Olivia: Three Years

My pint-sized firecracker is three today. 

Don't let the enormous blue eyes and golden ringlets fool you -- she's not a fairy-tale princess waiting to be rescued. She'll be the one doing the rescuing, probably riding standing up with each foot on a different horse. 

She is fearless. She is fierce. She is heart-meltingly sweet. 

The only possessive pronoun she uses is "mine," which makes everything sound vaguely German. This is mine book. That is mine doggy.

If you ask her what she's doing, the answer is always "nuffin." Spoiler alert: it's usually NOT nuffin. Case(s) in point: Emptying almost an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink and then putting minty-fresh handprints all over the bedsheets. Unrolling whole rolls of toilet paper because she needs "just a little bit more." Encasing her ponies in play doh, Hans Solo-style, and  managing to leave about four cans worth of crumbly play doh on the floor.

When she spontaneously says, "I love you," she always says "I love you, too," even if she's the first one to say it.

Her favorite TV show is Octonauts, and I will go to my grave singing "Creature report! CREATURE REPORT! CREATUREREPORT." 

(TUNIP!)

Parenting her is proving to be a far different experience than her sister. Natalie, I get. Natalie is JUST like me. I understand her perfectionism, her fear of not being good at things, her insistence on things being done the right way.

But Olivia? Get messy. Mix that ish up. Who cares if you end up with a plate of muddy brown paint. Just try the thing. Rules? More like guidelines. Or suggestions. Which are promptly ignored. 

If Natalie's motto is order and method, Olivia's is hold my beer.

Do I worry about what challenges this will present as she gets older? Well, yeah. I feel completely unprepared to parent a child who hears what you're saying, but really doesn't give a flying fig if it doesn't match up with what she was already planning to do. 

I think of myself when I was younger, desperate to please people and not make any mistakes. I know I missed out on some great things because I was afraid. I still do. 

My wish for Olivia on her birthday is to keep that flame of independence burning for the rest of her life. The world needs strong women now more than ever. 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Fierce Mama Fitness!

One year ago today I was pacing the gym turf, checking my watch and re-reading the workout plan clutched in my sweaty hands.

A few people had RSVP'd for the first-ever Stroller Strong class, but would anyone show up? What if no one came? What if EVERYONE came? 

One by one, the moms rolled in with their strollers. FIVE PEOPLE! I was elated. And ohhhhh shit people are here that means I actually need to lead this workout.

I AM IN NO WAY QUALIFIED TO DO THIS WHAT WAS I THINKING

But we did it! I thought it went ok, and I loved the moms that showed up. I hoped with every fiber of my being to see them again, while a small, cynical voice in my head laughed and laughed because of course they would see what an imposter I was and why would anyone PAY me for this?

The next day I was scrolling through Facebook while brushing my teeth when I got a paypal notification in my inbox. Payment received for Stroller Strong.

I shoved my phone in my husband's face. WOOK WOOK WOOK! AH GOB A CWIENT!!

And then later that day, another. And another. And then one more. 

Four out of the five moms came back, and they're still training with me today.

Since that day so many new moms have joined us. Some have gone back to work. Some have had babies. Some are now pregnant! We've celebrated birthdays and powerlifting meets and worked out in ugly Christmas sweaters. We've made the dudes at the gym suffer through a Disney playlist. And an all-Britney playlist. And a 90s/early 2000s playlist with the very best music in the history of music by the Spice Girls, N*SYNC, and Backstreet Boys. 

We grew from two class times a week to NINE. We lifted millions of beans. We lifted ALL THE THINGS. We squatted. And we squatted. And we squatted some more. 

Kids that could barely crawl a year ago are now running and talking and attempting to deadlift more than their bodyweight. Babies that weren't even born now have full-fledged personalities and love being passed from person to person while their moms are lifting weights. 

Last night twelve of us went out for cheese and chocolate fondue. As I looked around the table at these amazing women with different backgrounds, professions, goals, and numbers of kids, all chatting and laughing and commiserating, I thought to myself....this. THIS. 

The dream that I've had for the last three years is not to be the most hardcore workout class. It's not to have the fanciest equipment or the trendiest programs or a big scoreboard tracking how many pounds we've collectively lost.

(Also, that last one? GTFO.)

I dreamt of this community. Of moms supporting moms, of having other people to lean on, people who have been there before or are right there in the trenches with you. THAT is what Fierce Mama Fitness is all about. And it's not because of me. It's because of these women, these resilient, courageous, STRONG women in every sense of the word. 

