How to honour your mama bod and find yourself again
Getting lost in motherhood – sometimes you have to get well and truly lost in order to be found.
I love being a mummy. It’s one of the most rewarding and simultaneously challenging things that I’ve ever tried to do.
I can remember the exact moment I knew it was time to start my motherhood journey…
2004, a conversation on the train with my (then) husband about whether I should accept a place at Southampton University to retrain as a Secondary (High) School teacher and what the implications would be of leaving my well-paid career in corporate HR. I was halfway through my Masters in HR Management; I was really starting to make a name for myself.
It was during that conversation that it hit me.
What I really wanted was to become a mummy. I knew it with certainty and felt it with every fibre of my being.
Getting pregnant took a few months and being pregnant was relatively straightforward (gratefully). Knowing I wanted to be a mum and being a mum though are two very different things I was soon to learn…
Somewhere in amongst the sleepless nights, failed breastfeeding attempts, tears (mine and my babies), pureed pear and projectile puke, I lost me.
There were no crumbs to follow back home and no one to rescue me from the maze I’d become stuck in.
I stayed at home and became a full-time wife, mother, cleaner, cook and bottle-washer.
I did everything for my family.
Without blowing my own trumpet, I am an incredible housewife. I cook, clean, iron and basically run a household like a legend. My house looked like a show-home almost all of the time. I cooked every single meal from scratch every night.
I baked bread, birthday cakes and bore a fake smile a lot of the time.
For five years it was all about my children, my house and my husband. They came first second and last in my order of priorities.
I didn’t feature in my own life. I had no part in my own story except as Mark’s wife or Martha and Sebastian’s mum.
I was a blimp. A marshmallow of a woman.
Before Kids (BK) I had done a triathlon. I’d trained every day of the week, often twice a day before and after work.
After Kids (AK) I sold my race bike believing I’d never be fit enough to ride it again.
BK I’d worn smart little skirt-suits to work, spoke with confidence and had earned people’s respect.
AK I lived in yoga pants and baggy tops. I couldn’t get my little people to sleep when I wanted them to. They refused meals that had taken hours to prepare and it would reduce me to tears in an instant.
BK my husband was attracted to me.
AK he didn’t touch me, he didn’t want me.
AK I looked in the mirror and had absolutely no idea who was looking back at me.
My saving grace was the swimming pool…
I had tried to go back to swimming and the gym after Martha was born but she had such awful separation anxiety that she cried until she vomited in the crèche whenever I left her.
There’s no way that mummy-guilt would allow me to do that more than twice, so I gave up.
It was only after Sebastian had arrived and rocked my world to its core that I took myself in hand.
Almost as clearly as that initial decision to become a mummy was that first swim when Sebastian was barely three months old.
I swam to escape my thoughts, to step out of my life for a little while.
It felt great.
Initially, I only went two or three times a week but before long I was going every morning while my husband and children were still fast asleep. I was back home before they knew I’d been gone. I remember driving in snow and ice to get to the pool and getting stuck in the carpark at the top of the hill one Winter’s morning, such was my dedication and focus and need.
Who would have ever thought that three years later I would retrain as a different kind of teacher, a Personal Trainer, to teach other women how to find themselves after having babies? Not me.
Who would have thought that I would be fitter, stronger and healthier 10 years AK than I ever was BK? Not me.
My journey to physical and mental postnatal recovery was something I figured out on my own – I took a lot of wrong-turns.
I WISH that I knew then what I know now about how our bodies are designed to work, how different a postnatal body is, but no less strong nor capable, and most of all what kind of work would build my body to last!
So, here’s my top 5 tips to really honour your mama-bod:
– Your 6-week postnatal check is not a green-light to hit the gym hard!
If you’ve had a baby recently, allow yourself TIME. Time to fully rest and recover from the nine months you carried your baby, and whatever labour you endured. This is even more important if you suffered a cesarean-section, tears/episiotomy, or traumatic birth.
– Sleep, sleep and sleep some more.
I know that sounds frankly ridiculous to many mothers, however, I often caution my mums who are getting prolonged disturbed sleep (or are struggling with uncomfortable bed-sharing with partners, baby and older children!) that your body literally won’t shed excess weight until you are sleeping well. When sleep is lacking your body believes it’s in shock or suffering prolonged crisis so is going to hang on to every ounce of energy it has to literally survive.
– Get yourself seen by a pelvic health physio!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never suffered pelvic incontinence or think you have your pelvic floor contractions nailed, EVERY woman should have a postnatal review with a pelvic health physio. You only have one body. Any pregnancy, any delivery affects your uterus, vagina, vulva, urogenital and core musculature significantly. It’s not like you can see all these bit and pieces working from the outside and a specialist physio can let you know exactly how you’re travelling and what you can do to improve your strength and functionality.
– Don’t start where you left off
I don’t care how fit and active you were before you had children, how easy a pregnancy or birth you had your body is simply not what it was before.
That DOES NOT mean it is weaker.
It just means you need to work differently with it. Start with re-learning the basic movement patterns you need to live your life as a mum functionally. Squats and lunges are a great place to start, but remember your centre of gravity might be different, your posture almost certainly will be off.
If you need help, find a qualified and experienced PT to work with – and check their qualifications (just because they’ve had a baby themselves doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing!).
– Exercise isn’t a magic bullet
Your body is your physical representation on this earth, but you are so much more than muscles, bones and blood.
Your body was designed to move. It’s good for you.
It can have an amazingly supportive and restorative effect on your physical and mental health.
But if you’re using it as a crutch, getting obsessed by it or using it to punish yourself, it’s not working for you. Please talk to someone, share your thoughts and feelings and don’t suffer in silence.