Finding Vitality Two Years Into Motherhood

The terrain was getting steeper, blockier and trickier to navigate – the kind of terrain I thrive in. I like to use my hands. I like to solve problems. I like it when the route presents a mental challenge. It’s the steady slogging up high-angled trails that starts to get to me, when getting up something is just a matter of good cardio and stamina.

Here I was last Monday making my way up the final summit block of Mt. Cory in Banff National Park. A cornice hung over the top like a tidal wave, making it unclear where solid rock ended and a punch through to a fatal fall began. Our party of three got two vertical metres from the summit and called it our high point.

We had a long way to go down – over 1300 metres, in fact – and before we started the downward trod, we found a flat lunch spot on the ridge, and put our backs to the summit so that we could take in the distant views. To the South, the prominent North face of Mt. Assiniboine hung above a sea of peaks. To the East stood Mt. Rundle, the West Mt. Temple. I said “hello” to my familiar friends. It’s been a while…

On the way back down Mt. Lawrence Grassi. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
On the way back down Mt. Lawrence Grassi. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

It was my second peak in 10 days, the first being Mt. Lawrence Grassi – a personal record-setting rate for the last three years. Prior to that it was a peak a week until pregnancy set my balance off, put too much pressure on my pelvis and brought on extreme fatigue. That was followed by two years spent clinging to a thread most of the time. The abyss for me wasn’t postpartum depression, but rather physical recovery after a long and traumatic delivery, exhaustion beyond what I thought any human was able to cope with, and a total lack of balance. There were many joyful, fun times amidst those two years, but my denial of the struggle caught up to me last summer.

I felt plagued by a feeling of heaviness, as if birthing the baby and shedding the extra weight had not made a difference. I saw an osteopath, who told me I had no vitality in my body. I believed her. My limbs felt like the rusty parts of an old tractor, abandoned in a field. The thought of having the energy and strength to climb a mountain – something that came so naturally to me “before” – left me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. I loved my little girl with all my heart, but quietly wondered if motherhood was this hard for everyone.

Even today, I am reminded of the pain and frustration of falling down that slippery slope of comparing myself to other mothers. These feelings are visceral, sometimes painful. I have since learned how much damage is caused by this whole notion of “bouncing back”. Our culture puts too much pressure on women to return to ‘normal’ by over-emphasizing the successes of new mothers who accomplish considerable feats. I marvel at the women who, soon after having a baby, slide into their skinny jeans, run triathlons, climb mountains, compete in the Olympics, even have another child. I acknowledge it is often a matter of will and desire, but I am convinced more than ever that some women’s bodies allow them to push hard. I had all the will, but my body protested. I now marvel, but for a long time I resented.

My celebratory leap at Vermilion Lakes, Banff. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
My celebratory leap at Vermilion Lakes, Banff. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

A few times, I pushed hard – trips into the backcountry, up small peaks, across the world island-hopping – but my saving grace, from a recovery standpoint, turned out to be bicycling and hiking gently with my baby girl. This got me out of the town limits, out into pseudo wilderness. It also got my body moving without putting pressure on my joints. Slowly, but surely, I felt my vitality returning. One step in the right direction led to another. I started taking fish oils and Vitamin D. I made a concerted effort to sleep better. Now I book extra days at the day home when I feel myself starting to split at the seams.

Yesterday, I took a leap on the dock at Vermilion Lakes. I felt lightness, and it was a celebration.

As we approached the top of Mt. Cory, our team encountered some steep snow slopes. The exposure was considerable enough for me to switch my hiking pole for an ice axe. As I plunged it into the snow and pulled on it to test its security, I had a moment of nostalgia. The rhythm of placing the axe – plunge, step, step – reminded me I still had it in me. It had been there all along. I just needed to be patient with the process. I needed to accept my own journey; it is the only way that I can teach my daughter the same patience and acceptance.

What still surprises me about motherhood, among many things, is just how long it took me to feel vitality return to my body. Two years in I finally feel capable again. I am learning to love the “after” version of my body – the stretch marks, as much as the new limits.

I finally feel at ease, powerful… free.

Did your ‘recovery’ time surprise you, too? How did you deal with it?

Also on this topic: 

Take It Easy, Mamas: Finding Value in Unexpected Setbacks

The Difference a Year Makes

Pregnant and Pushing the Limits: Exemplary or Exceptional?

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

14 thoughts

  1. I’ve had 5 pregnancies, (4 children + 1 miscarriage) and each time recovery has been completely different. Sometimes the “new mom” I envied was actually my (former)self! As it may have been easy going for me after one birth and not so easy after another. I wondered, how is it possible I managed to do so well then, what is so impossible now??? The hardest was severe post-partum depression after my 3rd. I honestly didn’t know if we (I say “we” because it affected the whole family) would ever truly recover from that, but we have, and with much gratitude even went on to welcome one more child into the family 6 years later.

