My little cousin looked up at me, wrapping her arms around my waist, hugging me, and said softly, “I wish I were as skinny as you.”
I remember her beautiful eyes. Her innocent, young and impressionable green eyes. I didn’t want them to be anywhere on me. I held my breath, feeling my heart snap in half.
No, you don’t want to be anything like me. Please don’t ever say that. You’re beautiful.
My voice cracked as I fought the shame. I lifted her hands from around my waist and backed up, trying to create space between us with the rationale that the more I stepped away, the less she would want to be like me.
This was the moment, ironically in the magical land of Disney – where I gave up on living. In my mind, what was the point?
I was a terrible example to any child. How would I ever be a mother one day?
Answer: I wouldn’t, I couldn’t. Even if I didn’t destroy my body already with all the abuse I put it through with laxatives and starving and I physically could conceive, I just was unfit for motherhood. And I didn’t see it ever getting any better.
I wasn’t a role model, I was a disaster. And I was just so ashamed. I never wanted anyone to want to be like me.
What I always wanted…
Some people don’t need children to be happy or feel fulfilled. I always wanted to be a mother. I’m a natural nurturer and helping people is something I truly love – it’s just second nature.
If I couldn’t or shouldn’t (meaning adoption or surrogacy would be out of the question as well) have children, I really felt I had no future.
I had work success and I was still gravely unhappy. Motherhood was my only shot. And I saw it as a clear impossibility.
I was so depressed and this moment confirmed my deepest darkest thoughts: there was no point for me to live anymore. So I surrendered to eating disorder voice. I surrender. And wave my white flag.
A couple of months later, I was hospitalized after a seizure due to complications from my eating disorder behaviors.
It was then that I devoted myself to recovery.
I was twenty-six years old.
5 years later
Five years later, and here I am – a mother of two.
The end of February is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and my first born’s second birthday, which is not a coincidence in my opinion.
Because my little girl became a huge motivator for me to stay in recovery—a gift that keeps me honest and well.
I have heard rumblings from women recovering or recovered from eating disorders who are afraid to become moms because of the genetic component, the chance of their off spring having eating disorders will increase. And for us moms who had eating disorders, that is our greatest fear.
We know how deadly and all consuming this illness is. Yes, despite the stigmas suggesting eating disorders are just a vain diet gone wrong, that is far from the truth.
In fact, eating disorders have a wide variety of causes (biological/genetic, psychological, and cultural) and are similar to mental conditions such as bipolar disorder that sufferers are not blamed for.
In honor of this special week of awareness, I am here to vouch that women in recovery from eating disorders should have kids and will actually make great moms. Here’s why:
1. You appreciate where you are at a little more
From all I went through, none of it was easy – all of my years of self-hate, struggling, treatment and the rebuilding process. But I really appreciate where I am in my life now.
I was too busy being sick to experience high school, college, boyfriends, normal coming of age experiences – anything besides starving, bingeing and purging, and studying.
Yet here I am, now I finally at peace as a mother; living life and experiencing it with my husband and two girls.
The chaos is different, and I don’t get upset over the little things like poop explosions or a cranky toddler.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to kill said cranky toddler, but her little ‘tude won’t put me over the edge. In fact, I can handle a lot. What I went through made me into the strong appreciative individual I am today.
2. You realize you aren’t alone… and there’s work to be done
I used to think that I should have beaten my eating disorder as a teen and was actually embarrassed to ask for help.
Not only because of the stigma of my eating disorder just being a diet gone wrong or something I caused myself, but because I felt like I was too old to be still struggling.
In my mind this was an adolescent and teenage illness. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Especially with the 21st century “do it all” mentality — work, be a mom, go-go-go, it’s so easy to become vulnerable to disordered eating.
In fact, a recent survey of 4,000 women between the ages of 25 and 45 found that 75 percent of them don’t eat or think about food in a normal way.
This means, disordered eating is an epidemic and women of all ages are vulnerable. In fact, since I have become a recovery advocate I have met a lot of moms who have struggled or still do struggle to some degree.
This means that there is work to be done in our society.
