4th Trimester

Illustration of a woman in leggings near stationary bicycles, carrying a diaper bag
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The Emotional Rollercoaster That Is Postpartum Exercise (Or How I Learned To Cry Through SoulCycle)

“Everything looks great. You’re free to resume life as usual. Exercise, sex, go for it!”

by Jessica Tarlov
Originally Published: 

“Everything looks great. You’re free to resume life as usual. Exercise, sex, go for it!”

I was thrilled when my OB-GYN gave me the all-clear at my six-week postpartum check. I had surprised myself with how ready I was to get back to the things I’d done before I gave birth.

I was definitely excited about sex. Our last romp had been two days before I gave birth after eating spicy Indian food in the hopes of starting labor. I’d never speak ill of my husband’s bedroom skills, but I can assure you it was not the most fun we ever had between the sheets.

That said, what I was really excited about was exercise. I had worked out through my pregnancy and it was one of the few things that kept me sane and feeling the tiniest bit in control of what was happening to my body. I desperately wanted to feel like myself again and exercise seemed like an integral part of that path back.

It dawned on me that at this Halsey vs. Coldplay ride, Coldplay was vintage. And so was I.

I was vaccinated and boosted, and case rates were plummeting, so I took myself to my favorite cycling class. Surely my old self could be found somewhere in that loud, dark room. Within minutes, I began to understand how wrong I had been.

I was, I quickly realized, not my old self, but rather the “old” person at SoulCycle. I had walked into a room of taut flesh, where 75% of the women were wearing little more than a sports bra. My feeling of triumph at having squeezed into my pre-pregnancy leggings faded quickly as it dawned on me that at this Halsey vs. Coldplay ride, Coldplay was vintage. And so was I.

I shrugged it off. I was happy for my fellow riders. Only a few short years ago I had been one of them, wearing cute exercise outfits and getting Botox as a “preventative measure” rather than the desperate act of someone worried her forehead was telling everyone she was closer to 40 than 35. None of that matters anyway when the instructor turns down the lights and turns up the music. I strapped in, ready to get to it.

I’ve been known to cry in exercise class. That’s what it’s for! Sweat it out and cry it out if you need to. Which it seems I definitely did. Instead of my euphoric return to the old Jessie, this class was an emotional roller coaster.

First I cried thinking about the day I’d go to an exercise class with my daughter, Cleo — like I do with my mom — and how much fun that will be. Who knows what the next evolution in exercise will bring, but it’ll be fun because it’ll be the two of us. Maybe we’ll grab brunch as well. (Did I mention she’s three months old?)

I cried thinking about the impact of having a life literally pass through me.

I cried thinking about my dad, who passed away the day after my 20-week scan last summer. I can’t say he was a SoulCycle fan, but he loved that I went with my mom and he certainly would’ve loved my daughter. Some days I swear he’s inhabited Cleo and that her eyes will stay the same color as his, a reminder that he’ll always be here. I know that’s not likely — a simple Punnett square will tell you that her eyes will probably change in the next few months — but I like to think it could happen.

I cried thinking about what my body had been through this last year. For the first 15 minutes of class, I was fixated on the ratio of pee to sweat that was filling my underwear until I finally gave up and embraced whatever was happening down there. I thought about how my boobs were never going to look the same and how I had used cocoa butter and oil on my belly twice a day but there were no signs it was “snapping back.” I thought about the impact of having a life literally pass through me.

And I cried thinking about how lucky I was to be able to go out for a couple of hours with a newborn at home and enjoy a SoulCycle class where I could cry while pedaling in the dark instead of in my bathroom at home.

Needless to say, one 45-minute class conjured a lot for me. My doctor hadn’t prepared me for that at the six-week visit, but allowing myself these moments is crucial to a full recovery.

And I can’t wait to do it again soon. I didn’t fully understand why so many moms had advised me “be kind to yourself” until I walked home from class, tearful and joyful and exhausted. Now I’m that mom that says it, too.

There’s no getting back to the old me — only forward to the person I have become.

Jessica Tarlov is a Democratic strategist and the vice president of research and consumer insights at Bustle Digital Group. She is a contributor to Fox News where she appears as a self-described “defender of the Democrats.”

Photo Credit: Rubberball, Nicole Hill, Karrastock/Getty Images

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