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Pregorexia: Starving for Two

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Maggie Baumann: Pregnancy is a time for most women to embrace the wonders of pending motherhood. Picking the baby's name, speculating about the sex of the baby, and often, enjoying the freedom to "eat for two" make up some of the traditions expecting mothers experience.

Maggie Baumann second pregnancy 9 months pregnant

However, for me, pregnancy was a nine-month battle in which I lived in a dissociated state from my body -- horrified by my expanding "self" that protested every ounce of weight I gained.

I did not experience the freedom to eat for two; rather, I experienced the restriction of starving for two.

Pregnancy Plus Anorexia
There's a term coined by the media today for what I experienced during my second pregnancy and it's called "Pregorexia." It is a disorder marked by preoccupation with weight control through extreme dieting and over-exercising while pregnant. Pregorexia is a form of eating disorder that can be reinforced by comments about weight from friends and family, but the root of the disorder is more often based in control, perfectionism, or using the disorder as a coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions or experiences.

Although I was not aware of the emotional impacts of the disorder while I was pregnant (thanks to a big dose of denial on my part), I upheld a very regimented exercise schedule and an extreme preoccupation with monitoring my calorie consumption. It was during my second pregnancy when the disorder appeared in its full force. I simply told myself, "I am not going to gain a lot of weight and I am not going to allow my body to get 'big' like I felt happened with my first pregnancy."

In reality, I gained an appropriate amount of weight (33 lbs) during my first pregnancy. Yet at the time, this weight felt foreign and unhealthy to me. My first pregnancy I felt so out of control with my body changes ... the stretching of my stomach, the increased size of my breasts ... all those changes made me feel like I was losing myself and my identity of being "thin" and in CONTROL of myself. I don't remember thin celebrities impacting my decision, I just remember my goal of keeping myself small was what was deeply rooted in my core.

Pregnancy #2 Feeds Off Fear
For nine months during my second pregnancy, I stuck vigilantly to my disordered "rules," living in fear-based chaos filled with secrecy and shame. At 11 weeks pregnant with my second child, Whitney, I found myself restricting calories and over-exercising. This stress on my body inevitably caused my uterus to start bleeding. My doctor stated, "A miscarriage was likely." He instructed me to stop all exercise immediately and get bed rest. I followed his advice for three days. Fortunately the bleeding stopped and I avoided a miscarriage.

Even so, I was so wrapped up in the eating disorder and my rules, I started my exercise right back up. In my mind, I thought, "You stopped bleeding, so it's safe to exercise again."

I did not incur any other medical problems in the pregnancy until the 7th month, when my doctor thought my baby was experiencing intrauterine growth retardation. In layman's terms, it meant my baby was too small and wasn't getting enough nutrients. He instructed me to stop all exercise for the reminder of the pregnancy and to eat more. At that point, my stomach bump where my baby resided was barely visible.

My doctor never knew the extreme exercise routine I followed. No one knew. I kept my calorie restriction, my exercise intensity, and extended workouts a secret, even from my husband. When my doctor instructed me to stop exercising, I rationalized that I would not work out in the gym, but I could power walk and do whatever I could to burn calories "outside the gym." I truly believed at that time my baby would be safe.

Food, Body, and Weight Not the Cause
This sounds so intensely cruel for an expectant mother to be so oblivious to the health of her growing baby inside her womb. In hindsight, I realize logic wasn't driving my unhealthy actions, fear was.

As it turns out, one of the factors influencing my anorexia during this pregnancy surfaced around an abortion I'd experienced during college a few years prior. I had never processed the abortion, I simply swept it under the rug, which allowed me to numb myself from the pain of my actions. I remember during both my pregnancies thinking silently to myself, "You killed that baby (the abortion) and now God is going to hurt this baby." So in some warped way I felt I needed to punish myself, and I did so by taking it out on my body. The punishment came through restricting my calories and over-exercising. It wasn't the baby in me that I hated, it was "me" I hated.

When I finally delivered my second child by cesarean section, I had only put on about 18 pounds; yet I hardly looked pregnant. I was 5' 8" and weighed just above 135 lbs. Whitney, my second child, was born underweight but did not have any medical problems at birth.

As soon as Whitney was taken out of my body, I immediately switched into the nurturing and loving mom I knew I could be. I just needed her outside of my body to be able to properly care for her. When she was inside the womb, my desire to punish myself for my past was stronger than my desire to feed my baby while she was inside growing.

