The Highs and Lows.
Now that all this running and racing is behind me for now, I thought it was a good time to talk about fitness and post-partum life in general. Although my kids just turned two and four this month, so I’m not sure if post-partum is even a term that still applies! I actually started this post back in June, and I’ve rewritten it three or four times since then. I’m not sure why I’m so hesitant to just throw it all our there, because – really, it’s not even a big deal.
I just ran my third half marathon of the season – an amazing race in San Francisco that left me with an intense runner’s high.
I’ve been working out consistently for a long while now. Part of the beauty of my kids getting a bit older is that suddenly there is a bit more freedom in my mom life – I’m no longer tied to anyone by the boob, and I can take off after dinner time for a fitness class or a run pretty easily. Mentally and emotionally, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time!
But physically, I’m still adjusting to a new type of postpartum body once again. I’ve spent so much of the last four or five years fluctuating between pregnant, postpartum, and back again – and here I am finally just getting used to being ME.
Allow me to back up! The last time I was just me – with no baby in my belly and no little baby to nourish with breastmilk – was January 2011. That is not a typo. It’s been well over four years since I really had my body all to myself, and it is liberating and freeing and also very confusing.
In January 2011, I got pregnant with Cullen and my body embarked on this amazing journey that is motherhood and pregnancy, and every part of me – inside and out – changed forever. And I was never one of those “swallowed a basketball” kind of pregnant moms. Nope, I looked like I swallowed the whole team.
I didn’t worry much about workouts or weight loss after Cullen was born, mostly because I was completely overwhelmed and consumed by figuring out how the hell to take care of a baby. Breastfeeding went really well for us – he was a great eater and my body seemed to do its part as needed (aside from repeated bouts of mastitis). I know breastfeeding affects everyone very differently, but I seemed to be one of those women who significantly drops weight while nursing. I ate everything in sight and an alarming amount of sugar (ohhh the nursing sweet tooth), and it made no difference. I was the smallest I had been in years, and it was (obnoxiously) with little to no effort.
At this same time, I dipped my sneakers back into the running pond. Running felt hard at first because I’d taken a year off (between pregnancy and the first few months postpartum), but it quickly got easier. My main struggle was finding the time to train and learning to get back a bit of life/mom balance.
I ran two half marathons that summer that I was very undertrained for. My times weren’t very good, mostly because I majorly burned out at the end of both of them. Breastfeeding was leaving me really exhausted and depleted, and I struggled to be able to maintain a consistent workout schedule. I also discovered a thyroid issue that I started to manage (and wrote more about all of this here). I look back at this picture now and can’t believe how worn out I look – yikes!
When Cullen was about a year old, I discovered Barre3. I fell in love with it immediately and felt energized by something new, and something that also allowed me to workout during the day (childcare!). It was winter, so running started to taper off for the season as I did more classes and avoided the cold, rainy outdoors.
I weaned Cullen from breastfeeding at 14.5 months. Two weeks later, I got pregnant with Graham. There was no downtime – no hormonal balance, and no physical adjustment. At the time that I got pregnant with Graham, my weight was lower than it had been when I got pregnant with Cullen two years prior. I felt fit and strong from barre classes, but also not necessarily totally recovered physically.
My pregnancy with Graham was a lot different – I stayed very active. I ran up until the low 20 weeks, I hauled a heavy toddler around all day long, and I stuck with weekly barre3 classes until I was 38 weeks along.
The whole postpartum experience the second time around was completely different for many reasons. First and foremost, I had a toddler to take care of in addition to a newborn. So I was forced to rebound much more quickly than before. As it was, my recovery was much, much better the second time. I credit this to a combo of an active pregnancy and a very quick, natural labor.
Emotionally, I found that whole mom/life balance thing to be much easier the second time. I learned from the mistakes I made with Cullen and didn’t lose as much of myself as an individual. I prioritized time for exercise, time with each kid individually, and time just for me. At 9 weeks postpartum I went for my first run, and it felt terrible but amazing at the same time.
