I went to the gym today. It was hard. I started going to the gym 6 weeks ago and, at times, it still feels like my first time ever. You see, it’s been 12 weeks since I gave birth to my insanely cute daughter, Noor. I gave myself 6 weeks of rest, post-delivery, and told myself that at the 6 week mark I would be ready to go back to the gym and play women’s softball again. I had seen other pregnant women do it. Why not me? This was my first mistake; comparing myself to others and failing to remember that everyone’s bodies are different and, therefore, one woman’s recovery is not another’s.
Try to picture this. I have been up 3 or 4 times at night to feed Noor. I’ve had breakfast and dinner (ish) and lunch was a snack here and there. I’m nursing so I’m hungry all the time. I have a game at 9pm, so after I scarf down my dinner at 7, I nurse my daughter, have her asleep by 8 and then rush out the door at 8:30 to make it to my 9pm game. I haven’t played in over a year and I’m so excited to be playing a full game. At first things are ok. I expect to be a little slow and don’t anticipate making contact with the ball. But as the game progresses, my hips start to hurt and my insides feel like coming outside. By the time the game is over, I’m shuffling off the field. You guessed it. I overdid it.
My saving grace is this. Being 38, I don’t have the ego I had 10 years ago. I know my limits and have learned to respect my body. I have a great coach who has kept me grounded in reality. I remember being at the gym one evening, about half way through my pregnancy, and beginning my workout with 12 minutes on the elliptical. I felt ‘off’ right away. My heart rate was through the roof and it wouldn’t slow down. I also felt out of breath and light headed. I got off and sat down hoping it would pass. It only slightly did. I texted my trainer Andrew and told him how I was feeling and he told me to go home and rest. The 28 year old in me was saying “suck it up and finish the workout” but the wiser part of me found my way home. When I was doing some research I found out that at whatever week I was, it was common for one’s blood pressure to increase.
The hubby and I didn’t think about becoming parents until a few years ago. I was 35 and he was 38. We were both happy until, one day, his ovaries started to twitch. I had just competed at my first Toronto Supershow as a powerlifter and had grand plans to continue in the sport. After the competition, I quickly became pregnant but had two miscarriages. We were devastated and decided to put the baby thing on hold. I needed to feel good about something again, so I focused on training for my second Supershow. After a very successful second Supershow we decided to give the baby thing one last try.
Having gone through two miscarriages, I obviously had concerns regarding my athletic pursuits and what I could do. Did I mention that my first miscarriage happened the day after I played softball and made an amazing slide into third base? I don’t regret making that slide (I was safe and then scored) or playing ball that night, but in the back of your head, you can’t help but think “what if it was that slide…?” I knew it was probably my last time trying so I made the decision to stop playing ball once I became pregnant again because I knew that I couldn’t show up to a game and not give it my all. I would rather not play than play and not slide or dive.
Going to the gym, however, was a different story. I’m a high school teacher and I work with some pretty opinionated people. I remember one of my colleagues being horrified that I was continuing to lift. She told me that the only thing I should do is walk. It’s funny how people can make you feel guilty with their opinions that are unmerited at times. I’m so lucky to have been surrounded by supportive people throughout my pregnancy. Both my doula and coach encouraged me to continue working out throughout. One of the things that shocked me most, however, was when some of these unmerited opinions came from people at the gym. At about the 5 month mark, I had a girl at the gym tell me that I should be eating way more and that I wasn’t ‘showing enough’. I’m looking forward to telling her that while I only gained 23 pounds, I delivered a very healthy 22 inch almost 9 pound baby.
Sometimes people ask me why I made it a priority to keep going to the gym. Why not just stop for 9 months and pick up after the baby was delivered? It was important to me for a number of reasons. For one, just because I was about to become a mother, didn’t mean that my goals, pre child, were going to disappear. I had just found this new sport that I was really enjoying and finding myself doing well at. There was no way I was going to give that up. If I kept training while I was pregnant, I figured that I would get back to the gym faster after giving birth. On a more general level, I wanted to have a healthy pregnancy. I wanted to gain a healthy amount of weight but not an excessive amount. And I wanted to feel good. Working out has always made me feel good both mentally and physically. Pregnancy can be a challenging time on both those levels, so going to the gym was an outlet for me, a time when I could train and shut my mind off.
So I kept going to the gym. At first I tried to train like my normal self. But anyone who has been pregnant knows how tired you are and how nauseous you can become. My doula and trainer constantly remind me of the fact that my body was working really really hard and I therefore needed to respect its’ limits. In the first trimester I found myself going to the gym twice a week (in a good week). In the second trimester my energy levels picked up and I started going in more frequently. Sometimes I would make it in 4 times! I pretty much continued going to the gym until my 8th month. Being pregnant also made me try new things, like Yoga. In my pre-pregnant powerlifting days, I would never have considered going to a Yoga class. But as my body changed and stretched to accommodate the new arrival, Yoga helped to develop my breathing and focus.
Andrew and I met once a month until the eighth month. He would walk me through a workout and then program for me based on what he saw and what I was able to do. At times I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t lift as much or by my limitations. When I would express these frustrations to Andrew, he would always remind me to look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture being that I was creating a person and that the goal was to have a healthy pregnancy, delivery and baby. And I did have a really great pregnancy, labour and delivery. I approached my pregnancy the same way I approach any competition or baseball season. I did the best I could to prepare for it both mentally and physically. I continued working out (in whatever capacity I could), I started doing Yoga and eventually going to Yoga replaced lifting weights. I had incredible focus on the day labour started and saw each contraction as a workout and the rest periods in between as the rest I would have after doing squats or deadlifts. Like preparing for a meet, I made sure I ate well during my pregnancy and didn’t see pregnancy as an excuse to lose focus with my diet either. The biggest way that training helped me was that it gave me the confidence to know that I could do this and that pain/discomfort has a beginning and an end. You just have to breathe and focus your way through it.
There are a couple of girls on my softball team who are pregnant now and asking me all types of questions. How long should they continue playing? Is it going to hurt? Did I have an epidural? Did I come back too soon? My answers always begin with “I think it’s really important to listen to your body and do what you’re comfortable doing”. I wasn’t comfortable playing softball the third time around, so I stopped. I was ready to return to the gym after 6 weeks but I’m also listening to my body and making modifications as I need to. If I’m tired, I go home and rest. If I’m hungry, I’ll stop and eat. If I really really want ice cream, I’m going to go to Eds and have a kiddie scoop of Tazmanian Dark Chocolate.
This Sunday, Noor will be 12 weeks old. It’s funny how much training for competitions and becoming a mother have in common. Both require a lot of rest, commitment, patience and dedication. And as no one can tell you what type of mother to be, no one can dictate how you train while pregnant.