My Post-Partum Body, A Year Later

We don't talk about the realities of post-partum bodies enough.  There's a strong narrative that once you have your baby, you do a bunch of work and "go back" to your pre-pregnancy body.  With kegels and push-ups, some grit, and "no excuses" (Thank-you-not-really, Maria Kang), you can get back your body, and by extension, your sexuality and attractiveness and sense-of-self. 

Well, sorry, but that's a big, ol' NOPE.  There is no "snapping back".  These changes are forever. Your body went through a gigantic transformation.  No sense in pretending it didn't happen.

The thing is: I think you can reclaim your body, and by extension, your sexuality and attractiveness and sense-of-self WITHOUT a whole big weight loss "journey."  In fact, I think it's vital that you do.

My post-partum body, 1 year later. - superbalancedlife.com

My post-partum body, 1 year later. - superbalancedlife.com

A year ago, I showed what my post-partum body looked like, a month after birth.  The above picture was taken about a year after that.  Honestly, they're not much different.

My post-partum body, 1 year later - superbalancedlife.com

My post-partum body, 1 year later - superbalancedlife.com

I guess my stretch marks have faded, but I still have the "mummy tummy" and the same hips and big arms.  So what's different?  My head.

To be honest, I put off this post for a couple days because I was actually a little disappointed about the pictures.  A teeny part of myself wanted this to be a Before and After kind of scenario, because we're conditioned to believe that that is the triumph: visible, tangible transformation.  But the bigger win is what's been going on in my brain. 

To be even more candid -- as I compared the photos from a year ago to now, my thought process has gone something like this: "Oh man, it's not that different.  Shit.  And I've gone back to CrossFit, but it's obviously not working, and maybe I should be watching what I eat... OH WAIT A SECOND STOP RIGHT THERE.  Am I doing these things to "fix" what I look like, or to feel good in my body?  I am doing this to feel good in my body.  Eating well, moving my body in ways I like and feel good, sleeping as much as I can, and making time for self-care, those things are the goal in and of themselves."

Taking care of myself is its own reward.  I feel good; so much better than I have in a long time.  I feel motivated and engaged and happy.

So as much as I've been conditioned to see no physical change at all as a bad thing, I don't really think it is.  The life I'm living is sustainable.  I'm not driving myself crazy being consumed by a weight loss struggle.  Today, I ate a salad for lunch, but I also ate oatmeal with dark chocolate chips for breakfast.  *shrug*

This is what success looks like for me: total self-acceptance and making choices that support my strength, health, and life, and also acknowledging how amazing it is that my body has sustained and given life.  It will never be what it was before my kid.  I don't have the time or energy to do the work I did to make it that way.  But I am finding what time and effort I can to make sure I'm the best me that I can be NOW, and that's what really counts.

Pregnancy Loss & How to Help

On January 28th, we lost our baby at 16 weeks. 

It was by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me.  It's two weeks today, but it feels like months.  Time plays tricks on you when you're grieving.  Moments feel like small eternities.

One of the things I've noticed as I've been going through process of grieving and reactions to our loss is that our culture has no accepted protocol for dealing with miscarriage and pregnancy loss.  It's awkward and uncomfortable, but more than anything, it's silent.  People don't talk about it.

Part of that is that there's a difficult line to walk between openness and privacy.  If you're open about your loss, you receive more support (at least, one hopes), but you maintain your privacy if you don't talk about it.  And privacy matters.  This is the most raw and sharp I've felt in a long time.  It's unlike anything else.  The smallest things can trigger memories, invasive thoughts, and really intense feelings.  People struggling with grief need space to deal with it, because of how layered, complex, and vulnerable it is.

At the same time, if you were far enough along, as I was, you can't really avoid interfacing with people who knew you were pregnant and notice that you're not anymore.  Or even folks who know about the loss and want to offer comfort.  The tricky part is that because we don't have an agreed upon lexicon, we don't know what to say, and often grab for whatever pops into our brains.  And sometimes, that turns out be ... well, pretty much the worst thing to say.

