Winnie had never thrown up after a meal. Purging was a concept she found revolting. Even with a full-blown eating disorder as severe as anorexia nervosa, she had never considered puking as an option. Which is why that morning took her by surprise.
The day hadn’t started out well. Celeste never took, “I’m tired” as an excuse. “I don’t feel good,” “That food doesn’t look good to me,” “This doesn’t smell right.” No excuses. When Winnie described Celeste as her drill sergeant, she wasn’t being facetious. Celeste was militant.
But there was a difference between defiance and illness, and Winnie was sick.
For weeks, things had been going well. Because she’d had a taste of freedom, she’d been diligent with increasing her caloric intake, and reintroducing new foods and new experiences. Instead of taking each day pass as an excuse to waste away the afternoon like honeymooners, Winnie and Joel had walked the thousand steps down to the beach, played frisbee, found a dance studio, driven up the coast and back, and visited the Santa Barbara Zoo. One thing they had yet to do was visit any restaurants.
Winnie was gradually learning how to prepare and cook food in the correct quantities for a healthy professional athlete and learning how her body should feel when properly nourished.
When she visited the Anderson’s home she helped Lynnette in the kitchen, discussing how much food would be prepared for the whole family compared to just her and Joel and compared to feeding just herself. Once they returned to New York City, they would have to live in an apartment on the nineth floor of their building in Manhattan. There wouldn’t be a fruit stand down the street with fresh strawberries. Come fall, Joel intended to resume classes full time in Michigan. There were so many things to take into consideration in planning for their new future.
That all came crashing down with one startling revelation that began with nausea so severe that breakfast wound up in the trash can halfway down the hall on the way back to her bedroom and culminated when a blood test revealed the worst news a devastated anorexic body could ever receive. Winnie was pregnant.
“How is that even possible?” Winnie asked. “I haven’t had a period in almost two years. Ever since I developed anorexia.” That still seemed strange to say out loud, but she’d been practicing embracing her illness and acknowledging her involvement for many years. Through therapy she had come to recognize how long she’d been limiting her caloric intake. She’d likely been clinically anorexic since early college.
“When your body started healing after being so sick, you must have ovulated and not known about it and then gotten pregnant before ever having a period.” Dr. Denise Fuller, director of the eating disorders treatment clinic, the woman who had first evaluated Winnie the day she entered the treatment center, had been called in to decide how best to handle the situation.
“You can get rid of it, right?” Winnie asked, panicking at the thought of getting fat enough to carry a baby inside her.
“We don’t recommend that necessarily,” Denise said. “I mean, it’s your body. The procedure to remove the embryo is usually noninvasive but because of your condition, we’ll probably have you spend one night in the hospital, just for precaution.”
“Procedure?” Joel asked, taking Winnie’s hand. “Are you suggesting we abort our child?” They sat together in the director’s stately office discussing the available options.
“Joel, the embryo is less than six weeks gestation.” Denise sounded as if she were speaking to a child rather than an adult in his first year of medical school. “There’s not even a heartbeat this early in a pregnancy.”
“Heartbeats have been detected in children as young as five and a half weeks gestation,” Joel said. “You’re not talking about removing a tumor. You’re talking about killing a baby.”
Winnie folded her arms and pursed her lips then sighed. “Joel, my body is not physically strong enough to carry a baby to term. Either the fetus will miscarry, or my life could be in danger. Are you more concerned about killing a sack of cells that has barely developed or keeping me alive?”
“I will do anything in my power to keep you both alive,” Joel said definitively.
“The embryo is inside Edwina’s body,” Denise said, turning to her. “Ultimately the choice is hers.”
“I… um…” Winnie glanced over at Joel then back at Denise, confused about what was going on. She and Joel had never really discussed having children, and they’d certainly never discussed opinions about abortions.
“Fathers have rights,” Joel interjected. “I believe I have a say in this.”
“Do you want to have a baby?” Winnie asked, incredulous that he thought she was strong enough.
“Of course, I want to have a baby,” Joel said. “I mean, I figured you were on birth control pills or something because we never got pregnant before. I thought all college girls were on birth control.”
“That’s a pretty big assumption, Mr. Anderson,” Denise said.
“This isn’t about me,” Joel said. “It’s about our baby. A child created in love by a husband and wife who love each other and love the life we created.”
“A life you’ve known about for fifteen minutes?” Winnie raised her eyebrows.
“Time is irrelevant in this case,” Joel said. “A baby is a baby.”
“She won’t be allowed to stay in this facility while pregnant,” Denise said. “We’ll need to find a treatment center more equipped to deal with high-risk pregnancies.”
“Then she’ll come home.” Joel raised his chin with defiance in his eyes.
“She has not been fully trained to care for herself,” Denise pointed out. “How is she going to maintain her health while attempting to keep a fetus alive?”
“I’ll take care of her,” Joel said. “She’s learned a lot in the eight weeks she’s lived here, and I’ve learned a lot, and my mother has learned a lot. We can handle this. And if we have to, we’ll admit her to a hospital for constant monitoring.”
“Edwina, what’s your opinion on this?” Denise said, turning to her again.
“I’m not sure what to think right now,” Winnie admitted. “I don’t feel ready to leave the center, and I could die trying to bring a fetus to term. My body’s not healthy enough to support a pregnancy.”
“We have to at least try,” Joel said, his words laced with devastation and his eyes pleading with her.
“I need some time to think about this,” Winnie said. “One way or the other, I want to be sure I’m making the right choice.”