It’s always funny to me how some things find a way to stick with us regardless of how we’d like to forget them, while others completely elude us no matter how hard we try to remember them. This phenomenon commonly applies to the random pieces of advice we hear from people around us every day. While some are more dogmatic than others, people often share their ideas about what one has to do, or has to avoid, or should do, or shouldn’t do; we hear the never-do-that’s and the always-do-these; and people always speak with such conviction about their particular tried-and-true ways to go about their business.
I can say with some certainty that the time in a woman’s life when she is most heavily bombarded with the solicited and unsolicited advice from everyone – and I mean everyone – is when she is pregnant. (Along with advice also comes inappropriate belly rubbing from strangers, and extremely personal questions and/or comments about your sex life.)
For whatever reason, something another pregnant woman said to me in a spinning class was one of the pieces of advice that stuck with me. When I told her I admired her for working out so hard in spite of being pregnant, she said “You’ve gotta keep this up if you ever wanna get your body back!” Somehow, whether that was sound advice or not, this random little snippet became a mantra for me about pregnancy and fitness in the first weeks of my pregnancy. Before I could really connect with what was going on in my body, before I had begun to show, before the whole idea that I would have a child very soon had become really real, my fear of becoming a chubby frumpy mom was dominating my thoughts. As I write that thought I almost feel guilty, now knowing what a blessing being a new mom is and how little that extra baby weight actually matters in comparison. Still, it was a real concern of mine (before I watched birthing videos on Youtube – then I had another list of concerns altogether…).
I continued my normal gym and workout routines in the first weeks of my pregnancy, that girl’s somewhat threatening advice hanging over my sweaty head (seriously, I started sweating a lot more during my pregnancy). For a while I could still wear my cute workout clothes but even though I still looked the same, I felt very different. Workouts that had been very routine and doable for me became immensely more difficult. I was exhausted and nauseous and sweaty (I know I already said that but it bears repeating). I had to lower the level on the treadmill. I had to lift lighter weights. I even remember letting myself not keep my abs tight (translation: letting my gut hang out) hoping people would see I was pregnant and forgive me for having what looked like a lackadaisical workout.
As the weeks passed and I started getting thicker around the middle (note: I did not have a cute baby bump until about 25 weeks. Until then it was just sort of a beer belly type situation – which seems unfair considering I hadn’t even been able to enjoy any beer). Ab work was getting harder, I was getting sweatier, and my workout clothes were not fitting well. In other words, I did not look like those glowy, laughing women who are skinny everywhere except where it looks like they swallowed a basketball featured in all the pregnancy fitness magazines. But, there they were – that girl’s words floating around in my head, dooming me to motherhood frump for eternity – “you’ve gotta keep this up if you ever wanna get your body back!” I started to hate that girl a little more every time I drudged through another gym workout.
Right around week 18 I decided to try something different for my pregnancy fitness regimen. I researched some yoga studios and found one in my neighborhood that specialized in prenatal yoga. I was hitting a threshold at the gym and with that high-pressure mantra digging at me I certainly had to do something. I squeezed into my yoga clothes and huffed and puffed up the steep hill that led to the studio. And then the two flights of stairs. Just as I figured that was just about enough of a workout for the day, I found myself surrounded by about 15 other pregnant women in all stages of their pregnancies – many like me, many about to pop – all looking calm and happy and centered. I immediately felt more comfortable and somehow safer than I did at the gym in my current state.
The instructor began class by handing out little sheets of paper with a personal mantra on it, all relating to prenatal thoughts and joys and fears and challenges. We were told to focus on that thought throughout our practice for the evening. Mine was, “I feel at peace with my body.” I think for the first time since I’d gotten pregnant I took a meaningful, deep breath. How fantastically refreshing. It was a far better mantra than the high pressure one that I’d been focusing on – the one that had everything to do with physical appearance and not at all with honoring the beautiful and strong thing my body was doing.
I struggled through a lot of the poses that evening as I got used to how my body moved differently with the extra bumps and curves and breathing and balance challenges. But everyone around me was doing the same and it was so wonderfully comforting. As I went back again and again, my belly got bigger (and cuter, thank goodness) and I got better at moving and stretching and breathing in my pregnant state. I left every class feeling invigorated, empowered, warm, and peaceful – and none of it had anything to do with a concern for getting my body back down the road. Every class started with one of those mantras and they quickly replaced the one I started my pregnancy fitness journey with. My two favorites became: “my baby feels the peace that I feel” and “my body and my baby know just what to do.” Between those empowering thoughts and the time in class we spent focusing on connecting with our unborn babies, my focus shifted dramatically from keeping my girlish figure to staying healthy and happy for my soon-to-be little girl.
So, to add my two cents to all the advice and words and opinions getting tossed around out there about pregnancy and fitness: mantras are important when it comes to attaining goals – just make sure that the mantra you’re living is one that uplifts you, empowers you, and honors the unique needs of your amazing body.