It's not anyone's fault.  I want to be really clear about that.  Culture does a lot for us in terms of reinforcing behavioral norms, but there isn't a norm for this, so it's easy to put your foot in your mouth inadvertently.  And then you feel shitty, and that sucks.  But let's have a conversation about it, and start trying to get to a place where we know how to handle pregnancy loss.  It'll make things better for everyone, especially since miscarriage and pregnancy loss are actually fairly common, even if no one talks about them that much.

I can only speak from my own experience, but here are some things to consider when you approach a person grieving from pregnancy loss:

  • The most universally acceptable thing to say is "I'm sorry."  Yes, sorry doesn't make it better, but nothing will.  And expressing that you're sorry that something really terrible happened to someone you care about, and finding compassion for that person, is the best thing you can do.
     
  • In response, I've found it very helpful to just say, "Thank you," and leave it there.
     
  • It's not the job of the bereaved to comfort everyone else.  Sometimes, when someone is expressing how bad they feel for me, I feel that I'm being put in an awkward position of having to comfort them about my loss.  Let's avoid that.  I suspect we say these things to show someone just how much we care, but leave it at "I'm so very sad and sorry about your loss."  Find a way to acknowledge your own feelings without making it a comparison.
     
  • This one is very important, and you'll hear it said a lot: It's not about you.  It's about them.  This is a really hard thing to swallow, because we see life through our own lens.  It's very human to narrate an experience through what is happening to us because of what is happening to them.  But it's not helpful.  It makes the person in the middle of the tragedy feel minimized.  Your job is to legitimize their grief, not minimize it.
     
  • To that point, subscribe to the Ring TheoryDump out, comfort in.  Everyone needs support, but get it from someone less involved in the tragedy.
     
  • Have your own experience of grief; don't co-opt someone else's.  One of the things that bothered me about letting friends and family members know about my loss was when a friend of mine re-posted my Facebook post about it.  For one thing, it felt like a very awkward invasion of privacy, but it also felt they were co-opting my tragedy as their own, while being kind of cavalier about it.  Write your own posts about the tragedy if you must, but from your own perspective.  And also, watch how much you post about it.  There can sometimes be a performative element to grief that rubs people the wrong way -- if you're posting every 2 hours about a personal tragedy that didn't happen to you?  That gets weird.
     
  • Don't ask them to go out of their way.  With so many triggers, plus the exhaustion of dealing with grief, it can be hard to do routine things, like going to work, feeding oneself, etc.  I'm exhausted at the end of every day.  try not to be annoyed with grieving parents that bow out of social events, don't want to make plans, and are less available overall.  Let them bow out graciously.
     
  • Be careful about religious platitudes. Not everyone is religious.  Saying anything about "God's plan", "better place", "everything happens for a reason"... not helpful.  You don't know God's plan.  No one does.  As for things happening for a reason, no, they don't.  The universe is vast and random.  There's no good reason for this to happen to me, so best to leave that out.  You also don't know that my baby is in a better place.  The only good place for it to be, as far as I'm concerned, was in my belly.  So that's a great way to be judgmental and not helpful, all at once! 
     
  • Ask yourself if what you are about to say is helpful.  This is important too -- because we don't know what to say, we have to think about what to say.  It's not automatic.  This affords you a couple of extra seconds to think of something actually helpful and comforting.  Use that moment!  Here are some examples of what not to say (beyond the platitudes mentioned above):
    • "You're still young.  You can try again."  Yes, but I wanted THIS baby.
    • "It's not a baby yet.  It's just a fetus." It was a baby to me.  I saw it on the ultrasound, I heard its heartbeat.
    • "You need to get over this, and move on." Everyone grieves differently, and you are not the arbiter of how that happens for other people.
    • "Let me tell you about my experience." It's helpful to know I'm not alone, but at the same time, no one can know what my experience is. Also: see above, re: comparison game.
    • "At least you know you can get pregnant." Yes, but cold comfort right now.
    • "Have fun trying again!" Oh thanks for that witty repartee about my sex life after I've lost a baby.
       
