A Mother's Truth: Owning my Struggle
The female body is one that gets much attention, both positive and negative. From the pages of Vogue to the boardroom or the playroom, it's a body to be cared for and respected. No matter what culture or Country, two things remain the same - it's the vehicle that gets us through life and allows us to bring new life into this world.
I spent a good 12 years disrespecting my body, and it’s a shame.
I deprived myself of life’s pleasures as well as nutrients, and when I should have been feeding my body - I spent a lot of time starving it.
I never saw my body as a beautiful organ that both breathes and gives life.
I didn’t respect its capabilities or what I needed it for. Instead, I abused it.
I punished instead of loved. I took instead of gave. And in the end, I’m paying the consequences.
While you never fully recover from anorexia, I can say with certainty that the past three years of my life have been the most free I’ve felt from the disease. At 19 years old I slipped into the illness/addiction easily, because as a competitive runner it’s natural to look thin. However, the animal inside took on a life of it’s own and I soon went from thin to very ill. After hospitalization, a difficult transition and a whole lot of fear-filled tears - I started back on the road to recovery. It took a lot of fight to come out of it, but I'm fortunate that I did.
In the years following, I relapsed a few times, but was able to maintain some form of health. Doctors weren’t certain I’d be able to have children, so for a long time I told myself I didn’t want them. Those 12 years after my rock bottom were just as hard as the actual rock bottom. Day in and day out I tormented myself, striving for perfection in all areas of my life. I shamed myself. I looked in the mirror and found every possible thing wrong with the person looking back at me. I simply existed.
Thankfully, a few years ago life taught me some hard lessons through some unexpected challenges – and when I came out of it, I had a different view of my body and myself. I stopped obsessing over every meal, planning my day around workouts, and depriving myself of fun. I let go of control and the need for perfection and instead learned to embrace life in a new way, realizing just how cruel I had been to myself all those years. I still had bad days from time to time, but gone were the days when I wanted to bury myself under a rock and never come out. I had found a new happiness in this freedom, and it was invigorating.
And then, I got pregnant.
I was scared. I’ll never forget looking at the stick when I found out I was pregnant and experiencing a moment of panic before it all set in. I sat on the bedroom floor and cried. For a long time.
As a recovered anorexic, logic and emotion don’t play well together. Recovered or not, addiction still lives and breathes inside the body for the rest of your life. So, the very thought of knowingly putting on weight is frightening, no matter the reason.
It pulls at your heart and creeps into your brain.
It toys with your insecurities and shakes up your emotions.
It turns logic into insanity.
While I may not have had a relapse in five years and was a million times healthier than I’d ever been in my life, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to still give myself daily affirmations to keep the beast at bay. The difference though, is that my voice had become much louder than the negative chatter that had occurred, and I could combat those thoughts.
I was determined to make sure I was the healthiest soon-to-be mom I could be for our son. I did everything I needed to do to make sure our little guy got what he needed, and as the weight came on I found comfort in knowing it was for someone else. See, it’s much easier for me to be good to my body for another human being than for myself – so I embraced that thought process, however screwed up it may have been.
Visually seeing the transformation was difficult for me – I experienced so much conflict in my brain through the changes, it might sound odd to other women. While I know plenty of moms (and husbands) who love to see (and document) the weekly growth, I struggled with it. My heart felt joy and solace in what it meant, but my brain had to hold back negative thoughts. The same mental battle occurred each time I stepped on the scale at my doctor appointments. I would prepare for the number to jump, as it should, yet emotionally I felt so much fear in that moment. I'd tense up and hold my breath as if that would level off the digital number, and I thought for sure everyone could see right through me.
Maybe this all makes me sound selfish in some mixed up Freudian mumbo jumbo, but I’m only human. While it may sound like I loathed being pregnant, that isn’t true - I embraced my pregnancy and found much joy in all the milestones and intimate moments I shared with my baby boy. I learned to cope with the roundness that every pregnant woman experiences, the changes in the face, hands and feet – and I thoroughly enjoyed the swelling in my breasts. Despite all my oddities and insecurities, I had made a vow to be the best pregnant woman I could be. While I may have played a mental game of chess with my emotions, I stuck to my word and our little man came out healthy and strong.
And then, the 4th, 5th and 6th trimesters began.
They say it takes just as long to get your body back to normal as it does to make a baby. My son is now nine months old and while I do feel the best I’ve felt since delivering him, I still feel like a different person. I feel beautiful, in all the weird ways. Those first few weeks after delivery are challenging, because you have a new life you are responsible for and are sleep deprived. Add to that, the emotions that come with post-pregnancy, and if you are foolish enough to try something on in your closet you haven’t worn in 9 months – you might set off the water works.
For me it was another lesson in appreciating my own body and coming to terms with the fact that after carrying, nurturing, and delivering a little human - my body might need a little time to recover. So, yeah – I dealt with it. It wasn't easy for me and many times I looked at myself in disgust, yearning for my old body to return to me - no evidence of ever carrying a child. As the months went by, I began to shed my pregnancy weight while my little man began to come into his own and I began to see myself differently.
My boobs don’t quite hang the way they used to and while I may be back in pre-pregnancy shape, my tummy still magically stretches much more than it used to after I’ve eaten. I might have thrown a few skirts out (just so I don’t torment myself) and I had to make an appointment for a bra fitting (man, do I miss those fantastic breasts). At the end of the day, I’m happy to keep and take care of this new version of me so I can take care of my sweet little boy.
Now when I look at myself, I see a mother.
I see a woman who spent nine months keeping her son safe and providing him with everything he needed to enter this world.
I see a woman who used her body to provide nourishment and strength to the one who stole her heart.
I see myself as a powerful woman with purpose and passion.
I no longer see the changes as something ugly or foreign and I can look at myself and be proud of what each and every curve and line mean. Let’s be honest, it’s about time I start seeing myself the way we all should see ourselves – truly, uniquely beautiful.
For all the women out there, whether you are a mother now or in the future…may you love yourself first, so you can give your children more love than they can handle.