I was inspired to be a long distance runner during my second pregnancy by an awesome human being named Louise Parker. At the time she had begun to share her journey in pregnancy and motherhood on social media. Reading her stories helped me in realizing that fitness and healthy behaviors not only had positive physical benefits, but were emotionally empowering at a time when it was easy for me to feel vulnerable and not in control of all that was happening inside (and outside of myself).
I sat down with Ms. Parker on a sunny COVIDed quarantine morning -- both of us somewhat hiding from children in our respective houses, so that we could have a one-on-one chat. We discussed:
her personal journey
her personal journey
how we can create positive mindsets for ourselves (while caring for others)
the path to self-acceptance and social media, how we can connect mothers to health care and social supports when they are in pain
and how all of this can influence how we raise the next generation of women
Louise Parker is a holistic wellness coach and mother of three, though this was not what she identified with originally as she began her career. Hailing from the UK, she came to the United States almost 20 years ago. With a background in social policy and social work, she developed a career helping adults with developmental disabilities. In her most recent position in that role, she was assistant vice president at her company overseeing several group homes. During this time she began her journey into motherhood. She soon found herself with an intense desire to create a work-life balance, as her job often called on her at odd hours of the day and night. She specifically sought to create balance internally as well -- describing how it can be easy to lose yourself, to “drown in kids and parenting.” She recalled, “I was just really desperate to keep hold of something for myself...and also to help other mums in the process.”
“Life is super super busy….I’m juggling it, but I’m not doing it beautifully.”
An approach which combined her original intention to give back to her community and creating this balance emerged during her third pregnancy. She soon decided to become a fitness and nutrition coach allowing for a more flexible schedule. Carving out this new path made sense for her, as she had been an avid runner (she’s run seven marathons to date) and had always been interested in how people generate wellness for themselves. However, creating a new business is not an easy task, especially when you are caring for small children. So Louise chose to start her business as a Beachbody coach, a company that specializes in online fitness and nutrition programs. In doing so, she benefited from having the support (an extensive network of coaches) and infrastructure which enabled her to make this career change. She wanted to inspire pregnant women -- “To not be afraid of working out while pregnant…[that you can] be strong, fit, and healthy. I worked out right up until the day before I went into labor...that baby was 10 lbs, and I’m only 5’2”.” We joked about how she was able to stand and move about, especially given that her earlier pregnancies produced much smaller babies. Fitness helped her have the “strongest mental and physical pregnancy.” As she was posting on social media she found it was a great way to celebrate the female body and what it could do and in turn it allowed her to celebrate what she herself was doing. That process made her feel more confident and inspired her to share with a larger audience.
One of the most insightful parts of our conversation was when she talked about what inspired her transition from fitness/nutrition coach to holistic wellness coach. At the start, she was noticing a theme with her clients - that a key component of their success in meeting their personal goals always hinged on the state of their mindsets including their anxieties and fears. “Adding in working out...was just something else to fail at,” she explained. Self-talk characterized by words of what you “could” and “should” be doing combined with having another task or goal you could potentially fail at is not conducive for moving someone forward. Authenticity is a word she used -- which I had never previously considered in thinking about this topic. She explained how we almost suppress our authentic thinking because we are being told externally that we “should” do xyz things or else you are failing.
This all really struck a chord with me. One of the Producing Humans goals is to connect women to resources which can help inform and empower all sorts of decision-making. But, when Louise was explaining her observations of what stumbling blocks her clients faced it occurred to me: simply providing and connecting women to resources, no matter how relevant or useful, would not be sufficient. Rather, as Louise outlined, we have to find ways to inspire mothers to have innate responses characterized by words like “want” or “need."
“We feel like doing self-care is selfish...Whereas if our kids had the tiniest thing wrong with them we would be calling the doctor...we would be researching what we could do for it, but for us -it’s more like I pee when I jump because I had a baby, oh well.”
She now focuses on mental health and creating strong, positive mindsets so her clients can get to a place where they can be fit, healthy, and strong. At this point I had to share a personal development story. During this COVID quarantine -- it finally occurred to me that I could find five minutes in my day to meditate -- even with the kids. But what was hilarious and daunting to myself was that it took years of reading about self-care and creating positivity as a mother, that I finally created this mindset for myself. I was very much one of the women that Louise described. I was stuck for so long because I couldn’t comprehend carving out time for myself without first going through the daily checklist of life’s to-do’s.
