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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
rebecca June 6, 2009, 10:25 AM

Um, take responsibility and how about not getting pregnant with an eating disorder. Eating disorders have comorbid syndromes like depression, none of which are ‘helpful’ to the pregnent mother or her child. Why not address these THEN get pregnant if you really want to be a loving mother.

connie miller June 6, 2009, 10:27 AM

I am outraged. You selfish ^%$#$@^&*&!!!

carolegeschke June 6, 2009, 10:28 AM

I had 7 children and the last one was small due to an appendicitus operation in 7 month. All you, Elizabeth, Patrick (?) Abbey C ..you haven’t a clue about illness..If she had had an abortion to stay thin..then pounce on her..but really she wanted the baby but she was ill..those that don’t want children have abortions..She turned her career into helping others like her.Congrats!

Sole June 6, 2009, 10:31 AM

Wow, it is odd that this has an effect on her and her child when it doesn’t on millions of women around the world or their children (and their children’s children). One thing I learned from school that the starving of women in the concentration camps had an effect on the women but the children were not effected because the child will take the nutrients from the mother regardless so the mother might deplete herself, but the child will gain thrive regardless. At one time the total amount of weight a mother was allowed to gain was 20 pounds. I knew of doctors who prescribed diet pills to make certain that the mother did not gain more than the allowed weight. I also new of doctors that told the mothers that they were overweight and that they could gain no weight at all during the pregnancy, in fact they had to loose x amount of pounds which was done in order to have a safe pregnancy and birth. (1960’s and 1970’s). A 20 pound weight gain was considered an acceptable weight gain, anything over the 1-2 pounds gained per months was given warning to lower caloric intake for the sake of the child. Exercise is another thing. What is normally done was considered okay for the most part through a majority of the pregnancy, then certain things had to be scaled back. If there were problems with the pregnancy things activities were stopped. Extreme workouts would probably be forbidden regardless. I know the grandkid’s ballet instructor danced in the recital at 7 months (and danced and taught dance daily) through much of her pregnancy. Thought, obscession-they’re killers, but apparently as years of proof of all those kids that I knew who grew up, went to school, thrived and had their own kids, I just don’t know that 33 pounds is deemed appropriate, it might be a norm now but is it necessarily what a doctor would tell patients to strive for during a pregnancy?

a mom that also had an abortion June 6, 2009, 10:35 AM

Just another person blaming abortion for their problems.

kym June 6, 2009, 10:37 AM

In regards to Abbey’s comment about her now having acute asthma at 38 due to her mom not taking better care during preganancy, I too have suffered from asthma since I was a teen due to my mom smoking while pregnant and then all the second hand smoke drifting thru the house like a cloud while growing up, it was awful. The response when you say I can’t breathe put that out? “Go in the other room!” So now, I am 36 and have had to deal with ashtma, breathing treatments with a nebulizer and disrupted sleep due to the asthma some nights. I can relate to Abbey totally. But I also think the woman who wrote this story is sorry and courageous for telling the public of her battle with an eating disorder. she sounds like a good mom to me!

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 10:50 AM

How nice, and LUCKY Whitney Is to have a chance to have a normal life, even though her mother abused and neglected her during pregancy. Too bad you couldn’t keep your mental illness private. The massage you are sending is thAT IS IS OKAY TO ABUSE AND NEGLECT YOUR OWN FETUS, BECAUSE EVERYTHING WIL BE OKAY ANYWAY. I WOULD SUBMIT THAT YOU ARE REDICUOUSLY SELF-INVOLVED TO THINK THAT THE WORLD REALLY CARES AND NEEDS YOU TO BE THIN, MODERATE OR ANY OTHER THING. The world doesn’t need you , and we certainly don’t need to hear theis story. It serves no good purpose. BOTTOM LINE IS, YOU’RE JUST NOT THAT IMPROTANT TO ANYONE. I feel sorry for your children who will grow up with a poor relationship with food due to your modeling. your husband should divorce you, and get you out of the household to give the kids a chance. social services should intervene. THIS IS DAILY CHILD ABUSE!Look out world, here come 2 more mentally ill adults who won’t be able to support a normal existance (that the rest ofus will have to pay for) based on their mother’s right to rear the up in this manner, and their father’s enabling behavior. HOW SAD.

