I became a “Mama Warrior” by necessity when anorexia almost claimed my daughter’s life. Over six years ago, anorexia took hold of her, and it doesn’t want to let go. It’s a war of attrition, which is exhausting in its prolonged nature, since I can never let my guard down for a second. I am always on high alert. My daughter’s anorexia figures that it will wear me down eventually, that over time I will give in to it like the mother whose two year old throws a spectacularly loud “buy me candy” tantrum in the grocery store and who will concede to anything just to stop that G-d awful public display of screaming. Not a chance. In the words of Tom Petty, “You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down”. I have been to hell and back multiple times, and I’m still here to fight another day. Trust me, hell hath no fury like a mother whose child’s life is threatened.
My “Mama Warrior” persona first came out when my daughter started treatment for anorexia at age fifteen and she was assigned an ineffectual dietitian whose personality was ill suited to work with adolescents. When her weight continued to plummet despite weekly appointments with the dietitian, I insisted that the public clinic here in Israel where she was being treated switch her to a different dietitian who had a much better reputation among parents and who had impressed us at a parent meeting. I was told over and over again that it wasn’t their policy to switch dietitians; the patient needs to acclimate. At a certain point, when it was clear that my daughter’s health was in serious danger, I unleashed my inner “Mama Warrior” on them and I was like a dog with a bone. I insisted relentlessly that they switch her dietitian, which they did since they saw that I wouldn’t let up. Sadly, it was too late by that point to save my daughter from hospitalization.
When my daughter was hospitalized, my instincts screamed that the treatment was all wrong and that she was getting sicker. Instead of empowering parents by educating them or offering support, the hospital staff seemed to be most focused on what parents did to cause their child to develop an eating disorder. Every time we tried to shift the focus to treating our daughter’s anorexia, they kept shifting the focus back to us. For a while, I just blindly accepted the situation–after all, they were the professionals; but then at a certain point, fueled by intense fear and frustration, I started to push back. I was done being compliant, that only seemed to be making matters worse. I accepted nothing and questioned everything. I was confrontational; and in Hebrew nonetheless, which was out of my comfort zone. I needed to be a staunch “Mama Warrior” and start fighting for what I knew to be right for my daughter, who was literally disappearing in front of our eyes.
Every “Mama Warrior” needs an arsenal, and all I had in mine were my strong maternal instincts, which I needed to start following. I needed information; knowledge is power. So I spent hours each night online researching anorexia treatment. I wanted to know everything that I could about the illness that was ravaging my child. I needed to understand what I was fighting against. I inhaled information like my daughter’s life depended on it, because my daughter’s life did depend on it. I did not trust the people who were treating her and I was frantically searching for the answers to how to keep her alive. Everything that I learned reinforced my instincts that my daughter needed to be somewhere else.
After our harrowing experience at the hospital, we were incredibly fortunate to find private treatment here in Israel that was competent, caring, and effective. For once, I didn’t have to second guess her treatment team; and as a bonus, they educated and empowered us. As for my “Mama Warrior” side, I extended it to advocacy causes in the public realm; but first and foremost, it’s there for my daughter.
Through the online parent eating disorder community, I have met a whole army of “Mama Warriors” spanning the globe who not only fight for the health of their own children, but who also fight to help disseminate accurate, scientific information about eating disorders and to help dispel the myths and untruths about eating disorders that are harmful and dangerous. They fight against eating disorders on an international level. I am very proud to be included among their ranks; their strength, determination, and fortitude is truly inspirational.
We need way more “Mama Warriors” in Israel, so if you want to help join in our fight for better (evidence based) treatment, for more treatment facilities, for desperately needed eating disorder education among doctors and educators, for more inclusion of parents in treatment, for a higher standard of continuing care, and for more treatment funding, we would love to have you on board.
Anorexia messed with the wrong mother. I have not yet won the battle against my daughter’s anorexia, and it is possible that I never will. But I still have a lot of fight left in me, because I am—you guessed it—a “Mama Warrior”.