I am thrilled to share a Mama Story from Stephanie Morton with you today.
If you have ever seen a fellow mother that looked like they were in fantastic shape and wondered “How in the world is that even possible?” then you definitely enjoy Stephanie’s story.
Stephanie gives a behind the scenes peek of pre-pregnancy marathon run, to emergency c-section, to making peace with her body, and learning to put one foot in front of the other again with ease and grace.
In the Spring of 2013 I ran (and gratefully completed) the Boston Marathon and was in the best shape of my life. A month later, I happily found out that I was pregnant.
Let me preface this whole conversation by sharing that I am not an elite athlete but love long distance running.
I race myself and like most endurance athletes, I enjoy both the intellectual and physical experiment-of-one that goes along with the intensity of a training cycle.
I am also a yoga teacher and have found a great balance between the therapeutic aspects of yoga and my other more physically demanding hobby.
I continued to run throughout my early pregnancy. By my fifth month, however, I wasn’t really enjoying it.
I was getting out of the house more out of habit.
I’m really honest with myself, mostly out of some weird sense of guilt for missing a day.
I felt slow and hot.
After consuming masses amount of gatorade during a run I thought that there was just no reason to continue.
At the same time, my yoga teaching schedule was busy and I was loving it.
Once I stopped running I was able to attend daily yoga classes (if you are a teacher you will know what a treat this is!) and started to find that my body was actually healing itself from some of the wear and tear of the preceeding years’ miles.
Overall, I enjoyed my pregnancy.
I felt extremely strong and healthy, and was never very nervous about labour.
I was looking forward to meeting my baby and looking forward to getting back to the sport I loved.
Then I gave birth via an uplanned caesarean.
I have a healthy, beautiful, energetic baby boy.
I had no trouble with bonding, breast feeding or the baby blues.
So at this point I can admit that the physical trauma of abdominal surgery was the most shocking and disheartening part of that experience, specifically within the context of getting back to doing what I had loved pre-pregnancy: running!
I had thought I would be one of those women who went for a run a few days after giving birth, but at that point, I could only very uncomfortably and slowly walk up my stairs.
At four weeks post-partum with my doctor’s permision I went for my first run (less than two miles).
It was slow and felt so weird but also so amazing!
While I was physically overwhelmed by the first couple of weeks post-partum, a part of me was aware that because I had stayed so strong during my pregnancy, the transition back was not impossible.
At the same time, I was constantly reminding myself to slow down.
I jumped back into teaching yoga quite quickly though, and yoga once again gave me an outlet to explore movement in my body and figure out how to go forward.
It is only in the last three to four months that I see a glimpse of my pre-pregnancy fitness (my son is now 14 months old) in terms of endurance
I have a ways to go speed-wise!
Throughout the first year of being a mom I would have weeks of almost daily running, followed by too many nights with too little sleep.
I felt defeated.
And excruciatingly slow.
This experience has taught me to be flexible with the expectations I place on my body day to day, but at the same time to place my health at the top of my priorities.
Here’s my advice for all you active mamas out there, whether you a triathlete, dancer, skier, whatever!
1. Stay healthy and active during pregnancy but change the motivation and possibly the form of activity if necessary.
My mantra in the later months of pregnancy during my yoga practice was “Warrior Mama”.
Rather than working on my strength towards speed, it was directed towards being the most ablebodied caregiver to my baby.
2. Carry this mantra over into post-partum and focus less on esthetic or performance related goals.
As mothers, we need to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy and strong for the daily (and nightly!) demands of motherhood, be ready to act in any unforeseen circumstance or emergency, and be a role model for our familes.
The rest doesn’t matter, its just ego.
3. Enlist the experts!
I had the pleasure of working with Arianna starting at six weeks post-partum and I can tell you she was an amazing resource (I’m a pre and post-natal certified yoga teacher but learned so much in addition to the physical leaps my body took towards healing while working with her.)
Think it’s too expensive to commit to a rigorous postpartum plan with an expert?
Making your health a priority early on is really helpful.
People can’t give you a enough (mostly useless) stuff while you are expecting. Don’t be afraid to ask for something for yourself.
Think about how much you are spending on the trendy gear for your newborn and rebudget.
I can assure you that maternal health and well-being is a much better investment than the most stylish diaper bag.
A few other things that have been helpful to me on this journey:
Be selfish about your sleep.
Really, everything and everyone else can wait.
Don’t take your phone to bed with you.
You will be amazed at what you can do physically on much less sleep than pre-pregnancy but that doesn’t mean you have to test the limits completely.
Rest when you can because rest = recovery, which is critical getting back into shape and improving performance.
Create a ritual around your workout.
We always talk about scheduling when it comes to children, but habit proves to be just as important in physical activity for adults.
When you figure out what works for you, stick to the schedule for both you and your baby’s sake.
I run in the mornings with the baby stroller.
I get up early, drink some coffee and enjoy a few minutes of quiet and then once my son wakes up, it’s a diaper change and we are out of the house.
If I don’t feel like running because we’ve been up all night, I still try to get him out of the house in the stroller so there is some consistency (even if all we do is go out for more caffeine!)
Manage your hydration.
I live in the Caribbean so this is a really big deal for me.
But breast feeding and physical activity demand a lot of care in replenishing liquids, minerals and nutrients.
I am most certainly not an expert in nutrition and have just figured out what works for me through trial and error (mostly error).
If you have muscle cramps, headaches, exhaustion or severe thirst it is important to pay attention to these signs.
I’ll close with this thought that I’ve had recently:
We always hear that women’s bodies will never be the same after giving birth and this is meant well, encouraging us to accept our changing bodies.
However, I am not convinced that this is true, especially when talking about athletic performance, because I am constantly inspired by both my athletic mama friends and of course the very many elite female athletes who balance motherhood with incredible strength.
What is true is that the training circumstances will never be the same.
Rest, focus, even nutrition, are all factors that drastically change when you become a mom.
But I can assure you that it is possible to enjoy whatever your sport is again and when you hit your stride, it will be that much more gratifying and inspiring!
Stephanie Morton, MSc, E-RYT, RPYT, is a mother, long distance runner and yoga teacher specializing in Yoga for Athletes. She is originally from Nova Scotia but moved to Mexico in 2007 for love (a.k.a. baby daddy). She is the founder of Destination 26.2 and writes about her yoga and running endeavors at www.playarunners.com/blog.