Happy Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month!
This is a much needed spotlight on the mental health for all mamas in any stage of their journey through motherhood.
“1 in 5 women experience mental health concerns during pregnancy and after childbirth, but most go undetected and untreated” (Diamond, 2023).
Considering this information, it is important to consider how motherhood can be uniquely challenging for individuals with a history of eating disorders.
As an eating disorder survivor, and proud mama of two children, I am thrilled to speak about my experience with pregnancy and eating disorder recovery.
I was 18 years old when I found out I was pregnant with my oldest child. I had periods of recovery from my eating disorder, but mostly I was in the depths of my battle of several years. I would love to say that this pregnancy was the magic solution to my eating disorder and that as soon as I saw the “positive” test result, I was cured. I learned quickly that it was not going to be that easy. I was already battling restrictive behaviors and body dysmorphia, and I knew that it was all about to become a lot harder.
As my body began to grow and change, I felt my body dysmorphia constantly battling the joy and excitement for the tiny human I was creating. I had such a narrow focus on my life during this time. It was all about my body, and all about my baby. There was guilt, anxiety, happiness, disgust, and fear. My partner was worried, and I felt guilty that I was robbing him of the happy bonding experience that “normal” couples have during this time.
More guilt, more shame, more struggle.
With therapy and the support of my partner and my family, I was able to work through my illness and understand the bigger, more beautiful picture. I had the opportunity to go through individual therapy as well as group therapy. I found group therapy to be an invaluable experience for me. Knowing that I was not alone in my journey, and being able to talk in a non-judgemental, and recovery-focused setting was life changing. The therapy and support did not stop after childbirth. My therapy sessions were continuous during postpartum and beyond. This is true for both of my pregnancies.
It is so important to keep our mental health a priority into motherhood. Sometimes, with a new tiny human in the picture, mamas can lose their sense of selves or push themselves down on the priority totem pole. However, it is important to understand that we are our best selves when we are healthy, mentally and physically.
My children are now 10 and 2.5 years old. I continue to go to therapy, talk about my experience, and I hope to help others going through similar situations.
Diamond, R., PhD. (2023, April 28). Awareness of Maternal Mental Health Can Save Lives. Psychology Today.
For more information on pregnancy and eating disorders please visit https://www.www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/pregnancy-and-eating-disorders.
Alyssa James is a writer and photographer in the Eastern Iowa area. She has been doing photography professionally for 10 years, and has her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Mount Mercy University. Her senior thesis art exhibition was titled “The Ugly Side Of Skinny,” which was a series of photographic works that explored her journey through anorexia as a young adult. This exhibition was featured at Mount Mercy University as well as Coe College in Cedar Rapids Iowa in 2016. She is a mom of two kids: Grayson (10), and Violet (2). Outside of photo sessions you can catch her at football games/practices, baby and me dance class, or watching Survivor with her husband Angel.