It’s what’s inside that counts.”
This cliché was integral to my eating disorder recovery in 1999, when I learned to focus less on my body and accept it.
In 2007, I found myself pregnant and reliving pieces of my recovery all over again. Pregnancy for me was like time travelling. I was so excited for the arrival of beautiful child and I was consumed with thoughts of my future as a mom. At the same time, as a recovered anorexic and bulimic, the symptoms kept dragging me back to the past.
I was hit hard by hyperemesis gravidarum. I found myself vomiting constantly, barely able to keep food down. I was exhausted. The nausea pulled me back to pre-recovery days—as a recovering bulimic, the constant vomiting was incredibly triggering. In my mind, I knew the vomiting was nothing I was making myself do, that I had a legitimate medical condition that made it happen and I was trying really hard to hang on to nutrients for my growing baby. Yet still, I couldn’t help but feel guilty and ashamed every time it happened. It seriously messed with my head.
I spent a lot of my time focusing on the scale, something I hadn’t done since I was in day treatment.
Eight years later, my pregnant body ambled up to the scale at least monthly at the doctor’s office, and more frequently towards the end of my pregnancy. My weight became a focal point of regular conversations, just like when I was sick and I found it thrust me back into a different time and mind space I had fought hard to leave behind me.
The end goal of each weigh-in was, in fact, the same—gain weight. But this time I was 100% on my body’s side.
As an expectant mother, I wanted to gain weight to grow my healthy baby. In recovery, those precious pounds meant medical stabilization from diseases that were killing me. When I was sick, I wanted the weight to drop off because I just wanted to disappear. Stepping on the scale became a violent and violating act and the discussion that followed about the number was always very unsettling for me.
But once it was about more than just me, I knew I was going to have to find a way to deal.
In pregnancy, your body weight and shape becomes everyone’s business. Bringing a pregnant belly out into the world seems to be an invitation for play-by-play commentary of your ever-expanding waistline. Doctors want to make sure everything is progressing as it should and weight is a marker they monitor carefully. Random strangers just can’t believe how big you are getting. Family and friends want to be sure that you are eating the things you should to make a healthy baby. Sometimes it felt as if a committee was deciding my lunch menu and for me, it was a throwback to my days of recovery.
When you have an eating disorder, all people want to talk about is your weight, your body and what’s for lunch. It’s from that same place of care and concern and with a view to sustaining life (your own). Unfortunately, it can feel overwhelming to have that many people in your business about something as historically controversial as food. Public conversations felt awkward, but the ones in my head felt worse.
In eating disorder recovery, the rapid but necessary changes to your body can feel unnerving. You know to get better you will need to get bigger and that’s normal and healthy, but it doesn’t always feel like you are in control of the speed with which that occurs. There is hope for a future without this debilitating mental health condition, but apprehension about what that will look like physically pervades your every thought.
In pregnancy, the body changes quickly and unpredictably, but similarly in a necessary way. Healthy weight gain supports fetal development.
But still, it can be really triggering to wake up and find that you are reliving your recovery journey all over again in a physical way.
Personally, I had to approach it in a very similar way. In both journeys, I was lucky to have been supported by mental health professionals who made sure the transition was safe for me (and my baby). As nervous as it made me feel, I focused on the end result and tried to celebrate my new belly.
Pregnancy left me feeling like a time traveller, with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. When I focused on the destination, I found the strength I needed to grow without apology, just like when I recovered all those years ago. I gained a new life once more and re-learned a valuable lesson. It’s what’s inside that counts.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, consult a health care professional or look at the treatment options available here.
This post originally appeared on BabyPost.