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How fragile we are

June 5, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
It is common knowledge that breastmilk is the optimal source of nutrition for infants. I learned today, however, that there are women in the Ohio Valley -- and all over the world, I imagine -- who choose not to breastfeed their babies because of past sexual abuse. Others may react negatively to breastfeeding because they — or, perhaps more aptly, their husbands or boyfriends — view their breasts as purely sexual parts of their bodies.

These women may know that breastmilk is the normal and superior food for their babies, but they cannot get past their horrible experiences or their preconceptions. Our breasts were made to nourish our young — human milk for human babies. When we distort this purpose — or allow others to control how we think about our bodies — our children suffer the consequences.

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A shout-out to Scottish songbird Susan Boyle following her second-place finish in "Britain's Got Talent" and her subsequent collapse from the mental exhaustion and stress that comes with being an overnight global sensation. Susan captured our hearts because she is the most unlikely of divas — an unmarried, middle-aged, plump, ruddy-faced woman with frizzy hair and bushy eyebrows. She spoke awkwardly and self-deprecatingly, and then promptly wowed everyone with her Broadway-worthy performance. In the ensuing weeks leading up to the finals, the world caught Boylemania, but it was short-lived. News about her so saturated the media that by the time voting took place for BGT's winner Saturday, the fickle public cast its support elsewhere. I, for one, am saddened she didn't win first place, but at least now the pressure is off. I say, "Rest up, Hen. And then get back out there and do what you do best. Your time has yet to come!"

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I read on the MomLogic Web site today a woman's firsthand account of her battle with "pregorexia," a term used to describe anorexic behavior during pregnancy. I can relate to the fear of weight gain during pregnancy. No one wants to become as big as a boat. There's always that worry that you won't be able to take off the "baby fat" post-partum.

So I read Maggie Baumann's story with great interest and sympathy. Then, she dropped a bomb on me. It wasn't fear of weight gain that drove her to count calories and secretly exercise during her second pregnancy (during which she gained 18 pounds and had a miniscule "baby bump" at 9 months gestation).

She revealed she starved herself during pregnancy as a self-inflicted punishment for an abortion she'd had in college.

In the article, "Starving for Two," she wrote:

"I had never processed the abortion, I simply swept it under the rug, which allowed me to numb myself from the pain of my actions. I remember during both my pregnancies thinking silently to myself, 'You killed that baby (the abortion) and now God is going to hurt this baby.' So in some warped way I felt I needed to punish myself, and I did so by taking it out on my body. The punishment came through restricting my calories and over-exercising. It wasn't the baby in me that I hated, it was 'me' I hated."

She remained anorexic for years following the birth of her second daughter until her illness became so severe she was hospitalized. Today, Baumann is "in recovery" and is a therapist helping others overcome their eating disorders. Her daughters are grown, happy and healthy.

"Recovery is a long journey to finding peace within yourself and forgiveness for the life pains associated with the disorder," she concluded.

Article and a photo gallery can be accessed at

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My entire life I have struggled with my weight. I was overweight until age 29. I am still healing from the heartache and pain I inflicted on myself during adolescence and early adulthood because of a poor self-image stemming from my weight.

At 29, I joined a fitness center and completely changed the way I thought about food. One resource that helped me immensely was "Life Is Hard, Food Is Easy" by Linda Spangle, which teaches you to examine your emotional reasons for eating and how to eat normally and healthily without feeling like you're depriving yourself.

When I got pregnant, I was the healthiest and fittest I'd ever been in my life. I fretted constantly that I would go back to my old habits during pregnancy. And it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. My poor habits continued after Emma was born. The worst part was, I quit exercising.

Today, I am 15 pounds overweight and extremely unhappy about it. I put on a shirt my friend April bought me for my 36th birthday, which was yesterday, and was highly disgusted about how I looked in it.

I am trying not to whine because it is my own fault, and I am the only one who can do anything about it. I just don't know why I am not motivated TO do something about it. Maggie Baumann's story got me thinking again about how our eating habits can be so inextricably tied to our emotional aches and pains. It reminded me that what's going on inside is often reflected in our outward appearance and actions. Birthdays offer a great opportunity to take stock, reassess and make changes. Time to motivate!


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