I follow a lot of different fitness and nutrition related blogs, magazines, and publications, and many are just noise. “Eat real food” and “move your body” aren’t generally exciting enough to garner lots of online attention, so even supposedly health-oriented sites are going to engage in “click baiting” their followers. It is what it is.
Fitness Magazine is one of those Facebook pages that shows up in my feed, and I generally roll my eyes at whatever “get fit quick” scheme they’re posting about today, but this one kind of stuck in my craw:
Now, my complaint isn’t with Diary of a Fit Mommy. She makes sure to keep it real with her posts, reminding us that she does ” plan on trying bodyweight exercises possibly in a few days as my body allows. Right now, it is all about listening to my body and not overdoing it” and ” I am not too stressed about how I am eating right now as its all about eating enough to breastfeed my toddler and newborn, but clean eating has been what’s getting those extra pounds off in the meantime.”
Mamas (and mamas-to-be). Sit down. Look at me in my eyeballs. Are you listening? This is not a race.
Do you hear me?
You are not in a race to “get your body back” or “get back into racing shape” or “lose the pregnancy weight.”
It’s true that I managed to get into the best shape of my life after my third baby, but that was after three other pregnancies and a lot of trial and error. And it did not come without cost. So grab a cup of coffee (you know you need it) and let me tell you about my health and fitness journey.
If you’ve read my bio or known me for any length of time, you know that I was always a skinny girl – small-boned, no boobs, big butt. It’s how God made me. Like so many other teenage girls, I struggled with body image, dieted because I thought I was supposed to, wasn’t physically active, and didn’t give my actual health a second thought. When I got pregnant with my first, I ate everything in sight. Everything I saw in the media told me that I could eat whatever I wanted because I was pregnant, I was sick as a dog and food made me feel better, and I was SO anxious for people to be able to tell I was pregnant! Lo and behold, 42 weeks and 60 pounds later…I was just fat. Thankfully, a light bulb came on and I knew that breastfeeding and nourishing my baby was more important than weight loss. Although I was desperate to fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans, I was more concerned with my growing baby. With the help of a health-and-fitness-minded friend, I began learning about nutrition and exercise. I ate lean protein, whole grains, fruits and veggies, and low fat dairy. I walked and did VERY light strength training and/or yoga most days of the week and within a year I had lost 70 pounds.
I got pregnant again when my first baby was 11 months old, and this time around my healthy habits stuck with me throughout the pregnancy. He was a smaller baby with some kidney issues and was born 4 weeks early. I gained a mere 28 pounds. I was less anxious to lose weight this time around – likely because there was less to lose! – but I was also struggling with severe post-partum depression and the general chaos of two-kids-under-two at home. It was then, however, that I discovered running. Partly because I was getting more fit and the walking was getting easier, but also because running gave me endorphins and a chance to get out of the house without the kids; running was a saving grace. I continued eating healthy, breastfed for 20 months, and was much more concerned about fueling my running habit than fitting into my old jeans. I built relationships during this time. I learned what my body could do. I began to see my body as a tool to living a great life rather than an enemy to be forced into submission.
Then came the dark days.
When baby #2 was just over 2 years old, we found out we were expecting baby #3! When we went in for our first ultrasound, the doctor found fluid on the baby’s lungs. He said that it could resolve, or it could be a fatal heart defect that would lead to miscarriage around the end of the first trimester. At exactly 12 weeks, I had gone for a run with a friend and came home to find bleeding. When we went in for an ultrasound the next morning, there was no heartbeat. I was devastated.
My body again became the enemy.
I ate very little, drank a lot of wine, and ran. I ran miles and miles. I ran fast because if my body wasn’t going to give me a baby it was certainly going to give me SOMETHING. I decided I wanted to compete. I didn’t want to just run races, I wanted to win. So I did.
I consulted with coaches, followed their training plans, and met my goals. I brought home trophy after trophy, medal after medal. I ate well, I took my vitamins, and my body did what I told it to do. Physically healthy, sure. Mentally healthy? Not by a long-shot.
