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My Eating Disorder Came Back After My Baby Was Born

Eating disorders during pregnancy are rarely discussed at OB appointments, but they?€?re not uncommon (a 2014 Norwegian review of studies surrounding women and eating disorders found that eating disorders in pregnancy are ?€?relatively common?€? and may cause health risks for both mother and baby; some experts hypothesize one in twenty women suffer an eating disorder while pregnant). Bottom line: They should definitely be a topic of conversation between patients and health care providers, especially if a pregnant person has a history of disordered eating. ?€?For women who have struggled with eating disorders in the past, a pregnancy is a time when special attention should be paid to their psychological wellbeing and physical health. Seeking support during this time may be wise,?€? says Ovidio Bermudez, MD, a psychiatrist and Chief Clinical Officer at Eating Recovery Center , an eating disorder treatment center in Denver, CO.

And the postpartum period is one where a new parent can be equally vulnerable: Stress, exhaustion, and pressure to bounce back to a pre-baby weight can all exacerbate disordered eating behavior, even if the person hasn?€?t exhibited symptoms in years. But what?€?s particularly worrisome, says Bermudez, is the fact that many moms may hide their eating disorder because they?€?re ashamed. ?€?A woman may feel like she?€?s not a good mom because she?€?s struggling, when it?€?s an illness, it?€?s something bigger than her and has nothing to do with her self-control or her parenting skills,?€? says Bermudez. That?€?s why it?€?s crucial to get help from an expert. If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text ?€?NEDA?€? to 741741.

Here, writer Anna Davies shares how disordered eating became an issue when her daughter was six months old.

I walked into the elevator of the office building of my new job, bracing myself for comments and hoping my put-together outfit ?€‘± sleek black dress, chunky gold necklace and four-inch heels ?€‘± would distract from the bruise blooming around my black eye.

But I could tell, from the sidelong glances given to me by other people in the elevator, that it hadn?€?t. By the time I got to my desk, I?€?d crafted a story.

?€?Lucy kicked me in bed,?€? I said, referencing my seven-month-old daughter. My coworkers laughed ?€‘± I worked at a company that made baby products, there were plenty of other parents on staff: They got it.

It wasn?€?t the truth. The truth is, I had given the black eye to myself. I had made myself throw up that morning, and the force of the vomiting had caused blood vessels in my eyelids to rupture. I learned that from the ophthalmologist I visited the next day, who had asked me if I?€?d recently had a bout of the flu. I lied and said yes.

But I knew my eye was the least of my problems. I was anxious and stressed and exhausted as a single new mom, and, to cope, I?€?d been purging in the bathroom. I would do it while my daughter was in her crib, running the shower so she couldn?€?t hear. I felt guilty doing it as a parent ?€‘± after all, the last thing I wanted was to model disordered eating for my daughter as she grew older ?€‘± but I couldn?€?t stop.

I had been dealing with disordered eating since I was in my late teens, and by my twenties I was purging multiple times a week. I tried seeing a few therapists, but none were the right fit, and I was surprised at the lack of knowledge that some of the therapists I confided in seemed to have about disordered eating patterns (one told me it ?€?wasn?€?t like I was that skinny, anyway,?€? and another tried to psychoanalyze my purging patterns, convinced it had something to do with my relationship with my mother.) I tried to manage my disordered eating on my own, and by the time I was 28 and training for a marathon, I stopped completely because I was afraid of the ramifications purging, combined with heavy exercise, would have on my body. As I became more interested in training for different races and trying workout challenges, I began to develop a more positive relationship with my body. By the time I was thirty, I was convinced that my purging days were behind me.

And then I got pregnant. I was worried that my disordered eating might become a problem as my body changed, and I tried to bring up the topic with my OB. On the first office visit, I told her I didn?€?t want to see my weight. While she was okay with letting me look away from the displayed number, over time, it was clear she didn?€?t understand that my request came from a deeper place than vanity. One time, in my second trimester, she scolded me for gaining seven pounds. I burst into tears on the exam table ?€‘± the only time during my pregnancy I cried.

The truth is, I had given the black eye to myself.

?€?It?€?s okay, I know how it feels,?€? she said, awkwardly trying to console me, even though I was pretty sure she didn?€?t understand at all. All I wanted to do was run to the bathroom and vomit. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that it wasn?€?t just my body anymore.

I was too afraid to ask my OB for a referral for a therapist; as a single mom, I already felt like I was under so much scrutiny. I didn’t want my OB to think I couldn?€?t handle the challenge.

I didn?€?t purge during my pregnancy. It wasn?€?t until my daughter, Lucy, was six months old that I felt the urge again. And while I wasn?€?t 100% satisfied with my post-baby body, the urge was anchored in so much more than body image. I liked the control I felt when I purged; liked the feeling of an empty stomach. I never binged, my purges could occur after any meal or no meal at all. I was stressed about making money, stressed about finding a job, stressed about being a good parent, and purging felt, weirdly, like a form of self-care. It was something that could make me feel better, fast.

But when I got the black eye, I realized things needed to change. This time, I was verycareful about which therapist I decided to work with. Before, anyone who took my insurance and worked within a five block radius of my office was fine. This time, I asked other new moms for recommendations for therapists who specialized in postnatal depression or postnatal anxiety; while I wasn?€?t sure I had either, it was imperative the therapist I spoke with had extensive experience with new moms. Once I had a few recommendations, I asked about how their eating disorder expertise: I wasn?€?t sure I would be able to stop purging right away, and I wanted to make sure that a therapist I worked with would help me figure out a way to stop that wouldn?€?t feel overwhelming. I also wanted a therapist to understand the pressure I put on myself ?€‘± that I already felt so guilty for purging; I needed to feel like someone was in my corner.

Eventually, I found someone. Instead of focusing on not purging, I began focusing on the stressors in my life. One of the huge ones was my job ?€‘± I began looking for new positions and left that one after a few months. I also had been putting a ton of pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. I didn?€?t want people to think I was struggling as a single mom, so I tried my hardest to make it look like everything was easy to me ?€‘± even if it wasn?€?t. For example, one time, when my new mom friends and I planned a potluck barbeque, instead of offering to pick up napkins or tableware, I volunteered to bring desserts. I made five desserts that day while my daughter played in the kitchen, all for the I could never do what you docompliments.

And that was the biggest takeaway from therapy: That I didn?€?t need to prove myself, and thatevery parent ?€‘± single, married, whatever ?€‘± needs help sometimes. I began asking friends to watch Lucy, stopped trying to be Supermom when it came time to plan the playdates, and also confided in my friends when I was feeling anxious or stressed out.

Now, Lucy is two, and I?€?m so much better than I was. I don?€?t see a therapist anymore, and I feel so much happier and at ease than I was that winter morning a year and a half ago. But I?€?m not ?€?cured.?€? I?€?m very sensitive to conversations surrounding weight. Discussions of losing the baby weight make me so angry; an innocuous message from a friend-of-a-friend asking me if I?€?m interested in her weight-loss coaching because she ?€?specializes in new moms?€? led me to fire back an angry diatribe, explaining just how many new moms might be triggered by that type of language. I think eating will always be a fragile topic for me, and I know that if I do feel like I want to purge, it?€?s a sign I may need to check in with my therapist and figure out what?€?s out of whack with my life.

I?€?m also open about just how hard all of this was to navigate, because I wish I had known back then that I wasn?€?t alone, that new parenthood can bring up issues you thought were in your past, and that part of being a great parent is knowing when to ask for help.

Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you’re thinking about or passing on kids, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if ?€‘± not when ?€‘± and it’s time we talked about it that way.

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