health

"I was living inside the prison of my own mind." Surviving pregnancy with an eating disorder.

This post deals with eating disorders and might be triggering for some readers.

Pregnancy is difficult but going through pregnancy with an eating disorder is more difficult than I ever imagined. Your body goes through so many huge changes.

Your physical appearance changes dramatically in terms of your body shape, and for some reason, although at no other point in time is it acceptable, people feel they have the right to comment on all these changes when you are pregnant. These comments are not always easy to hear when your hormone levels are going crazy and even more difficult when you are experiencing an eating disorder and are already living inside the prison of your own mind, scrutinising every single change in your appearance.

Things pregnant people NEVER say. Post continues below.

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I was first diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at 12 years of age after the diet I was on became an obsession and eventually got out of control. After years of seeing different doctors and psychologists, at the age of 24 when I fell pregnant with my first child, I was finally managing my eating disorder and was maintaining a healthy weight.

I remember my doctor asking how I would feel when I started putting on weight and I assured him I would be fine. I truly believed this because I had always wanted to be a mother and I would be getting bigger and heavier due only to my growing baby. Unfortunately, I had an extremely difficult pregnancy as I suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness that lasts all day, everyday with no respite) and did not start putting on any weight until about 20 weeks.

As the scales started going up the eating disorder came storming back quickly and intensely. Throughout the remainder of my pregnancy, I was able to maintain a healthy weight because my baby’s health was my absolute priority. The thoughts, however, I couldn’t stop them rolling in.

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Waiting for the arrival of my firstborn child should have been one of the most exciting times of my life but instead, it was filled with consuming and irrational thoughts. I hated my body and compared myself to every single pregnant woman around me.

The eating disorder, of course, made me think that I was always bigger than them. My stomach was bigger, my arms were bigger, my legs were bigger, and my face was puffier. I scrutinised and hated every single part of my body.

It was a living nightmare that I didn’t share with anyone. I was anxious all the time and consumed with thoughts and fears about what I would look like after I gave birth. I was hopeful that my stomach would magically go back to its pre-baby weight immediately and when this didn’t happen it pushed me further into the clutches of my eating disorder. I began eating disorder behaviour right after giving birth.

Finally, when my firstborn was 11 months old, I was faced with the possibility of being put into hospital. It was at this time I knew I had to do something. The reality hit me that if I didn’t do something to change my situation then my eating disorder was going to result in either my death or a lifetime of my children watching their mother hate herself and her body.

This was not an option for me. I was not going to leave my child motherless and I certainly wasn’t going to pass these disordered thoughts and behaviours onto my children. The cycle had to stop with me and so I made the decision to attend a six week day program with the State Wide Eating Disorder Service in my home town of Adelaide to kick off my recovery. It was the hardest but most important decision I have made in my life.

Throughout my second pregnancy, I still had to work hard to keep the eating disordered thoughts at bay but the experience was so much nicer. I was honest with my thoughts and feelings and had a strong support network around me which included medical professionals and family. As well as having the necessary support in place the second time around I also did not set myself up to fail with any unrealistic weight or body shape goals during or after birth and I gave my body the time it needed to heal.

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I have learnt there is absolutely no shame in reaching out for support and asking for help. It is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your baby.

The best advice I can give you is to get a strong support network around you as soon as you decide you want to start trying for a family. Whether or not you are already experiencing an eating disorder or have done in the past, pregnancy is, as I have mentioned, an extremely triggering time. It is important to be very aware of your thoughts and behaviours and be open and honest with your loved ones and your prenatal health provider.

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To anyone going through this experience now as a someone experiencing an eating disorder or a carer, take each day one at a time. Pregnancy and parenthood can already be a difficult time physically, emotionally and psychologically so reach out for the help you need and don’t put unrealistic expectations onto yourself.

Think about how your words and your actions will affect your children in the future and what you will teach them on how to feel about their own bodies and self-worth. Think about how you would want your daughter or future daughter in law to feel about themselves during pregnancy. Give yourself the same respect and love that you would want for the important women in your life.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Feature Image: Getty. The feature image used is a stock image.

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