It starts even before your child is born – an irreversible link between food and how you look after your baby. Some things are potentially fatal, seafood, soft cheese, or harmful like alcohol. Other foods nurture and build the new life inside you, fruit, vegetables, milk. I remember taking such pleasure in eating really well when pregnant, that satisfaction of knowing every mouthful would help my child grow strong and be healthy.
And then your baby arrives – and in those first few hours, you hold her or him and feed them for the first time. I breast fed all three children, and nothing will ever replace that feeling when you feed your baby, hearing them gulp down the milk you made for them greedily, with one tiny hand resting against you, as if to ensure you don’t leave. Others exclaim at how well your baby grows, how healthy they are, each milestone a delight and you beam with pride, at them, but also with pride at your own success as a mother. My son was once lying on the floor after a bath at a few months old and kicking his legs and chortling and my husband turned to me and said” look, you made him, you grew him inside you and you’ve fed him, he’s made out of you”. It seemed a strange thing to say – but perhaps that does define the link between being a mother and feeding your child and loving them. Perhaps those weeks and months early on define what we see as success – a child that eats and grows and is healthy. Midwives make marks on growth charts and at coffee mornings mothers swap baby weights, smugly or anxiously.
So if my child stops eating, if their weight and their position on a chart gets lower, if you watch them leave you a pound at a time, what does that mean for the bond between L and me? I know that’s a nonsense question, I know I love her more than ever, and I know she loves me. But nothing is more sobering than the realisation that as a parent, you can’t make it alright, that love on its own isn’t enough. And after a really tough weekend, I now know that if L eats, or keeps food down, to show me that she loves me, that won’t be enough either. She needs to love herself as much as we all love her and she needs to want to change – which is a huge ask. She needs to stop seeing weight loss or purging as a positive, and I need to understand why she feels that way. She has a huge capacity to love others, but can’t see what those her love her see. Someone once told me that all you had to do was love your children and that they would be fine. They were wrong. Love may be strong, but sometimes an illness can be stronger.