Student navigates motherhood, obesity and leans into serving others

Rachel Berry holds her now 3-year-old niece, Reese (Rachel Berry)

There is nothing Rachel Berry wants more than to be a mother.

Rachel Berry adopts a baby-doll in Memphis Tennessee. (Rachel Berry)

She said she has always felt an innate calling that she was destined to be a mother. For her birthday as a young child, her mother drove her to a Memphis baby doll factory that was modeled after a hospital, where she could pick out her own doll and name it. She said there was a pretend doctor there to help her name the child and sign the birth certificate.  

Berry says a sense of motherhood has driven her in every aspect of her life. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and hopes to eventually pursue a master’s degree in social work and own an adoption agency.

However, Berry’s journey of self-discovery hasn’t been easy. Along the way, she has had distinct life experiences that she says have molded her into the woman she is today.

Berry was born in the tiny town of Sarah, Mississippi, which had a population of about 25 people, many of whom were her family.

Berry said her family members were the only people who she spent time with. She recalls not having friends over or playing with other kids.

“Mississippi is like going back in time 40 years — the education isn’t great and they still paddle kids,” Berry said.

Berry said she was almost paddled by her second-grade teacher but talked her way out of it by profusely apologizing.

“The rule at home was if you get paddled at school, you get paddled at home,” Berry said. “So we knew that if we did anything at school, we would get the belt at home, so I didn’t have any friends because I didn’t want to get in trouble for talking.”

Rachel Berry holding a toy doll in her family home. (Rachel Berry)

In 2006, Berry’s family decided to make the move to Utah, where one of the missionaries who had taught her parents lived.

Even though the transition was difficult, Berry said she was excited to leave Mississippi behind.

“I didn’t really have a personality because I was following the rules all the time — being as perfect as possible so (I) didn’t get in trouble,” Berry said. “I didn’t have any friends; I couldn’t leave the house. So, I liked it because I honestly felt like it was freedom.

Berry’s southern accent followed her from Mississippi to Utah, and she remembers being constantly teased for the way she talked and pronounced certain words.

Another aspect of Berry’s life that followed her to Utah was her life-long struggle with obesity.

“Mississippi is the most obese state in the country,” Berry said.

She said she remembers going to doctor after doctor because her parents wanted to find a reason for her obesity. She said she internalized this as a child and felt there was something wrong with her, but she couldn’t control it. She said doctors would try and find anything to blame her obesity on, from a genetic mutation to liver damage.

Junior high and high school proved to be the hardest time for Berry. She said it was during these years the most bullying occurred.

“PE was the worst because people would say, ‘We don’t want the fat girl on our team. She’s going to bring us down,’ and things like that,” Berry said.

Rachel Berry poses for a picture outside of her school building with a classmate (Rachel Berry).

Berry said that in ninth grade she sat down in a chair upon entering the classroom and the chair broke in half. The class busted into laughter along with the teacher. She said she started laughing too out of nervousness, while tears rolled down her face.

“I walked out of the class and lost it in the bathroom,” Berry said. “I almost wanted to never go back to school — but I did.”

Berry was rushed to the hospital during her junior year of high school to discover that one of her ovaries had twisted and died and needed immediate surgery to be removed. Later she learned this was because she had polycystic ovarian syndrome.

“That was hard,” Berry said, “because when you’re 16 you have all these views for your future, and then it’s just all crushed.”

Berry said she had to think about things teenagers shouldn’t have to concern themselves with. The doctors informed her she had half the chance to ever get pregnant, and because she was obese, it was half of that chance.

“After that, I was pretty depressed for a good month and a half,” Berry said.

Berry remembers returning to school and telling everyone about this intimate detail of her life. She said she did this out of anger because she was angry that it happened to her, and she wanted people to feel bad for her.

After graduating high school, Berry decided she wanted to attend Utah Valley University and study elementary education. She said she gave up on her dream of one day becoming a mother, so she decided to teach other people’s children instead.

But Berry never made it to the first day of class.

Somewhere between high school graduation and the first day of class, she gave up on her dream and got a minimum wage job and decided to do that for the rest of her life.

Rachel Berry caught in the rain on a recent trip to Florence, Italy (Rachel Berry).

Berry said this was the lowest point of her life.

She was the heaviest she had ever been, she realized that she might never have kids, she stopped going to church, she didn’t want to be a teacher anymore and she didn’t care about the direction her life was going.

Berry said a big turning point for her was when she got a new job and started to make more friends. She said her friend Maddie Anderson had a significant impact on her and the decisions she was making.

Berry said Anderson was different from her in that she had goals and knew what she wanted to do with her life. Berry said she was drawn to that.

“After that, I started to hang out with a different group of people and started to figure out I wasn’t worthless and I did have purpose and that I wasn’t defined by my obesity,” Berry said.

Annabell Thorn was one of the new friends Berry met at work because of Anderson. Thorn said she remembers first meeting Berry and noticing how nice she was to everyone and how she made everyone laugh.

“My favorite thing about Rachel is how supportive she is as a friend and that I know that she’ll always be there for me if I need her,” Thorn said.

Thorn said that Berry is always someone she can turn to for a good laugh but also as a sounding board for deeper conversation.

Eventually, Berry re-enrolled in school, which she attributes to her weight loss. Berry said most of her decisions were based on her losing or gaining weight.

Looking forward, Berry said she still has hopes of one day being a mother. She said that even if she is not able to have children of her own, she will definitely adopt or foster.

“I’ve always felt spiritually something I am good at is connecting with children in a way that is deeper and more emotional than other people,” Berry said. I want to be able to connect with a child and hear them and be there for them when no one else is.”

Rachel Berry poses for a picture while taking photos with her family. (Rachel Berry)

Berry again dreams of one day owning her own adoption agency and working with foster children. She said she believes nurture plays a big part in a child’s development and wants to provide children with circumstances that will help them flourish.

Alyssa Berry is Rachel’s sister-in-law and mother to Rachel’s niece, Reese. Alyssa remembers first meeting Rachel when she started dating her brother and noticed she was kind to everyone.

“My favorite thing about Rachel is when she wants something, she goes out and gets it. She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t let fear stand in her way,” Alyssa said. “She works really hard and is a good example to me of independence and courage.”

Alyssa said Rachel is a good listener and gives great advice. She said she is not afraid to speak her mind and will tell you what other people might be afraid to say.

Alyssa also said she is impressed with the way Rachel treats Reese.

“Rachel is the best aunt,” Alyssa said. “One thing I really love is that she has always made sure she only speaks to Reese with positivity and respect. She’s a strong example of feminism to Reese and a very good teacher.”

Rachel said she has high hopes for how she will raise her own kids and what they will achieve.

“I want them to be healthy. And that sounds awful, but I don’t want them to experience half the things that I had to,” Rachel said. “I want them to be confident and hardworking and feel like they can do anything regardless of what others say about them.”

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