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My pregnancy journey: What I have learnt about body image and how I’m accepting my changing body

My pregnancy journey: What I have learnt about body image and how I’m accepting my changing body

Witten by Melissa for the Butterfly Foundation

I don’t recall the exact moment anorexia took hold of my life, I don’t recall the reason it started, but I do recall the moment in late 2014 when I turned to my partner and said, ‘I need help, we need to go to the hospital’. Those moments stick with you forever.

Since then, I’ve danced between the glory of recovery and the lows of relapse until late 2019 when I committed to staying in the stable, although often uncomfortable, world of recovery. The dance between the two parallels had taken a serious toll on my body. Having experienced no menstrual cycle since 2013, failed attempts at fertility treatment, countless medical appointments, thousands of dollars spent and the very real possibility that the fertility treatment required was about to get far more intense, something clicked in December 2019.

I knew deep down I had to take charge of my recovery. I knew I needed to sit in this space, no matter how uncomfortable, until my body had repaired from the damage of an eating disorder.

In January 2020 my period returned. It was the most euphoric moment, like I had conquered Mount Everest. This feeling came again in June when I found out I was 7 weeks pregnant, no Science or medical intervention, just a natural conception from a recovered body.

Throughout pregnancy I’ve had people lovingly ask how I’m coping with my body changing. My answer to this varies day to day but in all honestly, I just am.

It’s not easy watching the body you’ve known and controlled for years change, with no choice but to sit back and let it happen. But in moments of darkness I remember my body isn’t ruined; it has changed to create, house, feed and birth our son.

I also haven’t “lost” my body; it’s the same body, my home, his first home.

Yes, I have more cellulite, thicker thighs and wider hips, but I choose to see these things as more than external growth. They tell of my love, my grace, my compassion, my sacrifice. I’m giving over my body to make way for someone else – our Son, our first born, our greatest gift.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter when I speak on this topic because like everyone, I have moments of weakness. I still have moments when the negative voices are loud and harder to drown out, however anyone who has been in, or seen a loved one suffer through an eating disorder, understands recovery is not linear. There are many ups and downs and being able to recognise this has aided in my recovery.

Self-awareness is key and allowing a moment to pass by without wavering to its grip is paramount. It can be as simple as recognising when old patterns are resurfacing that don’t benefit me or my recovery. When I see these past habits creeping back into my life I fight to extinguish them. I practice gratitude, I have a solid yoga and meditation practice and I regularly attend psychologist appointments. When I feel like I no longer ‘need’ to see my psychologist, this is generally the time I need her most.

If you find yourself in the dance between recovery and relapse, I urge you to recover for your future children. While the fear of gaining weight may have you stuck, there is no greater joy than knowing that if, and when, the time arrives, your body is strong enough and capable enough to carry life within it.

There will likely be times during pregnancy when you face negative body image. For the most part we know that eating disorders thrive in secrecy, so during these times keep the channels of communication open with your loved ones. Let your friends and family know when you are having a moment of despair and don’t allow it to extend beyond that. Let it be a moment, not a day, a week, or a month.

Another significant factor in navigating pregnancy and recovery simultaneously has been working with an understanding and empathetic medical team. Unfortunately, pregnancy is very much based around the number on the scales. In recovery, this is something we are told to avoid and something I have successfully avoided for the past 2 years. I was vocal in my desire to not be aware of the rising number on the scales, and my medical team supported this and have been proactive in taking care of my mental health also.

While most women create a birth plan, I’ve created a pregnancy and post-partum plan. After all, birth is just one day but the post-partum journey and acceptance of my new body will continue for the rest of my life. I don’t want to miss out on the fullness of life for the sake of a thinner body. I want to eat pizza and hot chips with my son, to blow out the candles on his first birthday cake and indulge in a piece guilt free. Life is short and far too full of opportunity to hold on to the desire to be ‘thin’.

With the pregnancy chapter of my journey about to wrap up and the next chapter (post-partum) soon to begin, I know this will bring a whole new range of mountains to conquer. But with support, knowledge, and awareness, I know I will also successfully make it through this.

There’s no reward for remaining stuck in an eating disorder, nothing like the reward of parenthood. Recovery is worth it and after all… “How can you ever say anything negative about your body after you have felt the dancing of life from inside your womb” – Amethyst Joy

Diagnosed with anorexia, Hypothalamic amenorrhea, depression and anxiety in late 2014, Melissa has spent the past 6 years making sustainable lifestyle changes to establish a positive relationship with food, exercise and body image. Living in Northern NSW, Melissa and her husband welcomed their newborn Son Vinny in January 2021 and are now navigating parenthood while Melissa continues working on body image and self-esteem in her post-partum period.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder we encourage you to reach out for support. You can call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673

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National Helpline: 1800 33 4673 (ED HOPE).

Email: support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

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