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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
KG June 6, 2009, 1:53 PM

Most grateful to this woman for being so courageous in sharing such a heartwrenching and private story. Hopefully, this story will reach others and help them. Yes, those deep seeded emotional traumas do haunt us later in life and although at the time we don’t realize why? We have to delve into our inner self and relive those hurtful mistakes to be able to grow and move forward. Some people hurt themselves or others and/or both and never know why this is happening. Thank God Whitney and her other sibling are healthy and well, as is their mom!
Thank you for sharing this story!

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 1:56 PM

The fact that Whitney wrote such a loving comment about her mother is proof that Maggie is an excellent mother. I commend both of you and I also have daughters who are such a joy. One day soon we won’t have imperfection which causes so many hardships in our lives. Jehovah God is going to take back his kingdom (the world) at Argmageddon and then Jesus said we would no longer have pain, or sickness, or tears or even death! He will then make us perfect like we were suppose to be! This he promised Abraham he would do thousands of years ago. What is great about living now is even though we have to go through the Great Tribulation we will get to witness the awesome things God is going to do for our benefit.

Krissy June 6, 2009, 1:59 PM

For those who criticize Maggie, it is probably very difficult for you to relate to the “inner battle” or “war” that people with eating disorder try to fight every day. Thank goodness her daughters grew up into healthy, intelligent women. It is easy to criticise others, but let he who is free of sin cast the first stone. Maggie and her daughters are very fortunate to be hear to share the story about this disease. I wish we could be grateful for her sharing the story so that others might read it. Ultimately, lives (mothers and babies) can be saved.

Cynthia June 6, 2009, 2:03 PM

you people that can sit back and judge make me sick!! Have you never done anything wrong or wasn’t the right thing to do before? Do you walk on water? You all that sit in judgement make me sick!! When you can walk on water, then post ugly crap!!”HYPORCRITES”!!!!

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 2:07 PM

were you trying to kill your daughter during your pregnancy? what a stupid thing to do… you’re very very lucky she even lived. dumb woman… get over your issues and think about the live that was in your hands… very lucky…

RT June 6, 2009, 2:19 PM

I have struggled with an eating disorder off and on for 10 years, but I’m not selfish enough to get pregnant and subject my unborn baby to such sickness. I think it’s horrible you did this twice and it’s nice your daughter Whitney loves you and thinks your amazing, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a selfish, destructive woman. You knew you had a problem the first time around that’s why you hid it from everyone and you shouldn’t have done it again before getting help. I have no respect for you at all. Also, your daughters are too young to know what the full extent of the damage is. I wonder if they will have fertility problems in the future or develop health issues as the age because of you. I don’t think you should ever forgive yourself!

Anonymous June 6, 2009, 2:31 PM

Yes, anorexia is a disease. So are alcoholism and drug addiction. Mothers who abuse drugs and alcohol while pregnant have their children taken away from them, for their protection and well being, and rightfully so. How is this different? Why is one considered criminal behavior and not the other, when the tragic impact all such addictive behavior has on children is the same?

Ash June 6, 2009, 2:40 PM

and? it is more important to car e fore ones self, not have children. As if there are not wnough people HERE already. WAKE UP PEOPLE!

Emma June 7, 2009, 1:25 AM

Wow - I am so glad I don’t know most of you. What a mean spirited crowd. And apparently most of you didn’t read the article very well. Maggie gained 33 pounds her first pregnancy - she didn’t like gaining the weight, but she did. She does mention her husband and she said that she stopped going to the gym.
I’m in my late 40s - my mom gained 7 pounds when she was pregnant with me and I weighed 7.7 pounds - and I was perfectly healthy and have never suffered due to the pregnancy. I’ve been relatively healthy throughout my life, although I did get sick when I was a Peace Corps volunteer!
Maggie writes that Whitney developed seizures for several months during infancy, she doesn’t say anything about Whitney suffering from seizures after that. And there are varying degrees of ADD/ADHD… Whitney appears to be a healthy, happy, beautiful, and intelligent young woman who obviously grew up with more compassion than most of the people who have posted comments.
Personally, I wish that Maggie had not used the phrase, ‘killed that baby (abortion)’ since it then incites those of you who are anti-choice/anti-abortion (I refuse to use the term pro-life to describe you because I am pro-life and pro-choice).
And to those of you who think she should have been thrown in prison for child abuse… does that mean every pregnant woman who eats a donut or doesn’t eat enough vegetables should also be thrown in jail? Come on people, educate yourselves before submitting comments that make you sound mean, spiteful and ignorant.