Thank you all for an amazing year. 

One Year

Today my baby, Olivia Joy, turns one year old. It's been quite a year. Being a mom of two has been at turns surprising, exhausting, exhilarating, and hilarious.

I've learned a lot about my kids, but I've learned even more about myself.

I'm not nearly as patient as I want to be.

I'm stronger than I ever thought I could be.

I can survive for FAR longer than I ever thought I could on a fractured sleep schedule.

Before Olivia was born, I was determined that I'd do things differently in the postpartum period. I had a lot of regrets about my distinct lack of movement and exercise during my pregnancy with Natalie and after she was born, so I swung waaaay in the other direction.

I wouldn't be lazy. I'd get right back into working out. I'd "bounce back."

*cringe*

Well, I did work hard, and I did jump RIGHT back into working out, and, well, we know how that turned out. (Hellooooo prolapse!)

But at the same time as my prolapse diagnosis (and what actually drove me to pelvic floor physical therapy), I was learning an amazing amount about the pregnant and postpartum body and what happens when we push too hard, do too much, try to pretend like we DIDN'T just have a baby.

To say it's been an eye-opening year is an understatement. I wouldn't exactly say that I'm grateful for the prolapse, but I am grateful for the crash-course in pelvic floor dysfunctions that it's given me.

I know it seems a bit odd to focus on me me me when it's my daughter's birthday, but the conclusion I've come to, now that this is my second time through a baby's first year, is that the first birthday really isn't about the baby it all.

It's a celebration of surviving that first year, because goddamn is it hard.

Is it amazing and rewarding? Does it make your heart swell up so big you think it's going to explode out of your chest?

OF COURSE.

But it is tough. 

So today, on Olivia's birthday, I'm being extra kind to myself. For her, it's just another day. But for me it's a hard-won victory. One more trip around the sun and we're all doing ok.

That's definitely something to celebrate.

Now here's a slideshow.

Mama in the Making

You’re pregnant? CONGRATULATIONS!! Have I got some advice for you, mama. Eat vegetables. Lots of vegetables! But plenty of protein, too (but no deli meat WHAT WERE YOU THINKING??). Are you eating enough? Are you sure? You’re carrying really small. Have you gained enough weight? It’s not healthy for the baby if you’re that skinny, you know.

Wait, no, I didn’t mean for you to eat half that cake by yourself. Don’t you know eating for two doesn’t REALLY mean eating for two? You still have how many weeks to go? Yikes, think you’ll make it? You’re REALLY big. Are you sure it’s not twins? It’s not healthy for the baby if you to gain that much weight, you know.

Are you exercising? It’s important to stay fit. You definitely want to stay in shape. Why aren’t you working out more? You’ll have more energy if you do. It’s not healthy for the baby if you’re sedentary, you know.

Wait, no, I didn’t mean for you to lift THAT much weight. Are you sure it’s safe for you to be doing that? Here, let me carry that. You’re still going to the gym? Did your doctor say it’s ok? I mean, I guess if your doctor said it’s cool, but...if it were me, I just wouldn’t want to risk it, you know?  It’s not healthy for the baby if you overexert yourself, you know.

How’s your stress level? Are you sleeping enough? I hope you’re calm and well-rested. Sleep while you still can, ha ha! *wipes tear from eye after laughing at own joke* But seriously. You need to be chill and get enough sleep. It’s not healthy for the baby if you’re really stressed out, you know.

Wait, no, what are you doing? No coffee for you. You can’t function without it? Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you got pregnant. You’re having half a glass of wine to relax before bed? Seriously? If you can't go nine months without one sip of wine, I really don't think you're ready to be a mom. It’s not healthy for the baby for you to have any alcohol or caffeine. Ever. In any amount. Ever.

Are you trying for a natural birth? Well, don’t try to be a hero. It’s not like you get a medal for having a drug-free birth, amiright? You’re having your baby in a birth center? Yeesh, I’d want to be in a hospital in case something went wrong. Things could go south just like THAT. *snaps fingers* It’s not healthy for the baby if something goes wrong.

Wait, so you decided to have a hospital birth? Have you ever seen The Business of Being Born? You need to do your research, is all I’m saying. Doctors just want to give you a c-section, so I hope you at least have a doula and a solid birth plan. Birth is NATURAL! Why would you go to a hospital! Here, let me email you some information about the effects of epidurals on breastfeeding rates. It’s not healthy for the baby if you have any drugs during labor.