At this point, we paused and came to the conclusion that there must be a switch that needs to be turned on for mothers -- inspiration, not just information, is required. We conjectured that the maternal instinct isn’t inherent for ourselves - though it may be for all the people around us that we care for. We must be internally catalyzed and reminded to look inward before we can even consider utilizing useful tools or information.
How do we turn this switch on? Well this was a good segue into how we consume social media content. Social media allows us to connect and feel less isolated -- which is great when you consider the isolation that many mothers feel with or without a pandemic. However, the relationship between you and your “feeds” is something we need to cultivate carefully and thoughtfully. Ms. Parker shared her social media story with me -- not about what she published, but rather about how she uses it to only provide positivity. She said, “first off...you can’t compare yourself to other people, trust your gut intuition on what works best for you...I have to tell myself -- No, Louise, that’s great for them...this is what works for you.” But when content can spark negativity, she is not beyond blocking friends or acquaintances who just don’t make her feel good. With these techniques she “owns” her social media and finds that you can “curate your feed to be very positive and empowering.” It can almost be a positive break, instead of just a mindless scroll with potential to cause harm, especially since there are so many sources that can make you feel good as a mother and as a person, she explained. But of course, you need a break from the screen -- to just sit without it and be still. Listen internally, she suggests, “to god or the universe or your soul or whatever else you believe in.”
We switched gears and I asked her to talk about her three different pregnancies and postpartum experiences. I had been familiar with the fact that Louise had a condition called diastasis recti, which is the separation of abdominal muscles. There is very little evidence as to how often this actually takes place in pregnant women. However, based on whatever little research is available, at least 60% of postpartum women suffer with this condition within six weeks after childbirth and about 30% have it a year after birth. Prior to having it, Louise hadn’t heard of it - most women haven’t. But she quickly explained that there’s a lot you can do to help your body prevent it or, if not prevent, reduce the severity of it when it happens or help you heal faster and stronger. She had this issue in all three pregnancies and utilized postpartum resources such as physical therapy (including pelvic floor therapy) to help reduce the separation. This made me think about the current COVID situation for postpartum women who cannot access this care right now because this type of support isn’t always easy to provide virtually. This was clear as she told me how her therapist showed her with her hands how to feel her stomach and where the issues were -- which was necessary as sensation in her abdominals was hard to come by at the time. One of the biggest burdens mothers face after having kids is the one they don’t recognize explicitly -- minor day to day limitations that are easy to dismiss in the moment. For Louise, the day to day limitations from having diastasis manifested the most when carrying her kids, down the stairs or taking them out of a crib, and still happens today -- four years after her last child was born.
Louise is fortunate and grateful. She knew enough to get help for her pain. We talked about how women don’t realize they can do this. “Knowledge is power, it doesn't need to be scary...there’s a massive continuum of medical things that can happen,” she stated.
It is crazy how much the body changes to accommodate children. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the aftermath. Separating abdominals was just one outcome for Louise. She told me how her ribs actually grew bigger and stayed that way. The body changes we have during pregnancy are beautiful - but sometimes we don’t really think about what happens afterwards or maybe we do but we don’t necessarily view it in the same glowing light. Louise thoughtfully explained how she watches this breadcrumb effect where women have this theoretical knowledge, like the idea that it takes 9 months to put weight on and it will take at least 9 months to take it off. But, “to actually internalize that information is a process.” I had to agree on a personal level with her. You see, even being in the field of maternal health, I didn’t have my aha moment about my own body image until last week (almost 6 years after having my first child) when I declared to my husband, “did you know I am never going to look exactly like I’m in my 20s again -- and that’s totally ok because I made TWO human beings in there!” as I pointed to my stomach. “TWO PEOPLE... IN THERE! Imagine that!”
Our girls. All of this brought us to a natural end in our conversation. We thought about how all of this could be instilled in our future generation of girls. Louise often includes her children in her social media posts and I always smile seeing her daughter perform karate and wield a skateboard (she rides horses and swims, too, by the way). I have recently become a mom to a little girl, who is now two years old. Thanks to Louise’s inspiration, I ran a 10k race when I was 18 weeks pregnant and I love that I get to tell my daughter that story one day and that she grows up watching her mother prioritize fitness.
Without a doubt our perception of ourselves as persons and as mothers impact our girls. And the amazing part is that in parenting them with a positive mindset, the very values we are instilling in them is reinforced in ourselves.