I discovered RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2017. I realize I was late to the party, but I have since made up for my delinquency by watching every season… multiple times. This was in the immediate aftermath of my fourth miscarriage, so I felt utterly broken and was not sure I wanted to go on trying to have a baby (or doing much else). Remarkably, RuPaul helped curb my depression. Apart from realizing that Drag Race is one of the best shows on television (FYI season 12 is currently airing), I recognized that the fabulous Drag Race queens were more empowered as women than I was.
Miscarriage challenged my identity as a woman. The fact that my body would not or could not do what it was built to do made me wonder what it meant to be a woman at all. In her book After Miscarriage author Krissi Danielsson describes it thus:
[She] may feel as if the loss took a part of her away and violated her as a woman… Because this happened in her womb, the core of her womanhood, if you will, and she wasn’t able to control it, the miscarriage might feel to her like a kind of psychological rape.
Those are very strong words that speak to the trauma of pregnancy loss, and they do resonate with me. The UK recently published results of a study which showed that nearly 30% of women exhibit symptoms of PTSD in the aftermath of their miscarriage.
For my own part, I stopped feeling comfortable in my own body. The medicines and medical exams felt invasive. Progesterone made me feel dizzy, prednisone made me feel puffy and caused me to gain weight, and the enoxaparin shots left long lingering bruises on my stomach that served as a constant reminder that I was not functioning properly. What’s more, my husband’s and my sex life was completely orchestrated by my hormone levels and ovulation dates, which left little room for desire. The result of all this was that I felt broken, unattractive, and most definitely NOT like a sexually empowered, confident or capable woman.
During this time, I worked from home, so I spent an inordinate amount of time in pajamas. I leaned into feelings of inconsequence: I stopped personal maintenance and exercise routines; I was aggressively unsociable; and I shied away from physical affection. Guilt over the failure of my pregnancies transformed into feelings of unworthiness, which is how I began to define myself.
Enter the Drag Race contestants, each of whom had overcome their own obstacles in order to pursue their dream and become a beautiful, confident queen. Their collective courage inspired me and sparked a desire to rediscover my passion and rebuild my confidence. RuPaul says that we are all doing drag all the time. What he means is that we are more than our physical and material manifestations. At our core we are spiritual beings, so the labels we use to define ourselves are simply our drag. My drag had become pretty sad.
I wish I could tell you all it took was that realization and I was fixed, but I’m working on it. One exercise I found helpful was when my therapist encouraged me to personify all the different aspects of my personality. She told me to draw them and give them individual names and characteristics. The objective was to help determine which part of me was playing the lead and which parts needed a more active role in my life.
There’s a part of me that’s sassy and charming – she (re)started getting her nails done and it made me feel pretty and frivolous. There’s a part of me that’s academic and contemplative – she started a book club and in doing so forced me to schedule time with girlfriends and be surrounded by female energy. There’s a part of me that’s ambitious and assertive – she stood up for herself at work and I remembered I had free-will. There’s a part of me that’s empathetic and tender – she recently read Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff. In one of the first exercises in that book Kristin challenges you to speak to yourself as your best friend would speak to you. My best friend is understanding, validating, supportive, encouraging and kind; she loves me. RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” I am working hard to love all the parts of myself – even the part with a misbehaving uterus.