Right after the calendar turned to 2019 the diet and weight loss challenges & ads were everywhere. Then, shortly afterwards, identity seemed to be a popular topic.
So, I figured now is a good time to launch a series I've been holding on to for a little while.
First let me disclose that I have held onto a very negative body image since grade school. Seriously. Due to many circumstances that were beyond my control, I was aware very early in life that I did not look like the girls on TV or in magazines. By middle school I had developed a completely negative body image regarding my weight, skin, hair, you name it, I didn’t like it. It took a lot of time and hard work to reach a place where I could say I loved myself and my body, yet there was always an extra 10 pounds or flaw to cover up.
Fast forward to motherhood and boom. I didn't gain too much weight during pregnancy with my eldest and I lost most of it quickly after he was born. But then the cycle of depression, weight gain, negative body image, more depression, more weight gain set in. Once I started taking medication I started eating poorly and in larger quaintly. And while my general mood was stable, my negative body image kept me from exercising or taking better care of myself.
I lived in this pattern for the greater part of a decade.
Around my youngest child's first birthday, I sought a new psychiatrist, and began taking new medications. This switch and more precise diagnosis lifted the fog. I was motivated and ready to be healthy. I began eating better, but I still struggled with body image and I attributed it to my complete disdain for exercising. Until a mom's outing opportunity presented itself.
I was invited and attended a pole dance fitness class with a group of local moms. At last I enjoyed getting sweaty and earning sore muscles and was having fun working out. I decided to jump into a membership and began taking more classes. I became determined to get stronger through this amazing method of strength training.
I also unexpectedly met the most incredible welcoming, inclusive and body positive people I have ever met. No one in pole class cares about your size or your stretch marks. In fact, they will cheer you on and encourage you to love your body.
I realized that I had found a key to my own wellness through pole fitness and started to wonder how many others there were like me. Turns out there are plenty. I was added to several social media groups and became friends with women who shared their own journeys towards a positive body image with pole dance and many disclosed their own struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety.
I learned about professional athletes and instructors like Cleo The Hurricane, who have spoken up for women and encouraged them to be proud of their bodies, especially as moms.
I was further inspired by the courageous woman that declared "I let go of self judgment and felt the weight of the past few years falling away" as she shared her recovery from a traumatic cesarean and feelings of doubt and failure as a mother.
And as an added bonus, I learned about Pole for a Purpose, Inc! How cool is this, a nonprofit organization built by pole dance and aerial fitness enthusiasts to help other nonprofits. I was so impressed with the performances at their most recent showcase. The art, strength, beauty and positivity were out of this world. Then to add to the ice cream sundae of awesomeness, they designated a portion of their event proceeds to The Seventh Mom Project Inc.!
I can’t tell you how fun it is to see the melding of my fellow umbrella holders and my pole family, and yes, the local pole community is really like a family. Collecting diapers for moms in need and cheering each other on to just keep climbing the pole and through motherhood.
I share this with you today for two reasons. First because I want everyone to know it's ok to have feelings about your body and self-image but it's better to turn the negative thoughts into positive encouragement.
Second, find your passion. Wherever or whatever it is, if you have an old hobby from your pre-baby days or are curious about a new one, go ahead and explore it. Your worth as a mother is in no way lessened by celebrating the different parts of your identity outside of motherhood.
Until next time,
There are, undoubtedly, things that I am good at: I’ve been told I am a good writer and good with
words (one reason why writing, while it’s not paying that much, might be my job).
I do well at drawing people and I am good at saving ruined dinners, turning soggy sweet potato
gnocchi into a sweet potato pizza crust with arugula and parmesan shavings.
(I wouldn’t mention the latter if I wasn’t particularly proud of it, but also to give you a heartfelt
warning: Whoever is telling you making gnocchi from scratch is easy and essentially foolproof is lying.)
You know what I am also really good at?
I don’t take myself overly serious, and I think that doing so is a mostly healthy character trait.
