Pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time for a woman; finding out you’re pregnant can be a dream come true for so many. I could never have imagined that finding out I was pregnant would feel almost devastating. It’s not that I didn’t want children; theoretically, I definitely wanted them and had this in the back of my mind as a plan for the future (I’m a big-time planner). But when a positive pregnancy test took me by surprise, joy was definitely not the first thing I felt. Instead, it was an overwhelming sensation of fear, loss, and anxiety. I had an immediate panic attack. My husband and parents, however, were over the moon! In fact, I had never seen them so happy. Suddenly, I was happy because they were happy. How could I not be?
I was embarrassed. I tried hard to accept my new reality, but deep down inside I felt like life had been stolen from me.
My history, which probably plays the biggest role in my reaction, is a bit extensive, so I’ll give you the in-a-nutshell version. About two years ago, I had successfully recovered from the behavioral aspects of binge-eating disorder (a story for another time). However, in spite of all the time and effort I had dedicated to working on myself, I still had major body-image issues, or what you could call an “eating-disorder mentality”. This psychological aspect of the eating disorder unfortunately created a co-occurring condition: depression. Although I had help throughout my eating disorder (mostly on and off), I finally committed full time to therapy about seven months before finding out I was pregnant. Three months into intensive therapy, I finally felt like myself again. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t felt this way in over six years! I didn’t think it would ever be possible to feel completely recovered after an eating disorder, but here I was, killing it! I had finally found the elusive self-love, confidence, and inner peace that was described in every self-help book I had ever read. I had also gained an entire toolbox of skills that helped me deal with anything that came my way. I knew how to firefight situations and could extinguish a fire with grace. What used to throw me into a hole and cause me not to leave the couch for weeks would take a day to process, accept, and move on from. I was an expert in all things “Sarah” and I was watching myself grow! Really knowing yourself is one of the most beautiful and exceptional feelings you can ever experience.
So back to the moment when I found out I was pregnant. After completely freaking out, I tried my best to see this as a challenge, one that I would overcome. “I can do this,” I thought to myself. “Nothing has changed. Nothing will change”. However, no matter how many times I repeated this to myself, everything came crashing down around me as soon as the symptoms started kicking in (probably exacerbated by the fact that I was a first-time mother and completely unfamiliar with pregnancy). Thanks to raging hormones, I was so painfully bloated that people could already tell I was pregnant at only eight or nine weeks. I was embarrassed. I tried hard to accept my new reality, but deep down inside I felt like life had been stolen from me.
I felt completely stuck. Technically and rationally, the timing was perfect – I’m 32 and healthy and life is great. But with all the physical and soon-to-come lifestyle changes I had to make, all of a sudden I found myself sleeping for over 17 hours a night, crying for days on end, and stuffing my face with grilled cheese sandwiches and Sour Patch Kids to curb the day-long bouts of nausea. I became hyper-sensitive to everything around me, which put a strain on my relationship with my husband. I couldn’t understand my hunger signals, or my cravings, or my emotions. I was completely unfamiliar to myself, and that grounding feeling of “knowing myself” had completely vanished.
As if it would bring me comfort, I became obsessed with comparing myself to other pregnant women.
For someone with my history, this was all extremely overwhelming. As if it would bring me comfort, I became obsessed with comparing myself to other pregnant women. Too ashamed to share how I felt, I’d ask about their first trimester symptoms and my tired mind would only register how their pregnancies had been such blissful experiences: very little to no nausea, no cravings, and negligible weight gain. I felt alien and alone. Although it was socially unacceptable to feel this way, I turned to my family, hoping I’d get some empathy. Instead, to my extreme disappointment, I was told I shouldn’t say these things and that I should be grateful considering how many women wished they were in my shoes. Great. Let’s add guilt to the list of emotions I was experiencing.
Deep down inside, though, I knew this wasn’t just hormones. I should have gone to seek help, but part of me was too proud to. I had come so far and, in my mind, this was exactly the kind of challenge I should be able to deal with. I refused to accept that I’d have to be treated for depression after finally overcoming it. Although, as a health coach, I’d never recommend letting this drag out, I did just that. I let it drag out, I sat with it, and I embraced it. “I have to figure this out. No one else can,” I told myself. There had to be a solution. It took me days of conversing with myself, debating, rationalizing, and recognizing my emotions to realize that I was looking for validation for how I felt. I wanted to hear from others how much my situation sucked. I wanted everyone to agree with me. This might seem like I was victimizing myself, but really, it wasn’t until I realized that what I was feeling was completely warranted that I finally got “unstuck”. Firstly, I had just fully recovered from an eating disorder and, more importantly, years of depression. Secondly, I had finally met myself for the first time and, yes, I wanted more time with me! Thirdly, I had only recently found my passion in Holistic and Functional Health Coaching after years of studying and finally found the confidence to formalize my own business. Of course I wasn’t ready! I had no space for pregnancy right now. I was only just starting my new life!
I wanted to hear from others how much my situation sucked.
Giving myself every ounce of validation that I needed, I was able to come to the following conclusions, each giving me an odd sense of anxiety and comfort at the same time. Number one: No matter how hard I try, life will always throw curveballs my way, and this was, in fact, meant to be. I can’t control everything. It’s absolutely impossible. Number two: Who’s to say that my priorities today will be my priorities once I have this child? I have evolved so much over the years, so why am I expecting that I won’t evolve further? And number three: This is probably going to be the most uncomfortable experience of my entire life and, although difficult, I will learn patience and true appreciation for my beautiful body. Every trigger imaginable for someone with a recent history of an eating disorder will happen. And I will be there, watching myself grow bigger as the weight piles on and experiencing a range of physical changes that would normally throw me into a cycle of self-deprecation and deep depression. Really acknowledging this, really taking it all in, I realize that this is my ultimate challenge. This is how I break the cycle for good.
Today, over two thirds of the way into my pregnancy, I’m standing tall. I’ve gained a significant amount of weight, my breasts have tripled in size (just imagine the stress on my back), I have little red spots all over my face and entire body, I have lots of cellulite on my butt, and I’m experiencing a constant ringing in my left ear (tinnitus) and a never-ending fear of postpartum depression. It hasn’t been easy, but going through the depression that lasted well into my second trimester has taught me the most valuable lessons. It’s not that things are less painful. In fact, allowing myself to feel sadness, pain, and discomfort instead of attempting to be this grateful goddess 24/7 is what has led me to eventually embrace all of it. And, with that, I look down, place my hands on my growing belly, and tell my daughter how she’s already changed my world for the better.
Sarah Malki is an Integrative and Holistic Health Coach based in Dubai.