  • Most important of all -- let the bereaved initiate.  If we want to talk about it, we will.  It's natural to be curious, but how it happened, why it happened--none of your business.  If we want to hang out, we'll reach out.  If we want a hug, we will ask.  Lots of people wanted to hug me after it happened, and I really didn't want to be hugged.  My body hurt afterwards, and hugs didn't feel comforting; they felt suffocating.  Also, remember my point above -- this is not about you.  A lot of the time, people wanted to hug me to reassure themselves that I was okay, or because they needed to be hugged.  And those are fine needs to have, but that puts the burden on me.  Remember: comfort in, dump out.  If you need support, ask for it from your partner or friend.  Don't ask a bereaved person if you can comfort them because you need comfort. 

I want to close by saying that we're all learning.  It can be hard not to feel bad when you read all this, and think, "Oh hell, I'm a bull in a china shop. I'm totally going to say the wrong thing!" and then feel angry and defensive.  There's no need!  Grieving mothers know you don't mean to be hurtful.  And you have a lot of compassion from me, because I know that I wouldn't know what to say either.  But hopefully, this post and others like it from the front lines of those dealing with pregnancy loss and miscarriage can move us forward towards a better, more compassionate place.

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Miscarriage & Pregnancy Loss Resources:
Still Birthday: http://www.stillbirthday.com/ - many pregnancy loss resources from very early pregnancies, to loss after birth
SHARE: http://nationalshare.org/ - pregnancy and infant loss support
Unspeakable Losses: Healing from Miscarriage, Abortion and Other Pregnancy Loss by Kim Kluger-Bell
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby by Deborah L. Davis
Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death by Sherokee Ilse

Eyes on Your Own Barbell

One of the biggest changes with pregnancy is that I can’t CrossFit the way I used to.  I know this is one of those obvious things, but it kind of sneaks up on you.  For the first trimester, I stopped doing the WOD for time, and didn’t do handstands, or rope climbs, or pull-ups—anything that made me feel dizzy or where I could fall.

When I first started lifting. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

When I first started lifting. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

Now that I’m in the second trimester, I’m noticing that my squat position is totally different.  It’s difficult to drop to the bottom, because there’s a belly in the way.  And also, that quick movement isn’t so good when one’s tendons are getting more pliable because of relaxin.  But it bugs me.  I love lifting with a barbell.  And as much as it chaps my ass when a trainer zings me on form, I also love correcting it and working to be incrementally better and better.  But now I have to stop.  And it’s okay, but it’s still a bummer.

The one thing that did make me feel better was working out with my friend Lacy, from Super Strength Health last week.  We did an upper body dumbbell routine that really worked my arms, chest, and back. 

Guess I'll be getting cozy with these guys now. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

Guess I'll be getting cozy with these guys now. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

I could also take it at my own pace, which helped.  The “Go harder! Push yourself! Don’t stop!” cheerleading at the gym (at any gym—this isn’t limited to CrossFit) isn’t a fit for me most of the time, and especially not during pregnancy.  I know my own limits, thanks.  I’m not resting because I’m lazy—I’ve designed my process to the WOD for my own maximum efficiency, which means taking a rest before my last clean, so that I can move right into front squats, thanks.  And nowadays, I’m sitting on this box for a few seconds so that my heart rate doesn’t go above 160, bro.  I know my body.  Trust me to know it.  Give me that respect.

I’ve noticed that trainers get it, especially Melissa, the female founder of my CrossFit box.  Trainers are used to having that mind body connection, and knowing their own limits.  As a result, they’re awesome about trusting me to know my own limits.  I wish everyone else could do the same, not only for pregnant ladies, but for ladies in general. 

There’s so much rhetoric and posturing in the world of exercise, a subtle misogyny.  It happens every time someone assumes I don’t know something, or gives me a correction I didn’t want or ask for (not from a trainer, whose job it is, but from others), or questions whether I should or shouldn’t be doing something.  And before you think I might be sensitive from hormones or whatever, before you do that gaslighting that is so popular these days, consider this: this experience has happened to me everywhere, at any time, over the course of my life—in sports, in the gym, any time I expressed an interest in physical exercise, the questioning, the corrections, and the assumptions were launched right at me, and other women in that space.

