Getting your body back fills most of my postpartum conversations with women. I recently saw a photo of a former client, Kathleen, training and asked her to contribute a post on her return into her skin after giving birth and a couple years of motherhood.
I truly believe it takes years for a woman's body to heal from pregnancy and childbirth, we are more than just skin and muscle. We are cells and fluid and all of it put together also carries the power of a soul and emotional body. The healing that goes on is so much bigger than our bodies, but our body is our house.
It's a must to love up on them and take care of them as we grow up. It's our responsibility.
Kathleen's post today is a letter, more or less, to us. And I love it. Hope you do too.
When I hear women talk about "getting their body back" after having a baby I want to remind them that they still have a body – a body that did a really amazing thing. But I know what they mean because I too have been on a journey to not just "get my body back", but to get to know what this body is capable of, to get reacquainted with moving it in ways that used to be so easy and familiar but now feel a little more foreign. Before I had a baby I did everything from playing roller derby to climbing walls to lifting weights.
0-3 MONTHS POSTPARTUM: long walks, barre class, yoga, and gentle weight lifting
I have to admit that I may have been a bit impatient to get back to it after having the baby. There was one day when I was about 4 weeks postpartum that I found myself doing squats and pushups in the kitchen. I had people with the best intentions telling me to chill out (even typing this out I want to tell postpartum self to simmer down) but emotionally, I needed those squats. But I also needed a barre class, some gentle yoga, and long walks. I would test my limits but I would also listen to what it was my body and heart really needed. I gave myself grace but I also set some goals. With the help of Rebecca I was beginning to close the separation between my abdominals and to this day am still working on not peeing myself when I sneeze.
3-12 MONTHS POSTPARTUM: weight lifting and a little cardio
Right at 3 months postpartum I decided I wanted to be a bodybuilder. I began tracking my macros and lifting heavy. I was still nursing so I knew my body would be holding onto some weight but I figured I might as well work on building muscle underneath. My sleep deprivation was really beginning to catch up with me but I kept chugging along. I loved working out and tried my best to mitigate the stress by eating nourishing food and relaxing with yoga nidra and epsom salt baths. I found my milk supply dipping as I started to integrate cardio into my routine, so I backed off, but sweating it out from time to time was pretty magical. At this point my weight was right at what it was before I was pregnant but my body composition wasn't quite the same.
12-15 MONTHS POSTPARTUM: weight lifting and HIIT
After twelve months of not sleeping more than two hours at a time with a baby who was still waking up 6-8x a night (I was a lucky one) I lost my shit. I stopped breastfeeding and became obsessed with getting a six pack. I started lifting heavier and integrating high intensity interval training (HIIT) into my workouts. I was taking #gymselfies and stalking unrealistic before and after pictures on Instagram. I was punishing myself for not being perfect by demanding more from my body then it could deliver. Right at 15 months is when I melted down in my midwife's office. She told me my batteries were low and that I had probably gone a bit too long with undiagnosed postpartum anxiety and depression. I was pretty good at hiding it until I wasn't anymore. I left the office with a prescription and a little hope.
15-24 MONTHS POSTPARTUM: boxing
Right around 15 months postpartum I found a small boxing gym – the kind that feels like what Rocky would have worked out in. I went from boxing 2 or 3 times a week to hitting the boxing gym every day. I'm not a fighter but putting on gloves and throwing punches felt good. After a few months I began sparring and making friends at the gym. I'm not the best fighter but as a creative entrepreneur and new mom I kind of like not having to be good at something. I like being able to get in the ring and give myself permission to be a beginner at something. I still have goals but they have a lot less to do with aesthetics and so much more to do with performance. I want to fuel my body with the best food and nutrition so I have the energy to be the person I want to be. I care a whole lot less about having a six pack and care so much more about how I feel in my body. I've also learned that as my body changes, so do my emotional needs around nutrition and workouts. There is no one single plan or cure-all vitamin that can turn me into the NAVY Seal quality of badass I'd like to be.
I still love hitting it hard in the gym – that's just who I am. I've found that as I become more demanding of my performance I've become more forgiving of my body – it's a fine line to balance and that balance takes just as much practice as climbing a wall, skating on quads, or throwing clean punches. My body is STILL recovering from one of the most physical feats I've ever performed (that would be giving birth) and giving birth has made me stronger than ever in so many ways.
Kathleen Shannon is the cofounder of Braid Creative & Consulting, and one of the inspiring voices of the popular podcast Being Boss. Her personal blog is where she shares her work, life and adventure overlap as a working creative, a dream job creator, a risk taker, a good food eater and a booty shaker.