My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Shakira Akabusi, the author of The StrongLikeMum Method, women’s health expert and pre and postnatal exercise specialist.
In this episode, Shakira shares:
- How a few careless words from a doctor led to post-natal anxiety and OCD
- What her therapist told her that changed her perspective on the anxiety
- How she tailors the way she exercises depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle
- How she’s able to do everything she does as well as be a mum of 4 children
- And of course, the story of her first period
Shakira says it takes an incredible amount of strength to manage depression, anxiety or any kind of mental health issue on a daily basis and this recognition can help build resilience.
Thank you, Shakira!
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Le’Nise: Hi, Shakira. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Let’s get into the question that I ask all of my guests, which is talk about the story of your very first period.
Shakira: Yes, I remember this so well because I was actually really, I think traumatised is probably too much of a word. I was really scared about it and I knew about it. You know, I’d heard about it in school. I had some friends who had my period. My family were generally quite open, but I just remember really feeling scared about it.
And we were actually on holiday in California, so we used to live six months of the year there and it was in the summer time. So we were there and everybody was meant to be going. Our family and family friends are meant to be going to a shopping day out or something, in LA and I had this such bad tummy cramps, and I remember just thinking, Oh God, I had such bad stomach stomach-ache I don’t know what it is. And I went to the toilet and I saw that there was blood that I thought, Oh, it’s not in my period. I didn’t want to tell anyone, I just wanted to hide it. So I just went back to bed and the whole day I just kept saying really bad stomach, upset stomach. I told my mum and she’s like, Oh gosh, I don’t know what it is. Lie down, you know?
And I stayed in bed and everybody else went to the the went shopping. My mum stayed with me and it got to like the end of the day and she said, I’m going to have to take you to the doctor, the hospital because we, we were English but we were in America. It’s not that easy with the health care system. So she was like I’m going to have to figure something out and take you to a doctor. I don’t know what’s wrong with your stomach. And then I just whispered to her like, maybe it’s because I’m on my period. And she was like, Well, obviously this is what’s going on. Okay. So now we know. And then she was like, Why? You know, why didn’t you tell me that? I just didn’t want to talk about it, Right? I actually cannot. I’ve been thinking since we set this date in the diary of trying to pin down why I felt that way, and I really don’t know why that was.
Le’Nise: That’s really interesting that, you know, once your mum said, oh, well, obviously, you know, this is why, you know, you have you’ve got this stomach ache because your you’ve got your period. But it’s really interesting that your first instinct was to hide it. Like, you know, I don’t want to tell anyone. And then what about your kind of subsequent experiences? So that was your very first period. Then going into the rest of your kind of early teens and teens.
Shakira: You know, I was I have a memory of my second period and my mum, I think still to this day when I tell this story, my mum gets really sad because, you know, I know. And now that I’m a mum, I understand because, you know, you try to do so much good. And then the one thing that you don’t quite do right, and it sticks in the memory and she feels bad. But I remember the second time we were back home and my family were having a dinner party and I, I’d come on my period and again I didn’t want to tell anyone and I found my mum and I was just like, okay. And she gave me like this period pad and I put period pad in and I remember thinking, Oh, am I going to have to wear this every day of my life because it is so uncomfortable? I don’t like it. And I was like, Please don’t tell anyone because she had friends in it. She was like, okay. And she went downstairs and she must have said, Shakira just started her period, you know?
And then I came downstairs into the kitchen and everyone froze. And then they laughed because they must have been like, you know, for them, I understand their side of it. But for me, I knew in that instance she told it and I just felt ashamed and embarrassed. And and again, that was awful, you know?
And then through some of those few years, they lost those years at school because that was last year, primary school when I came on my period. Then, like, you know, I remember again, like just wanting to hide it at school, you know, from the boys in school. Like, don’t let them know I’m on my period. And then actually, as I got through my teenage years, I became completely opposite. I went to school and that was really free thinking. It was a boarding school and people on their periods all the time and all of a sudden it just just wasn’t a problem. And now I work in the female health field and again, I’m really relaxed and really open about it as we’re having this conversation today. So I’ve completely gone the other way now.
Le’Nise: Yeah. And when when you first got your period, you knew it was your period. Had you had any education about menstrual health, hormone health in school?
Shakira: Yes, we had. We had had. But I actually don’t remember exactly how they delivered the lesson. But I have an older sister, so I knew what the period was. And I remember we had had sex ed in school or something. So they told us, you know, you have prepared and then you’re ready to have a baby or something. And so I knew like the basics, but I didn’t really understand what it really meant.