Humor grounds you — especially finding humor in the things that don't go according to plan.
A friend of my husband used to say: “Today’s crisis is tomorrow’s punchline” and I think this is
a very healthy way to approach some, though definitely not all, emergencies.
But the true reason why I like to make myself a laughing stick goes deeper than just a seemingly
healthy self-esteem. Sometimes it stems from the belief that I don’t have much else going for me,
so I might as well turn myself into a joke: Making others laugh as compensation for a perceived
lack of self-worth.
You don’t need to be Sherlock to figure out depression rates (especially amongst younger people,
such as millennials) are on the rise. The Internet will spit out numerous statistics and articles on
this topic, and celebrities like Kristen Bell, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and even Beyoncé have
openly talked about their struggle with mental illness.
Yes, even Queen Bey.
And this is good. It is more than good. Awareness is being raised, the stigma is being lifted. It
means that those struggling with depression and other mental illnesses, such as anxiety, might
sense a feeling of community: I am not alone in my struggles. It’s ok not to be ok.
There are, however, limitations to this new movement: Because some groups are simply
excluded from the notion that these struggles can affect anyone.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I had already gone through two miscarriages.
One took place in 2016 and it would take a full two years of (admittedly a sometimes rather half-
hearted) trying until I found myself pregnant again in 2018.
Then, at ten weeks I started spotting and subsequently was diagnosed with a blighted ovum,
where the placenta and the gestational sac develop, but the fetus doesn’t.
While the first pregnancy loss had been nothing short of traumatic, an event I still grappled to
come to terms with over a year later, I tried to rationalize my grief the second time around: “At least
nobody really died”, “At least I know I can get pregnant” and a couple more platitudes that
in hindsight did more harm than offer help.
When just weeks after the second miscarriage two pink lines showed up again, I was above all
But after my previous experiences my enthusiasm was more than curbed, and every
‘congratulations!’ from nurses and receptionists at doctor’s offices made me feel vaguely
It might be a common experience of those who conceive after loss: there is very little easiness
about being pregnant again. And it usually doesn’t stop after the thirteen week mark either.
During my entire first trimester, I viewed the pregnancy as yet another fluke: “I’m really not sure
if this one will stick,” “I’m pretty sure this one’s not gonna work out either.”
Every time I lightly spotted, I would simply think ‘There — I knew it’ and prepare myself for the
Even an early scan at seven weeks to confirm the pregnancy and its viability didn’t really ease
my constant fear — despite the fact that there was a not-so-baby-shaped baby on the screen (with
When I was about 20 weeks pregnant, my moods began to shift dramatically.
My family has a history of mental illness on either side: seasonal depression, depressive
episodes, postpartum depression and burnout syndromes.
I am quite familiar with the initial changes in wellbeing when another bout of persistent mental
health crap sneaks its way back into your life.
And like everybody else (since I was pregnant), I blamed it on hormones.
At week 23, I was seriously wondering if I was cut out to be a mother. I planned on reading to
my baby, but never did. I wanted to be one of these moms-to-be that listened to their favorite
music with their unborn babies by putting headphones on their bellies. I never did that either.
(I get that not everyone does that. And maybe it’s less of a big deal than I make it out to be, but it
felt significant to me at that time — like I wasn’t bonding enough with my child.)
At week 25, I researched how to put my baby up for adoption.
The same baby I had longed for so desperately for almost the last five years.
Because I’m a snowflake and I love equal rights, I found a gay couple from New York who
stated in their profile that they wished to travel to Europe — especially to France — with their
adopted child like they had done every year before to show him or her the magic that is the “Old
‘Europe! Great!’, I thought. Having immigrated to the US from Germany just shy of three years
prior, why not offer my kid a way to connect with her foreign roots?
(I think it is par for the course, but I will state it here nonetheless: At no point did I really want to
give my daughter up for adoption. Why would I? I didn’t just want this child, I longed for her.)