Research has indicated the health risks children of pregorexics can experience include neurological problems, smaller head size, lower IQ, lower birth weight, birth defects, and impaired functioning later in life.

Whitney went on to develop seizures for several months during her infancy, and later in her teen years was diagnosed with ADD. Her doctor said it is probable that poor nutrition in the womb contributed to these neurological conditions.

With Time, Miracles Can Happen
After the birth of my children, I continued to struggle with anorexia until it became so severe I was admitted into an ER and then sent to Remuda Ranch in Arizona, a residential treatment center for women with anorexia and bulimia. Recovery is a long journey to finding peace within yourself and forgiveness for the life pains associated with the disorder.

Today I am in recovery and working as a therapist in Newport Beach, CA, helping clients recover from eating disorders. My children are amazing. They are healthy, beautiful women who take care of their bodies (free from any eating disorders) and accept themselves for who they are. I love them more than anything in the world.

I regret my actions when they were growing inside my body. I can never take away what I did, but I can and have forgiven myself for these actions. Loving them today brings my daughters and I close and allows us to be connected from the heart and souls of all our bodies.




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303 comments so far | Post a comment now
Gigohead  June 2, 2009, 11:40 AM

I can totally relate Maggie. With my daughter, her father said, “now you will really get fat!” and I think that started a short stint of pregonexia for me. I was losing weight as opposed to gaining for the first 5 to 6 months. A doctor pulled me aside and said, I needed to eat because the baby was small. That was my wake up call. My girl was born healthy and did get big but it was worth it.

Jill (the other one) June 2, 2009, 3:53 PM

I’d never even heard of this sort of thing before. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been. I’m glad both babies ended up without any major problems.
Thanks for sharing, Maggie.

Elisabeth June 3, 2009, 10:19 AM

I know this is an incredibly condensed version of your experience, but you come across as almost blithe about the physical abuse you inflicted on your unborn children. This is beyond shocking. (And Jill, I would call permanent neurological damage “a major problem”.)

Frankly, who cares if you’ve forgiven yourself? It is not yours to forgive, but your daughters. They are the ones most harmed. It seems you’ve built a successful career on the backs of their trauma. I hope you’re at least cutting them in on the profits.

AC June 3, 2009, 12:24 PM

I’m not sure other commenters read the whole article…you are clearly aware of the damage and risk you put your infant through, yet you half the healthy detachment of a woman who has forgiven herself and moved forward in life. Congratulations and thank you for sharing this story.

Whitney June 3, 2009, 12:45 PM

I am Maggie’s daughter, Whitney. First off, I am very proud of you for writing this amazing article. Go Mom! You are speaking for a silent voice.

Second, I want to address Elisabeth’s comment-
You have no authority to say my mom has built a successful career on the backs of my sister and my trauma. She HAS NOT. She is the most hard-working, selfless and unconditionally loving person I know. It is completely insensitive to personally attack a person on an obviously complicated issue. She put her story out there to share and help others—to let people know they are not alone.

My sister and I are normal sized, healthy 21 and 23 year old women. We have had our body image issues, like any woman does. Living with a mother who was open about her eating disorder allowed us to learn from her experiences. At times it was not easy, but we have learned to accept and love ourselves. With all due respect Elisabeth, the perspective you’re coming from is very limited and ignorant. Nobody is perfect, and my mother is no exception. However, some people hide from their problems, while others confront them. I could not be more proud of my mother for not only having the strength to overcome her personal issues, but for exercising so much of her time to help others with the same issues. No career has been built on my back, and I could not be more grateful for having such a beautiful and wonderful mother…and dad rocks too!

patrick June 3, 2009, 2:14 PM

All I can say is, what selfish thoughts were you thinking? You are just self absorbed with being skinny/sexy and worried about your body…what about your CHILD!? Dumb, dumb, dumb. no excuses.

