Fitness and motherhood is not an easy relationship to manage. Even if the two of you had a solid love affair before motherhood (like we did), once you become a mother, things are likely to change. The two of you might even take a break for a while and then come back together again. When the time comes, your relationship with fitness will likely to be different - and it can be hard to know where and how to re-connect.
Before kids, I was at the gym whenever I felt the urge. I loved my workouts; they made me feel empowered and strong. Anytime I wanted to fit in a gym session, I could: early morning gym sessions before work (or even after work!) were no problem. A couple of hours on the weekend? Yes, count me in! Then I became pregnant and things changed.
It all starts with pregnancy, which is when people begin noticing your bump. As your belly grows, so does the proportionate look of amazement people give you while working out. I would often hear things like "Wow, you're still so active at x months, that's incredible!" Truth be told, moving a barbell around a giant belly did require a level of skill, but so did rolling my oversized body out of bed each day onto two swollen cankles. My trainer once asked if I had broken my ankles one morning when I showed up to lift weights. My reply "Nope, this is just my pregnant mom bod. I woke up like this."
Yes, it's tough exercising with a baby in your belly, but in my opinion, the real work (mental and physical) begins after the baby arrives. The weeks following the birth of my first son, I found myself in a foreign body that no longer felt like my own. As I looked at my reflection in the mirror, all I could focus on was stretched skin, my fresh C-section scar, mushy midsection and massive eyebags.
Nope, no postpartum honeymoon here! I barely recognised a body that I was so familiar in for the last 34 years. I used to like my body and what it could do. What happened and how had my life and appearance shifted so much? I didn't know where to begin in my path to feeling and looking like the person I knew before motherhood because it all felt so overwhelming.
It took me a while to find balance. Approximately three years, to be exact, after I had my second son. I didn't return to fitness in the most perfect way, but I think some lessons are worth sharing, even if only for making another mama feel like they're not alone. Your struggle is probably my struggle and somebody else’s struggle, too. These are some of the things I've learned in gaining back strength and finding how fitness could feel good in this new body of mine.
Make Rest & Recovery Your Top Priority
After my first child, I was so determined to drop the baby weight; I just wanted to look like I did pre-baby. I'd just spent 9 months in a fat suit and I wanted it off immediately! I limited my food portions and starting exercising at a high intensity just after my six-week postnatal check-up.
Looking back, I'm so lucky I didn't injure myself. I did initially drop weight, but I also lost a lot of milk supply and caused a massive amount of stress to my body. It was not worth it just to fit into an old pair of jeans. I lost weight and then slowly gained some back. I was so focused on myself that I didn't put my baby's needs first like I wished I would have. My body needed to recover, and mentally, I needed to sit in this new space with my newborn and take it all in. Letting go of the anxiety, resting and spending more precious time with my baby because this time goes by SO fast.
Next time, I'd make time for more long walks, more naps when I could, more nourishing foods to support myself and my baby's needs. I needed to let my body heal and once it felt like it was in a good place, then it started to allow me to lose weight naturally and get stronger. Time heals, and the early months after giving birth is the time to be patient and prioritise rest and recovery.
Try to Embrace Change
This idea of getting your "body back" is something we hear all the time in the health and fitness industry. Guess what, my body never actually went anywhere...things just changed. Things are always changing. I am not going to look like I did when I was 18 nor like I did pre-baby. Time passes, we get bigger, we get smaller - it's part of being human and it certainly doesn't define your worth.
We will never remain the same person because our circumstances change as time goes on. Let's also address the fact that we just created a human being, grew this baby for nine months and then passed him through our body! How incredible is that!? Our bodies are different after giving birth and we don't need to rush to remove all traces of this stage in our lives. Accept that things are different, try to embrace it and move on.
Part of embracing change is also clearing the mind of negative thoughts. Oh, it is SO easy to go down this rabbit hole! I would do it mostly during the hours of 2 - 3am after I had been up five times with my newborn whilst thinking that I'd never sleep or function normally again as long as I lived. Those countless weeks and months of sleep deprivation can be really dark. And so it's important to surround yourself with positivity because drumming it up on your own isn't easy.
My advice when scrolling Instagram by the light of your iPhone while breastfeeding endlessly each night? Clean out and get rid of negative social media. By this, I mean any person or account that makes you compare or feel bad about yourself. How many times have we done this? "Why does that girl have a six-pack three weeks after giving birth when I look like I just at a pizzeria?” "Why is her makeup perfectly done and outfit styled while holding her three-week-old and I look like death on two legs?" One word: Unfollow!
Make Time For Yourself, Mama!
After my second son was born, the concept of "alone time" became pretty scarce. Always at least a set (or four sets) of eyes on me at all times, especially when going to the toilet! (Two dogs and two kids make a decent audience.) Being a mother is demanding; someone always needs you and although it can feel good to be needed, sometimes I just NEED time for myself!
Having interests outside of changing diapers and playing Paw Patrol makes me feel like a little bit of myself again. Finding my "me time" means going back to the thing that I enjoyed so much before babies: my fitness. Let me be clear though, although I prioritise this activity in my life, I do have a hard rule that if I've had five or fewer hours of sleep that night then fitness goes out the window. My "me time" might just be a walk to my favourite coffee shop. Make time for yourself because pouring from an empty (and sleep-deprived) cup doesn't give you or your family the best version of you.
I'm still learning; fitness, my body and my mind have an evolving relationship. Some days I feel grateful for what I have, and other days I get frustrated that I can't lift as much weight as I could before kids or that my abdominal muscles feel like they just won’t do what my mind wants them to do. We will all have our ups and downs. But this stretched, beautiful, capable mama body was made to move and that's what I will keep doing. Movement and strength are what I'll show my kids. A relationship with fitness is what I hope they will grow into and love one day as much as I do.