Written by Angela Haugen
We found out two days after I started my new job. It was all I’d feared. Hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried for hours. On and off for days. Weeks.
How would I get through this? Would it reignite something that I’d tried to keep at bay?
Perhaps my biggest fear since recovering from my eating disorder was getting pregnant. And here we were.
About two years after I was fully engulfed in my eating disorder of rigid eating, binging and purging, and over exercising I met an amazing man. He saw through my joy-filled façade. He saw my hurt, my confusion. Even before I was able, he saw my sad.
Sadly, the timing wasn’t right. I was focused on my recovery and trying to figure out what living life looked like in the midst. I could not, in any good conscience, start a relationship when I didn’t have a good relationship with myself. I didn’t know who I was outside of what the pressure of this world was forcing to combustion.
He was the first person I was honest about where I was: I had an eating disorder and it wasn’t going away any time soon. It was freeing to be honest with where I was. And, by not rejecting me for who I was in that moment, he inadvertently opened a door to my recovery.
Fortunately, perhaps miraculously, life would be on our side. We maintained a long distance friendship and well after my recovery, we would reconnect in a meaningful way and eventually get married.
We entered marriage with a clear understanding of where I’d come from. There were not delusions about starting a family. Pregnancy was not a solid option given my history. I loved kids, and though I feared what pregnancy would do to my body, I mostly I feared it would trigger something in my mind that would reignite all that I felt free of for over 5 years by that point. I knew both the physical and mental hell of an eating disorder and didn’t want to go back – it was, for me, a much worse mental game than a physical resolve, and not one that I would ever intentionally invite back.
So, as I lay in bed having heard back from the doctor to confirm my greatest fear, I cried. I was sad and I felt it. I was worried and I felt it. Life was leaving my control and I felt it. I felt scared and mad and and overwhelmed and sad and disappointed and confused… and I FELT!
To this day, I am convinced that the biggest hurdle for me to overcome in all of my struggles was and is to feel, truly FEEL, the feelings – the overwhelming emotions that swallowed me deep into my soul when I was younger.
Pregnancy was challenging, but with all the skills I had learned in recovery to engage the emotion for what it was, just a part of the journey, it was do-able.
I had the physical strength to recover, but ensuring I had the emotional strength took making sure I was paying attention to the feelings. My husband sat with me in them and I had to trust him to be by me even when they weren’t pretty or kind or fun. I also engaged my community support system in meaningful and real ways. My system was far away, but with regular calls from those who loved me, we made it work.
I acknowledged my fears and my guilt and my hurt and instead of throwing it all up, I threw it all out to anyone I trusted. I released the emotions and didn’t let them weigh me down. We didn’t take on any extra burden at that time. We focused on what we needed to do to be a mentally healthy family – for me, for our marriage, for our baby, and for our family. We did regular check-ins for where I was, and as selfish as it felt, we made decisions that helped ensure that I was a healthy part of our family.
We have since had two, healthy, happy, and delightful kids.
I remain committed to taking care of myself in a way that allows me to best take care of them. Feelings are such a big part of pregnancy and an even bigger part of parenting. My family keeps me focused on mental and physical health. I am reminded daily that they need me to be that way. They benefit from my acknowledgment of emotions – both good and bad – as much as I do. I don’t love every minute of everyday, I’m ok saying that.
They also benefit from my positive self-talk, from seeing that my body is amazing enough to carry their fragile lives AND strong enough to continue to take care of them. They benefit from seeing me go off for a run, and foregoing the run to go out for ice cream. From doing a ton of fun activities, to totally messing up and apologizing and doing my best to make a change.
All that I feared in pregnancy and having kids has been challenged by remaining rooted in all that I learned in recovery: feel the feelings. Embrace them and truly feel them. Then set them free. What a power it is to not be overcome, but acknowledging them and still keep moving.
Now, I fear more what I would have missed out on by living my life based on the fear.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt
And this is my story of pregnancy after an eating disorder.