Part four: The birth (of a new me)
What it was really like for me to fall pregnant, deal with my body changing and then have a baby while recovering from an eating disorder
Along with my eating disorder diagnosis, I was also told I was afflicted by the rather catchily-titled Acute Body Dysmorphic disorder. In a nutshell, what I saw when I looked at myself was distorted. Even at a bit under seven stone what I saw may as well have been morbidly obese.
Once I’d got to the stage where I no longer felt like I was in the permanent, unending grip of my illness, and my body began to return to normal – whatever that means – we decided to try to have a baby.
This in itself was a massive step; I’d been adamant that I would never pass on my crazy. As I’ve said before, I had so much to live for. Getting better was for my many incredible relationships (my marriage, especially), for my army of family and friends and for our hypothetical child.
But how I saw myself hadn’t changed. I still loathed my reflection. So I was petrified of how I’d respond to becoming pregnant and my body expanding. I read stories and chatted online to women who said they found being pregnant freed them from their eating issues because their bodies were nurturing a life. I hoped against hope that would be how I felt.
It didn’t happen straight away, but when I found out I was pregnant we were over the moon. We weren’t sure we’d be lucky enough.
I used all the tools I’d picked up since my recovery began in all the books, online research and forum chats and from my psychotherapist during my CBT. The pivotal message to myself was this: behave like the person you want to be. Behave like the person you want to be.
As hard as I tried to gag it though, I couldn’t escape that my brain still had those dark thoughts.
On many days I could ignore them, which made me feel amazing. I ate well. I nourished that tiny baby. I trained twice a week with a PT and together we designed an appropriate exercise programme I could follow to prepare my body for the later stages of pregnancy and labour.
But I also trained at least two or three more times a week in the gym or at home by myself. I was overcompensating because of how hungry I was. I was starving, permanently. An insatiable hunger that needed all the carbs. There’s no way to escape the fact that I exercised compulsively while I was pregnant, as much as I’m ashamed to admit it.
I knew I had to reign it in, but I was terrified that if I didn’t offset the extra food with exercise that I’d go the other way and revert to starving myself again. I knew that option was far worse, so this was how I managed the situation. It was far from perfect, but it was how I dealt with it at the time.
On the days I didn’t eat enough (and on a very few occasions made myself sick) I hated myself. I dismissed myself as a terrible, unfit mum who obviously didn’t love the unborn baby inside me enough to be resolute about being healthy for him, if not for myself.
I was so cruel to myself, especially on those days. Why wasn’t that precious life inside me enough to make me forget all of this and focus on what was best for him?
Because it’s impossible to reason your way out of a mental illness, that’s why.
We’ll never know why he was premature, but I’ll never stop wondering whether I had something to do with it. That’s guilt I’ll carry forever. Did I somehow cause his sensory issues? Have I given him the struggles he has? As pointless as it is, there will always be a part of me that tortures myself because I don’t know the answer. I hope not. I hope that the way I fought to be healthy while I was pregnant was enough for him. Because that precious child deserves the world.
I hated myself at the time for not being able to be miraculously fixed for this unborn baby. But I don’t any more. I’ll always feel the guilt, yes. But that’s just part and parcel of being a mother, isn’t it? I’ve forgiven myself for the fact that I wasn’t able to suddenly ‘snap out of it’ and be 100% healthy while I was pregnant. I did the best I could.
I can swear that all the way through. I did my best, every day. And that’s why I’m here now, writing this.
It turned out that beautiful baby, along with his heroic daddy, would save my life. He fixed what was broken and gifted me a life free from the confines of the life that came before it.
Tim saved my life more times than I could count. He showed me that love has no bounds. He protected me, challenged me, persevered with me, cried with me, and loved me when I was unlovable.
Xav changed everything when he was born. Suddenly I understood how I fitted in to the universe, and that overtook everything else. I was finally better. For real. I was happy. I know I’ll never be completely free of my illness, but I also know that back then, before he was born, I had absolutely no idea how incredible it would feel. I didn’t dare to believe – or even hope, if I’m honest – that it could be possible to feel so free and alive.