    Which leads me to NOW. I am a runner and this post is so relevant to me. I can relate to your new found vitality. My 2 year old special needs daughter, having been a non-sleeper since birth, has only begun this last week at 28 months of age, to *finally* start sleeping through the night! Today I ran my first 10-miler since she was born. That is a milestone I expected to hit about 23 months ago! But despite “having all the will, my body protested” (you said that SO well) and running never took off as I had planned. In place of fresh air and positive endorphins were Illness, recurrent injury and frustrated tears as I schlepped along in a haze of sleepless nights and busy nap-less days keeping up with the lives of my older children all the while trying (but often failing) to manage the hormonal imbalance and metabolic havoc that naturally results from prolonged sleep deprivation. BUT NOW, now there is this light at the end of the tunnel 🙂 The 10 miles I ran this morning did not feel as effortless as they once did, nor is my body the “runner’s body” I once had, but there is freedom and power in making it here to this point in time.

    KUDOS TO YOU FOR ACCEPTING THE MOTHERHOOD JOURNEY WITH AS MUCH SELF- COMPASSION AS YOU CAN MUSTER. Your daughter is one lucky little girl to have a mom who can model patience for the process in a world where patience and acceptance is so often devalued. May we all learn to be kind to our “after”-selves

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Michelle! Five pregnancies – you have my every once of admiration! What an incredible journey you have been on as a mother. Something you touch on is the impact that sleep deprivation and adrenal fatigue has on our bodies. After months of searching for an answer to some dizziness and imbalance I was feeling, a new family doctor finally nailed it: “you’re just really tired!”, she said. As first I felt a bit cheated by her answer, but after treating myself a bit more kindly, I realized she was right. It can be a real shock to the system when our bodies stop coping the way they could pre-motherhood.

      Your message is one of hope and encouragement – thank you!

  2. Beautiful Meghan. Thank you for sharing. I am really struggling with lack of energy and motivation still 18m after birth. Between sleep deprivation and still breastfeeding around the clock, my body is so tired. I’m slowly finding the vitality again thanks to the improved weather and support from my hubby. Glad to know I’m not alone!

    1. You’re definitely not alone, Katie! I totally underestimated the impact that sleep deprivation and baby dependency has on mums. Finding moments for yourself each day – even just ten minutes – are so life giving. I hope you find new energy and find ways to replenish!

  3. As a 55 year old mother of three with a teen still at home i feel safe in saying you will get your mojo back!
    Raising kids is the toughest job in the world, especially in the first three years when they rely on us for Everything, including using our bodies as a building warehouse. Vitality comes in different forms and make no mistake it will return. The thing to keep in mind is that the path will be easier to follow without putting high expectations and unesessary stress on yourself to be “that” mom. We all evolve into something, but to what, depends on openness to to a new and exciting you. The people our children become is a reflection of the way we their parents deal with the body and life thrown at us. You obviously have a huge love for your family and an active life style. That will never change. Give it time. Love yourself and your body will respond like a flower to H2O and sunshine.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Nicolette. Your bit about ‘how the people our children become are a reflection of how we deal with life’ is very true and also a great reminder for me to take greater accountability for my reaction to the circumstances. Raising kids really is the toughest job, and for me, finally acknowledging that was a step in the right direction. Here’s to getting our mojo back through self-love!

  4. Love this. As a mom of three, I’ve worked hard for my body. Or maybe I should rephrase that, as a mom of three, my body had worked hard to bring those three children here.

  5. I’m 9 months pregnant and as a (former?) backpacking guide, I’m realizing I have a great fear that motherhood will consume my life and I won’t be able to work in the backcountry again. It’s a comfort to know I’m not alone, and that the adventure doesnt have to be compromised. I suppose I will just need to be very patient with myself. Not being able to guide this summer because of unplanned pregnancy has really opened my eyes to my distaste for 24/7 domesticity and my need for scree, snow and summits

    1. You are definitely not alone. My daughter is just over two and I have just returned from three nights out in the backcountry. It’s all about being patient with the process and transition into parenthood. You may need to adjust your guiding somewhat, and it may take a bit of time before you can be ‘away’ for longer periods of time, but in my experience, that new baby changes you and for some time you are more than willing to go without it for a little while! And if not, that’s your journey, and you’ll find a way to make it work. For me it was about building up a support system so that I could disappear for a little while. Pursuing your passions only makes you a better mama. All the best as you enter motherhood, and please keep in touch!

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