SHE’S A multi-award winning women’s health specialist who runs a national company while raising three children, but self-effacing Sophia Cooper is quick to explain that she’s no superwoman.
Cooper speaks openly about how she has come through the "horrible illness" she battled as a new mum and has since used her experience to help thousands of others.
After giving birth to her first son in 2009, Cooper experienced debilitating post-natal depression (PND) but she found that her background in fitness put her back on the road to recovery – and through this she found a way to help other mothers.
In 2010 she founded OneFitMama to support mums everywhere on their journeys to healthier minds and bodies – it has now grown to become a national franchise, helping more than 9,000 mums a year, supported by a team of 25 qualified instructors, who in future will also be trained counsellors.
Cooper's brainwave of combining exercise in a playgroup setting was an instant success with mums in the West Midlands, which led her to expand nationally from Blackpool to Swindon. She has also expanded the types of classes to include antenatal, mother, baby and toddler fitness, boot camps and core & pelvic floor strengthening classes.
A natural writer, Cooper's website is full of articulate blogs and posts taking the shame and embarrassment out of PND, while encouraging new mums not to be afraid of speaking out when they need help. She says:
“My passion is encouraging women to exercise for health and not for weight loss, as well as encouraging them to enjoy exercise with their children. Once they fall in love with exercise, they always start to fall in love with their bodies, which is the most rewarding part of what we do.
“I’m also a passionate campaigner for better postnatal care for women, including more support for women with PND and postnatal anxiety. I’m often invited to speak at events about my own PND journey and how I found the strength to turn such a horrible illness into a way to help others.
“After giving birth, the spotlight is always on the baby with tests, weigh-ins and six-week checks, which is all fine, but not if mums need help and they are afraid to say so.”
Cooper, whose two boys are now eight and five, along with her two-year-old daughter, explains equally articulately about how she hid her feelings of PND for 12 months. Her friends and health professionals had no idea and it was only spotted after her observant GP started asking her questions. She says:
"To everyone around me, I was an incredible mum who did all the night feeds, all the nappies, cooked homemade meals from scratch and kept an immaculate home.
“On the inside I was filled with terror that my perfect baby would fall ill if his nappies weren’t changed a certain way or that social services were secretly watching my house to check that I was cleaning often enough.
“Sounds crazy doesn’t it when you say it out loud. You see, that’s the one thing I didn’t do. I never said it out loud to a single person. I spent a whole year in a constant state of paranoia and fear because I was too scare to tell anyone what was happening inside my head.”
It was her husband Chris, who has worked in the fitness industry, who gave her the idea for OneFit Mama.
Cooper, who had formerly worked as a bank manager, told The Voice:
“I’d always been keen on exercise and after my son was born I tried some classes but found they were not really pushing me and the women there were quite cliquey.
“Chris suggested I try a circuits class which I loved, but realised I couldn’t take my son with me, so couldn’t go as often as I would like. That’s when he said: ‘Well why don’t you start your own classes where you can?’”
Cooper began running regular classes in a church hall in south west Birmingham. Six mums came with their babies and the idea began to snowball. She was soon inundated with requests on Facebook to set up further classes and that’s how the franchises were set-up.
“We currently have 22 franchises and I’d like to see 30 set up by the end of the year. We don’t make any money from the sale of the franchises – my belief is that they should be taken up by mums who need them, who need to build up their self-confidence and need flexibility when bringing up a family.”
Cooper has also produced a fitness DVD and £1 from the sale of each DVD is put into the OneFitMama Charitable Trust, which helps to pay for classes for those mothers needing financial support.
She also has plans to hold a OneFitMama retreat later this year, which will involve a weekend break for mums with PND consisting of counselling sessions, group therapy, meditation and practical coping strategies.
On Saturday 1st July another fund raising arm of OneFitMama – Mums Overcoming Mountains – will raise much needed funds with a Snowdon trek. In order to take part all participants are asked to raise a minimum of £100.
“Do it for your mum, sister or best friend. Do it for you! Together we can overcome postnatal depression and show the mum who are suffering that they are not alone.”