Le’Nise: Yeah. And going into that boarding school where you became like much more free and open about your period, what was your experience of your period itself like? Was it easy? Was it painful?
Shakira: I always had quite intense cramps around my menstrual cycle and actually now as an adult, I’ve always had that. But now as an adult it is so much worse. And actually I think since I had my twins via caesarean, which is almost three years ago, since then, my period pains have been so much more intense. And I remember when I first heard you speak and you were like, Who thinks that pain is a natural part of the period? My head was straight up and I was like, definitely always. I just I’ve never thought about it not being a painful experience. So that’s that is something I’ve always really struggled with.
Le’Nise: And does it, does the pain affect the way you kind of live your day to day life?
Shakira: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And I’m a really physically active person, but I’m also really aware of how my body feels. And I know when different times in my cycle when I will have really low energy or I just won’t move as quickly or, you know, I train in jujitsu three days a week and I know when I’m on my when I’m on my period and it gets to that time, I just have low energy. I can tell a few days before I’m not, I just feel tired and I just can’t and actually to the point where my brain doesn’t fire as quickly, I, I’m trying to get stuff done. And I just and I feel similar to at times how I felt during pregnancy. You know, just Yes, I definitely notice it.
Le’Nise: Because you’re quite you’re quite sporty and quite active, you know, given, you know, that the nature of the work that you do. Yeah. Do you find that you adjust the way that you move your body depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle?
Shakira: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, what I think we have to be clear on is that women have been achieving sporting goals throughout their menstrual cycle, you know, throughout time. So I’m not trying to suggest there’s certain times in your cycle there’s something you can’t do. But I certainly notice a change and I tailor my exercise in that way. So I’m always I like and I try to stay really in tune with my body and I will do what it is directing me to do. So if it needs some rest, some downtime, then that’s what I will invest in. And yeah, I just try to trust that my body will tell me what it needs, you know?
Le’Nise: Yeah. And this the kind of other layer of this is that you also have four kids. Yeah. And I just, I mean looking at your Instagram, I just like, I just think you’re amazing because I have, I have one son and like, I he just he’s nine so he’s a bit older and, you know, the needs are a bit different. It’s more like emotional now, but I do like talking about energy and how that changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Then layering on having four children, how you know, how do you do you know everything? How do you get things done? I know it’s such a cliche question, but I genuinely am curious.
Shakira: Yeah. Do you know what I honestly that people ask me a lot. How do you do everything with four kids? So me number one was by far the hardest at that first experience was a massive shock to the system and I was tired and it wasn’t as I had expected. And you know, it was the unknown. I found it scary. I had really high anxiety. It was that was something that I remember is a very challenging time, very beautiful, amazing experience, but challenging in so many ways.
And actually having four is just I’d almost say like not it, not that it gets easier, but it’s obviously chaotic. It’s obviously there’s a lot it’s busy, there’s lots of noise. But the levels of stress or anxiety that I would have had around the first and the second I don’t have now. And so it’s a much more I’m having a much more positive experience of parenthood at this time than I was at that that the initial point, you know, and then. Yeah, it’s, you know, they all play with each other and I think they’re used to what I do. You know, we’re much more in the routine of this is how our family’s going to do something, whereas with that first time you’ll figuring out like, Oh, do I do this and still do that? Whereas now I know the times of the day where my children will be okay to for me to, you know, do some work and they’ll play by themselves or when they’re going to need me to intervene and, you know, all that kind of stuff. So you just get used to it.
But it’s interesting as well. Next I’ve got I have four, as you said, and I’ve got three boys and a girl. And when it comes to like periods, I’m really aware of that. That’s something my daughter’s going to have. But I educate all my children. So I talk to my boys about my period all the time. My eldest is eight and then four, and then the twins are two. And not so long ago the four year old was like, he was like, Why have you got raspberry wee? We that’s what he said to me. I went to the toilet and he’s like, He was like, Oh, I have something called a period and Ari is going to have a period. This what a period is. This is look at this. This is a period pad. This is a tampon. This is and I want that because I remember that being a big thing for me. What are the boys going to think? Well, the boy is going to think. And so really keen to talk to all my children about that. You know.
