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Infertility and Eating Disorder Guilt

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Cathrine Goldstein Headshot

Cathrine Goldstein

“Have you ever had an eating disorder?” the intake nurse asked me.

It was an easy enough question, one that I would normally answer, “Yes.” But, on that day, sitting next to my husband in a large fertility clinic on Long Island, I felt compelled to lie.

“I used to diet. A lot,” I offered.

It wasn’t until she asked me to elaborate that I came clean. But now, over a decade later, I ask myself, “Why?” Why did I feel guilt over my past eating disorder while I was trying to get pregnant?

The Infertility Journey

Like so many women, I had trouble conceiving. After years of trying everything, from acupuncture to swallowing bags of liquid Chinese herbs from no-name bodegas in Chinatown, we sought professional help. It was then that I was diagnosed with “unexplained female infertility.”

During the years of fertility treatments including multiple daily shots, operations, hormones, retrievals, over-stimulation, countless IUIs, and three failed IVFs, the diagnosis hung over me. I was to blame. But the thing was, I couldn’t control or change the situation. It was finally decided that my years of restricted eating and Amenorrhea were the cause.

The Guilt

Suddenly, I found myself at a place where my past life with Anorexia Nervosa was directly affecting my future, and there was nothing I could do about it. And it wasn’t just my future, it was my husband’s future as well. Up until that moment, my life with Anorexia was in my past. Now, it controlled the fate of my future. As month after devastating month went by, I would lie in bed and wonder, “if.” If I hadn’t been Anorexic then, would we have a baby now?

The Realization

After wiping away another bout of tears while I lay in bed one night, I realized that wishing things were different wouldn’t help. So, instead, I focused on what I could do, and how I could make a positive change for myself. I couldn’t change the circumstances or the past, but I could change my perspective. Looking back served no purpose, and neither did guilt. All I could do was to focus on the current situation, and show compassion toward myself. I hadn’t chosen to be Anorexic, I didn’t just “decide” to starve myself. I suffered from a mental illness. The fact that years later I was healthy enough in body and mind to even attempt to become pregnant was a testament to my strength.

The Change

Once I began to show compassion toward myself, everything changed. No, the negative pregnancy tests weren’t any easier, but the crushing guilt I carried—and the desire to hide my past—was gone. Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t to blame. Pregnancy is a miracle that happens on its own time schedule. What I could do now was to eat healthily, and make my body a happy and healthy place to carry a new life.

The Happy Ending

Eventually, after giving up on medical assistance and making peace with myself and my body, I became pregnant naturally. And once I did, I understood that the guilt I carried about my past was neither benefiting me, nor my baby. All I could do was to control my present by eating well, exercising in moderation, and, above all, by showing compassion to myself, and to model that behavior for the beautiful life growing inside me.

For more information on pregnancy and eating disorders please visit https://www.www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/pregnancy-and-eating-disorders.

Cathrine Goldstein is a speaker, award-winning writer, Holistic Wellness Coach and Creativity Coach who practices her own brand of, “Practical Wellness.” She specializes in helping people start over in all aspects of their lives. A wife, mom, worm-farmer, and tree-hugger, she’s also a long-time yoga instructor/studio manager. Her new wellness book, Love Like That, will be out soon!

For more information, please visit: BeWellandCreate.com and @Be_Well_And_Create. You can also find her at CathrineGoldstein.com and @AuthorCathrineGoldstein.