symptom

There are many signs and symptoms that indicate an eating disorder. One of my earliest symptoms (next to dry skin and loss of hair) after developing anorexia was the loss of my menstrual cycle. After a year without it coming back, my mom took me to my first gynecologist’s visit. The usual questions about my being so skinny were, naturally, answered with a by then well-rehearsed excuse. My doctor may have had suspicions, but she didn’t raise any further questions. So, I was given the pill, my cycle returned and everybody was happy.

Well, not really. My eating disorder got worse and after hearing rumors of the pill being related to weight gain, I stopped taking it. (Ridiculous, but I was sick.) Months after months went by and nothing happened. No cycle again.
However, at this point I was so weary of life and so caught in my illness that I did not care anymore. So what? It will come back eventually and if it doesn’t, I will move on. What difference would it make, really.
I have come to learn and accept the contradictions of an eating disordered mind. This is why it doesn’t surprise me that despite being so careless, I was constantly dreaming of a life with 4 children. I always knew that it was going to be the number of 4. 2 was always too conventional for me and 3 was never going to happen because I was a middle child and was utterly unhappy in this sandwich position. So, yes 4 was the perfect number for me.

The more energy my eating disorder stole from me, the more active my phantasies about my future family would get. I envisioned it all. I was happy in that future. I was healthy and I was a great mom. There would be no family drama, nothing like the war I grew up in. There would be no brother terrorizing his siblings. This was never going to happen to my future family. Yes, we would have our ups and downs, but in the end, there would always be love. A fairy-tale, if you will.

Fastforward a decade

Still suffering from anorexia, even more so now, I met my husband and this only strengthened feelings.
After Andreas and I got married, all we could think about was having children and starting a family. Now I know how ludicrous this wish was because of the mental and physical state I was in. A pregnancy would have been joyless, a burden even. I don’t think I would have been able to stop obsessing over all the weight I would have had to gain and how quickly it would have come off after the baby was born. A pregnancy during those critical years of starvation would have depleted my system because the baby would have taken vital nourishment from me.

Additionally, a pregnancy would have been extremely dangerous for the child. Delayed fetal-growth, low birth-weight, birth defects, fetal abnormality such as a cleft palate or cleft lip, jaundice, respiratory distress of the baby immediately after birth, higher death possibility to the baby in the last trimester of pregnancy or within 1 month after birth, and low Apgar scores are just a few of the risks of such a pregnancy. Scary, right?

Well, the list goes on and includes miscarriage, Gestational Diabetes, Preeclampsia (toxemia), low amniotic fluid, placental separation, complications during labor (such as a breech birth), incompetent cervix and/or spontaneous abortion, and increased risk to the mother of damage to the kidneys and heart.1
Needless to say, the chances of carrying the baby to term would have been slim at best.

Another point to consider would have been my ability to properly take care of another human being. The answer, I believe, is obvious. Just think of the role model I would have been. And with my energy level being somewhere close to zero, I would have never been able to demand the baby’s needs.

But I longed for a baby.

The desire to fill this whole inside of myself, that not even my husband could diminish, was overwhelmingly strong. However, trying to fill a whole so vast with a baby is dangerous. I realize that now. I was selfish in my wish and my motives were utterly out of whack.

Now I know that this whole was my eating disorder and as I am recovering, it gets smaller and smaller. The inner emptiness that accompanied me for so many years is subsiding. No child could have ever done this job nor would it have been his or her responsibility. I needed a baby, not realizing that it is and should be the other way around. I needed to be needed, I needed to be part of something bigger than myself and I needed a reason to live.

Now I know that it is wrong to start a family having these thoughts in mind.
Now I know that it is a good thing that the miracle I was praying for during those years, never happened.
Now I know that the consequences would have been disastrous.

Yet, as I continue to walk this path of recovery and self-exploration, I am doing a lot of soul-searching and the wish for children is still there. Not right away though. There is still too much to discover about my new life. Too much to learn. Too much opportunities to take before accepting this huge responsibility. Too much healing to do. Too much strength and stability to gain.

I always thought that after starting to eat properly again and giving my body everything it needs, my cycle would start up again. But I was wrong. So very wrong.

Here I am, a year into recovery and nothing has happened.

And I am starting to really, really worry about that fact. Thoughts of a life without my own children creep into my head. A life without the thrill of looking at a pregnancy test and it confirming that a life is growing inside of me. A life without ever looking into my husband’s eyes telling him that he will be a father (again). A life without ever hearing that first scream of a baby I carried for so many months. A life without ever seeing my children’s smiles. A life without every reading bedtime stories to my babies and tucking them in. A life so completely opposite to everything that I have always envisioned.
I may never feel the unconditional love that everybody describes as being part of motherhood. I may never be at the receiving end of one of those baby hugs that just warm your heart. I may never pick up my baby from kindergarten and hear her or him exclaim gleefully: “My mommy!”, as if to claim ownership.

With every passing month of nothingness, this fear becomes more real.

And all I can do is wait and see.

I am putting it out of my mind most of the time though, but there are certain instances when agony peers around the corner.

Every time I hear that another couple of our friends is expecting a child, I feel this thud deep inside. As much as I share their joy, there is always this doubt circling around in my head. Will I ever get to share such a joyful announcement?
Every time we talk to my husband’s daughter, feelings of loss arise. I love this little girl to pieces and I am beyond blessed to be allowed to be part of her life. Yet, I don’t want her to grow up without siblings. I want her to hold her little baby brother right after birth. I want her to play house with her sister. I want to give her the opportunities that a life with siblings provides.

Research suggests that the longer you have suffered from an eating disorder, the less likely it is to regain your menstruation. However, for roughly 80% of anorexic women menstruation will start up again after starting to eat sufficiently again and reaching a healthy weight.2
More very interesting and super frightening facts:
A recent study in Denmark suggests that even eight years after successful ED treatment, the chances of having a high-risk pregnancy are the same as those for women who receive treatment immediately before they conceive.3 It appears that a history of disordered eating may predict reproductive trouble even years after treatment and progress in recovery. In the U.S., about 20 percent of women patients who ask for help at fertility clinics have had an  eating disorder. 3

It is a bitter pill to swallow. But hope always wins. At least for me.

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