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,
Motherhood is not my identity.
Maternal mental health is not my identity.
Hi, my name is Rebecca, I'm a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with maternal mental illness.
I fight from a place of victory over anxiety and OCD with intrusive thoughts as well as depression. I happen to also be married with 5 living children at home and I co-founded a really cool organization.
I want you to pay close attention to how I have chosen to introduce myself. How I identify myself. Through my own journey through the darkness I have found that we place so much emphasis on our identity, but we often misplace our identity at the same time.
Now some of our readers may not be familiar with Christian scripture so let me give you a quick rundown.
Believers follow the scripture:
Galatians 2:20 English Standard Version (ESV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Now that's not to say that I am not a mother because I most certainly am but it's not my identity and it took a lot of heart ache for me to realize that.
The turmoil happened in a different way with each child, but I'll use the birth of my 4th the one who well got me started on this path.
At the time I was a home schooling, Christian, crunchy mom. A cloth diapering, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, home-birthing mom. This was my identity. I went to church and had a strong relationship with my church family, but I misunderstood where my identity truly was. When my planned home birth didn't go as I expected, I felt a loss of identity. I felt like a failure. I didn't belong in my natural birth community anymore because I didn't have my natural home birth. I had a cesarean under general anesthesia. To add to the loss of self, when I had breast feeding problems, my identity as a breastfeeding mom was taken away. When I needed to place my oldest child in public school, for the sake of my mental health at the time, another identifier was stripped away from me.
All of these events exacerbated the distress. I saw them as an identity crisis.
Have you ever introduced yourself to someone or met someone new and when you asked them the question "what do you do" they answered with a "I am" statement? Perhaps someone has said to you "Hey what do you do for a living" and your reply has been "I am a teacher; I am a stay-at-home mom; I am an account executive". All of these “I am” answers, but the question was what you do, not who you are.
So why do we place our identity in being a mom or in my case a mental mom?
Your identity is who you are and being a mother is such a huge part of who you are, but it doesn't take away who you were before, or you will become.
Maybe it's time we stopped building women up throughout pregnancy to replace herself with this new identity. It seems once the full transition has occurred, and new moms feel lost, we fail to offer quality support. We need to quit trying to change their identity, and simply support people where they are and as who they are from the get go.
You see when you place your identity in what you do and what you do doesn't go the way you expected, or it's taken away from you, whether by choice or by tragedy, you’re set up for an identity crisis.
Of course, let's face it, becoming a new mom can be an identity crisis in its own. Whether one is a new mom for the first time or the sixth time, there must be support for this transition.
I have found that if my identity isn't solid in my beliefs and in line with Jesus Christ as my higher power, I am going to have an identity crisis. Thus, it is important for motherhood and faith to be able to be entwined with the person so as not to lose portions of self. Pastors, women's ministry leaders, and moms group directors, I'm calling you out specifically right now: take the time to remind the moms you are working with that their identity is so much more than just “mother”. Remind them of their true identity and encourage them through motherhood to embrace the main parts of their identity.
If you are not a Christian, take note of your use of “I am”.
Is it really who you are or is there so much more to you?
I bet there is a lot more.
You are beautiful. You matter. You are not alone in this identity crisis.
The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. is excited to support moms where they are at. We are currently running a SISTER Mom training to help other women discover how they can provide mentorship to our fellow moms. Following the Pilot, one of our SISTER Mom graduates, Sarah, has decided to start leading a Faith Based Mom Support group!
For moms that feel this would meet their needs:
Tuesday, February 5th @ 10:30 AM @ Relevant Church Tampa, 1705 N 16th St Tampa, FL 33605
The Seventh Mom does not discriminate, and we hope to spread maternal mental health support groups to every corner of Tampa Bay. We would love to see a group for every mom. Groups that can meet the needs for the wonderful diversity of mothers in our community. If you are interested in completing the SISTER Mom Training and running your own support group, please contact Elizabeth at email@example.com.
When moms contact me, questioning their emotional roller coasters during pregnancy or during their postpartum year, I always start back at the basics. The Steps to Wellness were developed by Jane Honikman, founder of PEP and later Postpartum International. More than thirty years later, they are just as relevant to all people, especially new parents.
Today I am going to review the first 3 steps. They are so blatantly simple, but so often overlooked by new parents as the demands of a new little one take their toll.
If you are a new parent, and you haven't been taking the time to rest or eat, please do! It will serve you and your family well to be fed and rested.
Next week I will review steps 4-6.
In January, Rebecca traveled to the state capitol to support the Maternal Mental Health Advocacy Day. She could not share what legislation like SB 138 could have meant for her motherhood journey at the event, but below she is sharing her testimony..
To learn more about SB 138 click here.
"My name is Rebecca Hartley-Woods and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, lifetime Floridian and mother to 5 amazing children.
With regards to Senate Bill 138 and the desire for public health information regarding perinatal mood disorders, I would like to share that I was a public health worker while pregnant with my eldest son and even though I networked with multiple community and governmental agencies serving women of childbearing age, no one warned me about or screened me for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
I know "what if" is often a pointless exercise and yet I wonder if this bill had been inplace perhaps my life would've been very different.
During my pregnancy in 2007 and 2008 I lived with what I now know was prenatal anxiety. At the time I didn't know what was wrong with me and I feared reaching out.
