The Mama Sagas

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I prepared for everything I possibly could. I thought I had all my ducks in a row. But from the moment I entered the hospital it became clear that becoming a mom is a wild ride and preparation is impossible. There are things no one tells you and no one shares – maybe because they are afraid of scaring you, or afraid of embarrassing themselves or inviting unwelcome judgment. As a result, many women experience moments of panic, isolation, or desperation after our babies are born or adopted. Some women feel terrified or confused or lost…. and women who don’t have close friends or family or good resources may feel like they have nowhere to turn. Even when our kids get older, we tend to sugar coat our realities when talking to other moms. We rarely talk about the things we feel might make us look like bad moms – like for instance the fact that sometimes my daughter refuses to eat anything but pancakes and syrup (ahem, last night).

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But motherhood is certainly not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s poop and vomit and tears and saggy skin and uncontrollable laughter. It’s real and raw and messy. For generations, we have tried to achieve a standard of perfection – Super Mom status. But in doing so we haven’t shared the things that would help each other the most- the real challenges that actually make us super moms. We haven’t talked about how to stop peeing our pants when we run, or how having sex for the first time after giving birth can be terrifying… or less than impressive.
I want to change that. I want to celebrate real moms and real moments, and provide quick, accessible, and credible expert answers to our most pressing questions. Because the truth is, when you enter into motherhood you enter into a tribe of heroes. Moms give of themselves beyond measure and sacrifice themselves – almost to a fault. They find balance amidst chaos. They surf the waves of unpredictability with grace and persistence. They wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeve and chase a standard of excellence they know their families deserve. An instinctive fire burns within their souls, fighting for whatever it takes to give their little ones the best the world has to offer. It’s time we tell our stories, and share the real heroism that is motherhood.
In the next few weeks, we will unveil the first of many video clips celebrating everyday moms. We will find the answers to the questions that keep you up at night. And if we are doing anything right, we will make you laugh. If you’d like to be a part of this patchwork of heroes, email me at themamasagas@gmail.com to find out our next shoot dates. We have stories to tell.

8 Unexpected Ways My Life Changed After Having a Kid

When I was newly pregnant, it was as if somebody unlatched the door to the back room of my psyche, and a flood of worried thoughts poured into the crevices of my mind. Aside from the typical concerns over my baby’s health and “how on earth will this thing exit my body”, I worried about pretty much everything else imaginable. What if I suddenly lost all of my friends? How would we pay for daycare? Will our wanderlust travels be over for good? What if I never fit into my clothes again? Would I ever SLEEP?

After I gave birth, the life-altering changes that I feared were inevitable proved to be nothing but monsters under the bed, or at the very worst, challenges to overcome. But my life has changed – in ways I couldn’t have comprehended when I was expecting.

  • Body Language. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Yes, my body changed. But not in the terrible ways I expected. Let me share the positives (for once!). My arms are better than they’ve ever been. Being a mom means being a glorified pack mule that also has to carry the ever-increasing weight of a small human, all the time. Oh, and girlfriend: my bra size went from a 34A, to a 36D while pregnant, until settling into a 34B. On top of that, my cheekbones are more pronounced, and my waist more defined. I wish I could have told myself: don’t worry about what’s to come. Your body will surprise you not only in what it can do, but in how it recovers.
  • Tolerance for Bullshit. I have none. Ok, sometimes I still get sucked in a little. But truly, after having my child, I realized that petty stuff is just that – petty. Worrying about what people think of me, or the latest work drama, or wasting time in meetings that have no productive outcome, or going back and forth on an issue umpteen times before making a decision: ain’t no mama got time for that. I need to make smart, informed decisions quickly – at work, at home and in life – or else I am cluttering my headspace and my daily schedule with crap that might set off the overload alarm.
  • Tolerance for Bodily Fluids. One day when my baby was about a week old, I was cried on, puked on, pooped on, and urinated on – all within an hour. Shortly after, I witnessed my baby get her tongue tie clipped, wherein she bled profusely from her screaming mouth. I was advised to nurse to ease her pain, leaving rings of blood around my bruised nipples. Welcome to mommyhood. I guess it was a baptism, of sorts.
  • Love songs. Who do you think of when you hear a love song on the radio? Your partner? Your first crush? Your unrequited love? For me, the meaning of these songs has deepened. Now I immediately think of my daughter. “At last, my love has come along. My lonely days are over, and life is but a song….”
  • Death to Supermom. Boy did I have grandiose dreams of Doing It All. I was going to Have It All and Provide It All and Be It All. I tried hard for a couple months, and then, in a moment that could have been pulled from any good dramatic movie, I broke down in the shower. I realized I had to let go of my expectations. No one else was holding me to the standards I demanded of myself, and the guilt, frustration and exasperation I felt were side effects of what I was creating. As I write this, my house is a mess, the dishes haven’t been washed, I haven’t showered, and I’ll probably feed my kid a hot dog for dinner. But I did exercise, and got some work done. Let’s count that as a win.
  • Don’t dream it, do it. After my daughter was born, a deep seeded urgency to craft the life of my dreams grew in my heart like a flame. I wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember, and before I had a child, I even considered devoting my entire self to that one role. Perhaps I wouldn’t want my career anymore. And I would have been fine with it had that happened. But I experienced quite the opposite. My aspirations became clearer and the path to achieve them started to come into focus. I realized I had to be efficient with my time. I no longer wanted to work for income alone, but for a purpose. I needed to craft the life I wanted to live. I wanted to be an example and fulfill my deepest dreams. Any time spent away from my daughter was a precious sacrifice, so it better count.
  • Animal Instincts. There is nothing quite as powerful as a mother’s instinct. It’s freaky-deaky. And it kicks in almost immediately. During a rare moment alone in the hospital, when my daughter wasn’t even a day old, I noticed her color was changing. She gagged, and – dismissing the voice in my head calling me neurotic – I called for the nurse. The nurses wheeled her away quickly, and when they returned reported that they had to suction fluid from her lungs, leftover from the birthing process. Mother’s instinct saved my girl, and it runs deeper than we realize. It connects us to every living being on earth. I’ll never forget watching Animal Planet after becoming a mom and having a breakdown as I watched a baby mountain goat almost drown trying to cross a stream to where his mama stood, panicked. This inherent instinct elevates our compassion, empathy, and humanity and we are all better for it.
  • Nurturing existing relationships. When social time becomes a commodity, you must tap into your heart of hearts to determine how to spend it, and with whom. While some of my casual friendships may have waned, I feel a stronger bond with my dear friends and family. Without time or energy to focus on small annoyances, I am better able to accept and appreciate their quirks. As I let go of the expectations on myself and learn to laugh at the things I cannot control, I see that my friends are only trying to do the same. None of us are perfect. Maybe I can’t do happy hour every single Friday anymore. But you better believe that when I do, I am all in.

