A Love Letter to My Post-Baby Body
Pregnancy – there were too many words and then, too few. My language, desires, passions, along with my energy, were swallowed into a growing chasm of possibility – a darkness bathed in the light of a dozen competing dreams and ambitions, of what ifs and maybes, a growing lump of futures and pasts, a million different stories with a million different endings, written in the flesh of my expanding body.
I had been an athlete, riddled with muscles and scars. I had been too hard for the possibilities of my child and our future, and so, my body shifted and pressed outward until those hard places collapsed into jelly. I became soft and pliable. Every inch of me shifted, like water, and my skin bubbled out into radiant balloons and clouds, dreaming just beyond the horizon of my son, his future, our family, our future – my story told in the third person, by me but for someone else.
I was a walking, talking embodiment of every duality and hypocrisy: simultaneously strong, then weak, empowered and powerless. The world moved forward with and because of me…and regardless of me and what I thought I wanted, nature would, at some point, take over.
In birth, there is a death: the woman you were before fades and the mother you will become follows your child out into the world. You take your first breath together.
As an athlete and as a poet, I had always been focused on questions of the body. From how it worked (and how far it could take my extreme desires and goals) to the stories it told and transcribed; from mountain descents in spring to my graduate dissertation and several largely un-read books of poetry.
Thus, my pregnancy created another opportunity, not only for me to reflect on my body, but for others to share in its struggles, triumphs, and transformations. Pregnancy was my first realization that my body, built by and for me, was not solely mine. It was of me, but it did not belong only to me. It was a part of some greater dance, of some larger purpose and reality, of the wilderness without and the communities I built against that wilderness.
Thus, for nine months, we discussed how motherhood transforms your life and career; we also discuss, at great lengths, the various troubles and awkward situations that pregnancy itself creates – from morning sickness and swollen feet, to weight gain and back pain. And while there was discussion of getting my “pre baby body” back, of the bike and ski trips that would follow, of my silly claims that I would be back in the saddle (literally) in just a few short weeks – no one mentioned the obvious: that person and that body were gone, replaced instead with the mother I became the instant my son entered the world and landed, like a bird, onto my chest.
Perhaps this is what so many fitness professionals, well meaning grandmothers, and ill advised athletic trainers misunderstand when it comes to motherhood and the postpartum period…
After a day of pre-labor, two hours of the universe repeatedly breaking my pelvis awhile squeezing my stomach with barbed wire, and a dramatically quick series of pushes, my son was being weighed and cleaned while I was stepping out of the tub and back into some new world. Naked, in a maze of midwives, grandma’s, and soft baby voices, I looked in the mirror.
From the outside, it wasn’t pretty. I was caked in sweat and fluids, my hair was a nest of anxiety and humidity, my breasts swollen from the sudden rush of motherhood, my body exhausted and strained. And yet, standing there, I took my hands and passed them over my stomach. I pressed it in to my spine, feeling the sensation of empty air and taking in with that sensation, my new body. I was light, free, filled with an impossible confidence and irresponsible satisfaction. Appreciative, perhaps. Liberated and new.
My world had changed; so had I. And my body had shifted along with it, emerging from the dark pain of labor with a new strength and thus, a new form.
There was no getting my pre-baby body back. That person, that body, that story was over. Something new had emerged in its place. And discovering that body, living in it, learning to love it, occupying it? THAT was what my fitness journey was and became.
Not losing weight.
Not regaining my figure.
Not jumping back into racing or mountain adventures.
But, instead, resting, regaining strength, discovering this new body in all its forms, and learning to adore and appreciate its unique beauty and possibilities.
There were frustrations, of course. Fears. Sadness. The sleep deprivation, anxiety, uncertainty, and of course, the pain of my recovery. There was also my inability to let go of who I was. I loved her, of course – that gypsy of a woman. I mourned her. I had spent 32 years building and defining who I was (and the body that encapsulated and expressed her). The thought of rebuilding seemed impossible.
And yet, piece by piece, day by day, choice by choice, the painful, boring, and sometimes exhilarating process of rediscovery and re-imagination took hold.
Perhaps that is what my journey as a coach, a mother, was; perhaps that is my love letter to my post-baby body and the insight I bring to the new mamas who join me. I was someone; I became someone else. And my body, my brilliant, flawed, captivating, compelling physical form, still soft and pliable, shifted and slowly empowered me to become that someone new –
…and so much more.