I should probably admit I've always secretly been a bit of a snob when it comes to walking for exercise. Secretly. See, I tell my patients it's great. Top notch stuff. And I totally mean that...for them. For me, if I'm not huffing and puffing and moving faster than the next guy on the trail, then what the hell is the point?
Cue almost eight months of doctor-advised sedentary living during my recent high risk pregnancy. I replaced morning runs with greasy, calorie-packed fast food breakfast. Lifting and spinning away the stress at the gym became stress-eating on my way to and from my biweekly then weekly check up and ultrasounds at the MFM. The week I finally delivered (only 6 weeks early...I considered it a helluva success), the scale creaked beneath me at just a smidge over 200 lbs. It was distressing sure, but not surprising.
My little man came just in time for the holidays and his arrival was paired with more stress-eating as we anxiously awaited his homecoming from the NICU stay, not once but twice now.
To complicate things, I am just 4 weeks out of an emergency cesarean section. And no, the irony of spending 30 weeks battling a weak cervix, then laboring for almost a week while the damn thing stubbornly refuses to dilate is not lost on me.
My last two babies were both tiny and delivered vaginally. The physical backlash from their arrival was minimal and I was back to running and lifting in a matter of weeks. After 4 weeks, I am just now able to resume normal activities including lifting and carrying my toddlers. I realize I am lucky because many women take months to feel even remotely mobile and strong again. My doctor is a realist and he suggested listening to my body and taking it at my own pace.
This pregnancy, I was blessed with both a weak cervix (something that I've apparently always had and is relatively symptomless) and an irritable uterus, which is exactly as ridiculous and annoying as it sounds. Over the course of my second and third trimesters, I was slowly rendered completely useless and basically immobile. Eventually, I couldn't manage stairs very easily, couldn't lift or carry my toddlers, and even the most benign activities like rolling over in bed and walking across a parking lot were a legitimate struggle.
Resuming my ability to walk and basic endurance initially came as a necessity. I had to walk just over 500 feet to see my baby in the NICU from my hospital room for the first five days of his life. It doesn't sound like much, but it felt like light years at the time. The first time I attempted it out of a wheelchair (post delivery, day 2) I had to take a break halfway. After that, I waddled and huffed my way back and forth several times a day. Once I was discharged, the trek from the parking garage was probably 4 times that distance. Again, necessity drove my recovery. I had to see that kiddo and I stubbornly refused to succumb to the use of a wheelchair.
Today, he is in another NICU, in a different hospital and after months of pre and postpartum shuffling, I am finally walking almost normally again. As my kiddo figures out how to keep his temperature up and put on some much needed weight (someday...someday we'll reach 6lbs!!), I am struggling to reclaim my body and my identity as a strong, capable woman who can hold her own at the gym and fire up a room of group fitness class goers.
Let me preface this by saying I am aware that this is gonna sound like a totally douchy thing to say, but being involved in fitness is less of a 'hobby' for me and more of a part of who I am. I have never been more aware of that fact than when I was suddenly unable to hit the streets for a run and had to step away from my fitness instructor job. The exercise was also my major outlet for any stressors that might arise. With past babies, when things weren't going so well, I would lace up my shoes for a 'therapy run.' Losing that outlet was tough on me over the past 8 months (mildly stressful--cue the ice cream!) Today, at 4 weeks post op, I found myself on a 'therapy walk' through the breezeways throughout BJC/Washington University medical campus.
It a walk. I wasn't winning a race or setting any PRs. I wasn't even really breaking a sweat. But I'll be damned if it was totally liberating.
During the walk, I would catch my reflection from a curtained window or some such reflective surface every so often and it still startles me. The hips are too wide and the gait is still a bit too lateral in nature. The belly still protrudes, an imposter of that of maybe a second trimester tummy. The boobs are totally unrecognizable.
Still, regardless of what I saw and the fact that I was moving at an obnoxiously slow pace, the feeling was familiar, in a completely satisfying way. My breath was challenged and heavy. The movement was just repetitive enough to be hypnotic and totally cathartic. The tension dropped away from my jaw and shoulders (where I like to carry my stress, apparently) and moved into the muscles crossing my hips, knees and ankles, propelling me in the loop across the series of breezeways again and again. It felt so good to be moving again, I was reluctant to stop. I allowed myself the better part of an hour before I headed back to the elevator to see my baby.
I wasn't panting or sweaty, but I was refreshed and recharged. It may have just been a walk, but it did it's job. Even better, the walk gave me hope that I hadn't totally lost that part of myself that's been suppressed for so long. I am still me deep down in there someplace, hiding deep in this squishy postpartum body, and I get closer to that me with each step.