Everyday Miracles

My little girl has been a hair-twirler literally since the moment she was born. Even in her sonogram her hand was at her head. Now, every night after we read books and sing songs, she twirls my hair while she lays on my chest. Occasionally she will pause to plant a big, wet kiss on my face, but she keeps twirling my hair until I lay her in her crib.

… Nothing in this world prepares you for how deeply and how fully you can experience love when you become a parent. And then something as mundane as tangled, knotty hair makes you realize your heart is singing. You are fully alive.

It’s Not Really About Vaccination At All….

You might say I lean more toward the crunchy side of parenting, if labels are your thing. I breastfed 11 months but wondered if I stopped too soon. I research ingredients in her food, I buy organic, and I’ve been told I practice attachment parenting. We used Baby Led Weaning, we give our daughter daily probiotics, and we try to limit screen time as best as we can. My circle of mom friends are a lot like me, and like EVERY mom I know, my circle is my lifeline. Besides reminding me that it’s possible to have fun with baby in tow, these women are my sounding board and trusted go-to in the “help-me-I-have-no- idea-what –I’m-effing-doing” moments. But there is one very big topic that we rarely discuss, heeding the unspoken agreement to live and let live (or simply because we are just too exhausted to defend and debate).That issue is vaccination.

We vaccinate our daughter – not without some hesitation, but we do. But I’m not here to weigh the pros and cons of vaccination. I’m not here reiterate or regurgitate the throngs of op-ed pieces you’ve already seen. I’m simply writing because I don’t think this debate is really about vaccinations at all. There’s something bigger happening.

Like most moms I know, decisions about my child’s health and wellbeing are the ones that keep me up at night. Nothing I’ve experienced rivals the raw, innate, gut-wrenching concern that descends upon me when my daughter spikes a fever. It just might be one of the hardest parts of mommyhood – sitting in limbo (or a dark steamy bathroom, as the case may be), trying to figure out a way to ease your child’s pain as she screams out, consoled by nothing, while not fully understanding what has taken over her little body.

The pain and concern that a parent feels over a sick child is potent – it is a visceral feeling of anguish that remains deep in our souls long after the illness has moved on. It quietly roots itself in the pit of our being and blossoms into an urgent responsibility to do everything in our power to keep our kids healthy.  But this is where it gets tricky: how we choose to act on that responsibility differs greatly. Nowhere is this more obvious than the vaccination debate.

On both sides of this battle stand mothers, all passionate with the instinctive desire to give their children the best shot at a healthy life, and all wanting to be heard. You can’t blame anyone for that. But what makes this battle unique is that the stakes are changing faster than we may have anticipated. As recently as a year ago, this was a war fought on principle alone, our discussions often driven by hypotheticals. Now, with infectious disease outbreaks on the rise, it’s time for a real, open-minded and empathetic conversation about the risks vs. benefits of vaccines. And if that conversation is going to happen, we first need to change the culture of the doctor-parent relationship.

