Well, I’m 9 weeks postpartum, and I’m just starting to wean myself off the couch and back into activities.
I found out at around 5 weeks that I had diastasis recti—fancy speak for my abdominal muscles having succumbed to the pressure of my pregnant belly and separated.
When I first found out, I did the dumb thing: I googled, then freaked out.
Then I did the smart thing: I got on the phone with the founder of Baby Strong Workout, and she calmed me down in a matter of minutes. I’m keeping an eye on my abs and not overdoing any dedicated abdominal exercises, but am otherwise easing back into fitness without any restrictions. In fact, I got back on the mat (humbling, invigorating), and I’ve been getting back into strength training and cardio in an entirely new and fun way.
My main goal has to do with strengthening. Thanks to breastfeeding, I’ve lost a fair amount of the 42 pounds I gained, just by sitting around being a milk machine. I’m not down to my pre-pregnancy weight, but some of my looser clothes from that era are starting to fit (yippee!).
That’s where the good news ends, though. I may be able to button my jeans, but they don’t feel or look quite the way they used to. They pinch in unflattering places, and I’m softer, flabbier, jigglier, and more muffin-toppier. Right now, I’m less concerned with losing weight and more concerned with regaining the muscles that began softening over 9 months of pregnancy and then fully disappeared during the last 7 weeks of couch-sitting milk-machining recovery.
So here’s what I’m up to:
I’m taking the #babystrongchallenge
I’ve got this super handy (droolproof!) deck of baby-friendly workouts thanks to Baby Strong Workout.
Each day, I’m doing some light cardio, as in, I’m carrying Mackenzie while I walk. No carriers, no strollers, no husbands to help; just me and the baby, taking a little tour of the outside world.
Then I’ve got a prescribed strength training workout, along with some stretching.
I love the variety of moves in the deck: I’ve been doing the workouts for two weeks now, and as someone who REALLY STRUGGLES with self-motivation around home workouts, this was crucial. All the cards are color-coded with the type of move, too, so it’s easy to find a core move or a lower-body strengthener with one hand.
Since all the workouts include—no, depend on—Mackenzie, I don’t have to figure out baby sitting, or feel guilty for taking some me time. (Which I DO feel guilty about, even though I know I shouldn’t, but that’s another post for another day.)
You can check out my daily workouts on Instagram, so come on over there and follow along … or, better yet, join me in the challenge, and make sure to tag #babystrongchallenge so I can follow your workouts! It doesn’t matter how old your baby is—just keep in mind that the heavier they are, the more intense the workout. 🙂
One move that’s not in the deck that I think qualifies as a total body move is trying to roll up and grab your yoga mat, in the wind, while holding a screaming baby. 😉
I started feeling stronger after just a few days of just using Mackenzie as my weight. And since you can do a full workout in less than an hour, it’s easy to squeeze one in between nursing sessions.
The biggest change this deck has prompted for me, though, is what I do with all the weird little pockets of time you get with an infant. So many times I’ve put her down, pulled out my computer to do some work, and then immediately had to reverse course and pick her up again. She knows exactly when I’m about to dive into something and chooses that moment to demand attention.
So, instead of pacing while I’m trying to soothe her in the middle of the night, I do one of the Baby Strong moves.
Instead of just sitting there and cheering her on during tummy time, I’ll stretch or do another move—all while still cheering her on, of course. Just adding those one-off moves into my daily life has made me feel happier, more awake, and more in control (such an elusive feeling with a baby) of my day. Each day, I pull out a couple different moves and leave them as reminders in key places: next to the changing table, next to Mackenzie’s bouncy chair, and on the bedside table.
You can find the Baby Strong Workout deck here – it’s a full postpartum fitness plan for less than a Barry’s or Soul class. Or a babysitter, for that matter. 😉
You’ve been warned: this post is about boobs in the least sexy way possible. If that doesn’t appeal, head on over to this more lighthearted post.
Up until shortly before Mackenzie was born, it never occurred to me that breastfeeding would be hard. Intuitively, it just makes sense that the way humans have survived and thrived must be natural and easy.
NOT TRUE. As a cursory internet search and the proliferation of La Leche League chapters will quickly demonstrate, breastfeeding is rife with challenges.
