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.