“Wow, you look amazing! I can’t believe you just had a baby.” I feign a chuckle and make some self deprecating comment about how everything is hidden under my maternity leggings (because yes, I’m still wearing them) and my oversized sweater. This type of interaction has happened more times than I can count on one hand. As well intentioned as the comment is, it only makes me dwell on my new body even more. Being a first time mom, there is so much new to get used to. For me, that was a whole lot of feelings I wasn’t expecting surrounding how I viewed my body and my relationship with running and training for races.
Throughout my life I’ve always had a generally “smaller” physique. With my belly growing during pregnancy, I watched the sizes on my clothes tick up, up, up until nothing was comfortable anymore. I gained the higher end of the recommended amount of weight according to my BMI. I tried to tell myself plenty of times that gaining weight was what should be happening in order to create a healthy home for my baby, but I tried my best to exercise several times a week to keep it in check. I’d watch as dimples formed in my thighs, feeling them grow larger and rub in places I wasn’t used to. As a person that was used to picking apart their appearance on a good day, I now had loads of focal points. My husband would often tell me how beautiful I was but it was not even remotely close to how I was feeling.
I remained as active as possible during my pregnancy. I completed a 20 mile race in my first trimester, a 25k in my second and a four miler in my third. I even ran on the day my daughter was born. Since shortness of breath was the first pregnancy symptom I had, I was pretty proud of these accomplishments. Still, I struggled with seeing pictures of myself in a body larger than I was used to. After posting a picture of myself on Instagram, a comment from a person I didn’t know came through. “Beached whale” it read. As much as I tried to not let this bother me, it did. It seemed that no matter how much I tried to keep in shape, there were at least two people in the world there to remind me that my body was no longer the size it once was: this internet jerk and the person looking back at me in the mirror.
Having a race on the calendar gave me hope that I can lose the baby weight a bit quicker than if I had nothing planned. I’ve never been a fast runner and it took years to be able to run multiple miles at a sub ten minute pace. While pregnant, a 13 minute mile was fast for me. Other pregnant runners were out there running their regular paces, winning races and there I was running the pace I ran when I first started running a decade ago and really struggling with it, barely even showing any sign of the little girl I was growing inside of me. “Maybe I have no business being out here. All the other pregnant ladies are still crushing it. Why am I even trying?” Running became more about the 30 minutes of exercise I should be getting a day and less about any enjoyment I got out of it.
Now that I am just out of my fourth trimester, I’m back to running again and training for a 25k at the end of April. I’m taking the time to build my body back stronger which means short, easy intervals with lots of walking, hiking with baby and weekly visits with a pelvic floor PT. I’m trying to ignore the comparison monster by enjoying my surroundings when I get to leave my house for a run. I watch my daughter’s eyes try to absorb everything there is around her with amazement. I savor the feeling of her breath on my chest when she falls asleep during one of our training hikes. I remind myself that the faster paces will come back eventually and having my daughter see her mama crushing her goals will make them that much sweeter.
What’s my plan to stop my negative thoughts about the way I look? Glad you asked…
First, after watching many episodes of Queer Eye while breastfeeding, I learned the power of positive affirmations. And when I have a hard time saying them to myself, I try to really listen to my husband who has no problem showering me with compliments. Next, I am trying to think of myself, not as Raelynn, but as Isla’s mom. Thinking bad things about myself comes easy but when I think those thoughts about this little girl’s mom, it gets a bit tougher. I also went out and bought new jeans. While it wasn’t the most pleasant experience, having clothes that fit this body (that aren’t maternity) makes me feel so much more confident.
Most importantly, I’m working with a postpartum therapist. I spend too much time feeling disappointed that I’m not back in my old jeans and I’m not alone. According to a poll of 7,000 women conducted by babycenter.com, “64% of survey takers confessed that their body image has gotten worse since they became a mother.”
My body is capable of amazing things. It traveled over mountaintops, over the course of 100 miles on foot. It grew a beautiful human being, was cut open to bring her into this world and is still healing itself. It now produces milk throughout the day to keep her alive. If that’s not incredible and worthy of awe, I don’t know what is. These are some of the things I’m reminding myself of when I spot a roll hanging over my sports bra that wasn’t there this time last year.
I never want my daughter to look at herself in the mirror and think the terrible things that I think about my body. I definitely don’t want her to hear me say them and think that’s ok. I need to get in the habit of not speaking badly of my body, her home, so that she doesn’t grow up hearing those thoughts and feel the same way. I want her to feel strong, powerful and beautiful because I am those things. I am one tough mother.
I’ve had five children and was pregnant and/or nursing for ten straight years…I understand completely! The biggest factor in getting/keeping the slim body you hope for is not the number of kids, but the number of Ho-Ho’s (or whatever junk or over-eating beckons you). As with most Americans, I have struggled for years. Now at 55, I am small but not lean and no one would ever confuse my body for a 25-year-old…but still…..like you, I try to remind myself of all that it has done for me and I start most runs thanking God for my “two good strong legs.” Your daughter is very fortunate to have a mommy who is taking care of herself.
p.s. THANK YOU for sharing your pace…I am not fast either but it doesn’t diminish my pleasure in running.