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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
Kat June 6, 2009, 7:06 AM

When I started reading the article, my first thoughts were ‘how could a mother do this to her child?” By the end of the article, I understood. Thank you for speaking your truth, it made something clear to me that wasn’t before.
I also see that your children now are in their 20’s, I don’t think there was a much help/information about ED’s then. Best of luck,

Mommy or Two June 6, 2009, 7:09 AM

Wow! I had never heard of this before. I know a lot of woman can relate to the weight gaining issues. It is hard especially when your spouse is making those comments. I am glad that the babies are okay.

Amy June 6, 2009, 7:14 AM

making mistakes while pregnant is the worst thing a mother-to-be can do, but that doesnt mean that they cant be forgiven? the children forgive her, she forgives herself who are we then to cast the first stone to judge her? yes, you may feel as if it was a terrible dysfunction or crim but, its not our life. we dont know her personally we dont know circumstances. ok, there maybe no excuse but again who are we to judge?

Tony June 6, 2009, 7:17 AM

They should take these stupid broads who has Anorexia and spade them. They know they have to eat for the baby and they don’t care about the poor baby.
No excuse for making the child suffer.
This is a case of women being to stupid to care for them selves.

Jenny June 6, 2009, 7:26 AM

Dear Abbey C., It’s unfortunate that you feel that way about yourself, but if everyone in the world chose not to have children because we all fear passing on our bad traits, the human population would cease to exist because the reality is that we all have bad traits, bad genes, bad tendencies, and psychological trauma we’ve had to deal with throughout our lives. We also have plenty of good to give by learning from our mistakes. Maggie isn’t selfish for having children just because you’ve decided that you can’t move past your trauma enough to raise your own. What does that say to thousands of women - and men - who have won the battles with their demons and live healthy lives?

Lindsey June 6, 2009, 7:44 AM

I can say two things:

One - As a Mother and someone who has always struggled with weight and image issues - I had to get over it when I got pregnant and I did - no excuses! I started my pregnancy at 120 lbs and I gained no weight my first trimester because I could not stop throwing up from morning sickness, but they soon realized it was from pregnancy based hypoglycemia (low blood sugar.) I ended my pregnancy at 171 lbs because I HAD to keep my blood sugar up for my baby’s health so I ate small meals every 2 hours. I never allowed myself to resent the food I was eating - when my baby was kicking and turning I knew it was him saying “Thanks Mom - that was good and I feel good!”

Two - I think this article gives an excuse to other women who are doing the same things. “It’s not me - it’s the anorexia!” I don’t care who it is - it is your baby you are hurting and while I am glad your daughter says she forgives you I don’t know how you can be so self righteous to say you have forgiven yourself. If my actions had harmed my child I never could forgive myself. Perhaps this indicates your struggle with mental illness is not over! Most parents cannot just write off life long harm they have caused their child and you should really consider why it is you are so cold and emotionless with regards to having nearly killed your own baby.

Food for thought.

Donna June 6, 2009, 7:53 AM

During my second pregnancy, I worried constantly about my weight gain but I never resricted myself because I knew I needed to nourish my daughter while she was growing inside of me. Her father actually put those fears to rest when he said to me one evening…”You’re NOT fat, you’re pregnant with my baby!” After that, I stopped worrying. She was born and I lost all of my baby weight within a few months.

tooii June 6, 2009, 7:55 AM

What a selfish bimbo, to starve your unborn chhild like that, they need to throw her skinny butt in jail.

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 7:58 AM

this is just self absorbed thinking…. if you choose to hurt yourself…DO NOT get pregnant…. HELLO…

shykiss3 June 6, 2009, 7:59 AM

I give her credit for coming forward and telling her story. It’s hard when people have weight issues. Personally, I have dealt with weight issues my whole life and I am a thin person. When I got pregnant with my child I thought I was going to get fat, and I thought I looked fat and was embarrassed by the way I looked. I thought the weight would be there forever! But I never never starved myself. I ate because it was important for my baby to eat. Then when I had my child I lost the weight. I bounced back down to 115lbs and was happy again. As women , I think it is hard to not have weight issues especially when we live in a society that expects perfection and beauty is defined by waht we see on tv and in magazines. I’m glad this woman was able to tell her story. Plus, it was a long time ago and it’s not about her having the courage, it’s about her seeing the problem and thank God her children didn’t have any serious issues. God Bless! peace!