My first month was difficult. Mostly in the pain department. There were weeks when each feeding found me gritting my teeth and curling my toes and whimpering under my breath as tears streamed down my face. There was that weekend when I could only bear to latch her on the right, and that other time when the left was the only one I’d let her near. There were the blisters and the bleeding and the elaborate pillow arrangements and the early morning despair.
Six weeks in, I’m happy to report that while the girls are still (STILL!) healing, we’ve gotten through the worst of it, and I wanted to share what helped me survive those first excruciating weeks. Here are my save the nipples breastfeeding essentials:
I saw lactation consultants while in the hospital with Mackenzie, so when Nathan suggested that I make an appointment with a private LC, I was skeptical at first. I’d already gotten instructions and help latching; what else would they do?
But I reached a point of desperation and finally called one. Gamechanging. She was worth her weight in gold. In one appointment, her guidance totally reversed the direction we were headed in, helped me back down from my breaking point, and helped prevent additional damage to the girls.
Lifesavers, these things. When you’re in pain, these offer a cooling barrier between your nipples and your bra. When you have open wounds or new skin that is attempting to heal, these protect you from those grabby fibers in your bra or clothes. If you don’t know what I mean, just trust me.
I’ve tried all the brands on the market, and the Ameda pads are hands down the best. The Medela and Lansinoh pads are a little too sticky for my taste; I wanted a barrier, not a bandaid. The Ameda pads are more expensive than the other brands, but they do last longer. Even if they didn’t, they’re still worth the extra cash.
I used this to help heal wounds. The lanolin is a great moisture barrier, but the Golden Salve will actually promote healing. Bonus: if you’re chafing in, ahem, other areas, thanks to wearing diaper-sized maxi pads for weeks on end, this helps out that situation, too.
I add this one to the list reluctantly, because truth be told, I have a love-hate relationship with this pillow. Or really, more of a I-need-it-but-I-hate-it relationship. After I first saw the LC, every time Mackenzie was hungry, I would religiously get into my glider and use no fewer than 3 folded up towels plus this pillow to help us get the latch right. I loathed having to go through this ritual 10-12 times a day, but being diligent about positioning and support did help me heal.
The pillow is really not made for tall ladies; I need several other pillows or folded towels propping it up underneath to get it to the right height. All that arranging is fucking annoying, especially at 3am when you really just want to be in bed and your baby is frantic. The “lumbar support” is more uncomfortable than supportive. But the waist strap at least helps it stay closer to your body than a regular old pillow would.
Support from your family and friends
Everyone who helped us in those early weeks was really supportive of my breastfeeding Mackenzie, and very sympathetic to the challenges. My husband would help me get set up in my glider, then hand-deliver a hungry baby so I didn’t have to manage the set up while also wrangling a starving, screaming baby. He’s the one who originally encouraged me to see the LC, and he was right.
My mom, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law, all of whom came and stayed with us and helped in those early weeks, were all so supportive and empathized with the frustrations and challenges of establishing breastfeeding. Their encouragement and willingness to listen to me vent went a long, long way.
If you have any items to add to the list, please share—I’m still in the process of optimizing this ritual, 8-12 times a day.
Consider yourself warned: this is LONG. Potentially graphic. Includes just about every bodily fluid you can imagine.
The night of Monday, January 11 was different than most other nights, but only because we stayed up way past our bedtime having dinner with new friends. I flouted all sorts of pregnancy rules and ate sushi and drank a tiny bit of champagne and listened to my friend’s birth story. Short version: her water broke two days before her due date; her midwife (who also happens to be my midwife) put her on a castor oil and vodka regimen, her contractions started, and the next morning her son arrived, happy, healthy, and at home.
“Well,” I joked, “if I follow your example, I guess I’ll be having Moonshine tomorrow.”
Just a few hours later, I woke up at 3am to pee (no surprise there), walked out to the kitchen to get water (totally normal also) and then felt myself peeing all over my legs, unable to control or stop the deluge (big surprise there).
It was, of course, not urine but my water breaking. Moonshine had clearly been taking notes during dinner.
20 minutes later, my parents were on their way to the airport, I had marching orders from my midwife, and I was back in bed, doing my best to fall back asleep despite the overwhelming awareness that sometime in the next 24-ish hours shit was going to get real real.
