Pregnancy and Body Dysmorphia

I couldn’t write this post before I had all the scans and blood tests and I knew everything was as normal as could be. I was scared that I would curse it, that I would miscarry, my child would sprout extra arms overnight or any other crazy scenario. But now I know that everything is okay I feel ready to share my mental health and pregnancy experience.

A picture of 20 week scan with the feet shown at the top and the baby at the bottom
So among the super busy and stressful period of my life spend moving country in April I also had the wonderful, life changing and ultimately terrifying news that I was pregnant and due in July. For someone with a family history of mental health disorders (all the females on my mothers side are self confessed fruitcakes), I have always been scared of having children because I do not want them to go through life and struggle with the same issues I have. I always thought it wouldn’t be fair on them, especially with the strong family tendency towards depression and eating disorders.
But it happened, and despite going through major upheaval in my personal life with moving and job searching, there was no absolutely pressing reason why we couldn’t have a child right now. My partner was moving back to his own house and into a job that can (with some careful planning) support both of us plus little one and Crazy Canine. While I absolutely recognise that I am so fortunate to be in this position it does little to alleviate an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety about the future.
 
What if my depression gets really, really, really bad and I can’t get out of bed? What if I am totally unable to look after me, a tiny helpless human being and the Devil Dog incarnate? What if they are sick? What if I get sick? I’m sure all the normal worries with a few unique to me sprinkled on top, but the fact they are normal doesn’t make it any less real to me. Unlike Nala the Demon Dog, a child cannot be fed by throwing biscuits in a bowl and entertained by going to a field to run around for an hour when I am unable to do anything else. Or not for any length of time anyway. Their needs are so much more intensive than a dogs, and I can’t help feel there is so much more potential for things to go wrong if I am not mentally present for too long.
 
And then on top of all my worries everyone you tell is so EXCITED. And I am too, I really am, but especially in the first 3 months the “what if’s” were a whole lot louder and more real than the joy of expecting a little mini me, who I’m sure will team up with the dog to cause untold chaos. But honestly, it is so hard to be enthusiastic about a huge and life altering development when I am still rocky and shook from the previous events of driving a dog, partner and car full of stuff across Europe, and a Christmas away from home. I am not someone that desperately NEEDS my family either, I have been away for months at a time (check out my “About Me” page for details) and am no stranger to holidays alone or in the company of whoever I am on a boat with at the time. But sometimes you need your parents, the familiarity of how your house does Christmas and honestly, copious amounts of mulled wine which I can’t drink because PreGNaNcy. It was a lot to handle in one go and it has basically taken me until the time of posting this to start feeling more settled and less “It’s all going to fall apart any minute”. Which is nice because we still have nowhere for the child to sleep and a dog that requires cuddles AT ALL TIMES and can open all the doors in the house. 
 
And along side all of this there are sides to pregancy that do not sit comfortably along side eating disorders at all. 

Morning Sickness:

Take morning sickness, pretty much the most known and common side effect of pregnancy. Now appreciate for a minute that I still have foods that are easier for me to eat mentally, foods that lead to binge urges and the seductive call of over 3 years spent binging, restricting and purging. And now lets have a look at the guidelines for coping with morning sickness:
  • avoid foods or smells that make you feel sick (avoid food? Heck yes, thanks for giving me an excuse)
  • eat small frequent meals high in carbohydrate (my fave binge foods, now I get to eat them frequently, OHMYGOD heaven)
  • eat cold foods if the smell of hot meals makes you feel sick (all the ice cream, comes up easily too) 
These are all behaviours I have to monitor because left unchecked I do inevitably spiral into bad habits despite being behaviour free for 2 years and counting. And this is so hard. I have my Bad Brain telling me to do things I know I shouldn’t, and these sentiments are being echoed by others around me to try and help with morning sickness. 
So pregnancy goes and adds another layer of problems:

Vomiting:

