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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
Susan June 6, 2009, 11:26 AM

This was a brave article to write and I’m glad she did it, because I never realized how anorexia continues on in pregnancy—a time when to be “fat” is acceptable and beautiful. “Fat” is not the right word even. I think anorexia and bulimia is caused by our society and it is a psychological disease. I can’t help but be angry with these patients—I wonder at all their rationalizations for their behavior. Even unto death for them or their child. I am an overweight woman in this society and I enjoy my food and live with all your hostile fearful judgemental stares and I am alive and well and LOVED. So stop making the assumptions that you are unlovable and live is not worth living if you are fat. Come onnnnn…

Mandy June 6, 2009, 11:33 AM

I was just the opposite during my pregnancy. I was willing to sacrifice anything so that my baby would be healthy. I was overprotective of my self and did not move around enough and exercise enough since I had had previous miscarriages. I gained too much weight. My baby was born healthy but he had a misshapen head and later we found out he had mild autsim which caused him to have a language delay.he has a normal IQ and learning ability but the problems in his sensory distract him from learning and remembering words that he wants to say like other children. Sometimes he blanks out when he needs to say something because he cannot focus on so many things at once.

Dee June 6, 2009, 11:35 AM

As a former Anorexic/Bulimic I can relate in a way. I was never Anorexic during any of my pregnancies because I was in recovery the first time I got pregnant. I was 97 lbs. when I got pregnant with my son. He is now two and I have a 7 month old daughter and am fighting a relapse.

Josh Morale June 6, 2009, 11:36 AM

Look people here’s the thing about this , OK this woman obviously has issues , I think it is rather selfish to act this way,odd that the husband didn’t notice the hours at the gym , the exercise clothes, the fact that some one who exercises that much feels like they are carved out of wood. Certainly there has to be some kind of clue that there was a problem , did he never attend a Dr.s appt? Everyone in this situation (excluding kids) dropped the ball on this situation. The reality is that this woman has or had serious vanity issues,look at me,look at me I’m pretty too!OK, now were looking ,happy? dis orders like this honestly are really odd to me, really, are you that self absorbed? If people can’t accept you for who you are then it’s time to find new people to associate with. This couple got lucky and dodged a big bullet,some people do it all right and still have horrific problems. If this article was intended to inspire those with similar issues to do some thing about it and does, great. Unfortunately this article only serves to the rest of us as a stark reminder of how selfish and absurd some people behaviors can be.

Sona June 6, 2009, 11:37 AM

Dear Maggie,
Don’t let these negative comments get in the way. I’m proud that you didn’t have an abortion or gave up on your child. You have the power to overcome something difficult. My praises go out to you and your beloved child. Everyone else who think that she was unfit and selfish think again or loo up anorexia. Its not a choice you make. It different for people to overcome it. Some people can and some don’t. It can be a total challenge. She wasn’t selfish because she didn’t have an abort her child just to stay thin. She could have, but she didn’t because she cared about saving her child!! That’s something a real mother would do. You people don’t understand what we go through. There will be many obstacles in life and its gonna be hard for many people and they’ll take care of it one way or another in their own way. There’s a lot to think about during pregnancies like if you want to keep your baby or not. Seriously if u guys want to make negative comments go ahead because your message won’t be heard.

Disgusted Q. Bystander June 6, 2009, 11:39 AM

I thought my wife was crazy for complaining about missing out on morning sickness as part of the “pregnancy experience”. But YOU…..

You withholding, obsessive loon, you’ve forgiven yourself?

It’s nice to know it’s still all about you!

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 11:39 AM

WHEN I WAS PREGNANT WITH MY SECOND CHILD I WAS DIETING 24-7 FOR SEVERAL YRS..MY LIFE WAS IN A PLACE WHERE IT WAS ALL ABOUT BEING THIN…THINNNER..AS THIN AS I COULD GET. I KEPT MY WEIGHT AT BAY AND AT ONE POINT LOST 20#. I ONLY GAINED 20# AT 9 MOS….SHE WAS TINY….AND ENDED UP WITH SKIN ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA VERY BAD. DID I CAUSE IT?????