Le’Nise: That’s super interesting because, you know, you’re the oldest. He he could have your oldest as a boy, right? Yeah. Okay. He could have classmates that have their period because, you know, I’ve talked to some women who gotten their period at eight and nine, and it’s just so young. But, you know, I think it’s amazing that, you know, you’re having these conversations with them, you know, you know, at all all ages. And I think kids, they appreciate it when you just tell them the facts and are like really kind of straightforward, pragmatic way and just not make it a big deal.
Shakira: Yeah, and I definitely agree with that. And because even now in my field of work, like I work in women’s health and I’ve been working this field for over a decade and it but it took til I became a professional in this field for me to feel comfortable saying vagina because for so long I remember as a kid there were all different types of names. It was like, Oh, my best friend would call it all sorts of different things, you know? And so I never it, no one ever said the name Vagina. So I was like, Oh, whereas now, like with my children, I will use the real word and I’ll say uterus, vagina or whatever. But, you know, the thing is, I’m just in a really casual way. Like, we don’t need to always say the word vagina every day, but it just is what it is. And like you said, I think kids just respond well to that because then it’s not a big deal, you know? Yeah.
Le’Nise: Yeah. And so going back to something that you mentioned earlier, you said that when you had your first, you had really bad anxiety and, you know, working in pre and postnatal health, a lot of, a big part of that is of course, physical health, but it’s also it’s mental health. And there can be a bit of a, I think, a fear for women to talk about having mental health issues after they give birth, so in the postpartum, you know, for many reasons, maybe they’re scared that their kid is going to get taken from them. Yeah. Can you talk about what happened with you and how you were able to kind of get through it?
Shakira: Yeah, definitely. So I had postnatal anxiety. It sort of started in my pregnancy, just that lack of control and I guess a sort of now that I really think about it, it definitely did because I remember, I remember finding out I was pregnant and calling my GP and, and say I’m pregnant, just like I’m pregnant. And her response was, okay, that’s great. Call me back when you’re ten weeks pregnant because there’s a really high chance of miscarriage before then. And that was it. And I got off the phone and I was so anxietal and all of a sudden I was researching everything, you know, what are signs of having a miscarriage? You know, I became obsessed with it. And that was kind of where the anxiety started.
And then that realisation that I can’t control it, you know, every time. Did I feel a kick, did I not? How long for has it moved? Okay, What if the cords around its neck? What if it’s everything? Everything, Everything, Everything. And again, something that in my subsequent pregnancies became much easier for me to just accept what I cannot control. But then it really, really kicked off after my son was born. And I, I often say, you know, I expected to love my children. I was told, Oh, you’re going to love your children more than anything that I know. And I hoped that is how I would feel. And I did. But I did not expect how protective I would feel of my children nothing in my life, would have prepared me for that moment where I am literally like I would not only would I kill for you, I would die for you. I would die for you. You know, it is such a powerful feeling to feel that for somebody else.
And that spurred my anxiety because I felt such a huge responsibility. So I developed OCD and it was so extreme that and I say this a lot, but it’s the best example I can give is that I used to work in Brick Lane and I had to walk from Brick Lane to Liverpool Street Station, which is 7 minutes, and it would take me over 3 hours because of the amount of tapping and counting I felt I had to do. Tap this, don’t step over the crack. I looked, I would have appeared to an outsider as if I’d completely lost my mind. I was completely controlled by my OCD. It was taking me over 4 hours to get to bed. 2 hours downstairs. Two and a half hours upstairs. It was, controlled everything. And it was draining. It was exhausting. I never felt depressed, but it weighed heavy on me.
And I eventually found a therapist who talked to me about the human brain. And he basically explained that the ability to worry is something that has kept humans alive. We can perceive a danger and think, I’m not going to walk down that alley because it doesn’t feel right. So that feeling of worry is a survival instinct. But nowadays we’ve got all these, you know, maybe a smell makes you worry or a thought makes you worry that isn’t actually a threat, but it triggers that instinctive response. And as soon as I sort of saw that, I changed my perspective, I didn’t see my anxiety as a weakness. I saw it as a strength, an instinct that I just wasn’t able to control. That was, you know, and that in that moment I was like okay, I want to try to work on this.
