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December 16, 2014

Are You Pregnant?

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed. 

By Tiffany Hammer, outreach specialist at The Emily Program

In my last blog I talked about the importance of “I choose to be happy” in my life. That affirmation helped me to break the vicious cycle of negative self-talk that plagued my thoughts and tormented my relationship with food. I punished myself with large quantities of food and thought that no matter how hard I worked on my healthy lifestyle goals, it all felt hopeless. I very strongly believe that recovery is possible, even some days when it can be a struggle. Recovery is a journey, and it gets easier.

In times of stress, nervousness, or anxiousness I have turned to food in attempt to calm my nerves. I was traveling to a conference last month, it was my first national conference for work and I wanted to do really well. I had a series of stress dreams of worse-case scenarios of traveling and preparation, I definitely slipped back into an old way of coping — food. Despite an active awareness of what choice I was making, and knowing that this is not how I wanted to beat myself up for my anxious emotions, I overindulged anyways. However, instead of wallowing about it and allowing that rude voice to beat me and call me a failure, I checked into the hotel, took a nice, long bath, and grounded my focus on preparing mindfully what I could do to ensure success. Being nice and gentle to myself in forgiveness. I slept really well that night.

The next morning, I checked in at the exhibitor registration. I introduced myself and chatted with the woman who was pleased to learn about The Emily Program, since she was currently looking for resources. As we talked, she asked the one dreadful question no woman wants to hear: “I know I shouldn’t ask you this, but are you pregnant?”

In my head, I started freaking out. “WHY?!” I was convinced she could physically see the side effects of my food choices. Logically, I knew that wasn’t true, and I managed to stay calm and polite and simply answered “No.” I was so mortified, but I kept reminding myself that she didn’t know any better, couldn’t have known what I was going through, and therefore, I could forgive her. I also made sure to talk to myself extra nicely for the rest of the day so I wouldn’t compound any previous negativity. To find support, I asked my Facebook community what their thoughts were, and I wanted to know what some of the staff here at The Emily Program would say to a client who may face a similar situation.

I posted an open-ended question to my Facebook friends:

“I was asked if I am pregnant today. I can’t decide if it’s my own body image issues (which this definitely triggers) or if it’s the assumed agency people have over my body, and female bodies, to assume it’s ok to ask these types of questions. Either way, no matter how innocent, this is a very invasive question, and, unfortunately this is not the first time. I still don’t have a great response besides “No.” Anyone else have any ideas on how to respond?”

All of the comments were drenched in empathy, and a couple of individuals had a sense of humor. Here are a few of my favorites:

“WHAT? I think unless you see the baby coming out of the person or they tell you, you don’t ask. I think a simple ‘No. Are you?’ should suffice.”

“When I was probably 7 months pregnant with my son, this man kept insisting I must be having twins. Ummm…no. And my pregnancy does not give you to permission to comment on my body.”

“No. I’m not, and I hope you are embarrassed for asking. Next time, I hope you’ll err on the side of minding your own business. “

“‘No, but thank you for noticing my womanly glow and amazing breasts!'”

“I agree, make it about the healthy glow of your skin with confidence. The reality is you never know what lead someone to ask you and I think between stigma and self-confidence we immediately default to feeling fat. Someone made an assumption about you, now you get to make an assumption about them, and use your will power to turn it into a positive.”

There were another 40 responses of similar comments ranging from disgust to anger to humor to practicing forgiveness and I was grateful for each of them. It felt like I was a part of this fiercely protective female community who universally recognized that this brings up so many cultural factors which contribute to low self-esteem, dieting, and body image issues. These two factors–dieting and body image–are the largest preventative contributing factors for developing an eating disorder. The moment of pain and hurt I experienced over a body-related question, unfortunately has been shared by other women in my life. This made me want to explore this further, so I talked to providers at both our South Sound and Seattle locations.

The providers I spoke to first and foremost apologized that I had to go through that negative experience. As women they were personally empathetic, and like many of my friends, thought that this was one of those questions that is universally understood as inappropriate. Each dietitian and therapist suggested that I not take the comment as a reflection of my personal value. They encouraged me to see where the woman might be coming from. This helped me to shift my perspective about the question. It was not meant as a way of degrading my body, since many women get excited about the miracle of pregnancy. And certainly, her comment did not deserve to the power to make me feel ashamed. Each provider then asked me what I did to take care of myself afterwards, encouraging me to be nice to myself and to treat myself gently because no one’s ignorance should make me feel less than.

What this well-meaning question taught me is:

  1. Most women universally understand that this is an inappropriate question to ask.
  2. It is not a reflection of you or your body.
  3. Women are a powerful source of community and comfort through empathy and understanding that body related issues affect us all, and we are a resource for one another by recognizing the damaging effects that this question can cause.

Empathy is a valuable tool and resource that we can share with another. I was proud of myself for opening up my vulnerability and asking others for support. My Facebook community made me laugh and feel supported, and the providers at The Emily Program reminded me that the most important thing I could do was to not let it overpower me with negativity and choose to react with positive self-care which was, for me, choosing to forgive the woman and to continue to talk to myself with a calm gentleness. While there may not be one acceptable way to respond, I think what I have learned is that these comments are potentially very dangerous and to respond in a nice demeanor and say “No, and I don’t think that question is particularly appropriate. It could be more damaging than you think.” And, if you don’t feel comfortable saying anything, go talk to your female friends. The empathy and laughter will certainly make you feel better.

Get help. Find hope.