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Pregnancy, Postpartum and Motherhood after Anorexia - Bethany's story

I started suffering from anorexia when I was really young, before I even understood what it was or frankly what was happening to me. My journey was very up & down, partly because I was never fully aware of the deep-rooted hold my anorexia had taken on me. As I entered adulthood, I had no awareness that every action of my existence was dictated by my eating disorder. It wasn’t until I became very ill again, at the age of 23/24, that I finally started to untangle myself from the anorexia that had embedded itself so deeply into my brain. This was only made possible because of the fantastic clinic I was being treated by, and the therapists & dieticians I worked with during that time.

However, at this point in my life I WANTED to recover, which is the opposite to how I felt when I was a child/teen. I was engaged to be married, and my lifelong dream of becoming a mummy was possibly only a few short years or less away. I had a job in a career that I loved; I owned my own home… basically on paper I had the perfect life… and then my anorexia took over. When I say I had no control over it, I really mean it. I remember being terrified because I wanted to stop, I didn’t want to be ill, but I felt I had lost all power or ability to stop it. What is so ironic is that for a lot of people – myself included – anorexia is often about control, and yet I have never felt so out of control in my life than I did when I was ill. My periods stopped and this terrified me because all I had ever wanted was to have babies. I could feel everything I loved about my life slipping away in an instant. I was referred to a clinic where I worked incredibly hard at my recovery. Holding on to my dream of getting married, having a beautiful wedding, and one day starting a family was what got me through my recovery.

Then (and I’m skipping a lot here – perhaps a story for another post!) a few years after my recovery came pregnancy! Something I had dreamed about for as long as I can remember, and despite the relentless sickness, I truly loved being pregnant.

But pregnancy after an eating disorder is tough. There are the obvious things, such as your body changing/growing, but then there are the less obvious things. There is the expectation that you will gain weight, which after anorexia (even recovered) is really, really hard. You know it’s coming, and you know you can’t do much about it, and even though you know it’s what your body is meant to do, it is still scary & overwhelming at times. Then there are the stories glorifying those people who never even looked pregnant and didn’t gain any weight, as if that is something to be adored, which I found really tough. Like that was the ultimate pregnancy, being pregnant and not gaining weight! How unrealistic, because absolutely everyone gains weight (and absolutely should gain weight for a healthy pregnancy, birth, and baby!). Then there are the relentless comments about your appearance… How big your bump is or isn’t… How you look glowing or tired or radiant or, pregnant! … and the ‘eating for two’ remarks when, once upon a time, eating for one was hard enough. And no-one ever means anything by it. People would probably be horrified to learn how damaging these (mostly) well-intended comments can be. I was lucky enough to be so thankful & grateful to be pregnant that I let these comments wash over me without much effect.

I did, however, find postpartum the hardest of all. From an appearance point of view, naturally, because my body was recovering from growing a whole human! But for me it ran deeper than that. Postpartum with your first baby is a whirlwind. It’s magical, it’s daunting, it’s the most joy you’ve ever experienced mixed with crazy anxiety and bouts of huge sadness (often for nothing in particular). And if – like me – during times of stress or uncertainty, your eating disorder has always been your crutch, where is it that you turn?

You could, of course, let your eating disorder creep in again. That would be the easy option, and truthfully at times the most appealing one. Anorexia is, at the end of the day, an addiction and with addiction comes a numbing of pain when you give in to whatever it is you’re addicted to. But the braver, harder, and more empowering option is to face motherhood head on and say no to letting your anorexia back in. Say no to passing on your habits & insecurities to your daughter. Say no to only living half alive for the next few years. Say no to letting your eating disorder rob anymore from you than it already has.

I had waited my whole life to be a mother, and it was a scary uncertain journey to get here, so there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to waste a second of it being consumed by even the hint of an eating disorder. I want to live fully, and I want to experience motherhood in all its fullness. But most of all I want to be the best mummy to my baby girl that I can be and give her an enriched life free from fearing food or holding herself back. I can’t do those things if I use my anorexia as a coping mechanism anymore.

So, I reach within, and I take care of myself. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. And every time I look at my daughter and her bright, beautiful face, I know that there’s nothing in this world I won’t do, nothing I won’t overcome, to give her the mummy she deserves.

Contributed by Bethany

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