Many parents have grown to distrust our doctors and the health care machine standing behind themIt is a machine that operates on blind faith, requiring the trust of the patient, assuming they won’t ask the tough questions. It is a machine that assumes a mother will immediately concede her instincts are less viable and less relevant than the knowledge her doctor may have. After all, this machine works on a 15 minute schedule.

Yes, there are amazing healthcare professionals out there. We are lucky to have found a fantastic, compassionate, intelligent pediatrician that believes parents should be partners in the care plan for their children. I consider myself lucky; yet I also feel the mistrust that comes from too many bad experiences. I feel it every time we enter an emergency room, or speak to an insurance company. I feel it when I have to fight to be heard, when I tell them something is wrong and I am waved off. I feel it when I remember my brief stint in medical billing, witnessing things that appalled me. And I have certainly had to advocate for my daughter’s health – and my own – several times after being dismissed. Shoot, if it weren’t for my own stubborn persistence I would never have been treated for Lyme Disease.

Most mombattles are waged around parenting decisions that rarely affect or include the medical professional: To Breastfeed or To Formula Feed, To Cry It Out or To Soothe, the list goes on. It kills me when moms (or worse, non-moms) judge other moms for their decisions. Yet in this particular vaccine battle, we are not only judging each other, we are also being judged by our doctors, and judging them right back. Parents, tired of feeling powerless in the doctor’s office, are taking more ownership over the health decisions they can control. And the medical field, who have overlooked some viable natural health choices in the past (discrediting themselves in the eyes of some parents), are now being ignored when they rightfully declare this situation catastrophic. Still, I can tell you – there are a lot of moms out there like me, who don’t want to be told what to do based on protocol. They want to make the decision that they feel is best for their family… if ever there was a way to ask a question and not be dismissed, or to find helpful, objective information.

The media has made a lot of the fact that the anti-vaxxer demographic is mostly well-educated. This isn’t surprising, really. There are a lot of well-educated mothers who want to know the details surrounding their children’s health. They want to know what they are putting into those vulnerable little systems, they want to make informed decisions, they want to take an active role in deciding what is best for their most beloved. They don’t want to sit by passively, and they want their mother’s intuition to be respected and responded to.

Still, I am an eternal optimist. I am someone who believes that many of the world’s problems could be solved if we all took a moment to listen and show compassion. If we want to resolve the vaccination debate, and many of the other problems that plague our healthcare system today, we need to start with the basics. We need to re-develop trust in the doctor-patient relationship. We need to start an epic conversation.

Doctors, we ask you: please take a moment to understand that we are not numbers, or charts, or dollar signs. We are people, and we are trying to understand what we are up against. Please acknowledge and understand the value in natural health and other global medical traditions. Do your research. We are going to ask. Please advocate for the patient’s best interest when you go up against insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. We know they wine and dine you, but please – be straightforward. Give us full disclosure. Tell us all of our options. When you don’t know the answer, please be honest and join us in the hunt for new information. Please don’t take the easy or quick way out. Give us alternative ideas when we don’t want a medication. Understand that to a mom with a sick kid, “let’s wait and see” are fighting words. Please encourage patients to seek out information, to take preventative measures, to eat well and to live well. Walk the walk. And please, for the love of humanity, take a moment to listen, not dismiss.

To the pharmaceutical companies: We beg you – please start humanizing treatment. Please use natural ingredients whenever possible. Please don’t give us toxic chemicals in the name of health. And better yet, give us a list of ingredients. There has to be a better way, and we challenge you to find it. Research the risks of your drugs and publish them for us to read. Research alternative vaccination schedules and publish them for us to read. Treat consumers the way you would treat a doctor.

And parents: Do your due diligence. Educate yourselves. Be polite and speak the facts. Don’t judge, and don’t scare each other – fear is a powerful means of manipulation. Support one another. Get a second opinion. In fact get multiple, and then trust yourself to make the best decision for your family. If you don’t like your doctor or you feel bad when you leave, find a new one. Be persistent, and kind. When you find a doctor you like, trust their experience, trust their knowledge, trust their intention. But also – trust your instincts. Become an educated consumer. Understand your health insurance. And remember that other parents feel the same way you do. Remember that your decisions may affect the health of those around you. Be considerate and use common sense. We must all raise our children together.

For us, there is no perfect answer when it comes to vaccination. I am skeptical of what goes into some of these vaccines. But my daughter, who is now almost 2, has been in daycare since she was 4 months old. In that time we have already fought pneumonia, the flu, croup 3 or 4 times, bronchiolitis, multiple ear infections, and who knows how many coughs and runny noses. That is our reality. And so we must make the decision that is going to keep her as healthy as possible for her daily life. We have to compare risking a high chance of measles (or god forbid something worse) against the small chance of an adverse side effect. And we must also consider the health of the rest of the children she interacts with every day. Whether or not I agree with their parents’ philosophies, our commonality is still greater than the sum of our differences: we want our kids safe and healthy.

