What to Expect If You're a New Mother Recovering From an Eating Disorder
The moment I found out I was having my first baby I was beyond happy — my mind was on a cloud dancing Gangnam Style, with my friends the Care Bears. Anybody who longs for a child might feel this, but my joy was infused with such gratitude and relief that it is hard to put into words. I had thought I had completely ruined my body during my two-decade long struggle with an eating disorder (ED), but once I got my weight back to a healthy BMI and my period became regular, I was able to get pregnant.
“Oh my gosh, we are going to have a baby!” I shrieked, my initial reaction to seeing a positive result. I placed my hands over my mouth in disbelief. I am having a baby! As excited as I was at that moment, once it sunk in, there was a part of me that was afraid the weight gain would jeopardize my recovery. I’d finally found balance in my routines and eating and felt strong in my recuperation, and this was a curve ball. So here is some advice for a wannabe mama or mama-to-be in recovery who finds herself in a similar position:
1) How do I deal with my body changing?
I had some initial struggles with my rapid body changes: sudden huge breasts and out-of-control evolutions I had never experienced and could do nothing to affect. This is how I dealt with it. For starters, there was my half hour workouts each day that helped keep me in shape and fueled me with “feel good” endorphins. Then there was another part of me, a much more rational and greater part that wanted a baby more than anything and knew, no matter what, I would be OK. I would make sure of it because my baby would need me to be. So if you find yourself struggling, remind yourself what is in your belly and why you are gaining weight in the first place — your incredible baby!
2) How do I cope with seeing the numbers go up on the scale?
Don’t look! When you are pregnant, you are expected to gain a certain amount of weight. Every time you are at the OB’s office you will be weighed to make sure you are on track. I would advise you to stand backward on the scale and let the professionals track your weight without you knowing. As long as you are on track, that’s all that matters. I know people without eating disorders who do this. I know weighing myself is a trigger, and I take no chances with triggers when I take the health of my child into account. That is why standing backward and not knowing my number is a good solution for me.
It is very important to be upfront with your gynecologist about your eating disorder history and past. This may seem trivial, but with my first child, I received a document from my gynecologist with great news, but it had my weight on it — a trigger. I hadn’t seen a number in three years and I hate to admit it but that number haunted me. I couldn’t stop staring at it as the doctor was talking to me. To resolve this, I emailed my OB reminding her of my history and how it would be better to not know the number, as long as I am gaining healthily and the baby is doing great. She said no problem and that was that.
3) What helps you feel comfortable with your growing belly?
The other issue I struggled with sometimes was my actual bump size/physical weight gain, not surprisingly. Sometimes I thought it looked cute, and other times I thought I looked chubby or like a “beluga whale” — more the latter honestly, which I am not proud of. I was carrying very side to side, so I just started looking pregnant around 28 weeks. I was waiting for “the bump” for so long, and once it came I was actually not that confident in it.
What helped a lot was that I had gotten a great maternity wardrobe which I felt comfortable and confident in. I would suggest everyone get clothes which fit and feel good, especially toward the end of pregnancy! It was helpful to invest in a maternity wardrobe, and it’s not a waste of money — I still wear the clothing postpartum. I also plan to have more kids, so they can definitely be recycled. It’s better to avoid all of your old clothes during this time. It can be a sting to your ego when your clothing starts to get tight and remind you that you are packing on the pounds.
4) Will I have some down days? What should I do?
Of course you will! Duh, you are human. On days when I did feel insecure about my bump, I felt guilty talking about it. If I would complain, “I was feeling huge and bad about myself,” I would be met with “but you are having a baby.” Then I would feel extremely guilty for my feelings because yes, I was having a baby and I was extremely lucky, but on the other hand, I am allowed to feel not great about myself. It is ironic that our need to be skinny is dictated by the media and society, but then if we have a fear of getting “fat” when we are pregnant, it is considered blasphemous and we are thought of as superficial. Addressing any downsides of being pregnant is frowned upon and seen as taboo, but it shouldn’t be. I bet you most mothers-to-be have insecure days and these so-called “irrational fears.” We have to start supporting, rather than judging, one another so we can talk about these normal fears and make one another feel better, instead of holding the feelings in.
My number one advice is to talk to someone about how you are feeling (a support) and then do something to make you feel good. Go get a pedicure, a manicure, read a good book, exercise — whatever makes you feel like your best self.
5) Will my second baby be easier?
OK, so surprise: I am pregnant again (by almost 20 weeks).
After all of these doubts — I did it again. And guess what? This time around has been much easier because I know what to expect. I am finding the change in my body is also easier because not only have I already been through it, but also I have no time to focus on the changes this time around. I am constantly chasing my toddler around, taking her to classes, feeding her, watching her reach milestones etc. Also, the best thing about this time around is that you really know what you are getting out of it — another little person who you will love more than anything in this entire world. For that deal, I am in, maybe a couple more times (ask me a couple months after this one enters into the world. I may be bluffing.)
6) Will I relapse after having my baby?
In my mind, I know I will be healthy for my daughter so, in a way, she will always be keeping me “honest” about my recovery. I never want to hear the words “I am fat” out of her mouth.
I never want her to emulate unhealthy eating habits from me. I want her to look at her mommy and want to be the confident, smart, kind individual I plan to be for her. I want her to see that intelligence and a kind heart is what real beauty is. Helping people is what beauty is. Being happy and healthy is what beauty is. The rest is bullshit. I want her to know bodies come in all shapes and sizes and one is no more perfect than the other. I want her to never compare herself to anyone. I will teach her self-acceptance because no one is perfect. It’s the world’s greatest farce.
But always make sure to contact support after having your baby if you are finding yourself struggling with your postpartum body. With the stress of having a new baby, it is easy to feel like you are not doing a good enough job and everything is completely out of control. These times are when the disordered eating thoughts come back into my head, and I must be vigilant about shutting them down. Wanting a “perfect” body is hardest to resist when everything around you is so out of control. I had to remember the size zero jeans in my closet weren’t the key to my happiness; in fact, they made me the most miserable I had ever been. I stepped back and realized I was only obsessing about fat because I felt overwhelmed — between balancing working from home and a new baby who needs to eat every two to three hours — and I shut the voices down. This is what you will need to do.
Also, I wasn’t able to diet to lose the weight, because dieting isn’t recommended for those recovering from anorexia nervosa. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t tempted at times. I am not sure of what my weight was before I became pregnant again, but between breastfeeding (which burns calories and helps shrink your uterus), eating healthy (intuitively) and exercising (chasing a baby is a workout when they get a bit older!) the weight seemed to come off fairly easy.
I will never know if I hit my pre-baby “magic number” because I didn’t get on a scale, but that’s not important to me. Also, like diets — I don’t believe in scales and obsessing about numbers. I went by how I felt. Most important, my baby was getting proper nutrition from my breast milk and gaining weight. I was strong enough to be the best version of myself for her.
If you are questioning getting pregnant because of your ED history, know you will be more than fine. In fact, it will be the best decision you ever made. The positives far outweigh the negatives. Just because we had eating disorders doesn’t mean we won’t be amazing mothers. It means we will be strong, sensitive, caring, appreciative, aware mothers to our offspring.
For mamas out there — this mothers day, every mama in recovery deserves to be celebrated because not only are we mamas, which is a hard enough job, but we were able to do something our ED told us we couldn’t. We were able to produce and care for an amazing human being. Bravo to us!
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Unsplash photo via Marvos Moraes