And what I had to learn and this is kind of you said at the beginning, I’m passionate about exercise or exercise gives me that. I also got from talk therapy and I also got from hypnotherapy is the ability to slow the chaotic thoughts. So still now, if my children are like my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my with so much noise and I feel stressed, if I can go out for a walk or even just sit outside for 5 minutes and feel the sun on my face, it slows the chaotic thoughts and it’s like de-pressurising the valve, you know. And for me, I had to learn to differentiate between what is my instinct and what is anxiety, because the two are so closely linked. And I was, you know, if your child’s sick, they will say to you, Oh, they’re probably fine, but trust your instincts. You’re the mum, you know? And I was like, Well, I’m full of anxiety, so I’m constantly stressed. I’m constantly anxious. So actually, I don’t know. And I had to learn to differentiate the two. And I did that with, as I said, talk therapy, hypnotherapy and then exercise. And I still use that now, so if feel stressed, I feel overwhelmed. I go for walk or I go outside. It allows me to slow the chaotic thoughts and then I can think, okay, so let me see this thought here. Is this anxiety or is this my instinct? And then I process it and then I move on.
Le’Nise: So that’s quite that’s something that has to be quite an active process for you, active practice.
Shakira: It was. So I mean, it took me time. It took me years to get better. It took me years, but it was a slow process. Now I’ll still have an anxious thought that will come into my brain, but I can just really quickly notice anxiety and then it’s gone, you know? So it’s still a work is a work in progress, but it’s quicker. Whereas initially it took a lot of effort and time where it had to do. And I remember times where I felt, okay, I need to tap this five times. And I would sit there looking at the place where I felt I needed to tap and I’d think, Okay. Breathe. Think, what is the worry? And I would make myself say that, it could take me 10 minutes before I be like, I’m not going to touch that today. And then I would leave it. But it took time. It sounds ridiculous, but it was a very real part of my life for a long time.
Le’Nise: Yeah. No, it doesn’t sound ridiculous at all. I think you sharing this is really powerful because a lot of women do experience post-natal mental health issues and they’re often really afraid to talk about it. When after I gave birth, I, I had really bad anxiety as well. And that kind of over protectiveness you mentioned, really kind of that came to the fore front, but also like a lot of impulsive thoughts and like just avoidance behaviour where I would get this really like physical reaction.
I remember once I was with my son, he was maybe about two months old and it was a rainy night and I was supposed to meet some of my NCT friends in this cafe. We were living in Chiswick at the time, so I had walked, gotten the bus and then walked over to this cafe and I could see them all in the window. But I just had such anxiety about going in. I just stood out like, you know, like, you know, about like 20 metres away. I could see them, but they couldn’t see me and I just couldn’t go in. I was just so anxious and I was so afraid to talk about it because I thought if I go to the doctor and I say, I say, I’m feeling like this, then is my son going to get taken away from me? It was just very, very, very hard.
Shakira: Yeah. And there’s also, you know, because I hear that often that people are afraid that the child will be taken away. I didn’t necessarily worry about that. I almost had the opposite experience where I went and I asked for help and no one knew how to help me, you know, at the beginning. And that is also a really scary place to be because I’d grown up always thinking the doctors will have the answers or they’ll have some type of tablet I can take them, you know, Whereas I’d be like, I’m struggling with anxiety or I would describe what I was experiencing. And they would be like, Well, they did three be I say about tablets, thinking about other things, but they were like, okay, you can take this anti-depressant. I was like, I’m not I’m not depressed, not depressed, and I don’t want an antidepressant. I want support or help figuring this out. I don’t just want to mask it. I want to really deal with it, you know?
And yeah, I had to try so many different therapies. I remember one therapist who tried, like the tough love approach. I remember him saying to me, You can’t honestly believe this is real. You can’t honestly think that if you tap that five times, you know, this bad thing isn’t going to happen. And I was just like. I was like, I know what it sounds like, but I absolutely do. I absolutely do. And, you know, it was and that is also a scary place to be, to feel like people don’t understand what you’re trying to say, you know, or as I said, people viewing anxiety or depression as a weakness. Whereas to me now particularly, I look back and I think if you are dealing with depression, anxiety or any kind of mental health issue that you are managing, it takes an incredible amount of strength to manage that on a daily basis. That takes a lot of strength. You know, and and again, that was one of the things that eventually helped me. You know, that’s how I, I began to recognise that I could be resilient enough to get over it because I realised I’ve been resilient enough to live with it so I can, you know, I can get through it.
Le’Nise: It’s I think it’s really it’s, you telling the story of that doctor who tried the tough love approach. I know, it’s just I find that so disconcerting because you go to these healthcare professionals because you feel like they’re going to help you and for someone to kind of not validate your experience, it just you just think, well, you know, what do you what do you here for?
