Hannah Wielemaker on motherhood, the rhythms of change, and creating a legacy of movement.

“Oh my gosh, sorry!” Hannah Wielemaker chimes in following a giddy toddler squeal from her almost 2-year old daughter Charlotte, or Charlie as most call her.

Hannah talks and laughs easily as she drives home with Charlie, occasionally pausing to reflect, to respond to Charlie’s sweet interruptions, and to unbuckle and unpack her little one when they arrive. We reconvene in a long voice note later, presumably in a quiet moment of triumph (and multitasking) after Charlie settles into sleep for the evening. I imagine her gliding through the living room scooping up what’s left of their morning play, speaking softly and moving efficiently without sound towards the kitchen. Hannah begins a simple meal or snack prep, I imagine, planning an outing for the next day, stopping short for a moment to track down her phone, which is balanced somewhere on a passing bookshelf, orienting herself to the upcoming coursework and deadlines, or catching up with her husband at the end of a cold Alberta day – maybe all at once.

Hannah is a lifelong learner, the kind to dive deep. She’s also a loyal friend, sister, daughter, and wife. Somehow, she’s also a traveler, an explorer, a home-body, a settle-in-and-be-present person, an avid list-maker, and a humble high-achiever. And, of course, she is an incredible and dedicated mother to Charlie, her loveable auburn-haired firstborn. As a little girl in a big family, Hannah grew up on the move, from the garden of her childhood home in Brooks, Alberta to a busy playground in Bolivia where her family spent several years together. Her momentous love for travel (and movement) continued, taking her to university in Victoria, Canada, to studying Spanish in San Jose, Costa Rica, then back to a degree in nursing, where she met her husband and began to reshape what her own home and family could be. After a few years working as a Registered Nurse, Hannah welcomed Charlie into the world and made the decision to be at home for these big and formative – for both of them – years. This transition into motherhood sparked a new wave of discovery in Hannah; to build a life and legacy of movement, health, and joy for her family and herself – one that would stand the test of stage and season. She began studying natural nutrition remotely in the fall of 2022 from her home in Edmonton, Alberta, fuelled by the desire to grow Charlie up well and guide other parents and children as they navigate ever-changing health issues and expectations.

On any given day, you’ll find Hannah moving: outside exploring the glorious nature of summertime with Charlie, on a leisurely weekend bike ride with her family, getting up to stretch between online classes, hiking somewhere spectacular in the Alberta Rockies, or lifting weights and creating new circuits just for herself during an afternoon nap time. It’s a season of constant adjustment and discovery, but also one of deep, newfound appreciation, softness, and joy in her own fitness mindset and postpartum recovery as she reflects on what her body needs each day and yearns to explore in years to come.

 


 

Johanna Richardson: I’d love to hear about your movement background before having Charlie! How has your “movement philosophy” evolved over time?

As a child, I don’t think I really thought about movement. We just did it. I grew up on a farm, so we were just always outside, always doing something. Working in the garden or just running around. Then, I lived in South America for a little bit, and again, I was just always outside. Playing soccer or at the park or whatever it may be.

As a teenager, I went through a bit of a weird time in my health. At 13, I developed a chronic infection that put me on antibiotics for a year and a half. During that time I just felt so gross and not myself. I did do sports before then, but eventually I had to stop and never went back to it. I had a few years, between the ages of 13 to 17, spent with not a whole lot of movement. I would go for walks here and there, but honestly, those were pretty sedentary years. A lot of it was just kind of mourning the loss that came with having that infection and experiencing a lot of big moves early on in my life. Movement kind of took the back burner.

Eventually in my young adult years, I moved once again to Costa Rica for a time. I felt super independent, just on fire, loving life, and started getting back into movement. That started out as running. That was kind of the starting point for my movement journey in early adulthood, and that evolved over time.

JR: Looking back on those experiences and your movement journey over the years, how would you say it has changed?

Movement became a big part of my life in early adulthood, around 17 or 18. That’s when I started moving with intention. I started running and making goals for myself in that. Shortly after, I started group boot camps. That evolved into weight lifting, which became something I really loved. And I think it definitely built my confidence…  feeling strong and healthy.

I didn’t want to be “the skinny girl”. I wanted to be “the strong girl”, competent. I had goals and then I met those goals. I learned a lot about my body and about how to incorporate weight lifting properly into a healthy life.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t take a lot of pride in how my body looked during those years. I was really strong and physically I looked really good, and I liked that. That was a huge motivator for me at the time.