Surely changing the culture of the doctor-parent relationship is a momentous task. But it’s necessary, if we are going to resolve the vaccination debate, and the public health battles to come. Healthcare is not a matter of policy and protocol; let’s make it an open forum, where compassion guides the dialogue.

Navigating Post-Natal Fitness: A Step by Step Guide

Well, you did it. You pushed a little human out of your ladyparts. Or, maybe they handed you your bundle of joy after cutting through your abdomen. But either way, you are a rockstar. You have fought the good fight, and regardless of how it all went down, you, Mama, are a hero. You are an active participant in the miracle of life, and that is no small task. If you are like me, sometimes you are amazed by all of it, and other times you are just plain exhausted and wonder when, oh when, will you ever feel like yourself again?! Just as every birth story is different, just as every baby is different, just as every postnatal mama is different, the answer to that question is as unique to you as your fingerprints. Let me tell you – even though it’s now been a year since I became a mom, I still feel sometimes like I’m shouting my questions into a deep, echoing abyss: “When will I fit into my old clothes?” “When will I feel strong again?” “When will my hormones settle the F*&! down?”

The reality is no one can answer those questions – mainly because everyone is different. There is no concrete answer, and our differences should be celebrated and welcomed.  But let me be very candid: there is just not enough research or credible information for women to fall back on. I have taken a very proactive approach to my own postnatal recovery and have been disappointed time and again by the lack of readily available, easy to read, science-based information regarding the stages of postnatal recovery. There are so many factors that play into a woman’s unique experience: hormonal changes, psychological changes, changes to pelvic structure, differences in center of gravity and balance, differences in strength and laxity of muscles, whether or not she is breastfeeding, genetics… the list goes on. Due to the lack of research driven information, we must get most of our knowledge and reassurance by sharing experiences with other women – a profoundly important practice, but also problematic. In doing so, we engage in comparison and feelings of “I’m not where I am supposed to be, what’s wrong with me?” Furthermore, many women don’t feel comfortable sharing or talking about their most vulnerable concerns (Give me a woot woot if you’ve peed your pants!), and so that deep, echoing abyss persists. We are still in the dark.

I will be the first to say that I am no researcher – I do not claim to have all of the answers. But what I do claim to be is persistent, inquisitive, and an active participant in my own recovery. I don’t know if what I write in this article will work for you. But by sharing what has worked for me, maybe I can shine a little light into the darkness for someone who just doesn’t know where to start or where to go from here. Herewith are the stages of postnatal fitness as I’ve experienced them.

Stage One: The Clean Slate

Most of us do not have clearance to exercise until at least 6 weeks after giving birth. But during that time you can still prepare your body for what’s to come. Carrying a baby wreaks havoc on one’s posture, and doing some simple posture exercises every day will help you rebalance and realign. Start reminding your neuromuscular system where neutral is. Neutral is the term I use to refer to proper posture and alignment – think about these things: feet evenly weighted, knees aiming over second and third toe and not locked, pelvis balanced so that your two hips are level, lower back lengthened so tail bone is pointing straight to the floor and hips are directly above pubic bone, lower abdominals pulling in and up, ribs directly over hips, shoulders also over hips, collarbone wide and long, and ears directly over shoulders.  I used to practice this as I stood in the shower, or in front of a mirror. And for good measure, use your breath – a long exhale – to try and pull your abdominal wall to your spine. Waking up your core strength and shifting things back into place will change how you look and feel immediately.

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Stage Two: Walk it Out

Somewhere around the 3 or 4 week mark I started walking. It wasn’t long or far at first, but it was a start. I began with my street, then my block, then my neighborhood.  Eventually I started walking stairs with a baby attached. Bonus points if you do your posture exercises while you walk.

This is also a good time to have a physical therapist or trained postnatal exercise specialist examine you for diastasis recti. (Not sure what that is? Read this. If you do in fact have diastasis recti, I recommend looking into the Tupler Technique, or adding sessions with a trained physical therapist or Pilates instructor to your arsenal.stairs

Stage Three: Get ‘er Done

Once I received the clearance to exercise at 6 weeks, I had to get creative with how I was going to make it happen. My husband was back to work, I don’t live near family, and I don’t have a nanny. Furthermore, my baby was still so little and I was breastfeeding, making it tough to leave her with someone (plus, who wants to pay a babysitter every day just to get to the gym?). But mama needed to move. So I thought outside of the box. When my husband was home, we would do partner workouts with the stroller at the park: one of us would push the stroller while the other one sprinted ahead on the path for 30 seconds. After the 30 second sprint, we would do a bodyweight exercise (like pushups, burpees, mountain climbers, or jump squats to name a few) until the stroller-pusher caught up. We would trade places, and go for 8-12 rounds. Just like that, BAM, you have an interval workout.  When hubby was off at work, I would create an interval workout for myself in our garage or basement while little one napped. I downloaded an interval timer app to my phone (I use the free version of Seconds), and invested in some small, affordable equipment. I have a TRX, a ViPR, a jump rope, a body bar, bands, a pull up bar, a Pilates ring, a balance trainer and a stability ball – those plus a couple fitness DVDs, bodyweight exercises and sprints down the driveway (thank god for the baby monitor!) were enough to keep me going for a good few months until I was able to get to the gym.

