Author and founder of #DumpTheScales campaign, Hope Virgo, explains that pregnancy doesn’t solve eating disorders and people shouldn’t assume that just because the baby is growing that the mum is mentally well.
“Your baby is growing in line with what it should be. From those measurements, I take it everything is going okay with food and mentally…”
I was sitting there in my consultant appointment as the words hit me like a ton of bricks, reverberating through my entire body. Don’t get me wrong I was pleased that the baby was growing, I was pleased he was healthy and doing well (especially as I had so much fear that my history with an eating disorder was harming him) but I wasn’t okay.
I knew what was about to follow, those people who never really understood eating disorders and mental illness would assume, like this consultant, that everything must be fine. My brain was in this emotional commotion. I was finding pregnancy unbelievably hard. My body was changing, I had to slow down and my mood was lower. The uncertainties were taking up much of my thinking space. I had this dull ache of fear so often consuming me, and I knew mentally things were getting hard.
The conversation with the consultant took me back to the last time someone assessed my mental health based on my physical appearance. When I had been told I was not thin enough for eating disorder treatment when I was mid-relapse. And like last time, I could feel the sweat start to build up all over, and my mind racing all over the place. I longed for her to say: “It’s amazing that your baby is growing, but how do you feel about it? How are you managing?” But, classic me, my defensives went up and I sat there speaking factually and joking around with the consultant.
Eating disorders are still one of the most stigmatised illnesses. People often think it’s a choice, a phase or something that disappears in pregnancy. Eating disorders aren’t a choice, but in that moment I had to make a choice. I knew I had to use my words to communicate and not withdraw even if it was going to take all my energy and courage to do that.
Eating disorders are still one of the most stigmatised illnesses. People often think it’s a choice, a phase or something that disappears in pregnancy. Eating disorders aren’t a choice.
Nothing sets you up for pregnancy, it is a time of your life when things feel like they are changing so rapidly and despite what you see plastered on social media for so many it is a time of real commotion and turmoil as you learn to navigate the new territories. The reality is through your life whether you are pregnant or not you will have moments with your mental health (whether an eating disorder or not) where perhaps you feel invalidated, where no one understands. It is hard when that happens so I wanted to share just four things that we can do in that moment to try and help us keep on track:
Surround ourselves with the right people and set boundaries
Some people won’t fully understand what you are going through and that’s okay, but it’s important not to let that stop you progressing forward in your own recovery journey. Surround yourself with those who love you, who care and who give you space to be heard.
Advocating for ourselves is hard-work and don’t get me wrong it takes a lot of practice. But remember that we deserve the support in place. Work out what this might look like for you and remember you can go back and ask again what they are doing to support you!
Remind ourselves of our motivations for doing this
Eating disorders will use these opportunities to seduce us back, making us feel like we are not deserving of support so when that happens it is vital that we keep in mind why we are in recovery. For me it was about being able to travel, to keep working, to go out with my friends for last minute meals … have a go at making your list too.
Give ourselves space to process
In our Amazon prime click-centric world we are always looking for a quick fix, but allowing ourselves to sit in this space of uncertainty and pain will help us move forward and shift things. This space could be talking to someone, journaling or sending a text simply letting someone know things aren’t okay; whatever works for you.