I was drowning. At 28 weeks pregnant, all I could think was why can't I fix this? Before I found out that little Joseph was inside of me, my husband and I had been dreaming of having a family. I had been doing well. My body was healthy and ready to conceive. My mind was strong and I was confident that things were going to be different.
My eating disorder had a hold of my life for seven and a half years. First, losing weight rapidly and over a number of years, over eating and purging through exercise, laxatives, and vomiting. I had tried a number of times to 'get better', only to fail time and time again. Finally, with the excitement of getting pregnant, I had a truly important motivation for getting healthy; and I did.
In my first trimester, I felt queasy. Morning sickness, as expectant mothers can attest to, is not pleasant. However, along with morning sickness came weight loss and this fueled old behaviors in me that I felt I could not control. Rational, or 'healthy Vanessa' knew that engaging in these behaviors was not good for me and my beautiful baby, but my irrational 'unhealthy Vanessa' had a booming voice that was all but impossible to ignore.
I had spoken about this problem to my doctor, who suggested an eating disorder program through a hospital. I was interested in the program until I spoke to the program director who informed me that the program was in-patient. I was imagining all the lies I would have to tell family and friends, or the horrified looks on their faces if I were to tell them the truth. All I wanted to do was run, or lie and say that things were fine again and live with my guilt and fear alone, and try desperately to change on my own.
The waiting list for the program was long, but since I was pregnant, I was a 'priority case'. I was admitted three weeks after speaking with the director. The weeks that I spent in this intensive program were hellish. I spent days getting blood tests, IV fluids pumped into my veins, and eating three meals a day with no exercise allowed. I felt that I was treated like a child, unable to make my own decisions about my body.
When I entered into the program I spent a lot of time being angry; angry at myself for not being able to fix things on my own, angry at the nurses for forcing food on me, angry about hiding what I was going through with family and friends. As the long days wore on, something happened to me: my anger turned into gratitude.
I realized something through the process of my recovery—this act, the most difficult experience I have had in my life, was the first gift that I ever gave my son. Joseph, who would have otherwise been at risk through the duration of my pregnancy, was born healthy. Joseph, who would have been brought up in a home full of secrecy and animosity, will now be brought up in a home of openness and acceptance.
Now, little Joseph is three months old and I am proud to say that I have been living well since the day I left the hospital. The best gift you can give to your children is loving yourself. When I love myself, life is beautiful. I am more patient, more invested, and happier.
My hope is that I will continue to give my son this gift on a daily basis so that he may see my example and grow to be a confident young man who loves himself, too.