Being Mama: Deepika Chopra
She might be the ‘Optimism Doctor’, but this refreshingly candid mama-of-one doesn’t shy from sharing the not-so-shiny sides of motherhood (or dancing on tables ’til 4am, for that matter…).
Six weeks into her pregnancy, Deepika Chopra’s gluten-free, dairy-free and anti-inflammatory diet went right out the window. “The only thing I could keep down were Egg McMuffins from McDonald’s and loaded baked potatoes,” says the Optimism Doctor (we’ll get to that job title in a moment) who suffered a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, characterized by uncontrolled vomiting, for the entire duration of her pregnancy. “It was brutal, horrific and absolutely the most challenging and, I have to admit, horrible period of my life thus far.”
Having made a career out of looking on the brighter side of life, months on end of misery were not Deepika’s style. A doctor of clinical health psychology, she specializes in researching the science behind optimism, happiness and visual imagery, and works with clients and corporations to access and optimize their positivity. But despite her expertise, in the throes of throwing up around 20 times a day, Deepika struggled to find a scrap of optimism.
“One thing that kind of helped me in the moment, although just briefly, was scratching and sniffing lemons. I must have looked so bizarre. I would carry a lemon with me in my purse!” she laughs. “I literally would have to leave stores or restaurants if someone in the whole place used a product that I could smell and made me sick… it was just awful! It got to the point that if I had to hear one more person say to me, ‘Just try some ginger tea’ or, ‘At least this means your pregnancy is a strong one’, I felt like I was going to explode!
Deepika’s son, Jag, is now 21 months old, and while his mother is back to her optimistic self, she’s also an advocate for transparency – “especially in regards to social media” – and is unflinchingly open on the ups and downs of motherhood. Scroll her Instagram feed and alongside affirmations you’ll find honest commentary on postpartum periods, sleep regressions, separation anxiety (Deepika’s, not Jag’s) and how she spent her 35thbirthday clubbing until 4am. “I didn’t even drink but I danced on a table for a large portion of the night and had the best time!” she says, and also shares: “I’m not sure if this is TMI… but man oh man I wish I walked around topless more often or appreciated my boobs more pre-pregnancy and pre-breastfeeding because they were amazing and, well, they’re are all gone now.”
When asked what she’s enjoying most about her current stage of motherhood, at a time when her toddler has started dropping spontaneous ‘I love you!’s, Deepika rolls out a list of dichotomies: “The good, the bad, the easy, the hard, the feeling so full and also so empty, the exhaustion and the infinite amount of energy I somehow feel like I have, the feeling helpless at times and the feeling like a G-damn superhero all at once.”
When asked what she’s struggling with, she responds with “Meals!” as Jag would rather run amok than sit down for dinner. “I am having to learn to set aside my anxiety and cultural upbringing about food – we just constantly want to make sure everyone around us is fed – and trust that Jag knows if he wants to eat or not and that is okay!”
She might have had a more traditional Indian upbringing when it came to food, but Deepika’s mother and father took a modern parenting style. “My parents have always been extremely open. I guess this goes back to the transparency I am drawn to. They shared how they felt openly with my sister and I – and with each other.” She describes her mom as “one of the most big-hearted, optimistic people I know” and says her father is, to this day, the first person she calls on for advice.
“He actually sat my husband and I down when we were in the throes of newborn-land and suggested to us that we need to have a weekly date night. It was Thursdays for us, and he would himself come out and watch Jag and we should surprise each other by taking turns planning a night out. He said, “Go back to all the places you fell in love”, because we are lucky enough to be living in the same city where our romance started. I mean, that advice and commitment from my dad was just beyond powerful.”
Deepika and her husband, Alex’s, story began during a mutual friend’s gathering at a Hollywood bar called Harvard & Stone, the very same place that Alex would orchestrate a surprise proposal surrounded by family and friends. That was in February 2015, and before the year was out they were married in a ‘Big Fat Hind-Jew Wedding’ at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes.
A couple of years later, mid-facial, with her phone on loudspeaker, a doctor delivered Deepika the news that she was pregnant. Very pregnant. “My hCG numbers were so high I was either going to be having twins or about to be very sick,” she says. “Obviously the latter happened for me!”
“Like my entire pregnancy, Jag’s birth was absolutely not how I envisioned it or planned it. But as my pregnancy progressed, I really started to let go of any control of how I wanted it to go and I think that helped, given the way things unfolded…”
Jag was breech, and before Deepika had the chance to book in for a caesarean, he decided to make his entrance three weeks early. “Even though my delivery ended up an emergency situation and was so clinical – I got severe preeclampsia and had a c-section – it turned out to be more magical than I could have even imagined.” Alex was in New York when Deepika went into labor, and despite her pre-eclamptic state, she stubbornly held on. “Along with the help of my doctor we kept borrowing and demanding time from the hospital – they were not happy with me.”
After 12 extra hours of labor, Deepika was wheeled into the operating room about a minute after Alex arrived. “It really taught me to trust in myself and to know how much strength and endurance and power I really have within me…something, I don’t think I really ever knew before,” she says. “I knew there were some serious and scary complications that happened during the time of my delivery with Jag, but to be honest, I was just so focused on Jag and then our time together, it wasn’t until six months postpartum did I finally start to piece together what exactly happened to me.”
Along with suffering preeclampsia in her third trimester, Deepika discovered she’s prone to severe blood clotting – a potentially fatal combination if she were to fall pregnant again.
“My risk of having a very severe complication either compromising my life or my future baby’s is quite high, and so it has been a very difficult decision to say the least. Even with all the horrible sickness and complications I was ready to get pregnant again after about 10 months, which really shocked me!”
In a recent, heart-wrenchingly raw Instagram post, Deepika shared that she and Alex might pursue surrogacy. “For now we are considering all of our options… it is not an easy pill to swallow but I am so grateful that I have the knowledge and facts to be able to make a decision with eyes wide open, and also that there are other options for us to be parents to another baby in some way again.
“I know in my heart it is most important that I keep myself safe and alive – I am a mother now and would never do anything to put myself in danger for that reason – but, I still often fantasize about being pregnant and what that would look like risks and all. It’s not easy.”
Deepika rides her emotional highs and lows with the help of daily rituals – reciting a Sanskrit mantra while washing her face in the shower, and a morning walk. “I have also grown to really appreciate Jag and my evening walks looking for the moon, and when Alex plays the guitar and the three of us sing along – we try and do this every night before Jag goes to bed.”
Her exercise regimen isn’t what it used to be (“I’ve maybe taken two classes from the time I was pregnant until now”) but she’s learned that self-care comes in many forms. “If I am doing errands and I walk past a chair massage place I literally will get a five-minute neck massage and that counts! I now meditate for much shorter periods but a couple times a day and I try and take some of my calls outside while walking. Also, I have learned that RSVP-ing no to things and setting boundaries is also a form of self-care – which I have become a lot better at since becoming a mom!”
“Motherhood has completely changed me and has humbled me to the core,” says Deepika, adding that she now counts three-quarters of her clients to be fellow moms. “I feel beyond blessed and grateful to get to do what I love and to be able to bring in my personal experiences. Mothers are a group of individuals who intrinsically carry so much hope and optimism, more so than they know, and it’s a group I absolutely am deeply inspired by.”
Images by Nicki Sebastian Photography