The time has almost come to welcome our beautiful baby girl into this world. We are mere weeks off our due-date. So, what better time to take stock of this wonderful journey, than now? Over the next few weeks, I will share with you my experience of pregnancy, paying special attention to how it has both challenged and aided my recovery.
My story will be split into various parts over the next few weeks (there is just too much to cover in a single article). I will cover my journey of coming to terms with body changes, dealing with mood swings, finding the right care for my physical and mental needs, facing the less than sensitive bedside manner of treatment in Asia and facing a new urgency to grow-up and prepare for motherhood.
If I was to describe my pregnancy journey so far in one sentence, I would say: It was a beautiful opportunity to grow as a woman and to challenge the remaining threads of my illness as I prepare for motherhood.
Just before I start, I want to remind readers that my experience is just that, one woman’s experience. Everyone’s recovery journey and indeed everyone’s pregnancy is unique to them. This isn’t a prediction of what pregnancy will typically be like for others in recovery or even those not in recovery. My hope is that you may relate in some way and will enjoy reading my story.
Part 1 – Body
If you had asked me a year ago what I expected pregnancy to be like, I would have told you it would challenge my recovery. The changes in body and weight, the food cravings, food aversions, morning sickness and mood swings that seem to go hand-in-hand with pregnancy would have come to mind. It would be quite natural to worry about how I would cope. I am still recovering after all.
It really surprised me to find how mild the fear and anxiety felt regarding weight gain. Sure, there were times when I felt uncomfortable and dissatisfied with my weight and shape. And, even times when I literally wanted to shut the world out and hide away, because I couldn’t find anything that would fit my growing frame. But, somewhere along the way, I began to love my new curves and developed a sense of wonder about how my body had the power to create new life. I grew to love my body, regardless of its size. Something, I could not have predicted I would be able to do.
That said, it would be unfair to pretend I adjusted to my changing body with ease and acceptance. It was hard to come to terms with having no control over my body and seeing the scales tick up and up. It was triggering. And, my eating-disorder was ready and waiting to fill my head with negative self-talk; distracting me from enjoying this beautiful experience. It was a challenge for sure.
Not to mention the social pressure to be a fit-and-healthy supermamma these days. I expected respite from diet-culture in pregnancy, but boy was I mistaken. There is just as much pressure on pregnant women to watch the scales.
Fighting eating-disorder temptations
I gained a lot more weight than I expected in my first trimester and began to show super-early. Many women don’t gain anything in the first few weeks and the first trimester gain is usually the least. Showing (a bump) is also more typical of the second trimester. But, not me. I was showing before even 8 weeks.
My old comparison behavior was prevalent those early days too. I started searching forums to see what amount of weight gain was ‘normal’ in pregnancy and began comparing myself to others. I concluded I was on the upper end of the scale. A place I wasn’t comfortable being.
It is no surprise that my eating-disorder became louder at that time. Thoughts like ‘why am I gaining so much weight, I am eating the same amount as before pregnancy’, filled my head.
Being pregnant reinforced my desire to fight my disorder. I was adamant to avoid restricting and purging by vomiting at all costs. Let’s say this was my bottom line. But an eating-disorder is clever and resourceful. Restricting calories was off the table, but restricting ‘unhealthy’ foods was a good thing right? Purging by vomiting was bad, but exercise is surely healthy. In the beginning I found it hard to differentiate my motivation to eat healthy and remain fit from the desire to burn calories. I had to address this or I could face relapse, just in a different way.
I have spoken at length this past few months about my recent relationship with exercise, so I wont cover old ground. But, I will say that being aware of my triggers and questioning my motivations was a great tool in finding new boundaries around this new behavior.
My doctors helped too. The doctors reminded me that the body is doing wonderful things to prepare itself to carry my child. Bodies have done this for centuries and I should trust in it’s knowledge. I hadn’t suddenly changed my diet and I was refraining from purging or restricting. I was self-aware and was actively reviewing my relationship with exercise and avoiding the temptation to overdo it. So, I was doing my part. What happened to my weight and my body was NONE OF MY BUSINESS.
No respite from diet-culture
Being pregnant doesn’t mean you get to escape diet-culture or fitness-fads. Nor does it mean that you get a break from weight-watching. In fact, it increases in pregnancy given the risks of gestational diabetes. Not to mention, that it becomes open-season for inappropriate comments about body and food choices from complete strangers.
I had some run-ins with all of this in the past few months. It was essential to keep a level head (not easy in pregnancy) and remember to not take things personally nor too seriously.
A note to perfect strangers
One day, a stranger in an elevator looked me up-and-down and asked why I had two items from Starbucks, should I not watch my weight?
I had a decaf coffee and a yoghurt pot at the time (a perfectly acceptable snack, thank you very much). We had 13 floors to go, so I resisted the urge to tell this stranger what was on my mind. Instead I used the time to reassure myself that this person was just making small talk and that his lack of social awareness was a pity.
Note to anyone who feels the need to comment on someone’s food choices or body – DON’T. It’s weird, and it is NOT appropriate small talk. Try, ‘oh the weather is nice’ or something. Or, do what everyone else does – smile politely, then stare at the door, hoping for the awkward moment to pass.
Blunt bedside manner
Even amongst medical professionals and fellow mums-to-be, there was no respite. At one prenatal-exercise class, the nurses and other patients asked if I was having twins (they call it double here). When I responded to the negative, I was literally asked ‘why so big?’ while the nurse poked my soft belly. I was 16 weeks in. I was bigger than some of the ladies at 25 weeks in the class. Not to mention that I was weighed in public at each hospital visit.
There is a large focus on prevention of gestational diabetes in Hong Kong and thus the focus on weight in pregnancy is justified. However, the side-effect of this concern is that it influences the way nurses and doctors speak about weight gain.
Even the doctors, who had been told about my eating-disorder, focused more on my weight than on my diet and overall health. No-one understood that telling me to watch my weight was like offering my eating-disorder a stick to beat me with.
Understanding where the concern was coming from and reassuring myself that this wasn’t personal to me helped me through. I don’t need my doctors to be sensitive to my feelings as long as they take good care of me and baby. And, that they did well!
I found navigating social-media triggering in pregnancy. Everyone seems to be pregnant this year (Megan Markle for example). There seems to be an epidemic of unnaturally trim pregnant celebrities appearing in magazines and online. And, with a lot of influencers out there donning gym-gear and showing off a barely there bump while telling of their exercise routines and food intake, it can be hard not to compare.
The prenatal diet and fitness information available from qualified doctors and nurses during pregnancy is more detailed than I have experienced at any other time in my life. So, why do we need the advice of the latest pregnant influencer. The answer is we don’t. Everyone pregnant woman’s needs are different and this is not the time to diet. This type of content is a minefield for unhealthy comparison. So, I implore influencers to be very careful about sharing specific weights and flashing your smaller than average bumps with vulnerable women.
Join me next week for more about my pregnancy journey, where I will share just how many doctors it takes to take care of this 35 years old woman in recovery’s health during pregnancy. I don’t know about you but I hadn’t expected it to be so complex.
Aunty Pam x
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