YOU HAD YOUR BABY!! CONGRATULATIONS!! Do you think you’ll miss being pregnant? It’s such a magical time. *sighs wistfully*

Lessons from a Toddler: Intuitive Eating

My oldest daughter, Natalie, is 2.5 years old. She has some strange eating habits that I wouldn't mind saying goodbye to. When she eats a sandwich she scoops out the middle with a spoon, leaving a PB&J carcass splayed on her plate.

She finds a raisin in the couch cushions from snack time three days ago and pops it in her mouth. "Mmm, Mama, it's yummy!" 

Lately she's gone out of her way to point out each food item on her plate, identify it, and tell me she doesn't like it. Then goes ahead and eats the whole thing.

ARGH TODDLERS.

But she does have one habit that I hope she holds onto forever, a habit that I'm working so hard to reinforce, and one that I'm working on adopting for myself.

If she's hungry, she eats.

If she's not hungry, she stops eating.

Not exactly rocket science, right? Simple, but not easy.

I've been watching her lately and it's truly amazing. She can be in the middle of a single animal cracker, decide she's all done, and put it down and walk away. She is the definition of intuitive eating.

HOWWWWW CHILD HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS? TEACH ME.

She has none of the emotional attachments to food that so many of us do. She doesn't stress eat. Granted, she also can't drive and has no debit card, so swinging through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru for a caffeine boost and a couple donuts for herself isn't exactly something she has the option to do at the moment.

She doesn't tell herself she's "being bad" if she eats a cookie. She doesn't praise herself for "being good" if she eats broccoli.

And I don't want her to do that. Not now, not ever. I want her to eat cookies sometimes because she wants one, and broccoli sometimes because it's delicious, especially with sweet potato fries and a nice burger. IT'S JUST FOOD. IT HAS NO MORAL ATTRIBUTES.

I think that my husband, Will, and I have a pretty good relationship with food. This hasn't always been the case for me.

I've done Weight Watchers and carefully meted out points for bread. I did mental arithmetic all day that left me with nothing for dinner except a salad of carrots and lettuce and a spritz of 1-calorie salad dressing, because I'd already "used up" my points.

I know many people lose weight and have been successful with Weight Watchers. They've also made a lot of changes (mostly positive, from what I understand) since I did the program almost 10 years ago. But I really, really didn't like how OBSESSIVE it made me about my food. Weighing literally everything. Cutting a cookie into thirds and eating one piece because that's all I had the points for. Thinking about nothing but POINTS POINTS POINTS all day long. This approach works for some people, it made me totally crazy. I lost weight while doing Weight Watchers but I didn't feel healthy, either mentally or physically. This is just my own personal experience and I'm not saying NO ONE SHOULD DO WEIGHT WATCHERS EVER.

I've gone the other way and completed a Whole30. I felt much better than I did on Weight Watchers, but then as soon as the program was over, I couldn't maintain it. I fell face-first into a pile of chocolate and went on a crazy sugar binge that left me nauseated and with a massive headache. I know it's a Whole30...as in, 30 days. Not meant to be continued indefinitely. But even eating that way, even, say, 80% of the time, left me feeling cranky and deprived.

Whole30 devotees, I know you are probably reading this and thinking but but but you didn't slay the sugar dragon! You need to do another one! It's amazing and life-changing and you'll feel so much better if you just do it!

I know you mean well. I really do. I used to be a Whole30 evangelist, too. But here's the thing: I don't have Celiac disease. I have no food allergies. Did I feel good when I wasn't eating bread and dessert every day? Yes. But was it sustainable for me? No.

For me, personally (and that's the key word, right there), bread is ok. I don't want to cut a huge swath of foods out of my life. I like dessert. I like toast with my scrambled eggs in the morning. And I'm going to eat the damn toast, because as I said earlier, IT'S JUST FOOD. IT HAS NO MORAL ATTRIBUTES.

I don't want my daughters to be afraid of food. I don't want them to see food as the enemy, as something to be controlled and mastered, something that you achieve victory over by eating certain things or not eating others.

How do we teach that? My relationship with food has gotten to a point over the years that I'm comfortable with, but it's not perfect. I have days where I eat a lot of Oreos and then I feel not-so-great about it. But for the most part, I move on. I ate the Oreos. It's over. I don't punish myself by eating less the next day or exercising more and trying to "work it off."

Can you imagine telling your kids that? That because they ate cookies today, they need to go for a run tomorrow? Insanity. So why do we treat ourselves like that?

I'm not a nutrition expert. I'm not a doctor. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not anything except a mom trying to do right by her kids.

