From the time she was small, Jessica Dolan wanted to be a mom. So not long after she and her boyfriend of nine years got married, they started trying to get pregnant. A year later, with no success, Jessica’s doctor sent her to a fertility clinic for help. Feeling hopeful, the couple started the intense process of in vitro fertilization, with every-other-day visits to the clinic for blood tests, exams, imaging, and injections of hormone-bolstering medications.
Then, in the summer of 2012, they received the news they’d been waiting for: Jessica was pregnant. “I was 37, and we were thrilled to be starting a family,” she recalls.
When she was six weeks along, Jessica started having menstrual-like cramps and feeling lightheaded. At first, she chalked it up to pregnancy, but when the symptoms persisted for several days, she went to her doctor. An ultrasound revealed that the fertilized egg had implanted in her fallopian tubes instead of her uterus—what’s known as an ectopic pregnancy—which meant it wouldn’t survive.
“I was crushed,” says Jessica. “The clock was ticking because of my age, but I dreaded starting the whole process over again.”
Shell-shocked and in mourning, they took a year-and-a-half break to regroup, but by December 2013 they felt ready to try again. “My fertility doctor assured us that he’d never seen a woman have two ectopic pregnancies, and he was confident we’d be successful,” says Jessica. Indeed, in January 2014, she learned she was pregnant again.
At five weeks, but, she started having cramping again—and learned that lightning can strike twice. This pregnancy, too, was ectopic. “Everyone at the fertility clinic was shocked, and I felt defective, like there was something terribly incorrect with me if my body couldn’t do what it was supposed to do.”
With one frozen embryo left, Jessica and her husband chose to give it one final try. A month later, she had a positive pregnancy test—but at the following week’s office visit, a second test came back negative. “That fake positive marked the end of our dreams,” says Jessica. “But giving up triggered a painful identity crisis. If I couldn’t have a child, who was I? What would I be if not a mom?”
Jessica spiraled into a dark, lonely place. She could barely get out of bed in the morning and started eating anything that made her feel better in the moment—pizza, ice cream, cookies. Over the next year she gained 30 pounds. “I was too depressed to work, and every morning I woke up and thought, ‘F**k, here goes another day.’ I couldn’t imagine what was going to become of my life.”
Still, there were fleeting moments when she felt more positive, and in one of those she downloaded the 7 Minute Workout app and pushed herself to start doing it. “I’d exercised off and on throughout my life, and even though I was ridiculously out of shape I figured I could do seven minutes,” she says.
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After a few months, she started running on her treadmill and gradually built her endurance to 10 minutes, then 15, then 20. “Instead of beating myself up for doing so small, I told myself that every minute was a win,” she says. The more she exercised the better she felt—less nervous, more positive, more confident and capable. By early 2015 she had started a new career and started re-engaging with life.
Last June, ready to take her routine to the next level, Jessica hired a personal trainer. “He keeps me accountable and pushes me farther than I thought I could go. Now when he tells me to do 50 push-ups I don’t reckon, ‘Are you crazy?’ I just do it,” she says.
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Her weekly routine is intense. She gets up at 4 a.m. two mornings for a bootcamp class, does personal training two days, runs at least three miles every weekend, and takes hip-hop or ballroom dancing a few nights a week.
“The fog has lifted and I’m feeling fantastic. I’ve lost weight, and I’m energized by life again,” says Jessica. “Without exercise I would have been lost. It shifted my thinking from negative to positive. It helped me embrace every day instead of dread it. All my life, exercise seemed like a chore, like something I should do but didn’t really want to do. Now I look forward to it, because I know it keeps my mind as healthy as my body. And it all started with a few minutes a day. That’s how powerful it is.”
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