Having an autoimmune condition, you’d think you’d get used to being betrayed by your body. That you’d know you can’t always depend on it to do the right thing, or to work right. You’d think so.
And yet last month, as I laid down on the exam bed, 12 weeks pregnant, and my doctor could no longer find my baby’s heartbeat, I was surprised, like I never thought my body would betray me in this way. Crohn’s, sure. But this?
At my 8 week exam I watched as that tiny heart fluttered on the screen and I cried with extreme joy. I’d gotten pregnant so fast that I wasn’t even sure we were ready, but we were so happy. My stomach grew faster than it had with our daughter, so by 11 weeks I began telling people the news. Not everyone, but people at the daycare to make sure we’d have a spot secured for #2, and people at work who may realize I had a bump.
And that’s the thing, the bump. The doctor told me that the fetus had expired at about 9 weeks. But I had no idea. My body continued to grow. I still felt nauseated and tired. I still felt pregnant. My body told me I was pregnant. My body lied, and lied, and lied to me, for weeks.
In the days following this revelation, as I tried to understand what was happening, as I went back into the hospital for the D&C, as I recovered at home and answered emails and calls from friends and family who’d heard… I just couldn’t stand to look at myself. My stomach was still big. Before I’d learned that I’d miscarried, I’d look at my little bump and smile, so warm and happy that we were having another baby. And after, it seemed somehow bigger, and ugly, and wrong. I wanted it gone. I longed for the flat stomach I’d had when I was 20, before I’d even had kids. I dragged an old college sweatshirt from the back of my closet because it hid my stomach. But I still couldn’t get away, because like it or not, you’re stuck in your body.
And there was a bigger reason for all of this, this hating my stomach. It was when my daughter put her hand on it and asked, “is your stomach getting bigger or smaller,” as she had asked frequently over the past weeks. For the first time I had to respond in a new way. “Smaller,” I said. She looked up at me. “Why did the baby die?” she asked.
After that, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t want to be in any situation where my daughter could see my stomach. Or where anyone could see it. I’d exercise and do situps, but counter-productively I’d gorge on junk food like I never had before. And I shopped like money was water, going online and ordering any and all clothes that looked like they’d offer a good disguise. Baggy shirts, printed dresses, leggings that didn’t push on the hated bump like an annoying finger reminding me of what I’d lost.
And then, one day, it hit me. Until then, for some reason, I didn’t realize the simple fact: I was mad at my body for betraying me. I was feeling this way but hadn’t put it into a clear thought. This unspoken anger and hurt I was feeling was about my body. And when I realized this, that my anger was toward my body, that’s when I began to forgive it.
I’m still exercising every morning, and I’m still shopping for flattering clothes, but I’ve slowed down on the shopping and slowed down on the junk food as well. My body betrayed me, but it’s the only one I’ve got. And I need to get it in shape if I’m going to try again – and I am, we are – we’re going to try for another baby. But not yet. I’m not fully at peace with my body, my post-pregnancy but not post-baby body. I need a little more time. But at least I know now that this time, while it was terrible, what my body has done is not unforgivable.