007: Overcoming Postpartum Depression with Cordelia Gaffar

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007: Overcoming Postpartum Depression with Cordelia Gaffar

Getting through the darkest and most difficult emotions in life isn’t always about sheer force or brute strength. It’s about reassurance, confidence, grace, and learning to use that darkness as a source of power. After having her second child and surviving two miscarriages, Cordelia Gaffar felt less like herself than ever before. Rather than go on antidepressants while nursing her daughter, she dove headfirst into nutrition, fitness, and spiritual practice on a journey to unload the weight of her emotions and get back to who she really was.   

Today, Cordelia Gaffar joins the podcast to talk about the trauma of her postpartum depression, finding relief without going on medication, and how to take back control of the chaos that surrounds us all in everyday life.   

Cordelia is an Emotions Opener and Transformation Strategist who helps leaders lean into difficult emotions so they can show up powerfully. She is the best-selling co-author of America’s Leading Ladies, as well as a new book about her signature Replenish Me Process coming later this year.  

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Pearls of Wisdom


“Create an environment of compassion and self-forgiveness, and peace and joy, and love of life and curiosity.” - @CordeliaGaffar Click To Tweet “You come from a place of self-compassion and whatever is inside of you will radiate out into your household and beyond.” - @CordeliaGaffar Click To Tweet “We, as women, often will find ourselves doing for everybody else and then there's nothing left to give to ourselves.” - Arwen Becker Click To Tweet “There's just something about women empowering and supporting and encouraging one another, that it's unique, it's beautiful, and it's something that we all really, really need.” - Arwen Becker Click To Tweet


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Connect with Arwen Becker



Cordelia Gaffar: I pushed my body and in my last trimester, I fell down the stairs and ended up on bedrest, and then after my baby was born, I immediately was aware that I wasn't myself. And so, when I went for my six-week checkup and asked my OB about it, she was like, “Oh, you know what, we've got something for that.” And so, she went to prescribe antidepressants and I nursed my children so that was a no-no for me. And so, I smiled, took the paper, went to my car and cried.

Arwen Becker: Welcome to She Handled It, a podcast dedicated to sharing empowering stories of women who have faced major adversity and how they overcame it. I'm your host, Arwen Becker. I'm a wife, mom, national speaker, author, entrepreneur, and athlete. But on my journey to these triumphs, I battled many life-altering challenges. Thankfully, I found freedom when I realized I was not alone. I invite you to join me each week as I explore the inspirational stories of determined women who overcame life's toughest moments, ultimately, how she handled it and so can you.

I think I was in seventh grade when my sister told me that I had a fat stomach and I internalized that negative comment. And it turned into a three-year journey where every single night I did three sets of 30 sit-ups. I marked it on this little chart I had created in my room and if I missed a night, I would double up the next night, and if I missed two nights, I would triple up if I needed to. And the good thing was that created core strength within me that I've been able to maintain throughout all my athletics and throughout my life. So, I found myself at an event in 2017 and I was in this ridiculous like peacock strutting comparison conversation with a few other men that were in this coaching group that I was in and they were all kind of hitting my stomach and they were like, "Ooh, ahh,” and yet I had a coach that was standing there and he completely looked unamused.

And he looked at me and he said, “I'm not impressed. I don't know what you're hiding under all of that what I sense is that you are trying to protect something. But when you finally tap into whatever it is that you're walling up and trying to protect and become vulnerable, that's when you'll be unstoppable.” And I was like kind of shocked that somebody talked to me that way because I was used to people telling me great things about me and certainly not publicly calling out my insecurities. But it was actually a turning point in my life because I believed what he was saying was correct. And that I was trying to mask a lot of hurts and mistakes and insecurities that I had with this hard outer shell, and that that was actually making me weaker as a leader, not stronger.

