The one thing I wanted my whole life was to be a mother.
My eldest was unplanned, but the moment I discovered I was pregnant I felt complete. I was terrified, yes, but so excited. I was also quite proud of my body in that moment. I’d put it through years of abuse and yet, despite contraception and without trying, it was growing a life.
I spent my whole pregnancy planning a wonderful life for my baby girl. I had an idea of exactly what sort of mother I wanted to be. I wanted to give her everything.
My eating disorder got in the way.
I managed about 5 days of ‘good’ eating. I didn’t vomit for almost a week. Part of one week out of the 42 I carried her I ate properly.
I’ve spoken a lot about shame. I feel a lot of it, but nothing comes close to the shame I have for how I treated my unborn babies. So many times I came close to seeking help, I hated what I was doing, but I was stopped by the fear that my baby would be taken away from me if anyone found out. So I carried on in silence.
She was born 12 days past my due date. I felt a surge of love like never before. I was a mother, this was my baby, I would do anything to protect her.
Anything, apparently, except give up my eating disorder.
I did manage to keep my weight pretty stable for the first couple of years. I had a dip around the time we got married, although it stayed within a healthy range, but a lot of time was wasted on my eating disorder when it should have been spent raising my daughter.
I wanted her to have a sibling. I actually made a real effort to get better before trying to conceive. I wasn’t ‘well’, but I was doing better than I’d done in a long time. My weight increased and stabilised. We started trying, I became pregnant straight away.
I lost our baby. And then I lost a lot of weight. And then I lost another baby.
Miscarriage is one of those horrible things that unfortunately happens a lot. Pregnancy is as fragile as it is precious. You’re told it’s not your fault, that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it. A lot of people said that to me. Not one of those people knew I was throwing up everything I ate. I wonder if I’d have lost the pregnancies if I’d been well – after all it was a miracle I’d fallen pregnant in the first place, given the abuse I’d been putting my body through for the past decade.
After coming around from the operation I needed to remove my first lost baby (or, as the hospital called it so clinically ‘products of conception’) the nurse asked me how I was feeling. I replied simply with the word ’empty’. I felt empty.
Then just when I was considering that I should take some time out and focus on recovery, I was pregnant again.
I binged, vomited and starved the whole way through that pregnancy, a downward spiral until she was born at 39 weeks.
The first time I threw up after she’d been born (other than the post-partum sickness I suffered after both labours) was about 6 hours later. I’d had a slice of toast on the ward. I couldn’t bear it. My eating disorder was so consuming that I was bringing up a single piece of toast while my newborn baby was being cuddled on the ward. When my eldest came to visit I let her eat my lunch for me. A great novelty to her (it included a pot of jelly!), and meant I got away without eating.
For days after the birth I had these horrible ‘surge’ feelings in my chest, as well as increased frequency of palpitations. I went to the doctor and asked him to check my potassium. He said it was on the low side but ok and blamed it on the post-partum haemmorhage. I still couldn’t admit what I was doing.
From there on it gets pretty repetitive. I’ve spent a lot of time binging and purging while I should have been interacting with my babies. I’ve put off taking them out because it will involve food with nowhere to purge. On one occasion that I took them out for a picnic my youngest shoved a cheese biscuit in my mouth with great delight that she was ‘feeding mummy’. I spat it out into a tissue when she wasn’t looking.
My oldest is 5 now. I’ve been a mother for half a decade. I believed so much that becoming a mum would end the eating disorder, or at least that I’d be able to manage it.
Recently, she was cuddled into me and said ‘Mummy, I wish I had blue eyes like you. I hate my eyes.’
I wanted to cry. She has the most beautiful, deep, soulful dark eyes. She’s only 5 and she wants to change herself already. How long before the focus shifts to other parts of her body? She’s a perfect little thing, in every way. What sort of example am I setting to her though?! I don’t vocalise my self hatred but despite my attempts to protect them from my eating disorder she knew what scales were for by the age of 2. Unless I change things I fear that I will destroy them as well as myself.
So there it is. When I say I’ve thought about leaving, how they deserve better, how I feel like a terrible mother, I’m not just being down on myself. I’m being honest. How far are these amazing little people going to get with me in their life?
I just hope that, despite everything, they never once doubt how much they’re loved. That is the reason I won’t ever leave them.