When You’re Pregnant and Recovering From an Eating Disorder
Vulnerability has never been my strong suit.
It wasn't until I sat in a group session on a rainy Wednesday afternoon at Eating Recovery Center in Greenville, S.C. that I began my journey with vulnerability.
“I am disturbed with this aching feeling. I feel as if I can never get close to people. I am stuck on a surface level type of relationship with everyone I meet, and I can't get close to anyone or even myself."
A friend of mine, who was sitting across from me, looked at me and said, "it's because you're not being you, you're being a clean version of yourself. Be messy, Emily."
Since that moment two years ago, I have dug deep into vulnerability — letting people into the good, the bad, the ugly, and the truth of eating disorder treatment and recovery.
But let it be known that with vulnerability comes a responsibility to create boundaries, be real with one’s self, and speak on what matters most to you.
The things that mattered most to me at the start of my recovery journey were the driving forces that supported my recovery, created hope for a life past anorexia nervosa, and a second chance at a life I knew was worth living.
When I reflect on these "driving forces" that help me battle every day, I think of my biggest one; the opportunity to have children.
Since a young age, it was a dream of mine to be a mother. More than a dream actually; it was a longing. I watched my mom raise five children and knew that was the kind of future I not only wanted but needed.
There was a time in my life where my eating disorder had taken everything from me including my friends, my family, and my fertility.
In 2016, I started therapy facing my eating disorder for the first time, terrified, and not knowing what my next step was (not even knowing I had a next step). It was a Tuesday morning that I walked in my therapist's office as I did every week, sat down, and heard the words I never thought I would hear.
"Emily, you are on the road to infertility, if you are not already infertile."
I can still remember those words to this day as they shook me to my core. My eating disorder had already taken away everything from me, but now was taking the one thing I had always wanted. I couldn't fathom not having the chance to hold a baby in my belly. The chance to hold my baby as he or she cried. The chance to hear my child say, "mama" for the first time. I began to cry in my session asking if recovery could make the infertility reversible. "The chance is slim. I hate to say that, but you are living in the reality of an eating disorder. The only way out is through recovery." The truth was, she was right. The only way to get a chance at life, hope, and having kids was with recovery.
I’ve gone through years of recovery, and I am now sitting in 2019 pregnant with my first born. I can't explain the joy I experience every day knowing that recovery helped me not only listen to my body but trust it. Now, words make that sound easy, simple, and able to accomplish. But if you are a recovery warrior you know the reality is that "recovery is not linear."
When I found out I was pregnant, holding the positive pregnancy test, so many thoughts flooded my head. The loudest one was:
What is my eating disorder going to think?
My experience of being pregnant while in recovery has been an emotional one while feeling every emotion to the fullest degree (thanks hormones!). I have to remind myself the same thing I learned in recovery; grace, freedom, and the power of "and."
Grace — Feeling shame comes with a deepness that only grace can relieve. When I begin to feel shame over food, I have to remind myself of the same grace I gave myself while in treatment.
Freedom — Freedom follows behind that grace gently whispering, "you are allowed to nourish your body in the way it needs."
The power of “and” — My favorite power tool against that nasty, manipulative eating disorder voice is the power of "and." I remember the morning I looked in the mirror and noticed my first stretch marks. I began to quietly cry as I could feel my ED voice gearing up to attack. I then said out loud, "I am feeling sad and I also know my truth." That truth being that my beauty and character was not measured by what my ED voice said to me. I knew it was a liar. You know yours is, too.
I am in my last month of pregnancy and guys, I have a lot of feelings over it. (Again, it could just be the hormones). But I have learned a lot, and I want to dig deeper into my vulnerability by sharing some of what I have learned with you.
On being pregnant and recovering from an eating disorder
1. Ditch the Scale!
Scary, huh? A scale can become a sanctuary and even an obsession when fighting your eating disorder. The best way to cut your ties with your scale is to ditch it. Throw it out, donate it, run it over with your car. Do whatever it takes to get rid of it. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, ask the nurse at your OB appointment to step on the scale backwards and to hide your weight on any information you receive. Your eating disorder may not like it, but it will be one of the biggest, if not the largest, accomplishments in your recovery journey.
2. Delete Old Pictures
That doesn't mean every old photo...You know which ones I'm talking about. The picture or two of you in the prime of your eating disorder. In the time that it had convinced you that death looked prettier on you than life. It is time to delete them, sister or brother. Hell, delete all of social media. The stigma of "perfect motherhood" is a complete lie. This is the time to work on telling yourself that, so your eating disorder doesn't have the opportunity to.
3. Be Aware of Body Temperatures
This one took me by surprise. Anemia and I had become close friends during my sickest years and the result were cold hands and feet. Adjusting to hormones and body temperature changes can be a weird feeling. Be aware and know there is strong power in a bath!
4. Keep Seeking Therapy
If you are currently pregnant, know you are being heard. Your eating disorder may try to steal the joy of carrying a child, but you are smarter (and stronger) than the voice. Remind it that you make the rules and it has no space in your beautiful thoughts. Speak your truth and scream it to the lies, even on the days where you feel there is no end.
If you are expecting to have a child — soon or in the future, take some time today to rest your mind, soul, and body. Know that every bite you eat is nourishing a child that is going to come into this world and help make it a better place to live. If nothing else, please believe me when I say you, recovery warrior, are doing a beautiful job.
Related Reading & Listening:
Listen to ERC Mental Note Podcast Episodes:
- Smashing Scales - McCall Turns the Tables on Weight Loss at Any Cost
- Baby Body? Pregnancy and Body Image with Lauren Hill
Read the ERC Blog: