Leah shares her experiences of beating anorexia and becoming a mum to twins.
Being a mother of twins, I think the most frequent I comment I get is, “You must have your hands full?!” But to be honest, there’s no difference between me and someone with a baby and a toddler or two children a couple of years apart. In fact, I would say I’ve got the better end of the bargain because my two pretty much work in sync and I’m not having to worry about different times, meals and levels of entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a breeze having twins, far from it, but it’s funny how everyone assumes that it’s on a whole different level of motherhood. I think it actually does a disservice to all mums out there because whether it be one baby or ten, every baby is different and with that comes a whole host of things that we have to cope with and worry about.
However, I do feel very blessed to have had my twins, especially because I never thought I’d be able to have any children.
As a teenager, I was anorexic; this was pretty much from the age of 12 right through to my early 20s. I had one period when I was 12 and then none again until about the age of 21, then they completely stopped again a couple of years later when I had a relapse.
Three years ago I was at a low point again; I was exercising over three hours a day and using laxatives. I was very unhappy with my work life and I felt that exercise was a release and the laxatives were being used to try and cleanse all the rot that I felt inside.
All this of course was affecting my relationship with my boyfriend, Rick. We had spoken about children in the past and because of my history with anorexia I had obviously been very hesitant, but I knew Rick really wanted a family. I felt terribly torn between my love for my boyfriend and my fear of being fat – sounds so self-absorbed, right? Of course it was but that’s what happens with someone that suffers from this kind of disease.
The turning point
If we ever had an argument it was always a subject that was brought up, but I remember the actual turning point so clearly. We had been on a day out in a picturesque village in North Yorkshire, everything was going well until we started to talk about my issues which in turn brought everything to the surface and Rick turned round and told me in so many words that he didn’t think I ever wanted children.
I don’t know why but it hit me like a brick, my stomach dropped and I thought, “To not have children in my life would just be heart-breaking.” Something had been triggered in my brain that gave me a reason to fight against my anorexia, where as in the past there wasn’t anything strong enough to make me want to really try.
That was the day that my life would change. Well not literally that day but it got the ball rolling.
Injections and scans
Having had some tests done a couple of years before, I had been told that whilst I didn’t have periods my ovaries were in good working order but were just dormant i.e. not producing eggs. Fortunately, there was a solution to this before having to consider IVF. I was put on a treatment that would help stimulate my ovaries, basically rebooting the system. This entailed nightly injections over four weeks.
During this time I would have to go to the hospital for a scan to check if my follicles (these are where eggs develop) were growing. I won’t bore you with details, plus it could probably get a bit confusing, but at the end of four weeks if the follicles were big enough (11-14mm) you were then advised to have sex every other night for two weeks.
Now as fun as this may sound, after a couple of nights its starts to feel very clinical and robotic, plus the pressure on Rick to *cough-cough* perform became quite draining for both of us. You then wait to see if you get a period, which means in that case no pregnancy.
We were told that you could have this treatment six times before IVF is considered. For a number of reasons which again I won’t bore you with, our lucky strike didn’t happen until the fourth round of treatment.
I did the pregnancy test two days before I was meant to because I really had a feeling that I was pregnant. I can’t really tell you how I knew, maybe my body felt a little different, but I just had this instinct. Many women talk about doing about five tests before they actually accept they are pregnant. I did two and I only did two because the first one was a cheap one and didn’t really give a clear reading.
When I saw the two pink lines and the little digital reading saying ‘yes, you’re pregnant’ my whole body turned to jelly and I couldn’t stand up. I was genuinely so happy and perhaps a little relieved – I had been slightly concerned about going through the treatment again and then possibly having to consider IVF.
I then spent 10 mins debating with myself on how to break the news to Rick, should I wait until he got home or call him. Initially I had decided to wait until he got home and do the old ‘placing of the test on his dinner plate’ kind of thing, but I was too excited and felt the need to tell him right away.
Here’s how it went…
Me: “Do you know what I’m going to tell you”
Rick: “I think so”
Me: “Ha ha ha, I’m pregnant”
Rick: “Oh, really, has it? Can’t do much from here. Maybe I should come home”
(He later told me that he didn’t want to let on to his colleagues just in case anything happened)
Ricks office was only about a 5 min journey but waiting for him felt like an hour. When he walked through the door I was literally shaking. I think we were both in shock for a few minutes and then we were trying to be sensible about everything but the excitement was exhilarating.
I went for my first scan when I was around four weeks. On the day I remember thinking that maybe I wasn’t pregnant after all and that they would turn round and say, “Sorry, but we can’t see anything.” I was so nervous.
As I lay back on the medical bench, my heart was beating really fast, it felt like forever before the nurse said anything and when she did it was so matter-of-factly, “Yep, there are the two sacs.”
Neither me nor Rick were quite sure what she was saying and we looked at each other in puzzlement.
“Do you mean two eggs?” I asked
“Oh my God.” Rick said and his mouth just dropped open
I had to lie down again and I just stared at the ceiling for about two minutes with my hand clasped over my mouth.
