I’m Not Okay

Exhausted, January 2014, Ottawa

Exhausted, Jan­u­ary 2014, Ottawa

I’m not okay. And I haven’t been “okay” for a long time.

I’m not writ­ing this today to elicit sym­pa­thy, pity or ask for help. I just want to tell the other side of the story—because there is always another side to the story.

This is so fucked up I don’t even know when and how it started exactly.

I was ter­ri­fied of being preg­nant. I liked the idea of hav­ing a baby but I felt I was no longer a woman but a walk­ing incu­ba­tor. I wor­ried all the time. And I had a very hard time deal­ing with my chang­ing body image.

This is very strange because I have never cared much about my looks. I had never dieted, never had a strik­ing fig­ure either, never aimed for one. But when I learned that most women were expected to gain 25 to 35 pounds dur­ing a preg­nancy, I froze. I didn’t want to gain weight because it would make me look preg­nant. And I felt like a sit­ting duck—strangers would touch my belly, give—mostly unwanted—advice, admon­ish me and chas­tise me if I didn’t behave like a preg­nant woman was sup­posed to. The list of “no-nos” is long for preg­nant women, from for­bid­den foods (sushi, cheese, etc.) to activities.

So I hid my preg­nancy as long as I could. My close friends and fam­ily knew. The world didn’t and it was just fine.

Around that time, I started to develop a weird rela­tion­ship with food. I didn’t want to gain weight but I cer­tainly didn’t want to deprive the grow­ing baby of pre­cious nutri­tion, so I focus on eat­ing only healthy foods—mostly veg­gies, raw or cooked, and some pro­teins. I never indulged, never gave in to any crav­ings. I counted calo­ries reli­giously to make sure I was get­ting enough but I stayed away from any­thing I deemed as “extravagant”—and my def­i­n­i­tion of “extrav­a­gant” was pretty broad, encom­pass­ing but­ter, cook­ies, bread, etc.

It didn’t help that eat­ing brought a very unpleas­ant phys­i­cal sen­sa­tion. I was car­ry­ing Mark very high and he was com­press­ing my diges­tive sys­tem. If I ate a green been, I could almost “feel” it in my body.

I didn’t gain weight. Week after week, the doc­tor weighted me (I could have told her my exact weight any­time, I was weight­ing myself mul­ti­ple times a day any­way) and the nee­dle wouldn’t bulge. Mark was grow­ing but I was shrinking.

I was fully aware I had a prob­lem with food but I didn’t know how to solve it. I chalked it up to the preg­nancy, the hor­mones and all and fig­ured it would go away after the birth. Preg­nant women do crazy things all the time—I was eat­ing tons of veg­gies and exer­cis­ing, really, it could have been worse.

Mark was a healthy baby. I was relieved—I had done my job, the preg­nancy was over, I had my body back to myself and I could focus on being a mother.

Except my prob­lems with food didn’t go away. I didn’t eat my din­ner at the hos­pi­tal because I con­sid­ered it “junk food”—keep in mind I had just gone through labour, really, I shouldn’t have given a damn.

I tried to start eat­ing nor­mally at home again but I had under­es­ti­mated how hard it would be with Mark.

Mark was a Vel­cro baby. I had to carry him every­where against me, in the sling, or he would cry. At first, I ate when he was sleep­ing but he wasn’t sleep­ing much either. I ate while he was in the sling but it was very uncom­fort­able for both of us. Even­tu­ally, we devel­oped a sys­tem where Feng would cook and eat while I held him and then it was my turn. It was tir­ing and time-consuming. After a cou­ple of months, I sim­ply stopped eat­ing. I didn’t have time to do so—keep in mind we were also both work­ing full time from home.

I drank tea and cof­fee with sweet­ener to avoid pass­ing out. I ate one meal, at night, and noth­ing dur­ing the day. And I took care of Mark, long end­less days where I would spend hours rock­ing him to sleep, hours with him in the sling and me pac­ing the living-room.