cece June 6, 2009, 10:54 AM

Hey-this happened 23-24 years ago when everyone except those suffering was “in the closet” about mental illnesses. This is before the Prozac Nation and talk shows discussing every mental illness known to man. I don’t think the author knew she had anorexia, and was not in treatment. What about the alcoholics who keep drinking, or even the smokers? Addiction is a powerful thing and I don’t blame the addict for trying to be “normal” and have kids while fighting every minute not to starve herself to death. And yes-she didn’t think she was starving the babies just herself. That’s how we “split” our self-destructive behaviors. Around that time I was cutting and burning myself and a full-time college student. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it and easy to pass judgement. Maggie atones for her “sins” everyday by helping others like her and everytime she sees her daughters’faces. She has been punished enough and is lucky to be able to heal. I never had kids, I wanted this crazy cycle to stop, but I work with your kids everyday. Cece

Rose June 6, 2009, 10:54 AM

I think it is absolutely necessary for people to be more aware of eating disorders, and the affects it has on the person suffering from it and the people around them. I have a sister who suffers from bulimia, but has been going through treatment for years and is now doing much better. Eating disorders have nothing to do with vanity, and often occur in people who have emotional and mental issues. My sister and I both went through abuse as children, and my sisters way of gaining control was through food. No matter how skinny she was, she still was fat in her own eyes. No matter how perfect she looked to everyone, she was repulsed by her body and thought compliments were lies from people just trying to be polite. This issue is obviously deeper than cosmetic changes, and intense therapy is needed, which worked for my sister. She is pregnant right now, and although doing much better than ever, we are afraid she may go through some rough patches. It is unfair to say she or anyone with an eating disorder should not have children. In that case, no one who is poor, or stupid, or ugly, or diabetic, or has asthma should have kids either. See how silly that is? Great article and you along with your daughters seem to be lovely and intelligent.

Bobbie June 6, 2009, 10:57 AM

I am very fortunate. My mother was an alcoholic and smoked excessively during my time in the womb. At a young age I was diagnosed with ADD and bi-polar. At 25, I am on disability and will never have to work like the rest of you poor suckers. I have always had an “excuse” for everything I have done wrong and have gotten off of numerous run ins with the authorities due to my condition. I sometimes do wonder what the long term conditions will be on my health and well being, but what the heck, live every day as if it is your last and remember, “Its all about ME”.

Tina June 6, 2009, 10:59 AM

This is sick! It’s horrible to starve yourself when you’re normal but to do it while pregnant? I don’t get how anyone has that will power! The will to EAT is so great it’s amazing and disgusting at the same time. I feel for the children because this is just as bad as if she picked up a crack pipe. I must be a strong person because I have the stregnth to walk around fat but at least I have a happy, healthy child.

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 11:00 AM

People need to stop making excuses for this woman. She chose not to eat, she chose to exercise against the doctors orders, and she KNEW she was pregnant. Why are we justifying her actions? I don’t care if anorexia is a disease. You ultimately made the choice not to put food in your mouth. There is only one word for this woman and that is SELFISH. To know that a mother cares more about being thin than about her unborn child? This is truly repulsive. If you wanted to remain thin, the ADOPT or DON’T have children! I am infuriated by this woman and I am sick of everyone making up excuses for these types of people. She had choices and she chose the wrong.

