athlete (ˈath-ˌlēt): a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina – merriam-webster.com
One of the things I really enjoy about being an outdoorsy athlete is that my adventures in the wild double as workouts whether I am in it for the exercise or not. In recent years I rarely had to think about keeping my body in condition. It just was. I have always had an athletic build that gains and loses weight quickly and seems to build muscle overnight when I ramp things up. Despite years of wear and tear in the great outdoors, the performance of my body during physical activity was one thing I could really rely on.
So, I was curious to know how my body would deal with pregnancy and birth. I had read that a healthy weight gain in pregnancy was 25-35 pounds, but started to ignore the scale when I realized that I would definitely exceed that amount. I ate a lion’s share of toast and crackers in those 40 weeks, but unless my doctor was concerned with my weight gain during pregnancy, it didn’t matter to me. I stayed active until the very last week, even attending my prenatal yoga class when I was overdue with Maya. I did many visualizations, meditations and breathing exercises to prepare me for the physical, mental and emotional aspects of labour. Still, as many pregnant women do, I wondered what my body would be like once the baby was born, and how quickly I would “bounce back.”
Once I was through the first week of bliss with my daughter, the realities of my new body sunk in. I had spent a number of days in bed recovering from the birth, and otherwise didn’t venture out of the house until about Day 6. On that day, I walked about a block before pain turned me back. Though I was able to walk farther and faster as each day passed, I was discouraged by my reflection in the mirror and my inability to really move. My daughter brought me so much joy, but I felt that my body had betrayed me. I longed to run, to feel my heart pumping, to feel sweat on my back, and my feet hitting the pavement. I longed to feel lightness again. Instead I felt heavy, swollen and slow.
My discouragement went on for the first month until, funny as it sounds, I remembered I had just had a baby. I carried her for 40 long weeks, awaited her arrival through 28 hours of back labour, birthed her little body, and now nurse her for hours each day to help her grow. How silly (no, shameful!) of me to think my body had betrayed me. On the contrary, it had served me better than ever before – better than on any hike, climb, ski or run. It sustained life – something I managed to overlook in my moments of discouragement and self-pity.
I could go on blaming society for putting pressure on women to bounce back and get back to “normal”. But this is mostly pressure I put on myself. After Maya arrived I would have moments looking in the mirror when I somehow expected to see my pre-baby body. In those first few weeks a stranger looked back at me (I’ll spare you the details). Gradually, I came to recognize – and accept – that this was me. As hard as it was to believe sometimes, this was the same body that had hiked hundreds of kilometres in Nepal, climbed some of the highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, and kept up a vigorous yoga practice. This was the same body that brought life into the world – the most amazing accomplishment of my life so far.
Two weeks ago my mother and I took Maya up Tunnel Mountain, a small peak here in Banff National Park. I wondered if it would be too much for me, but knew there was only one way to find out. With my daughter snoozing away against my chest in the Boba Carrier, we took one switchback at a time and paced ourselves slowly up the trail. As we reached the top and looked out over the Town of Banff, I let out a sigh of relief. I’ve still got it, I said to myself. But, now I’ve got Maya, too. I have stood on that summit many times before, but never as part of a three-generation team. It was a welcome change from the ordinary, to say the least.
I still have days that I struggle, but one look at my daughter and I am instantly reminded of my body’s true power. Strength? Agility? Stamina? It’s all still there, and she is proof of that.
Out with the old, in with the new. It is the only way forward.
While this post has been on my mind for a number of weeks, it was also inspired by two other articles: a post featured recently on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed, Metamorphosis (Or: Apparently My Body is Missing?!), and an article by my cousin, Jennifer Ward Barber, on Greatist titled How Putting Performance First is Saving My Body Image.