The postpartum period is a particularly risky time for those with a previous history of eating related mental illness, or any other form of mental illness for that matter.
Research highlights a strong link between past trauma and eating disorders. Up to 35 percent of women describe their birth experiences as traumatic.
How women are supported following their births can also play a big role in possible relapse, including how health professionals, friends, family, and the culture around us talk about pregnant and postpartum bodies.
There is a silent expectation that part of nailing motherhood somehow involves not looking like we have just grown and given birth to a baby.
Even women without a previous history of disordered eating are susceptible to issues surrounding food and body image during this time. Our identities and hormones are shifting, our close relationships undergoing great change, and we are becoming aware of the immense pressure placed on us by society to fulfil intensive mothering roles without adequate community support.
A role that would traditionally include the hands of others in our “village” or community often looks more like one mum all day on her own .Our brains and bodies were not designed for this sort of isolated caring. Beth Berry, author of “Motherwhelmed”, reminds mamas “you are not inadequate. You are just one person trying to be an entire village, convinced by society that there is something wrong with you when you can’t achieve this preposterous goal.”
In the upheaval of the first few months, it was so easy for me to reach for and take comfort in the old habits that let me feel control over my life. It was something I knew how to do, something that maybe I could show the world… look, I am my old self, I can do this, I am still worthy.
“We don’t earn our worthiness through motherhood.”
When I came across these words I realized that this was my mantra for the next turn on my road to recovery. I do not earn my worthiness from my body. My worth is inherent, brilliant, and blazing. I do not earn my worthiness from perfection, or through the performance of motherhood that someone else can approve of. My boundless loves speaks volumes and it is more than enough.
You do not have to be perfectly healed to be a good mother. Your healing is happening every day of your life, and your honest honouring of all that brokenness is one of the rare and real gifts your little ones can be witness to.
Here are some of the steps I took to continue on my road to recovery and self-nourishment. I hope with all my heart that they might inspire you to find yours or help a fellow mama in need of some care for her body and soul.
- I made seeing my therapist a priority again. Instead of thinking I simply couldn’t make time, I scheduled my appointments and enlisted my loved ones in helping me make them. I even asked to bring my daughter to the first session to make sure I could go even without childcare. She slept in my arms the whole time and my counselor showed me the support and acceptance I needed. Make time for yourself, even when it seems impossible.
- I deleted calorie counting apps from my phone and shut out the noise around postpartum dieting. I tried to start measuring a day’s worth differently. I traded in my step count for meditation. Your “productivity” might look different now, make friends with this season and let yourself be loved.
- I reached out to make more connections; the more isolated I am, the more prone I am to rumination and restriction. We need that village! Find yours. I practiced saying yes to offers for food, especially quick things I could grab for lunch. I am continually practicing asking for help.
- I haven’t owned a scale in years and I refused to be weighed during pregnancy or afterwards. Throwing my scale in a dumpster was one of the greatest triumphs of my recovery. I highly recommend it.
- And finally, tell someone. Eating disorders feed off secrecy and shame. If you name it and call it out of the dark, its foothold may start to slip. Accountability is scary, but remember how brave you are, and how beautifully your body held a new beginning.
If you are or have experienced any of the issues and thoughts described above, here are some ways you can care for yourself in addition to seeking out professional counseling and a visit with a supportive GP.
NEDA hotline: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Additional Resources: https://www.crystalkarges.com/blog/7-revealing-signs-of-a-postpartum-eating-disorder
Podcasts: Dr. Sophie Brock, The Good Enough Mother: “How the Perfect Mother Myth Impacts Individual Mothers”
Tory Styles, “Where’s the Village?” Various episodes on creating support after birth. Spotify.
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