I've always been a bit of a gym rat and working out has continued to be a big part of my life since becoming a mom. But ever since I had kids, people often assume my workouts are driven by a desire to make my body look like it did before giving birth when, in fact, "fixing" my postpartum body is the last thing I'm worried about. When I went to my two-week visit with my OB after giving birth via c-section and pleaded with him to let me workout, I was furious when he refused. He demanded I wait a full 12 weeks before attempting any activity without taking the time to discuss with me how I felt or how my body was healing post-surgery.
If he'd only asked, I would've explained to him that after spending the last two months of my pregnancy on bed rest my body felt creaky and weak. Coping with the stress of having preemie twins and my new role as a mom left me feeling like I wasn't myself anymore. I wanted to go to the gym solely because it was a habit of mine, and I thought doing something for myself that was a part of who I was before I became a mom would make me feel better help me handle the transition from Megan to Mommy more easily. I tried to explain this to my doctor, but he cut me off and said:
Just diet for now. You've got plenty of time before swimsuit season anyhow.
I went home in tears, worried that by becoming a mom I had given something up I hadn't bargained for. Most of all, I didn't care about being beach ready. I cared about my mental health and my emotions. I cared about taking care of myself so that I could take care of my sons.
The idea that women only work out in order to "fix" their bodies is everywhere. We're marketed waist wraps and told they will help us "lose the mummy tummy." There are interviews accompanied by glossy photo spreads of celebrity moms who lost their baby weight or Instagram pictures of women who claim to have achieved "MILF" status. Don't get me wrong, if you want to feel fabulous in your body, I'm all for it, but the expectation that you should need to look or a feel a certain way after baby isn't a norm I'm trying to get down with.
So much of the discussion around women's postpartum bodies is about how they look, and sure, I like to feel confident in my clothes as much as the next woman, but my main goal in working out is to maintain or hopefully improve how my body functions, not to lose weight or look like I did before I got pregnant.
I work out almost six or seven days a week, sometimes more than once a day if the mood strikes. I run, do yoga, take group fitness classes like Step and Zumba, and I lift weights. I do all this because I love how it makes me feel, not because of how it makes me look. My family is known around the neighborhood as "The Walkers" because we're often seen with our kids in the stroller out for a family 5K in the afternoon. I completed my first half marathon last year and I'm just about to start training for my second, with hopes of completing a full in early 2017.
I understand that for some people, I might not look that strong. My body in no way "perfect" and based on the number of unsolicited Facebook messages I get from women asking me if I'm interested in purchasing their diet shakes, people assume that I need to lose weight. But I don't spend those hours sweating it out in the gym because I want to be thinner, I do it because working out is a big part of who I am and what I love. I feel on top of the world when I'm able to do more pushups than last week or when I get that shaky feeling on the stairs that only comes the day after Leg Day. I don't put much stock in what the scales says, since I know that lifting weights, drinking water, and recovery swelling means that number is a somewhat unreliable indicator of my overall fitness level. But when I peel off my sweaty clothes to take a shower after a really fun dance class or a great long run outside and step in the shower, I feel invincible.
Society has ways of shaming women who dare to take the time to workout without their kids. We have yoga classes where you bring your baby and insanely heavy jogging strollers marketed to women so that moms can workout without ever leaving their kids behind. As a brand-new mom, I fell for the guilt trip. I had an 80 lb. monster of a jogging stroller I used to strap the twins into and then struggle against gravity to try and stop us all from flying down a hill, all in the name of being a "good mom" who didn't leave her kids to "selfishly" work out.
But as my kids got older and gained weight the jogging stroller turned our runs into walks, punctuated by lots of stops to soothe crying toddlers and retrieve fallen sippy cups. Now I take the time to go out by myself for my workouts and I refuse to feel guilty about it. I rationalize my time at the gym as the equivalent of someone who gets her "me time" by going for a regular mani-pedi or massage. Running is what recharges my batteries, and if I ever do feel any guilt over my time at the gym I remind myself that no one has ever once turned to my husband while he's on the treadmill and asked him who's watching the children. Getting my workouts in is important to me, and I'm not going to feel guilty about it just because I have two children.
I workout consistently now, not because I'm trying to make my body look like it did before I had children, but because I have children and I want to raise them to appreciate having mobile, healthy bodies. I have premature ovarian failure, which makes working out crucial to maintaining my health and I want to live a long, healthy life so I can spoil my grandchildren rotten one day. Still, even without the health benefits, I'd want to workout because fitness is a big part of who I am.
Growing up my mom was (and still is) a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. My dad played on multiple softball teams and is a referee for high school basketball. My sister was a competitive softball player and gymnast. We went to the local track for fun on the weekends and planned vacations around whether or not we could rent bikes to go for long rides. I grew up as part of an athletic family, and it's important to me to maintain an active lifestyle, not just because it's what makes me feel like myself but also because I want my own raise my own kids to appreciate the euphoria that comes with moving your body. I sleep better at night knowing when (OK, fine, if) the zombie plague ever comes, my family will be able to outrun them, at least for a little while.
My kids are 3 now and I don't hold onto the size and shape my body was in four years ago before I got pregnant as some sort of ideal. My body is aging and changing. Parts of it are eventually going to succumb to gravity no matter how many pushups I do. Skin that's been stretched out from the weight gain and loss of my sizable twin baby bump is never going to lay the same way against my abdomen as it did before I got pregnant, regardless of whether or not I have a six-pack.
When people talk about personal growth, about becoming more enlightened, embracing the future, being better than we they yesterday, I think that's wonderful. Yet when it comes to women and their bodies after pregnancy, we're told to look backwards, not forward. I refuse to dwell on the past in any other aspect of my life, so why should the way my body looks be any different? Like everything else, when it comes to my postpartum body, I chose to look forward. To lift heavier than I last week, to run farther than yesterday. Where I am today and where I'll be tomorrow is how I assess my fitness level, now not where I was years ago.
What did my waist measure before I got pregnant compared to now? No clue. But I've managed to shave a full minute off my per mile running average over the last six months, and the satisfaction that gives me is far better than pulling on a pair of pants with a certain size sewn into the back of a waistband no one will see.