We are so grateful Jennifer Bergerson chose to share this intimate, honest, and inspiring story with us. Loving your body before, during, and after pregnancy is a struggle for many women. Between weight gain, stretch marks, and morning sickness many women believe they will never feel beautiful again. Jennifer’s story takes us through the ups and downs of her own struggles with dieting, pregnancy, and learning to love her body.
This is a story of a journey through the realms of fitness and pregnancy. From pregnancy to C-section to the NPC stage and back to bump….all within 18 months.
I married my husband when I was 24 years old. He was 35. I knew I wanted babies as soon as possible. My husband wanted to enjoy being middle class and childless for a few years before we started and he wanted me to be a little older. I always had it in my mind that I would start having kids when I was 26. On my 26th birthday I found out I was pregnant with Evangelo. I was ecstatic to say the least. I have been an avid gym attendee since I was 21. I worked out hard but unfortunately didn’t look the part. I had body image issues and would go back and forth between extreme diet and exercise and binge eating. Luckily I always worked out to the extreme so I never let my weight get too out of hand. I would, however, bake cookies, eat half of the dough and 2-3 cookies per batch I pulled from the oven and then workout to the point of puking or passing out to try to counter act my binge. In a sense it was called exercise bulimia.
When I got pregnant I was determined to have a healthy pregnancy and decided I would eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted because hey, I was going to get fat anyway right? Well turns out when I stopped trying to deprive myself so much, the desire to binge went away. Also turned out when I allowed myself to eat good carbohydrates throughout the day I didn’t want to eat bags of chocolates at night. For the first time in my life eating healthy and proportionately came easy.
I had always been a weight lifter and a runner. I had run marathons and tried training to do a figure competition I just never could get the diet down. When I was pregnant I was scared to death to lift weights. Everything I read said lift light weights, do light cardio, walk. I was still running until my second trimester when I fell doing a trail run and sprained my ankle very badly. It scared me because I was stuck one mile in the woods by myself (with my dog) and couldn’t walk. Luckily two gentlemen ran by very soon after I had fallen and helped carry me one mile out of the trail and called my husband to come pick me up. After this I quit running and used the elliptical instead.
With dialing in my diet and continuing to stay active I managed to only gain 18lbs during my pregnancy! I was so tiny I got compliments all the time. I went into labor at 36.5 weeks of gestation and had to have an emergency C-section. My baby was in the NICU for a week and had a rough start. When I finally brought my baby home the last thing on my mind was working out. “Fortunately”, 2 weeks post baby I was at pre-pregnancy weight and within a month without any effort I had a flat tummy again! Now most woman reading this are thinking “that B****”. Let me continue to say that this skinny flat tummy girl had noooooo muscle left. I could literally pick up my butt between two fingers and it was a flap of skin. I looked sick, honestly. For some reason my hair started to fall out in huge globs and it freaked out my hairdresser it was so bad. My body never produced enough milk for nursing; I never once leaked or poured milk from my breasts (which had shriveled as well).
At 3 months post-partum I went back to the gym. My body was so weak. I couldn’t lift a quarter of what I was lifting before my pregnancy. And because my ligaments hadn’t fully tightened back up I sprained my ankle again pretty bad. I was so depressed with how I looked naked. In clothes I looked like a super model but honestly I don’t think that’s a good thing. When I finally got back in my rhythm at the gym I decided to get a trainer. I am a trainer and I know the benefits of training with someone who will push you. Plus at this point I had never been so lean before (I was at 14% bodyfat) and I though what better time to try to get into fitness competing, now that I had a handle on diet and the time for exercise since I wasn’t working.
I told my trainer I wanted to compete in a show that was coming up in 12 weeks. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “This is going to be work but I will take you all the way!” Since I just wanted to do bikini and was already so lean we went ahead and did a macro diet. I just calculated how many grams of carbs fat and protein I needed a day and ate accordingly. I still ate as clean as I could even though I didn’t have a strict meal plan though. I ended up going back to work full time in the middle of all this, commuting three hours a day with traffic, working 9 hour shifts, caring for my 9 month old baby and training my butt of to put back on the muscle I had lost. It is far more difficult to put muscle on than to take fat off let me tell you.
