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How Motherhood Affected My Eating Disorder

Becoming a Mother Pushed Me to Confront My Eating Disorder

Photo of a young mother holding her newborn baby, while sitting in a rocking chair

I remember being in the hospital, sleep deprived and ecstatic, clutching my baby boy and thinking , "Oh my god, I'm in love." This quickly turned into, "Oh my god, what if I mess this perfect human up?!" While many mothers probably have this thought or something with a few more expletives in it, I was particularly scared that my eating disorder would negatively impact my son.

Beginning in college, after a particularly devastating breakup, I stopped eating. Before this break up, I would dive mouth first into a pint of Ben and Jerry's and drown my sorrows in creamy, chocolaty goodness. However, this breakup left me unable to eat. Every time I would put something near my mouth, my stomach would heave. Unsurprisingly, I rapidly lost weight.

The funny thing about that weight loss was that everyone was telling me I looked phenomenal. Girls in my dorm were asking me what diet I was on, my mother congratulated me on my leaner frame, and boys were beginning to take more notice of me. So what if I could barely concentrate? Getting myself to class didn't really matter, I could just study for the final! I'm sorry I can't grab dinner with you, have a meeting, but I'll catch up with you afterward.

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Eventually, I could no longer sustain my starvation. I was tired of being hungry and missing out on pizza and beer with my friends. So, I turned to bulimia. My junior year, I came home for Christmas break when my loving brother said, "What's up, skeletor?" I was mad and slightly proud. How dare he make fun of my appearance? Didn't he know that I was a whale?

The effects of my eating disorder finally caught up with me my senior year of undergrad. I had become increasingly depressed and barely able to get out of bed, which caused me to miss many classes. In particular, I was supposed to volunteer at a school for teenagers detoxing from drugs. I wanted to work with these kids and to help them understand that they were worth teaching by setting a good example. Instead, I rarely made it in to teach, and this resulted in a disciplinary meeting between the rehab school's classroom teacher and my professor. I was put on probation. That was the lowest point in my life. Before my eating disorder, I showed up early to events, I had straight A's, and I went above and beyond with everything that I did. When my professor said the words probation, I knew I needed to change something.

After that day, I began my journey of eating to fuel myself, and exercising to get strong, healthy, and because I genuinely enjoyed moving my body. I sought the help of a counselor and gradually worked through my depression — enough so that I could go to class and pass. I was able to make it all up and graduated that May.

While I would love to say I am fully recovered and have not relapsed, I have had no such luck. For some people, they can eat a meal without desperately needing dessert. Other people can look in the mirror and not criticize what they see. Many people do not step on the scale and base their self-worth off the number that blinks back at them. Unfortunately, I struggle with this every day. I can go months without my bulimia and suddenly have it come screaming back with a vengeance, seemingly out of nowhere.

Two years ago, I found out that I was pregnant with my son. My husband and I were thrilled! That excitement quickly turned to fear. What if my unhealthy relationship with food hurt this little human in my belly? Fraught with worry and shame I kicked my bulimia to the curb (temporarily). I ate when I felt hungry, forgave the pounds I put on as "baby weight," stopped weighing myself, and was completely deluding myself about the magic that was breastfeeding and how the weight would "just fall off." (Spoiler: It didn't.)

Postpartum life found me obsessing about my child sleeping, eating, surviving, and all the fears that come with parenthood. Additionally, I was zeroing in on my appearance and was weighing myself again, eating out of stress, and feeling more and more down. Looking back, I believe I had some postpartum depression. My bulimia had picked herself up off the curb like a zombie and taken up residence in my head, yet again.

My wake-up call came one night when I was home with my son, while my husband was having a well-deserved night out with the guys. I had a particularly stressful day and found myself seeking comfort in the arms of chocolate doughnuts and cookies. Mindlessly, I put this food in my mouth while I watched The Office for the 100th time. I looked down and was shocked that I had eaten 6 donuts and an entire sleeve of cookies. Quickly, I rushed to rid my body of "the enemy." However, my son had a different plan — he needed me. I had a choice to make, put my eating disorder first, or my son. It was a no-brainer. My son came first, and will always come first.

I always hate to say I am recovered because this will probably be a battle I will wage all my life, but finding something more important than my eating disorder helped me work toward a happy medium. When those cruel thoughts start creeping in my head, I have learned to focus on what is good and right in my life. It is hard, and sometimes I am hanging on by a thread, but I know it's worth it. I honestly think that my son saved my life.

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