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Stage Four: Rev Up and Repair

About 7 months into my postnatal fitness adventure, I really tried to up the ante. I pushed myself hard, tired of carrying around a few extra pounds. I started getting impatient, frustrated and overall pretty bitter. Yep, I will admit it… now. I was kind of a bear. But despite my efforts, my body was not having it. I was still breastfeeding, and as soon as I started pushing myself to lose more weight, my milk supply plummeted and my weight plateaued. Well, the anxiety over my rapidly decreasing supply was enough to make me stop exercising altogether. And wouldn’t you know it? I started losing weight again, without much effort at all.

Now, I am not saying you should stop exercising. What I am saying is stop PREOCCUPYING. Don’t spend all your time beating yourself up – I truly believe that when we do, our bodies stop cooperating. Take a step back and just start observing your body’s natural process. For me, I looked back and realized that at the three month mark I had a huge hormone shift (read: my hair started falling out, I was weepy and weary, I could lose my temper in an instant, and my face broke out), and simultaneously, my body shed a few pounds. The same happened at 6 months when my period returned (yep, even though I was still breastfeeding. Got the short end of that stick, didn’t I?), and again at 9 months… for me. It won’t happen this way for everyone.hike

Stage Five: Save the Va-Jay-Jay

It was around 11 months that I started doing some extra research into pelvic floor rehabilitation. I was tired of leaking when I jumped or sprinted, and was not content to live that way for the rest of my life. I want to be able to jump on a trampoline with my kids – mama has a mean forward flip! Anyway, I had read a bit about pelvic floor disorders on the Katy Says blog, but when I found this article I was convinced I wanted to get checked out. After a few phone calls I found out that my insurance would cover sessions with a specialized pelvic floor physical therapist. LADIES, BELIEVE ME WHEN I TELL YOU: this is something every Mom should investigate. I wish I had gone BEFORE I had my baby, because it probably would have made my labor much easier. And here’s a mind blowing fact: KEGELS AREN’T FOR EVERYONE, myself included. It turns out some people’s pelvic floors are too tight – which ALSO causes leakage. But the only way to know for sure is to get checked out. It’s not intimidating or awkward- no worse than being at the OBGYN. And it turns out some conditions are pretty easy to fix. For me, my path to rehabilitation meant more yoga, more stretching, more relaxing…. now THAT is a prescription I can get behind. Do it, I promise you will be thankful you did. Special thanks to Pelvic Therapy Specialists in Boulder, CO.

Stage Six: Call in the experts

Everyone needs a jumpstart every once in a while. At 11 months postpartum, I started working out with a personal trainer, and it was around the same time that I started weaning my daughter. Strength training at this point felt so darn good – I was doing cleans and pullups and deadlifts… now let me back track a moment. I am a Pilates instructor. Heavy lifting is NOT in my wheelhouse. I do it, and I like it, but it does not come natural to me. I will probably always look like a dancer trying to lift an elephant over her head. But without a doubt, strength training during yet another hormonal shift yielded the most results when it came to changing my body’s overall shape. After just ten sessions, I was seeing the contours of my body start to return, and I felt strong, capable and confident. I couldn’t have done that alone though. I needed a coach, someone who told me “You are a warrior now, you have had a baby. You can do anything,” and gently pushed me when I wanted to give up.

An important disclaimer: be sure to request a trainer that is familiar with postnatal clients. There are still hormones affecting your muscle strength, control and laxity when you are breastfeeding, and for a while after you wean. Care should be taken to avoid injury.

And now, at 13 months post-delivery and with breastfeeding behind me, I have consulted with a nutritionist and decided to challenge myself with a four week clean eating program. I have paid attention to every other aspect of regaining my health and fitness except this. Now it is time to cut out the extra “I’m-breastfeeding-so-I-can-eat-whatever-I-want!” calories. And I think the timing is just right, because my body is responding.

The journey to your best postnatal self is not cut and dry. It isn’t one size fits all, and it isn’t predictable. You probably won’t lose weight consistently, you probably won’t feel “normal” immediately after exercising and you probably will have unforeseen challenges. But I’m here to tell you that if you take your time, work with YOUR body, try not to compare yourself to others, get creative and ask for help when you need it, you will be able to meet your goals. When you feel you have plateaued, change it up or try something new, just don’t give up. You will feel comfortable and confident in your body again – you are a Mama Warrior, after all.

Cheers to the post-baby body!

