Finding my “fit” pregnancy: reflections from a mom-to-be
Exercise is a weighty issue for me. For a long time it was all about the hours I could log on the treadmill to burn those evil calories. “Working out” was a brutal regimen I orchestrated with the sole purpose of sculpting my body into precise size I thought would bring me confidence. I did finally wise up to the fact that my pursuit of The Perfect Body was not my ticket to happiness. In fact it was making me pretty darn miserable. I got help for my disordered eating and I learned how to eat intuitively. I stopped exercising compulsively and I gave my overworked muscles a rest. Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure out an approach to exercise that didn’t trigger that pesky old means-to-a-thin-toned-body mentality. So I just quit the workouts entirely for a while. A long while. I didn’t get my ass in gear again until I started to get serious about becoming a mother. I knew that a stronger body would mean a healthier pregnancy, but that wasn’t my biggest motivator. My running shoes were resurrected from the depths of my closet when I realized that I needed to embrace positive attitudes about movement and fitness if I wanted my child to embrace them too.
While researching Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby, my co-author and I interviewed hundreds of moms and moms-to-be, many of whom talked about the pressures they faced to gain just the “right” amount of weight during pregnancy and lose it in a flash after childbirth. We heard from women who regretted the bonding time they missed with their babies because they were so obsessed with getting back in shape. But we also spoke with women who gained a whole new appreciation for their bodies during the pregnancy and birthing process. We talked to runners, yoga enthusiasts, and belly dancers who found a kind of strength and connection with their bodies and their babies through movement that had absolutely nothing to do with shedding pounds or toning up. That’s the kind of movement I was after.
So what IS “healthy” when it comes to exercise for pregnant women and new moms? Obviously my doctor can tell me what is safe, but what is deep-down good for my soul? What will prepare me to be the mom whose daughter will see her laughing, playing, and enjoying her body? And what will protect me from being a mother who punishes herself at the gym because she doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror—a ritual I would never want my child to repeat? I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I do have these three golden rules that I’ve been following throughout these nearly 23 weeks of pregnancy:
- It’s okay to slow down. I just started going to prenatal yoga classes last week, my first attempt at exercise now that I have made it out of the extreme napping and ginger for breakfast lunch and dinner (it really did help with the nausea!) stage of this preggo gig. My body was working overtime on the baby-cooking front those first few months and I couldn’t manage much more than walks around the neighborhood. I made peace with that. Then I took another nap
- Find movements and environments that feel good. I like my exercise to be an experience. I’m motivated by my surroundings. If I’m in a scenic place (I discovered the joy of running around Silver Lake Reservoir and “wiking”—more than a walk, less than a hike—in Griffith Park during a brief work stint in LA) or with people I dig (I was all about Pilates when class followed by dinner became a standing date with my sister), I can get myself moving. Now all I want to do is S-T-R-E-T-C-H, so prenatal yoga it is. I love when the little one kicks up a storm during Warrior pose and I smile every time the instructor ends the class by saying, “Namaste, babies.”
- Tune out the media madness and forget about the “get your body back” crap. Think you can’t turn around without reading headlines about how fast celebrities shed their baby weight? You’re right. The number of People magazine covers with pregnancy, baby, and “postbaby body” mentions more than doubled between 2003-2005. Since then there has been a veritable explosion of tabloid stories and gossip blogs all too eager to participate in “Baby Bump Watch” and track “Mommy Makeovers.” Of course stars have more resources than most of us (read: millions of dollars, teams of nannies, personal chefs, trainers, stylists) and it is their job to be a certain body size, even weeks after childbirth. That doesn’t mean they enjoy it. Jessica Alba told Elle magazine that she cried through the workouts she had to do for an ad campaign after her daughter was born and she would much rather be at home with her baby than at the gym. It also doesn’t mean that these celebrity “postbaby body” workouts are realistic or even safe for the average woman. We are being sold the idea that our weight and fitness goals as new moms should involve stepping in a time machine. I’m not buying it.
Pregnancy and motherhood are times of major body transformation—wow-oh-wow am I experiencing some of that—times when we should be reflecting on how we want to move forward in our new lives. I am determined to appreciate the power of what is being accomplished from head to toe. Sure, there are physical discomforts and some flat-out pain that can rain on that love parade, but I will do my best to take care of my body and keep it active in ways that feel good and healthy for me. I will give myself time to heal and adjust to life with a newborn. I will let go of the notion that I need to mold or trim myself into some “ideal” (or even “pre-pregnancy”) shape. And one day not too far in the future, my daughter will understand that she came from me. I want her to know how much I love this body for bringing her into the world.
Claire Mysko is the co-author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby and the author You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self, an award-winning self-esteem guide for girls. Follow her on Twitter.