The lesson here, I think is to keep your eyes on your own barbell, in the gym and in life.  Don’t assume you know something about a person based on what they’re doing or what they look like.  Let the trainers do their job to correct bad form, unless you’re super close with the person in question and they have asked for your help.  This applies to exercise, nutrition, health, wellness, you name it.  Apply it to everything – work, parenting, social cues.  You just don’t know what a person is dealing with or their experience, and assuming ignorance or ineptitude makes you not just callous, but a superior know-it-all juicebox.  Don’t be that guy. 

Eyes on your own stuff.  Be kind.  And celebrate that everyone is out there, trying to grow and be awesome in their own way.

Hello Baby!

I've been a little quiet lately, which if you know me either means I'm angry, or that I have something so big going on that I can't talk about it.

Happily, it's the latter.  I'm pregnant!

As you can imagine, being pregnant has affected nearly every area of my life.  Nutrition and exercise required some tweaking, because the first couple months were a little rough with nausea and exhaustion.  It was manageable if unpleasant, but it helped me learn to be flexible and just do what I could and not sweat the rest.  I have more energy these days and the nausea has passed.  Fewer food aversions too, which is nice.  When I was super nauseated, vegetables sounded like a hate crime, and I couldn't stand them raw or cooked.  I mostly drank them in green smoothies, to give the baby some nutrition.  I love fruit, and have been craving juice, which is funny.  I eat a lot of cheese, crackers, yogurt and oatmeal.  I also have a lot more fiber which is great for baby, and also pretty decent for my cholesterol.

Now that I'm in a better space physically, I've been cooking and meal planning more often.  I find that I'm eating a greater range of nutritious food, and not getting as fussed about the stuff that used to bug me.  It feels good to be less obsessed with how my body looks, and I hope it lasts, but who knows.  Body dysmorphia is a life long process.

I'm also back to getting consistent exercise.  When I was flat in bed, napping after work, exercise was totally not on my mind.  The return of energy means that I can get back to the movement I love.  It's interesting - a lot of folks seem to assume that exercise is easy for me - and I'm sure, physically, I have some privilege there, sure.  But to be honest, it's as hard as it's ever been.

Part of it is that I challenge myself, because I'm someone who gets bored easily, but also: exercise is just hard when your body is sore or it's cold or you have mobility or health problems.  It's always a mental struggle to get myself out of whatever cozy situation I'm in and just go.  But I do it—for my health and my baby's health, and because I love lifting a bar.  I remembered that this week when I was at CrossFit, doing 5 x 5 light deadlifts.  I just love lifting weight, knowing I'm strong enough, finding out how my body works.  It's when I'm most embodied.  Well, that and yoga.  I’m going to find a prenatal yoga class soon too.

All this to say that I'm feeling pretty good about my health.  I reactivated my habit tracker.  I had given myself a break for the first trimester, but this week I turned it back on gladly.  I like the daily reminder to check in with myself and stay true to the balanced habits I'm trying to cultivate.

What I like about it is that I've made remarkably moderate habits.  No "run 5 miles at dawn" or "eat only green vegetables".  It's just eat until I'm close to full, then stop.  Exercise.  Don't eat food that doesn't satisfy me.  Get good sleep.  Meditate.   All pretty sensible stuff.

I honestly think this daily habit check-in is the answer to being a healthy and fit person effortlessly. This goal is kind of big anyway, since it's a lifelong process.  But I think I've found the answer.  I'm being pretty healthy, while still having some needed indulgence (that's homemade fudge sauce on ice cream, next to the kale, above), and it doesn't feel stressful or crazy or lame.  It just feels good and interesting, which is the balance I want to strike.

This baby is already teaching me to let go of control.  I don't have much control over the kid, over who it will be, or what it will do.  Or even how this pregnancy and delivery will go.  I'm okay with that.  I made my peace with it early on.  I didn't want to be locked into conflict between letting the kid become themselves vs. my own expectations for the next 18+ years (and forever, really).

I think getting pregnant was one of the best things to ever have happened to me, honestly.  And I'm grateful for it.  Even if something happens and it doesn't work out, a small risk, but one that I think about sometimes, I'm still thankful I got this experience.

See you in a couple months baby.  I can’t wait to meet you.