I never thought I would be lucky enough to get pregnant given how long I harmed my body through years of battling an eating disorder – a commonly faced reality for many women who suffer as I did.
Facing recovery and facing pregnancy were the same for me because both meant walking into uncharted territory. My old habit of subconsciously connecting with men who never wanted children was safe and predictable for me, as was starvation, but eventually I realized that living life with these protections only left me empty and sad. Stepping out of my "comforts" with food and my body was that of the same work I faced when seeking out a partner who wanted the same things in life as I did. In time, the foreign zone of eating and caring for myself became safe and worthwhile – a similar freedom to the one I experienced when I connected to a partner who has the same life intentions.
But facing getting pregnant was only the beginning of my re-emerging battle. Pregnancy itself has, too, evoked in me the eating disorder in ways that I have not experienced in years. What has become most apparent is the shame in women – in me – about the changing nature of our bodies. Whether you're recovering from an eating disorder or birthing a child, your body is changing – constantly, endlessly. It is simply out of your control and you have no choice but to surrender to it. I would have thought I'd have been better equipped for this surrender, given that I've been-here-done-that before with my eating disorder. But this all-too-familiar space feels newly foreign and equally frightening.
In the first trimester, I kept my pregnancy secret for the most part. Not sure why I did, except that I got caught in societal norms that tell you not to share on the chance that you may miscarry. This "chosen" restriction meant I spent 12 weeks in silence, sick as a dog, unable to participate in my yoga practice, having to engage with food in ways so different from my normal, given my body and baby's needs. My body transformed rapidly (at least it seemed this way in my eyes). This secret, the ever-changing nature of my body and the overwhelming noise in my head, as a result mimicked – identically – that of my recovery from the eating disorder. I felt imprisoned and I felt shame for this because I was beyond happy, in bliss and overjoyed to be pregnant. I believed that sharing openly in these feelings about my body and the mess in my mind would tell the world that I was self-absorbed and ungrateful, none of which could be further from the truth. I felt alone and shameful.
People in recovery don't often talk openly about being in recovery for the same reasons – societal norms tell us not to. The fear of being outed, the inevitable judgments and misunderstandings, the lack of knowledge about eating disorders in our culture, and that naming it outwardly means it is real and that is often a hard place for people to come to right away. Instead, those in recovery tread in silence for some time (at least for a minimum of a first trimester). They tend to create a façade for the world (as I tried to), portraying themselves as fine despite the ever-changing nature of their body and their food rituals, despite the noise in their mind (where the eating disorder actually lives) which feels like madness. To come forward with this, to have others understand, feels impossible.
Why are we not comfortable talking openly about eating disorders and the devastating struggle that carries out in recovery? For the same reasons we're not comfortable talking openly about our bodies changing and feeling out of control in our pregnancies. Why do we all have to "cope" in silence with our feelings because of the shame and fear that is so embedded in our social norms?
In my work, it's always been my mission to push people to break their silence so that they can live honestly, freely and well, connected to their body and at peace in their mind. I feel it has always been my duty to show up this way to my history with the eating disorder and I've learned that, for me, the same rules apply to being pregnant. I wouldn't be silent again. It was too lonely, too frightening and too shameful to not be able to open to others about what I was going through. In my opinion, this kept me unwell and unsafe. Now that I'm using my voice about this, I've been encouraged and supported by so many women who have acknowledged the same feelings as me. This means we're never alone. This means it's safe to come out.
I recently learned that I'm having a daughter. I'm not sure how I'll move her through her own feelings about her ever-changing body, but I do hope that my story, my sharing, will give her the space to talk honestly when it comes time for her.
Kyla Fox is the founder of the Kyla Fox Centre, an eating-disorder recovery centre in Toronto. You can find her at kylafoxcentre.com and follow her on Twitter @Kylafoxcentre.