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I’ve always been someone with body hang-ups, ever since I hit puberty and started filling out for the first time. When I was 15-years-old I developed bulimia, and spent my days counting and restricting calories before bingeing and purging at night time. It was an endless cycle of self-hatred and struggling to gain control over my life.
I lost a lot of weight over the next three years, which I attributed to my eating disorder; but I still didn’t like the way I looked. There were days where I would stand in the mirror and point out all of my flaws and other days where I would cover the mirror with a blanket so that I didn’t have to catch my own reflection.
The bulimia gradually lessened when I was 18 and got into a new relationship. I didn’t have any therapy or help, but it started fading away when I began eating more and found that I wasn’t putting on weight. In fact, I could eat whatever I wanted - and even continue with my binges, and I would still lose weight.
In six months I went from wearing a size 6 to a size 2. I was losing so much weight that I had to convince my family that I wasn’t still purging. I didn’t know why I was losing the weight, but even though I was the smallest I had ever been, when I looked in the mirror I still saw myself as bigger. I would only be intimate with the lights off, I would wear high-waisted clothes to cover any sign of a stomach. I would wear oversized shirts to hide my body and I’d rarely dress-up for fear of looking big.
At the age of 19, in January 2015, I was rushed to the hospital. I had fallen very ill over Christmas and was experiencing excruciating abdominal pain and floods of rectal bleeding. I was in and out of consciousness and I had a high fever and tachycardia, a condition which makes your heart beat more than 100 times per minute. After spending a couple of days in the hospital with the doctors running tests and giving me as much pain relief as possible, I was taken down for emergency surgery to remove my large bowel, which had perforated. It was an absolutely terrifying and traumatic experience and to be honest, I barely remember any of it; I’ve blocked most of it out.
I now have my small intestine rejoined to my rectum to allow me to go to the toilet, and I was told that I have ulcerative colitis - a form of inflammatory bowel disease. One of the most prominent symptoms is excessive weight loss. Suddenly, it all made sense.
After this, the relationship I was in turned into a very unhappy one and I gained a lot of weight back. I didn’t mind my scars, but seeing my belly slowly growing was disheartening, and I continued to cover myself up and only wore clothes that made me look slimmer.
It felt like I was back in this cycle of self-hatred and self-loathing. I’d grown so used to hating my body that it was pretty much my “normal.” I’d forgotten what it was like to look in the mirror and actually like what I saw.
But that all changed when I got into a new relationship, and became pregnant.
It happened pretty quickly, just six months after meeting my boyfriend on a dating app. It was a shock, since I had been told that I couldn’t have children due to the extensive abdominal surgery, but I was pleasantly surprised and I knew that I wanted to keep my baby.
I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy and developed gestational diabetes and pregnancy induced hypertension, which made me very swollen. But getting pregnant changed something inside of me. It’s like something clicked in my head, and I started looking in the mirror and liking what I saw.
I loved my pregnant body, because it was doing something amazing that I never thought it would be able to do. It was giving me such a precious gift and I had to appreciate it for that.
The stretch marks didn’t matter, I was glowing and my bump was perfectly round. For the first time, I was big, and I liked it. I wanted the bump to grow more and more because I loved seeing my body making progress as my baby grew bigger.
It didn’t matter that I was going up in dress sizes or that the numbers were going up on the scale. I knew that was meant to happen during pregnancy and I felt fine with it. My body was doing the work it needed to do to grow a healthy baby.
My sex life completely improved since I no longer felt insecure. I couldn’t change the fact that my body was growing and I chose to embrace that during intimacy. Becoming more comfortable in my body actually brought my boyfriend and I closer. Allowing myself to enjoy being touched and complemented felt amazing.
Because of my previous surgery, I had a C-section at 38 weeks and two days. I’ve been left with another scar and a lot of stretch marks, but I don’t look at them with disgust. I look at them and I feel proud, because they are a reminder that my body grew the most precious thing in my life: my baby.
I strip off in the mirror and I don’t think negative thoughts, which is such a freeing feeling after being overwhelmed by them for so long. I no longer have body hang-ups and I dress for me, not just for my body.
I know that after a baby, it’s very normal to feel self-conscious about your body. I won’t lie, there have been some wobbles — mainly when my pre-pregnancy jeans no longer do up — but pregnancy has left me in a really positive place where I am happy to strip off in front of my partner, to wear tighter clothes and to not panic that people are judging me by my weight.
I don’t care what anyone else thinks when they look at me, because I am finally comfortable in my body. I spent so long punishing my body, and picking out everything that was wrong with it — but I knew as soon as I got that positive plus sign on my pregnancy test that it was time to stop that.
My body has done the most incredible thing for me, and it deserves nothing but love and adoration. So that’s what I’m giving it.