Ian June 9, 2009, 12:11 AM

I wish I could be surprised by the abhorrent ignorance displayed by so many posters on this wall but it seems to be indicative of the ongoing lack of understanding in the wider community into complex mental disorders such as anorexia. It is appalling that these misplaced opinions and lack of insight should be allowed to be perpetuated in the community. I find it is so sad that those inflicted with such disorders are forced to suffer in silence rather than have to endure the disapproval of people such as those posting here (who surely are faultless in character and well exposed to such adversity.) The personal attacks in particular show pure immaturity and what can only be described as stupidity on the part of the authors, and are based on a total lack of insight into Maggie’s situation. I sincerely hope that these people do not have children of their own as their behavior makes them unsuitable to be parents as no child should be forced to bear witness to such ignorance. Unfortunately, the full story cannot be told in such limited space and does not enable a full emotional account of Maggie’s situation. There is no way that Maggie can be described as being ‘casual’ or nonchalant about the disorder and the possible harm it could have caused her children or family. Rather, it has led her to share the pain in an effort to raise awareness and help the countless others suffering from similar disorders. Perhaps if the childish name calling by these faceless cowards did not occur so regularly other women (and let us not forget that men suffer from anorexia too) might feel safe in seeking help and facing the long arduous road to recovery. The fact that Maggie has stood up and told her story is exceptionally brave and should be applauded. One can only hope that those people posting such negative comments could face such a situation in their own lives with such strength. As for comments berating Maggie for her alleged selfishness, I know of few other people who are as genuinely caring, generous and supportive (to both loved ones and strangers alike) as Maggie. The strength of her love of her daughters in enviable. Maggie and her husband have raised two amazing daughters selflessly and those that know Maggie and her family are privileged to do so. Whitney especially is an intelligent and well adjusted woman who has fared far than most people whose families have not faced such adversity. Thanks for sharing Maggie and I hope your story and work continues to help others suffering with such disorders.

Ian June 9, 2009, 12:50 AM

cont- intelligent and well adjusted woman who has fared far than most people whose families have not faced such adversity. Thanks for sharing Maggie and I hope your story and work continues to help others suffering with such disorders.

Christine  June 9, 2009, 7:27 AM

Maggie Baumann is a remarkable woman. Though she has bravely put herself in a vulnerable position by exposing her story to the public, the criticism expressed in the previous comments is complete rubbish. The critical remarks in response to Maggie’s article spits from the mouths of uneducated and naïve individuals, specifically those benighted to the topic of eating disorders. Attacking Maggie’s dear-hearted and emotional story with ignorant response is uncalled for.
I am Christine, Maggie’s oldest daughter, a 23-year old healthy woman. My mother is the light of my life, my inspiration, my best friend and my hero. To judge my mother or let alone post negative responses about her experience is unjust in my eyes. Maggie is a fabulous mother. How dare any ill-advised human being reticule Maggie. It takes a lot of courage and compassion to share her experience. I don’t even want to waste my time reading the negative feed back, it means nothing to me and I pity your narrow-minded, unintelligent, cold soul. My mother is not selfish, she does not need to forgive herself, me nor my sister for her struggle. My mom deserves to be thanked and praised for what she has done. Thank you MOM, you are the least self-seeking person I know and I admire and love you for breaking through the vicious wall that anorexia has put forth. You are amazing, you are my everything and I love you endlessly.

Reese June 9, 2009, 7:32 AM

Maggie is courageous for sharing her story in an effort to shed light on a mental disease. Anorexia is not about vanity! I am sure she knew she would face backlash and a lack of understanding from people with superiority complexes (these people never make mistakes in their lives I’m sure). You will never know her pain and guilt unless you walk a mile in her shoes, so don’t judge. She is still obviously trying to come to terms with what she did by owning up to it and seeking redemption in her work as a therapist helping others.

Tanmy June 9, 2009, 9:41 AM

Hello Maggie and her 2 healthy girls,

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I think this happens to a lot of women, although it is different story though. In my case, I did not take care of myself as best as I could and get the proper rest. I did eat good though, but sometimes did not eat a good breakfast. I had an unfortunate event and had my 2nd baby boy early at almost 25 weeks gestation. The baby lived in the nicu overfed by medications and oxygen and passed away at 6.5 months of age.