At week 26, I was questioning the meaning of life and my purpose in it. I started snooping
around in sub-forums on Reddit where pregnancy and having suicidal thoughts was openly
discussed. While it helped me to recognize that I wasn’t alone with these thoughts, it was far
A lot of times I would wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning, riddled with all kinds of compulsive
thinking patterns, ranging from financial worries and my worth due to not generating a full-time
income to recapping unpleasant events that had happened years ago.
In a month, my mental state had rapidly deteriorated, and yet I didn’t know how to breach the
topic with anyone. Not my midwives, not friends and not even my husband.
There’s a lot of shame and guilt involved when everyone assumes you should be over the moon,
yet somehow you’re hovering at the very edge of an abyss.
Depression doesn’t happen to pregnant women — at least this seems to be the common, run-of-
the-mill societal consent.
Sure, there is PPD which has been widely recognized in the last ten years, with numerous
support groups available.
But when you are pregnant, you are supposed to be glowing and happy, awaiting the birth of
your baby in a state of perpetual bliss.
Yet it is estimated that prenatal depression happens to pregnant women way more often than we
assume — the problem is that in this case, the stigma of depression is still very much present.
When googling for more information, the sources are rather thin and solutions, apart from
cognitive or behavioral therapy or medication, are few and far in-between.
We are told that we’re “just hormonal”, get a pat on the shoulder and are advised to go for a walk
or take a nap.
(This is an approach I would deem appropriate for a moody two year-old, not a woman
struggling when she is in dire need of support.)
So, how do we approach prenatal depression?
How can we effectively educate both the public as well as pregnant women themselves to offer a
different outlook on pregnancy aside from cooing over budding bumps, onesies and tiny sock
How can we offer resources for those suffering to combat prenatal depression early, before it
eventually is simply declared PPD after the baby is born?
I still have no idea why depression hit me so hard at a point in my life where I assumed I would
be the happiest.
Maybe I underestimated how much my rather turbulent (and very dysfunctional) upbringing still
weighed heavy on my overall mental well-being. Pregnancy seemed to have dug up a lot of
issues I thought were long resolved: An oftentimes painful reminder of my own childhood and
teenage years, bringing along the fear I might, as a parent, resort to the same unhealthy patterns.
There are days when finding the clarity to combat these thoughts of being “unworthy” of this
child is very hard.
And while I have an intellectual understanding that my mental health issues are not really who I
am as a person and that my struggles don’t make me unfit for pregnancy and childrearing, it is
hard to come up with effective coping mechanisms and shake the guilt of being a bad mother
from the very start.
For now, I’ll try and see if the snack and nap method works.
There is a fog over me. Consuming me internally. I go through the daily motions required of me.
I’m there for my kids and husband, or am I? I answer their questions, play and read, make sure dinner is cooked (most of the time) and there is food in the fridge. My children are playing and squealing with laughter. I should be smiling, I should be feeling these emotions. I don’t.
The fog has settled, I am numb.
My coworker died by suicide. I reached out to my doctor and said I need medicine. I was told to wait, this was all fresh. It isn’t fresh. The fog has settled. I’m not me. I say what you want to hear, I play the game. Inside I’m crying for help but the words and voice won’t come.
I have an ear infection. I tell my doctor it’s time for medicine. He looks at me. He pauses. Waiting. The words come. The voice is strong. I am firm. I NEED HELP! My diet is better, finding time to exercise causes more stress, counseling I know will help but causes even more stress to try and figure out. Stress is not what I need, I am under enough stress. I’m not me, I miss me and want her back! I don’t want the high school me back, I want the person who loves life and the adventures with it! The person not afraid of messes and has fun making the mess. Where did she go?
The fog has lifted. The medicine is balancing my brain. I’m slowly returning.
I am not alone. I am not a stigma.
You are not alone. You are not a stigma.
There is help. There are resources.
Speak up. Advocate. Educate.
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the