So when Natalie offers me an animal cracker, I accept it with a big smile and a thank you! and I eat it. I love animal crackers. She loves animal crackers.

And when she offers me a couch-cushion raisin, I politely decline while snagging it out of her hand and throwing it in the trash. I don't love couch-cushion raisins. That's one food group I'm totally ok with cutting out of all of our diets.

My Story, Part 3: A Radical Change of Heart

If you're just joining us, this post will make much more sense if you read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

THIS IS SO EASY! I'd proclaim on social media. I FEEL GREAT! WE'RE SLEEPING SO MUCH! I LOVE BEING A MOM OF TWO KIDS!

I crumbled every once in a while. Sobbing in the shower for no particular reason. Staring at Olivia and wondering why I wasn't content with just Natalie. Wishing we had waited until Natalie was older and more self-sufficient before adding to our family.

(Yes, I did seek treatment from a therapist for postpartum depression. If this is something that you, too, are experiencing, please pick up the phone and make an appointment. The website Postpartum Progress is a wonderful resource. Know that you're not a bad mom and you're not alone.)

Mostly I missed my old self. I wanted to lace up my running shoes and knock out a three mile run, easy breezy. Planking? Sure, I can plank for days! You want to see some push-ups? Bam, let's do a bunch! I missed doing those things and was desperate to feel like more than a milk factory.

At the time, I was working with an amazing online coach (Jessie Mundell at JMG Fitness Consulting -- definitely check her out if you're looking for an online program!). She gently suggested that I go see a pelvic health physiotherapist, just to make sure everything was healing a-ok and that I was doing the right things to strengthen my pelvic floor. I'm embarrassed to say I brushed her off. I didn't think that advice applied to ME. After all, I'm fit! I wasn't like these other women who "let themselves go" during pregnancy.

PLEASE note that I was a complete and total idiot for believing things like that, and I'm ashamed to have had those thoughts. I'm sharing it with you now because I want to be 100% open with you about how I got to where I am now. Basically I was a judgemental asshole. I'm sorry.

So I skipped visiting a pelvic health PT and jumped straight into the Couch to 5k running program and into an intense strength training program.

I was 6 or 7 weeks postpartum and INSANELY proud of "getting back on the horse." I was being congratulated right and left in person and online. Superwoman, beast, amazing, so inspiring! I really did feel like a rockstar. I am the valedictorian of postpartum fitness! In just a few short weeks I moved from bodyweight exercises, to lifting weights with just the barbell, to adding a significant amount of weight (for me). I was back squatting 70 pounds and deadlifting 100 pounds. I was also running 2-3 times per week.

A photo posted by Alexis Helmrath (@alexishelmrath) on Sep 24, 2015 at 7:39am PDT

 

If you look up "pride goeth before a fall," this is the picture you'll see.

When Olivia was a little over three months old, our household got hit with the plague. It was a miserable two weeks as we all traded some nasty virus back and forth. I could barely get out of bed, let alone work out. I never did make it back to the original, aggressive schedule I'd set for myself, but I did work out here and there.

While all of this was going on, I'd started finding more and more inspirational women in fitness to follow on social media. I was discouraged with the training I'd received, particularly since the guidelines I'd learned for working with pregnant and postnatal women (my ultimate goal!) just...didn't seem right. I reached out to one amazingly awesome trainer, Jen of Mama Lion Strong, for advice on reputable, ACCURATE continuing education. She pointed me towards some fabulous resources, and that truly changed everything.

I dove into learning about the ins and outs of the pelvic floor. What it does, why it matters, and why basically EVERYTHING I'd been doing was such a bad, bad, bad idea. I inhaled all of this radical (to me) information and finally, finally, finally understood everything that Jessie had been trying to tell me months earlier.

When I came up for air two things were abundantly clear to me:

1. I needed to go see a pelvic health PT. 2. The fitness industry, particularly the pieces of it that serve perinatal women, is broken.

The constant push of harder, faster, stronger, of "get your pre-baby body back!," of "lose the baby weight fast!!!," of hating our postpartum bodies and beating them into submission, of "what's YOUR excuse?"...these ideas are not serving anyone.

I thought I was respecting my body -- I never pushed through pain or discomfort. I thought I was challenging myself and being strong. I thought I was doing the right things.

But I wasn't.

My visit to the physical therapist revealed that I have a grade 2 bladder prolapse. She's confident that because I only have a few symptoms and because the overall tone of my pelvic floor is in pretty good shape, I can make a lot of improvements in a 4-6 week span if I'm diligent about doing my homework.

