Not Another Mile: What I learned about strength and motherhood when I had less to prove and more to do
Guest Post by Jessica Schaefer
Three months postpartum with my first child, I realized I could not even touch my toes anymore. I had always prided myself on this ability – and I could touch my toes right up till the last month of my pregnancy. So what was up? If this was the post-pregnancy “shape” everyone else was complaining about, I suddenly understood.
Even if the breastfeeding / lack of sleep / lack of time to eat combo ends up all rolling in your favor weight wise, the numbers are probably deceiving. Just try touching your toes. Even if it’s doable, it just doesn’t feel the same.
Sure, you can get a sitter or hope your partner’s hours mesh so you can take an hour or so to hit the gym or yoga class or train for that half marathon you’d always said you’d do. But let’s pretend (ahem) for a moment that I was too busy, too tired, way too unmotivated to do that. It’s not that I didn’t favor a few moments to bettering myself… its just that they came at the expense of time and effort spent pumping breast milk from already overworked breasts, the emotional toll of walking out the door on a schedule when one or both of us didn’t really want that to happen, the need to squeeze in a shower just so I could go work out because, well… newborns.
Let me just spill a little secret here: it’s not magically easier when they’re older. At some point, I bought a pair of good running shoes, and left the house at odd hours to run training runs for that promised half marathon. I did so well with this plan that by the time I was at the starting line for the race, I’d run just over 8 miles total and eaten half of my energy gels as emergency nursing snacks. I ran those 13.1 miles anyway. It was thrilling. And it sucked.
My mom friends gave me that look and told me about joining the gym. Maybe I wanted to drop my kids off with theirs and come sit on some plastic machines in a big room and get it done.
But I’d figured something out between those late night practice runs and that 13.1 mile race to prove I could: I didn’t need to prove anything. And I didn’t need to get any old me back. I just wanted to be strong enough to do what I needed to do, day in and day out, and healthy enough to outrun my kids. I wanted my energy back, not my waist. Well, maybe my waist a tiny bit.
By the time kid two came around, I had less to prove. I already had that half marathon under my belt, and I knew, if that’s what I really wanted to do, I could do it. So instead, our very first week together, I grabbed my woven wrap, wrapped my baby gently, took my toddler’s hand, and headed out the front door.
The amount of time we spent exploring the outdoors, taking short walks, sitting on swings, chatting with elderly neighbors – there’s no way I would have spent that time in any sort of exercise program. But I carried her. Sometimes, once my body was ready, I carried them both. With help from experienced babywearers my wrap no longer looked daunting, and my carries supported my body as well as my child’s.
With my oldest I’d tried to use a stretchy infant-only wrap for way too long, and my shoulders and back and neck felt the pain. I’d promised myself different this time. And so I fell in love with the perfect fit and support of the woven wrap. Nestled close and supported perfectly, my newest became an easy addition to our life.
Comfortable together, we went about life. We danced, we swung, we skipped. We explored new places, baby content on my front, and later my back. Sometimes those were quiet places, like the library or museums. There, she could nurse and sleep, calmed by my rhythm. Sometimes we found ourselves in loud places: street fairs, markets, festivals, playdates. There too, I wore her and she felt safe. When the sun was out, we soaked up the rays, my tiny one protected in her woven wrap and floppy hat and sunglasses.
The benefits of being in nature, of time in the sun, are immense. So are the benefits of skin to skin time. For both baby and parent! The more I wore my baby out and about, the better I felt. I felt healthy – my immune system strengthened, my emotions steady and sure. I felt calm, and my kids were calm.
And when I found myself, at three months postpartum, copying my toddler’s silly dance, I didn’t even notice that I was touching my toes. My body moved easily, strong and healthy from daily wrapping my baby, daily supporting an ever growing and increasing weight. The thought crossed my mind then, another marathon? A challenge of some sort? A gym membership?
But I wrapped my baby on my back, chased my toddler around a field of flowers, lifted her high in the air and spun her around. Later, as we walked along, with my baby on my front, nursing peacefully, my daughter reached for my hand.
“I’m tired, Momma,” she said. I nodded. “Am I too big for you to carry?”
“Not too big,” I said, “I am a very strong momma.”
I lifted her easily, my arms used to the weight, high onto my shoulders. I kissed my baby’s head, held tight to my daughters hands, and headed home.
Jessica Schaefer is an adventure lover and world traveler turned parent. Her family run store and blog melds free play, family time, and support for parenting past the baby stage. If you haven’t met them, you need to hop on over and look around!