I thought that through my pregnancy I would feel a lot more attached to my pre-pregnancy body, but I wasn’t. I was totally open to it changing. As soon as I had a kid in my arms, suddenly it just didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if I had abs. It didn’t matter if my arms looked super jacked all the time. It didn’t matter if I could squat 190 pounds. Those things didn’t matter, and suddenly movement just became functional. It was a part of life because I wanted my daughter to see me caring for my body, and that’s what movement is. I want her to know that movement is part of a healthy lifestyle. For me now, it’s a lot more functional. It’s about feeling good.

There is an element of movement that can bring that confidence – I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think it should be the only thing either. Now I move because it’ll keep me healthy longer, and I want to be around for a long time for my daughter.

JR: Those are big changes, in lifestyle and in motivation. What was the biggest thing you needed to learn in moving during pregnancy?

When I was pregnant, I moved in the way I knew how. I did a lot of weightlifting (which I love), but I didn’t push my body too hard. I kept those old ideals during pregnancy. I thought “I’m going to do this because then my body is going to bounce back, and then I’m going to be that mom that’s a couple months postpartum with abs and whatever”.

As soon as I became a mom, my focus just shifted. Movement became less about having a six pack and more about just being able to feel good being on the ground with my kid, carrying my kid around all day, and going on long walks. Movement became way more functional when I became a mom.

I wish I would have known that that mindset shift would come, because I think I would have put less pressure on myself during pregnancy to be perfect, or to be “done” postpartum at three months because that’s when you have to start bouncing back. That was a much-needed mindset shift. My relationship with movement is so much healthier now; I move because it’s good for me. I move because it’s functional. I move because it has so many benefits. I look at it through a different lens now.

JR: What do you find your body and your health needs most in this postpartum season?

That totally depends. Early postpartum, my body needed a lot of rest and nourishment. It was about healing and recovering after nine months of pregnancy and a baby taking all of those nutrients from my body! Then I entered into a season of breastfeeding where, again, my body is just giving a lot, and so I really needed to focus on resting it and nourishing it. I focused on healing my core and my pelvic floor. I did a program and that was challenging for me – I like feeling like I had a “good” workout, but this program mainly focused on breathing and repositioning my legs to engage my core. I would finish and think, “Oh my goodness, that was not a workout.” But I’m so grateful I did, because it trained me to breathe properly, engage my core properly, and just to continue the healing of my body after delivering a baby. That was also something that I needed to accept and pivot in my mentality. I didn’t put pressure on myself postpartum, but it was natural for me to approach movement like: “If I’m going to work out, I’m going to work out.”

Eventually, I hit this rhythm. For me, that was probably around four to six months where I felt like my body had regulated, and I had a good recovery from labor. That’s when I started jumping back into a new rhythm with movement where I could have bigger goals again. Before then, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself, doing light movement like walks, core work, breathing, and things like that.

My daughter recently hit 18 months, I was still breastfeeding, and I hit this wall where my body was so depleted and I was exhausted. We had just come back from a trip, her sleep was off, I wasn’t sleeping, and I had to step back and give myself grace; give my body time to rest again. It felt so hard. I had thought, “Okay, I’m 18 months postpartum. I should be in this awesome rhythm again and should be feeling strong.” But, after a year and a half of breastfeeding, my body was feeling really depleted. That was something that recently came up where I just had to, again, readjust my expectations for movement. I had to relearn being okay with not going on runs or not weight lifting. Being okay with a light walk because that’s all my body could handle.

JR: How do you find joy in movement in this season of life?

As I mentioned, around 18 months postpartum, I went through a time of feeling depleted in terms of my nutrition and physical capacity. I felt like a lot was being sucked out of me with breastfeeding and exhaustion after that trip. So, I gave myself a couple months, not pushing my body too hard, just focusing on walks, getting outside, and moving my body lightly. I find so much joy in moving together with my daughter; in pausing to take in our surroundings and in seeing her love of nature. Often, we just stop and watch the birds at the lake and then make our way to the park. It’s nice to move in that way.

Now that I’m back into a rhythm of doing more intentional movement on my own, I find a lot of joy in realizing how incredible our bodies are. I took a couple months away from weightlifting to rest, but coming back into it, I realize how strong I still am and how my body has that muscle memory. It’s pretty incredible. I had been discouraged, I was in a bit of a slump, disappointed with my body, but I’m now realizing and accepting when it simply needs rest. That’s been fun.

My daughter’s at such a fun age where she is trying to do everything I’m doing. If I’m doing jumping jacks, she wants to do jumping jacks with me. If I grunt while I’m doing a push up, she’ll lay on the floor next to me grunting. It’s fun. There’s humour in it. It’s fun to be lighthearted. Before, I felt like I was just running out of time with my days. I wasn’t able to set aside time alone to go to the gym. Then I realized: I can just bring her with me! Why not?

And so it was a good reminder to bring her with me. Of course that makes sense. It’s a fun activity where she can learn new words and new ways to move her body. She’s learning to jump right now, so seeing her watching me do jump squats and trying to do them, that brings me a lot of joy.