We are an army of mothers that can band together and fight society breeding future kids on the same path. Hell to the yeah! Who’s with me?
3. You’ll know the signs if your child is suffering
When I first showed signs of disordered eating in third grade, I was in the generation where no one was really open about their struggles. My parents and doctors didn’t know the signs as well as they would today.
My first summer at sleep away, when I lost a lot of weight at camp, it was looked at as nothing to worry about. Just an extremely active girl who’s a picky eater. But early intervention is key with anything and by the time I got help I had already had my eating disorder for over two decades.
You will know if your child is suffering.
You know all the tricks of the eating disorder trade because you used them! When your child meekly says, “I ate dinner at a friend’s house” You know the validity of that statement right away –yeah-right kid.
You can catch it early and hopefully nip it in the bud by getting professional help before it becomes a learned behavior and harder to beat.
4. You’ll raise your kids to be more accepting of every body (size, shape etc.)
After being so hard on yourself for years, you are are now more accepting of every kind of body — and that’s what you teach your kids.
Also because you know what it is like to be tormented, your eating disorder had done it to you for years — you don’t put up with any kind of name-calling, cattiness etc. toward anyone. In fact, “fat” is the equivalent of a vulgar curse word in my household.
I compliment on other qualities besides looks: like I love that my daughter is caring, kind, smart… and hopefully she’ll pick that up and look at herself and others this way.
Also, I hope my daughter will celebrate her uniqueness and what makes others unique by letting her become whoever or whatever makes her happy and authentically, beautifully her.
5. Pregnancy helps your recovery (believe it or not)
Being pregnant gave me a new respect for my body. My body was able to do amazing things. Experiencing that was life changing. My body produced a baby and food to feed that baby.
Conclusion: My body must be pretty rad!
Also, during pregnancy, I was feeding more than just myself. And that was eye opening. Pregnancy actually helped me broaden my food freedom within recovery. It was a reality check of sorts.
If I was being completely honest with myself, there were still some foods I stayed clear of at that time because they were fear foods. But during pregnancy, I was more willing to let myself try those foods again because they were healthy and nutritious for my body and the baby.
That rationale really changed my whole outlook. I knew variety and healthy fats were good for my baby, so I pushed myself. Everything in moderation. And I really learned a better balance. Now two babies in, I am in the best place I have ever been with food.
6. Having kids will keep you honest
You won’t want your kids to emulate unhealthy behaviors. I want my girls to only copy positive eating habits and never hear their mom comment negatively about her body.
They should see their mommy being confident and strong. She should eat whatever she is in the mood for. I want them to see their mommy trying to change and better the world.
Most of all, I want to be a good role model for them. And that will always keep the eating disorder voice at bay.
7. You don’t care to be a part of the “cool mom” clique
Gosh, I couldn’t care less about being cool. I’d rather be hanging with my toddler anyway than wasting time on people who want nothing to do with me.
If you’re a nice mom — you got my number and I’d love to get to know you. If not, I am totally cool if you ignore me. After all my years of being a people pleaser I came to a point in recovery where I realized that not everyone is going to like you. And that’s fine.
Honestly, some people aren’t very nice. Instead of trying to please the unappeasable, I’m now more than happy for you to ignore me. In fact, if you’re not very nice I’d prefer it that way.
And I’ll teach my kids the same. No doormats allowed in my house except the one at the front door. I had enough feet stepping on me for years to make up for our whole family.
You’ll be great
So potential future mothers in eating disorder recovery, you’ll be great. With some dark clouds there is always a silver lining. And that silver lining is the person you are now from your not so squeaky clean past.
I dare you to prove me right.
So let’s celebrate all the mothers that didn’t think they were going to become mothers. The mothers that weren’t sure of their own worth for a while. Mothers who had to overcome one of their greatest fears, (gaining a ton of weight), to get their beautiful children. But they did it anyway.
So I dedicate this Eating Disorder Awareness Week to all of the mothers—the ones in recovery, recovered, and still struggling — you are brave. And everyday you choose recovery, whether it is for you or your children, is one of the many reasons why you are or will be an amazing parent.