My guest today has made a career guiding leaders using their darkest and most difficult emotions and to do it so they show up powerfully. Yet she does it in a way that's not through sheer force and brute strength. It's through reassuring confidence and grace. And that is what truly drew me to her. So, who is this stunning Cordelia Gaffar? Cordelia is the Emotions Opener Transformation Strategist. So far in 2020, Cordelia has been inducted into The Global Library of Female Authors by Ona Miller, and her book related to her Replenish Me Process will be released later this year. She is also Best Podcast Host of 2019 for her Free To Be Podcast and the ACHI Magazine Volunteer of the Year, and finalist for Top Influencer and Orator of the Year. She is a best-selling co-author of America's leading ladies who positively impact the world with Oprah and several dynamic women. Cordelia currently is studying to become a Tibb practitioner and a coach in the Harlem Wellness Network. She is now also the official sponsor of She Phoenix, Femme Phoenix Ltd. in South Africa to advocating for the Girl Child, teenage girls, young women rights to a better education, health, and life.


Arwen Becker: Cordelia, I'm so excited and happy to have you on the show today. Thank you for joining me.

Cordelia Gaffar: Thank you for having me, Arwen. I'm so excited to be on here with you and it's your light that drew me to you just for the record.

Arwen Becker: No. Well, it's your color that drew me to you. You're helping to get me out of my just wearing black mode. So, you talked a little bit about how leaders use these darkest moments, and they use them and really in a way in which we can show up powerfully. So, why don't you take us back a little bit to yours? What was going on at that point in your life?

Cordelia Gaffar: Of course. So, once upon a time, about 18 years ago, I was working as a, I believe, I was the controller at that time for a small company, and I had two miscarriages. We already had a child who was two and I didn't really talk about the miscarriages. And I went ahead and we have to try to have two kids, right? 2.5 kids, the suburban house and all the things and so I had to do that by 30. And so, I pushed my body and in my last trimester, I fell down the stairs and ended up on bedrest, and then after my baby was born, I immediately was aware that I wasn't myself. And so, when I went for my six-week checkup and asked my OB about it, she was like, “Oh, you know what, we've got something for that.” And so, she went to prescribe antidepressants and I nursed my children so that was a no-no for me. And so, I smiled, took the paper, went to my car and cried for half an hour. And then I said, “Okay. You know how to do this. You know your body better than any doctor. So, what are you going to do?” And so, I just poured myself into studying about nutrition and fitness and all the things to reduce stress and more mindfulness, more spiritual practices, and all the things and just wanting to unload the weight of my emotions and get back to who I really am. Yeah, so that was my darkest moments.

Arwen Becker: Yeah. Certainly. And so, what was it that made you, it's funny because you say that two kids by 30 and my husband goes, "Why didn't you tell me that you had already made that list?” Because it's like I'm having my first kid by 30, my second kid by 32. They're going to be two years apart, and then putting all that pressure that it's got to be that way. But what was it for you that you started sensing personally where you knew that something wasn't right? I mean, what was going on in your life or within your mind or your body that was giving you this feeling that I need to go and talk to somebody about this?

Cordelia Gaffar: It was pretty obvious. I mean, with my daughter, I only gained 25 pounds. With my son, I gained 65. Like with my daughter, I looked her in the eyes and it was love at first sight. With my son, I was just like, “I know I'm looking at a baby but for some reason, I don't feel any connection.”

Arwen Becker: Were there feelings of guilt and other feelings that were starting to spin out of that and confusion because of it?

Cordelia Gaffar: I was completely confused and I definitely felt guilty. I felt guilty for having miscarriages. I felt like a failure for having miscarriages. And I didn't even realize like the weight of all that, and not processing the grief of losing those children. Like I didn't allow myself to focus on the loss of those children. And all the things were really piling on. And then there was no one really to talk to because both of my parents passed before I even got married. So, it's not like I can go and call my mom or anything like that. And you know how families are a little strange after death. So, I didn't really have a really close relationship with my sisters at that time either. So, the only person that I was really talking to is my sister-in-law and we didn't have a quick bond, let's just say. So, yeah, I didn't have any immediate support.

