Behind the bump
HIGH-PROFILE FITNESS PROFESSIONAL AND OWNER OF HIIT AUSTRALIA CHONTEL DUNCAN FOUND HERSELF SCRUTINISED FOR HER FITNESS APPROACH DURING HER PREGNANCY. HOWEVER, AFTER HAVING A HEALTHY PREGNANCY, GORGEOUS BABY BOY AND FAST RECOVERY, SHE NOT ONLY PROVED THE ‘HATERS’ WRONG, BUT ALSO LEARNT A GREAT DEAL MORE ABOUT HERSELF.
BY KIRSTIN CUTHBERT | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DALLAS OLSEN |HAIR & MAKEUP BY LISA LEE
Chontel Duncan was insulted, shamed and humiliated for the size of her baby bump and the fact that she had visible abs and kept very active during her pregnancy. Her publicised pregnancy shone light on the harsh realities social media brings. With the support of her husband, Sam Duncan, she learnt whose opinions matter and whose should be dismissed. But it wasn’t so easy at first.
Running their business HIIT Australia, Chontel and Sam weren’t sure how things would pan out after originally finding out they were pregnant.
“Initially when we first found out, I did have a quick thought of whether this would end my career altogether,” Chontel admits.
“Like how is this going to impact on my other branch owners; will this affect my staff’s jobs? I guess I felt a little guilty and selfish; that was my freak-out moment.”
Her thoughts then moved from concern about the business to concern about a huge number of people finding out.
“Then I was afraid to expose the pregnancy,” she says, “because I was entering the unknown, meaning I has no idea if I was going to have a successful pregnancy without complication, and if I was to experience any of this, I would have to also deal with the hundreds of thousands of people who follow me.”
And she had reason for
this concern. During her pregnancy, her following grew dramatically (now more than 600,000 on Instagram) and many people expressed their opinions about her pregnancy and lifestyle throughout it.
“It all started with the way I was carrying, as I had a small bump and didn’t show much until the end of my pregnancy,” she says.
“However, the focus soon turned to my behavious due to the fact that I continued to train.
“I did receive more positive feedback than negative; however, the negative comments I did receive were extremely harsh.
“I was called anorexic, selfish, an idiot, they wished my baby to be stillborn, that I didn’t deserve to be a mother, that my child would be born disabled — the insults just kept coming.”
Due to the nature of social media, the attention quickly escalated, but Chontel soon learnt the opinions she should really listen to.
“At first I would explain and defend myself,” she says.
“However, these articles were very quickly spread across the entire world and therefore I could not possibly respond to everyone.
“Initially, I felt defenceless and humiliated. However, I was
so extremely confident in my abilities, my doctor and the team who took me through my pregnancy. I was confident in my health and strongly believe my mindset was what truly got me through it all.
“I always said that my body was designed to create life,
that I was basically preparing my body for a marathon called ‘labour’. I feel that my constant level of discipline practised for more than five years prior to conceiving may have benefitted me in the end.”
Chontel’s dedication to
Muay Thai, strength and conditioning training and eating a balanced diet following the 80:20 ratio truly paid off as her pregnancy progressed.
“I was very blessed that
within my first trimester of pregnancy, I had no nausea or any other negative symptoms, so this certainly gave me the confidence to keep going as I was managing work, exercise and a great appetite very well,” she says.
“My mindset was this: if I
was tired, I took it easy, but didn’t give up; if I was craving something, those cravings exist outside of a pregnancy
so I didn’t get caught up in the moment; and when I trained, I only ever did what my doctor approved and if I felt different within the movement, I would simply eliminate it from my training regime.
“I was pregnant, not sick — and certainly not dying.
“We constantly underestimate the human body, and I was 100 per cent blown away with what I was capable of achieving with my pregnancy, which I feel was all possible from holding a strong mindset.”
Chontel followed her instincts and what she knew best, and it certainly paid off. Her son was not stillborn, underweight or unhealthy like some of the Internet critics had predicted.
“Jeremiah was born a healthy seven pound 13 ounces with no health problems, passed all physical tests, latched perfectly first go and even had the nurses shocked at how far he could lift his head,” she says.
He was delivered via category two cesarean section and Chontel admits she was a little saddened that she couldn’t deliver him naturally at first.
“This was purely due to the instructions of a midwife who got me to push too early,” she says. “I certainly gave it my best shot for a solid hour of pushing.”
“The nurses soon realised that there was no progression and my cervix had in fact gone from 9cm dilated to 6cm due to the swelling.
“My heart sank when I was informed that a natural birth was now not possible, especially after being in labour for more than 12 hours at home and 18 hours in hospital.
“I do remember feeling a little ripped off at the time, not to mention thinking, ‘Great, just one more thing for the public to rip on me about’.
“Overall, though, I was just really excited to soon meet my baby boy.”
Now able to focus on herself
and her family, rather than any criticism she occasionally receives, Chontel has some advice regarding what to expect from the platforms.
“The beautiful thing about everyone is that we are all different in our own special way, so don’t ever set unrealistic expectations believing that your good intentions will be seen or approved by everyone,” she says.
“Unfortunately, this will never be the case, and the sooner you accept it, the easier you will find reading those negative comments to be. Go into the world of social media open- minded, seek to just inspire one person, not all, and be humble in everything you do.”
And for her fellow fit mums, Chontel has some words of wisdom should any of you receive criticism over your lifestyle.
“My advice would be to keep your doctor constantly updated on your movements,” she says.
“I would always supply video footage, the number of sessions and length of each session to my doctor at each appointment.
“With the support of a professional team behind you, the criticism you may receive can easily be fixed with a response explaining what your doctors have instructed you to do and why.
“This could potentially inspire others to kick-start a healthy lifestyle in preparation for starting a family in the near future.
“Now, if criticism continues, which most times it will, you
need to be able to stay focused on the most important thing: your unborn child, who will feel the emotional stress you will have if you allow these comments to upset you. Protect your baby and stay confident, positive and stress-free.”
Chontel believes living a healthy and active lifestyle allows us to achieve great things in life and that we often underestimate our true abilities.
“I have learnt that our bodies are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for,” she says.
“I remember when I first started my company, people would say that I would burn out and crash working 80 to 90 hours a week, training six to eight times a week and sleeping four to six hours a night, sometimes less.
“I would always reply that
our bodies are designed much stronger than what I am even using mine for. Four years on and I knew I had proven them all wrong, as my company soon became an empire and at no point had my body let me down.
“Now, when I fell pregnant, I continued the exact level of hard work while growing a little human inside of me and at no point did I crash, fall or crumble...
“My body exceeded even my own expectations and I do believe this was greatly due to living an active and healthy lifestyle.”
Chontel and Sam plan to open plenty more HIIT Australia branches and grow a large family of four children. As someone who has truly learnt the importance of confidence, Chontel is now able to inspire others around the world to harness self-confidence too.
“Hold confidence in who you are, your message and all that you do,” she says. “No one can dull your shine when you are 100 per cent confident in who you are.”