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.


  1. 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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