Courtesy of Netflix

'To The Bone' Says What No One Else Will About Pregnancy & Eating Disorders

Ad failed to load

Editor's Note: This piece includes explicit language about eating disorders.

The other night, my son ran his tiny, pudgy finger across the two scars on the knuckles of my right hand. "Mommy, you hurt?" he asked, looking up at me with both confusion and concern in his eyes.

"No, my love. Those are just mommy's special scars," I said. He didn't ask any more questions; to him, my answer was sufficient.

Ad failed to load

My son is 2 years old, so it's too early to tell him my scars are the result of bulimia. It's too soon to explain to him that this is an illness I will struggle with throughout my life. But it was fitting that he asked me this question on the night I sat down to watch Netflix's new original movie To the Bone. I found one particular storyline to be a heartbreakingly accurate representation of the all-consuming power of an eating disorder, and how that power unfortunately cannot be stifled by the promise of motherhood.

WARNING: This piece contains spoilers for To the Bone.

Courtesy of Netflix
Ad failed to load

In the film, Megan (Leslie Bibb) is a patient at a somewhat unconventional "halfway house" for people struggling with disordered eating. Megan is somewhat older than her fellow housemates and is unexpectedly pregnant. Early on in the film, Megan seems somewhat ambivalent about her pregnancy, and is hesitant to celebrate a positive pregnancy test because she has yet to pass the 12-week threshold. During dinner time, Megan wryly comments that thanks to the pregnancy, "at least she knows things are working down there," a reference to the fact that eating disorders can cause women to stop having regular periods, a condition medically known as amenorrhea.

As the film progresses, however, Megan appears to be more excited about the pregnancy. She reveals that her in utero daughter is 12 weeks and 1 day old, and she has picked out a name. She even allows the other patients to, finally, throw her a baby shower, and Megan seems genuinely happy to become a mom. In one notable scene, she expresses her belief that pregnancy and motherhood will lead her to develop more normal eating habits. She even tells Ellen (the main character, who is played by Lily Collins) that she's looking forward to "thinking about someone more than herself." In one particular scene she even forced herself to eat some mashed potatoes, "Miracle Potatoes" the groups calls them, for the sake of her unborn child.

I thought that my love for my child would overpower my need to starve and purge. My motherly instincts would take over and my innate desire to protect my child would trump my urge to control my life through disordered eating.
Ad failed to load

Megan's optimism is incredibly poignant. But I know from my own experience that pregnancy doesn't have the power to "fix" disordered eating, and neither do the responsibilities of parenthood. When I found out I was pregnant, I was allowing myself to eat just one meal a day, and directly following that meal I would make my way to the bathroom to force two fingers down my throat; scraping my knuckles against my front teeth until they bled, then scabbed over, then peeled, then bled some more. I had been forcing myself to purge after the small meal I allowed myself to eat on and off for six years, a reaction to living with a physically abusive father and, years later, being sexually assaulted by a coworker. I sought to make myself smaller, to take up less space, so the men in my life wouldn't hurt me or even notice me.

But as I held that positive pregnancy test in my hands, my supportive partner by my side, I silently told myself, "This is it. This is the end." I just knew I would eat for the fetus my body would transform into a child, and I was convinced that once I brought that child into the world, I would love him or her too much to continue to kill myself. I thought that my love for my child would overpower my need to starve and purge. My motherly instincts would take over and my innate desire to protect my child would trump my urge to control my life through disordered eating.

Courtesy of Netflix
Ad failed to load

For the duration of my pregnancy and for four months after my son was born, I stopped starving myself and purging after meals. It was difficult, to say the least. I cannot take credit for forcing myself to eat while my son developed inside my body: the nausea made eating nothing short of a necessity, and after experiencing a few pregnancy complications, my fear of losing my child sufficiently overshadowed my fear of gaining weight.

For four months after my son was born, I focused on breastfeeding and keeping my newborn alive. For four months, I eyed the closest bathroom and forced myself to remain in my seat at the dinner table. Then, during a family trip to my son's grandparents' house, my partner's mother asked if I "really needed a second helping" of dinner. It had been four months, after all, and I had yet to "lose the baby weight," she said. In that moment I felt completely out of control of my own body, and I knew there was one way I could get that control back.

Despite Megan's desire to be a mother and the excitement around her pregnancy, she could not keep herself from purging. The miracle potatoes weren't enough. Her love for her unborn baby wasn't enough.
Ad failed to load

I relapsed and threw up every meal I eventually forced myself to eat for an entire year. I hid my binging from my partner. I'd claim I was too tired to eat, and I'd blame my inability to find time to make myself a meal on the responsibilities of taking care of another human being.

