Girl Hero Jen
It’s an honor to feature Jen from Making Messes as the first Girl Hero of the new year.
Jen is a committed wife, mother, friend and, as she puts it, has lost one Backstreet Boy in weight. More than once I might add. She has also run races and left her life in the city to experience life in the mountains. Jen is as honest as she is inspirational. Oh and she’s funny. Her blog is truly a gift to read.
Meet Girl Hero Jen
How long have you and Ed been married.
Ed and I have been married for 10 years. We met when we were 18, got hitched at 22. So, by all accounts, we should be growing apart and resenting each other. Itâ€™s been the opposite. For that, Iâ€™m so very grateful!
Youâ€™re a SAHM right?
I dabble in doula work from time to time, but Iâ€™m 99% SAHM. I was a latch key kid, raised by working parents. So being a SAHM was a shift in my view of home life and the average day to day. Itâ€™s far more challenging than I expected, but I wouldnâ€™t trade these moments for the world. I told Ed we need to keep a “Therapy Jar” around and every time we screw up, throw some cash in there for when the kids are older. These days, therapy is more important than college, no?
I enjoy knitting, but only make gloves and hats, as my attention span can wane and my 2 year old has a passion for unraveling my pieces when I accidentally leave them hanging around. I read a lot. Much more than I did in college. Iâ€™m all over the place as far as topic. Self help, spiritual, fitness, fiction, young adult fiction, fitness, whatever. I enjoy learning new things. Many life times ago I was a painter in art school. As Iâ€™ve grown, Iâ€™ve transferred my creative energy into all the things I love. Sounds cliche, but living your life as a work of art is much easier than living it perfectly.
How does your â€œbeforeâ€ lifestyle compare to your â€œafterâ€ lifestyle?
My â€œbeforeâ€ lifestyle involved a lot of anger towards inward. I was not at peace with myself or really trusted myself to take care of me. I was through and through an emotional overeater. I believed food brought me comfort, freedom and love. But all I ended up feeling was emptiness and self hatred. In 2006, I was 9 months pregnant with my second child and reached 230 lbs. I felt trapped in my body. In my mind, pregnancy felt safe to binge over and over again. It was then that I stumbled upon my first weight loss blog which was Roniâ€™s Weigh blog (at the time called WeightWatchen). She inspired me to start a blog after my daughter was born to document and help keep me accountable for weight loss.
What was your basic food and fitness routine like when you were losing weight?
I joined Weight Watchers at 6 weeks post partum. I followed their nursing motherâ€™s plan to the T. And I ate everyone of my Flex points every single week! Every Monday evening I went to the meetings. Even if I had a bad week, I promised myself Iâ€™d still show up for every single meeting. It really helped me focus. My leader was very inspirational and motivating, which was really key for me. The weight came off at roughly 3 lbs a week. In less than a year, I reached my goal weight was 139 lbs. Ironically, I didnâ€™t integrate fitness into my daily routine until I reached my goal. I wanted to get more points!! So I became motivated to earn Activity Points. I started the Couch25k program and registered for a race to keep me accountable. Over time, I eventually began going to classes at my YMCA. Thatâ€™s when I fell in love with Bootcamp style classes. Fitness brought a new sense of purpose for me. Gave me a confidence that losing weight alone couldnâ€™t. When I felt strong, I felt more at peace with my body- no matter what shape it was.
You were/are a doula and you birthed three children so I think your are a good person to ask for advice about being kind to yourself and your body after birthing babies. So any advice? Or how were you kind to yourself?
I was a doula before I had children. For years, I encouraged and guided women through the pregnancy and childbirthing process. I became pregnant in 2003 with my first child. On October 25, 2003 (my birthday), I found myself with the flu, going through a very complicated, long, painful foceps delivery after planning a gentle home birth.