This week, I posted something on Facebook that clearly resonated with a lot of mamas. It wasn’t my intention to strike a chord, but I guess I did, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s what I wrote:

“I have decided I really dislike the phrase ‘get your pre-baby body back.’  Partly because my body is different now, plain and simple. But mostly because a post-baby body can be pretty amazing too. What no one tells you is this: after giving birth, it’s like you have a required rest period and then a blank slate. You have a fresh start to make your body what you want it to be. Never in my life have I been able to do pull-ups, and now after working with some amazing trainers, I am *thisclose* to being able to do them unassisted. So do I have my pre-baby body back? Nope. But look at what my post-baby body can do!”

Eighteen months ago, when I was in the throws of pregnancy, I never could have imagined how I would look or feel at this point, almost one year exactly after giving birth. Looking back, this is what I would say to my pregnant self:

1)  Stop worrying. Easier said than done, of course. It’s hard to relinquish control over what is happening to your body as it grows to accommodate human life. But you need to take a deep breath and let go. Let go of your self-judgment. Let go of your comparison. Let go of your need to control your body. As long as you are making healthy choices, eating smart, and still moving, you will be fine. In the meantime, you must allow your body to do what it needs to do for your little one. If that means gaining 50 pounds- the healthy way- then so be it.

2) Let go of expectations.  And while you are at it, let go of timelines. You have not yet met your post-natal self, just as you haven’t yet met your baby. Becoming a mom will change you, and it will change your body. But how you change is not just chance. Part of it is up to you. Cross that bridge when you get there. For now, respect the wisdom of your body. It knows what it is doing.

3) Set yourself up for success. Start practicing now for an easier recovery later. Keep your body strong. Work on proper posture. Use your breath to strengthen your deep abdominals by pulling the baby to your spine with each exhale. Keep reminding your neuromuscular system how to hold yourself in space. Eat healthy food and avoid excess sugars. These things alone will jump start your postnatal routine.

4) It will all be ok. Sure, you will probably have to work to meet your goals. Sure, it could take a year before your feel like some semblance of yourself again. But you know what? You won’t be worried about it as much as you are now. You will have something (someone) else that will occupy your thoughts, heart and emotional space more than anything else you’ve ever experienced. Meanwhile, you will be on the downhill slope as pounds drop when you aren’t even looking. Take a deep breath. It’s not that bad, I promise. Before you know it, you’ll be doing pull-ups.

 

 

A Letter to Maria Kang

Dear Maria,

I’ve seen your “What’s Your Excuse?” photo all over the news and facebook today, and it got me thinking. A lot. So, I’ve decided to get some things off my chest. What good is a blog if you can’t air your thoughts, right? Well, I’m here to weigh in (terrible puns aside).

First, CONGRATULATIONS! Getting back in shape after having a kid is NO JOKE. I am learning this now. I too am a 32-year-old fitness professional, and I am 6 months postpartum. For one, witnessing our bodies go through unprecedented changes to spawn a child and then experiencing the recovery process is equally humbling, fascinating and awe-inspiring. Couple these crazy changes in our physical bodies with a crazy lack of sleep and free time and I commend ANYONE and EVERYONE who is able to fit in a workout – six pack or not. But the fact that you do, in fact, have amazing abs after three kids is fantastic. I know how hard you’ve worked to get there.

Now here’s where it get’s a little dicey for me. When I first saw your No Excuses photo, these are the thoughts that immediately went through my head:

1) Wow, she looks great.

2) Wait, how old is her youngest?!

3) WAIT, why is she doing the Sexy Straddle over that child…

4) “What’s your excuse….” {UGH. CUE MOMMY GUILT.}

5) I’m only six months out. Still have 2 more months to look like that. {CUE UNHEALTHY COMPARISON.}

6) Why am I feeling GUILTY? Good lord, I’m sore from my last workout and I’m already planning how to get one in today.

7) Actually, on second thought, I’m not really making excuses. I AM making time. I AM getting healthy. I AM losing weight. I’ve lost almost 3/4 of the baby weight already!

8) But still, I don’t look like this yet…..

9) I wonder if she’s nursing?

10) I wonder if she works full time?

11) She probably doesn’t eat. Yeah, they said she used to be bulimic. She probably doesn’t eat.

12) I wonder how long she works out each day? What does she do with three kids while she works out?

13) Is this a professional photo? Yep. Definitely photoshopped. She’s prolly a model anyway.

14) Well. She probably just has a… (insert appropriate superlative here)… life than me.

15) For the love of God,  I’m now LOOKING for excuses why I don’t look this way!?! I’m one of the full-time-working, no-sleep-getting, boobs-out-ALL-THE-TIME-moms that IS ACTUALLY WORKING OUT CONSISTENTLY!!!!

16) ….Was this meant to be inspirational?

So, as you can see, that tagline really got to me. I imagine this train of thoughts is not that far off from what a lot of other moms felt when they read “What’s Your Excuse?” – even if they aren’t making any.

