emma igelström x najell

Power people: Najell x Emma Igelström

We at Najell want to encourage parents to maintain their identity, continue doing what they love, and parent in their own way. In this series of interviews, we highlight and discuss all aspects of parenting with our selected power people. People we believe to be strong in themselves, their parenting, and above all else, aim to empower others.

In this interview, we meet the former Swedish swimmer Emma Igelström, @emmaigelstrom on Instagram. We’ve seen her swimming at record speeds. But now she’s inspiring others with her teachings on how going at full speed can sometimes lead to a complete crash. She has spoken openly about her struggles with eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Today, she has found her way back to herself and is enjoying life with her beautiful family. We talk about performance stress, unsustainable body standards and eating disorders, and the unfiltered truth about pregnancy.

Last August, her son Loui arrived as a small miracle. After two uterine tumours were removed, the pregnancy was neither planned and somewhat against all odds. Nevertheless, Emma was calm around the situation.

– We know that many people struggle with the fear of infertility, that something will go wrong during pregnancy or that there will be complications at birth. What do you have to say to them?

“I am so convinced that you can train your thoughts. Accept that those worrying thoughts may come (they did for me too) but also ask yourself: “Can I influence this in any way?”. If I can’t, I train myself to let go of that thought. There’s no point in worrying about something I can’t influence anyway. It just takes a lot of energy that we all need for things we can actually influence.”

Thankfully Emma continued on to have a healthy pregnancy. However, it didn’t mean it was all calm waters. Emma has spoken openly about this time, saying that “this glorification of pregnancy and this abundance of styled pregnancy pictures makes me feel dull”.

– What was your unfiltered truth? How did you look during pregnancy?

“My unfiltered truth was 17 weeks of feeling bad. The rest of the time was okay, but certainly nothing I miss or anything powerful. More a feeling of having to go through this to meet the little one. So it was definitely worth it but not a state I crave. Of course it was a time of gratitude.”

– Many pregnant people experience another side of pregnancy that is rarely talked about. An emotional storm that can involve mood swings, sadness and even depression. What would you like to say to all these parents? How do you get through it?

“I had postpartum depression with my first child but didn’t realise it until a long time after. I was ashamed to talk about it as I thought it was shameful to feel bad when I was doing so well. Talk, talk, talk! Many people are in the same situation. The glamorous baby life only exists on social media. Everyone goes through different things. There is help available and the best thing you can do for yourself (and your baby) is to reach out and ask for help.”

– You often write about being driven by achievement. Many parents feel a constant pressure as they enter parenthood, to be “the perfect parent.” How do you deal with this?

“I have to say that I let go of the performance requirements completely when it comes to parenting. Certainly part of the explanation is age. But also that I had high expectations of myself as a parent in the past and felt like a failure many times even though I was doing/did my best. Despite that, I have the most wonderful 15-year-old in the world. It makes me realise that I am good enough and regardless, we can all just do our best based on the conditions we have. Love is the best thing we can give our children.”

emma igelström

– When it comes down to it, it’s about trying to find balance in life. What do you think is important to achieve this?

“Realising that there is not one recipe for a balanced life, each of us has to find our own balance. For me, that realisation has been important to stop comparing myself to others. My balance is about prioritising what is really most important to me. Family, sleep, exercise and food. The rest is a bonus.”

– After pregnancy, it’s easy to feel that your body and willpower aren’t really working in harmony. What’s your advice for those looking to get going postpartum?

“Don’t listen to anyone else, listen to yourself and your body. Take it easy, give your body what it needs and the time it needs. Again, don’t compare yourself, everyone has different conditions after pregnancy and childbirth. I gave birth by caesarean and have had a much longer recovery time this time.”

– It’s easy to feel like you constantly have to live up to a certain ideal, which is often a result of societal norms and what you see on social media. Sometimes it can even lead to eating disorders. How do you think society, the media and social media influences women’s view of their bodies? 

“We are super influenced by ideals and norms all the time. I notice that especially in my teenage son. However, I can see a positive thing with social media too. Many of the influencers of young people today, such as Therese Lindgren and Bianca Ingrosso, are talking about this and the issue is being brought to light. I’m very happy about that.”

– Do you have any tips on how to discuss eating disorders with young people in the hopes to prevent them from developing?

“I think it’s important to be vocal and dare to talk about these things. It should not be shameful to talk about food at all. If you start avoiding talking about it, it’s more likely to become a silent issue. For me, it’s also super important to give my kids good self-esteem by not just praising them for what they do, but feeding them positive things based on who they are. I myself hated being constantly told how good I was. It’s the most hackneyed expression I know.”

– Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to all the new parents or parents-to-be out there, what would it be?

“Relax. It will all work out. Trust your gut AND enjoy! Time goes by too fast…”

More reading

Want to read more? Read our other interviews with Nadia Kenza and Mariette here.