The Post-Baby Body: Reimagining Myself as an Athlete

athlete (ˈath-ˌlΔ“t): a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or staminamerriam-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.”

Cartwheeling sometime in my first few weeks of pregnancy...not at all knowing what really lay ahead! Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Cartwheeling at the top of Massive Mountain sometime in my first few weeks of pregnancy…not at all knowing what really lay ahead! Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

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.

My little lady. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

My little lady. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

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.

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24 responses to “The Post-Baby Body: Reimagining Myself as an Athlete

  1. what a wonderful post! I’m due in two weeks and have been wondering about getting back to my old self–your attitude is just what I needed to hear: Out with the old and in with the new! A mother’s body truly is an extraordinary machine, isn’t it?

    • Thanks, Olivia! A mother’s body really is an amazing machine. We owe it to ourselves to keep that front-of-mind when the realities of being a mom set in! Perhaps worthy of a post-it note on the bathroom mirror. πŸ™‚ All the best with your delivery, and if you remember, let me know how things go in the post-natal period!

  2. I am due in 4 weeks and am glad I read this, and will bookmark it for later. No doubt I will need it. I have been missing running and hiking hard and just getting sweaty and out of breath, and somehow I think that as soon as the baby comes I’ll be able to be back at it. I know it’s unrealistic, but… I can’t help it! I miss moving fast–I haven’t been able to for a few months now! But it is good to remember that no matter how it goes, my body is still as awesome and as capable as always–just doing different things! Thanks for the reminder.

    • Hi Dani! Sounds like we’re cut from the same cloth in that regard. I also love to move and get a sweat on. It is hard to be patient at times. I do believe we’ll be able do get back into things – it’s just a matter of time! It’s worth holding off to make sure you heal fully instead of pushing it. I learned that the hard way a few times early on.

      All the best in these last few weeks, and please keep in touch if you can so that we can continue this discussion after you’ve had your baby. I’m excited for you to fall in love with the wee one!

  3. Totally get this – it’s like shedding an old skin (both physically and mentally) and putting on a new one (darn, did I say that on your last post too? it’s just so applicable)…and it’s still early days for you. In just a couple of weeks you’ll get chances to try and see how strong you are, get in some speed hikes maybe??? Love your blog!

    • I have to constantly remind myself that these are still the early days! I’ll probably look back on them and laugh at myself. And your metaphor is perfect, even if you did use it more than once!

  4. I love this. Thank you! πŸ™‚ I STILL feel that way at times (and remember it clearly right after my sons were born….and I endured weeks of bedrest… does wonders for atrophying muscles! ;)) But, oh how it is worth it!

    • I have so much respect for women who endured bed rest, and definitely keep that in perspective when I’m looking at my own situation! It sure is worth it. Good to know that you still feel that way at times. It’s a long journey, and we’re never the same again, are we?

  5. I was lucky on the post-preggo body thing, but maybe it wasn’t all luck. I biked to work almost daily up until I was 9 mths pregnant. Now my doctor didn’t like that one bit due to the chance of crashing and hurting baby, but the exercise of cycling is amazing for mamas both during and after. Do it on a stationary bike if you are worried about crashing. Also after having my son, I found running was a major bladder challenge (urg!), whereas biking doesn’t have that same jiggling to contend with. We bought a chariot trailer and 2 hitches to keep on both parent’s bikes – that way we can still bike to work – I drop off kiddo at day care in the morning, leave the chariot there, and he picks him up – all via bike. Its the easiest way to add exercise back into a mom’s busy life of juggling kid and job – who has time for the gym or a mountain bike ride or even a shower really? While I was still on maternity leave, I forced myself to jog a couple times a week with any old stroller (let’s face it – you don’t need a jogging specific stroller when you are going that slow) and just wore a pad. Trust me, it will make you feel better just to get out.

    • Thanks for your comment, Wendy! I suppose it is really up to the individual. I also remained active until the very end, but could never even imagine getting on a bike after about the sixth month. I just didn’t like the feeling of my legs bumping up against my belly and I also had fairly bad pelvic pain (pretty much through the whole pregnancy). I’m excited to get back on the bike, for sure. Just waiting a bit longer to let things heal. Good for you for sticking with things! I love that you and your husband both bike with your kid to and from work.

  6. I can relate! My son turned one a couple weeks ago, and I still clearly remember last year not recognizing my body… It has been in my top priorities to get comfortable in my body again, and for me, as an amateur athlete, it meant getting a little uncomfortable!!! My boyfriend had gotten me a roller for my race bike while I was pregnant, and that and some Jillian Michael dvds did the trick! Of course I’d rather be outside, but in those first months, one half hour or hour might be all you get for exercising! I live in Germany where there is an almost obligatory fitness class for new moms (paid by most health insurances), does that exist in the states? It was also great to meet new people! At the end of the summer last year, we visited my parents in the Kootenays and there I got back for real on the bike and went out for some hiking. This summer: more biking with the chariot and not, when possible! Have a nice one, good luck!
    I feel for you about the pelvic pain, I had the same, and still have it 😦 when I run more than my normal 8-10kms…

  7. er, you’re in Canada aren’t you?! In Banff! Not far from the Kootenays! Sorry about that! Does that kind of course exist in Canada?

    • Hi Gaelle – It’s affirming to know that you also went through a stage where you didn’t recognize your body. I am still struggling with that, but I know that, with time, I’ll feel a bit better about things. I think it’s amazing that Germany (and other European countries from what I hear) have a fitness program. We don’t have anything like that here in Canada, but I have to be thankful for our opportunity to take maternity/parental leaves from work.

  8. I’ve still got some time to go till my birth but I’ve seen ‘buggy bootcamp’ in my local park and really fancy it. It looks like lots of fun – all the babies lined up in their strollers (we call buggies) and new mums doing circuts around them πŸ™‚ Hope it’ll be a good way to meet likeminded new mums that I have more in common with than a close birth date too.

    • You’re right about meeting “like minded” women, Lyndsey. You’ll meet a lot of women who have babies with close birth dates at prenatal classes and “Baby and Me” type classes after your baby is born (if you attend, of course!). It’s great to having friends you can meet up with for story time at the library but also nice to connect with new moms who want to go out for a run with the burleys! I’m glad you’ve already found a class close to you that you will enjoy.

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