But, I was nothing if I wasn’t intrigued. So I went to your facebook page. I went to your website. And what I found really, actually, inspired me.

I found your fitness evolution page, and learned that you aren’t all that different from me: A fitness enthusiast who, despite continual exercise through pregnancy, still gained 35 pounds (for me it was more like 38, but who’s counting). A wife. A mom. A woman with a social conscience. A blogger who tries to keep it somewhat honest and real.  I found your FAQs page and realized you, too, had struggled with breastfeeding. You actually have stretch marks. You also have the confidence to post photos of what you looked like right after giving birth, muffin top and all. And you sometimes still indulge in a donut.

These are the facts that inspire me. It’s not your photoshopped photo. It’s certainly not the “What’s Your Excuse?” tagline. It’s not the hot-mom status that you’ve been granted – in fact the same media that crowned you queen of the MILFs is also the media that has plastered your No Excuses photo everywhere, taking it out of context, offering you up for dissection by people who are sitting on their couches, more comfortable judging others than finding out the truth.

But I want to ask you a favor. Please, can we maybe alter that motto a little? I get it, I do. I understand your well-intentioned point. But here’s the deal: the last thing any of us mommies need is a second helping of guilt or shame. What we desperately need is a dose of encouragement and truth. Like I said in an earlier post:

There are too many people giving too much advice and too many women feeling too badly about themselves.

Please, for God’s sake, let’s support one another. We are all passionate about our children. We all want the best for them. We are all doing our best for them. Our choices may be different, but our motivation is the same. What works for one will not work for another. Please, be forgiving of yourselves. Please, be compassionate to others. Please, stop telling each other they aren’t doing it right. All we can do is all we can do.

If all of us, as mamas, come together and support one another, think of the mountains we could move. The choices you make aside—formula or breastfeeding, cereal or vegetables, cloth or disposable, daycare or stay-at-home—our children look to us to lay the groundwork for their perspective on the world. We directly have the power to make a cultural shift. If we begin by tearing others down, what example are we setting? Let’s welcome everyone to the table.

I’m ready to change the dialogue. I’m ready to help women realize that every body is different. When we focus on the perfect, idealized end result, we fail to recognize the truth: the fact that you woke up at 5am to work out despite the fact that your little one woke you every hour before that. The fact that your skinny jeans still didn’t button until four or five (or more?) months out. The fact that last night you were just too damn tired, and you decided you could only muster ten pushups on the living room floor and called it a workout. And yet tomorrow is another day. Fitness – especially as a mom – is a journey. One that is not consistent, nor always progressing. Sometimes there are setbacks and sometimes there are plateaus. No two people are exactly alike. But we can all strive for and achieve our best versions of ourselves.THIS is the truth. And yes, THIS is the inspiration.

I’m starting today, by posting pictures of my 6 month postpartum body. I took these in my hallway this morning. I hadn’t shaved my legs. I hadn’t even showered. The photos sure as hell are not photoshopped. But, this is my truth.  This is where I am, today. I don’t have any excuses. And I have a few more pounds to lose before I’ll be comfortable. It might take me 10 months, a year, or even longer to get my body where I want it. But it will happen.

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A Before Photo – our honeymoon

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37-38 weeks pregnant

6months

6months2 6months3 6 months postpartum

I am guessing, based on what I read on your facebook page and website, that you actually are a pretty inspiring person. And that you got the short end of the stick with all the negative comments you are getting. I’m sorry – haters will hate. I hope they do a little more research and look you up before they dismiss you. And yet, I hope you will join me in changing the message we are sending to moms everywhere. Instead of focusing on what they aren’t doing right, let’s focus on ways to help them do what they can. It’s not enough to say “I did it, so can you!” As fitness professionals, we need to show them how. Let’s be honest. Let’s give our vulnerabilites and our weaknesses as much air time as our victories. Let’s be REAL PEOPLE. And let’s celebrate the journey. Crossing the finish line is so much sweeter when you can look back at how far you’ve come.

Thank you for sparking this dialogue, and blessings to you and your beautiful family.

In health,

Saralyn

Postnatal fitness: an exercise in patience, priorities, perspective

They call it the fourth trimester, and for good reason. Raise your hand if you still feel like you are renting yourself out to a small human! Stand up if you feel like you are living in an unfamiliar body with a mind of its own! Can I get an AMEN!?

Whether you are nursing, up every hour in the middle of the night, losing your hair in clumps in the bathroom shower, smelling differently than you remember, or contemplating whether you should charge admission for those who ride the roller coaster of your emotions, you are probably still learning this new version of YOU.

Now, that’s not to say that this YOU is permanent. I have to imagine that eventually, once the hormones are on their merry way and our babies are old enough to run around the house like banshees, we will feel like ourselves again. Of course that stage will present its own challenges, but for many of us, the fourth trimester is an unexpected purgatory between being pregnant, and being the SuperMom you always envisioned yourself to be.