I spent that day waiting for labor to start on its own, and to cross off all those last minute things on my work transition list. I was grateful to have a few hours to tie up loose ends before labor really kicked in, and the looming deadline amped up my productivity into an exhilarating frenzy.
By evening, I was still contraction free, still leaking amniotic fluid. I knew that as recently as a few days before, I hadn’t been dilated or effaced at all, so my body had a lot of work to do to get this baby out before time ran out.*
Time to jumpstart this process.
Around 6pm, I started my prescribed regimen of breast pumping, stair climbing, and herbs. My mom, good sport that she is, climbed up and down the dreary emergency-only stairwell in our building with me.
After having taken it easy on the exercise front for 9 months, and with an extra 40 pounds to lug around, those stairs were hard. My 20 minute sets of climbing left my legs shaky and burning, in an almost-pleasant, remember-what-exercise-feels-like? kind of way.
At 9pm, it was time to pre-party: I shot two ounces each of castor oil and vodka.
Having exhausted all my labor-starting tactics, I woozily watched a Jennifer Aniston rom-com with my family, kept downing electrolytes in anticipation of the castor oil’s powers of dehydration, and waited for contractions to hit.
I’d been advised that the best way to handle early labor was to take on some kind of project: to make a meal, take a walk, go to the movies. Basically, distract yourself until the contractions draw you in and blind you from everything except that moment and that sensation. I’d imagined my project would be to take a very slow walk along the lake with Nathan, or maybe take Tigger out for a hike. Something in nature, but not too far from home, sounded perfect.
Reality was a little different from that vision, and not just because it was 11:30pm: my unchosen but absolutely mandatory beginning of labor project was to station myself on the toilet, leaking from just about every orifice. There in my tiny cubicle, as my insides liquefied faster than I could chug electrolytes, I had some bloody show, and the contractions sprung into action at a brisk 5 minutes apart, lasting between 45 seconds and a minute each. In under an hour, they were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting at least a minute each. Meanwhile, I was still toilet-trapped, practicing my yoga breathing as my body did its best to turn itself inside out.
When the castor oil had finally exhausted my body’s capacity for elimination, I draped myself over my yoga ball and called my midwife.
She arrived around 1am and checked my cervix. I was a 3.
I was disappointed by the results; even though I’d only been in labor for an hour and a half, it had been a gung-ho hour and a half. Since the contractions had leapt right over those warm-up hours, into the frequency you expect in active labor, I’d (foolishly?) hoped my cervix would keep pace. She suggested I get into the bath, and let me know that even though she usually goes home when a woman in labor is only a 3, she was going to stay with me.
At that point, I realized, without admitting it to myself, that something wasn’t right. We’d talked extensively about the bath for relaxation and pain relief, and she had consistently told me we’d save that luxury for transition. But I hopped on in.
That was when the back labor reared its ugly head: a searing, vise-like pain in my lower back that intensified with each contraction but, unlike the contractions, didn’t release in between, and was only made bearable by the counter pressure dutifully applied by my mom or Nathan as each contraction ramped up. No matter what position I tried—kneeling over the bed, sitting on the edge of a chair, leaning on my yoga ball, hands and knees, etc—there was no escaping it. More often than not, one of my support team would take my back while the other held a trash can or towel for me to puke in. God knows how there was anything left to puke up after my castor oil adventures, but time and again, my stomach reliably delivered back its contents.
My midwife checked me again. I was a 5, and starting to be effaced.
Again, disappointment. She was really encouraging about the progress I’d made and suggested I get back in the tub to help me relax and get energy to keep going. She assured me I’d come very far in very little time, but I couldn’t help but think, only halfway there, and I’m already feeling pretty ragged.
A while later (who knows how long?! Time was unintelligible by that point) I got back out of the tub, and sat on the edge of the bed, knees wide, leaning forward so that Nathan could have access to my back, and the trajectory between my throat and the trash can was short enough to reasonably ensure successful deposits. My midwife checked Moonshine’s heartbeat and heard some deceleration she wasn’t comfortable with. She had me lie on my side in bed, where Moonshine’s heartbeat picked back up, but where I crossed into a new threshold of pain.