Shakira: I have I actually had it very recently. One of my children was really unwell and he’d been unwell for like four or five days and his temperature kept going, come back and back. And in this particular afternoon he was really lethargic, like I couldn’t really wake him up. He had a really high temperature. I’d given him Calpol and nothing was working.
So I called the doctor had called them like three times that day, and eventually they were like, okay, you can bring him in. So I brought him in and the doctor looked to him and she was like, Oh yeah, you know, he’s he’s not great, but he’s okay, I can’t see anything obviously wrong. And she said, Would you please do not say, Well, look, what I want to know is if he goes downhill over the weekend, this is a Friday. If he goes downhill, how is the weekend? What do I do? And she literally shouted and she was like, This is your anxiety. And I remember thinking, that’s so it could be so. So what’s the word I’m looking for? Dangerous isn’t the word. But yeah, it’s it’s really dangerous because I know I’m I’m self-assured enough to know when I feel like it’s my anxiety and what I feel. But there’s plenty of people who wouldn’t and maybe, maybe even me. I don’t know. But I know that you screaming at me right now telling me this is my anxiety. That’s the type of thing that makes women not want to speak out. Because if you’re constantly going to have it written on your phone that this woman has anxiety, you know, every time she calls, she probably just anxious. It doesn’t help.
And actually, like it doesn’t mean that all our other feelings are invalid. It doesn’t mean that you know, that it doesn’t mean that you’re not a rational thinker. You can be such a rational thinker. And often it is really rational, very, you know, well, creative, rational, same, but, you know, very clear thinkers who will have something like anxiety. It’s not. And that’s why this this therapist talking to me about that is it being this instinct. And it’s just an instinct that we’re not able to control or that we need to learn to control. That’s when I realised, okay, this is not something wrong, this is something instinctive. I just need to be able to manage it, you know? Yeah.
Le’Nise: So if someone’s listening to this and they know they need to reach out to a doctor or a health care professional to get support for, you know, it could be any sort of issue. But they’re nervous about taking that first step. Do you have any advice for them? Like what would you say to them to help them navigate that conversation with the doctor and to kind of get over any fears about moving forward?
Shakira: I. I don’t know if this will answer your question, but what I am thinking about is. Is. I think. I think. The first thing for me when I finally was ready to get help was kind of what I’ve just been saying about. I needed to know. I needed to know that I could do it. I didn’t believe I could do it. I thought this had control of me. I did not think that it would be possible for me to, to get through. It was it was so controlling.
And I think the first step was I, I had to believe I could do it. And I’ve spoken to so many people over social media who have messaged me about anxiety and like. It always comes and they always seem to come from a place of this. I’m completely lost. This has controlled me. I feel like I’m a slave to it. I can’t see a way out. So the first step would be. Recognising that you have the strength to manage this. And I think, you know, as they approach approaching the conversation with the health care professional, I don’t know, maybe we can approach the conversation in that way. Maybe we can approach the conversation and like I have recognised this in myself, which takes an incredible amount of strength. I have recognised this. I want to be able to address and change this behaviour and release myself from this control. And I would like to speak to someone about this who’s going to be able to help me put those steps in place. You know, so it doesn’t need to come from a place of weakness. Make sure that you are empowered in your own strength, you know yourself and you are going to someone because you you want to take that step to recovery and you just need to find someone you know to help you.
And and also, I think. Recognising that asking for help again is just not a weakness. I don’t have a problem with that now. I ask everyone for help, like I will call my neighbour and I’ll be like, Hey, the twins today it’s too much like, can we do a playdate? Because I need, I need some time, I need a cup of tea and a friend. I will ask anyone for help that I can because I guess I am confident in the things that I can do. But I also know there is many things that I can’t do. And actually, when you ask when you don’t mind asking for help, it’s a really powerful thing because, you know, they say it takes a village as a parent and it really does.
Le’Nise: Yeah, it definitely it really does take a village. That moment where you just saying I and I say this with one child, you know, I don’t know how I’m going to keep going and just to be able to know that you can organise a play date and someone else can help is amazing.
Le’Nise: Just to switch gears a little bit, you released a book last year called The Strong Like Mum Method, and one of your passions is physical fitness. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided to focus on pre and postnatal fitness and just talk about why you think it’s important for women to keep fit and healthy during their pregnancies?
