Before my daughter was hospitalized for anorexia, I had a different view of hospitalization. I know that it sounds simplistic; but in my head, you went into the hospital sick and you came out healthy. So when my daughter’s weight continued to dangerously decline, and the outpatient clinic where she was being treated suggested hospitalization, we agreed. I had read a lot of literature that correlated restored weight to restored cognitive function, and I naively assumed that if the hospital was able to get my daughter’s weight up, then the behavioral aspects of her anorexia would subside and she would start to recover. Sadly, this was not the case for us.
The hospital was a harrowing experience. There seemed to be an implied revocation of parental rights. It was a very strange situation to be in; we were parents of a child who really didn’t belong to us in many ways. We were told when we could visit her, when we could bring her home for a visit, and for how long we could keep her. We weren’t allowed to participate in decisions made on her behalf, and our opinions were unwelcome for the most part. We were not privy to basic information regarding our daughter’s health. We had always enjoyed a close relationship with our daughter; and yet, instead of trying to use that as a positive aspect of treatment, they tried to distance her from us. At first we accepted things even though they were counterintuitive. However, we eventually realized how much our daughter needed us to advocate on her behalf and how critical our role as her parents was to her well being.
One example of what we were exposed to in the hospital was the therapist telling us that we were responsible for our daughter’s anorexia because my husband and I are overweight. When we shared this with another parent in the unit, she started to laugh. Apparently, the therapist told her and her husband that they were responsible for their daughter’s anorexia because they are too thin. I fought to get a different therapist after the one assigned to us spent half of a session questioning what my husband and I ate for dinner as children, as if the answer to our daughter’s illness could be found in what our respective mothers made us for dinner some 30 + years ago. The “therapy” was a colossal waste of time and energy. It was steeped in negativity, and ultimately it was doing more harm than good. My other children were invited to participate in family therapy which ended up being a blame game, pointing fingers at them for causing their sister’s illness. It was damaging beyond words.
The hospital almost broke me. I lost my parental voice. I doubted my parenting capabilities. Without my husband there beside me, I probably would have lost my sanity. Somewhere along the way though, I refused to be broken anymore. Enough was enough. I was sick of the insinuations and innuendos. I am a good mother. Parents don’t cause eating disorders. So I found my voice again. I complained during the mandated parent meetings that they were doing nothing to empower us as parents; and that ultimately, when we had to take our children home, we would be lacking the resources to care for them. I questioned their therapy methods and insisted on switching to a less objectionable therapist. I stopped being a compliant robot and I started being a mother. If something was counterintuitive or went against the hundreds of hours of research that I did online educating myself about eating disorder treatments, I stood up for what I thought was best for my daughter. Being a model parent in that situation doesn’t mean doing what you are told, it means doing what is right for your child.
Hopefully my experience was the exception and not the norm. I have heard that the unit where my daughter was hospitalized has gone through an overhaul process, and I hope that they have learned the value of parental inclusion as a positive aspect of treatment. The cynic in me doubts it.
I learned quite a few lessons from my daughter’s hospitalization. Now, if something does not sit right with me, I do not hesitate to respectfully challenge authority. I don’t blindly trust anyone to make decisions on behalf of my daughter. I use my maternal intuition, and I would never leave my child in a place that I feel is doing more damage than good. I will not tolerate harmful treatment, and I insist on open communication with the professionals who are treating my child.
I have no more naive illusions about hospital treatment for anorexia. It’s mostly about getting a patient’s weight up. In some cases it’s enough, in other cases it’s not. Hospitals save lives, and I would never imply otherwise. I don’t know where my daughter would be today if the hospital hadn’t been able to restore her weight. I only wish that they could have made her better.