One thing I did learn from this time was what it felt like to really push my body to the max physically. So when I became pregnant again I knew how to back off my intensity to stay active during pregnancy but not push too hard. I ran throughout this entire pregnancy, even running a half-marathon at 14 weeks, and 3 miles the day before I went into labor. Check out this doozy:
Four days later I had that baby! Then I waited a WHOLE two weeks before I went running again! <insert eye roll>
What I had failed to learn while breastfeeding my other babies was that nursing needs to be ESTABLISHED before beginning any sort of diet or exercise routine. Rather than resting, eating, and recovering from childbirth, I was in a big old rush to return to racing shape. Baby was born on April 12. I was running again by April 26. I was doing a 6am boot camp class by May 28. By mid-June my little bundle of joy was a scrawny, screaming nightmare. With the help of our pediatrician and a fabulous lactation consultant, we discovered that my milk supply was down to practically nothing and baby #3 was diagnosed as “failure to thrive.”
We began supplementing with formula and I went to bed to eat, nurse, and try with all my might to get my milk supply back. Although we continued nursing until he was 20 months old, I was never able to get back enough supply to exclusively breastfeed. And for what? I sacrificed my baby’s nutrition (by unknowingly not giving him enough to eat…this isn’t a statement against formula feeding!) so I could get my body back? So I could get back into racing shape? Yes, I ended up getting in to the best shape of my life after baby #3, but even with my hurry it took almost two years. I ran two marathons, pr’d all my race times, completed Insanity and Boot Camp, tried Crossfit, and gained a passion for health and fitness that has led to me becoming a certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer. I will always look back with guilt and regret, though, at what I put my little nugget through. My child was hungry and it was my fault. That hurts.
Why was I in such a hurry?
I was in a hurry because of headlines like the one in Fitness Magazine. I was in a hurry because I let the appearance of my body determine my value. I was in a hurry because being “mommy” wasn’t enough.
By the time baby #4 came along I, and my mom squad, had learned a valuable lesson. My friends watched out for me, took care of me, and reminded me what a magnificent thing my body had just done. I was reminded to rest, eat, and soak in all those tiny, baby moments. Those newborn and infant days are so short. I have the rest of my life to be thin or fit or strong (or all three!). I am now 14 months out from the delivery of what will likely be my last baby. I am almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight, not quite back to my pre-pregnancy fitness level, but far past my pre-pregnancy wisdom.
I took things slow this time around, remembering all along the way that this is a season. It is a very short season. It seems like just yesterday my 9-year-old was a chubby thing with a pacifier in his mouth. Last night he ran in his first cross-country meet. My soon-to-be-8-year-old, the tiny one with kidney issues, is now a video game loving, tender hearted boy who adores his kitty and is begging for a pug. My “failure to thrive” baby? Well, his last check-up showed us that he is a BIG boy, destined for offensive lineman (if I’ll let him). Baby #4 isn’t a baby anymore, but a toddler.
Mama, take care of yourself. Most of all, soak up these moments. Linger in bed with that newborn and just breathe in his smell. It’ll be gone before you know it (and replaced with some of the foulest odors you will ever encounter, but I digress). Look at your body and know that by giving life, it has done something amazing and monumental. Any outfit, number on the scale, or fitness accomplishment will pale in comparison to growing a human from scratch.
When an athlete crosses the finish line at the IronMan event here in Chattanooga, you don’t ask “so, what’s next? Because there’s this Crossfit competition in two months that I think you’d be great in. You should hurry and get ready!” You let them enjoy the accomplishment. You let them rest. You let them eat and stare at their medal and relish hearing “YOU are an IronMan!” Then we let them sit the heck down because they are tired.
Let’s do this for mamas, shall we? Let’s stop assuming that there is some urgency in returning to “normal.” Let’s look at new mamas and say “you’ve done an amazing thing. Enjoy it, rest, and let me bring you something to eat.” Because friends, making these guys is the greatest thing my body will ever do…