by Ashleigh Catsos Yager
Five months ago, I had a baby. It was a fast, uncomplicated delivery and the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. After the standard two-day hospital stay, my doctor came into our room to look me over one last time and wish us well before we were discharged. “I’ll see you in six weeks,” she said. Ah, the six-week postpartum check-up I had heard so much about, the day that I would be cleared to resume “regular activities.” Especially in those initial days of motherhood, sore and overwhelmed and covered in poo, I looked to that appointment as a beacon of hope, the point at which I would be declared “back to normal”. I was desperate for that normalcy, to return to working out and feel like myself again, to “get mybody back”.
The night before that six-week appointment, I stood in front of the mirror and cried. I had failed somehow. I didn’t feel healed or even close to normal, and had never felt less like myself. I certainly didn’t look the way I had hoped or expected to look at this point. I thought I would bounce right back but instead felt broken. I had done everything right, hadn’t I?
I worked out throughout my entire pregnancy, from the day I saw the plus sign on the pee stick to just hours before I went into labor. During my first trimester, my workouts remained largely unchanged. I was lucky enough that I experienced very little morning sickness but I fatigued easily and was generally exhausted so I allowed myself additional rest days. I continued to run but slowed my pace, took classes but modified as needed and used lighter weights in my strength training. I generally felt so good that I wondered if I had imagined the whole pregnancy thing to begin with.
By the middle of my second trimester, I had stopped running entirely. While I definitely had more energy than the initial weeks of pregnancy and my workouts remained strong, I found I could no longer tolerate the impact. Instead of running, I started going on long walks and added prenatal yoga classes into the mix. I would think to myself, “Look at me, I have this whole thing figured out.”
By the third trimester, I had removed “high-impact” from my personal exercise vocabulary. If we’re being honest, my definition of “workout” had changed entirely. The bigger I got, the more challenging movement became, but I made it my goal to move every day. I found that I moved more slowly but focused more deeply. I felt prepared, strong and proud of my body and my pregnancy.
And then my son was born.
Pregnancy is hard but the days, weeks and months postpartum are even harder. There’s nothing that reinforces the feeling of losing control of one’s body like the demands of a new baby. My body was not my own. I thought of that six-week milestone often and longingly and sometimes in tears. What I discovered, however, is that the fact that the follow-up appointment is typically scheduled six weeks from delivery is an arbitrary recovery timeline for many. It certainly was for me. I did not wake up that particular morning and feel as though I could run another marathon or go to the gym and throw some kettlebells around. Even when my doctor looked me over and told me, “Everything looks great”, I knew that she meant so superficially. There was so much more healing and repairing to be done on a cellular level.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I would stand in front of the mirror and try to see if I looked any different. It didn’t feel like much was happening: I wasn’t nauseous, I wasn’t yet showing, and it was too soon to feel the baby move. Part of me even doubted that there was a baby in there at all. I had to trust that, even though I couldn’t feel it, things were happening.
Now five months postpartum, I am reminded that progress can’t be measured by what you see in the mirror. I have returned to working out and my body is responding, but slowly. It is hard not to feel discouraged, to feel like progress is not being made. My muscles feel sleepy. I often hear my postpartum personal training clients bemoan their lost abs and I can totally relate. I need to constantly remind myself that they are still in there even if I can’t feel them. With pregnancy, my body changed so gradually at first that, I didn’t even realize. I need to trust that the same is happening now as I work to rebuild my strength. I need to be grateful that I have a body that can move, a body that moved me safely and confidently through the months it took to grow a human.
Pregnancy was not the time to lose weight or to test my physical limits—the pregnancy itself did that. It was about maintenance, mobility and stamina and I was grateful for exercise as an outlet that kept me sane. Looking back, I realize it was the first time in my life that I was working out truly because it made me feel better, not because I had a specific goal in mind.
I need to remember that now and encourage my clients to do the same. We can’t apply a deadline to healing, just like we can’t anticipate a timeline for growth or progress. The only thing that is within our control is what we do to be proactive. We can move our bodies daily and be grateful we have bodies to move. This is what pregnancy has made clear. Whether it’s a return from having a baby, an injury, or from a period of negative thinking, we can all benefit from a shift in focus to being proactive, not so focused on progress. The progress will come.
And in the meantime, we should all do some more Kegels.