By the time my son was two weeks old I had recurring visions of terrifying things such as my baby drowning in the bathtub or dropping him down the stairs. I found traffic horrifying as I often envisioned a terrible crash when my son was in the car.
Working 40 plus hours a weak providing education and services in a public health setting, all the childbirth and newborn classes, not even community programs I participated in prepared me for the maternal mental health crisis I would endure.
I did not speak up about the scary thoughts that I now know where intrusive thoughts, a symptom of my postpartum anxiety because I feared seeking help. I was afraid of my son being taken away.
I dropped the coursework I had been enrolled in, isolated from friends, busied myself in work and spent as little time as possible with my baby thinking he was safer with others and what a terrible mother I was for thinking these terrible things.
I was afraid to speak up because I feared loosing my son. This is important to note because the bill in its current form is lacking language regarding DCF.
While pregnant with my 4th child in 2014 I sought help. I was visited by child protective investigators not once but twice after seeking professional help. Sadly, the investigators had no resources or help to offer other than apologies for erroneous reports and the waste of my time and theirs.
Moving forward to 2017, for the first time in 7 pregnancies over 11 years I was screened at a postpartum check up following the birth of my 5th living child. I cannot recall the number of obstetricians, community agency workers, out of hospital midwives and other maternal health professionals who I have seen over the years. But I can tell you about the 1 time I was screened for a postpartum mood disorder at a postpartum appointment.
Had this bill been in place many years ago, I might have completed school on time, not left my job causing financial strain that ultimately led to filing bankruptcy. Had I found appropriate treatment in a timely manner I might have not missed my only sister's wedding because I couldn't get in a car with my baby without having a panic attack.
Had this bill been in place, I might have happy memories of what was supposed to be the happiest time in my life.
Thanks for letting me share."
Early motherhood is somewhat like the weather. Semi-predictable, but every now and then a storm rolls in. When the rain pours, The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. holds the umbrella. To build awareness and community we are hosting our first 5K and Family Fun Run event on April 22nd at Al Lopez Park. All proceeds will benefit The Seventh Mom Project, Inc.'s work in the Tampa Bay area.
Visit www.raincoatrun.com for details!
Join Us at the Tampa Bay Birth and Baby Expo on Saturday March 10, 2018! Elizabeth will be speaking about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Click here to register!
This summer, the Good family of five will embark on our first ever two week vacation. I am nervous. Having a list-loving, over-planning, type-A personality, I am trying hard to simultaneously not to over think things or forget essentials. So I am writing lists AND engaging in positive self talk to remind myself that it will be a blast.
Here are my 5 vacation preparing tips!
1. Pack light
It is my MO to have enough clothes to have options since I never know what I will feel like wearing. So I want to pack a full outfit for every day of the trip, for every person. For a family of five, on a two week trip, this type of planning would result in excess baggage, costing us a few hundred dollars in baggage fees. However, we are staying with family. We will have access to laundry. Thus, we don't NEED to have an entire closet full of clothes. So THIS trip, I am limiting each person to 3-4 shirts, 2-3 bottoms, swim clothes, 4 pairs underwear & socks and two pairs of shoes. Okay I am also adding ONE running outfit and shoes so I can get some exercise in...
2. Plan some downtime
Speaking of exercise, it is important, especially on such a long trip, to not over schedule each day. Remember kids will need to rest at some time during the day. It is important to maintain some parts of normal routine to avoid melt downs from all parties. Plan for days in, whether your staying with family or in a hotel or resort, don't plan a full outing every day. Enjoy your home away from home in as normal of routing as you can muster at least once per week away from home.
3. Plastic Baggies
You may remember Rebecca talking about the use of plastic baggies during hurricane prep. Well really, they are useful for all sorts of adventures with children. This is the first time I will be packing with plastic baggies for dividing individual outfits, but I think it will do two things for me. 1) make sure I plan evenly and that one kid doesn't end up with 7 shirts and 2 pairs of socks because I get irritated and start throwing things into bags. 2) keep the clothes somewhat organized in our much smaller home away from home (aka room at the grandparents). This should keep socks from wondering during our trip. I will also be putting kid activities in baggies for easy storage as well as packing all toiletries (as required by TSA) into a clear plastic baggie for easy pass through at airport security. All baggies will go into personal backpacks. Photos to come when I get around to packing!
4. Remember your prescriptions
Prescriptions need to be packed with the other vital traveling documents, ID, passport, birth certificate, credit cards etc. I urge you to carry any prescription medication in its original packaging in your personal carry on bag. Just in case, have a copy of your script in case your actual bottle disappears in transit. Check with your provider if you need to adjust for the timing of the medications due to time differences, and make sure you have plenty to provide adequate dosing for the duration of your trip, even if you hit a delay in travel arrangements.
5. Discuss the plans with your children in advance
Talk with your children about your travel arrangements. Use vague language if plans are not set in stone, but provide enough detail that they have and idea of what to expect. It will help to alleviate any fears they may be harboring. It can also help your anxiety as they may ask questions that help you plan for things you hadn't really thought of. For instance, my son asked where he would sleep at Grandma's house, and I realized I needed to clarify with my mother what the sleeping arrangements would be. Talking about the trip will build excitement and reduce anxiety on all parts. Just be careful not to make any finite promises that you can't be sure will be kept. Your children will remember all your promises and will not let you forget!
What tips do you have for family travel? Share in the comments below!
Packing up a storm!
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the