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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
pisces June 6, 2009, 11:58 AM

Anorexia, whether pregorexia or otherwise, is a devastating illness. It has the highest percentage rate of death of any mental illness. It is not a “selfish” need to be “sexy”. It has nothing to do with trying to be sexy. If there was no one left to date on Earth, these people would still have anorexia. It is a compulsive control issue over something that no one else can control in that person.

Concerned Doctor/Mother June 6, 2009, 11:59 AM

I am having a difficult time grasping what Ms Baumann is trying to portray with her story. Clearly, she had a serious medical condition that neurologically damaged her second child. She “forgives” herself. Her daughter does not understand the risk she was put under which thank God did not result in pervasive developmental delay with mental retardation which is often the case in these situations. It is the grace of God that Whitney is able to function normally. Now Ms. Baumann wants people to consult with her for $100 for 50 minutes on their own eating disorders? Why would anyone want to talk to someone who does not even seem to realize the potential for damage (its all ok now because she regrets her actions and she has forgiven herself??)to the unborn? Will Whitney be “ok” as she grows older? Should we all say it is no big deal that this happened because Whitney
is “normal with some ADD”? There are thousands of babies that were placed in this same situation and they are brain damaged, have intractable seizures, cerebral palsy or these precious innocent angels died. Please do not see Ms. Baumann’s story as it all works out in the end. It is an outrage that a woman’s doctor and family would not intervene in a situation such as starving an unborn child. It is child abuse, pure and simple. Of course, the mother is ill, of course it is not her fault but it is not ok. It is not about forgiving anyone. It is about protecting the unborn, a tiny innocent fetus. We are all responsible and we should all be ashamed of ourselves if we do not reach out and help when we see a woman placing her unborn child in danger.

Concerned doctor/mother

juligreeneyes June 6, 2009, 12:01 PM

I was Born in 1966. When my mom was pregnant with me the doctors put women on diets so they would not gain to much weight. So the baby would not be to big. So they, the doctor, would have an easire time delivering the baby. She may have not gained much weight but this is nothing new. It was commomn practice 40+ years ago. And because of it yes my brothers and I do have health issues… we all have asthma & I have touretts, and am dyslexic. But my mom did not not gain weith by choice she was told not to. We live in a very different world now. Her children hold no grudges I believe we should hold none also.

Alena June 6, 2009, 12:03 PM

Dude she’s telling her story 4 a reason. Not 2 get insulted on but, 2 help others who r going through the same thing and 2 inform. Get her some slack.

lovekids June 6, 2009, 12:04 PM

Her story is sad, that’s true. However, the comments introduce several interesting issues. One struck me immediately about god being caring and kind and wouldn’t hurt anyone. Seems hell hurts you, to this writer. Who sends you to hell? I agree with others who say, don’t get pregnant, if you have a problem with your weight because….guess what, you gain weight with pregnancy. I, without an eating disorder, chose not to get pregnant simply because I knew I wouldn’t be a good mother. Why the desperate need to have children? A poster said, we’d pass on bad habits but also good ones. Where are we now? Few people are qualified to be parents. We’re humans so frail and full of traumas, hurts and pain. Why pass it on? One child talks about not being able to breathe with her asthma and her parent, who smoked, telling her to go into the other room. I’d stop smoking when pregnant. We have drinking, drugging parents dooming the child in the womb. Did your god have anything to do with this? Where does god even come into this. Let’s determine for ourselves whether we would be good parents or not. We have that right and obligation and leave god out of the equation. God is really never needed when good sense comes into play.

Tanner June 6, 2009, 12:06 PM

One thing I get from this article - it’s full of “I” “me” and “my” - all about HER pain and her struggle. Women in countries where their babies die because there is not enough to eat don’t suffer from anorexia. It’s only in places where there is plenty that women have the luxury to be so obsessed with their bodies. It’s a self-inflicted condition (NOT a disease). She’s damn lucky to have abused her children this way and still have them.

