Friday, June 02, 2006

I want to be overweight!

Now, how many people can say that?

Apparently, about sixty million Americans share my goal, because we are obese. Being merely "overweight" would be an improvement in my condition.

"Obese" is such an ugly word to me. I think it's because it rhymes with grease. Have you ever seen one of those infomercials for the next best thing in weight loss, where the evangelical and oh-so-thin host holds up a jar containing a pound of chicken fat? Or then there's the fact that my total weight loss goal of 53 pounds means I need to lose an eight-year-old child off my body. Imagine that childbirth! I think I'd endure it though, in preference to a year of hovering starvation. There's a reason why the word "diet" contains the word "die."

I did not know I counted as "obese" until I tried a body mass calculator, which assigned me a BMI of 30 and gave me the dread news. Luckily, if I lose just 5 more pounds, I will drop into the "Overweight" category.

My body and I have always been at war. I became a plump child when my parents divorced: When you look at a series of school pictures, you can see the exact year when I blimped up. And because of the cruelty of children, my avoirdupois branded me an outcast in gradeschool, the classic last-pick-for-kickball. At thirteen I decided that weight loss was my ticket to social acceptability. This plan did not work out as I'd hoped, but I did acquire anorexia nervosa. I survived, but became bulimic, and that condition lasted well into my twenties. After that I became a serial Weight Watchers member, cycling through the same fifty pounds. I was thin when I got married, but infertility and its associated stress eating put me at the high end when I conceived Madelyn.

To my horror, last week while searching for some information for Maddy, I found links like this one that make me fear my obesity and gestational diabetes are the cause of Madelyn's spina bifida. I have not cried so hard since long before her birth, and I'm heartbroken that I didn't know of this link before trying my donor cycle. It is new research.

My obstetrician and I had talked about the health risks of being overweight during pregnancy (I did not realize that I was "obese" even then) and I worked hard to keep my weight gain low. I had a net gain of only 12 pounds or so during pregnancy and after I delivered, I was 10 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight. Yet I developed gestational diabetes anyway. And now I find that my gluttony and lack of discipline may have harmed my child.

There are lots of women far heavier than me delivering healthy babies. I am short; on a taller woman, my extra pounds would not qualify as obesity. I can still (barely) shop in regular stores for clothes. And yet the more I learn about the risk factors for spina bifida, the more I realize that I unwittingly brought many of them with me into my pregnancy. Besides obesity, there is drinking tea, which I did -- one cup a day, with the permission of my doctor. That one has been challenged, but there is new work going on to indicate that compounds in tea might interfere with the metabolism of folic acid. There is even the fact that I am of Irish extraction: "Our epidemiologists, in studies in Ireland where the prevalence of spina bifida is particularly high, have identified a specific gene defect that predisposes women to bear children with spina bifida, especiallly if their diets are low in folate."

And then there is the torturous fact that I can't know for sure whether I took my prenantal vitamin every day. For anyone still reading this blog who wants to do a donor cycle, I highly advise that you make a little "X" on your calendar every time you take your vitamin. That way, if spina bifida should befall your child, you will not have the folic acid question to reproach yourself with.

All of this has made me so sorrowful for Madelyn. She is the sweetest, happiest little being who has no idea as yet of what's ahead of her, and now when I look at her, sometimes my eyes fill with tears and I have only these words: "I'm so sorry, my dear one." I do not yet know how I will live my way through this intense guilt. I have made tentative inquiries of the few spina bifida moms that I know, but no one seems to be suffering as much as I am -- or, they don't want to share it. Every doctor, every friend and family member, and certainly my husband, have been telling me: "It's not your fault." But I know in my heart that I did not do my best for Madelyn. I'll never really know what caused her condition, but I suspect it is simple: Me.

Feeling this, the most attractive option available is to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me. I don't deserve to be Madelyn's mother. And yet, such as I am, I am what she's been given. I have to do my best for her now, even if I failed in pregnancy. I must lose this hated weight, once and for all. I owe it to Madelyn, both as expiation and more importantly, for her health. Obesity is a particular risk for spina bifida children because mobility and thus exercise are difficult for them, and it's well known that obese parents have obese children. How can I ask Maddy to control her weight when I'm a living example of someone who does not?

And I want to lose it quickly, or at least more quickly than the plodding one to one-and-a-half pounds a week that I used to lose on Weight Watchers. My babysitter has had much success with a low-carb diet, but I am frustrated with it. After the initial drop most people get from a new diet, I crept down 8 pounds and have stuck there. The diet is hard for me to follow because if I could, I'd eat only carbohydrates; I was ovolacto-vegetarian for years. The only thing I like better about this diet that Weight Watchers is that I'm hardly ever hungry.

This week I'm going to try to drink a lot more water and start some mild exercise, and see if that will "goose" my system into losing weight. Madelyn is a far better motivation than a new wardrobe or the compliments one gets for being thin. I want to do this for her. And for myself.

But mostly for her.