JR: Describe the relationship between movement and mental health, especially regarding pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

In my early adulthood, I had a bit of anxiety (or some would say probably a decent amount of anxiety). Movement was a huge outlet for that. I noticed such a difference in my mood when I was able to make goals and achieve them. It kind of puts a pause on any anxiety and refocuses all that energy into something else. And that’s on top of the natural effects of movement, what it does to your body. It’s one of the ways that I can mitigate that anxiety in my day to day. Movement is essential for me in that way.

During my pregnancy, it was the height of COVID and I wasn’t seeing a ton of people and it was also rainy and wintery where I was living. It was pretty gloomy, on top of all of the physical changes that come with pregnancy. Suddenly it’s hard to get out of bed, and suddenly it’s hard to do the things that you normally do. Getting out and having intentional movement was so essential for me. I saw people because I went to the gym and went together with my husband. It got me out of the house. Movement during pregnancy was huge.

I remember the early days of postpartum as well. Most people work, but you’re home alone with your baby. I wasn’t near my family. My husband was in school full time. Without those daily walks, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I’m someone who likes to get up in the morning, get ready, put a little effort into myself, and maintain a routine. I think that goes a long way. So, Charlie and I would get up each day, get ready, walk to Starbucks. We walked so many kilometers each day in the beautiful area of Vancouver where we lived. That got me through those early months of postpartum and really brightened my days. I’m grateful that my recovery from labor allowed me to be able to move in that way.

JR: You mention a trip during those postpartum months. When Charlie was just over a year old, you packed up and traveled through Europe for a few weeks. Tell me about how you travel and move with family and a toddler?

We spent two weeks in France – my husband, daughter and I – and then I went to Spain with just my daughter and my sister-in-law afterwards. Travel has changed significantly since having a kid, from the flights you book, to the place you choose to stay, to what you do each day. It looks completely different than when it was just my husband and I traveling around, or just me before that. But it’s good! You just have to manage expectations, figure out what’s realistic for each day, and be adaptable. We really tried when we first got to France. We attempted to pack our days full. We had a list of all the things we wanted to do, and we quickly realized that it just wasn’t going to happen. And that was okay.

I love that we were able to travel with Charlie, and that I could do that on my own. It incorporates a lot of movement. We walked everywhere, especially when we were in the cities. It’s such a fun way to see a city, and I’m really grateful that both my husband and I can do that – that our bodies are able to move in that way and be flexible. That’s a huge motivation to continue to keep up with our movement, because we have lots of dreams for things that we want to see and do with our kids. Lots more travel plans.

With postpartum – you’re technically always postpartum after you have a baby – you think it’s like this one year, mat leave is up, you’re not postpartum anymore, everything should be normal. But your body goes through a lot, and it’s a lot of managing expectations.

JR: I love how much movement means to you and your husband! How does it look for you both to move together, and encourage each other in movement?

In our early years together and in the first years of marriage, working out together was just something we did. We started it as soon as we started dating, and carried it through. It wasn’t until we had Charlie that we stopped. Logistically, it didn’t really make sense or sometimes it just wasn’t possible. We still do try though! Early on in postpartum, we would go for walks or hikes together and make time for things like that. Now that we’re just, I guess, caught up in real life – him working all the time and me being at home – our movement is pretty separate. That’s okay though, and he’s been a huge support for me in figuring out what works along the way.

I originally thought: “Okay, I’m going to try the gym and gym daycare thing”. It was just hard and it wasn’t working! We ended up just putting equipment in our home. I’m grateful that he’s supportive of that and realizes how important movement is in my life. In this stage of life with Charlie, we encourage each other. It’s still a big part of our lives.

JR: Why is it important to you to raise Charlie around movement, and how you make intentional decisions to include her in that along with you?

Raising Charlie around movement is really important. We take the approach where lessons instil habits in her now – this sets the precedent for the future. We take that approach with a lot of things: how we live, how we eat, how we move. We just think that it’s really important that she grows up knowing that the first thing we do when we’re bored isn’t to sit by the TV, or to sit on our phones, or whatever it may be. Instead, we can go outside, or we could do an activity inside, or we could go explore somewhere. I think that’s a precedent we want to set for her, and it’s a lot easier to set it now when she’s young than rather when she’s 12 and we’re trying to get our child to enjoy moving. We want her to see that it is a joy to move, and that we’re privileged and lucky to be able to move!

