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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
tonya June 6, 2009, 1:03 PM

your child will forever have problems because of what you inflicted on her. you should be put away in a mental institution and never see your children again.

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 1:05 PM

I think what Maggie did to her children was awful. There’s a such thing as maternal instinct. Which kicks in, and makes you want to have a healthy child. Therefore, the things you did before pregnancy are in the past. You’re responsible for another life. It’s called self control. Love your child more than you love yourself. Maggie was being slefish, and didn’t consider her children enough to give them a chance at a normal infancy. However, I’m glad they were able to forgive.

Ellen June 6, 2009, 1:05 PM

It’s amazing how many selfish, self-absorbed people there are in this world. What a sad, pathetic account.

Sally June 6, 2009, 1:12 PM

I might be ignorant about such “illness” But what I see is a selfish person. As a woman, a child health and well being is the MOST important thing while pregnant and after. NO MATTER WHAT. It makes me so upset to read her story. All I see is a SELFISH human being. Sorry if I’m harsh.
I have 2 wonderful kids, and while pregnant, weight wasn’t an issue, I just wanted the best for my unborn child, and I still maintain a 115 lbs in a 5’2 frame. Get your weight back after you deliver your child.

KATHY June 6, 2009, 1:15 PM

I was pregnant at the age of 15, 42 years ago. All through my pregnancy my doctor kept telling me I was gaining too much weight. So I lived on melba toast and apples . I still kept gaining . Then at 7 months my doctor gave me an X-ray and said something was abnormally wrong. I was term size and only one heartbeat.The X-ray showed TWINS !! From then on I ate like a pig.They were born at 8 1/2 months. They weighed 6 lbs 4 oz EACH and 21”long. All 3 of us were anemic but other than that, healthy.
I weighed 115 before the pregnancy and the day I went into the hospital to deliver I weighed 132.
I gained 17 lbs with twins that weighed 12 lbs 8 oz for both of them . I am so grateful that they were healthy !
Thank God for 2 small miracles !!!

starr97s June 6, 2009, 1:18 PM

this women should have went to jail. That was abuse to that fetus. Where are the cops she admitted not eating enough and her child has suffered all her life for what her mom did. if i was this women i would never be able to live with the guilt and then she wants to blame it on abortion.I THINK SHE NEEDS TO BE COMMITTED HER HEAD IS NOT RIGHT

Stacey June 6, 2009, 1:18 PM

I was in the middle of my struggle with anorexia when I found out I was pregnant with my third child. I was dtermined not to gain weight and throughout the entire pregnancy, gained 18 pounds. In fact, I was 5 months along before I found out I was even pregnant at all. My son was born and was immediately placed in the NICU. He had a high temp and was very apathetic -wouldn’t cry and would lay there limply. I am fortunate that 5 years later he is healthy and has rebounded, however I will never forget the words of my OB/GYN when he told me that we will never know what effects the anorexia had on my son until he grows older, and we’ll always just have to “wait and see.”

kellie June 6, 2009, 1:19 PM

well she brought all of it on herself, she said she thought it all stemmed from a college abortion. well not only did she kill one child because of her sefishness she almost severly injured (in the womb) and about killed her other 2 children again because of her selfishness. when i became pregnant i didnt care if i would of had to eat dirt to keep my child healthy, and i think most women feel this way, the child comes first. and clearly she was more worried about “punishing” herself to worry about what it would do to her children. luckily they seemed to turn out ok.

sphm4494 June 6, 2009, 1:20 PM

You sound like a completely self-absorbed person. I am SO thankful you’re not my mother.

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annie June 6, 2009, 1:28 PM

She should have had an abortion

Dena Brehm June 6, 2009, 1:29 PM

I was severely bulimic for 21 years (age 18 - 39) … and completely healed 9 years ago. I binged and purged, daily, throughout 6 of my 8 pregnancies. With one child, I gained only 13 lb (on my under 100 lb frame), and he was over 9 lb at birth.

myah June 6, 2009, 1:34 PM

First off, I would like to thank Maggie for sharing this traumatizing experience with everyone. Secondly, I have never been affected by this mental disease, but I understand the devestating effects of anerexia. For the people who have been critizing Maggie, BACK OFF! It’s not like Maggie wanted to hurt her children, she obviously loved them, but this MENTAL DISEASE wouldn’t allow her. I’m sorry, but acute ashtma isn’t all that bad. My friend Angel almost died from a severe asthma attack multiple times, and her mother did everything she was supposed to during all three of her pregnancies. My mother had very healthy pregnancies as well, and yet my sister has severe scoliosis and will have to have a surgery on August 5 of this year where they remove a few of her vertabrae and ribs and then stick a metal rod in her back, my brother has tourette’s syndrome, and I have ADHD. This goes to show that Maggie’s children could have had health problems regardless of the pregorexia. I’m not saying that what she did wasn’t wrong, but her children are for the most part healthy, independent women.

