I Abused My Body For Years, But In Pregnancy I'm Finally Learning To 'Bloom'

by Dr. Colleen Reichmann
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

At 14 years old, I weigh myself five, ten, sometimes 15 times a day. Always hoping for some magic number that didn’t exist. The results dictate my mood. Number up? Total devastation for the day. Number down? Cautious pride — but better double check in an hour, just to make sure. The goal is simple: smaller. Smaller at any cost. The pursuit of thinness is gravely important, more important than friends, more important than sports. More important than health.

At 19 years old, I find myself in yet another therapist’s office, sour expression painted on my face. “You’ll die, you know,” she warns me solemnly. “Maybe not this week, maybe not next, but your body can’t take this.” I stare at her blankly, crossing and uncrossing my legs. I’ve no interest in getting better. Sick feels easy and sterile. “Is there anything more important to you than being thin? Is there an apple higher on the tree for you to reach for? What about having a family one day? Would you rather be able to have kids when you’re older, or would you rather be thin?”

“Thin,” I respond, without missing a beat. We stare at each other in silence.

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

At 22 years old, I throw away the laxatives. Every last one. Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, I finally begin to consider the idea that there must be something else out there. “There has to be something more,” I think to myself, “Something more than counting almonds out and wrapping measuring tape around my thighs. There has got to be a higher apple.”

At 23 years old, I start dating my now-husband. He wraps me in a kind of safety that I have never known before. “You’re so irreplaceable it’s scary,” I tell him. He watches me run on treadmills and secretly prays that my heart doesn’t give out. “I’m not marrying you unless you get your shit together,” he tells me one day. “I can’t spend my life in a relationship with you and your eating disorder. When will we be more important than the number?”

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

At 24 years old, I make a peace treaty with my body. “Fine,” I think, “I give up. Be what you need to be. I don’t like you, but I’m done using you as my whipping post.” My husband and I get married the following year. I graduate with my doctorate in psychology. Life feels colorful. I’ve finally found higher apples than thin. A fragile feeling of being content settles over me.

“What if I messed it up?” I whisper to my husband one night. “What if I stole the ability to have kids from myself with all the years of being so mean to my body?”

At 27 years old, we decide to start a family. Terrified of the idea of growing a child inside my body, I quell internal fears by reminding myself of this new and exciting apple to reach for. “A family,” we sigh together. “A family of our own. Yes. That is right.” I settle into the idea of my body being a tool for something better than being thin — a tool for making life.

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At 28 years old, I start to feel pangs of dread. Each negative pregnancy test feels like an affirmation that I am not – not healed, not ready, not good enough to be a mother. I watch my younger sister give birth, and think to myself, what is wrong with me?

“What if I messed it up?” I whisper to my husband one night. “What if I stole the ability to have kids from myself with all the years of being so mean to my body?”

“Shh,” he whispers back. “It will work. It has to.”

At 30 years old, I give up. Disillusioned after the past two years of failed IUIs and IVFs, I tell myself, “You were never meant to be a mother.” The doctor’s voice haunts me at night: “Your history of an eating disorder may have something to do with your inability to sustain a pregnancy.” Your inability to sustain a pregnancy. My own voice from 12 years ago haunts me at night too. “Thin,” I had responded, deadpan, to the therapist who asked me to choose between bearing children and being a certain body size.

Life begins to feel unfair and I begin to feel bitter. “Get your pregnant stomach out of my face,” I think angrily whenever I pass an expecting woman on the street. Slowly, the apple that I was reaching for begins to feel like an illusion. The body that I had controlled and bullied for so long is now in control — and she’s as non-compliant as I had been when those former therapists had tried to save me. How I resent her. “I stopped hurting you, now work! Just do what you are supposed to do. I kept up my end of the bargain — now you need to.”

Take that, I tell my body as I jab the daily needle full of hormones into my stomach muscles. My resentment grows as bruises mottle my stomach.

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

At 31 years old, I say “One last time.” The injections, the constant hormone roller coaster, the monthly tears, the dignity-stripping exams, procedures, surgeries and tests — I cannot take it anymore. “One last embryo,” I tell my husband. “Then we need to figure out another way to be happy. Another apple.”

The doctor pulls out the catheter after slipping a microscopic embryo into me, and touches my shoulder. “You have all the potential in the world, okay?” A tear slips out and rolls down one cheek.

Two weeks later, I take a pregnancy test. Rolling my eyes, I leave the test on the toilet and get up to fold laundry while waiting for the results. “Obviously I’m not pregnant,” I think to myself. “My body would have to actually work for that to happen.” I glance at the test while walking by with a pile of towels and stop. The positive symbol flashes up at me. “Will it go away if I pick it up? What do I do?” After years of negative pregnancy tests, I hardly know how to interpret a positive one. I stand over it for minutes, before gingerly reaching down with shaking hands to pick it up.

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

“You are indeed pregnant!” the nurse confirms over the phone. My husband and I cheer and hug one another. My mother and sister, having been dragged along for the infertility ride over the past couple of years, sob joyfully over the phone. I stand up and look down at my body. “Now what?” I think.

“I bloom,” my body says back to me.

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

At 18 weeks pregnant I have lunch with a colleague. “Wow, I would never be able to tell that you’re pregnant — you look great!” She smiles from across the table at me. I beam back but cringe internally. “What about when you can tell?” I think to myself in a panic. “How will I feel worthy in this body as it grows?”

At 20 weeks pregnant, I step on the scale at a doctor’s office and peer at a number that I’ve never seen before. “Great job!” The nurse declares. “Weight gain looks good!” I sit in puzzlement. For so many years, that number was supposed to go lower. Now we cheer as it goes higher? I think about how sad it is that we only embrace weight gain in times when it is deemed “medically necessary.”

I silently apologize to my body for being so cruel over the years. “Thanks for growing anyway,” I say.

“I’m trusting you,” she says back.

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

At 21 weeks pregnant, I feel a flutter from within. “Is that you?” I sit very still, my hands on my stomach. Another flutter: the quickening. My heart expands a million sizes. “The baby’s moving!” I scream into my phone at my husband. He makes me promise to let him feel this when he gets home. I sit, cradling my full stomach — the stomach that I had demanded emptiness from for so many years — and breathe in gratitude.

“I’ll take care of you,” I whisper to my baby. I pad into the kitchen in my slippers and prepare one of the main meals that this baby seems to like: macaroni and cheese. I eat until fullness, and feel grateful that I am able to allow this. “Thank you,” my body whispers.

For so many years, that number was supposed to go lower. Now we cheer as it goes higher? I think about how sad it is that we only embrace weight gain in times when it is deemed “medically necessary.”

At 25 weeks pregnant, I met up with friends for dinner. “You look adorable,” one of them says while gazing down at my stomach. How odd that curves and expanding flesh are deemed adorable during this one socially-sanctioned time in life.

“Don’t try to interpret it. Breathe,” I remind myself. “Thank your body for this growth.”

Courtesy of Dr. Colleen Reichmann

“Adorable, my ass,” I tell my body. “You are vast and brilliant. Growing. Helping me to radically heal.” I consider the difficulties that lie ahead in terms of my growing form. “This isn’t going to be easy,” I say to my body. “But I stopped choosing easy a long time ago. We’re ready for this, you and I.”

This time, my body doesn’t have to say anything back. I feel a kick from within, and know that this is my affirmation. My baby, moving inside of this body. My apple finally feels within reach. Cheers to the next half of this pregnancy, blooming the entire time.

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