Staying healthy whilst you’re pregnant is vital for any expectant mum. It’s even more important if you’re already battling a serious illness. Here health coach and ambassador for Australian Organic, Elle Halliwell explains how she did it and managed to have a much-loved bundle of joy.
Tomorrow. It’s a procrastinator’s favourite word.
I’ll start working on that great business idea tomorrow. And that healthy eating plan. I’ll also call my grandmother and tell her I love her. But today I’m too busy for that. I’ll put it at the top of tomorrow’s to-do list.
But what if tomorrow was ripped away from you? What if the future you had been planning and preparing for, for your entire life, suddenly stopped existing? Would you put off making changes today?
It’s a prospect I faced head on in April 2016 when I was diagnosed with blood cancer.
Babies, adventures, anniversaries, and career goals – all of the big plans my husband Nick and I had for our thirties and beyond – had been dashed by a single word. Leukemia. Tomorrow didn’t seem so inevitable after all. It did come, however. As did the following day after my diagnosis when my already uncertain future became even more so with a major revelation – I was expecting my first child.
Suddenly I no longer had the luxury of tomorrow.
Cleaning up my lifestyle and diet had been on my tomorrow list for years. It was hardly terrible, but my career and social life had taken precedent over my health, and my reasons for consuming fruit and vegetables, and partaking in the odd gym session were more about vanity than inner wellbeing or illness prevention. But that fateful week changed the game, and “starting today” suddenly became a matter of life and death, for both my unborn baby and me.
As I wasn’t able to start chemotherapy until after the pregnancy, I wanted to make certain that my body’s system was totally cleaned out and primed in order to be in the best possible shape. So, I started researching and reading up, particularly when it came to organic products. A body and lifestyle free of pesticides, artificial ingredients, preservatives and chemicals suddenly sounded extremely appealing. Thankfully
Living through a life-threatening illness is one of the most devastating, nerve-wracking experiences you can ever go through. I had to keep reminding myself to put one foot in front of the other, but boy was it hard. Thankfully, after a three year-battle I am now cancer-free and in remission, having been given the all-clear just prior to December 2018.
Here’s what I did and what I learned on my journey.
I got rid of anything that seemed even remotely nasty
Ridding my home of irritants and nasty chemicals was my first priority. Non-stick cookware, commercial cleaning products, artificial fragrance products and even my beloved oil paints were eliminated from our home in a bid to relieve my body from some of the toxic burden I had placed on it throughout the years. I also cleared out my fridge and filled it with organic, pesticide-free food with a focus on leafy greens, healthy fats, gut-friendly prebiotic products and fermented foods.
I became a lab rat
The above changes were no brainers, but one of the most difficult aspects of being pregnant and having a rare form of cancer such as acute myeloid leukemia – which mainly affects older men – was figuring out what was good for both my baby and my own body.
Turmeric, I had discovered, was an anti-leukemia super food according to various blood cancer forums I was browsing in the days following my diagnosis. For two weeks I popped turmeric supplements, juiced the root and turned my every meal golden with the cancer-killing rhizome. That was until I found another article contraindicating it with pregnancy. I felt like I couldn’t win!
Grass fed meat was a rich source of iron and B vitamins, which made it great for pregnancy, but was it a no-no for blood cancer patients? There was no literature or research on how best to navigate the two from a dietary perspective, so I became somewhat of a lab rat for my own health experiments.
I figured out what to eat
In general, I found the safest route was to make a concerted effort to incorporate a rich array of colourful organic fruit and vegetables, grass fed meats and butter, homemade bone broths and sustainable wild fish into my diet. I also made a huge effort to make dinners from scratch. If I felt like a burger, I’d devise one myself at home with lots of greens and spelt bread. If I was craving sugar, I’d gorge on fruit and if I ate something that didn’t make me feel good, I just stopped eating it.
One other big thing was ditching the fatty MSG-laden take-aways that came in plastic containers laced with bisphenol A (BPA). There’s been many studies showing how it’s not great for you to ingest this stuff so I stayed well away!
I didn’t go crazy with supplements
It took some weeks, but eventually I realised the best way forward was to trust my instincts and get back to basics. My strategy became very simple. If I wasn’t sure of the ingredients in a product, I didn’t touch it. I avoided a lot of supplements, save for probiotics, super greens powder and Eagle prenatal multivitamins, as many supplements were contraindicated either in pregnancy or cancer, and I preferred to get my vitamins and minerals straight from my diet, to err on the safe side.
I also began meditating daily as well as walking up to 7km depending on my energy levels. I made sure I spent at least 15 minutes twice a day exposing my belly and body to the morning and afternoon sun to keep my vitamin D levels up.
Strangely enough, for the first time in my life, I was able to meditate more deeply following my diagnosis as I had begun – unintentionally – to practice mindfulness. When you have no idea what your future holds, if there is one at all, suddenly that incessant voice in your head seems to lower in volume and I found deep meditation came more easily. And in a strange twist, the chronic anxiety I had battled for the best part of a decade also disappeared, too.
I began to taste things properly again
Coincidentally, I’d read a fascinating book a few months before my diagnosis, called The Dorito Effect, by Mark Schatzker. The book explained that artificial flavours, depleted soil and bland, commercially farmed produce had played havoc with our sense of taste and contributed to the loss of our instinctive consumption of food in line with our bodies’ nutritional needs.
A few months after altering my diet towards locally produced organic produce and removing artificial flavours, I was astounded at how my palette had changed. Flavours seemed more enhanced, and I felt much more attuned to my body’s cravings and less confused about the best foods to satisfy and nourish it nutritionally. I suddenly began to really enjoy healthy food, which lifted my mood and spirit.
Nine months later
On December 13, 2016, I welcomed my beautiful baby boy, Tor, into the world. Despite being induced at 36 weeks and having spent most of the year in a body that had been battling cancer, he needed no special care and weighed a healthy 3.1kg.
I can’t say for sure, but I truly feel that my efforts to nourish my body physically and spiritually with wholesome organic food and a positive mindset gave me and my baby the fighting chance we needed to both beat the odds. Taking care of your health during your pregnancy is vitally important – I should know.