I did exercise and went around my normal business when I was pregnant, just like I did w/ my 1st child. Doctors and books always tell you it is normal to exercise during pregnancy and do everything you did before the same.

I guess it was just bad luck and the amnio at 16 weeks and stress at work and not getting enough rest, etc. that caused me to have the baby early. Sometimes I also blame it on my ex-boyfriend who forced a kiss on me for 30 seconds that put some painful pressure on my stomach while he was trying to kiss me. And then I started bleeding 3 hours after the forced kiss.

But I guess it was not the forced kiss that caused it, but just the culmination of everything. What I had was similar to a miscarriage w/ all the bleeding for 9 days and then eventual cramping which I forgot that could be labor.

I found out go to the hospital when you are bleeding, instead of going to the OB (doctor). Some OBs doctor don’t know everything about bleeding during pregnancy and think it is normal.

PS- I am very glad everything turned out healthy and happy for you and your girls. Your family is so blessed! God bless you always.

Anonymous June 9, 2009, 10:02 AM

It really hurts my heart to see so many readers out there who are quick to judge but obviously ignorant about eating disorders. I think Maggie is incredibly courageous for coming out to share her story, and hopefully help another mama find the help she needs. To the anonymous poster above that likened this situation to drug addicts and alcoholics having babies and wasn’t even brave enough to leave their name… I know a lady with MS who has two healthy, vibrant children. Was she trying to “kill her children,” too? A little compassion can go a long way, folks.

Angel June 9, 2009, 10:06 AM

My name fell off my original post…. It really hurts my heart to see so many readers out there who are quick to judge but obviously ignorant about eating disorders. I think Maggie is incredibly courageous for coming out to share her story, and hopefully help another mama find the help she needs. To the anonymous poster above that likened this situation to drug addicts and alcoholics having babies and wasn’t even brave enough to leave their name… I know a lady with MS who has two healthy, vibrant children. Was she trying to “kill her children,” too? A little compassion can go a long way, folks.

mel June 9, 2009, 12:28 PM

Sorry, but women like this don’t deserve to be mothers. Denying your unborn child nutrients because of your psychological disorder is ABUSE.

Holly at Tropic of Mom June 9, 2009, 5:14 PM

Thank you for sharing your story. I admit that I’ve gotten more comments about my weight and size during pregnancy than I care to, and that has caused me to want to skimp on eating, but it never lasts for more than half a day. And I’m too tired/lazy to exercise much. I just wish people would stop making comments about a woman’s physical appearance while pregnant. At no other time in your life, I think, do people seem to feel compelled to point out your size, your feet, your nose — whatever they think has gotten bigger. For someone who’s even slightly sensitive about appearance, this gets old when you can’t go anywhere without someone making a comment about what you look like.

R. June 9, 2009, 9:28 PM

I don’t understand why this woman, a known anorexic, and someone who experienced problems early in her 2nd pregnancy because of her extreme exercising & gained so little weight, wasn’t more closely monitored to make sure she wasn’t doing harm to her unborn child. I don’t understand why she wasn’t hospitalized to safeguard her unborn child, the most helpless being there could possibly be. This is a sick woman. Would you allow an unmedicated schizophrenic babysit your child? No. So why let this woman nurture a child in her womb without a medical professional making sure she wasn’t hurting it?

Michelle June 10, 2009, 12:00 PM

1st I want to say thank you to Maggie for being courageous enough to tell her story. I cannot believe how judgemental so many on here are. It makes me so mad. All of you mean sprited condeming people, do you realize how much harm your doing? There are women out there going through what Maggie went through who are now probably afraid to tell someone in fear of the backlash they may receive from stupid, ignorant people like you all. YOU are harming these unborn children by alienating and berating the mothers who need help and are now afraid to tell someone. I have 5 children who I love dearly and thankfully have never had this issue, but I would NEVER berate or belittle someone because I didn’t go through what they did. Learn to have some compassion and try to help not hurt people. I am sickened by some of the responses, this is why I don’t come on these websites very often because I cannot take the holier than thou views of so many.
Maggie, thank you again, you obviously are a wonderful mother, your daughters are very well spoken and love you tremendously.

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