I barely slept, trained hard, dieted and dehydrated in preparation for the show. I was aesthetically in the best shape of my life about 3 weeks out from the show. The final dehydration and fat burning left me quite skinny and deflated. My muscle definition was insane though. I was almost ready for figure I just needed about 10lbs of muscle for that category. The morning of my show I had some spotting… I thought I was starting my period, that would mean water retention and bloating and now I have to worry about bleeding through and tampon strings while on stage! My second trip to the restroom that morning I found my tampon to be completely dry…. I started doing the math from my last period and began wondering if that was implantation bleeding.
I performed well, took second place in my class and was ready to hit the gym even harder to earn a tiara, which is awarded to the girl who takes first. After my show I was craving a Philly cheese steak sandwich which I found odd because I had never even eaten one before. I ate it and immediately puked. I chalked it up to my stomach not being used to the grease. The next day I woke up nauseous and started thinking this was a familiar morning sickness feeling. By the next day I knew I was pregnant and needed to take a test. This day and age they have those fancy pregnancy tests that not only tell you whether or not you are pregnant but how far along you are. It said positive and then proceeded to tell me it had been 1-2 weeks since I ovulated. This added up to the unprotected sex I had had with my husband 9 nights prior.
My emotions were mixed, I wanted my kids close in age but I had just gotten into the best shape of my life. And now I was going to lose it to pregnancy. All that hard work I had just put in down the drain! I counseled with my trainer and he told me I should bring my body fat up from the 8% I was at to 16% to sustain a healthy pregnancy. He told me I could continue to lift like I was for another month or two but then I was going to need to tone it down after that and leave the weight room. I was told I shouldn’t do the Stairmaster anymore or allow my heart rate to go above 140 at any time.
I was devastated and to make matters worse my pregnancy gave me this sudden surge of strength. Don’t get me wrong I was tired as all hell and always on the verge of puking no matter what I was doing but my strength was through the roof! I believe it was a mixture of having a solid base of well-rounded and defined muscles and the added HGH that was surging though my body with the pregnancy. I talked to my doctor about my lifting and asked his opinion on the matter. He told me I could do whatever I was doing before I got pregnant and that the concern isn’t that I will hurt the baby but that I would hurt myself. He reminded me of my impaired immune system but said that if I was careful he was fine with be continuing my weight lifting routine. I researched and found nothing on bodybuilding and pregnancy.
Finally I found a book written by Emily Oster who is an economist and she analyzes data for a living. Luckily for me she got pregnant and didn’t like all the DO NOTS that are told to us pregos. She researched the studies that were used to create the DO NOT lists to begin with and either proved them wrong with alternate studies or she flat out said, “no this information is correct don’t do that”. She pretty much said listen to your body. If you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing your body will let you know. So I continued to lift, and lift heavy. Since I was going to be eating more food in general I thought this was the perfect time to actually make some muscle gains. I put myself on a meal plan that allotted for muscle growth and 300 extra calories for my pregnancy. Here is an example of my daily food intake:
Meal 1: 1 whole egg and 1 cup egg whites, 1 cup oatmeal with 1 Tablespoon flax seeds
Meal 2: Protein powder in water with 1 cup cream of rice add in
Meal 3: 1 chicken breast 1 bell pepper 1 cup broccoli and 2 TBLS hummus
Meal 4: 6oz salmon 1 cup sweet potatos and 1 cup broccoli
Meal 5: 1 cup diced chicken 1 cup broccoli and 1 TBLS mayo combined
Meal 6: 1.5 cups cottage cheese and 1 cup pineapple
My workouts would consist of about 60 min of lifting, side bends and 20 min of cardio. I would squat 225lbs but I would only go as low as my belly felt comfortable. I stopped doing lunges because my leg pressed on my tummy and I didn’t like it. I did “front squats” on the smith machine to stabilize myself. If I felt like I might puke I stopped. I usually drank my protein shake before I did cardio since fat burning wasn’t as important at the moment. I have kept my bodyfat at 16% since month two and am currently in month six. I have gained 30 lbs so far which is a little scary but since I have been keeping track of my body fat I know it is all baby, fluids and muscle.
I am in love with my body right now. I am in even better shape than I was for my show and I am 6 months pregnant. My 8 pack abs are gone but has been replaced by a beautiful baby bump. My whole body is toned and sculpted and I am proud to rock my bump and my pregnancy. I am not afraid of what will become of my body after pregnancy this go around. As of right now I have a VBAC planned but part of me wants to do a C-section so that I can bounce back from 2 C-sections in 18 months and leave my clients with no excuse on getting that tummy back in line.
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