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While I Was Waiting to Get Pregnant, I Realized I Was Waiting to Recover, Too

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“I’m going to be the best incubator ever!” I declared triumphantly.

Then the waiting began.

You must understand, I had already been waiting. Back in 2012, when I declared my gestational intentions, I had already been with my partner for seven years and married for three. We had experienced, I felt at the time, every possible stumbling block, contingency, and obstacle that life could offer, both literally and figuratively.

I didn’t mind that wait. It had taken us those seven years to grow together, to learn, to prepare for the family that awaited us. It was a necessary process, and I remain beyond grateful that we did not rush into a tiny addition before we were ready. For transparency’s sake, however, I must admit I became hyper-cognizant of my friends’ breeding as the years went by, several already on their second pregnancies as I posted Facebook photos of my cats, and slept until noon. A baby was something I had always known I wanted, and I’ve never been good at delayed gratification. By 2012, I was
done waiting.

I would wait, it would turn out, nearly four more years.

My story is one of infertility, like many women’s stories, but also one of illness, of recovery, and of unconditional love. It didn’t begin when I first started trying to conceive, but rather two decades earlier; it doesn’t end happily ever after now that I have my son, though it’s not over yet. What I hope is my story contains a grain of empathy, of understanding, or of optimism for women living a similar narrative.

In 2012, when my husband and I decided to finally start trying for a baby, I underwent an intentionally drastic shift overnight. I quit drinking; I quit smoking pot. I cut out caffeine, so no chocolate and definitely no coffee. I stopped eating deli meat, sushi, unpasteurized cheese, fish with mercury, hollandaise, cookie dough… all the staples. I started working out for the first time in over five years, since the death rattle of my dream to be a professional ballerina had sounded and I’d quit all forms of exercise. I slept more. I ate produce. Essentially, I did what so many women have done before me for the sake of the baby they hope to grow.

However, the eating disorder I’d struggled with for more than 20 years got in the way.

While I was cutting out chocolate, it told me, “Why not cut out all desserts?” While I was eating so healthily, “Why not get on the scale and lose a few pounds?” While I was exercising, “Why not exercise more? Shaking legs, heaving chest, and finally, a sense of accomplishment?”

Of course, I know now eating disorders aren’t about food. Eating disorders are about control, and after years of trauma, an eating disorder became my primary coping mechanism. Other factors — the ballet, perfectionism, undiagnosed mental illness — combined in a perfect storm every few years, as they had for decades, to render me in serious crisis.

As the first few months passed with no blue line on the pregnancy test, I thought I would just need to wait. And while I did, I was losing weight and toning up; it was being reinforced by friends and colleagues, again and again and again, how good I looked. But as more months went by, and I was still waiting, that desperate need for control made its presence known. I started restricting my food intake and exercising compulsively. I was fully aware of the discrepancy between my actions and my desire to get pregnant; however, it was no more a sense of cognitive dissonance than the one I experienced daily looking in the mirror, the body dysmorphia skewing the bony frame I couldn’t see.

It must be said that my frustration in trying to conceive was not the only factor in my descent into the illness. Personal, professional, and existential issues all contributed as well, until I had fallen too far down the slippery slope of symptom-use to climb back up on my own. However, as the child for which I was hoping seemed to retreat in imperceptive increments into the distance, it fueled the self-hatred at the foundation of my anorexia. The more weight I lost, the more I couldn’t have a baby, and the more I couldn’t have a baby, the more weight I lost.

It was in 2013 when my period stopped.

Now I wasn’t just waiting. I was waiting for nothing.

I didn’t need the reproductive endocrinologist I consulted to tell me no menstruation (in this case) equals no baby, but I consulted her anyway. I left in tears. At that point, as my life was spinning out of control, as my relationship was threatened, as my employment was threatened, as my heart muscle was threatened, I put the idea of a family on the shelf, never to be dusted off and revived again.

The rest of that year, I mourned the child I thought I would never have. It was a dark time. Without the light at the end of the tunnel that I believed a baby would bring, I felt I was merely enduring, trudging through life with no discernible goal or purpose. In retrospect, it still felt like waiting, but it was waiting to die.

Then, 2014. My husband, a bastion of strength and love, broke through the cycle. He found me the right therapist, who, with his help, managed to convince me to enter residential treatment. Again, it was waiting. This time, two months’ worth, waiting to resume the life I left, waiting to see my cats, waiting to be discharged. For two months, I participated in group therapy, individual therapy, art therapy, nutrition classes, mindfulness seminars, and cooking preparation. And it helped. It helped.

My period came back.

We were very cautious in discussing our years-ago dream of a family again. However, in a much better place, I found I still had the same desire, the same longing for a child.  And, if anything, I felt stronger in my marriage, more present and with greater wisdom.  We were ready in a way we hadn’t been before. So we started trying again.

And then…

More waiting.

No one could figure out why I wasn’t getting pregnant. There were ovulation sticks and thyroid tests and something unpleasant that involved fallopian tubes and radioactive dye. Finally, I was started on a course of treatment involving pills and shots and far too many internal ultrasounds. It took months, but I was one of the lucky ones. I got pregnant in 2015.

My son was born later that year, and, yes, he is perfect, thank you for noticing. He likes peanut butter and the color blue and “petting” the cat over enthusiastically, and he is everything I hoped he would be. He is worth every second and dollar I spent trying to conceive, and he justifies how long I had to wait.

mom holding baby

The point is, I hadn’t just been waiting to start a family. I’d been waiting to recover, waiting to understand what countless hours of therapy were showing me, waiting for a modicum of self-worth to appear and, just maybe, bloom into something that resembled an actual life. I had, the entire time, been waiting to heal. I was waiting to come into myself, to evolve into the person who is today my son’s mother.

And now? Now we go on living. I still fight the anorexia, daily. Pregnancy did a number on my body, and I am very uncomfortable in my skin at times. If and when we have another (the “if” being my husband’s conjunction of choice, and the “when” being mine), I will have to go through the same process, experience the same physical and mental changes, put up with the same postpartum body twice over. It will not be easy or fun, but that still doesn’t deter me from daydreaming about the future.

So I wait. But while I’m waiting… for, hopefully, a little brother this time… I’m still learning; I’m learning about myself, about my family, and about life. It makes the wait rich; it makes it worthwhile. And that, I believe, is the best kind of waiting.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Originally published: March 31, 2017
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