What's It's Like to Be Pregnant in Eating Disorder Recovery
I have spent a lot of time – more than I care to admit – studying my body, thinking about my body, worrying about my body, hiding my body. But never so much as when I’m pregnant.
Please, do not misunderstand me. I wholeheartedly believe growing a baby, another human being, is no doubt a miracle of miracles. I have often – through four pregnancies now – taken a moment to thank Mother Earth and God for the absolute gift of creating life inside my body.
Yet as a woman with an eating disordered past and a seemingly-fated lifetime destiny of body image issues, I’m obligated to keep it real. So here it is. This is hard. It was hard the first time and it has gotten no easier the fourth time. My body is changing and growing, sometimes so quickly I think I can see it happening. And it’s all completely out of my control, control being at the very core of my eating disorder. There’s the belly, sure, but that’s not all. There’s also the butt, the hips, the boobs, the cankles and the pimples, to name a few. For the most mentally-centered woman this would feel strange, I imagine.
For those of us like me, it can be a struggle.
While the active part of my own eating disorder was many moons ago, my recovery is ongoing. I have struggles with food and weight and control and my own body I have come to accept are part of the fabric of my general being. This was true when I was a sprightly teenager and it has been even more true as an aging woman who is not immune to gravity and it is never more true than when I am faced with gaining so much weight in nine months.
I have often said and I truly believe recovery from an eating disorder is very much like recovery from alcoholism. Once you have had issues with eating, you might always have issues with eating and recovery becomes about learning to thrive despite and with those issues. The glaring difference between recovery from alcoholism and recovery from disordered eating of course is you can’t – and shouldn’t – just walk away from food. And so the work lies in learning how to live this life where so much of who we are and how we interact and how we nurture and celebrate and mourn and cope and nourish and soothe and gather lies completely wrapped up in and around food.
Somewhere in the silver lining of my own anorexia and bingeing struggles lies the fact I never lost my passion for reading cookbooks and spending time in the kitchen. So much so it has become wrapped up tightly in my identity as a mother and a wife. I have an incredibly hard time apologizing in heartfelt actual words when I am wrong, but I am quite fluent in the language of conciliatory casseroles. Nothing in my daily life makes me feel more maternal and more feminine than my own family enjoying food I have planned, cooked, prepared and brought to the table.
And being pregnant gives me the incredible opportunity to nourish myself and my baby from the same meal.
This, I know, is a gift.
It’s worth mentioning the media has done us no service in terms of putting the pregnant body up on the pedestal it deserves, either. All an unassuming “mama-to-be” like me in dirty sweatpants and last night’s mascara has to do while grocery shopping on a weekend morning is glance towards the gossip rags and feel pregnant women should be mocked for their weight gain. This message of failure and self-doubt is received by countless ordinary women, the ones without personal trainers and chefs and assistants paid to help us lose the baby weight. We are the ones who are not paid absurd sums of money to walk down the Victoria’s Secret runway sporting nothing more than a few strategically placed gemstones and some furry angel wings two months after giving birth.
And of course, I see all of this through the lens not only of someone in recovery but also as someone who is raising two girls — two girls who are in my humble opinion, the epitome of perfection. But two girls who may nonetheless struggle with body issues of their own. What do I want them to see through this pregnancy?
Me, as a beautiful, radiant, confident pregnant woman with a big belly full of their brother or sister?
Or me in a puddle of self-pity on the kitchen floor wondering if the cottage cheese I am making them as a snack looks as much like my legs as I think it does?
But if I’m honest, it’s not just my own daughters who have been on my mind. It’s all the women of my life. My daughters, my mothers and maternal figures, my tribe of friends and extended family and neighbors. A pregnancy makes you draw close your circle, and these women are mine, each unique and beautiful and perfect like a snowflake. What’s funny is each one probably has things about their own physical bodies they struggle with and would likely not be comfortable strutting down the Victoria’s Secret runway with jewels wedged in their crevices. But in my eyes, they are absolutely perfect.
I know there is a lesson in there and every day I get closer to accepting it. And this is what recovery actually looks like, right?
One day at a time.
This story originally appeared on lizpetrone.com.
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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.