When I was five months pregnant, I wrote a column for The Globe and Mail revealing truths about my feelings about my pregnancy and my body, and what that all meant for me as a person recovered from an eating disorder, now an eating-disorder therapist. Being transparent about this was a great relief for me. It opened up space for acceptance, allowing my focus to shift away from my body and onto connecting with my daughter, Ryan Belle.
I figured it would be too easy, too predictable, to write a follow-up column about my postpregnancy body and the critical thinking I have around it – that, I imagine, is universal. I decided instead that I wanted to write about Ryan: how she has pushed me to own this body; what she has taught me already about my wellness; and the ways that, unbeknownst to her, she has taken my recovery to a new level, despite my clothes not fitting.
Ryan arrived on April 24th. The love that has since filled my heart, the fullness that I experience in my life, is indescribable.
I birthed Ryan without drugs because I wanted to physically feel it. Suffering with anorexia meant I spent too many years physically disconnected. You vacate your body when you have an eating disorder, denying it all that it knows and all that it asks for. Because of the estrangement, my recovery has always been built on reclaiming this relationship, doing everything possible to mend the disconnection between my body and my mind.
While I was in labour, I remember having this moment where I could actually take in what was happening (the pain was so excruciating, it was impossible to consider anything else at the time!). When I did, I was struck deeply by the fact that my body could even do this, any and all of this – conceive, grow and naturally birth a child. Given my years of eating-disorder harm, it was something I never imagined would be possible.
I daily witness my clients' resilience. I watch them heal and transform their whole selves.Yet I've struggled, in ways, to acknowledge the capacity of my own transformation. However, in this moment, it was clear that my body was well and strong and healed.
It was my hope to breastfeed Ryan. Bonding with her in this way was important for me and luckily I've been able to do so. The word on the street is that breastfeeding leads to weight loss and that "in no time you'll be back in your pre-pregnancy bod." Nope, not for me! For Ryan to get the quantity and quality of milk that she requires, I must consume more than ever. I learned this after having some very frightening moments where I wasn't able to produce enough milk for her. Feeding Ryan is feeding me more and if that means not fitting into an old pair of jeans, then so be it.
Though I have always been a lifelong workaholic, controlling and perfectionistic like many who suffer from eating disorders, during my recovery, I noticed myself becoming less and less driven by these qualities. But nothing has compared to the serenity that has come over me since Ryan. Ryan has humbled me. She has made me nicer. Calmer. Happier, for sure. More present. More patient. More messy! I like this Kyla much better. I've also noticed a universal kindness that has come with having Ryan. Strangers stop to share in their delight of her; they pull over in their car to ask about her; they walk past and smile – always; neighbours take more time on the sidewalk inquiring about how we're doing. The world shows its best self. People slow down; take more time to connect, to talk. Needless to say, I have, too.
It should be said that, although I am in utter bliss with Ryan, I still struggle with my feelings about my postpregnancy body. They are separate. Ryan cannot absolve me in this way (that would be completely unfair to her). I also can't deny that I feel squeamish when I'm naked and overwhelmed that I can't wear my summer wardrobe this year.
But the conflicted feelings I have about my body have no bearing on how infinite my love is for my daughter. I'm human. I feel it all.
Ultimately, though, there could be no Ryan without the body I have now. If having my pre-pregnancy body back means never having experienced motherhood, there's no contest. I'll take this life and the fullness it offers in all its forms.
Kyla Fox is the founder of the Kyla Fox Centre, an eating-disorder recovery centre in Toronto. She has been a clinical therapist in the field of eating disorders for the past decade, and is also a public speaker, writer and advocate for eating disorder awareness and prevention. You can find her at kylafoxcentre.com and follow her on Twitter @Kylafoxcentre.