I went back to barre classes at 12 weeks postpartum, and used the childcare service there – something that took me over a year to do with Cullen!
As I continued to run and workout and breastfeed, the same thing happened as before – steady weight loss and faster speeds. I was running faster than I had in many years, and it was really motivating. I ran two more half marathons last summer, and set a new postpartum PR in the 13.1 mile distance. I was much stronger and more fit than the year before, which I credit to all the barre classes I did as part of training – but I was also at a low (for me) weight again too due to breastfeeding.
I ran a few more smaller races in the fall, and then followed the same pattern – less running, more barre classes – but still worked out consistently every week. Even through a dreary winter we got out for lots of walks, and I utilized the barre childcare whenever our schedule allowed.
Fast forward to February, and I weaned Graham the day he turned 16 months old. But unlike the last time, I had no plans to get pregnant again. For the first time in a long, long time – it was just me, myself, and I. I could feel massive hormonal swings as my body began to finally balance out again. And bit by bit, I could see and feel my weight creeping up.
I expected that it would happen, but it still didn’t feel good. Mostly because I hadn’t changed my activity level or eating habits – it was just happening naturally. And while the first few pounds didn’t bother me, the next few did. And the few after that did even more. At one point I had convinced myself that perhaps the scale said I’d gained weight, but maybe my body had just re-proportioned itself now that I was no longer pregnant or breastfeeding. And then I went to try on the clothes I bought last summer for our LA trip in March, and nothing fit. So that bubble was burst.
I didn’t really care on a day to day basis, but then I had two different people ask me if I was pregnant, and I felt really embarrassed. So here I am – not pregnant, not breastfeeding – and over 10 pounds up from where I was a year ago. I can tell that at age 34, my metabolism is slowing down and “bouncing back” is not quite as easy as it used to be.
I ran three half marathons this year – all slower than the year before, but what felt like some of my strongest running in a long time. It’s funny because I can feel that my body is much stronger and more muscular, and yet I can also tell that simply weighing more slows me down. Despite not always loving this size, I do enjoy feeling like a stronger – albeit slower – runner.
For many months now I’ve been running and taking classes 5 days a week, and even so, I’m the heaviest I’ve been in years. Most of the time I feel okay about that. The weight I lost due to breastfeeding was never natural or even necessarily healthy – there was just nothing I could do about it. I know that numbers on a scale aren’t a great measure of fitness or strength or any such thing. At the same time, I miss feeling more confident and more positive about myself.
I don’t have any weight loss plan or goals in mind. And now that my races are over, I’m looking to continue to build up my strength and muscle tone using ClassPass and jumping around to different studios. What’s funny is that I was so looking forward to this last half marathon being behind me, and now that it is I feel the itch to sign up for another race. I’ve never been the type of person who wants to go running six days a week, but I’ve really grown to love using fitness classes to help me cross-train for races. And the cooler weather definitely makes me want to go out and run! Although it also makes me want to curl up on the couch and eat pumpkin pie, so there is that.
I will say that despite not always loving how I feel in my jeans, the other – and more important – aspect of my life feel better than ever. Professionally, I feel more motivated and organized than I have in years. My marriage feels exciting and important. My friendships are deep and very meaningful. And my love for the boys continues to fill my heart on a daily basis, and in so many new and exciting ways as they grow and change. The nice thing about being 34 – and not say, 24 – is that I genuinely care about all of these things a lot more.
I don’t actually know why I even wrote all of this. I’m definitely not fishing for compliments or even trying to start a whole discussion on the subject. But I guess maybe it’s because it wasn’t something I expected – the massive physical fluctuations that come with rediscovering yourself after having kids. And while there are so many other moms and bloggers who bounce around with little ones looking like fitness models, I imagine there are also a lot of other moms that look and feel a bit more like me. And so if that is you – high five, sister.