‘I looked and felt like Wonder Woman. Then, I had two children.’: Former Olympian recounts journey with postpartum depression, body positivity

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“I am a retired Olympian, two time CrossFit Games Team athlete, and personal trainer with 17+ years in the wellness industry. My hard work and dedication to being an elite athlete also blessed me with an incredibly fit and athletic body that I loved and admired! I looked and felt like Wonder-Woman. This was my identity! Then I had my two children.

After weaning my second child at 15 months, I knew I didn’t feel right. I was struggling. I felt dead inside. I was irritable, exhausted and easily overwhelmed. I struggled for months to keep up my gym routine, but workouts depleted me and I would often need a nap to recover. So, I quit the gym for well over a year. I felt broken and defeated. I was completely unmotivated, my body wasn’t my own and I felt totally apathetic toward my amazing life. I asked myself, ‘Where did it all go wrong?’

Let me start at the beginning. I have been an athlete for as long as I can remember. I am the youngest of five girls, and we were all in gymnastics at a very young age. I played soccer and did track and field in high school. After high school, I walked onto the UCONN track team where I was introduced to hammer throwing. After becoming a two-time All American and qualifying for Olympic Trials in 2000, I dedicated another eight years to pursuing a newly found quest to be an Olympian – a dream I never felt talented enough to even consider! But, I absolutely loved training, I was coachable, and possessed a tireless work ethic. I loved to push my body to its limits to see it’s ultimate capabilities.  It never ceased to amaze me!

I graduated college with a degree in athletic training and went on to work for a physical therapist. Turns out he was involved as a PT with the US Bobsled Team in an attempt to go to the Olympics on the medical staff. With the power and strength background of hammer thrower he vowed, ‘You would be great at pushing bobsleds!’ So off I went to Lake Placid for a combine and to learn to push a sled on wheels and I qualified for World Cup Tour and competed at the Olympic Trials that same year (2002).  I went on to make the US OLYMPIC BOBSLED team in 2006 and retired from the sport in 2009 after rupturing my Achilles in training for the Vancouver Games(2010).

Olympian holding helmet
Kit Noble

Now, in both hammer throwing and bobsled, being heavier was better. I worked all season to gain and maintain a weight 10 pounds heavier than my norm. I ate a lot, and often!! I don’t think I was hungry for 10 years!! I was constantly feeding, protein bars between meals and protein shakes in the middle of the night. I was strength training five days a week. I loved lifting and I was strong as he*l (Squat 350 pounds, Clean/jerk 225 pounds, Bench press 225 pounds). My build was thick and muscular (not super lean).  I did sprint workouts two to three days a week and was out tossing hammers or pushing bobsleds four to five days a week. I trained 20-30 hours a week while also seeing personal training clients in my spare time. I was a rock solid sled pushing and throwing machine! And I loved every minute!

women in bathing suits
Courtesy of Bethany Hart Gerry

Any athlete will tell you that ending your career on an injury is devastating. In that one moment when my Achilles ruptured in 2009, my identity was shattered. I returned to ‘normal’ life to pick up the pieces and try to move forward.

A few years later, in 2012 I found CrossFit, and my competitive fire was reignited! With the metabolic nature of this sport, along with the weight lifting, I was the most lean and shredded I had ever been. I looked and felt amazing! The feedback and compliments I got from others fueled me. I loved digging deep and grinding out workouts, going deep into the pain cave as we would say. The toned body was an added bonus! My team came in second at the CrossFit Games in 2013. I felt alive again!