Arwen Becker: Right. And then so going into the doctor, was it pretty quick that they were saying this is the medication that's going to help solve your problems? There weren't any discussions of really much outside of that?

Cordelia Gaffar: Nope. Yeah, she was just like more than happy. I mean, if you saw the smile on her face when she gave me that piece of paper, I just want to know what kind of kickback that meant. Like, she wasn't like, "Here's the name of a counselor.” None of those things. Yeah. I was like, "So how much is that? Is that like $10,000, $5,000?”

Arwen Becker: Right. You know, it's interesting because you remind me when I first, well, I knew that there was something with my middle son because I have three boys. So, I have my older son was considerably older. They’re eight years apart. And so, the things that I was seeing in Ashton, our middle guy, seemed different but I'm like, "Well, maybe it's just been such a significant period of time since Morgan was that age,” and then it wasn't until his younger brother came along that I was noticing benchmarks that he was hitting that his older brother wasn't hitting. And so, I remember finally going, “Okay. Well, we need to talk to somebody because this is affecting him in school. At this point, he was going into first grade.” And it's interesting because I have one of those same types of memories of going in and talking to a panel of some of the doctors and counselors and teachers at the public school. We weren't sure if we were putting him into a public or private school at that time.

And within, I'm not kidding you, within five minutes, she pulled out a piece of paper, she drew what looked like nerve synapses and she said, "This is why he needs to be on medication.” And as a mother, I was devastated because it was that same feeling like, "Seriously? You haven't even asked me any other questions. You haven't talked about his diet. We haven't talked about what the living arrangements at home are like. We haven't talked about different ways of studying. We're just going straight to medication.” And I just remember how angry that made me because I just was thinking, “Wait a second, this is not the default.” Because in the end, it took us almost three years to get there. He did end up going on a medication but I wanted to at least, as a mother, know that I had explored working with an occupational therapist, looking at his diet, and how we could do that. What kind of things as a teacher could we accommodate and make some changes that might be better for what it is that he needed?

But it did. It made me feel kind of like dirty. I was like, “Really? That's how quickly we're going there?” And so, I commend you for leaving there, taking that little slip of paper probably crumpling it up and throwing it in the trash and starting to find other ways. So, I mean, here you were. Now, you were facing still the reality of it. You knew that there was something that was not right that needed to be dealt with but now you actually started taking the initiative and diving into researching what those things are. So, where in the world did you even start?

Cordelia Gaffar: Yeah. The internet was working back then.

Arwen Becker: That's helpful.

Cordelia Gaffar: Right. So, what had happened, I believe it was like the week before something. Just in browsing, I had seen some research that they were doing in France to deal with depression, just regular depression with nutrition. So, I kind of started with that. And what I actually found out specific to postpartum depression is that if you have a boy child, the testosterone that the mother's body has to create during pregnancy, if you're not getting enough Nicene, which is B3 in your diet, then you're more prone to have a hormonal drain and will instantly propel you into postpartum depression. And so, back in those days, they were telling you like if your baby's six weeks old, that's called baby blues. That's crap. You can know the difference between baby blues and especially since I had that accumulated grief in my body already. And, yeah, so that's what came up for me.

And so, then I was like, “Really?” I was like already studying and practicing herbs, herbal medicine. And so, I just wanted to then find out, okay, so what does that mean for what kind of infusions do I need to be drinking and stuff like that? And then that research led me to some like mindfulness things and then different moving meditations. So, I had just become Muslim I think the year before. And so, I also wanted to check and see if there was anything in Islam that might be able to help me. So, apparently, there's like as far as modalities I found out about Pilates was great but also Essentrics is really great because the whole purpose of that is to reconnect that conversation between your nervous system and your muscles. And the grief is in your muscle memory. So, practicing Essentrics and doing Pilates on the off days, just for mobility and strengthening that seemed to help my brain function. And then the different foods, I wanted to find more about that. So, in the Islamic tradition, there's actually something called Tibb and it's Unani Tibb, which is the ancient blend of Greek medicine, Chinese traditional medicine, and Ayurveda. And so, according to your body type, you eat a certain way.