Shakira: Yep. So I’ve always been really active. My dad was an Olympic athlete, my mum was a personal trainer. She worked with athletes on the injury rehabilitation and I was always really active and I loved it. And then I became pregnant and I remember so many people, people who didn’t have children and people who had children, but but probably even more so, people who didn’t have children yet were saying to me, Oh, oh, well, now you’re pregnant. You’re never going to run as fast. You’ll you’ll never have a six pack again. Say goodbye to your six pack, oh, you’ll never want to be in a bikini. Or make sure you enjoy this summer because next summer, you know you’ll never have time to sleep. Everything. All the things I would never do again.
And I really felt like they were saying, by the way, you can’t be yourself. You do realise that now this is the end of all time and everything as you knew it is over. And so I was like, Well, I just didn’t really. That’s not. My mum was a really great example. She’s always been really fit and active and I was just like, This is this isn’t how I want to do motherhood. So I just started talking about that and that’s, that was kind of the birth of Strong Like Mum, I was already training people and I remember reading the statistic that only 5.5% of fitness industry professionals were qualified pre and postnatal. And I remember thinking like. How when so many women at some point in their life will be either pre or postnatal. And I’m sure and I’m hoping that that statistic has now changed. But when so many people are at some point going to be pre and post-natal, how are we failing women in this way that we’re not able to support them with their physical health?
So that was when I began to specialise more into that field. And then I obviously learned on my jobs during my own pregnancies and also working with all the women that I’ve worked with over time and I feel as though to me, physical, mental health, they go hand in hand. And I know that for me, the opposite of what everyone told me, motherhood has been the most liberating, empowering experience. I have never felt more confident. I have never felt more driven in my, you know, other goals outside of parenting. I’ve never felt more content with who I am. It’s been it is you know, there are many challenges, but it’s just been this incredible, liberating experience. And I feel like everyone should have that. And sometimes, you know, whether you’ve got physical, sports goals or whatever you call it, this business, friendship, lifestyle, new relationship, whatever. If we know ourselves, that’s how I was able to get over my anxiety. That’s how, you know, you ask me, how do you manage it? I know myself. I know when my body needs rest. I know when my body needs to go for a run. I you know, to me, that’s healthy living. And that was that is kind of what fuels the pages of this book. So there are exercise. There is exercise advice in that because that’s what I specialise in.
But for me, exercise is just like a metaphor for how I live my life. And I just think. You know, I’ve just got to doing something good for yourself. Feeling confident and happy and, and at the same time tapping into that instinct, the human body was built to move. We’re not built to sit at a desk all day. And the body needs movement, and particularly for pre and post natal, what the female body does through that whole time period of pregnancy and afterwards is just so amazing. And if we all had that knowledge, maybe we’d all feel more empowered and and we wouldn’t have this stupid messaging of like, by the way, after pregnancy, everything’s over. It’s just so completely wrong.
Le’Nise: Yeah, I think I remember this, like, exactly what you said. People are so willing to share their bad stories, like, you know, listen to my bad birth story or, you know, this is, you know, get your get enough sleep now because it won’t happen. Yes. You know, your sleep will be disrupted. You know, you you’re with a tiny little baby, you know. But, you know, it’s just they just want to tell you everything that will go wrong. But what I think is really, really I think empowering about what you do is you show, as you say, what you show women pre and post-natal, what their bodies are capable of. And it’s much more than they realise. Why do you think women underestimate what they’re capable of physically, especially during pregnancy?
Shakira: I think in speaking generally now, like we are often bombarded with this messaging of needing to better ourselves. You know, it’s always like you need this tablet to make you look younger. You need this exercise equipment to make you feel stronger. And I think not that there’s anything wrong with feeling you need to improve certain areas. We all have goals in all different areas of our life, so that that’s not necessarily a problem. But I don’t think we’re ever sold this message of. Valuing, valuing and respecting and celebrating where we are now, you know? Yeah. So I think I think I think I think that’s something that that impacts women regularly because we’re constantly getting that messaging.
Le’Nise: Yeah. You see, what I think really is really interesting, I remember this this, this woman, I think she was a CrossFitter and she was, there was this post on Instagram, it was a few years ago and she was lifting quite heavy. And she must’ve been I think she was like seven months pregnant. And the comments were just like, This is dangerous, You know, you shouldn’t be doing that. And what I think is really important for women to realise is that if they’re already doing some sort of exercise before they get pregnant, they can continue to do it. Yeah. And you know, you don’t just have to put your unless there’s like a medical reason, you don’t need to put your feet up your whole pregnancy. You just go. Sorry, Go ahead.