myah June 6, 2009, 1:35 PM

First off, I would like to thank Maggie for sharing this traumatizing experience with everyone. Secondly, I have never been affected by this mental disease, but I understand the devestating effects of anerexia. For the people who have been critizing Maggie, BACK OFF! It’s not like Maggie wanted to hurt her children, she obviously loved them, but this MENTAL DISEASE wouldn’t allow her. I’m sorry, but acute ashtma isn’t all that bad. My friend Angel almost died from a severe asthma attack multiple times, and her mother did everything she was supposed to during all three of her pregnancies. My mother had very healthy pregnancies as well, and yet my sister has severe scoliosis and will have to have a surgery on August 5 of this year where they remove a few of her vertabrae and ribs and then stick a metal rod in her back, my brother has tourette’s syndrome, and I have ADHD. This goes to show that Maggie’s children could have had health problems regardless of the pregorexia. I’m not saying that what she did wasn’t wrong, but her children are for the most part healthy, independent women.

Lucy June 6, 2009, 1:37 PM

When I was around 15 till about 20yrs old when I got married I was constantly teased and ridiculed about my weight being 5’3 and 135 was considered fat in my family. During those years I took dexatrim, slimfast, and lifted weight, excercized and suffered. I got married and my husband said to me I love you just as you are so no more dieting .. I can tell you I was so sick during my pregnancy I gained 1 pound and lost 2. My doctor said don’t worry baby is fine and will take what she needs out of you. On my second preganancy same thing ,anyways 4 children later,I have battled kidney problems, paints in my bones and joints, dental problems. And I owe it all to unsensitive people during my teenage years. And I wanna tell everyone don’t judge if you haven’t been in their shoes. Congratulations Maggie for taking your suffering and using it to help others, you have raised 2 wonderful young ladies, I saw one of their comments and that says they have been given a lot of support and have great self esteem… disregard tasteless comments, they are just ignorant.

anonomyous June 6, 2009, 1:40 PM

alison, listening to you, you are an unfit person, selfish b**** who doesnt have a life

Susan June 6, 2009, 1:41 PM

My stepdaugther kept training for marathon’s while nursing her 2nd baby and continuing her vegan eating style. The baby was 4 months old and barely 10 lbs. She and I never had a very close relationship. I tried to get my husband, her father(an alcoholic) to talk to her. Her mother has been in denial all her life about all her children’s problems,eg drugs, cutting, talking of suicide, stealing so she never said a word as always. Now the child is 2, small but appears well adjusted. However, she didn’t have any teeth until she was past her first birthday. Fortunately,she allows her children to eat meat and chicken at other peoples home….like it was as consession to politeness. Does anyone know what to look for as far as subsequent effects of her behavior or development?
Susan

Trina June 6, 2009, 1:47 PM

you do not deserve to have children.

Nicole June 6, 2009, 1:49 PM

Maggie, thank you for sharing your story. I hope other pregnant people out there will read this story and realize what they are doing may have a larger impact of the baby than they expected. Not everyone realizes they have a problem until they reflect on it later. I believe the point of your story is that knowledge about this condition can help others avoid it. That being said, I also do not think it is healthy to gain 50 extra pounds during pregnancy as one person noted. To me this indicates you are not eating properly. You can provide nutrients without eating fatty foods. How is it good for the baby that you are clogging your arteries with cholesterol? One commenter spoke that a child was being neglected because her mom didn’t let her eat at McDonald’s, sounds like a good mom to me. Who in their right mind considers McDonald’s healthy? There should be less emphasis on the amount of weight and more on amount of nutrition, which can’t be measured around the hips. To all those out there blaming their mothers because she didn’t eat an extra cheeseburger every day, get over it and be thankful for all that she has given you since then. Blaming your mom will not change your condition today and is probably putting a strain on your relationship and your child’s relationship with her. I feel sorry your child has to grow up not understanding the power of forgiveness. Maggie, keep spreading the word and continuing your work. The best teachers have real world experience with the subject matter.

Krissy June 6, 2009, 1:50 PM

I am 28 but struggled with anorexia between the ages of 13 and 19. I still have “issues” with food. At 25 I became pregnant. At first I was excited, but fear and hormones overcame me. I was fearful I would not have what it takes to carry on a pregnancy given my issues and ended up having an abortion, a decision I regret deeply and always will. I am very careful now not to put myself into a situation in which I could become pregnant (no weak moments of passion without any protection). I’m really glad that this issue has been brought to so many people’s attention. As women we need to empower ourselves to take care of ourselves, mentally and physically. I know none of us want to pass the effects onto our children.


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