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IN THE NAME OF LOVE

Slow process…

It has taken me a strangely long time to write this post; I’m not entirely sure why that is. I can, in part, blame being excessively busy and making slightly too frequent commutes between cities. However, that only accounts for a proportion of the reason. The rest of the delay has been caused by my own indecision about exactly how to voice my thoughts. Brain fog? Perhaps. In the name of love, and to spare you the agony of my own inner monologue, let’s get going, rather than debate a justification for my tardiness…

Body image

It’s no secret that I have always had a complex relationship with my body. I know that’s not uncommon, sadly, particularly in sufferers of chronic illness. Whether it is a straightforward case of body dysmorphia, thought to affect around 0.5% of the British population severely enough for it to disrupt their lives, or a sense of resentment for the things a body does, or doesn’t do, illness can make it hard to love oneself.

Or, at times, even to like oneself.

I can certainly relate

In October last year, Victoria Hoff wrote for online beauty site, Byrdie: For better or worse, chronic illness forces us to reassess our relationship with our bodies: what they’re capable of, the intricacies of healing and regeneration, and how we relate to physical appearance. 

Ever since I was young, I can remember experiencing a form of body dysmorphia. Knowing I was tiny from the clothes I was wearing did little to stop me seeing something different staring back from the mirror. Crohn’s Disease has been known to make my weight fluctuate frighteningly fast – I once lost a stone and a half in a little under three weeks. As a result of this, to the outsider, I am aware that I have often looked like someone with an eating disorder.

My habits have, on occasion, perpetuated this misconception too. At university, prior to my first operation, I used to make a packet of Walkers’ Squares last me four days. I would count out a handful of crisps, then sellotape the packet shut for the next day’s snacking. It wasn’t a fear of getting fat that prevented me from eating freely – I was incapable of gaining weight no matter how much I ate – but I will admit that it was about control. Weighing less than five stone and wearing age six t-shirts, though I didn’t see a skinny person, I was painfully aware of the facts. The reality for me was that food was, in so many ways, my nemesis. When eating a meal usually resulted in hours of agony, it was safer for me just to graze in tiny quantities.

I was desperately trying to control the ticking time bomb of my anatomy, for which the detonation device had no override. Somehow, though I certainly teetered on the precipice and I most definitely was disordered in my eating habits, I always held myself just on the right side of the eating disorder line.

Changing habits

When my naso-gastric feeding tube went in at the end of 2016, after the first three months with no food at all, I had a momentous journey to tackle the reintroduction of solids. I was under orders from my dietician and my consultant that my food regime had to change. Having been vegetarian since the age of 20, and a compulsively healthy eater for even longer, my diet certainly did not conform to the low residue, high calorie label imposed on most malnourished IBD patients. All my staples – pulses, lentils, leafy veg, salads – were banned.

Prior to this, I had taken the low fibre rule with a pinch of salt. I knew my own body. I knew that it made little to no difference what I ate. Or when I ate it. So my rule of thumb was – if I feel like eating something, I will eat. It will either stay in, or it won’t. While that had worked for me historically, by the time the NG tube went in, things were a little different.

So…a total overhaul was needed.

I suddenly had to count calories in reverse. The more, the merrier. Processed, sugary, high fat snacks were in. Wholesome, raw food, dried fruit, wholegrain snacks were out. With a capital ‘O’. It was a major adjustment. But it was one I stuck to strictly because, quite literally, my life depended on it. Over time – seventeen months and six days to be precise – and with the help of my liquid feed, I built my weight up from 34 kilos (5 stone 3 pounds) to 38.5 kilos (6 stone 1 pound) and convinced my consultant and my dietician to allow me to have a trial separation from the tube. Fortunately for me, that trial turned permanent.

Reflections and reactions

Too many of us are hard-wired to react a certain way the moment a waistband strains slightly at its closure. So, when my double zero sized jeans would no longer fasten comfortably and I started to have to unbutton my more healthy size sixes to take them on and off, I had an internal battle which I am a little ashamed to own. My changing shape was exactly what I had wanted to happen. It was what I had worked towards for the past seventeen months and six days. It was the outcome I wanted, the progress I needed, the result we’d prayed for.

Yet I still found it challenging.  

Even now, I find it a struggle to rationalise. I think it has something to do with what we get used to. Our own norm. When something changes that, for better or worse, it is unsettling in so many ways.

Despite my positive weight gain and the mountain I had climbed, I still couldn’t love my body. It was still flawed, damaged, broken, defective, faulty. It still didn’t do things the way it was meant to. The way most other people’s did.

Past lessons

In January 2017, just a few weeks after my tube had gone in, I wrote a post titled The Greatest Love Of All. In it, I spoke of what the song lyrics say and trying to treat ourselves with some of the kindness we so readily offer others. Yet no matter how hard I tried to show myself affection, much to my loved ones’ dismay, I have never quite succeeded. Whatever small steps I have sometimes taken, however occasionally I would permit myself to do something just for me, I still couldn’t alter the way I viewed myself or my body.

Until…

At the end of 2021 – on December 30th in fact – something changed. Something enormous. We had a positive pregnancy test. We finally got to experience the unmatched feeling of joy and excitement at seeing those lines appear. At last, we could celebrate something my body was doing. Something we had desperately wanted it to do for so long. Something I thought my body was incapable of.

In the four months that have followed, I have slowly been learning to show my body the love and compassion it deserves. I suppose I have been on a lengthy journey with this.

So why now?

Because my body is no longer just mine. It now belongs to our tiny little Beanie as well. And I’m loving sharing it. My body is finally behaving in the way that I have watched almost all my nearest and dearests’ behave. It is, at long last, working. Exactly as it should. Miles and I are both delighting in the daily changes and transformations. For the first time, I am loving failing to button my jeans.

I would even go so far as to say that our huge little miracle is teaching me how to appreciate, to cherish and to work towards loving my body. Despite its many flaws.    

And here’s how we told the world…

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Judith Gordon

    This made me cry with sadness and finally …
    Cry with joy. A wonderful account of your journey, and reward for doing what you always say …” Believing.”
    Never giving up. Xxx

  2. Diane Linton

    Wonderful!!
    Lots of luck & love to you both xxx

  3. JanetFriedman

    So lovely to read this skillfully written piece. Lovely to understand how happy you and Miles are. Miracles do happen and you are a miracle maker Emma. Much love Jan the Gran xxxxx

    1. Emma Baim

      Thank you so much. I think believing is half the battle. x

    2. Barbara

      Such an insightful and beautifully written piece! And I love the way you announce Beanie. Wishing both of you and all your family good health, good news and a future full of love. Hope to meet you all before too long.

      1. Emma Baim

        That would be lovely – here’s hoping! x

  4. Heather Baim

    Beautifully written and a joy to read. Hope at the end of the tunnel of worry. We can’t wait to meet Beanie xxxxxxxx

    1. Emma Baim

      Thank you. Beanie can’t wait to meet you too! x

  5. Nix Smith

    So beautifully and honestly written… As always! Very proud of you and so excited to be an Auntie to baby Beanie PG. Enjoy your well-deserved Honeymoon with your gorgeous Mr Baim! XXX ❤️👣🌞🌻

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