Also, I found something called tasawwuf which is we know it just generally a Sufism but it's the emotional wellness piece of spirituality that connects the rest of the story. So, that's what I was up to. And in nine months, what people saw was a joyful Cordelia and a very slender Cordelia. Remember, I wasn't focusing. Yeah. I was overweight but I wasn't like, “Oh my god, I'm no longer size 4.” I was like, “Oh, my God, I'm crazy.”

Arwen Becker: That ended up being a little more obvious than the other part. Yeah. It became a little bit more of a focus. So, would you say, I mean it, did you start biting one of these pieces off at a time? Because I mean, you were hitting it not only in the physical realm and the spiritual realm, what you were eating, and all of these pieces together, did you find that you were kind of working through one piece first or did you just dive headlong and I’m going to like hit all of these things as hard and as quickly as I can to try and get some relief?

Cordelia Gaffar: So, let me invite you to think of it differently. I'm all about harmony, right? So, as a Muslim, we already pray five times a day. As a mom of two little bitty kids, how much time do you have to exercise? Like zero, right? So, after my prayer, I would do like one or two movements and as far as food goes, I made sure that I always had a really good, balanced breakfast to start my day. That's something that my dad had raised us. Your nutrition is super important. So, I just replaced the foods I was eating with the better foods. So, I had to eat breakfast. I just ate a different breakfast. I stopped buying the stuff that didn't work in my body. And also, for the opposite like so the morning and the late-night prayer when the kids were sleeping, I would spend more time on the mindfulness practices and the spiritual practices. And then also, as the kids got older, you want your kids to calm down with you so I would like practice, I would say the little prayers and do the little mindfulness techniques with them. So, then you don't have a discipline problem either because they're already seeing how to self-soothe.

Arwen Becker: Oh, that's so brilliant. I just love that and I just love the fact because you have how many kids now?

Cordelia Gaffar: Six.

Arwen Becker: Six kids. Okay. So, we've got four more added to the group at this point. And so, for you to be able to find those ways to take care of yourself in the midst of all the other personalities that are going on around you, I mean, what would you say have been some of the biggest takeaways that you've had in those experiences with having six children, being a woman who is coaching and writing and have so many things pulling her one way and the other but still being able to carve out that self-care time which I think especially this is why it means so much to me to really talk to women who have overcome things because we, as women, often will find ourselves doing for everybody else and then there's nothing left to give to ourselves. And so, how in the midst of all of the, what I would call excuses that a lot of people can use, if I've got all these kids and a job and people to serve and things to do, how do you still make sure that you're making time for yourself?

Cordelia Gaffar: So, again, I invite you to embrace harmony and I always say it's because of my kids that I have my business and I do all the things that I get to do and I named my program Replenish Me because if I look around, that's what I do, and several times a day. So, for example, so I’m the emotions opener transformation strategist. That actually came from I quit my job after I found out I was pregnant with my third and decided to homeschool them as I was building their curriculums because back in those days, they didn't have boxed curriculums and they didn't have virtual school and all that so you had to actually go and find books. I found out that the best way to structure a curriculum is according to the child's learning style. And in that to understand the different learning styles, the best way for children to hold on to the information you're presenting is to make sure that they had emotional well-being. And how do you do that? Well, that kind of kicked me back to my depression studies and how to overcome that.

So, I learned a lot about emotional wellness and how to create an environment of compassion and self-forgiveness, and peace and joy, and love of life and curiosity. And that's the way I raised my kids. That's the way I educate my kids and that is now my coaching program all these years later. That’s it.

