Women In Focus Physiotherapy and The Empowered Motherhood program

The story we are told of motherhood is one of lightness that leans into the beautiful, the incredible and the magical. However, for all the lightness there is shade, and in the shadows lies a rollercoaster which pushes you to your limits and at times breaks you. Both sides are important for open, real dialogue around motherhood. As a health professional I entered motherhood confident. I had all the resources at my fingers tips as a women's health physiotherapist. Despite this, my journey was far from smooth. Even though I was well informed, it didn't make me immune to the real emotional and physical challenges of motherhood that are still so rarely discussed.

What got me through the emotional challenges of becoming a new mother was not what I had heard in lectures, or from other health professionals, but what I had learnt from the women I have treated over the past 16 years. Many women have shared their stories and taught me that while motherhood is incredible, it comes with a broad spectrum of emotions. You don't need a diagnosed mental health condition to feel isolated and utterly depleted.

Now there is increasing awareness around the prevalence of postnatal depression, yet what is discussed less are the grey areas. The emotions of the perinatal years don't simply fit into two categories a) happy and "normal" or b) sad and depressed. The human condition is not black and white, so why would motherhood be?

​My Motherhood Journey

When I first fell pregnant, I was blissfully happy. I felt I had realistic expectations of what motherhood was going to be like. I was also very aware of the high rates of mental health conditions that come up during the perinatal period and knew what to look out for. I was primed and ready to be the earth mumma I was destined to be.

Then my pregnancy had a slight curve ball, I had placenta previa which meant many unsettling vaginal bleeds, no exercise, and the very real threat of complete bed rest. Thankfully, my placenta lifted around 35 weeks, and I was able to have a vaginal delivery. I was induced, the birth was fast and intense, and I needed a ventouse and an episiotomy. Despite this, I felt very positive about my birth mainly because I was informed, supported and respected through the journey. We had a healthy little girl, and I was in absolute awe. Pure. Magic.

And then the post-natal period began. I had feeding issues, my baby wasn't gaining weight, she had blood in her stool, and chronic vomiting. Paediatricians prescribed various medications and prescription formula, but the constant crying from my bub and the sleep deprivation for all of us continued. For many years.

Bit by bit my confidence began to crumble. I was anxious that she wasn't getting enough nourishment, I felt guilt that this was all my fault and I started to doubt myself and believe I was a bad mother. This was not the motherhood I had pictured. But as all 'good' mothers do, I put on a brave face and pushed on. I continued to run my business, treated patients, and carried on with life. Under the surface, I was utterly depleted and hanging on by a thread.

And then we fell pregnant with our second baby. During this pregnancy my level of exhaustion hit a new low. I was still getting up through the night, working and studying, and I became highly anxious about how I was going to care for another baby.

Women In Focus Physiotherapy and The Empowered Motherhood program
Women In Focus Physiotherapy and The Empowered Motherhood program
Women In Focus Physiotherapy and The Empowered Motherhood program
Women In Focus Physiotherapy and The Empowered Motherhood program

In the last few months of this pregnancy, the trauma of those first few years of motherhood bubbled to the surface. I was overwhelmed and experiencing panic attacks. I knew I had to do something. I started seeing a psychologist and while I didn't have post-natal depression, I slowly began to make sense of the range of emotions I was feeling given the previous few years. I was given helpful tools and took a solo mini escape to catch up on sleep and process. I came back a different person, I was rested, calm and felt better prepared to bring my son into the world.

I feel fortunate I knew when it was important to seek professional support. I also feel incredibly grateful to the many women I've treated over the years in my clinic who have shared their stories openly, so I knew that my experience was common and I needn't feel shame or that I had failed in any way.

I decided to have these photographs to acknowledge the real and raw emotions that come with motherhood. As I stood 7 weeks post-natal, having my abdomen painted, I felt vulnerable and exposed. But the words weren't only my own. They also come from the mouths of the women have treated, and I want them to be heard. Behind closed doors these seemingly happy women, have taught me the depth of emotions that come with motherhood, many that are darker and less shiny than simply the 'joy' that is often portrayed on the surface.

As a health professional working with mothers I feel I have a responsibility to open up the dialogue surrounding this. I too had held up a professional wall of surface emotions for a long time.

It's time to bring the 'below the surface' emotions from the shadows into the light so that everyone can better understand motherhood in its wonderful and complex entirety and help better prepare new mums*.

To better prepare new mums, I have created an online program with Kimmy Smith called the Empowered Motherhood Program. It is an expert led education and exercise platform for pregnancy and the first 12 months post birth, with the goal of improving perinatal health. It includes evidence-based information from health experts from Psychologists, Obstetricians, Midwives to Lactation Consultants. As well as safe week by week exercise programs including strength, Pilates and barre workouts. We help women enter motherhood feeling more empowered, and better equipped with knowledge and physical strength.

Words: Lyz Evans. Titled Women's Health Physiotherapist. Director: Women In Focus Physiotherapy and The Empowered Motherhood program | Words painted by Josephine Brodd Mckelvey | Photographs Nick Bowers (Postnatal), Candice Ethorp (Pregnant).

*Please note the prevalence of perinatal depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress are high during these perinatal years, and if you are experiencing ongoing challenges please reach out to your GP, Psychologist and visit cope.org. Professionals are there to help you.


Amelia Freer with client Boy George

Like so many women, British celebrity nutritional therapist and best-selling author Amelia Freer just assumed she'd one day be a mother. But as she ended her thirties, she suffered a spate of miscarriages - including one that occurred while Freer was appearing on live TV, promoting one of her best-selling books - and doctors told her to prepare for a life without children.

Her chances of becoming pregnant, they said, were incredibly low. "It was quite brutal to accept that my future was going to look different to how I had imagined," she says. "But I don't think I really accepted it or gave up, I just quietly hoped for a miracle. I saw it as yet another of life's hurdles and I do have an attitude of just seeing how things turn out." It's this attitude – and a healthy dose of reproductive luck, of course – that saw Freer fall pregnant at 41 with her first child. Her beautiful daughter, Willow, is now two and a half.

During her pregnancy, Freer's attitude to health stayed as sensible as it has always been. With a focus on gut health, vegetables and good fats, Freer has always steered away from fad diets and trend-based superfoods when it comes to her clients (who include Victoria Beckham, James Corden and Sam Smith, among others). Victoria Beckham has said Freer taught her "so much about food; you've got to eat the right things, eat the right healthy fats."

She's written four books (her fourth book Simply Good For You celebrates the joy and the nutrition of food, and features over a hundred delicious, quick and non-nonsense recipes that are as healthy as they are tasty). Her third book, Nourish and Glow: The Ten Day Plan was borne of Freer's no-nonsense approach to nutrition. Based on a modified version of the Mediterranean diet, Freer says the book is a great place to start for anyone looking to improve their nutrition. As in all of her work, there's an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and complex grains.

We caught up with the inspiring Freer to talk motherhood, the experience of miscarriage and more. In our conversation, we cover:

-The joy and the nutrition of food.
-The psychological and social aspects of nutrition.
-How Amelia's approach is driven by 'Positive Nutrition' and it's not perfectionist.
-Why we aren't understanding that diets simply don't work.
-What should we actually eat in a day?
-How many of us are dehydrated and how this has a massive impact on our wellbeing.
-Pregnancy loss and her motherhood journey
-How to nurture our bodies after we have children.
-Time management and the power of "no"

To find out more about Amelia Freer, go to ameliafreer.com

Amelia Freer

Amelia Freer holding her book Simply Good For You

Amelia Freer with her daughter Willow

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