I met my husband Tom that year at the CrossFit I attended. For a very long time, I had put relationships on the back burner to pursue my athletic endeavors. At this point, I was in my mid 30’s and ready to meet ‘the one.’ He was worth the wait, and we fell fast in love! We were married in 2013. I had a solid job working 20-30 hours a week as a personal trainer, and we had our son in 2014. In 2015, we bought our first house and I competed again at the CF Games (got my pre-baby body back), and then had my daughter in 2015. We were living the good life and riding the high!!

couple on wedding day
Rich Hudson

Then it all, ever so slowly, started to fall apart. My pregnancies were smooth and easy with both kids. It was post baby that proved to be the challenge. Being self-employed, I didn’t get paid maternity leave, so both kids were off to daycare at 6 weeks. I nursed and pumped multiple times a day (often while driving to and from work!). I was still trying to get to the gym four to six days a week, meal plan and prep, run the household, work, and take care of two young kids. I thought I was killing it! Little did I know the toll this would all take on my body, mentally and physically. I was starting to burn out.

In the fall of 2017, when I weaned my daughter at 15 months, I didn’t feel right. I was dead inside. I had this wonderful life all around me and I felt absolutely nothing. No joy, no sadness, nothing. My mood swings were out of control and I was a raging mommy volcano at the flip of a switch (mom rage is real!). I was exhausted but wired at the same time. The insomnia was unbearable. I had out of control food cravings I couldn’t deny and I self medicated with sugary treats…. they made me feel happy. I knew I should work out, but going to the gym left me exhausted and mentally, I felt like I might be judged for ‘letting myself go’ and not keeping up my elite athlete image. I was embarrassed. I was unmotivated to do anything but work and try to keep my kids alive. I crawled in my own skin and was stuck in this awful version of he*l I couldn’t get out of…. and yet I didn’t care. Those around me chalked it up to ‘normal’ mom stuff. ‘Welcome to motherhood’ they would say. Everyone yells at their kids, right?! It wasn’t until a dear friend recognized that something was wrong and suggested I see my doctor.

It turns out these symptoms, although common, are far from normal!! In the spring of 2018, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) and put on antidepressants. They helped take the edge off, but I felt there was more to healing my mind and body. As I researched more about it, I learned about the gut-brain connection and how nutrition and nervous system regulation play a huge part in depression. All of the physical and mental issues I was experiencing were symptoms of deeper underlying issues of depletion and a body stuck in survival mode. Utilizing some wonderful functional medicine resources, I worked hard on a nutrition protocol to heal my gut and nourish my body and started using CBD to manage my mood swings, help with sleep and other nervous system symptoms.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned, as the fog lifted and I have now come out on the other side of my PPD, is that how I FEEL is more important than how I look. My identity is not my athletic body and it has taken me years to come to terms with that.  There’s a picture of me at one of the fittest times in my life and I almost had the 6-pack abs!! But I was a first time, exhausted, depleted mom, unknowingly digging the hole deeper into a postpartum depression that would take me years to overcome mentally and physically.

family outside
Courtesy of Bethany Hart Gerry

So yes, this retired Olympian now has some tummy rolls, droopy mom boobs, and less muscle tone, but I am a happier and healthier mom and I FEEL the best I have felt in years. I still have my days and moments I mourn the loss of my former self however, I am not willing to sacrifice the time and energy required to attain that figure for nothing more than vanity.

woman in bathing suit holding her kid up
Courtesy of Bethany Hart Gerry

To all the mommas out there struggling with their postpartum bodies, let’s shift the focus. Health isn’t a look! What if instead we focus on: deeply nourishing our bodies, calming the chaos, not constantly living in survival mode, and doing purposeful movement or exercise that re-energizes us instead of breaking us down? It was empowering to ditch the idea of chasing my pre-baby body.  There is a happy and healthy post-baby version of your body waiting to be embraced!! Growing a human changes our minds and bodies forever!  We are incredible beings and our capabilities extend far beyond how we look!! A loud and clear message I hope to convey to my children. This is a new chapter. A new opportunity to redefine what health truly means… and I can assure you, it is NOT 6-pack abs.

mom in bathing suit smiling
Courtesy of Bethany Hart Gerry

‘Your child doesn’t care how you look in a swimsuit. They care that you got in the water’ @feedinglittles ”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bethany Hart Gerry, CSCS from Holliston, MA. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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