Arwen Becker: I love that. It’s so good. I have to imagine, though, that there have been times along the way as I think of some women who might be listening going, “Well, then what about me? I mean, what's my excuse?” She can do this with six kids and I'm feeling like they're not doing enough. I mean, what would you say to that mom who maybe right now her life is feeling a little bit out of control or maybe a lot a bit out of control? Where do you even start? I mean, what's a good place to say, "Okay. Start at this point,” or what would you say to her who's just feeling like everything around her is just chaos?

Cordelia Gaffar: So, release the need to do everything that's expected and accepted. Like the list we were talking about having to have X number of kids and live in what house and kids have to do whatever, you don't have to do any of that stuff. You have to do whatever Arwen wants to do and whatever Arwen makes Arwen happy. You come from a place of self-compassion and whatever is inside of you will radiate out into your household and beyond. And the other side of that, so when we're releasing what's expected and accepted, we have to reassess what our values are, not the values of your mom and dad, not the values of your church or your society or community. What is it? What are your values? And you take those top three, and then you create habits that will honor those values. And that's the place to start. You're starting with a clean slate and these are my values. This is what's going to support those. And once you are clear on that and you're supporting yourself in that way, then you look around and say, "Okay. So, who is on my team?” Like, do I have like girlfriends that will support that? Oh, you know what, she's got to go and he's got to go. Or there's someone that's been here all the time cheering for me. How come I never gave them so much time in my life? So, I pulled that person in. And then creating this environment for yourself with the support will allow you to rebirth.

Arwen Becker: Yeah, that's brilliant and you're totally right. I mean, we always have to, at times in our lives, reassess the people that we do have around us because as they say, the top five people around you tell me who your top five friends are and I'll tell you all about you. And especially the older we get, the more challenging that can become to really be able to make those friends but that was a task that I took on. Now, more than 12 years ago when I had a friendship, I put all my eggs in that one basket and when that started falling apart, I found myself kind of looking around going, "What else is there for me?” And so, having to like a kid in high school, call somebody up, invite them out to coffee, put myself in a position where I was like, okay, that relationship doesn't necessarily feel like the one that I really want to be able to find those pillar friends that know the good, the bad, and the ugly and still love you through it.

And here I am now 12 years later, I have two best friends that we don't get to spend a lot of time together but when we are together, the conversations are deep, they're meaningful. We're not candy coating things. We're not pretending that life's just all a bed of roses. If it's not, we can pray with one another and be that encouragement but especially for women to be able to stand in that space when you can find that and you have to work to maintain it, that's for sure. It's such a gift because there's just something about women empowering and supporting and encouraging one another, that it's unique, it's beautiful, and it's something that we all really, really need. That's for sure. So, that's good. So, when you look back at this journey that you've been on and starting from the beginning, recognizing that there was something significant that was going on with this postpartum depression and the pathway that it took you on when you look back now quite a number of years later, did you say 18 years ago or how long?

Cordelia Gaffar: He'll be 18 in December. Yeah.

Arwen Becker: Yeah. So, when you look back, what would you say would be those two or three real key takeaways that you would say this is what I really learned in that process and that helped you get through this?

Cordelia Gaffar: I would say the main thing was I wasn't judging myself. I was really seeking to approach the whole process from a place of concern and compassion, like nurturing for myself, like if I were my mother, how would I take care of myself? And then I was more focused on not so much the “doing” of the things to take care of myself but the “being” with taking care of myself, right? Because a lot of times, we're just like, "Okay, now I've got to do yoga. I've got to do this.” I wasn't like that. I was just as you heard, right? I was like, "Okay, what's going to support me right now?” And I would really just feel into being with the best thing to support me in the moment. And then the last thing is, ultimately, it was for the love of my children. I wanted them to see an emotionally stable, loving mother. And if they didn't see me nurturing myself, then of course, by default, I couldn't nurture them, and I always wanted to be very compassionate and loving and present for my kids. So, that's what I would say is just run away from the crowd. I know everyone talks about self-love but compassion I feel like is the embodiment of love. And then I'm not ticking boxes with my self-care. I'm setting the barometer of my self-care. It’s like what does my body actually need.