I had thought becoming a mom would cure me of my eating disorder. I was wrong, though, and my inability to make my imagined future a reality was mirrored in Megan's storyline. In the middle of the night, after her celebratory baby shower, the characters in treatment hear desperate screams and pained crying. Ellen and her romantic interest, Luke (played by Alex Sharp) open the bathroom door to find Megan on the floor, crying, blood on her pants and the eggshell-colored tiles of the bathroom floor. She had miscarried. Between sobs and incoherent pleas, Megan cries, "I thought I was safe." Despite her desire to be a mother and the excitement around her pregnancy, she could not keep herself from purging. The miracle potatoes weren't enough. Her love for her unborn baby wasn't enough.

Courtesy of Netflix
Ad failed to load

Popular culture tends to view motherhood through a gauzy, oversimplified lens: it's the white knight of life choices, a decision that will erase all your problems and replace them with baby snuggles and divine purpose and a maternal sense of self. But in To the Bone, it's clear that motherhood is not a cure for eating disorders. It wasn't enough to keep Megan from purging after she ate, and the birth of my son wasn't enough to keep me from doing the same.

That's because eating disorders are an incredibly resilient force. ABC News reports that 1 in 20 women will suffer from an eating disorder while pregnant, and researchers at the University of Toronto report that the relapse rates of anorexia nervosa range from 9% to 65%. According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration, the amount of time a person has lived with an eating disorder, their age at the onset of their eating disorder, low self-esteem, and negative and/or stressful life events (including the birth of a child) can all impact the risk of relapse during recovery.

There is no end point, no "quick fix" and no "one thing" that will make my eating disorder magically disappear.
Ad failed to load

I have since tried to get myself "back on track," i.e. eating the way I did when I was pregnant (which is to say, eating and actually keeping that food down). I have had some success, but I have also had setbacks. I have gone long stretches where I find myself eating "normally," only to be triggered by my son's tantrums or an overwhelming workload or a fight with my partner, and I end up relapsing. I have more work to do, and I know enough about healing to know that my work will never be finished.

This disease, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, will be with me forever, and the fight to combat it will be cyclical: there will be no end point, no "quick fix" and no "one thing" that will make it magically disappear. Even my son. Acknowledging the capability of that force doesn't diminish the love I have for my child. Instead, it gives me the power to one day, eventually and when my son asks about the scars on his mother's knuckles again, answer him honestly.

I have an eating disorder, and although I love my son, the only thing that can truly combat my illness is the love I need to have for myself.

Ad failed to load

If you struggle with an eating disorder, please seek professional help. You can also call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Hilarious Differences Between Having A Baby In Your 20s Vs Your 30s

I was 24 when I had my daughter. And even though that pregnancy was neither expected nor pleasant, I was optimistic. Sure, I guess your 20s are "supposed" to be about finding yourself, finishing college, starting your career, and navigating less-than…
By Candace Ganger

Babies "R" Us Was The First Place I Went When I Found Out I Would Be A Mom

For years I struggled to have a baby, and the sight of toys and layettes made my heart hurt. For me, Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us were a complete no-go zone, a reminder of everything I was missing out on. My mom would walk the long way around Target…
By Becky Bracken

New Moms Have Two Options: Be "Sad & Fat" Or "Desperate & Thin"

As the line goes, the worst thing you could say about me, I've already thought about myself. In the early postpartum period with my son, it was: "I am overweight, lonely, and heartbroken." It was four days after I brought my son into the world, and I…
By Danielle Campoamor

6 Fascinating Facts About Spring Babies: You Could Have A Leader On Your Hands

Does the season in which you are born affect you or are all seasons pretty equal? It turns out that there are many ways in which the your child's birth season could give you an insight into things to come. Whether you are expecting a baby in the next…
By Shari Maurer

Kids Will Love These TV Shows & Movies Coming To Netflix In April

It's that time of the month again: as March draws to a close, Netflix gets ready for a little bit of spring cleaning. Though some TV shows and movies will have to find homes elsewhere, their departure makes room for all kinds of exciting new media. A…
By Megan Walsh

I'm A Stay-At-Home Mom &, Face It, These 11 Stereotypes Are Totally True

Hello, friends! It's me, your resident stay-at-home mom. You know, there's a lot that's said about me and my kind, and the vast majority of it is not even remotely true. For example, this whole "we're lazy, vapid, unambitious, anti-feminist, backstab…
By Jamie Kenney

The Pressure To Worry About The Gap Between Kids Is So Bad For Moms

"Two under two is absolutely crazy," a friend recently told me upon hearing the news that I was expecting a second child. "Why would you do this to yourself? Seriously, why?" However harsh her words, she was only echoing the same feelings I'd been ba…
By Marie Southard Ospina

To Be Honest, I Couldn't Survive Motherhood Without My Job

The decision to work outside the home once you've become a parent can be a complicated one. Some people don't really have a choice, and go back to work because they're either a single parent or can't sustain their family on one income. Some choose to…
By Priscilla Blossom

I Feel Guilty That My Kid’s Dad Is A Better Parent Than Me, & That’s BS

I was scared, and he was sure. I was clueless, and he was well-researched. I was making mistakes, and he was picking up the pieces. From the moment I found out I was pregnant until just last night, when I threw my hands up in the air and left the alw…
By Danielle Campoamor

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger