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Moms and Eating Disorders

Five years ago, my son, Henry, died just one month after he was born. In the awful hours that passed after his delivery and then his death, I endured a metaphorical injury of my own: A hole opened up in my heart, and my arteries began pumping despair into every nook and crevice in my body. I suffered all the scary psych 101 stuff you might imagine -- anxiety, depression, dreams of suicide. But I also struggled with something one might not expect: anorexia, an impulse doctors are finding lies in wait for many mothers.

We tend to think of it as a teenage affliction. And, indeed, that's when I first felt its pull. While eating disorders like anorexia and its sib, bulimia, are about striving for a cultural body ideal, they are also about the push for perfection, the desire to gain some sense of command in an out-of-control situation by micromanaging what or how you eat. And, really, who feels more out of control than new mothers?

You can't make your child sleep through the night.

You can't make your partner feel, in his own bones, the weight of your exhaustion.

You can't make, if you're me, the world spin in reverse and redo Henry's birth.

But you can make yourself skinny. You can make yourself throw up. And mothers, in unprecedented numbers, are now doing exactly that.