Thankfully most of my morning sickness was both in the evening (when I am still most likely to get strong binge urges) and more of the crippling nausea than actual vomiting kind meaning I didn’t have to contend with acually being sick too often. This was an absolute gift from heaven because vomiting makes me:
  • Want to eat more, because my stomach is EMPTY and that is an absolutely toxic state for me now as a lingering effect of bulimia. I still panic when I am really, really hungry becasue the urge to binge becomes a need that is much harder to ignore.
  • Throw up again. For 3 years vomiting was nomally the start of a binge-purge session as I would purge a normal meal due to fear of weight gain, and then binge because I was hungry (see above bulletpoint).
  • Have a mild mental crisis. Am I starting bulimic behaviours again? Did I actually need to vomit or was it simply normal nausea after a meal that I let become more? Do I now eat again so I am not hungry or will this sprial further?
And the final in the Pregnancy Disaster Trio is:

Cravings:

Again these are a perfectly normal part of being pregnant, and also the tipping point from anorexia to bulimia when the cravings beat my willpower. For the mos part I was again super fortunate that my cravings have been a) mild, and b) mostly to foods that I am 100% okay with or ones that I refuse to let eating disorders ruin for me again because they are delicious. But still a few have been problematic, especially when coupled with vomiting. In no particular order we have:
  • Sugar free polos. Amazing, elimiated nausea if I ate them constantly, zero trigger effect. 10/10 to baby.
  • Sage and onion stuffing. Hated for years and stodgy carbs and me still have a complicated on-and-off again relationship. Made partner happy as he loves it and ate half the packet for me. 6/10
  • Mashed Potato and gravy. Fear food from anorexic days, fave food ever from normal, pre-mess childhood. Bought back good memories and zero nasty thoughts. 2000/10 to the baby for that one.
  • Cake, Thankfully this hit around my birthday and vanished again just as quickly because cake=BAD and I still struggle with this one. 10/10 for timing, 2/10 for actual craving
  • Raw Carrot. Crunchy veggie goodness, 100000/10
  • Noodles/spaghetti. See above for carb issues. but delicious and fun to feed to the Demon Canine, especially when they get stuck on her nose like a bad mustache. 7/10.
Couple this with the high stress situation surrounding my first 3 months and there is still a small part of me that is so FREAKING proud that I have come out of this as strong as I have.
This is how pregnancy feels on the worst days.

Body Dysmorphia:

Maybe this  section should have come first but the changes to my body have been the hardest to cope with mentally and the most difficult to explain to people.

The inevitable body changes were AWFUL. Think puberty on steroids for months. I hurt all over, I was exhausted to levels I have never experienced before, even when running 12 miles a day on 1000 calories. It also brought some of my worst fears to life. 

A huge part of anorexia and bulimia is the crippling fear of weight gain and (for me at least) the fear that my body would rebel and suddenly expand or stretch or gain fatty lumps overnight while I slept. Which shockingly is exactly what happens when you’re pregnant. I woke up one morning and BAM huge boobs. Few days later my hips look strange (your body starts storing fat incase of emergencies, the only emergency I saw was sudden cellulite EVERYWHERE). Fast forward a few weeks and my stomach is bigger, or is it? Sometimes its normal, sometimes looks like I am desperate for the toilet. Which I probably am because constipation is very real but laxatives are a huge NO, mentally and physically. 
For someone that can tell by running their hand along hips or ribs how much weight they have gained/lost this is terrifying. I have learnt to know and trust my body, yes I still have days I’m conviced I have gained 10kg despite the scales saying I am exactly the same as yesterday. But for the most part I have lived for years knowing exactly what I look like, wether I am happy with this or not. I know that my hips feel like X at 63kg and like Y at 65, I could simply touch and the tiny “you’re so fat voice” in my head would disappear for a while. Then suddenly this all changed again and coupled with moving, the changes in eating and just pure anxiety, the first 3 months where honestly some of the hardest I have had since being in recovery.
Over the first few months I alternated between “oh holy turd I am getting so fat” to “I’m pregnant, it’s just baby, trust your body”. 
Now that I am 20 weeks it is getting easier, I have a small ish but visibly pregnant belly, my jeans no longer fit so I don’t have to fight that roller coaster every morning. I am still terrified of weight gain even though I know it is normal and healthy.

 

Have any of you been through this? Do you have any tips for a new mother with chronic mental illness? Do you have any tips for a new mother full stop?

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