Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Postpartum Fitness: The Journey Back

Allow me to state the obvious: pregnancy and delivering a baby do a number on your body. I had a fairly easy pregnancy and was able to be active right up until the end. I taught Zumba until I was 31 weeks pregnant. I ran until I was 35 weeks pregnant. I went to my last prenatal yoga class at 38 weeks pregnant. And I walked as much as I could, right up until the night before I went into labor. Yes, I did mostly cardio, but I did attempt to throw in strength training from time to time. Overall, I think I did pretty good being an active pregnant lady.

I had a fairly uneventful delivery, and though I did not emerge completely unscathed, I felt "normal" within about two weeks and, by three weeks postpartum, I was itching to get active again. I tried running. I definitely started off slow with a 30 second run interval here and there while on walks working up to a whopping 2 minutes running/3 minutes walking after a couple of weeks. But if I'm being honest, running didn't feel quite right. I tried to ignore it, but it was the truth. Things felt a bit loosey goosey still from the delivery; my hips and other muscles were tight; my knees hurt; I felt weak. I knew pushing myself too hard would be a mistake, so after about five or so run/walk attempts, I admitted that walking just felt better. So I stopped running. 

It bums me out, especially now that the weather is perfect for running, to see all the folks getting ready for the marathon (including my husband), and it's a little disappointing to know that my target first race postpartum (a 5K in late October) isn't going to happen. But, I'm just not there yet. And I don't want to risk injury because of pride.

So what am I doing? Yoga. And walking. Lots of walking.

Yoga seems like a great way to work on some of the tightness in my hips, quads, gluts, etc. I decided to go back to Core Power, which is primarily hot-style yoga. Yes, it can be a little intense, but I love it. I've now tried their Yoga Sculpt class, which I have enjoyed so far. A little extra strength training can't hurt.

As for walking, a year ago, I would have never considered walking exercise. For me, it wasn't "enough." For someone who is working to get their fitness level back up, walking is awesome. It's low-intensity, which means nothing is bouncing around more than feels comfortable, and I'm still getting cardio in. I easily log three miles a day on just my morning walk with Emme (Yes, I've started tracking this. I use the Map My Run app on my iPhone).

So that's where I'm at. Having a baby is a humbling experience when it comes to accepting your body--the way it looks and/or what it can do. I'm coming to terms with the fact that it's going to take awhile before I really am ready (and really want) to run again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Staying Sane & Other Stories from Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is weird. You know that it’s not going to be vacation, but another part of you is so f-ing over being huge and tired and pregnant and working that you can’t wait for the “break.” Turns out that work is far easier than taking care of an infant. At least for me.

I’m five weeks away from returning to work. This still sounds sort of far away, and yet, I can’t believe I’m past the halfway mark. In many ways, Emme and I are just getting into the swing of things. After a rough first six weeks, leave has become more enjoyable. This is at least partially because it’s become more predictable. I’m not naive enough to assume that our precious babe won’t change things up (for better or worse), but for now, I’m enjoying a little bit more of a routine than we had, say, two weeks ago.

Our days kind of look like this: Wake up sometime between 6 and 7:30 a.m. Put Em in bed with me and nurse. Attempt to put her down for a morning nap approximately an hour after she wakes up. This is starting to actually work, and she usually sleeps for 45 minutes. I eat and get dressed. Em wakes up and nurses. We head out for our morning walk, or we leave for an outing. Depending on which it is, we get home sometime between an hour and several hours later. I try to eat lunch somewhere in there, which tends to be one of the more difficult and frustrating parts of my day. More nursing. Sometimes she will go down in her crib for another nap. Sometimes she sleeps while we’re out. If we don’t have an outing planned, we’ll go on another walk or run errands in the afternoon. More nursing. MM comes home sometime late afternoon to early evening. I hand her off and typically leave to workout (read: get a break). Once I’m home there’s more nursing, and MM and I tag team on making and eating dinner. Fussiness (Em’s) ensues. The bedtime routine starts sometime after 8 p.m., and Em is starting to go to sleep around 9pm... sometimes a little before, sometimes later.

Do you notice a pattern here?

We LEAVE the house. I learned pretty quickly that staying at home 24/7 was not going to work for us. Not for her and not for me. Em is a baby that likes to keep moving--in her stroller, in the car, in my arms. When we’re out, it’s easier for me to not get stressed out attending to these needs. When I’m at home, I feel frustrated that I can’t get shit done, and I try to put her down more than she wants to be put down. It’s hard to shove food in my face, much less do laundry, clean, cook, or chat with folks on the Internet (you know, the stuff I did before I had a kid). Leaving the house allows me to let go of this and keeping her moving becomes more interesting for me.

