When food controls a mother's love: 'I don't see them as fat - just nice and cuddly' (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online

Ruth, 41, over-feeds her 10-year-old twins. She has been anorexic since her early twenties.

THE doctor says I'm killing my 10-year-old twins with my feeding. He says there's too much fat around Sam and Joe's hearts. I know the risks are serious. I love my sons more than anything, but I can't stop feeding them. To me, food equals love.

They're small for their age and weigh just over 10 stone. Their weight seems to creep up. Maybe it's in their genes, but it doesn't bother me. I honestly don't see them as fat. To me, they're just nice and cuddly.

Other boys bully them and call them terrible names - they've both had a few black eyes. Often they come home and cry their eyes out. They know they can turn to me. I take them out to the supermarket and let them choose what they want. Then I cook them a special meal. Food always cheers them up.

Sam and Joe were born almost three months premature, weighing under four pounds each. They were kept in incubators for a long time. I worried terribly about their low weights. And I felt guilty for being underweight myself and not being able to carry them. It bothered me not being able to hold them and feed them myself. Maybe that's why feeding became so important. I never felt I could give them enough.

They weren't greedy babies, but they liked their food and developed a craving for sugar. Nothing was sweet enough. I'd buy the sweetest possible baby foods and add icing sugar. I was getting through six pounds a week. My ex-husband, Ralph, was furious when he found out. He's a dentist and if he'd had his way there wouldn't have been any sugar in the house.

In the end it broke our marriage. I just wasn't prepared to deprive the boys of what they wanted to please him. We used to have screaming rows about it.

Ralph left the day they turned three. I was so upset I almost forgot the boys, but eventually I pulled myself together. They were very demanding and I gave in to their every whim. Being their only parent I felt I owed it to them. I never really monitored their eating. There were no regular meal times - they just snacked. Often they'd get up at night to eat. They seemed to live in the kitchen.

Shortly after they turned six, I had a breakdown. I felt terribly lonely and worthless. They were at school and I spent all day moping at home. The highlight of the day was deciding what to cook. Suddenly it hit me: I was 37, with no career, no husband, just the twins. One day they'd grow up and leave me.

I first got anorexia just before my law finals when I found out my boyfriend was two-timing me. Overnight I went from a confident extrovert to a nothing. When I met Ralph it seemed like true love. I realise now it was just desperation. We married and spent eight years trying for children. Deep down I knew anorexia was the cause, but I couldn't bear to change. Eventually, I had fertility treatment.

After the twins were born my life revolved around the kitchen. It gave me such a thrill to feed them. I felt like a great big Jewish mamma, doling out love. The smells of cooking were enough to make me feel full.

Before my breakdown I weighed six stone - about right for five foot five inches. But within two months I weighed less than five stone and could barely drag myself out of bed. The more I fussed over the boys' food, the less I felt like eating.

Ralph found out. He put me in a private psychiatric hospital. It was terribly demeaning having my ex-husband bossing me about like a child. But it was far worse when the boys moved to his place. Ralph was living with this young student - vegetarian, left-wing, hennaed hair - who'd got him all interested in health and fitness. He'd lost weight since he met her and was in training for a marathon. I dreaded to think what would happen to the boys.

I was in for about three months. For the first two I wasn't allowed to see them because I didn't put on any weight. I had nightmares about them starving to death.

The first time I saw them I barely recognised them. They must have lost at least a stone. Their little faces looked so pinched and hungry. I could have murdered Ralph. Seeing them made me absolutely determined to put on enough weight to get them back.

Over the past few years I've been in and out of hospital. It's always the same. Once I'm out of the way, Sam and Joe just fade away. Then when I'm out their weight goes back up to where it belongs. I know I'm best for them, but the doctor implies they're better off with Ralph - and now he's trying to get custody. He and his girlfriend are getting married this summer.

I live in fear of losing my boys. It's the worst thing that could happen to any mother. I'm determined to fight it tooth and nail. But Ralph's a clever man. He's got power on his side. The doctor has told me the outcome lies in my hands. But what does he know, when feeding them is just as vital to me as not feeding myself?


EATING DISORDERS Yesterday's Focus page on children affected by their mothers' eating disorders was written by Christina Kent. We are very sorry that her byline was left off the page.