Staying Active Post-Baby Part 1: How to Stay Not Active (and love it!)
The day after we brought our first baby home from the hospital, we took her for a two mile walk. I felt exhilarated, high on adrenaline and love hormones after the birth, manic with the stress energy that kicked in after several consecutive days and nights with mere snatches of sleep. “I feel great,” I thought, foolishly, “This recovery thing will be no big deal!”
The next day it hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. Walking was out of the question. My entire lower half ached and throbbed, and as I did more research, my pain was compounded by the discovery that I could have given myself various types of “prolapse,” which is a polite way of saying that important organs and body parts are loose and dangling down where they shouldn’t be. A friend with two kids brought over dinner, and I told her about my walk and how now I could barely move. She scolded me with the full seriousness of a middle school teacher (which she is) reprimanding her students, insisting that I lay or sit down for no less than three weeks. “No walking, no exercise, no housework, no lifting, and no vacuuming,” she listed, before going off to get my husband and tell him these orders too, explaining prolapse in graphic detail lest he think she was being overly cautious.
Scared into submission, I rested. Up until this point, I had been the person who got slighly peevish after a day off of exercise, and downright grumpy if I had to miss two days of movement in a row. I used to like to think I was in control of my plan, let’s just say. (To that I now say, hahahaha!) So I fully expected to feel antsy and jittery not exercising, and resentful of this sedentary phase, even temporarily.
Instead, I felt blissful. I lounged. I napped with the baby. I cuddled the baby. I ate. We nursed almost constantly. I asked for help and food (that I can eat with one hand for crying out loud!), and I accepted help (and food, any kind, please, but maybe a tightly wrapped burrito because tacos are especially challenging to eat while nursing—mom got salsa on the baby again, whoopsie!). I didn’t care one tiny little bit that I wasn’t out walking or running. I was content to focus on the baby, the miraculous miracle of coffee, my husband being such an incredible dad, the warmth of the sunshine on my arms as we sat in a chair outside. I was proud of my body for growing and birthing this little nugget. Everything was perfect right here, right now; I didn’t need to move or chase or cycle my thoughts.
Part of this was due to exhaustion, I’m sure; we were barely sleeping, so lounging felt just fine. But there was something else going on, too—a coming home to my body that I hadn’t felt before, in all the years of pushing it physically. I felt deeply that the motivation would return when it was supposed to, and I could just let things unfold. I didn’t need to force or push. Also, I had just done enough pushing to last me a very long time.
Before, I had always believed that being a mom just meant making certain sacrifices; one just accepts them as the trade-off for the experience of raising kids. I’d also previously believed that caring about what my body looked like was vain and ego-driven. But now, being in my changed, post-pregnancy body simultaneously affirmed these beliefs while also turning them on their heads.
For one, I suddenly understood that being a mom meant to me that I now WANTED to make those sacrifices; I pretty much now lived for them. The kids and their needs became top priority. (See: biology, mama bears, etc.) Secondly, my relationship to my body before pregnancy had been like a tumultuous on-again off-again romance, where depending on how it was treating me I felt short periods of comfort alternated with storms of contempt. Now, post-baby it felt more like one of those super cute long marriages where, yeah, sometimes it bugged the heck out of me, but mostly I had deep, unconditional love for it (almost all of it, almost all the time). And that meant that I now felt free to want the very best for it, ego and vanity aside.
Because at the end of the day, I realized that my body is all I have. Yes, technically I have my ski boots and skis and mountain bike, but as much as I wish I could be attached to them more, most of the time they are in the garage, the basement, or the portable ski storage locker (aka the minivan). Okay and also, technically I do have two little kids and a husband and a dog and as much as they all wish they could be attached to me more, some of the time they are on their own, in control of their own bodies, or at least trying. So that leaves me and my body, which carries around my brain which is the one other, more important thing that I have. And I need my brain (and therefore some of my body) to be in top working order to do the best momming job that I can. Much emphasis is placed on education and jobs and thinking in our society—it’s easy to separate who we are from what we are; it’s easy to forget sometimes that our brains are actually IN our bodies. Loving and respecting and taking care of my body—the only thing I have—means loving and respecting and taking care of my brain and my whole person.
After a few weeks, I realized that all of the love hormones and cuddly couch time was clearly making me think way too much. I felt the first stirrings of a desire to move, and as I began emerging slowly from the blissful oxytocin haze I began to take walks. (I also began to feel a curiosity about my core muscles, like where the hell they had gone, but I shelved that question for the time—more on that later.) Soon I started hiking with the baby in the frontpack which she hated but slept great in. If I left at naptime, she would scream for five minutes, fall fast asleep, and then if I kept moving I could hike for an hour and sometimes almost two before she would wake up screaming again and I would stop wherever I was and feed her before carrying her back in my arms so she wouldn’t scream. This led to some special moments of me stopped on the side of the road, sitting on a rock feeding the baby, or me picking a tick off of the nursing baby while stopped in the woods, or me speed-walking with the half-naked baby and the jumbled frontpack in one arm while desperately clinging to the dog’s leash and a soiled diaper in the other because the dog had spotted the road and he wanted to BE THERE NOW.
This return to activity felt natural, and that helped me trust that in due time I would know when it would be time to do more stuff, like run or bike, or search for my abs. But for the time being, I was content to walk and cuddle, slowly adjusting to this new little being outside of my body, and my new body with just me in it again.