I was too exhausted to take care of myself. It’s around this time that I lost a lot of weight. And I didn’t even notice it until all of my clothes were way too big for me.

I started to use food as a reward and to view my body as the only thing I could con­trol as I felt my life was spi­ral­ing out of con­trol. When we had a good day and when I felt I had done my job as a mother, I would eat din­ner. If not, I would starve myself.

Add this to the fact I was work­ing all the time, not sleep­ing much and that car­ing for a baby counts as exer­cise in my book, I lost even more weight.

By last sum­mer, I was down to 115 pounds (52 kilos), which isn’t much con­sid­er­ing I’m 1.72 m tall (5’6).

My friends started to worry and gen­tly asked if I was okay. I was more or less hon­est. No, I wasn’t fully okay but yes, I was work­ing on it.

I started look­ing into coun­sel­ing. I quickly learned that get­ting help isn’t cheap. Pri­vate coun­sel­ing was always avail­able but at a rate I couldn’t afford, $100 and upward per ses­sion. And coun­sel­ing pro­grams run by the City of Ottawa or other non-profit orga­ni­za­tions were com­pletely booked, with month-long wait­ing lists.

I went through sev­eral phases. I tried to cheer myself up by shop­ping, as a way to regain some of my life and inde­pen­dence back. I bought new clothes (that would fit), new shoes. I tried to “fix” myself and spent what­ever pre­cious free time I had at Chap­ters, read­ing every book I could find on how to be a mother, how to bal­ance life and a baby, baby and work, etc. I went through a “run­ning away” phase where I just wanted to be alone and spent hours walk­ing out­side aimlessly.

And now I am burned out, phys­i­cally and men­tally. After fif­teen months (plus the preg­nancy) of never being alone, car­ing for Mark, try­ing to keep him happy and enter­tained, I feel broken.

I feel like I failed.

I don’t know how other women do it. I don’t know how to ask for help and I’m not good at accept­ing help anyway.

I wanted to be strong. I wanted Mark to be my best friend. I wanted him to be happy. I never wanted to lose patience, cry in front of him, get angry or frus­trated. I wanted to do it all—alone, 24/7.

And now I’m so tired I can’t even think straight. I count the hours until the day ends. I’m frus­trated because I gave up pretty much every­thing I liked—writing, draw­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, see­ing friends—and every­thing “normal”—eating, relaxing—to take care of Mark, and my needs always come last.

I can’t take the rou­tine any­more, try­ing to keep Mark busy and enter­tained for hours in a row.

This is the most dif­fi­cult sen­tence to write but… I am hap­pier and more relaxed alone than I am with him. And I feel guilty because isn’t a mother sup­posed to be bet­ter when her kid is around?

Fuck the guilt. I need to get better.

We had plenty of happy moments since Mark was born and I keep the snap­shots on the fridge, as a reminder of what we’ve accom­plished together.

I’m not okay but I’m going to try to be.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


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  2. I haven’t gone through a preg­nancy, but I think I under­stand where you are com­ing from. A chang­ing body is some­thing that ter­ri­fies me. Its the rea­son for which each year I grow older, I obliged to go one extra day to the gym each week.

    I have main­tained my weight for the past 4 years — and the thought of sud­denly gain­ing another 10–15 kilos would kill me. Of course you should see it as “tem­po­rary weight”. After all, there’s some­one else inside you. But I com­pletely under­stand the crisis.

    I’m glad you noticed though — it’s always the first step to get bet­ter. Sorry to hear it has been such an inter­nal bat­tle… but moth­er­hood isn’t easy and you are doing an amaz­ing job at it — so should never stop feel­ing proud and worthy! :)

    • Thank you!

      I know how you feel… and you know how I feel. And we both feel silly about it, don’t we! Weight really doesn’t mean much… yet we try to con­trol it.

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