Anorexic and Pregnant
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa over a decade ago. Blinded by the eating disorder to the damage that was occurring both internally and externally, the possibility of infertility did not occur to me. When I married at 21, my husband and I both dreamed of one day becoming parents and I lived in this optimism for some time. However, after my periods stopped for 7 years, I began to doubt if being a mother would ever be my reality.
As an eating disorder patient, I had been regularly informed of the risk factors of my illness, some of which included amenorrhoea, the absence of menstruation, and a high chance of infertility. However, at the time, pregnancy seemed a far-off ambition, infertility was not visible, it was hidden away, and I was far more concerned and wrapped up with the lure of the eating disorder for this to motivate me into recovery.
By the age of 27, years out of treatment and at what is considered a “healthy” BMI, my periods still had not returned. I was frustrated and wanted some evidence of my hard work. Despite continued perseverance, I decided to seek medical treatment and visited my GP. I was faced with once again the low probability of becoming pregnant due to my history, and if I did become pregnant, the exhaustive list of complications, such as the high rate of miscarriage, preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction, labor complications and low birth weight. I was consoled with the possible options of IVF and adoption, yet still yearned for a natural birth.
Months passed and hope faded. I felt as if I was constantly being encountered with pregnant women, and news of my pregnant friends and family would be tinged with both joy and sadness. However, in November 2019, I began to feel unwell — an upset tummy, I thought, or perhaps gastric flu. When I sent a text my mum one evening that I couldn’t bear the smell of coffee — amongst others — she responded with: Is there a chance you could be pregnant? My husband and I laughed in response: Surely, I could not be pregnant? However, much to our surprise and absolute joy, I discovered I was indeed pregnant. It was a true miracle — confirmed by 7 pregnancy tests (just to be sure)!
Pregnancy has been transformational both physically and mentally, for once in my life I have felt hungry, eaten according to my desires and pregnancy cravings and revelled in the joy of feeling like a woman, with curves, bigger breasts and a body, which has conceived a child.
Yet, there have of course been challenges along the way. Despite reassuring myself I am nourishing my baby, there is a tug of war between the desire to eat healthily and the eating disorder voice, provoking body image concerns and feeling out of control at my rapidly changing body. Anorexia is ultimately a quest for control, but pregnancy is the most uncontrollable experience.
Stripped of my typical coping eating disorder strategies I have struggled to manage my emotions and hormones, and ultimately pregnancy has been a survival as I count down the weeks. However, I have been encouraged and supported with outstanding personalized care from my midwife and consultant, who have treated me in a non-judgmental manner and my network of amazing friends and family. With this support and the overwhelming desire to nurture the miracle of life growing inside me, I am able to view my body in a new and positive context — healthy, strong and capable. I have started to fall in love with my changing shape and feel a swell of proud of every time I touch my growing abdomen.
I remember the hours scouring the internet for hope that pregnancy could be a possibility for me and was faced with either a dearth of information or harrowing articles. I want to reassure women who are battling or recovering from an eating disorder that they do not have to be defined by statistics or prognoses, that there is hope and freedom from eating disorders, and pregnancy is possible.
Some helpful resources for more information include:
Dark, E. (2020). Anorexic and Pregnant. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/anorexic-and-pregnant/