I was five months into eating disorder recovery when I discovered that I was pregnant. It wasn’t totally unexpected – there was an element of predetermination in our first pregnancy, which I was thankful for. What I didn’t expect, however, was the fact that it happened fast. Faster than I had probably hoped.
I knew I wanted children, I have always wanted them, by whichever avenue they would come. But eating disorder recovery wasn’t simple and having the added element of a growing child on top of hoping that I had eaten enough in a sitting was something that I wasn’t altogether ready for. Pregnancy is a harbour for basically every eating disorder fear. Weight gain is inevitable, expected, and rightfully approached as an imperative component. You are weighed regularly and religiously. Involuntary sickness is common, and all too easy to infringe on the territory of self-induced sickness. What, for some, manifests as morning sickness, can also be experienced as night-sickness, all-day sickness, food-specific sickness, and can – if you have been pre-dispositioned in such a way – loiter dangerously at the edge of eating disorder behaviour.
Your clothes stop fitting the way they did. They become tight where they weren’t before, and even if you don’t body check regularly, you can feel that you’re different. My body was always something that I was able to “pride” myself in having full control over, and pregnancy took that concept and had a field day, disproving everything I had even been able to uphold previously. The changes that pregnancy ignited were not only outside of my control and routine but were specific to me. I had close to no precedent. What one mother would say they experienced regularly, another would say they had never experienced in their life.
With that in mind, pregnancy gave me something that I had never encountered on this scale before, and that was inconsistency. Never have I had such little control. And, in a lot of ways, that was the thing that helped me get from an unstable, uncertain place of recovery into a considerably solid one. Eating disorder recovery for me began early on by eliminating the need to purge, which meant eating portions so small that I could never really get full. This was my recovery for months before getting pregnant. I cut out imperative foods, regulated food groups into columns of “good” and “bad” food; things that I was allowed to eat and things that I forbade.
When I had been pregnant for two months, morning sickness began, and I found myself unable to eat anything that I would have previously considered “good” food. If I wanted to eat, my options were high-carb, high-sugar or high-fat foods, and any need I felt to eat differently was promptly overridden by the ever-present promise of nausea. With all of this out of my control, I put on weight where I hadn’t before, certainly, but the fear that a single meal – or even a month’s worth of meals – would make my body change to the point where I was no longer worth much as a person, diminished. Bodies don’t work that way, and it took me being forced into testing the theory to make me realise that not only was I in no danger of losing my entire identity due to a different body, but that the foods I was eating were delicious. Delicious, filling, and a very practical and efficient way to keep my baby and me alive. Seeing that firsthand allowed me to begin the process of removing certain foods from the appointed roles I had falsely given them.
Over time, the need for specific foods subsided, and I began to incorporate a little more range into my diet, including foods I would once have labelled as “good”, “healthy”, and “allowed”, but my opinion on what they were and why I was eating them had changed. My food became fuel, rather than something that I had to earn. I exercised throughout the first month, for as long as could, and probably too much. By the second month, my energy disappeared, I could no longer find the enthusiasm to exercise, and shockingly, it didn’t kill me. My body did what it is supposed to do with food, perfectly (almost as though it was made for the job).
Stretch marks, loose skin, extra fat, it made sense for them each to appear, and they alarmed me only briefly when they did. They aren’t a punishment; they are simply the result of not only growing a person, but being a person.
I began to find an albeit rocky, touch-and-go level of peace with a changing body. What I found more difficult was the outside narration. I have noticed that motherhood, even pre-motherhood, is an open-fire free-for-all. It opens up an often unwanted commentary by friends, family, and even total strangers that would rarely be appropriate unless the subject in question is pregnant. There are relentless comments regarding your body, your habits, your decisions. Everybody has the new answers to “perfect” pregnancy.
I had thought previously, in earlier stages of recovery, that comments on my changing, growing body during pregnancy would be the most triggering to me. What I discovered was almost the opposite. People see me changing and congratulate me, noting at times how small I am, commenting that you can “barely see a bump”, and I pretend that I don’t want those reactions so badly; that I don’t replay them over and over as reassurance to myself. People say that I shouldn’t worry about weight gain, because my body will “bounce back”, and “all the baby fat just drops when you’re young”, and I hear myself agree with them, as though the degree of importance I place on those very things aren’t exactly what I am trying to dispel from my brain altogether. Statements like these, framed as such positive, congratulatory remarks on what is essentially a “luck-of-the-draw” genetic makeup, are absurd to me, and difficult to hear without seeing them as somehow an achievement on my part. A bone thrown in the direction of my disordered ego.
Words by Jasmine Dunn