Abbey June 3, 2009, 2:16 PM

I completely agree and understand where Elisabeth is coming from. My view is that when a woman becomes pregnant the well being of the child should be of utmost importance above anything the mother would rather do that could be harmful to the unborn baby. It frustrates me to no end that woman can be more interested in their own self image than the health of their children. The child didn’t ask to be brought into this world, especially with health problems!! I, too, consider seizures a very serious problem! Whitney, with all due respect, I am the product of an unhealthy pregnancy and have had a long standing health issues because of it. At 38 and suffering from acute asthma, my mom feels badly that she didn’t take better health precautions. I don’t hate her for it but the fact is that your choices do affect the fetus. It’s not about “attacking your mother” but stating the obvious. Sometimes health conditions are not known for years down the road and other times they are there from the beginning. I hope other women reading this article that are pregnant or planning to have children will understand how their actions can have serious affects. It doesn’t help to downplay the seriousness of this topic. Everyone is allowed their own point of view and this is mine. Something I have felt strongly about my entire life!

naomi June 3, 2009, 3:55 PM

Elisabeth, if you don’t forgive yourself for things, how can you accept anyone else’s forgiveness fully? I am sure the writer went through horrible guilt for the problems this sickness caused on her daughter. I never had this, but I did have anorexia and I can tell you, that is a definite mental illness. I consider myself lucky and blessed to not have had any of those problems while I was pregnant.

Jill (the other one) June 3, 2009, 4:51 PM

Abbey, this went beyond preoccupation with looks. Anorexia is a very serious psychological condition. It’s not like the author just though, oh, gee, I don’t want to get fat with these babies. I’m sure Maggie was like any pregnant women and wanted the best for her babies. But the problem with anorexia is that it won’t let you make logical, healthy decisions. A dear friend of mine died from anorexia and to the very end she just wanted to take care of herself and her body - but she couldn’t.
I think it takes a lot of courage to talk about this sort of thing, and for that I applaud Maggie. I’m sure she knew she was opening herself up for criticism when she wrote this and she wrote it anyway because it’s important for women to know about.
Pregnancy does not make who you are go away. It can make existing problems that much harder to deal with.

LISA June 3, 2009, 6:26 PM

I DON’T THINK A LOT OF YOU COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD THIS ARTICLE. THE ARTICLE IS NOT ABOUT A WOMEN WHO WAS SO VAIN AND SELFISH TO THE POINT OF CARING MORE ABOUT HER LOOKS THAN THE HEALTH OF HER UNBORN CHILD. THE ARTICLE IS ABOUT A WOMEN WHO OBVIOUSLY HAD/HAS A DISORDER. IF SHE WAS SO CONCERNED ABOUT HER LOOKS, SHE WOULD HAVE JUST TERMINATED THE PREGNANCY AND MOVED ON WITH HER LIFE. BUT THE FACT THAT SHE CONTINUED HER PREGANCY AND TOOK HEED (EVEN IF ONLY FOR A FEW DAYS) TO HER DOCTORS ADVISE, SHOWS THAT SHE DIDN’T WANT TO HURT THE BABY. IT SOUNDS LIKE SHE KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING WAS WRONG, BUT SHE HAD NO REAL CONTROL OVER IT. I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU GUYS BUT WHEN I HEAR OF PEOPLE WHO HURT THEMSELVES OR THEIR LOVED ONES DUE TO ALCOHOLISM, DRUGS, SCHIZOPHRENIA OR ANY OTHER DISORDER I FEEL SAD FOR THEM AND WISH I COULD HELP THEM NOT BEAT THEM DOWN. AND ABBEY, WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, I PERSONALLY KNOW MANY PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM ACUTE ASTHMA DESPITE THEIR MOTHERS HEALTHY PREGNANCY.

Jen June 3, 2009, 7:13 PM

Having battled eating disorders myself I do understand where the author is coming from. However, I do not understand going through this with one pregnancy then getting pregnant AGAIN and going through the same thing.

Arlene June 3, 2009, 7:41 PM

Thank you Maggie for sharing your experience with this serious disorder. I know it must have been very hard to publicly admit your struggle. I wish more people would speak out about pregorexia in order to educate the public.

These mean comments just show how ignorant people are and how much more education we need on this subject. It reminds me of how women lived silently with PPD for decades. Now that it is discussed, there is no longer a stigma attached to PPD and woman can seek help.

I appreciate your honesty and sincerity, especially now as I struggle with my own weight issues while pregnant. Thank you for speaking up on behalf of the millions of women who have dealt with some form of eating disorder during their lifetime.

calmom June 3, 2009, 10:37 PM

Stating that she was (is?) mentally ill and abusive is not mean & ignorant…it is true and sad!