Shakira: Pregnancy is such a personal experience, which is partly what makes it so difficult as someone working in this space who wants to share, you know, content around post-natal because you can only be general, you can’t be specific without really knowing someone. And that’s why I kind of think just share the knowledge, because then we can all feel empowered to make the decision for ourselves. As you said, you know, someone might be able to do whatever whatever exercise weight lifting thing she was doing. That might be great.
Other people maybe it’s that’s worlds away from where they are and not just the people but like the same person on a different day. In my first pregnancy, I was bouncing around like happy as anything. I was teaching barbell classes, squatting, deadlifting, all that sort of stuff. Barbell on my shoulders. La la la great. The final pregnancy, which was twins. I didn’t move a muscle until 24 weeks. I was, well, firstly sick, but also just exhausted. And I remember at 24 weeks and I’m going to go for a jog and I ran for like 10 seconds and I was like, Nope, I never ran again the whole pregnancy. And, you know, and then even within the same pregnancy, different days, some days, I was like, Oh, this is great. I want to go for a jog. And then the next day I was like, I just need to sit for the next weeks. I’m just tired.
And so you just there is just no one way. There’s no one way, you know. We were talking about weight lifting, right? You look at the female pelvis and just that alone, what it has to go through in pregnancy, the way that it tilts, the way that it moves, the ripple effect that that will have on our feet. You know, I talk a lot about the connection between the feet and the jaw to the pelvic floor. So when you’re in labour, you might have been told to relax your jaw because by relaxing your jaw, you relax the pelvic floor. When I had had just had my twins, I realised I was clenching my jaw the whole time because my fluid almost got into like shock after having a caesarian. So there’s just so many scenarios, which I understand is what makes it overwhelming. But if you, you know, if you get the knowledge, if you read my book, you know, it’s that the when we know the information, then we can apply it to ourselves.
Le’Nise: Yeah. What about in the postpartum? Because, you know. But you talked about earlier when you having four kids. You have a rhythm now. You know. You know what to do. You know, the time of day where you can do certain things. Say, when you have your first kid, you just you know, it can be challenging because you just don’t know how to do this yet. What are some really practical ways that a mother of like a new newborn or like a young, young baby can stay fit.
Shakira:Yeah. So the first thing I would say is that in a you took that initial post, that initial period or just any time in early parenthood.
Le’Nise: I guess is when they get cleared. So like.
Shakira: For exercise. Yeah. Yeah. So I think understanding that small, the small successes are still successes. So any small amounts of movement you can do throughout the day are going to be really beneficial to your body, to your mind, and for me, to my parenting. So it can be really small things, I would think. I would say that there are some changes that happen in the body. For example, the the position of the pelvis that rectify themselves around six months postpartum. So for that first six months, I wouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to have to, you know, get back into doing a HIIT class or whatever, whatever find movements that you enjoy, I would look at core rehab or everybody, whether you’ve had a vaginal delivery or caesarian delivery, that’s really important. And I don’t just mean Kegel exercises, which are really important. I mean looking at the core as a whole.
So for postnatal women, glute exercise is really important. That’s going to help us realign the pelvis, but it helps to stabilise the whole core. So pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, which is kind of the deepest of the abdominal layers and glute exercises. So something like the bridge is fantastic. They work all of that in one. It’s a wonder exercise. That one’s great, you know. So all of that. And then I would say what I also count as the core is breathing. So before you’ve been cleared for exercise, right in the beginning, working on breathing exercises would be one of the best things you could do with the time when you have it. Because if you if you imagine I would say this as well, if you imagine your core as a fist, if your fist is already tight, then you can’t use it. I can’t pick anything up. I can’t, literally no function doesn’t mean it’s not strong, doesn’t mean it’s not, but it cannot function. You have to release your fist first and then you can use it. And it’s the exact same with our core, learning to breathe. If you don’t breathe right, and you’re not getting a proper deep breath journey ever going to have past partial function, which means when you go on to do your squats, lunges, burpees, whatever you want to do in years down the line or months down the line, you’re not going to have the same efficiency, you’re not going to have that strong base. So number one, breathing, you can do that from day one. Then like I said, core exercises, pelvic floor, transverse abdominus exercises, and then I would progress slowly to other resistance based exercises. They’re going to work on how the body postures are at the back exercises that are going to help us keep nice and upright and then functional training, which are huge and say things that mimic everyday, pushing, pulling, squatting. If you’ve got a resistance band, so many things you can do with a resistance band, tie it to a door handle and work on some rows, you know, there’s just so much we can do with that.
