My Story, Part 3: A Radical Change of Heart
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.