In addition, the next 4 months were filled with breastfeeding issues and multiple bouts of mastitis that almost landed me in the hospital. I loved my son so much, but I was suffering from PPD and really needed help. My first act of kindness toward myself was admitting I needed help. I saw a psychiatrist and found the right medication that helped me get my head above water and enjoy my sweet son. That experience left a bruise on my heart. So much of my hopes of birth and motherhood were lost. After my son was old enough, I started attending births again. Every time I witnessed a gentle birth, Iâ€™d almost wince. As happy and proud I was of my client, it was painful for me to witness. I was mad that my body seemed to abandon me. So, when I gave birth to my second child in 2006, I went the opposite extreme. I wanted to be numb. I was induced and asked for every drug in the book. My fear of repeating my last experience was too painful to bear. And I had a very comfortable, satisfying birth with my daughter. And for that moment, it was the right thing, so I suppose it was an act of kindness. By the time I was pregnant with my third child in 2008, I had been doing a lot of emotional work and took a wonderful Birthing Again class with my husband that really focused on fears and the emotional side of birth and motherhood. Our mind-body connection is so powerful!
On Dec 5, 2008 I had an empowering, beautiful, gentle waterbirth. It was the birth that redeemed me from my past. It gave me a gift that I so desperately needed. Looking back on all my births, Iâ€™m grateful for each experience. It showed me what I could go through and come out of. It also made me a better doula. It taught me how to love myself and how vital it is that our inner dialogue reflect kindness towards ourselves. It appears to me to be one of lifeâ€™s most valuable tools. But then again, Iâ€™m only 32. I have a lot to learn.
You got a tummy tuck in 2009. What was that like? Painful? Were you scared? Would you do it again?
Painful? Yes. But Iâ€™d do it again in a heart beat. My bodyâ€™s idea of pregnancy is excessive amniotic fluid and large babies. From 6 month pregnant and on, itâ€™s not unusual for me to be asked if Iâ€™m carrying twins at least once a day. I gain roughly 65 lbs with each one. And my tummy juts out like a shelf where I can barely fit my own arms around my stomach. Needless to say, when I lost all the weight I was left with deflated skin that hung over on top of itself. It made me really uncomfortable and was always on my mind. For me, it was reconstructive surgery, not plastic. I had a fantastic surgeon and care team in place. The first few days were rough, but as long as I took my medicine, I was great. By 2 weeks I felt back to normal, other than feeling like I had done 1000 crunches. I had muscle restoration with my tummy tuck, so I gained a lot of core strength which was an unexpected bonus. I had been so focused on the excess skin that I hadnâ€™t thought about my nagging back pain and strong, but separated abs. I wore a bikini for the first time in 15 years this past summer. That was the best! (You can see Jen’s post and pictures on her blog here.)
How do you define balance?
Balance is all about forgiveness for me. If you can forgive yourself, you can strike a balance. A person that practices forgiveness and kindness will automatically have balance in their life. Balance is that moment in your day when things are piling up on your shoulders and you take that deep breath and tell yourself itâ€™s going to be okay. No matter if you do it once or 100 times in one day, at least youâ€™re doing. And it counts.
You say you exercise to keep your sanity. Can you elaborate on that? What does life look like when you donâ€™t exercise?
Well, as Iâ€™ve shared, Iâ€™ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life. Iâ€™m convinced daily exercise is one of the key ways Iâ€™ve been able to successfully manage a healthy balance in my brain. If I miss it, I can tell. My husband can tell. He used to hand me a glass of wine during the witching hour with the kids. Now he tells me to go for a run. For a person that struggles with anxiety, giving your brain all those fabulous endorphins is so important. Losing that extra hour of sleep in the morning to prioritize my workouts is an easy price to pay for some state of the art chemical balance!
Youâ€™ve done some races. What were those like? Do you plan to do any more?
I registered for a race before I ever started running. Thatâ€™s how I roll. Jump, then think. I could not run a 1â„4 mile when I started. I used the Couch to 5k program to get myself to 3 miles. Then it came easier. Iâ€™m an incredibly slow runner. Some people can walk faster. I wonâ€™t share my mile time because you will seriously laugh at me. But, Iâ€™m not about speed. Iâ€™m about finishing. Iâ€™ve done 5 kâ€™s, 10 kâ€™s and trained for a marathon that I never got to run because I injured my toe right before. Nothing like spending 6 months training and working up to that mileage, only to not run the race. But, as all marathoners know, the training is an accomplishment in and of itself. I really want to run a marathon at least once for my bucket list. These days I stick to easy runs in the 2-4 mile range. Anything beyond that is just unneeded torture, unless Iâ€™m training for something. Iâ€™m more of a â€œget in and get outâ€ girl with workouts these days.
