I stared at the words printed across the test and thought, how could I possibly be pregnant?
For a moment, I was convinced it must be wrong. Perhaps it was inaccurate? But I did another one, and then another, and still the same result.
I pulled myself off the bathroom floor and hovered in the sitting room doorway looking at my husband. ‘I think I am pregnant’, the words stumbled out of my mouth.
He stared back at me, just as shocked as I was. Neither of us were entirely sure how this was possible when – only a few months before – the doctor had made it clear we might struggle to conceive because of my hormone levels.
Immediately, my mind was flooded with thoughts about my recovery from anorexia. My eating disorder had numbed so many emotions, and in that moment, my anorexia tried to use this uncertainty to pull me back.
Was I ready to take on this challenge? How would things change? My body? Exercise? My recovery? I was honestly so afraid that it would cause a relapse.
I wasn’t ready for this.
I was 13 years old when anorexia first came into my life, following sexual abuse.
Anorexia offered me some sort of escape – telling me what to eat, drink and how much exercise I should be doing. At the time, I didn’t realise that what I was doing was dangerous and not actually going to help anything.
Over the next four years, anorexia became my everything. The more I listened to it, the better I seemingly felt about everything going on around me.
At the age of 16, I was diagnosed officially with anorexia at CAMHS and stayed there for six months as an outpatient. During this time, my brain just wasn’t able to accept that anything was wrong with me – I was in this constant denial about having an eating disorder.
That’s why – a year later – I was admitted to a mental health hospital.
At the time, I was so angry at everyone around me – I felt like I had been completely let down and that no one understood. I didn’t think I needed to be there at all.
Over the next year, I had to keep working hard on my recovery. It was relentless, and there were moments where I thought I would never be well.
But even after a year of being in hospital – which literally saved my life – I knew that I had a lot of work that still needed to be done.
I lost my period when I was aged 15, and while I was convinced it had come back when I was 17, I am still not sure it did because I went on the contraceptive pill, which can give you a withdrawal bleed.
As I begun my road to recovery, I was desperate to get my period back because I so longed to have children one day. I was afraid this would never be possible, and even as I began that road to recovery, I still felt afraid of what was on the other side.
Over the next 14 years, I continued on this journey – challenging behaviours and pushing for that full recovery. I am not quite there yet with being fully recovered, but over the last few years, I have been facing my fear of foods, behaviours and understanding the eating disorder so much more.
One of the driving factors that kept me going through my recovery was focussing on my motivations, telling myself that on the other side of fear there was this wonderful opportunity laying ahead of me to really live life.
While having kids wasn’t necessarily the pinnacle of all of these factors – and certainly nothing I planned to do soon – it was something that motivated me to stay well.
I needed to be OK with growing a baby inside of me, eating more and navigating pregnancy changes.
So on that Wednesday morning in November – as I was staring at the pregnancy test – I was excited but afraid.
It was hugely unexpected and felt like a total miracle that I was even able to have a baby given my history.
While pregnancy is a challenging time for many, when you throw an eating disorder into the mix, it adds a whole other complicated layer.
From navigating the foods you can and can’t eat in pregnancy – where you have to check in with yourself that you are avoiding foods for the right reasons – to sitting with emotions that you have previously numbed through eating disorder behaviours.
Then there are the additional risks in pregnancy, with women with anorexia tending to have smaller babies, higher chances of birth complications and slower foetal growth, as well as to the changes to your body, or the tiredness stopping you doing things.
I would be lying if I told you it had been plain sailing. There were moments when I wasn’t sure I could keep going and moments when things felt innately tough.
Like when I was lying awake in the middle of the night ruminating over what was happening, worrying that my bump wasn’t coming up the way a bump ‘should’ look. Would I be judged if it looked a certain way?
The strong feelings I had around my bump and feeling bad in my body was the eating disorder doing its absolute best to pull me back in.
Alongside all of this, I felt guilty that I was finding this harder than I thought I would.
Pregnancy can feel isolating and scary. When it doesn’t happen easily, we are left with the feelings that we are failing.
On top of this, for some reason, pregnancy seems to give people this apparent free reign to comment on your body and your appearance. This is something that I am sure is triggering for so many.
But when you have an eating disorder and your bump is constantly getting commented on, there is once again a heightened fear around what people are really thinking.
So much of the general messaging we see about weight change during pregnancy and weight loss afterwards has the damaging potential to normalise eating disorders, or an obsession with weight. It is this messaging that can often make us feel an even more intense feeling of guilt if we are going against the crowd.
For me, my pregnancy began to become like a juggling act of managing my own recovery, trying to give the best start in life to my baby and this huge pressure. As my pregnancy progressed and I got more tired, I was unable to move as much, I had to eat more and I had to battle harder to listen to my body.
I have been very lucky to be under a consultant the whole time, and have received additional support from a dietician and be on a pathway where I get extra scans because of the added risks.
With this support, I knew what I had to do to stay well, I knew the importance of communication and of focusing on the baby and its health.
The baby has struggled with its growth, but I have managed to use this as a driving factor to work even harder. It doesn’t mean that the fear has completely gone, but I have learnt how to navigate it.
For me, this has involved doing therapy, but also keeping my head in the game.
It has been a whirlwind time so far, and – as my third trimester continues – there are still fears about what happens after.
For so much of my pregnancy, I have felt guilty and ashamed. I have felt embarrassed and afraid of judgement when things have been hard. But what I know is that while nothing can set anyone up for these emotions in pregnancy, there are things we can do to manage, survive and perhaps even thrive in these spaces.
From speaking up and being honest with those around us, setting boundaries, knowing what things trigger the eating disorder behaviours, and reminding ourselves of all the reasons we want to recover fully.
The reality is being pregnant with an eating disorder can feel like a minefield.
Struggling with these things does not make me a bad mum, it’s simply part of my story.
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