N.D. June 6, 2009, 11:05 AM

I understand that this is a disease but I am mortified that one could be so selfish. When you decide to bring a child into this world that is your new and most important responsibility. The part about just needing the baby outside of the womb to take proper care of it was awful. Are you kidding? Your baby needs you just as much while its still inside of you. I am 5 months pregnant and yes gaining weight is not fun, but its necessary and important. I am a healthy woman (26yrs) and can take the weight off after my daughter is born. Its not about me right now. If your not stable emotionally or physically DON’T get pregnant!

rar June 6, 2009, 11:10 AM

I call that child endangerment and she should have been arrested and the other child taken from her to force her to strictly comply with ALL of the doctors advice not just some of it or have the unborn baby taken away at birth.

Darlene N.  June 6, 2009, 11:11 AM

First of all, I don’t understand why people applaud Maggie. When she was pregnant, she knew she had that problem, and she should have sought help for it, rather than waiting until afterwards. The doctor warned her twice.

Whitney, I don’t think you understand what Elisabeth was trying to say. It’s not about the forgiveness, but the casual attitude with which she discussed the possible harms as a result of her actions.

As someone who has suffered from grand mal seizures, I know how severe they can be, and I cannot look upon considering that “minor” as anything other than a rationalization to minimize the risks that she took with you.

Betty June 6, 2009, 11:12 AM

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? THIS WOMAN DELIBERATELY STARVED HER UNBORN CHILD SO THAT SHE COULD PLEASE HER OWN VANITY. LET ME ASK YOU THIS? IF SHE STARVED HER CHILD AFTER IT WAS BORN, WOULD SHE BE COMMITTING A CRIME? YES!!!!!! IT IS THE SAME PRINCIPAL. WAS SHE ALWAYS ANOREXIC? OR DID SHE GET VAIN AFTER SHE GAINED A FEW POUNDS? I THINK THE LATTER. SHE SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF HERSELF. SHE DID NO LESS THAN TO TRY TO ABORT THIS CHILD BY HER OWN MEANS. AND I REALLY FEEL SORRY FOR HER DAUGHTER WHO BELIEVES THIS JUNK SHE IS TELLING HER. MY GUESS IS THIS MOM NEVER WANTED TO HAVE KIDS. WHAT A SELFISH TWIT!!!

Stephanie June 6, 2009, 11:18 AM

This woman deserves to be in jail, as does any other woman who makes the conscious decision to get pregnant and continue the pregnancy only to starve their babies. Because of her selfishness her Daughter has had to endure a lifetime of mental and physical problems - that is abuse!

Those writing in defending the Author saying this is a disease of the “mind” that she couldn’t control need to cut the BS. If you have a problem like this you have absolutely no business getting pregnant and should take all precaution’s to avoid it. Period.

Women who do this to their babies rather than seeking help for the sake of sparing their bodies from the changes normal to pregnancy are pathetic excuse’s for human being’s and don’t deserve to be called Mother’s! Stop making excuse’s and take control of your live’s so no more children have to suffer because of your selfishness!

CC June 6, 2009, 11:19 AM

I struggled also with anorexia for many years and now am in recovery, but I would never ever think about bringing a baby into the picture. I have seen woman in recovery who were pregnant and I praised them for being there. If I couldn’t take care of myself then I definalty would not get pregnant or take precautions to make sure I didn’t. If I did get pregant I would put myself into treatment, like others have said the baby comes first!

laprns June 6, 2009, 11:20 AM

This is horrifying and it terrifies me that apparently people accept this and sympathize with you.

Jenn June 6, 2009, 11:23 AM

All of you who are saying that this is not about vanity and she is not a selfish person… one even said if she was that selfish she would have just terminated the pregnancy… SHE DID THAT… she had an abortion in college maybe for an unrelated reason but still obviously if she is selfish enough to have an abortion and to have “pregorexia” then she is too selfish to be a mother… I think if they are going to leave abortion legal there should be a rule… When you have the abortion you have to have your tubes tied… these women spread their legs and then kill babies and then they screw one up for life by not eating while they are pregnant and they blame some “disorder”… its total bull they were afraid of getting fat and they didnt care about the baby just themselves. Selfish, ignorant people who don’t deserve the privledge of being pregnant!


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