It is truly amazing what childbirth does to a woman’s body. And further, how different each experience is from beginning to end.
I’m 13 weeks out from the birth of our second son, and boy was this one different for me. He was a big boy (which I mention in this post) and because of that he literally sucked the life out of me. During my pregnancy and for the 8-12 weeks after while I was breastfeeding he was a greedy little guy!
Throughout my pregnancy I had to take care to not over-exercise (especially in the cardio area) because of how much energy he took from me. I focused more on strength training, Yoga and Pilates to stay in great shape for delivery and postpartum recovery. I also paid careful attention to what I put into my body so he was getting the best nutrients I could provide.
Still, it was a challenge. Following his birth I actually weighed less than I did prior to becoming pregnant. His milk consumption and the nutrients he continued to take from me left me pretty slim and I actually lost a lot of muscle because of it. With our first son, I gained much more weight and was working to take it off postpartum, not put it back on.
In the same way I mentally struggled with losing the postpartum weight after my first son, this time I struggled with what I had lost - especially when I went to put on my jeans for the first time. It seemed as if my butt (there wasn’t much there to begin with) and thigh muscles had completely disappeared, but I still was carrying around a little Buddha tummy as I worked to rebuild my core.
I looked at my husband one day and said, “where did all my muscle go” and “where did all this extra skin come from?”
I knew that once I stopped breastfeeding I’d gain the weight back, so I remained focused on making sure the weight that I put back on was quality (good proteins, fats and carbs).
Still, I struggled with the idea of needing to put weight on.
Why? Because that is the opposite of what has been cemented in our minds. We are surrounded by media that encourages us to “lose weight” on a daily basis. As mothers, we are bombarded by media and other outside influences to “lose the baby weight” or “get back to our pre-baby bodies”. There is an entire industry out there targeted towards postpartum weight loss! This inevitably leaves us feeling pressured from the time that baby pops out to hit the gym or lace up our running shoes. And, as I realize just how much a second child has changed my body (the stretching and the extra skin for example) I have to question what that does to us.
Why can’t we be encouraged to embrace our new bodies and to work with what we have? We should hear more about the importance of being okay with taking it easy postpartum. Be encouraged to listen to our bodies, spend time with our little ones and reintroduce activities as we heal. And, most importantly, be okay with the extra skin instead of shaming ourselves for what society has deemed imperfect.
The extra skin, marks and scars represent the little lives we now hold in our hearts – there is NO shame in that.
While I say all this, I know that it’s still really hard to be okay with ourselves 100% of the time. It’s just the nature of life. We veer off course probably more often than we actually are on course. But, if we use that off-roading to our advantage – it can also be what drives us to make healthy choices, be better parents, exceed at our jobs, etc. The trick is finding the right balance.
You’d think that as a health coach and a personal trainer I’d be really good with the patience & balance thing, but here is my confession – I struggle too. This time around, I learned the importance of listening to my body (and tuning out the other stuff) the hard way. I had to remind myself daily that I was allowed to rest and give my body what it needed; that I had to care for myself as much as I was caring for my newborn. I, like so many women, felt that as soon as I got home from the hospital I needed to get back to the growing list of responsibilities, including caring for my toddler. Oh, and let’s not forget - getting back to that pre-baby body.
Here’s the take away. There is no such thing as a “pre-baby body”. It isn’t possible. What we endure during pregnancy and childbirth changes our bodies - you know, things shift, we get scars, stuff like that. And, while some may think it’s for the worse, I will argue that it’s for the better. We’ve earned the Mom badge, and we should wear it proudly.
So, in essence, we should all be on the road to getting to our new best self. Not comparing things to the past.
How do we do this? Not only does our body experience changes but so does our daily routine. For me personally, I no longer have the luxury of fitting in extensive workouts or heading to a class on a whim. And, when I work with clients I’m not working out, because I’m focusing on them – so, I have to fit it in like everyone else. Knowing this, I’ve set realistic daily goals so that when I do have time for a workout I know exactly what I want to get out of it. Making sure my family is eating nourishing meals with whole foods is my other priority. And then, there is quality time and rest. All of this has been great research and experience for my business – and it’s been fun to figure out how to make it all work.
The key: Setting realistic goals and managing them. All the while, being patient with yourself.
It’s an art and it starts with self-acceptance, balance, accountability and gratitude.