Eating For Who?
I am 26 weeks pregnant. I have also suffered from an eating disorder for 13 years. These are two things which are part of my identity and which now are sadly and painfully intertwined.
To look at me, you wouldn’t know that I have hurt my body for this period of time, that I have binged, purged and hated, to varying degrees since my teenagers years. I am a fit and healthy looking size 12-14 (not that I need to justify that) but I have varied from a 10-22 and the idea of being pregnant has always terrified me.
My mum always told me that the reason she was fat really started after she was pregnant. To rationalize I don’t think that’s true and as a 30-year old, I know that its internal motivation, both healthy and not, which is likely to affect my weight, rather than pregnancy in itself. Nonetheless, when I finally went to counseling, two years ago, and she asked my motivation, I said, I am terrified of being pregnant, and I don’t want my children to have the painful, hateful relationship that I have with food. She comforted me and said that most women who experience eating disorders feel better in their bodies during pregnancy, it’s growing life, it’s a gift.
This pregnancy is a total gift. Every kick, move, and flutter fills my heart with so much happiness I could burst. My pregnancy has been straightforward and I have been totally blessed. No sickness, some tiredness but I have kept moving up to now, I cannot wait to meet my son. In a landscape of friends who have struggled before, during and after pregnancy I constantly feel the need to say how lucky I am. At the same time, it hurts to say that it’s also one of the hardest things I have ever experienced.
The hormones. The self-hatred and complete lack of resilience. Binge eating my emotions, then feeling guilt twice over that I hurt me and him when I bring the food back up. That I need to eat well, but not too much, because I am not eating for two as everyone tells me, and that even though my body is physically telling me to eat more, doing so racks me with guilt, that it’s Haribo or milky buttons and it’s not dates or oranges. At my 12 week scan the midwife, having read my notes told me to watch what I was eating because my BMI was creeping up and nearing 30, even though during the pregnancy I had put on 2 pounds. When I said that I knew I was eating more but I was trying to compensate with walking and light weights, she told me I was exercising too much. When I said that I was acutely conscious of my eating, having suffered from an eating disorder, she simply replied ‘so how is that going’. Needless to say, I wasn’t open to discussion.
The weight gain is hard. I don’t know what I should or shouldn’t weigh but it doesn’t stop me weighing and criticising myself anyway. From about 6 weeks in I have repeatedly asked my husband whether I look pregnant or not, to the point where he refused to answer for fear of getting it wrong. I cried at my 16-week appointment because I felt like I looked so fat. My midwife was fantastically supportive. Now I look definitely pregnant which I was so excited about, so looked forward to, but it’s being slowly destroyed by people telling me just how big I am, what a big baby I must be having. I am rational at times – I know in reality that they’re being nice, by telling me I look ‘swell’ or that he will ‘come out a good size’ that they aren’t telling me, at least intentionally, that I look fat. But for someone so scared about losing control, it tears me to shreds. The bingeing is getting worse, days on and off, and I feel like I am hurting him. This being that I so love and so want and is part of me, and I am hurting him. The guilt is overwhelming.
Exercise is my haven and having spent a LOT of time thinking about whether I exercise to a healthy degree or not, I have come to the conclusion that I do, it gives me sanity and makes me feel more in control. But I am having to slowly give in to my limitations, and I fear the day that all I have is steps, and swimming. I will keep doing it for me, and for us but my control is slipping. A very good friend of me rightly said, at some point, you have to give in to being pregnant, not to stop completely, but remember that you’re limited with good reason. That is a hard battle to fight.
My fear now is the aftermath, for me and my son.
For me, the fear of complete and utter loss of control, of not being able to regain myself, my weight, and never being able to be content with who I see. For him, I fear what every mother I think fears, that you can’t protect them from the world and from my own inadequacies and insecurities and my toxic relationship with food. Philip Larkin wrote ‘They f*ck you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do, they fill you with the faults they had, then add some extra just for you’. How do I teach my son health, wellbeing and balance? How do I protect him from eating his emotions, from hurting his body and his mind? I fear for both of us if I and he get it wrong because this gremlin has been unshakeable for me. My beautiful boy, I hope I can get it right for you