Back in Atlanta you started a bootcamp for women in your neighborhood. What motivated you to do that and did you enjoy the experience?
Oh just thinking about it makes me smile! I miss those girls so much!! The average bootcamp in Atlanta is roughly $350/month. I saw an interest and need and figured Iâ€™d start it for free. That way Iâ€™d get my workout in and others would too and weâ€™d all save some cash. One positive side of my sometimes stubborn personality is that I often find myself saying: â€œOh I can do that!â€ And so thatâ€™s exactly what happened. I had been taking bootcamp classes for years and just started planning the routines. We met every weekday morning at 6am sharp in the tennis courts in our neighborhood. And even though I was torturing them, we all had a lot of fun. Those ladies made getting up at the crack of dawn easy for me. Iâ€™d encourage anyone to get some friends together and do it.
In November you left Atlanta and move up to a remote mountain town (without a Starbucks!). How has that moved affected your fitness routine?
Well, I was a slug for a week or two! After just a few days of being here, I joined a gym and attended a few classes. Then we got snow dumped on us, which turned our 1â„2 mile driveway into an Olympic bob sled slope. And my beloved gym I just joined was closed on and off for weeks. I accidentally left my weights in Atlanta in my garage when we moved, so I had none on hand. But I knew I had to take action or else I would go into hibernation along with the bears. And would more than likely come out looking like a bear in the Spring. So on one of the better days, I braved the driveway and made it to Wal-Mart where I loaded up on some 5,8, and 10-lb dumbbells and a 35 lbs kettlebell. I started out working out with the kids around or even participating. But, I donâ€™t know what it is, but workouts are sort of sacred moments for me. Itâ€™s my recharge time. And I just prefer and enjoy them more alone or in a class setting. And preferably not little monkies clinging to me and asking for a snack. So I started setting my alarm again for 6am. And thatâ€™s my weekday workout time. When you live in a town with harsh winters, you start wishing for Spring in November. In the mean time though, you gotta make it work!
Speaking of that move how is it going? What is it like to pack up leaving the city and head to the mountains?
Itâ€™s been a culture shock. I knew it would be, but the reality sinks in and you have to adjust your lens a little bit. In a way itâ€™s been a great exercise for me staying present. In a big city, you can easily distract yourself at any given time of the day. In the mountains, you are embedded in nature and once the â€œretreatâ€ feel of it wears away, you have to learn a new way of seeing things and being. Iâ€™m an extrovert, so I miss my friends dearly. For me, thatâ€™s the most challenging part of all this. But I really believe thereâ€™s a plan for me and this was all part of the plan. And when you feel peace about a big decision, it makes all the adjustments easier to swallow. My kids are really enjoying discovering the outdoors, even in the snow! They often leave the back door looking like Ralphie and his brother from the Christmas Story, but they will play in the snow for hours. Weâ€™re all growing and learning our new way of life. And I dearly miss Starbucks and my old local coffee shop Octane. There are no drive through coffee houses here. That alone, took some major adjustment!! You moms with small, multiple kids get what I mean. And snow? Forget about it! I need Starbucks delivery.
If you were to write a book what would it be about?
It would be about how to write a book when you canâ€™t think of what it should be about.
If you were to decided to go on a roadtrip right now where would you go and why? And what is a song you would play?
New York City! I have some dear friends there that I miss and would love to see. That and I just love walking, crowds, food, laughter and late nights. All of which comes in high doses there. And, ironically, Iâ€™d probably play The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.
Thank you Jen for sharing a glimpse of your struggles and successes. Your perseverance, willingness to breath in the moment, and strength to speak what is on your heart is inspirational. You are a Girl Hero.
Hugs and High Fives,
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