It sounds like the opening of an off-color joke: What do a recovered anorexic woman and a woman who used to weigh 300 pounds have in common?

But there’s nothing funny about the answer: Food and fertility issues.

My friend Wendy battled anorexia and bulimia for a number of years. I’m not comparing an eating disorder to weight loss, but Wendy is one of the few people in my life who understands the anxiety a buffet can cause and how silly – yet overwhelming – it feels to eat in public, certain that others are scrutinizing your plate. She also knows what it’s like to be told you may not be able to have children – years before you’re even considering the idea.

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Wendy poses with me after cheering me on at a 5K race on New Year’s Eve – she was a few weeks pregnant in this photo!

My food and fertility issues intersected when I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome in September 2008. At that point, I was not even sure I wanted children, but the idea of not even having the option was unsettling, and I began to read more about health, weight and fertility issues. Then, in January 2009, I was given an amazing opportunity as a reporter: To meet with a local family who had struggled with infertility, had undergone in vitro fertilization and was pregnant with triplet boys — and was willing to share the nitty gritty details of their intimate story. Infertility patients in a small town face special challenges because they often have to travel hours for care.

Right in the midst of the Octomom scandal, this story couldn’t have come along at a better time, and the three-part series went on to win second place in the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association Excellence in Journalism Contest.

Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to watch another amazing story unfold. Wendy was planning to start a family with her husband, Scott, as soon as they were married. After being cautioned that her eating disorder could have caused permanent damage to her reproductive system, she was told that “You won’t know until you try.”

But I’m happy to report that Wendy and Scott welcomed their first child, a son named Zachary Chad, at 4:35 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. Zack weighed in at 9 pounds, 1 ounces and is 22 inches long!

 Wendy sent me this cell phone pic Sunday morning

 In honor of Zack’s arrival, Wendy wrote a guest post about her battle to health – and motherhood! – for Fashionably Fit readers. I am so honored to share her (and Zack’s!) story on the blog!

My little man and big miracle, Mr. Zachary Chad, has arrived. I know we face a long road of diapers, sleepless nights, illnesses and just life in general, but I’m confident that my biggest fight in conception, child-bearing and becoming a mother is already behind me.

I was never diagnosed with infertility. I was just threatened with the very real possibility of having serious trouble conceiving after seven years battling anorexia, bulimia and over-exercising.

It began when I was a straight-A, well-liked, athletic 16-year-old who just wanted to improve on her times in cross country running — long before being a mother had even crossed my mind. I started running twice a day, every day that summer and finding myself “too busy” to eat as much as I had been. Within six months, I was obsessed. I didn’t even notice that my running was suffering – not even the couple of times I completely passed out after a race.

Just a few months before high school graduation, a guidance counselor told me I might not live to receive my diploma because of my eating and exercise habits.
I didn’t care, really. I only cared about the feeling of lightheadedness that let me know I was doing a “good” job. Or the compliments I got from coaches, acquaintances and even a boyfriend or two.

In my freshman year of college at Syracuse University, my grades were barely cutting it and my health was being forced into public concern. I was forced to seek treatment with a nurse, doctor, therapist and nutritionist. I lied a lot that year.  The threat of infertility was discussed then, when upstate New York saw a blizzard of epic proportions. I was on my way back to my dorm room and I collapsed into a pile of snow on the side of the road, from exhaustion and sheer terror. It was the first time my eating disorder ever concerned me.

I wish it ended there.            

I struggled until I had transferred schools and made a continuous stream of bad decisions.  When I was 22 and still starving myself, I met my husband, Scott.
When I was 23, continuously relapsing, we were discussing marriage and having kids. Suddenly, all of those threats came flooding back to me. About 20 percent of infertility cases can be linked to eating disorders.  Makes me feel pretty selfish to know that the other 80 percent are usually things not in the woman’s control. The National Eating Disorders Association says that women with eating disorders need to have their illnesses resolved before even attempting to become pregnant.


Wendy and Scott on one of their first dates

I had to get this under control. The possible side effects if I even did manage to get pregnant were horrifying: delayed fetal growth, placental separation, miscarriage, stillbirth or fetal death, gestational diabetes, jaundice, respiratory problems, preeclampsia, premature labor, low birth weight, low amniotic fluid and birth defects, especially blindness and mental retardation.

