When You're Pregnant And Battling An Eating Disorder
I was 5’10” and weighed 100 pounds.
I put on my beige work pants, the ones that had been a little snug a year and a half ago. Before fastening the top button, I pulled the waistline out and stared down at the 4-inch gap between my belly button and the zipper. I took a deep breath and tried to distract myself from the panic I felt rising in my chest as I slid the brown leather belt through the belt loops and fastened it at the last hole. I turned to look at myself in the mirror hanging in the back room of the frozen yogurt shop I had worked at for two years.
Staring back at me was a sad, scared, skinny 18-year-old who, for four years, had been refusing to give up the power and control she had over her body, even though she desperately wanted to. My high school graduation was right around the corner. I had been awarded several scholarships to a prestigious fine arts school, which would take me away from the safety of home for the first time. A new determination to change had broken through the dirt of my illness and was rapidly growing inside of me.
I knew I had a life purpose, and in order to fulfill it, I would need to heal from my anorexia.
That day, looking my broken self in the eye, I made a decision that I was not going to let this sick, twisted disease sink its claws any deeper into me. Come hell or high water, I was going to change.
The years that followed this decision were grueling, yet they refined my character and solidified my change. I worked hard — really hard. I saw a psychologist who helped me work through and understand my disease. I worked with a nutritionist who taught me how to see food in a positive light. And I saw doctors who monitored my physical well-being.
Every day was a battle to stay on track, a constant struggle as I faced my demons over and over, until finally, food was no longer an issue. Looking back, I see my transformation as nothing short of a miracle, and I am grateful as I hear more and more stories of sisters who were not as lucky as me.
Years passed. I graduated from college, tried out a couple of careers, moved around, got married, and well, I grew up. My years as a clinically diagnosed anorexic faded into the back of my memory until they felt like a dream. I survived some storms and bore the marks of life, and I was stronger for all of it.
One evening, as I sat in a long line of cars waiting for a parking spot at my busy gym, I grimaced as a strong wave of nausea came over me. This was not the first time I’d felt it. In fact, I’d been running to the bathroom all day. A tiny voice in the back of my mind said, “This is it. You’re pregnant.”
My heart began to race as I backed out of line and headed for the grocery store. At 34, I had never been pregnant. Back in my anorexia days, the doctors had informed me there was a good chance I would never conceive, due to getting so thin and not having a period for almost four years. So I didn’t think much about birth control or what I would do if I did happen to get pregnant.
The memory of a recent passionate (and birth control-free) night between my husband and me drifted into my mind. And I knew, this was it! I was going to be a mom!
I took the test into the bathroom of a local coffee shop where my suspicions were confirmed. I called my husband, and together we celebrated our miracle.
At first, I was overjoyed at the idea of being a mom. For years, I’d carried the burden of a silent guilt that by starving my body, I had robbed myself of ever having a family. Now that burden was gone! So it was much to my surprise as I watched my joy turn to anxiety, and the old familiar claws of anorexia grabbed hold of me once more.
The thought of losing control of my body terrified me. It was inevitable — I was going to change. My fit abs were going to stretch, I was going to gain weight, my hips were going to widen, and there was nothing I could do about it. I panicked as I felt myself resigning to an old habit I did not want to pick up again.
One night, the mental and emotional struggle became too much to bear. I locked myself in my walk-in closet, sat on the floor, and called my mother. Through tears of guilt and frustration, I told her everything. With her support and encouragement, I met with my midwife the very next day, where I disclosed my history with anorexia and the struggles I was having.
Her response shocked me. She was not one bit surprised by my feelings and reassured me that what I was going through was normal for women with eating disorders. In fact, even women who had never struggled with an eating disorder often times felt the way I did. She gave me the confidence and peace of mind I needed to relax and continue on my journey of being pregnant.
A few nights later, as I lay in bed grappling with myself over wanting to control my weight gain, I had an epiphany. I have already dealt with this, I thought to myself. I’ve put in the hours, the hard work, the discipline. I know better than to let myself sink back into this old habitual way of thinking.
Anorexia, you terrible dragon, I slew you years ago. You’re dead to me. Your ghost has no place in my life. This is my time to enjoy, so be gone! You’re not welcome. And just like that, the anxiety lifted. Poof! Gone into thin air. Peace flooded the caverns of my heart as I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
This experience taught me something: Every challenge we face in life is beatable. We have all the tools we need to get through anything. We conquer, we heal, and we overcome. What once threatened to kill us becomes a tool in our tool belts.
However, the ghosts of these challenges will rear their ugly little heads in other areas of our lives, and we will need reminders that they no longer have power over us.
If you are pregnant and are battling an eating disorder, please allow me to share some information that will help you.
Take a deep breath.
Listen, you’re going to be just fine. What you’re feeling is normal. You are not alone.
Understand that healing from an eating disorder is a multifaceted and lifelong task.
Just because you overcome the food/eating aspect doesn’t mean you won’t continue to battle the emotional, mental, and psychological elements that come with it. It takes a certain type of personality to be anorexic. You can change your behavior, but you can’t change your personality. People who struggle with anorexia tend to be perfectionists, overachievers, people-pleasers, and at times obsessive-compulsive.
So you may kick the “starving yourself” thing in the butt, but then you might become way too disciplined at running those marathons, or starting that business, or being that perfect mom. As people who survive anorexia, we will always have to keep ourselves in check from overdoing anything.
Look at the bright side.
If we’re obsessing over something, more than likely there is a key element that’s off balance in our lives and needs to be addressed. So our tendency to want to obsess becomes a beacon of sorts, shining the spotlight on what is not okay in our lives.
According to MentalHelp.net, “A capacity for obsessive thinking tends to accompany perfectionism with regard to eating disorders, particularly with anorexics. Anorexic individuals become hyperfocused or obsessed with food and with the idea of controlling their eating so as to become thin. Other elements of extreme thinking may be observed as well, notably a tendency towards rigid ‘black and white’ (for example, I am either perfect or terrible) thinking.”
If you’re struggling with the loss of power that comes with pregnancy and feeling overwhelmed by it, talk to someone — first your partner, a family member, or a friend, and then your doctor or midwife. Once you tell someone, you will feel so much better.
Work with a nutritionist throughout your pregnancy. They will ensure you are getting the proper nutrition you need to stay healthy while your baby grows.
I hope this post is helpful for you. If you are struggling, please remember you are not alone. I have been in your shoes. I do know what you’re going through. If I can get through it, so can you.