Kim June 6, 2009, 11:39 AM

Figures that she didn’t breastfeed. HAHA

Lisa June 6, 2009, 11:43 AM

Maggie, I want to commend you for having the courage to share your story with the general public. I know that you do this because it may potentially help someone out there. I know that you share your personal pain to try to make a connection with people who may feel alone in their own similar situation. I also know that sharing our own painful stories of loss and regret and healing is for our benefit also and especially for the Glory of God, our Creator. The amount of hate that has been spewn toward you in these comments does not at all surprise me. I know that the mere mention of a past abortion creating problems and disorders in a woman’s life can bring out atrocious behavior and accusations from people. What is very interesting to me is that people are violently condemning you for imposing harm onto your “fetus” while pregnant (to which both of those children lived), but not a mention of the harm or pain and suffering imposed on the “fetus” that was aborted. (I say that NOT to condemn you for the abortion-but to point out this discrepency in thought to other commenters). I hope that people can see how ridiculous that thought process is. I too have suffered great emotional difficulty following three abortions I had during my early twenties. It is by the Grace of God that I have been able to carry and deliver two beautiful children after my abortions. It is by the Grace of God that I have not had many of the physical scars or difficulties that many women have after an abortion. However, I suffered from drug and alcohol abuse for a few years following my abortions, and during both of my pregnancies following my abortions I suffered from depression and a binge eating disorder. I KNOW NOW that these symptoms were directly attributed to my past abortions-but during both pregnancies I had no idea what was wrong with me. I KNOW that my abortions are to blame because I had a child PRIOR to my abortions and NEVER experienced these issues while carrying him. People need to understand that abortion hurts women. Period. Abortion harms all of society. Period. Abortion has created many many ills in our society and people need to wake up to this. I regret my abortions. I know the amount of suffering and anguish they have caused me and not a day goes by that I do not wish I had chosen to give life to my aborted children. By the Grace of God I was able to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat-it is for healing after abortion. I HIGHLY recommend Rachel’s Vineyard to you, Maggie (your husband and children could also attend with you-they have all been affected by the loss of your abortion) and to ALL men, women, even grandparents who have lost children to abortion. By attending this retreat I was able to come face to face with the reality of my abortion, and to find peace and begin healing through Jesus Christ. I wish the Peace of Christ to be with all of you here visiting this board today.
-Lisa

violet June 6, 2009, 11:44 AM

I have read through this article and the replies an dI must say I can see both points, however, I must say I find this woman to be brave because she was able to acknowledge what she did was horrible, share her pain and regret, and has put her bad experience into good use by sharing her story with others, which educates people whom are unaware on the dangers of not eating right, especially when pregnant. I am a mother of 2 (one is 4 the second 22 months) and I am expecting my 3rd in a couple months. I too prefer being thin and have struggled with the body changes pregnancy brings, however, I do not let my desire to be thin to alter my eating habits, but I also do not over eat just because I am pregnant. I was underweight at the beginning of my first two pregnancies (5’2 and 100 lbs) so I had to gain more to support the babies, with my first I gained an awful 38 lbs and my second 46 lbs, but I lost my baby weight in 8 months and was back to normal (the process was slow because I still had to eat more for breast feeding) . After my second I decided to keep 10 extra lbs and weight 110 when I became pregnant with my third I am now at 130, which I hate, but I know it is for the good of my little baby so I continue to eat healthy and balanced meals, do not drink caffine or alcohol, and I only do my pregnancy exercise DVD twice a week, when I could do it everyday, but who has the energy for that when caring for 2 small kids? ;-) I think most of the struggles I have with my body changes stem from my personal feelings of being unattractive to my partner, if he were more comforting and kissed my fat baby belly once in awhile I would feel more confident. SO if any men are reading this, if you ever have a pregnant woman around you shower her with praise for growing your baby, kiss her belly, and make her feel like the wonderful person she is for giving up her body for 9 months while pregnant (not to mention the year of eating more while breast feeding). Be understanding of her emotional struggles with all the changes going on in her body and limitations brought on by the changes. Emotional support of the spouse is vital to a pregnant woman’s happiness, I only wish my children’s father was more comforting and understanding of what I am going through and have gone through three times now for our beautiful children.