The sounds coming out of my mouth were at a pitch and urgency I didn’t know I was capable of making. Nothing that I’d read about or practiced seemed to help. Yogi breathing, hypnobirthing breathing, vocalizing, counterpressure, surrendering to the pain: it all felt inadequate to the unrelenting and pulverizing pain in my back. I needed a way out of my body. With each contraction, I felt myself tensing and curling and begging for a change in position, a way out. As much as I tried to surrender to the sensations the way all my childbirth books had taught me to do, I simply couldn’t. I was stuck in the intensity.
I had all too recently been pronounced only halfway through this first phase of labor, but I took that feeling of desperation as a glimmer of hope: maybe I’d made it to transition? Maybe this hitting the wall was a sign that I’d arrived at the worst of it, and if I could just moan and bear it for a little while longer, this would all be over.
She checked me again. A 7. Not in transition yet. That meant it was only going to get worse.
My midwife started an IV to help replenish the fluids I’d lost over the last few hours, and not too long after, she was kneeling beside me, gently but firmly telling me that we needed to transfer. In the least alarming way possible (I can’t for the life of me remember how she communicated the message so gently, but she was a master at it), she let me know I was too dehydrated; Moonshine’s heart rate decelerations were alarming; and we weren’t close enough to the finish line for her to feel comfortable proceeding at home. She asked Nathan how much longer he thought I could go on. When he estimated 6 hours, I wanted to scream, fuck no, I do not have another 6 hours in me! but the contraction mangled that sentence into yet another primal wail.
By that point, I had zero preference about how it happened as long as I could get this baby OUT. “Let’s go,” I said, never more certain of anything in my life.
She suggested we call an ambulance but Nathan insisted he could get us there faster.
The driving time to the hospital was mercifully short: 4 contractions, 7 minutes. The only position I could handle contractions in was on my hands and knees, so our trip was punctuated by me sinking to hands and knees to groan through another wave in all sorts of unlikely places:
The hallway outside our apartment, waiting for the elevator
Inside the elevator (much to the confusion of a FedEx delivery person)
On the ground in the parking garage, halfway between the elevator and our car
4 times in the backseat of the car (even my safety-officer husband let me slide on not wearing a seatbelt)
Inside the revolving door at the hospital (a crawling and contracting two-for-one)
In the hospital lobby
In the hospital elevator (I lurched out of the wheelchair, elbowed some space for myself, and made my unfortunate fellow passengers hold the door at my floor until it passed and I could get back into the wheelchair).
On the labor and delivery bed, as the anesthesiologist stood behind me, needle poised for entry as soon as the contraction passed
Let me tell you, crawling in a revolving door, then lurching into a hospital lobby and immediately falling to your hands and knees while moaning will get you the speediest attention and care you can imagine. They even called a code for me over the loudspeaker: “Dr. Stork to the lobby!”
As I waited for the epidural to kick in, I once again had to be on my back. Nathan and my mom held my hands as I groaned through each contraction. My mantra between contractions became, “Not as bad as the last one. Not as bad as the last one. This is almost over. Almost over.”
At last, the drugs and the IV worked their magic, and I found my body relaxing into itself again. I watched the contractions happening on the monitor, blissfully unaware of their impact in my body. They had me lie on my side with a big pillow between my legs to try to encourage Moonshine to rotate; apparently she’d wiggled into a new position again and that was causing the back labor.
The next time they checked me, I was an 8, and 90% effaced. The easiest centimeter yet.
I continued laboring for a few more hours, the only reminder of the pain a hotspot in my lower back. It was just a shadow of what had once been, a continual reminder to be grateful for the epidural.
The nurse checked me again and said, “Oh! There’s the baby!” I’d labored her down to station 3 (basically, right about to crown).
The pushing started almost immediately. That was the strangest sensation: I had 4 or 5 people holding my legs, giving me instructions on how to push, and I had zero feelings below the waist, so it was all physical guesswork. But eventually it all worked out, because suddenly there was this baby being handed to me, a baby with a head full of dark hair who promptly pooped on my chest and then was whisked away from me.