I didn’t have the luxury of being able to afford all of the services available to me at my large public university years before – the help I wasn’t ready for then. Services for eating disorders are incredibly expensive and most insurance only covers a small amount of inpatient or outpatient services. I was on my own.
The hardest decision was to take running out of my life, at least temporarily. It was just too hard to keep doing the one thing that had started this whole downward spiral, no matter how much I loved that runner’s high.


Wendy competes in an indoor track meet circa 2005

I still let myself exercise, just in moderation and in different ways, trying to involve Scott so that I had another set of eyes on my tennis playing or bike riding. He even tried Pilates a few times. I cut out the forced purging methods almost cold turkey. I felt like I lost a lot of control with that move, but I had to keep telling myself that my health was too important for this.

I did a lot of research on healthy eating and studied recommended diets for pregnant or trying-to-conceive women. I upped my iron (I had always been borderline anemic) and protein and increased the amount of seafood I ate. I stayed away from my binge triggers, most of them sweets.

The most important thing I did – and still do when I’m stressed or nervous – is to find a quiet place and sort of distract myself whenever a temptation would smother me. Whether it was a walk outside (I couldn’t throw up that way) or a game with Scott (without being surrounded by the kitchen cabinets), I would just make sure to clear my mind of all of those thoughts.

Scott and I were getting married in September 2009 and wanted to start a family as soon as possible and I decided to go off of the birth control pill and start prenatal vitamins in June that year. I had been on the pill for almost the entire time I had my eating disorder and didn’t want to be one of those people who even in the best of circumstances couldn’t get pregnant quickly because of the pill. We had enough stacked against us. Taking the vitamins was like a daily reminder of our end goal, too. They kept me in line, strange as it sounds. A funny thing happened that year – I had six consecutive, regular periods – something that had never happened to me before. Maybe this was going to happen, I thought.

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Wendy and Scott on their wedding day (Photo by Indiana, Pa., based photographer Teri Enciso)

On our honeymoon one night, I found myself so overwhelmed with the new adventure we were about to start – the someone’s-got-to-do-it job of conception. I fell into Scott’s arms and apologized to him for possibly keeping him from having a child. I just didn’t know if everything I had done these past couple of years was enough.  Our first month of trying to conceive rewarded us with a nasty “Not Pregnant” on the pregnancy test and some tears.

But then, our miracle.

In December, we got the “Pregnant” result we had thought about over and over again. We heard a heartbeat in January, had an ultrasound in February and have watched as my stomach – and our baby – have grown in the months since then.  Just before pregnancy, I weighed 40 pounds more than I did at my lowest weight. Since then, I’ve gained about 35 pounds, right on target for my doctor’s goals for me during the pregnancy. When we hit the first trimester mark, there was the most amazing feeling of relief. My body was healthy enough to conceive – and carry! – a child.

Eating during the pregnancy after every other part of this battle was so simple, believe it or not. Every bite of food was for our child, and being selfish was no longer an option. Getting upset over my increasing weight or curves wasn’t a possibility either, not after everything else I had been through.
I worry about the months after Zachary joins us – how will I handle post-pregnancy? (There’s an increased risk of postpartum depression and relapses among eating disorder sufferers.) I have a goal of starting to run again, this time much more casually, and maybe even have Zack and his daddy cheer (drool?) me on at the end of a 5K race in a few months.

Whatever I do, my battle continues. After all, Scott and I hope to have another child pretty quickly. So there’s no time to give up everything I’ve worked for just to bring about complications or problems the next time around.

I know I’m lucky. I’m not sure if I deserve all this good fortune after everything I did to my body and all of the damage I could have caused. I still carry my eating disorder scars with me – marks on my knuckles, damaged teeth, a sore throat, joint issues and more. But the desire to hold my son in my arms gives me the strength I need to face every day.

You have to take charge of your own destiny, your own life, your own future. Before it takes charge of you.

Wendy is understandably very busy these days, but you can drop her a line at wrzook [AT] gmail [DOT] com.