Has your brain ever done a major scramble of words, pictures, images that all kind of blend into one? That’s what was going on in my head. I couldn’t really think straight, so as the nurse was talking us through everything it was going in but getting scrambled along with everything else.
For me, the next few weeks were actually quite scary. This is probably giving a bit too much away, but every time I went to the toilet I would hold my breath in case I saw some blood. I became acutely aware of any twinges or pains, the tension was immense. And then one Sunday when I was about 10 weeks and getting ready for bed, I went to the toilet and saw the blood.
My first reaction was a scream and I called out to Rick who came rushing in. He saw the blood but bless him remained so calm. I just kept saying, “Take me to the hospital, take me to the hospital.” Again, Rick tried to be the voice of reason and told me it might not mean anything. Then the anger set in for me and I started throwing things around the bedroom and began to weep. There was no way I could wait until the morning, I needed to know if I was losing my babies or not.
We arrived at the hospital at around 1am and like most hospitals at this time, we were sat amongst the drunks and the domestics. However, Rick told me that having dropped me off to go and park he had come in behind another girl who said she thought she was miscarrying. She was actually sat across from us holding her stomach and looking quite pale.
It then occurred to me that I didn’t really have any pains, maybe a little bit of a backache and a bit achy, but a) it was late and b) the body handles shock in funny ways. I kept going to the toilet to check if there was any more blood and there was nothing, but I wasn’t feeling any more assured.
At around 4am, we were finally seen by a doctor who asked me a few questions. For every answer I kept following with, “I’m still wearing the same pants with the blood – I can show you.”
The doctor informed me that it would not be necessary and then pretty much said that there’s nothing they can do we would just have to wait and see what happens over next couple of days. No scan, no physical exam, nothing. Now, I kind of understand where they were coming from, there really wasn’t anything they could do for me, but at the same time I was a little frustrated. The doctor did however explain that it could just be spotting which is quite common in pregnancy and I did leave the hospital a bit more optimistic than when I arrived.
Fortunately, having called the fertility clinic where I received the treatment the following morning, they whisked me in for a scan. I couldn’t even look at the screen and I wanted to throw up. It felt like the longest time before the doctor said anything. Then, “Yes, I can see two heartbeats.”
My legs began to tremble uncontrollably and for a few seconds I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Rick reached over and grabbed my hand. I remember his thumb gently stroking mine and once again making me calm.
It turned out to be a small blood clot probably left over from the period of ovulation, which as mentioned was quite common in pregnancy, but I knew then that I was really going to have to look after myself now, not just for me but for the two little lives inside of me.
Before I got pregnant my exercise routine was pretty intense and I was on a high protein diet. I ate a lot of vegetables and drank a lot of meal replacement shakes. This was obviously going to have to change and I was going to have to come to terms with how my body was changing.
The funny thing was, whilst I had no morning sickness the thought of eating broccoli or drinking milk (which was in my shakes) made me feel extremely queasy. Even the thought of a green vegetable was enough to make me gag!
The first thing that grew were my boobs and rather than feeling repulsed I felt a surge of warmth and excitement. My body was actually becoming more feminine and I liked it. Then as my bump grew I felt even more comfortable with my body. For the first time in 18 years I was looking in the mirror and willing my tummy to grow.
Every day, at every possible opportunity I looked at my growing tummy and I gently rubbed it knowing that inside there were two little miracles that only the year before would not seem possible in my life.
I felt totally liberated by being pregnant and began to love my body again. I no longer saw it as an enemy, but as a valuable asset that was giving me something to look forward to. It was as though someone or something was teaching me that my body was special and needed to be treated that way.
Don’t get me wrong, I still had my demons to contend with and perhaps I was more conscious than others about how big I was getting which I think in some ways I still controlled. Of course I calmed down on the exercise, but I still went to the gym regularly and did a lot of Pilates, which I believe helped me have a natural birth with the twins. For once though I was really tuning in with what my body needed because in the back of my mind I was not just thinking for one person, I was thinking for three.
It was the most amazing feeling to feel and see my little ones moving around in my belly, it was like a scene for the Alien film, as little lumps and bumps would suddenly ripple across my belly. Rick would quite often place his hand on there and I could tell by the look in his eyes every time that this was just as magical to him as it was to me.
I knew Rick was not just ecstatic that I was pregnant, he was immensely proud of me and how I had embraced being pregnant. It had also been a long time since he had seen me genuinely happy and often mentioned how he thought I was glowing.
Being pregnant made me a lot calmer and gave me something to focus on, I finally felt like I had achieved something. For most of my adult life I had beaten myself up about not really having any goals or doing anything of real merit. I had been through therapy but for me, the pregnancy was probably the most effective form of treatment for my condition.
The twins arrive
And so it was on June 24th 2010 after 10 hours of labour, I gave birth to my beautiful boy Beau and gorgeous daughter Olivia. My body was now on its own again and I knew that it was going to be some tough times ahead.
In the next few posts I will talk about the first year of the life with the twins and also how I tried and sometimes failed to cope with post-pregnancy me and my body.