Le’Nise: And is this, is this the kind of stuff that you do in your classes?
Shakira: Yeah, Yeah, I did my classes. I do it myself.
Shakira: I, I, I train and teach exactly the same.
Le’Nise [00:42:55] So all or all of your classes so you it’s Strong Like Mum, the classes and are they focussed on postnatal and prenatal?
Shakira: Pre and post. So I do a monthly workshop at the moment in London that’s pre and post Natal and then I work one on one with women and prenatal postnatal, some women who are years postpartum, you know, and I’ve just, I’ve at the moment start doing a menopause course and it’s so fascinating because there’s this crossover happening as women are having children later in life where the perimenopausal time is crossing over with the postnatal time and those two hormones are, you know, intermixing and it’s just such a fascinating field of research. So yeah.
Le’Nise: Yeah. Being postnatal and going through perimenopause.
Shakira: Yeah, yeah. Oh, oh.
Le’Nise: So where can people get in touch with you and what do you have coming up next?
Shakira: Oh, thank you so much for asking. So I’m on Instagram at Shakira.Akabusi. I’m on all my social media is that and you can find me at Strong Like Mum. I just about to film in the next few weeks my first postnatal plan, which I’m really excited about and so it’s kind of the book coming to life. You can find the book on Amazon, Waterstones or those kind of bookshops and. Yeah. So those are those are kind of the main projects that I’ve got going on at the moment that I would encourage anybody that if you have any questions, whether you’re asking me or another professional that you trust, ask your questions like find your answer. Because the amount of people I go running with a friend every week. I’ve been running with her for the last two years, not every week, but whenever we can manage to run together. Her daughter’s eight and the other week she was like, Oh yeah, I always have to wear a pad when I’m running because I always leak when I run. And I was like, How did we not have this conversation? You know what I do? And the amount of people that just like, Oh, I just thought that that was just the way that is. And I don’t even ask. I don’t even ask. And it’s something that, you know, she has to live with every day and she doesn’t have to live that way. And so when they’re working together. But I would just encourage everyone, if you have a question, ask it. Find your answer, because the answer’s out there.
Le’Nise: Yeah, it is amazing the number of things that we think that we have to live with. Period pain. Yeah, leaks. And you know, when there’s a lot of things that you can do to change all of that. Yeah. What’s, what’s the one thought that you want to leave listeners with.
Shakira: The one thought I would leave people with. I was asked this recently and I gave the same answer. At that point it came out. No, I wasn’t expecting to give this, but I actually do really believe it. I start my book by talking about this concept of Mitochondrial Eve. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that. The phrase. Yeah. So Mitochondrial Eve, anybody who doesn’t necessarily know is, as scientists have discovered through research, that if we travel back through history from mother back to mother, back to mother, back to mother, but to mother, we would all end up at one woman and they call this woman Mitochondrial Eve. So they’ve not found this actual fossil bones. But this is the theory and that we all, all human beings today have mitochondria in their system. So we all still today carry cells in our body from this one woman, and that can date back millennia. It’s fascinating. And I think about Mitochondrial Eve and the other people that would have been the people, Homo sapiens, that would have been alive at the same time as Mitochondrial Eve and all of these women that were giving birth to the future generations. And I think, like if those women could carry, birth their babies with out all the many options we have today, and that is not to discredit them as a mother who has had epidurals and caesareans and everything I value so much, all the medical support that we can have these days. But. Those. I think about Mitochondrial Eve and women of that time. And unlike those women birth the future millennia ago, we all still have cells in our body from that woman. That’s incredibly powerful, that that is how powerful we are as women giving birth. And the concept that we have now tried to make out that pregnancy breaks your body or change your body or you’re weaker afterwards is just doesn’t make sense to me when I consider that. And so I would I think my last thought would just be to feel empowered as a mum because like, you’re not only creating the future, but like you have the power to create a version of yourself however you want to do that, and that is through your choices and you have the power to do that. And I would encourage people to ask for help, ask for, ask your questions, find the knowledge, do the research, get the answers you need so that you can feel about that as well.
Le’Nise: I love that. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story.
Shakira: Thank you for having me.