Though I get “nothing” done, our time together has become more fun. Four weeks ago, I was thinking about going back to work after six weeks of leave instead of 12 (and the only reason I didn’t explore it more seriously is that I knew if I went back my coworkers would think I had totally lost my mind). Four weeks ago, I was practically be running out the door to get some alone time, and I would think, “back to prison,” as I slowly made my way home after working out. Now, I miss my baby when I spend an hour and a half at yoga.

I look forward to our walks around the neighborhood (we’re even starting to find walking buddies); we’ve been to the zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden; we visit friends; and we have all kinds of fun things on the calendar in October: more visits and lunches with friends, baby and mom yoga, an infant massage class, and accompanying MM on a very short business trip to Wisconsin.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still difficult, I still feel like I'm on the edge of losing my mind sometimes, and I’m pretty sure I’m a poor to average excuse for a mom (though I have very little guilt about that). But I think the worst is behind us, and not so much because Em has changed--though she has and that’s been amazing--but because I have changed. I think I needed to grapple with letting go of my old life, mourn it a bit, before I could really dive into this mess.

It’s true what they say... nothing can really prepare you for parenthood. I think part of the reason why the sleep deprivation was/is “easier” for me was because I was expecting it. Everyone tells you about the sleep deprivation, and in some ways, that’s a very real thing that pre-baby, you can wrap your head around. The other stuff, the constant, intense infantness that happens... there’s no way to explain it to those standing on the edge of parenthood. It’s just really hard in a way that, from the outside looking in, seems like it shouldn’t be that hard. How can a thing this small and seemingly portable demand that the entire universe revolve around it?

Seven and a half weeks is not enough time to answer that question.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It Gets Better: The Campaign That Needs to Happen for New Moms

Was it really only two and a half weeks ago that I wrote my last post? Was it obvious that I was on the verge of ripping my hair out and leaving home until my kid was applying for college?

‘Cause I was.

Around Emme’s third week of life, shit got intense. Emme wanted to breastfeed almost constantly, and I was still struggling with pain and general frustration surrounding that whole mess. The only good thing about breastfeeding (it seemed at the time) was that if she was eating, she wasn’t screaming. If she wasn’t eating, she was probably screaming because, she no longer slept much during the day. If we lucked out in one area, it’s that Emme  has consistently (so far, fingers crossed) given us decent nighttime sleep stretches. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have that kid who amazingly slept through the night from day one, but she’s generally slept an average of four to five hours in a row followed by a couple two-hour stretches -- enough for us to function without feeling like the living dead. Had it not been for this, I’m pretty sure I would have lost my mind.

The truth is, in the midst of the madness, I questioned the decisions that lead us down this path. It sounds terrible, but I worried that we had made a horrible mistake by having a child. I mourned my old life and the freedom I had. I breathed a sigh of relief every time I could spend time without my daughter, and I began to refer to home, somewhat jokingly (but not really), as "prison." Let me assure you: I never once questioned my love for Emme or whether I felt bonded to her. I also never felt like I was on the verge of hurting myself or her. But I was extremely frustrated, and when you’re in it, it’s hard to see out of it.

The good news is that I’m here to report from what I believe (I hope, I pray) is the other side: It gets better. Everything I read said six weeks is a turning point, unless your baby is colicky. I wasn’t convinced that our baby wasn’t colicky, so I hoped (prayed) that she wasn’t, and we only had to white knuckle it through a few weeks. In reality, it seemed like things started to get a little better around week five. I noticed that her quiet, but awake and alert periods were getting longer. We could set her down for five minutes before she lost her shit as opposed to 30 seconds or not at all. It wasn’t much, but I clung to it. She became more soothable, but I think we gave into reality a bit too. We accepted that we had to keep her moving -- either in our arms, in the car or in the stroller. We took A LOT of walks because if we were moving, she usually wasn’t screaming. Her night sleeping even became more consistent. Five hours was the norm and she seemed to be stretching to six. And at five-and-a-half weeks, she smiled.

At six and a half weeks, we had what I consider to be a breakthrough and a glimpse of what I hope will be: On Saturday night, after a busy day of having brunch with other moms and babies and walking through a neighborhood festival a few blocks from our home, MM, Emme, and I cuddled on the couch. She was being so cute and fun as we played with her feet and tried to convince her to smile. She did. A full 25 minutes of family hanging out time with no breastfeeding and no screaming. After 25 minutes, she lost her shit, but it was OK. We saw what being a family could be like, and suddenly it didn’t seem like this was a mistake after all.

So, it's gotten better. My baby still screams a lot, but I'm now sure she's not colicky; however, I'm convinced she somewhat higher maintenance and more temperamental than some of those laid back newborns out there. But I sense that the worst has passed.

More on how I’m staying sane at home when I can find another chunk of time to write a post.