I still remember how much I weighed when I stepped on the scale in the middle school hallway outside the nurse’s office for seventh grade sports physicals. I remember being conscious of my body before then, but this moment has always stuck with me. I went on to develop an eating disorder when I was 15. Ask me why I did it for the four years after, and I’ll just tell you it’s because I was “fat.” There was nothing else to it. But now, 16 years later, I know that’s not the case. My eating disorder stems from a need to control things when everything seems out of control. A hyper-focus on weight and body image distracted from never feeling good enough and feeling overextended. Mostly it distracted from thinking about the things that happened to me, what I now understand as trauma.
I’ve been in recovery for a solid period of time at this point, being mindful of stressful times and understanding not every day is perfect. Throughout my recovery I understood there would be seasons in my life where I would continue to be challenged, but nothing has challenged me quite like pregnancy.
When my husband and I got married back in 2016, we knew we wanted to start trying for children right away — and to everyone’s surprise, it didn’t take long before I was pregnant. I wanted this baby, and I thought I was ready. I knew it’d be hard. I had processed it with my therapist, my psychiatrist and my OB/GYN. They all knew the minefield I was walking into. But I was in recovery and felt confident. It wasn’t going to be a big deal. Oh boy was I wrong. After my first pregnancy, I created a list of things that helped me along the way. And now, 25 weeks pregnant with baby number two, all of these are still relevant. My hope is by sharing them they will be able to help someone else too.
1. Be open with your doctor.
I cannot tell you how helpful it was that my OB/GYN knew and understood my history with my eating disorder. All the books you read tell you the “recommended” weight gain during pregnancy. In fact, I don’t understand how everyone doesn’t worry so much about things like that. I panicked at first when I realized I was on track to gain way over what the books say! I brought it to my doctor who encouraged me to stop looking at the scale and told me if she isn’t worried about it, then I shouldn’t either. And I needed to ignore everything else and keep doing exactly what I was doing.
2. Buy bigger clothes.
This one is so important. I recently had a discussion with a friend who is pregnant and in recovery from her eating disorder. She told me how hard it is for her to be wearing her clothes when they are tighter than she is comfortable with. When I was pregnant with my first, I bought my maternity clothes before I was even 10 weeks! I knew I was gaining weight and didn’t want to feel it. Honestly, some people laughed at me and told me I didn’t need to. But at the end of the day it made me feel better, and that’s all that mattered.
3. Don’t go at it alone.
I’m not one who is typically public about my eating disorder history. I don’t post much on social media about it or publicly celebrate recovery milestones. But one day as I was searching the internet for articles about surviving pregnancy when in eating disorder recovery, I found one that spoke to me. And I shared it. And in my post I talked about how hard being pregnant was for me. I was pleasantly surprised at the outreach and support from people who I hadn’t realize struggled too. People I was in treatment with 10 years ago reached out to me. Everyone echoed the same sentiments. And I realized how not alone I actually was. Here’s the thing — people tell you how great pregnancy is and how you should enjoy every moment. They say things like, “Isn’t it amazing what the body can do?” and “I just loved being pregnant, I would do it 10 times if I could.” Well guess what? For every person who feels that way, I’ve learned there is someone else who feels exactly how you do. And it helps to know that’s OK, and you’re not alone!
4. Talk to a professional.
Not everyone may need this or agree, but for me, continuing to see my therapist weekly was exactly what I needed. A lot of people who write about this topic are people who have been in eating disorder recovery for years before they ever got pregnant. And while I had been on and off in recovery for a long time, when I got pregnant with my first, I was less than a year out from my last residential stint. And I was petrified! But with my previous point in mind (don’t go at it alone), I recommend getting all of the support you can.
5. Talk to your doctor about staying on your meds.
Again, this may not apply to everyone. But for those who it does, listen up. We don’t have eating disorders because we want to be skinny. Many of us have eating disorders because we crave control over our lives. We utilize the disorder to avoid other feelings or a multitude of other things we have learned about ourselves over the years (and if you haven’t learned, please see #4). For me, my eating disorder was a result of a complex set of variables ranging from PTSD, perfectionism and self-worth. And unfortunately as much as I had wished it to be true, pregnancy did not make all of those things go away. In fact some of those things were exacerbated. The last thing I should have done was stop taking my antidepressants, which up until that point had been keeping me even-keeled. Fortunately for me, I have an amazing doctor and psychiatrist who knew better. Many doctors are not educated on weighing the pros and cons of medications during pregnancy, and the results can be dangerous. If you are pregnant and are struggling, there are safe medications for you and your baby. So please, see #1 and inquire about them!
6. Get used to not being in control.
Your baby will do whatever he or she wants. The last thing I was prepared for was to be put on bedrest at 32 weeks, but it happened. And I will never forget what my boss told me that day — that is God’s way of telling you that you are no longer in control. And since that day, I haven’t been. My days revolve around my 2-year-old son now. Don’t get me wrong, we have a routine and a plan on how things should happen, but no one can shake up the plan faster than him. For a lot of us, at the core of our eating disorder we crave control. It’s important for those of us seeking control to plan on not having control so we are prepared.
7. Give yourself grace.
Mama, this is an exciting, scary and overwhelming time for you. Just remember at the end of the day, if you are doing the best you can, it is enough. I’m currently pregnant with number two and am constantly being judgmental toward myself. Criticizing every decision I make, feeling like I’m not doing enough, which translates into “I’m not enough.” I’m relearning things I’ve mentioned above — I have no control over my body, I have no control over my emotions (thanks hormones) and I need to be OK with it.
I’ve had to remind myself of the things I listed above almost every day. And in fact, I’ve found this pregnancy much more difficult than the first. But I just need to keep reminding myself of the amazing things my body is doing, and all I can do is my best. And finally, it will all be worth it once this little boy is here.