Finding time, energy, and motivation to work out during this stage is a challenge to say the least. It usually goes something like this:

Scenario A: You finally have the energy to work out, and maybe even the time, if your baby is gracious enough to give you a nap longer than 30 minutes, or your partner gracious enough to take over for a bit. You are determined to up your intensity and give it all you’ve got in that small window of time to lose the spare tire. But… you can’t make it to the gym and back in that time frame, and if your sweetheart isn’t home, you sure aren’t paying for daycare just to hit the treadmill. Scenario B: Baby won’t nap. At all. Not to mention, baby didn’t sleep at all last night, which means mama didn’t sleep. Finally, baby settles and either a nap, a shower, or a glass of wine wins over a workout. Scenario C: You are really doing it. You’re a working mom. Power suit by day, silly faces by night. But by the time you pick up your little one at daycare, battle rush hour traffic, figure out something for dinner, feed the baby, read bedtime stories and rock her to sleep, it’s already 8:00 pm and all you have the mental capacity for is trolling facebook.

All three of these scenarios, and several other wildcard situations (um, the cat puked twice?! on two carpets!?) have played themselves out in my life in recent weeks. So what’s an active girl to do?

Well, I do have a few suggestions, which I’ll introduce today, and continue to build upon in coming weeks. But first, I think it’s wise for us to all take one step back, and reframe the way we view postnatal fitness. In other words, considering the new circumstantial and physical challenges we have to contend with, let’s set ourselves up for success.

Patience

….with yourself, with your body, with your baby, with your partner. Patience with losing weight. Patience with gaining strength. We all just need a little patience (cue Guns ‘n Roses). You’ve probably heard the adage “It takes 9 months to put it on, it will take 9 months to take it off.” Or, it might take more. Here’s the deal: feeling fit and strong is not going to happen overnight. Losing 15-30 pounds would have taken awhile even when you were childless and could afford the luxury of 2 hour gym sessions. Now, you have so much more to contend with. And here’s a lesson I’ve learned: if you are nursing, you may have to be even more patient. When I hit the three month mark, I decided to intensify my workouts with the sole purpose of burning fat. And guess what? My milk supply hit the skids. The main components of breastmilk are water, fat and protein. If you work out like a maniac, depriving your body of the first two, you might trade in a few pounds for a ton of anxiety and a screaming child. For me, it wasn’t worth it. My colleague Kristin McGee blogged about this very topic on the Rosie Pope blog – and in my opinion, every new mom could benefit from reading her take on holding on to the mummy tummy.

Priorities

So that’s just it. Breastfeeding, for me, was a priority over losing weight – at least right now. At the end of the workday, I’d rather spend 30 minutes on the floor with my Nugget before she goes down for the night than trying to get a run in before the sun sets. That said, on a Saturday morning, I try to get my workout over with before the rest of the day catches up to me: the laundry can wait. Cleaning the bathrooms can wait. Life is about balance, and it’s about prioritizing. Be clear with yourself about your priorities – make a deal with yourself that feels manageable, and then stick to it. And by sticking to it, I mean no self-induced guilt trips when the only workout you can fit in is a walk around the block. Believe me, this is easier said than done.

Perspective

It’s time we, as a culture, shift our focus. When we see the 4th trimester played out in the media, it’s usually either A) admiring a celebrity who has returned to a bikini-ready body about 6 nano-seconds after having a child, B) the newsworthy moment when some brave soul decides to show the reality (thank you Kate Middleton!), or C) articles, videos, and news segments about how to get back your “pre-baby body”. Let me just hop up on my soap box for a moment. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET BACK TO YOUR PRE-BABY BODY, becuase….. YOU’VE HAD A BABY. It’s not just about added weight. Your proportions might change, your proprioception and balance might change, for goodness sake, your hair might even change. It’s time we also change our perspective. Instead of trying to get back your pre-baby body, work towards your best body now. Think of it this way: being pregnant means that your body takes on a mind of it’s own in many ways – trying to accommodate the life will soon spring forth from its loins. You only have so much control. So afterwards, it’s like you have turned a new page, into a new chapter. Your body has pressed the reset button. You now have to start from scratch… but starting from scratch also means that you have a clean slate. Begin with the basics. Start with your alignment. Develop proper form. Rebuild your fitness foundation from the ground up, rather than trying to catch up to where you were before. Trust me on this one. You will be better off in the long run.

In the coming weeks, I will be adding some postnatal specific workouts to my Work It Out page and YouTube Channel. Yes – there are safe, time-efficient, results-driven workouts out there. But remember this postnatal motto: Something is better than Nothing. Take a walk with your partner and push that stroller a little faster than you would normally. Go a little further than you did yesterday. Walking is a great choice when you can’t sweat it out, and bonus – it might just put your kiddo to sleep, or help you brainstorm your next big idea. Please, whatever you do, stop comparing yourself to where you were. It’s time to look around, take it all in, and realize that where you are now is actually pretty damn great.

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