Nell June 4, 2009, 9:20 AM

I thank God that He considered many things when a woman carries a child. I believe that the reason that there was not more damage done is because of the set up pregnancy has. The baby gets whatever you eat FIRST, then the rest goes to you. So it is possible that a woman can have this condition and not hurt the baby, but starve herself instead. Then the placenta filters out a lot of poisons, so that a good bit does not reach the baby. When I was pregnant it looked like I was starving. Even though I ate like a man, they say I was “all baby”. I would eat a porterhouse almost every night, and was still hungry and skinny as a rail. My baby was getting everything. So, even though maggie didn’t eat much, the things that thankfully she did eat probably bypassed her and nurished her baby enough to be healthy.

Abbey C. June 4, 2009, 1:59 PM

As a person who has had an eating disorder most of her life, I completely empathize with issues of control and the obsession with thinness. What I don’t understand is bringing children into this world knowing that you could damage them both physically and mentally. I will not have children because I know that a) I could pass these eating orders to them and b) pregnancy would be too difficult to survive through. I love children and I have always wanted a family, but my husband and I have also have made the decision not to adopt because I could inadvertently give my child issues with themselves. I have chosen to do this because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have put myself through and I think it’s quite selfish to do otherwise. I completely feel for your story and I understand how traumatic it must have been for you, but it was also incredibly selfish, especially if you knew that you struggled during the first pregnancy as well.

Abbey C

B.J. June 4, 2009, 2:39 PM

I agree with Abbey. I’ve struggled with eating disorders as well, and for this reason, I feel it would be wrong for me to become pregnant. It just wouldn’t be fair for my child.

After the first pregnancy, why would you put yourself and your unborn child through that torture again? Knowing the same was bound to happen again, (and it did, but even worse the second time!), how could you go through with it? Whitney is very lucky to be alive at all, given her mother’s recklessness and repeated ignoring of doctor’s advice.

Val June 4, 2009, 7:12 PM

I am in recovery from anorexia nervosa. I spent the duration of my disorder and the year following it alone - I struggled alone to regain weight and establish healthy eating patterns. Regardless of my efforts, I could not shake the ever present anxiety and body dysmorphia. That is because anorexia is a DISEASE, not a CHOICE, despite what those, who have no experience of it, may contend. One can no more choose anorexia than one can bipolar disorder. The idea that we “choose” these behaviors in order to be “thin,” is the illusion of the illness. What we do have is the choice to seek treatment. I was not able to fully realize my own power and grasp my own identity until I started receiving treatment from Maggie. She is an incredibly empathetic, intuitive individual who has taken a traumatic experience, and uses it to help women who continue to suffer. In my time with her, I have progressed and grown exponentially. I applaud her bravery in sharing this intensely personal story. Her ability to be vulnerable in the face of such foolish attacks demonstrates just how superior she is to those who criticize her.

Xenobiologista June 5, 2009, 3:09 PM

I bet stories of Hollywood starlets and Olympian athletes who go back to “normal” a month after delivery don’t help.

People need to remember that the kinds of supermoms we see in the entertainment and sports news (Barbie dolls on the one hand and Amazons on the other) should not necessarily be role models for the rest of us!

Lynn June 6, 2009, 6:25 AM

Those who are making ‘negative’ comments towards the author of this article are clearly uneducated about Anorexia. It is a psychological disorder; a sickness of the mind. An individual with Anorexia, quite simply, is not capable of clear thinking, and therefore and likewise, a pregnant woman with Anorexia is not capable of just “choosing” to put their developing baby’s needs first over their mind’s fears. That is why you don’t mess with Anorexia (or Bulimia); you must get help from a professional who specializes in this psychological disorder.

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 7:05 AM

I struggled through anorexia for many years and can definitely relate to the madness of the whole thing. No matter how many people tried to tell me they thought I was getting way too skinny I only took that as motivation to keep going further because it was like a “high” or felt complimentary to hear that and I thrived on hearing how thin I was. One day I woke up and after so much pain and misery I just made a decision that there’s no possible way to keep this up the rest of my life and I just quit that day and began eating healthy. Now, after 16 years later I can actually say that I still struggle with those same kind of thoughts but no longer engage in that type of abusive behavior. Throughout those years I had married and remarried several times and had dated plenty in between divorces and I was very frightened at just the thought of getting pregnant knowing that I would have to gain weight for it, so I worried constantly about making sure I did not get pregnant and worried so much I made myself sick from it. I knew that pregnancy would be the worst thing to ever happen to me. To this day I’ve had thoughts about feeling like I’ve missed out on something by not having kids (I’m 44)but realize that it would have been a disaster had I gotten pregnant while being so dysfunctional.


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