My Story With Disordered Eating and Infertility
It was a perfect night.
Upbeat music in the background, continuous laughter also driven by too many glasses of delicious red wine, the chocolate cake baking in the oven.
It was cold outside; my husband and I had decided to travel back to Italy to visit family as my years of trying (and failing) to conceive had taken a toll on my mental and physical health.
To manage the sadness and anxiety, I started giving my 1000% at work, finding myself working unreasonable hours, delivering workshops all over the world, sleeping little, eating little, while exercising every day.
The trip home was an excuse to reconnect, recharge and start afresh. However, the reality is that I was burnout, and I needed to prioritise myself for once.
But that night was just perfect; all my problems were whispers in the background. I was present, sharing a marvelous dinner with my handsome husband, wonderful sister, and her spouse. Before the cake was served (even if, let’s face it, I was not gonna eat it), my sister gave me a little box. I opened it with surprise, so grateful for receiving a gift. And there it was…a positive pregnancy stick…
“Am I pregnant?” Was the first thought that came to my mind.
I wanted a child so badly; I thought an overnight miracle had happened. But then I lifted my eyes, looked at my sister, her husband holding her tightly, the sadness in my husband’s eyes, and it dawned on me.
It wasn’t me; it was her. She was pregnant again.
I started sobbing uncontrollably. (Almost) Everyone laughed; they thought it was my way of sharing happiness, of welcoming the news. Truth it, I was happy for them, and at the same time, I was crushed.
From that moment on, I don’t remember much. The rest of the evening went on as normal; I asked the right questions and gave the right answers, but my mind was elsewhere.
On the drive back home, my husband didn’t say much. I looked outside in silence; there was nothing that could make me feel better. Salty tears were diving on my lips, and I couldn’t stop them.
The next day I woke up, went for a run, weighed myself, controlled my breakfast.
And then… came the wake-up call. “What the fuck are you doing,” I thought for a split second.
And that’s when the seed got planted in my brain; I needed to get out of that rabbit hole, I needed help, I wanted freedom, I wanted a child, I was ready.
As soon as I came back to Australia, I did the obvious things. I booked an appointment with a naturopath, took $1000 of supplements, went to biweekly sessions with a lovely acupuncturist, saw a psychologist, a healer, a kinesiologist, and started eating a little more.
Six months went by, and nothing happened; I had a spontaneous bleed somewhere in between, but nothing real, nothing consistent. I was spending all my money on getting better, and yet I had never felt so lonely and misunderstood.
The GP kept saying I had PCOS, perimenopause, that I was infertile, and wrote a referral to see a fertility specialist.
I devoted all my free time to go from one appointment to the next. It was a whirlwind of emotions, and I had no one…NO ONE …that I could relate to. My poor husband was supportive, but what did he know?
How could I explain to him that the thought of eating more than xxx calories per day was terrifying and that even if my back/knees/neck were constantly sore, I had to exercise?
How could I explain the fidgeting, the need to walk even when watching a movie, the secret jumping jacks in the toilet before going to sleep?
How could I express the need to check my body daily, take selfies, and check if my bones were still prominent?
The fear of changing was too overwhelming, and I didn’t know what the next step was to take. Even though I was finally investing in my health, I felt that my disordered thoughts were at their loudest, and the only way to control the mayhem was to eat less and move more.
In hindsight, it all sounds silly, impractical, counterintuitive. But while I was in the thick of it, I couldn’t see a way out.
And in that very moment, I promised myself that if I found a way out of that tiny box that I created, I would devote my career to supporting women going through the same.
And then, on a random day, while listening to a new podcast on my third walk of the day, a highly respected dietician said that she was opening her doors to a new program to heal from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I bought it right away. It was an impulsive decision, but I believe in intuition, and I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity.
It was expensive, but if I added up the supplements, the continuous appointments, the idea of doing IVF…it was just a drop in the bucket.
I would love to say that I joined, I did the program, and I recovered. But, unfortunately, this is someone else’s story. Not mine. But for the first time, I was part of a community that understood me, and I committed to recovery. That wonderful woman changed my life. She, unfortunately, passed away, and I will always treasure her wealth of knowledge, empathic words, and the time we spent together.
I started eating more. I moved less, but I mainly worked on my mindset. I needed to calm my overly excited sympathetic nervous system. I had to lower the cortisol level, and for once, I knew how to do it, and I believed it was the right thing to do.
Everything else unfolded beautifully, with many challenges, heartaches, and unpleasant experiences. I had to let go of deeply ingrained beliefs, I had to stop seeing some of my friends, I had to rewire my brain to think different thoughts. I had to put myself out there, share my thoughts, my raw truth, and it was scary and liberating.
It took a toll on my work and marriage. But there is a happy ending.
In 2017 I became a mum for the first time, and I called my daughter Luna, as every night in recovery, I asked the moon to guide and protect me.
In 2020 I felt unexpectedly pregnant with my second child. My period resumed as soon as I stopped breastfeeding.
The challenges I face every day have now changed. I will be forever grateful for my HA recovery as it taught me how to be an empathic practitioner, a resilient woman, a loving wife, and a strong mother. For me, it wasn’t only about getting the period back but also feeling free to go out for dinner with my husband without the need to count calories, restrict beforehand or compensate the next day. For me, it was all about being ok with myself and liberating my brain from unnecessary thoughts that were clouding my rational thinking.
I want to be a role model for my children, and I’m excited about who I am today, bad body image days included.
I’m also in a position to help women going through the same journey, and I have helped hundreds of gorgeous souls get their period and fertility back. Once, a client told me, “Thank you for what you do, I cannot imagine how frustrating and stressful it must be to work with people like us,” and my honest answer was and always is, there is nothing in the world that I would do with more joy and passion.
Claudia is a Qualified Nutrition & Dietetic Consultant (BHSC) specialised in hormonal balance, women’s health, and disorder eating behaviors. She sees clients online and in clinical practice; you can find more about her or the Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery program by following her on Instagram, Facebook, or by checking her website.