violet528 June 6, 2009, 12:07 PM

I think one thing many people on here do not realize is how many sacrifices are made during pregnancy. Yes, we must gain weight and eat more, exercise very moderately, eliminate caffine, alcohol, rare steaks, sushi, no more feta cheese, and on and on. In addition, intimacy (in other words intercourse) becomes limited, repetitive, and frankly boring, which impacts how we feel about our bodies in relation to our partner. Pregnant women also cannot sleep on their stomachs, go to the beach (for fear of over heating or burning that precious baby bump), run with their other kids, get up easily, walk normally (it turns into a dreaded waddle in the last 3 months), and on and on I could go. All these changes are hard to cope with and some unfortunately turn to overly controlling methods of starving, others just accept the limitations. Personally I accept the limitations but I despise the limits at the same time. Do not get me wrong I love my children unconditionally and I would and do sacrifice absolutely anything for them. However, I hate begin pregnant and cannot wait for the wonderful little baby to get out of my body so I can have my body back and sleep how I want, eat what I want like a med-rare steak, go to the beach without worrying about getting too hot, run with my kids while we play outside, and be intimate with my partner in more than one position. Being pregnant is a very challenging experience, I have successfully accomplished pregnancy 3 times and every time has been just as dreadful as the last, but I have the most perfect blessings life has to offer, my children.

Shannon June 6, 2009, 12:10 PM

Anorexia is just as much a mental illness as drug addiction. It can be cured if the person is willing , and what better reason than being pregnant to seek help? For all those saying that this woman is “brave for sharing her story” and “not a selfish person”, would you feel the same way if she was a crackhead while she were pregnant? Probably not.

Cat M June 6, 2009, 12:14 PM

I wish they’d taken your baby from you. You didn’t deserve her. You disgust me.

candycanecovenant June 6, 2009, 12:17 PM

Please, do not remember me. I married a man who does not and has not practiced the privilege and thankfulness of nourishing the human body. He does not understand the concept of food and the nutritional content and the indispensable consequences pertainging to Health and Godliness. The whole family is as such. The mother in her final years before the end of her life was extremely difficult in feeding but learned to eat hearty to the LORD. It is inbred and hereditary. It is religion. They are converted CHRISTIAN and no longer starving himself when it comes to breaking bread. Now, Its all the same letters and synonyms and antonyms and language. I did not read nor will I compromise. Eat and be healthy. Christ said this is my body.

amanda June 6, 2009, 12:18 PM

I just have to say that i am a recovering alcoholic and bulemic. I had struggled with it since i was 15. Yes, eating disorders almost completely control your mind. But not your heart! When i was 20 i became pregnant with my daughter and stopped everything cold turkey and went to get help. Right before then my bulemia was at its worst. I had landed myself in the hospital 3 times that year from malnutrition, and had lost 50 pounds in a matter of months. I knew that she was a gift from god and a wake up call. I HAD TO STOP BEING SELFISH! and think about her. These ppl can stop! they just wont. During my pregnancy i gained over 80 lbs because my body wasnt use to food and clung on to everything i put to my mouth. I was horrified at what was happening to my body. I hated myself for letting that happen. But the closer i got to having her, i didnt care as much cuz i knew that she was doing great. Thats all i wanted was for her to thrive. Now i am still very large and happy as ever with the most beautiful, healthy ten year old daughter i live for everyday. All thanks to putting my own selfishness aside and thinking of someone else instead.

nicole June 6, 2009, 12:18 PM

I’m sorry but as I was reading this, I just couldn’t get over the selfishness of your actions! I understand you were going through a tough time psychologically..but that’s no excuse to bring harm to another person, let alone your own baby! And to say..”I didn’t hate the baby, I hated ‘me’”…What sense does that make? NONE! B/c were you not smart enough to think that by punishing ‘yourself’, you’re punishing your baby as well?? I don’t get why you weren’t using your common sense, and thinking..”hey, I NEED to get HELP” and seen a psychiatrist about my problems during pregnancy! It’s no better than an abused woman staying with an abusive man b/c she has low self-esteem, doesn’t want to leave him, and has a child in the mixed of it! YES of course all of this is indirectly affecting the child! You’re not the only mother to abuse their baby in some form..but the reason Im so upset about this is b/c women need to wake up and think about the health and well-being of their children ABOVE themselves! if you’re not strong enough to do it on your own..Snap out of your world of depression for a second & GET HELP, NOW!! it’s not fair to an innocent child, whether in the womb or out!!
A life example: my sister was gong through psychologically problems herself, and had a baby, (the problems were still there of course), but then she expressed wanting to commit suicide, to our mother, but stated b/c of her baby, she knew she couldn’t do that, but still didn’t know what to do..we were so happy she told us this, b/c my mom marched her down to a psychologist the next day! and she’s doing better day by day!

