Pregnancy and Eating Disorders.

Exactly six years ago, in a land that feels as foreign to me today as perfection, I sat in day treatment unsure and listless.  I was sure my legs were getting fatter by the minute, as evidenced by the tight pull of my size 2 jeans I could still just fit into despite the daily meals we were required to eat at the hospital.  I was busy journalling about a recent love I had lost when a dark-haired, serene counselor walked in.  She possessed a centeredness that I had never known, and I was vaguely attracted to it.

She smiled briefly and led us in a meditation exercise.  After that, she invited us to think of the body part we hated the most about ourselves and write it down on a piece of paper.  Beside it, she wanted us to write a practical use for it.  She then took the papers and read them out loud, so we all could add uses the writer had missed.  It was my absolute favorite intervention there, for it reminded me that our bodies that are capable of accomplishing glorious, astounding things if we just feed them.

On my paper?  I had written “stomach” and for its practical use, “pregnancy”.

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In early May, I found out I was pregnant.  Seeing that “Yes” on the pregnancy test was the most exhilarating thing ever.  And the scariest.  That day, before I told my partner, I contemplated how my life and body would change.  I worried about financial concerns.  I worried about my ability to parent.  I worried about everything.  This worry was alleviated time to time by those who validated my thoughts as “normative maternal worry”.  I knew, however, I carried an extra beautiful complication to the usual ups and downs of pregnancy.  I formerly had a relationship with my body in which I denied it what it needed.  While I wasn’t pregnant, although I hadn’t starved myself for some time,  I had the psychological “backup” of being able to return to restrictive behaviors if things got too hard.  But now, there was to be no denial of needs whatsoever.  Simply put, eating disorders are the definition of control, while pregnancy is the definition of out of control.  No matter how many miles you run or green vegetables you eat, the pregnancy will not hold if it’s not a good genetic match.  No matter how many folic acid vitamins you ingest or hypnobirthing tapes you listen to, you have little control over the amount of labor hours you will go through.  And if you eat a relatively “normal” amount daily, you will have little control over how you gain the weight.  I know naturally teeny women who gained 70 lbs during their pregnancy, average to above-average women who gained 11 lbs during their pregnancy.  Everyone gains differently, with an average of 25-35 lbs.

Even though it had been awhile since I stepped on a scale or monitored what I ate, old surface body symptoms began to resurface once I found out I was pregnant.  First, old thoughts began to pop up during my first trimester.  I was convinced I was gaining weight immediately and that my pants were fitting tighter.  At my first OB visit, I was convinced the nurse practitioner would tell me I needed to stop gaining weight so rapidly.

The joke was on my eating disorder – I had lost six pounds during my first trimester.  A rational food mind would have told me that I probably wasn’t gaining weight due to nausea and a lack of those daily caffeinated “extra-extras” at dunkin donuts.

After this, my mind was fixated on the fact that I wasn’t gaining weight, and became slightly obsessed with the fact that I needed to gain!  I said this to everyone I know – and now know why I did that.  My old, eating disordered thoughts were proud that I had lost weight, and well, some people gain weight right away, so why not flaunt that?  (A very selfish disease.)  And when I did gain weight, my mind swung the other way, and worried that the nurse would tell me I was gaining too rapidly.  I quickly became preoccupied with the idea that my body may never return to its “normal” state.

So, there can be these surface symptoms that reappear, much like trauma symptoms have a tendency to reappear during pregnancy (when you are pregnant, you think about the way you were parented, thus bringing up feelings of satisfaction or bad memories about your childhood).  However, what about the deeper issues of control?  How can these permeate a pregnancy?

Well, let’s look at my pregnancy, although I believe mine was a circumstantial extremity that most wouldn’t experience.  During it, I experienced a residence change, the possibility of being unemployed, and financial instability.  I will make another residence change before the baby is born.  A lot of individuals who struggle with eating disorders note that there is a peak in symptoms during major life transitions.  So, with a refusal to engage in eating disordered behaviors anymore, my emotions rocketed during this time (which often happens when someone puts down a behavior.  You are getting used to life without it, so the events will seem even more emotional and triggering).  This is on top of an extreme hormonal surge (as my nurse practitioner put it, “You are all hormones, Amanda.”).  So yes, I and my partner dealt, and deal with larger emotions that usual.  It’s not easy, and it frankly makes me want to throw things at the women who post pictures of themselves gazing adoringly at their partners while their partners stroke their belly.  I refuse to believe it’s that picture-perfect for anyone.  Just like I refuse to believe perfection on any levels.

What has helped me during this time?  Faith.  Spirituality.  The knowledge that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to.  Exercise has empowered me, but I’ve had to be careful to not berate myself for running a mile and a half instead of my usual three.  What’s especially helped?  Connecting with women who lay it out straight for me; who acknowledge their temporary homicidal urges, who bemoan their oxygen-reducing weight gain, who talk about the ugly stuff during pregnancy that others cringe at.  Pregnant women, in addition to those in any kind of recovery, are the most courageous of all, in my humble opinion.

I know I will have a boy because I’ve always respected and gotten along better with women (you get what you need), but if I was to ever have a baby girl, I would be honored.  Honored to raise a girl who might never even think about the size of her waist.  Honored to empower her, honored to send her healthy messages that I never got – the thought brings me to tears.  It was that very reason I named “pregnancy” that day in treatment; since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to raise a mostly healthy family, and specifically, raise a strong, outgoing (if she wanted to be) young lady.  They say all parenting is a projection – we want things for our children we never got.  I am guilty of this, for sure – but it’s not the worst projection.

It is easy to let the daily worry get in the way of the fact that I was given the biggest personal gift in the world.  For it is not everyone’s dream to be a mother, but it is mine.

(Images provided by www.pregnancynutrition.org.)

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