Stuart Teich June 6, 2009, 11:45 AM

About allergies: my brothers and my wife’s brothers and I all have allergies and asthma to one degree or another. My wife does not. She’s the only one who was breastfed; all the boys got the bottle.

The previous generation had no such problems, and neither do my daughter or any of our nieces or nephews. All breastfed.

Draw your own conclusions.

Dee June 6, 2009, 11:46 AM

Patrick-how can you comment on something you obviously have no idea about?

violet June 6, 2009, 11:48 AM

Just to continue… Be understanding of her emotional struggles with all the changes going on in her body and limitations brought on by the changes. Emotional support of the spouse is vital to a pregnant woman’s happiness, I only wish my children’s father was more comforting and understanding of what I am going through and have gone through three times now for our beautiful children.

Lisa June 6, 2009, 11:48 AM

(OOPS-finishing my above post) …I know the amount of suffering and anguish they have caused me and not a day goes by that I do not wish I had chosen to give life to my aborted children. By the Grace of God I was able to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat-it is for healing after abortion. I HIGHLY recommend Rachel’s Vineyard to you, Maggie (your husband and children could also attend with you-they have all been affected by the loss of your abortion) and to ALL men, women, even grandparents who have lost children to abortion. By attending this retreat I was able to come face to face with the reality of my abortion, and to find peace and begin healing through Jesus Christ. I wish the Peace of Christ to be with all of you here visiting this board today.
-Lisa

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 11:49 AM

Selfishness is what drove this woman to not eat, not fear!!! And she looks disgusting so skinny! Doesn’t she know how horrible she looked? 30 or 40 lbs on her would have done wonders!

Dee June 6, 2009, 11:50 AM

Be quiet Josh Morale. Anorexia/Bulimia is not about vanity. It’s about body dysmorphia. You may see a 122 lbs. woman but what we see when we step on the scale and look in the mirror is a 522 lbs. person. Go learn about eating disorders before opening up your mouth about them and sounding ignorant.

Hayden Tompkins June 6, 2009, 11:51 AM

“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.”

I can’t even tell you how heartbreakingly sad I find this statement.

anon June 6, 2009, 11:52 AM

try getting help before getting pregnant. this is no excuse i know personally 2 familys that have suffered brain damage children that shows up much later in life,due to malnutrition. it is just selfish , you are only giving up 9 months of your life to feed that baby.shame on ;you

Cynthia J. June 6, 2009, 11:54 AM

Maggie, I’m happy you have forgiven yourself for your reckless behavior during your pregnancies. And relieved that, for the most part, your children survived your illness. I think we all need to realize that we cannot have it all. I hope your girls do not emulate your perfectionism and preoccupation with all things appearance related. Some women should not have children. At least not have children until one’s mental health is more stable. Good Luck and Best Wishess.

Dee June 6, 2009, 11:56 AM

Everyone who says that eating disorders is about vanity (like Josh Morale) or being selfish need to be quiet. That is not what it’s about. You may see a 122 lbs. person but what we see when we look in the mirror and on the scale is a 522 lbs. person. It’s about body dysmorphia. As for no one seeing the signs, my parents missed the signs for years. Why? We have ways of hiding it because Anorexics/Bulimics learn to be extremely sneaky.

This is a disorder, not a choice. Like a previous poster had said, no one chooses to have an eating disorder like no one chooses to be Bipolar. I know I sure as heck didn’t choose to be Bipolar.

Now all of you need to read up on eating disorders and learn something before opening your mouths and sounding ignorant. If you don’t want to learn about it, then God help you if one of your children ever develop an eating disorder. I will feel sorry for your child because you’ll be too ignorant to realize that they need help.


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