Susan June 6, 2009, 12:18 PM

For all the people who ernestly say “But its a disease!” When anorexics look in the mirror they see a 500lb person! It may have evolved into a disease, but it had to start somewhere. Parents praising the thin. Teachers, ads, doctors, all authority figures EVERYWHERE equating thin with good. Or thin with lovable. Then their friends get them—and the damage really begins. This is sad because its a disease created out of hate for the self. Hate for the way God is creating you. And it has to be treated by replacing hatred with love.

Anya June 6, 2009, 12:23 PM

I think she should have CHOSEN not to get pregnant again. That is SOMETHING that she had CONROL over. SHE could have used birth control or HE could have worn a condom. During the third pregnancy she mentions regretting the abortion….SHE should have thought about the baby that was LIVING inside of her also. Suppose the baby had died? or worse came out mentally impaired? And Whitney you are here because GOD had a plan for you….NOT because your mother nurtured you in her womb! Love and nurturing starts while the baby is in the womb!

Jarold June 6, 2009, 12:28 PM

I don’t have sympathy for you at all, you should have stopped thinking about yourself and start have thinking about your baby. So what if you have a disorder thats not an excuse obviously you had control of stop exercising because your doctor told you so. GET over it. Your stupid, I am praying that you baby made it out ok. I agree with Lisa!

a mom of 3 June 6, 2009, 12:41 PM

i got married at 18 , im now almost 38 i have 3 children from 7-17. my husband looked at others while i was pregnant, hes flirted with a 19 year old recently (which is sick) and we’ve been married 20 years this upcoming year. my kids are more important then his image of me, if he wants someone else then so be it. i dont think a size 7 is that big for a 37 year old but what do i know andyes my stomach isnt tight any more ( i wore a size 0 when i met my husband) but i dont care, im happy with my kids

Lexi June 6, 2009, 12:52 PM

I think everyone needs to get off Maggies back. It obviously took a lot of guts to write this for all of us to read and learn from. And just because she made a mistake, doesn’t mean that we should jump down her throat and criticize her. Just think, maybe someone who has/had pregorexia read this and it helped them out, and they realized what they are doing. And if that is the case, well then she may have saved one person and their unborn child. She struggled with this, and her and her family got through it and grew from it. Chill out and let her share her experience. Kudos to you Maggie.

kandi June 6, 2009, 12:52 PM

Iam saddened by the ingnorance of some of these comments, Iam truly glad that you have overcome your disiese, and that your children are healthy and happy adults. I had a neighbor that had anorexia, and she overcame her struggle also. by the grace of god. god bless you maggie and your children.I have a eating problem, i eat when iam stressed out and always have not quite as severe as yours but i struggle with weight all the time. thank you for being brave i know you are helping a lot of people suffering from these disieses.
kandi

Margaret June 6, 2009, 12:53 PM

I love the way this woman justifies what she did to her children. You knew at the time it wasn’t right & I can’t begin to understand how you “counsel” people… Of course your children will forgive you, but everytime your daughter struggles w/ learning you have to know its your fault. And for the sake of looking good or a # on a scale! I didn’t care if I got as fat as a house & I bless every stretch mark. It took me 13 yrs of trying & I was so happy to be preg., I didn’t care if I lost a limb. I knew I could control only so much, & things happen anyway, but when I look @ my girls, I know I did everything humanly possible for a good outcome. I have known women like this and they absolutly disgust me. Then they pass on their disorders to their children. Lady, you need the guilt. Not to the point of it cripling you, but to remind you not to do something similar or to let anyone else do it to their children. So don’t be so quick to forgive yourself.

christina June 6, 2009, 12:59 PM

you are disgusting and selfish and i hope nothing but the worst for you.


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