She can't say for sure what caused it, but she agreed that everything I was doing certainly didn't help. This is something that I'll have to keep an eye on (figuratively speaking, of course!) pretty much forever, because prolapses don't ever completely go away. In the grand scheme of things, though, it's extremely managable.

There's a lot of things I wish I could change about how I treated my body during pregnancy and after Olivia was born, but I can't. I honestly didn't know better at the time.

But now I do. I know better, and I will do better -- for myself and for the women I'll be working with.

This message of respecting your body, of honoring the work it did during pregnancy and birth, of loving your postpartum body for the AMAZING things it's done, this is the message I want to spread far and wide.

Does that mean we'll never run or lift weights again? Of course not!

But the thing I've come to realize is that the time we spend being pregnant and recovering after having a baby is actually very, very short. I have exactly one pelvic floor and I've already done a number to it, and for what? Some likes on Instagram?

Let's take the long view, mamas.

It's not easy. I know this. I'm living proof of this. But if we can accept and believe --TRULY believe -- that our self-worth is not measured by how quickly we get back to running 5ks or by how many weeks it takes us to fit in our pre-pregnancy jeans?

That would be a beautiful thing.

My Story, Part 2: Jump Around! ...or not

If you're just joining us, this post will make a lot more sense if you read Part 1 first.

Our instructor offered more low-impact options for those of us who were pregnant or just beginning their fitness journeys, but I never took them. I took an enormous amount of pride in still doing jump squats, burpees, and suicides, even at 20+ weeks pregnant.

(Are you wincing? I hope you're wincing.)

At the time I was studying to become a group fitness instructor myself, because we were planning a move to Knoxville, TN, and my biggest dream was to start a mom-and-baby fitness class of my own. The guidelines for working with pregnant and postnatal women was (and is), well, let's just say it: woefully inadequate. A very slim chapter of my textbook was devoted to "special populations," and of that only a few pages was spent on the specific needs of the perinatal woman.

Most of the current fitness advice for pregnant women boils down to "you can continue what you were doing before you got pregnant; just listen to your body." And this is good advice to a point. Listening to your body is always a good thing.

But sometimes your body is SHOUTING at you and you don't realize it, because everything else you've been told about working out while pregnant or after having a baby is misguided or flat-out wrong.

One day in class while I was about 16 weeks pregnant we were doing a circuit of exercises. I was at the jumprope station and I was killing it. Valedictorian of fit pregnant ladies, remember?

And then I peed myself.

I don't think anyone knew what happened, but still, to say I was mortified is a bit of an understatement. I rushed to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, and then finished the rest of class while I attempted to hold a kegel pretty much continuously.

Juumping rope was clearly off the table for me. Sneezing became problematic. But peeing yourself while you're pregnant is just what happens, right? A sad and unfortunate but completely unpreventable part of having children, right?

So I started wearing a thin pad to every class. It never happened to me quite like that again, but I'm certain I was leaking at least a little. I continued running and doing burpees, but eased off the jump squats and jumping jacks. Unless I was feeling particularly great that day, in which case I still did them. Because I am strong! I am fit! No need to let pregnancy slow me down! I will be an excellent example for all pregnant ladies everywhere. Look at me and be motivated! ...but let me change my pad first.

We moved to Knoxville in April 2015. Without my workout group I felt lost, but I continued studying and passed my group fitness instructor certification test later that month. I ran a few times (with a pad, of course), but by then I was in my third trimester and running had become really uncomfortable, so I quit and focused mainly on my strength training. My dad had a weight bench and a barbell, so I spent my time doing back squats, presses, pushups, and planks.

I finally stopped planking when my belly touched the floor.

The weather grew hotter and my bump grew bigger and my motivation waned. I stopped lifting weights and just did simple bodyweight workouts a few times a week, then maybe once a week, then didn't do much at all except walk in the final few weeks of my pregnancy. My main focus was on practicing my Hypnobirthing excercises and on dropping into a set of squats whenever I felt the tightening of a contraction.

My daughter, Olivia, was born four days before her due date in a very, very quick labor. I was up and walking around within a couple hours of her being placed on my chest, and while I followed the guidelines my midwife had given me about rolling to the side before I sat up, swinging both legs off the bed together at the same time, etc., I was still VERY mobile in the early weeks after Olivia's birth.

8 a.m. vs 11 a.m.