Arwen Becker: Yeah. I just love that. And just like you said, your kids, when they see you doing that, you're also giving them a roadmap on how they'll be able to do it for themselves. It's not just them seeing you take care of you. It’s that you're giving them the tools they're being able to see when I'm facing the situations and I'm going through that as a teenager, going into young adulthood, they'll have skills that they learned just in watching how you cared for you. And there's such a freedom that comes in that space where you're not living up to like what you said, other people's expectations of who you should be or what you should be doing at this moment because we all come to that moment in time through a different pathway. And what we see of somebody else, that's only a fraction of the story that's brought them there and all of us need to be able to walk that out in our own lives in our own unique way. So, I think that's just beautiful.

So, last final three questions. What would you say, and of course, me being a person who works with, especially with women in finance, what would be the best piece of financial advice that you have been given?

Cordelia Gaffar: I would say financial advice that I've been given is surrounding generational wealth, creating generational wealth. Your kids may beg you to leave home in 18 but encourage them to stay home until they've stepped into what it is they're doing with their life. I mean, within reason, right? I'm not saying have your kids stay home until they’re 40 but just so that you can support them in how to create financial stability and have a better understanding on how to not start from zero.

Arwen Becker: Or less than zero. No. That's very good. What about a book that you would recommend and why? Any great books you're reading right now? Maybe it's one of yours that you think somebody would love to dive into?

Cordelia Gaffar: One of my books. I have to be honest. I do think that my book, Workout Around My Day: The Only Health Guide Moms Need is really an awesome resource because it has everything. It's like a really nice quick guide of herbs, food, recipes, how to schedule your day, and some really great self-nurturing tips.

Arwen Becker: And what's the name of it again?

Cordelia Gaffar: Workout Around My Day.

Arwen Becker: Workout Around My Day, okay.

Cordelia Gaffar: Which you can find on CordeliaGaffar.com.

Arwen Becker: There you go. So, I have to pick that one up. And then what would you say is a favorite quote of yours? What's one that you love to live by?

Cordelia Gaffar: Okay. So, I just found actually a new quote. I love Eartha Kitt but I think I love Josephine Baker more than Eartha Kitt. So, this is a Josephine Baker quote, “You are on the eve of a complete victory. You can't go wrong. The world is behind you.”

Arwen Becker: Woohoo. I love it. Yay. That's awesome. I love it. So, well how can people get a hold of beautiful you, social media, any of the websites that they could go to, anything else that you would recommend that they tap into of yours?

Cordelia Gaffar: Right. So, as I mentioned, my website is CordeliaGaffar.com and that is a one-stop-shop. You can find my YouTube channel, my podcast, my books, my programs, my online events, and eventually my retreat but right now I'm just doing virtual retreats. If you need a supportive community to hang out, I have a Facebook group called Replenish Me Group and you'll know it's me because in parentheses it has my name. And then I'm everywhere on social media just under my name. Like I said, even my YouTube channel is under my name. And then of course, if you just want a quick guide to start somewhere with nutrition to replenish and boost your immune system, you can go to Bit.ly/ReplenishBoost.

Arwen Becker: Perfect. Well, you have been such a joy to me and I’ve heard multiple people say because you and I, we didn't meet that long ago and I've been on a couple of different panels. And you do, you provide just a feeling of peace and grace and it just permeates throughout who you are and it comes all the way over to everybody that you talk with. So, you have provided that for me today and it's just been my absolute pleasure having you on the show. Thank you very much.

Cordelia Gaffar: Thank you, Arwen. I always love hearing that. And I do hear it often but every time it's like the first time.

Arwen Becker: And that's the way it should be.


Arwen Becker: Thanks for spending time with me on the She Handled It Podcast. If you enjoyed today's episode, please be sure to subscribe so future interviews are automatically downloaded directly to your device. And if you want access to the show notes including links to all the resources mentioned, visit LIFEwithArwen.com/Podcast. Thanks again for joining me. Now charge forth because if she handled it, so can you.


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