It Sort of Feels Like Bad Sex Education: Perspectives on Pregnancy and Motherhood with Jennifer Noll Folliard, RD, MPH

By Martelle Esposito

Today, we hear from Jennifer Noll Folliard, who is a dietitian and a mom-to-be. She talks to us about what she finds motivating and discouraging, about how pregnancy teaches humility, and how her perspective on nutrition for mothers has changed since becoming pregnant.  

What are you most proud of in your life?

My marriage. I am extremely grateful to have found someone who works with me every day to strengthen our partnership and continue to challenge each other to grow.  

What do you find most challenging in life?

 The loss of my mother. I lost my mother 17 years ago, and it still impacts my daily life. It continues to be my greatest challenge, which has shaped me and pushed me to be stronger and more capable. 

What motivates you? And, why?

Connection to people, and learning what makes them unique gets me up and out of bed in the morning. Understanding and supporting the gifts and talents that different people bring to the world helps me to understand the world better. I enjoy working through complex problems, which I believe can always be solved by getting the right people in the room.  

What discourages you? And, why?

When people are unkind to one another. Life is way to short to be that unhappy and to take it out on others. Unkind behavior goes totally against the idea that people working together can solve/do anything.

Do you have any words of inspiration to live by to share?

I never lose. I either win or learn.
- Nelson Mandela

What has been most surprising to you about pregnancy? 

The most surprising thing about this pregnancy is how difficult it was to get pregnant, and then from there how difficult physically the pregnancy is. My husband and I tried the old fashion way to get pregnant for five years, and with no luck, we sought out the advice of three different fertility specialists. The process of going to a fertility specialist, trying to uncover what the problem is/was, and finally coming to the realization that we should try treatments, was emotionally draining. We decided to give it one more shot (pun intended there because there are SO MANY SHOTS with IVF). We got one viable embryo, and she decided to stick around and make us parents. The other surprising piece of this process is that this little girl has made me so so so sick. I think I hit my lowest point when I had to run out of our dog’s vet appointment to throw up outside the office, and the strength of the vomiting also caused me to pee my pants. Getting pregnant, this pregnancy has been a lesson in humility and really giving up all control. Good practice for being a mom?

What are you most excited for as a mom?

Meeting this little girl, getting to know her, and the joy of helping her on her journey.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting your mom journey?

I should have asked more questions of my mom friends. I am a health professional but there are just things that books cannot and do not tell you. I wish that my mom friends had been more forthcoming and I had asked more questions of their experiences of getting pregnant and their pregnancies. It sort of feels like bad sex education … you only get half the story and then you are totally surprised by the experiences happening to your body.

As someone who works in field of health and nutrition, has your perspective changed since you became pregnant? If so, how? 

My perspective has changed to become more flexible and to see pregnancy as a natural process rather than a need for medical intervention. Also, nutrition and health in my own life has always been extremely important, but it is so fun to see the impact of different foods and food make-up on another person.

How have your experiences during pregnancy impacted how you approach or will approach your work in nutrition in the future?

YES! The prescriptive nature of nutrition during pregnancy, which I know inside and out from books, can sometimes be tough to accomplish with so many changes happening at once to the momma’s body. For example, I could not for the life of me keep any prenatal vitamins down. I tried so many prenatal vitamins, freezing the vitamins, taking them with/without food etc., and they all resulted in nausea or vomiting. I finally found a work-around. I could stomach fortified cereal and one chewable children’s vitamin. Working with patients or even thinking through policy changes for nutrition programs impacting moms and babies, I plan to bring in more flexibility of thought and action! 

Jenn Folliard_headshot_resized.jpg