Honor your body, mama

For the last year, my mind, my body and my heart have been on an emotional roller coaster. About 15 months ago, I became pregnant for the fourth time. It would be my third baby, (I miscarried between my first two children). I was happy to be pregnant and excited about adding to our family. I decided to be surprised by the sex of the baby…really living on the edge for the third time around!

I was blessed to have a healthy pregnancy, with only minor complications, and I was able to exercise throughout the pregnancy. I am one of those people who loves to exercise. It is my passion and my career; I am a Yoga & Fitness Instructor and a Personal Trainer. I work part time, while I focus primarily on my family. Exercising during my pregnancy helped me manage stress, remain strong and feel happier. I took Prenatal Yoga and Prenatal Strength classes (PregnaFit). I also felt comfortable running until 20 weeks along.

My son, a few hours old

My son, a few hours old

On February 10, at 41 weeks and one day, I delivered a nine pound, 3 ounce baby boy. I was delighted to have a healthy baby boy and I was shocked by his size – he was nearly 2 pounds larger than my second baby. My son’s birth was my second VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and my second natural childbirth. The type of birth I had was a conscious choice – one that I am fortunate was supported by my amazing, experienced midwife Lisa Preller and by my wonderful husband.

Much like my first VBAC three years prior, I felt euphoric after his birth. I felt like my body rocked something truly incredible – much like climbing a huge mountain or finishing a long race. I’m an athlete and I love to be challenged. Delivering my babies was right on par with completing my first half ironman in 2014, only better. There isn’t anything more amazing than holding your baby and meeting him or her for the first time. That first cuddle, the first time nursing your baby, the first time they look into your eyes. If you are a parent, this is no surprise.

The female body is incredible. The mere fact that we can grow another human being, that our bodies can stretch to carry it, that our organs get squished to make room for the growing uterus, yet they still manage to function. It’s amazing that your blood volume nearly doubles to provide all the growth and goodness to your baby.

Yet even more incredible is the labor and delivery process and meeting the precious baby. Here come the taboo topics. Lately, more light has been shed on these topics and for good reason. What happens to your body if you deliver vaginally? Is everything still the same down there? Sometimes. And sometimes you might need to see a specialist to regain pelvic floor strength and tone. Huh? I never knew this specialty existed until four years ago.

I started out way too fast after my first baby was born in 2009. I began running immediately after the 6 week postpartum checkup. I had a triathlon scheduled 4 months after giving birth via c-section (a major surgery), and I was younger and rather foolish. I injured myself by training too soon and too hard for that race. I developed plantar fasciitis and had to sleep wearing a boot while nursing a 5 month old through the night; it was awkward, uncomfortable and frustrating. In hindsight, it was really dumb of me to rush back in so fast.

After my second baby in 2013, I eased myself back in a lot slower and began walking and practicing gentle yoga. I enrolled in an Abdominal Rehabilitation class to help close my diastasis (when the Rectus Abdominus separates to make room for the growing uterus, shown in this article safe-ab-exercises).  It is only problematic if women aren’t aware of their condition or what to do about it. One of the worst things to do after childbirth to regain abdominal strength is a lot of crunches or sit-ups – these can make a diastasis worse. Instead, core stability work, much like the exercises suggested in this article postpartum-recovery , can help make the difference.Post-Pregnancy-Exercise-Safe-Ways-to-Workout-after-Baby

I learned more about pelvic floor health and needed to address significant weaknesses after leaking in a race. Ugh. There, I said it. I leaked while running in a relay race. How embarrassing can it get? I know it can get worse – I’ve heard worse from others. Yet I’ve also learned that the more women talk about these things, the more we realize we are not alone. We are not freaks of nature, it happens to other women too. By sharing information, new moms can learn about what they are experiencing and how to treat it. There are resources to share; such as abdominal rehab or postnatal classes, articles to inform and empower women, and targeted physical therapy. Yet sometimes the female body just needs more time! I’ve heard many times from mothers with children older than mine, “It takes nearly a year for a baby to grow and develop and it may take the year after to feel like yourself again.”

With my biggest fan, after finishing a half ironman/70.3

With my biggest fan, after finishing a half ironman/70.3

This time around, I promised to give myself more time. When my son was 14 weeks old, I decided I was ready to run again. I ran 1 mile, it was humbling, and I was proud. Less than 2 years ago, I raced 70.3 miles in a half ironman, yet right now I feel accomplished after a one mile run. Why is that? It’s all about honoring your body where you are. I started with safe core work (transverse holds, pelvic tilts, kegels) and a lot of walking early on. I went back to Ab Rehab at Deb Goodman’s Physical Therapy Studio. I do yoga whenever I can, usually with my kids on the floor in the living room. I’ve started adding weights, cycling and just recently added the short runs.

I’ve learned there is no need to rush back into races – I have my whole life to continue racing. I’m inspired by women in my daily life – some in their sixties – who are rocking it physically. My mom is 61 and she exercises 6 days per week and completely transformed her body over the last year. I see women in my local triathlon club (Bethlehem Tri Club) who complete races that range from a sprint to a full ironman into their sixties and beyond! They inspire me and hundreds of others. The message this sends is that I have time and if you are also a new mom, you do too! My baby will only be a baby for 8 more months give or take. I can train slowly and smart now to regain my strength. The races will be there for me when I’m ready.

Another woman I’ve been inspired by lately is a professional runner, Olympic hopeful, and mom of two young boys, Stephanie Rothstein Bruce. Recently, she has brought much needed attention to the challenges women face when returning to running after having babies (diastasis recti comes up again). She keeps it real and shares openly with photos and posts about her own journey. Self Magazine featured her in a fabulous article, athlete-childbirth. I’ve been following her, along with 56,000 other people on instagram and I love how brave and honest she is about her life!

I am proud of the baby boy I grew, delivered and have nursed to be nearly 16 pounds at 4 months old. I am proud of how I care for him and I am rewarded when he smiles back at me with his huge toothless grin. My body is strong and it will carry me many more miles in my life. Every day on this earth is a gift. I look forward to running more miles and competing in triathlons again, but I have chosen not to sign up for a race this season. Instead, my focus is to rebuild my strong body.

A wise woman told me once, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don’t compare yourself with other women. Don’t. Do. It. Every pregnancy is different. Every female body is unique. Give yourself the time you need to heal. Share information and resources with fellow women – it is the perfect way to empower others to advocate and care for their bodies. Let’s lift each other up, always.

This article originally appeared in The Albany Times Union Holistic Health blog on June 9, 2016.