I’ve lost the memory of the next few hours almost entirely. I remember being stitched up as sensation slowly returned to my legs; I remember the nurse in my postpartum room hustling to get me to the NICU before they closed for shift change; I remember my mom waking me up at 1am and wheeling me through the hospital because the NICU team had just given us the green light to hold Mackenzie.
Seeing her in the NICU was the most surreal experience: here was this human whom I’d created and then evicted from my body, only to find her on a mechanical life support, covered in tubes and tape and breathing apparatuses. I could scarcely believe she’d come out of me, could scarcely fathom why she was there, could scarcely connect the dots of the last few hours.
It took me several days to piece together how it all happened, and to come to terms with the major change of plans. I’d wanted a home birth not so much because I wanted to be a martyr, or because I particularly relish pain, but because I found the idea of letting a natural process take place so beautiful. I read everyone from Ina May Gaskin to Ricki Lake and eagerly lapped up what they were selling. I wanted what biology intended: that cocktail of hormones that help prepare you for birth and that help you bond with your baby and help your milk come in. I didn’t want a cascade of interventions that may or may not be necessary. I wanted the experience to be on my terms, not on a malpractice-shy and policy-and-procedures-driven doctor’s terms. I loved the thought of never leaving home, but just snuggling up with our newborn, in our bed, with all our creature comforts around us.
As it turned out, the things I most feared happened:
I ended up in the hospital
I delivered on my back, with my legs in stirrups
I had the ‘cascade of interventions’: an epidural, pitocin, stitches
I had a second degree tear
Mackenzie was taken away from me after just a few seconds of skin to skin; it would be hours before I would see her again, and days before we’d go home together
And it all turned out for the best, despite all those things I’d wanted to avoid happening. I had the most incredible support team, and I’m so grateful the NICU doctors were right there to help Mackenzie start breathing. (Apparently it took her a good 45 minutes and a lot of effort on their part to get her to pink up).
The question I haven’t answered for myself is what I would (or will) do differently next time. My midwives gave me the most beautiful prenatal and postnatal care: personal, non-interventionist, holistic. I’m grateful that I experienced at least part of a natural labor. That edge, where I was convinced my pelvis would shear in half, was one I wanted to experience (though I probably would have been fine with a little less time spent there!). I wanted to know what my body was capable of, and I wanted to know what I was capable of. That said, I’m honestly not sure if I could hack it all the way through, or if I’d want to. Maybe if I’d eased into labor rather than slamming right into that intense frequency, I would have made it to the finish line?
I don’t know. In any case, that epidural was fucking magical. I’m not ruling out a repeat just yet.
And, of course, the most important thing is this: we all made through the experience healthy and happy. Mackenzie had her own agenda in birth, just as she did when she was in the womb, and she must have known that she’d need a little extra support once she made her debut, and she found a way to make it happen.
*Hospitals will usually give you about 24 hours from rupture; the midwives were comfortable with about 36. Either way, my deadline for a natural delivery was fast approaching.
Losing all those pregnancy fluids will mean you are dry, dry, dry. I’m talking skin, lips, hair. Bring on the chapstick and the lotion and the constant hydration efforts.
The remaining 20 pounds will likely be heavily concentrated in your belly. When you lie on your side, it will puddle next to you in bed like a soft little pet. It’s the perfect cuddle buddy for your baby (for all you cosleepers out there).
Through no effort of your own (besides getting knocked up) your boobs will be rock hard and your stomach will be boundlessly voluptuous and pillowy.
In all seriousness, I’m planning on sharing the trials and tribulations of postpartum fitness, weight, and body here, because, um, fitness is kind of what I do. Or used to do, before all of the above took place. 😉
I was shocked to see myself 20 pounds down after just one week, especially because the day we came home from the hospital, I had only lost 7 pounds. As in, LESS than the weight of the actual baby.
I’m sure these next 20 will be a different story. I’m not in any rush to hop on any diet or weight loss plan, not least because my hourly milk machine duties leave me ravenous, but once I’m cleared for exercise, I do have some plans, and a few tricks in my back pocket, for how I’m going to recover some of my missing muscles. (Abs, I’m looking at you).
Also, coming soon: Mackenzie’s birth story. This one is taking me forever to write, but it’s in the cooker, people.