I. For my wedding in 2006, I went on a strict diet and lost a lot of the weight I had gained. I remember feeling so accomplished and great that I promised myself I would never gain the weight ever again.
Then came the infertile years. My two back-to-back miscarriages made me sad and scared of physical activity and working out. I could never stop wondering if I suffered them because I had ran right before each incident. So, I became fearful and sedentary. I just sat, thought, cried and resented the hand I had been dealt – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
Then came the infertility treatments. Cycle after cycle, I put up my mind, body and soul into it all. I was pumped full of synthetic hormones, becoming a human pincushion for 5 years. And my weight just kept going up. My ankles hurt from bearing the extra pounds, and my heart hurt from looking and feeling as though I was no longer in charge of my looks. The most devastating part about being infertile is the very realization that your body doesn’t do what it should do naturally. Putting on weight simply added insult to that injury.
The hormone injections changed everything. My face looked different and every body part became puffy. My boots no longer fit my growing calves. My rings no longer fit my fingers. I hit 200 lbs and kept going. Shopping for shoes and clothes, once my sport of choice, became a disappointing struggle and a chore I dreaded and tried to avoid at all costs I was miserable, disappointed and so very lost.
I’ve always thought that infertility does to a women what could be described as the female version of immasculation. It robbed me of the very essence of my femininity, that je ne sais quoi that makes a woman sexy, confident and unmistakably female. I’ve always found the female essence to be a women’s most prized possession, her most genuine quality. And here I was, living a life devoid of what I considered the definition of being a self-possessed woman. The very word itself –infertile– took away the foundation of womanhood for me. I was barren, incapable of doing the one thing that’s so organic and natural for most women. I was unable to give life.
When I finally got pregnant with my daughter, those feelings didn’t magically disappear overnight. Doubt that my body could carry her to term and fear that I’d lose her followed me for the majority of my pregnancy. The extre weight though, never bothered me. I’d see other expectant moms lament their newly gained heft, and I’d think: “the growing weight is proof of life. What could be better than that!?” As long as I grew in size, I knew she was growing inside me. Ironically, I put on less pounds during pregnancy than I had during the 7 years I had tried to get pregnant. But, I was thankful for every pound, every round curve, and those unflattering swollen ankles I covered with terribly unsexy compression socks for the better part of two trimesters. You see, I finally had a reason for the girth. I finally looked pregnant because I was, but because I was pumped full of hormones. And that meant the world to me. I wasn’t fat anymore. I was finally just pregnant.
My baby is now seven-and-a-half months old. In the first 6 months of her life, I shed over 60 lbs and lost two dress sizes. I’ve not only lost all my pregnancy weight, I’ve managed to shed a good bit of the pre-pregnancy/infertility pounds. And I’m still losing. I’ve listened to other new moms complain that their pre-pregnancy clothes not fit them and bitten my lip with genuine glee. My pre-pregnancy clothes don’t fit me either, but not for the same reason. My new frame swims in my old clothes. My boots are too big, my jeans slouch around my waist and my engagement ring spins around my finger like I always wished it would. The rolls have melted away and the puffiness is gone. The outward evidence of what I’ve been through are disappearing one day at a time. It’s as if my body is trying erase the last 7 years. But, of course that’s not possible, is it?
I am 7 years older, 7 years sadder and 7 years (hopefully ) wiser. I’ve been altered by what I’ve been through, physically, medically and emotionally. I, for better or worse, am the mother of an infant at the ripe age of forty-something, a stage in life when many my age begin to have grandchildren. And I, for better or worse, am the mother to 4 other babies whom I never got to meet or mother. I’m no longer seeking to be the Bell of the Ball. I just want to be a fulfilled, self-possessed woman. I just want to not feel devoid of my femininity. I just want to never feel fragile or betrayed by my own body again. And, that quest will be a lifelong one, I suspect.
So, I am a fraction of the size I used to be and ten times stronger. I’m half the size I once was and twice the survivor. I am shrinking in size and expanding in courage. I am off to the next chapter of life, parenthood and infertility.
This post is not meant to be boastful. It’s not about losing weight or fitting into skinny jeans after pregnancy. It’s about the way we define ourselves, the limitations we put on ourselves and the things we take for granted. It’s about how life is never under any obligation to go according to our assumptions or plans, and how it demands us to be flexible and agile to adjust and prosper. It’s about flourishing, even when our ideas and ideals of life are challenged. It’s about surviving, thriving and continuing to grow.