A photo posted by Alexis Helmrath (@alexishelmrath) on Jul 7, 2015 at 1:50pm PDT

I didn't feel like I had a choice. My husband had a limited amount of paternity leave (read: none, except for the handful of vacation days he'd accrued since starting his new job), and I had a two year old at home. She still needed her diaper changed and she still napped in a crib, and I wasn't about to teach her how to climb in and out by herself. I avoided lifting her for as long as I could, as per the midwife's advice. That turned out to be about a week, and then I was on my own for most of the time with a newborn and a toddler.

It's ok, I told myself. I'm strong and I'm fit and I'm careful about how I lift her. It will be ok.

I was so proud of how capable I was, of how much more I was able to do this time around compared to after Natalie's birth. Physically I felt much better the second time around. Less achy, especially in my back, less pain from the delivery, and very little of the excruciating breastfeeding pain I experienced with Natalie as she and I attempted to learn together how to do it.

I really saw this as my chance at redemption. After Natalie was born and my husband, Will, went back to work, I felt so helpless. I didn't know what to do with this tiny creature who felt like she was destroying my chest every time she needed to eat, which felt like every hour around the clock. I cried a lot. I hurt a lot.

I didn't want to feel like that again. This newborn thing was now old hat, and I was determined to show myself and everyone else how awesome a mom I had become, to prove how much I'd grown in between my first baby and my second.

Continue reading the final installment in Part 3.

My Story, Part 1: From Bookworm to Bootcamp Badass

I was never athletic as a kid. As my sister will tell you, I much preferred reading a book to running around outside. Gym class in elementary school was fun -- Parachutes! Capture the flag! Red rover! -- but in high school? I prayed every day for some kind of natural disaster that would simultaneously strike all the athletic fields and the gym, leaving no other option but to sit quietly and contemplate all the ways our lives are enriched by not playing team sports. But then after college I discovered that fitness could actually be fun, and it didn't have to involve standing awkwardly in the farthest corner of a field, wishing fervently for the ball to never, ever come my way.

It turns out that bootcamp-style fitness was my thing. Pushups and sprinting drills and burpees, oh my! I LOVED it. And I was good at it. Not at first, of course, but as I went to more classes I got stronger, faster, and tougher. I got really good at pushing through that mental wall where your brain is saying pleeeeaaaaaase let's just lie down on this nice soft grass and take a nap.

That led to a brief flirtation with CrossFit, which I quit after two months because I got pregnant with my oldest daughter, Natalie (now 2.5 years old). I probably could've continued, and I know many women do, but it was just too much for me. I was tired and nauseous and skipping classes left and right, so I dropped my membership and did literally nothing the rest of my pregnancy. My commute involved a fair amount of walking back and forth from the T (we lived in Boston at the time), so I did get in a lot of daily activity that way, but I didn't do any formal exercise or classes. Mostly just sitting on my butt and eating a lot of mac and cheese.

Ah, the luxuries of a first pregnancy.

Natalie was born at the end of July in 2013, and by early September I was itching to start running again and start to get back in shape. My midwife had cleared me for exercise, so I very slowly started the Couch to 5k program. It took me at least 12 weeks to finish the 6-week program, and by that time the cold and early evening darkness had started to descend on New England, so I shelved my running shoes and really didn't do much for a few months. I'm a fair weather runner, fo' sho.

Natalie-alexis
Natalie-alexis

In February 2014 I was invited by a friend to try out a mom-and-baby stroller-based fitness class. That's the one I credit on my about page with changing my life, because it did, 100%. I started by going to class once a week, and then after two months I jumped in with both feet and did my best to get there three times a week. That was really the tipping point for me in terms of seeing results, and soon enough I was in even better shape than I was before I got pregnant with Natalie.

That summer I felt amazing. I was attending classes regularly and training for my first post-baby half marathon, which I completed in October 2014 with my second-fastest time ever.

That baby stole my medal!
That baby stole my medal!

I wish I could say that I was solely motivated by the desire to outperform myself, but I'm going to be completely honest with you -- I'm way too competitive for that. Every time I could run faster than someone who used to be faster than me, or do more pushups or hold a plank for longer than anyone else, it thrilled me. This is...not the best personality trait. A little fun, healthy competition - sure. But I took it to a new level in my own head. EYES ON YOUR OWN PAPER, HELMRATH.

(I'm working on it.)

I got pregnant with our second daughter, Olivia, in late October 2014. And I was ecstatic. This was it -- my chance to be the valedictorian of all fit pregnant ladies. I would not let myself go like I did the first time around. I was going to keep running, keep planking, and keep burpee-ing.

...continue reading Part 2.