As for the how, I think we just bring her along. In those first six months with her, we weren’t around family or a lot of our community. We lived on the West Coast and did lots of hiking with her. That got us in the habit. My husband is really good at challenging me with that. Sometimes I’ll think it’s too much work, but he’s good at holding me accountable. He’ll tell me: “Hannah, we said that we would do all the things we loved even when we have kids”. Of course that comes with compromise at times, and managing expectations, but we still try to take that approach and enjoy what we love even with kids. Oftentimes, that’s movement.

Movement is just part of our lives. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what we do as an example for her when it’s just something you do, you know? It’s second nature, but that took work. Thankfully it was a part of our lifestyle before we had her, so it was just easier to transition her into that. That’s not to say that if you find that you live a sedentary lifestyle, you can’t make that transition. You can always change things. You can always change habits. I would encourage everyone to not see parenthood as a limitation, but instead as an opportunity to instil really good habits in them. And take them along with you. It’s fun – it’s a lot more challenging for sure, but with challenge comes reward.

JR: Tell us about the inspiration for your new studies and small business. What is your vision for this personal project?

This year I began studying holistic nutrition. I had previously studied nursing and worked as a registered nurse before I had my daughter, but the inspiration for exploring a new career for sure comes from my daughter. When I first started figuring out how I wanted to feed her, what I wanted her relationship to food to look like, and the habits that I wanted her to grow up with, it was overwhelming to navigate. There’s a lot of noise out there and all these different opinions. You enter a grocery store and there’s even more noise. There are so many options, all of them marketed towards kids, but it’s really difficult to navigate. Then you start flipping over the food packages and looking at the labels, and it’s even more overwhelming!

I’ve always had a passion for food and having Charlie made me realize; if this is hard for me to navigate, I can’t imagine what it would be like for a mom with multiple kids, a working mom, a single mom, or parents who don’t have time to learn about it but wants to raise a healthy child. That’s why I decided to go on this path; my hope is that I can educate moms and give them the tools they need to make decisions about how they feed their kids. I feel really strongly that if we don’t raise kids up to learn about food, where it comes from, and how to prepare it, that that’s going to become a lost art. I really think eating natural, good foods is essential to a healthy life.

For now, I’ve started out on social media, providing free resources and education for moms with a similar mindset and those who don’t have a similar mindset right now. If someone comes across my page and they learn something new, and maybe shift their mindset because of it, I think that’s wonderful. I really do think it’s important for people to learn and to make their own decisions, so that’s what I hope to do; provide resources so that people feel informed in their decision making.

I have big goals for Health with Hannah. I am hopeful that this will lead down a path where I’m able to be at home with my kids and work as well, doing something that I love and feel passionate about. For now, while I’m in school, I’m on social media. That will probably evolve into a blog, and then I’ll eventually take on clients. I would love to do consulting with families. From there we’ll see! It’s exciting. I feel like the options are endless, but I just have to start one step at a time.

JR: How do you build new healthy habits into your life with a young baby and family?

Living a healthy lifestyle and raising Charlie (and hopefully more children) in a healthy home is just a priority for both my husband and I. We start with one thing at a time. Just starting one thing at a time and learning about our ‘why’ for it is the main thing. From there, we figure out how it can fall into our routine.

Adding a healthy habit can feel overwhelming for people, myself included. There have been moments of “Oh my goodness, we need to do this, that, this, that, all these things.” But it’s important to step back, start with one thing, really embed it into your routine, and figure out how it actually fits in. Once it becomes second nature and it’s just a part of how you live your life, then you bring in another one, and the pattern continues.

With incorporating healthy habits, it’s important to not overwhelm yourself with it. I would say just one thing at a time and know why you’re doing it. You don’t ever want to do something blindly, because you won’t keep up with it.

JR: I’m going to branch out a bit, to something you’re a little less comfortable with. In what ways would you call yourself creative?

Until this past year, I would’ve never claimed to be creative. I never thought that I was an artistic or creative person in any way, although that was something that I always admired in other people and wished that I had. But, something about becoming a mom just gives you this confidence to just go for it, and try different things. That probably happens with age too, where you just aren’t as afraid of failure.

I’ve started exploring with my camera, and I’ve had fun with it. It’s a no pressure kind of thing. Sometimes I end up with good shots that I love, and it’s been fun, especially during this time with a young family. I love being able to document. And then in moving to our first home, I think I’ve been able to acknowledge that I have a bit of creativity in me – a vision that I can bring to life, trusting my instinct with how I decorate and set it up. This year I also started up this Instagram page related to my natural nutrition studies called Health with Hannah (@healthwithhannah). I was working with a graphic designer on the page and branding, and she spoke to me, encouraged me, and acknowledged my creativity and vision for it.

I think as I get older and more confident in my decision making, I’m starting to see that I do have a unique way of seeing things, a vision for a certain aesthetic, and that I can really bring it to life. There’s a lot of trial and error in that too, and that’s okay. That’s part of the process.