I was supposed to go to the gym tonight. Instead, I sat down to write this narrative on my endeavors to get fit after having my first baby five months ago (insert reference to irony here).
As I type “five months”, I am astonished at how much time has flown by. In the blink of an eye, I no longer have a newborn, but a smiling, reacting, cooing, laughing little baby that has a personality and certainly a mind of her own. She’s reaching the age where many babies start to experience “separation anxiety” as they realize that they are a physically detached entity from their mothers. Somehow, it seems this realization has been a lot easier for her than it has for me: she slept peacefully through the first night in her crib while I laid awake fretting. She loves rice cereal and mashed avocado while I lament the increasingly infrequent nursing. She coos and laughs for others who hold her while I secretly wish she’d show even the slightest discomfort at not being in my arms. She’s doing everything she should be, and these are signs of a happy, healthy, thriving baby girl for which I am deeply grateful. But I am now experiencing the emotions that so many mothers told me about but that can’t truly be understood until a woman crosses over that mind-blowing threshold into motherhood.
Since the moment last year when I saw that second pink line on the pregnancy test I took at midnight, my body has been entirely dedicated to growing a tiny human being. Every action, every meal, everything I ate or drank (or, more accurately, didn’t eat or drink) was centered on this little person I hadn’t met yet. Even up until two weeks ago, as a mother exclusively breastfeeding, my body served as a buffet for this beaming little baby. I am reminded of a line from a popular TV show I watched recently where one character, afraid she may be facing an unwanted pregnancy, tells the other character that babies “literally eat your body.” My husband and I found that particularly amusing as I sat there – baby on my breast – and exhausted, thirsty, and probably not yet showered for the day.
I’m not sure I was sufficiently prepared for the fact that giving birth does not truly separate mother from baby. In fact, I found that the physical demands of breastfeeding far exceeded those of actually growing the baby. As such, for the past five months I’ve had a lot of legitimate excuses as to why I haven’t gotten my significantly less-firm derriere back in the gym: timing never worked out with her feeding schedule, I can’t jog with my boobs full of milk, I didn’t sleep at all last night and I need a nap, or the old, full-of-implications standby, “I just had a baby!” For the record, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy these ready-made and understandable defenses. I’ve been so focused on the physical demands of baby-rearing that I’ve neglected my own physical fitness. For once I’ve felt like I can rock a little extra flab, eat a little more ice cream, and lay around a little more. But now it’s been five months, my husband knows how to feed our baby a bottle, and at a certain point, enough is enough.
So here I am. For 15 months my body has been blissfully devoted to nurturing my amazing daughter. But as she thrives and separates from me, it’s time to channel the strength it took to grow her (and birth her!) back toward fitness for my independent self.
Yet my definition of self, along with parts of my body, has gone through an enormous shift – and that’s not without its challenges. I bought a jogging stroller and, feeling proud of myself, took it for a brisk walk along the beach. My sports bra does not come close to fitting my lactating breasts, and my trendy workout clothes that once accentuated my perky yoga/pilates/spinning bum now highlight some new and unfamiliar rolls. I did a double-take of the woman with two children and her jogging stroller who had the body and flare of a super model, my thoughts bouncing back and forth between “you go girl!” and quiet expletives revealing my jealousy. I was not easy on myself when she breezed by me as I huffed and puffed along the soft sand. In the gym, I have been resisting the urge to tell everyone I pass that I “just” had a baby so they don’t just think I have a beer belly. I can’t help but wish that the treadmill had a “new mommy” setting so I don’t feel so badly about my performance levels. My post-pregnancy weight loss efforts have been a little bumpy.
So far I’m finding that my biggest post pregnancy challenge is navigating the fine line between being gentle and forgiving with myself and my body, both of which recently underwent one of the most drastic shifts in a woman’s life, and relying too heavily on the excuses that come along with those changes. I am focusing on the fact that the best way I can honor my body and the awesome strength it has shown in childbearing is by getting back on the horse – er, elliptical machine. As my daughter slowly separates from needing my body and starts to independently navigate the world around her, I must also navigate my new world – one where my body is my own again, even if it is a slightly different body.