L. Robbins June 6, 2009, 8:04 AM

I sincerely hope that Maggies story touches the hearts of the so many women suffering from eating disorders. As any of us know it takes an extremely strong, healthy individual to speak about the sense of insanity you feel when overcome with an eating disorder. The bottom line is that you have no control over your actions or feelings. I have had these struggles since I was 14, I am now 43. Having had four children I understand what Maggie went through. I applaud her for her unselfishness in telling her story, and her daughters for their understanding and defending their mother.

Luanne June 6, 2009, 8:11 AM

when I was pregnant with my second child, 50 yrs ago, I had gained 25 lbs by my 7th month and the doctor said that that was too much , so he put me on diet pills and I had to go to is office once a week for a shot to get rid of fluid, and by the time he was born I lost 5 lbs, so that means I gained 20 lb, when he was born he weighed 8 lbs and was healthy thank goodness, but in later years he had ADD, and is a very fidgety adult. I always felt guilty about this but I was only following doctors orders. Actually I have 5 children and always gained alot of weight with the others, like 40 and 50 lbs. I am only 5ft and my normal weight at the time was about 100 lbs.

Inez June 6, 2009, 8:14 AM

My comment is: if you are so concerned about getting fat, why get pregnant? You have to know with pregnancy you are going to gain weight. No woman HAVE TO GET PREGNANT today. There are many contraceptives out there. I see a very selfish and self absorbed person who is trying to have her cake and eat it to. Anorexia is a choice just like any other habit.

klgeko June 6, 2009, 8:21 AM

wakadoodlo most women are………….

Emily June 6, 2009, 8:27 AM

First off, alot of you people dont understand what pregnant women go through. It’s not easy holding a baby in for 9 months and making sure you do everything just right. Then gaining all that weight. Then having a man tell you that you are getting fat and being pregnant isn’t attractive. That is the last thing any pregnant women wants to hear, esp from her husband. Being a women isn’t easy either, everyone looking at you and having to remind you on what is wrong with u and pointing it out to everyone else. It amazes me when a women trys to share something about what is happening in her life, that is something that she cant control or something that just happen, everyone has to critize her and her family.

Patti June 6, 2009, 8:29 AM

I appreciate Whitney’s support of her mother, and her forgiveness is certainly paramount in this situation. It is very difficult for others to understand how a woman (mother) can put herself above her child’s well being, but I do understand that anorexia is a very complex disorder. I find it sad that even pregnancy is sometimes not enough of a wake up call that a woman needs help, and fast!!

My own daughter has OCD, and it is a very debilitating disorder, one that is even more complicated to treat. I can relate to Maggie’s pain.

I’m very glad that both Maggie and her daughter’s are doing well, and I pray for their continued well being!

alison June 6, 2009, 8:29 AM

your a unfit mom and your kids should be taken away from you -you selfish pig

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 8:40 AM

Don’t take comments like Elizabeth’s personally…everyone has an opinion and your not always going to like what people have to say because there are quite a few ignorant people in this world. Elizabeth and those like her are the reason people are afraid to come out and talk about what your mother has. Your mother is BRAVE to have come out. She may SAVE a life due to her story.

Michelle June 6, 2009, 8:43 AM

I am appauled by the comments people are making that insinuate a person who forgives themselves is somehow not remorseful. Should Maggie have realized her role in creating some sort of imperfections in her daughters and given up and killed herself? She sought help, became a healthy person and turned her mistakes into teaching opportunities to help others. She can’t beat herself up forever, although I would guess there are moments that bring back some of those negative thoughts. I am a mother of 2 healthy children and was very careful during my pregnancies. I did not gain a lot of weight with either, although most of that was from terrible morning sickness. I’m short and looked as big as a house, but luckily the people around me were very positive, my husband thought I was beyond sexy during pregnany. I was lucky. None of us have had perfect lives. I believe most of the people with mean comments hold mothers to some “Mother Theresa” standard. Just because you become pregnant, does not make you a saint, and just because you’re not perfect, does not mean you shouldn’t become a mother.

Sandi June 6, 2009, 8:54 AM

I took care of one mom with pregorexia (love that term!), who was so freaked out about her weight, she didn’t even want IV fluids during the delivery for fear she’d “gain weight”. She nearly drove us all crazy that day, and her doc finally had a little chat with her that unless she cooperated, she end up with no epidural, and a c/section to get her safely delivered.

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