Monday, February 23, 2015

Finding Beauty in "Ruin"

The title of this blog post refers to the notion of some in society that "pregnancy ruins a woman's body". This does not reflect my actual feelings about my postpartum body, but it does affect my feelings, and I hate that. Today, I am in the midst of my third cycle of "finding the new normal" after a healthy pregnancy. I love my three boys more than anything. My struggle is in making peace with what I see in the mirror once they have found their way into the world.

Due to the large carry that runs in my family (see picture--a month or two before I delivered baby #3), I am left with a large, loose pouch of skin at best, and usually some extra rolls on top of that. This pregnancy I was already carrying about 25 more pounds than I like to have before I even got my positive test. I am working my way back to my preferred weight in a slow, healthy-eating manner.

Don't get me wrong; I am proud of what my body has done. I have three very healthy and adorable little guys. I know I am capable of bringing myself to be fit again; I have finished a marathon (albeit very slowly) as well as many half marathons and ten-milers. I am currently training for a 10K (6.2 miles) in May.

I think part of the struggle this time around, in addition to the extra weight I was carrying pre-pregnancy (I have already dropped the weight I put on during the pregnancy), is that I am still emotionally dealing with my birth experience. My first two sons were delivered vaginally while my third ended up being an unplanned c-section. I went through nearly 24 hours of labor with 3 hours of pushing before my doctor determined that my son wasn't progressing down the birth canal. It turned out that his head was just too big to fit through my pelvis, and I am grateful for modern medicine that allowed him to be born safely anyway, even though it was not what I had hoped for. The experience was slightly disappointing and fairly terrifying in the moment, even though my doctor and nurses were lovely and took great care of me. While rationally I understand why things happened as they did, there is still a part of my brain that mourns the relatively quick and easy birth I experienced with my second son and that I expected with my third.

I am finding it hard to reconcile the parts of my brain. One accepts my appearance as normal and to be expected from multiple pregnancies, two after the age of 30, and large babies taking up a small amount of real estate in a petite, short-waisted frame. The other is too susceptible to the images of the latest starlet to bounce back miraculously from a pregnancy and look as if she had never been pregnant in the first place--never mind that she has a nanny, a chef and a personal trainer to help. Or to a Facebook post by a friend sharing a photo project meant to celebrate real postpartum bodies (stretch marks, "pooches", and all) with the caption "this is one of the reasons why I'll never have kids."

I have never considered myself a vain person, but I am too sensitive to the inconsiderate comments of acquaintances asking if I'm pregnant again. No, I'm not. I have a nearly-7-month-old and was not allowed to do much exercise for the first 4-5 months postpartum because my pelvic muscles actually separated with all the stretching that happened during the pregnancy and I had to undergo physical therapy to bring them back together again. But thanks for making me feel like a huge cow.

Getting back into running is really the best therapy. I started running before having children, realizing that I would get in shape faster if I pushed my pace on our secondhand treadmill. Before long I was entering--and enjoying!--5K races, and it snowballed from there. I loved the way I felt after a run, and the changes in my body--getting stronger and replacing flab with muscle--were a big plus. I was a bit worried after my c-section that it might hurt to run. I had a friend whose scar bothered her when she ran. Luckily, that has not been an issue for me. My biggest challenges have been simply carving out enough time for my workouts--a few have been after the kids and even hubby went to bed!--and remembering to continue strengthening my core with my physical therapy exercises. I had never had issues with my knees, and I was starting to really feel them during runs until I recalled that core strength can adversely affect the joints. So now I'm trying to remember, in all my spare time, to take care of cross training on my off days from running.

When I run, I feel strong and I lose the self-consciousness I tend to get in other situations in public. I want to channel that feeling and carry it with me all day. I admire the women who have stopped caring about others' impressions of their appearance; they take care of themselves because they love themselves and not for anyone else's benefit. I am working my way towards joining their ranks.

Whatever the results of my weight-loss and fitness journey on my body, I resolve to be proud of what I have done to care for myself and make myself a better mom and wife for my family. I will have improved my health and boosted my energy to look after those I love, and that is more important to me than anything else in this life. I hope that when I look in the mirror in the coming months, I see achievement and power, and never "ruin." To me, childbearing is a bit like rebirth for the mother as well. The mother is faced with the challenge of finding a new normal for herself, adjusting to the new life she has created as well as the permanent and temporary changes in her own body. The challenge is accepting and affirming these in the most positive way.

Challenge accepted.


August McLaughlin said...

What a beautifully honest post, Kristine. I'm sure many women can relate to your post-pregnancy challenges! And I know what it's like to feel frustrated with my physique - and frustrated with myself for caring.

I love what you said about running, and how wonderfully therapeutic you find it. I hope that helps, and that you continually find ways to see your own beauty. When I think of you, I see your gorgeous face, gleaming smile and sparkling eyes -- particularly when you're around those awesome kid-lets.

Thanks so much for participating in the fest!

Kate said...

Incredible, Kristine. There's so much strength--and beauty--in your words. Your post is inspiring, and I support you in your journey.

I love what you said about how becoming a new mom is like a rebirth for herself, and how she can create a new normal. I never looked at it like that before. Even though mine are a bit bigger--my oldest just turned fifteen!--I can still create a new normal. Love that! Thank you for such a wonderful post <3

Minerva said...

Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate. I've had these thoughts percolating for a while now, and it's good to get them out there. I also appreciate your sweet comments, it means a lot coming from you. :)

Thank you for your support, I can use all I can get for what will likely be a challenging season. I agree, you can find your new normal whenever you need to! I wish you luck in finding yours.

Amaryllis Turman said...

Kudos for completing marathons and 10k. I have only done a 5k and I don't know if I could do any more than that.

Minerva said...

Thanks, Amaryllis!

I didn't think I could go even for a 5K when I started. I am not fast by any means, I'm just stubborn so I keep going until I finish. The longer races aren't for everyone, but I recommend trying them if you get a chance and especially if you can find a training plan to help! :)

KM Huber said...

What a beautiful post, so thoughtful and poignant. Your courage and your heart shine through.

For what it's worth, you might try acupuncture for your knees, as it complements any exercise we do. I have some issues with my psoas muscles, and I have found acupuncture helpful. I am not a runner, however.

Best of luck. Really enjoyed your post.

Anonymous said...

Having three healthy sons is a major major achievement. I'm sorry to hear about how hard the delivery and recovery was from the last birth. It's hard to deal with all the images and expectations about women's bodies bouncing back. You are doing a terrific job taking care of you. Keep focusing on healing and growing stronger. :)

Minerva said...

Thanks for your wonderful compliments, and I appreciate your suggestions as well. The knee issues seem to be lessening as my fitness level is improving and I am being diligent about cross training, but I will definitely keep that in mind should it flare up again!

Thank you! I'm rather proud of them myself :) I appreciate your words of support.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you found something that is helping you rebuild your confidence and regain your footing. People online can be so insensitive about how their words can impact other people. Thanks for sharing with us.

Louise Behiel said...

love your honesty Kristine. I'm way beyond child bearing years, but my body is changing with age and I just can't get away with the things I used to be able to handle.

Anonymous said...

Knock knock?