The first thing I did after peeing on the stick was to say farewell to my flat stomach.
Well, to be honest, the first thing I did was wait anxiously in a locked public bathroom at work for three minutes while the pregnancy test did its urine algorithms.
When it came back with a bold pregnant in the digital display window, that’s when my thoughts turned to the full-length mirror behind the bathroom door.
I’m certain every expectant mother has experienced the, “My body is going to change and it will never look the same,” thought…but the majority of them were probably able to skip right past it on the way to, “I’m having a baby!”
Unfortunately, however, I’m anorexic. And as exciting as the prospect of bringing a new life into the world may be, my eating disorder has proved itself stronger than such simple pleasures, as illustrated by nearly two decades of hunger.
Eating disorders run rampant in my family, and I have struggled with mine since the earliest days of my childhood. My eight year-old self didn’t understand the desire to be emaciated, the need for control, the desperate attempt to mask pain that my 32 year-old self now understands as the foundation of my anorexia, but she did know that she didn’t want to eat.
Fast forward nearly 25 years, when I found myself being admitted to residential inpatient treatment at an eating disorders clinic. The first in the country, my clinic was, coincidentally, less than 15 minutes from the house I share with my husband and 16 legs worth of animals.
I was lucky. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to travel far for treatment; I was lucky in that I was able to afford treatment; I was lucky that I had lived long enough to make it there. Meeting women from across the country, women with heart problems and bone problems and reproductive problems, demonstrated that with painful clarity.
Above all else, however, I was lucky in that it seemed to work. I was successfully weight restored and returned to my house and pets after a long eight weeks of therapeutic processes. That was last March, and since then, it’s been a constant battle to keep the weight on, to stick to the meal plan, to avoid exercising to near-exhaustion…and it’s a battle I believe I am winning.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not “cured.” If anything, my anorexia is currently in remission, lurking below the surface, eagerly waiting for its opportunity to spring forth and rule my life once again: An opportunity in the form of work stress, relationship trouble, biochemical imbalance or something as simple as putting on a few pounds and no longer fitting into my skinny jeans. Or…a major life change, perhaps?
I spent weeks in residential treatment finding motivation to recover; coincidentally enough, one of those reasons was to finally have a baby with my husband. We had been trying for two years by the time I hit rock bottom and entered treatment, and at the time I found myself standing in front of the admissions desk, I had essentially given up the prospect. Nevertheless, I focused on my theoretical child, the child waiting for me, the child I would first need a nourished body to support.
From my discharge date until recently, in an effort to avoid crushing disappointment, I didn’t even give myself permission to think that conception might happen. I tracked my ovulation cycle and I took folic acid, but they seemed like futile gestures…like I was simply going through the motions of trying to get pregnant. I convinced myself—perhaps too well—that it was probably a pipe dream. I figured I would settle on another cat.
Fast forward again, to last month in the bathroom stall.
Does it make me a terrible pre-mother to admit that—for the briefest of seconds—I wished that the test was negative? That I could still cling to the safety of a flat stomach and narrow hips? That nothing would have to change?
As I write this, that second has passed, and I am well on my way to embracing the exciting journey stretching out before me. We’ve tossed around potential names; I’ve ordered a Baby Bjorn from Amazon and I’ve even accepted that I will gain weight.
What if I resent my baby? What if I don’t get my body back? What if the pregnancy, early parenthood and everything that goes along with it: hormonal changes, postpartum depression, sleep deprivation…knocks my anorexia back out of remission?
I don’t feel guilty for having these questions; if anything, treatment has taught me to be gentle with myself, to forgive myself, to lower my harsh standards and regard myself with the compassion I extend to other people. However, I cannot ignore their existence, and I have only seven and a half months to be prepared with answers.
So we move forward, with love, with mindfulness, with self-care and an eye on the future.
The father of my child is my rock, a bastion of support and love who refuses to waver, even as the voices in my eating-disordered thoughts scream in fear at my expanding waistline. My cats and dog offer unconditional adoration, despite my proclivity for picking them up awkwardly around the middle. I have an amazing therapist, a net of female relatives already bestowing invaluable pregnancy advice upon me and a cadre of soul sisters I met in treatment who will refuse to let me give up in my fight to be the best incubator I can be.
I am petrified, to be perfectly honest, but I also think that qualifies me as a better mother than I would have been before I started this passage. One thing I know for certain: If my baby, gender aside, ever finds itself in a similar place as I was at my lowest, it will not be alone. It will have me to understand, to listen, to assist in a way that perhaps someone who hasn’t had an eating disorder would never be able to do. Maybe my former abject misery and suffering were not for nothing, after all; maybe it was all intended to bring me here, on the verge of motherhood, with nothing but absolute empathy.
Author: Shannon Frost Greenstein
Editor: Travis May