About that weight gain. This mama-to-be had a thing for French toast and ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, I took my prenatal vitamins as prescribed and ate a well-balanced diet. But despite everything I read about proper diet and caloric intake during pregnancy and regardless of my doctor’s concern, I surrendered to my cravings. I love food and was thrilled to have the excuse to eat more of it. Suffice it to say, I was pretty lucky to have had a complication free pregnancy and to have given birth to a healthy baby. However, I wasn’t off the hook. After my postnatal physical, I learned that I had above normal total cholesterol levels that put me in the borderline high risk category for heart disease. Not a good finding, considering heart disease runs in my family. I also found out that I had a genetic blood clotting disorder called Factor IV Leiden, which increases the tendency of the blood to clot, leading to sometimes serious and/or life-threatening complications depending on the location of the clot. I was really counting my blessings at this point, that I had a rather medically boring pregnancy and healthy baby!
How quickly those first two weeks home with hubby and family pass. Then reality hits you like a squirt of warm pee in the face from that sweet baby on the changing table. I am not only talking about the actuality of becoming a full-time caregiver, but of the physical changes revealed by that first tentative look in the mirror – seeing your naked body, post baby. It was that horrible reflection that finally made me realize the cost my indulgent eating habits had taken on my body. If I wanted to be around to spoil the great-grand kids, I needed to take better care of myself.
I can still hear it like I’m back on the playground: “bean pole, monkey arms, giraffe.” Yes, I was one of those kids; tall and lanky. I didn’t have to do much to maintain my thin stature. I ate horribly and just took my slimness for granted. I thought if I’m a bean pole, I must be in good shape.
It’s not like I was completely inactive, though. I had a lot of energy and a competitive spirit, so my parents signed me up for organized sports. I played some sort of sport or another from elementary school through the first year of college. However, in college my priorities changed. I ditched the volleyball court for the night club dance floor. Having a social life became more important than being fit. In time, I entered the workforce and married, and never returned to a habitual exercise regimen. Eventually all those years of unhealthy eating and no exercise caught up to me. By the time I turned thirty, I had gone up three pant sizes. After giving birth, that number increased to five pant sizes.
I was cocky and presumed, I can lick this weight gain and cholesterol issue, no problem. Initially, I took my gassy-smiling baby out for long walks everyday, rain or shine. When I could sneak in an exercise video, I did. I also ate a healthy, calorie-appropriate diet, albeit with digressions. Six months flew by with no significant weight loss, and I was feeling defeated and lonely.
I had found out how hard getting fit with a kid is. I was bummed and my husband could tell. He suggested I take an exercise class. He thought I could use some company, and that the incentive of having some place to go would motivate me. It irks me to say it, but he was right. To be the best mom and partner possible, I needed to be physically and mentally healthy. I went online looking for post natal fitness classes that suited our budget. To my pleasant surprise, I found quite a few options.
I chose to attend a stroller based fitness class; the kind of class you can bring your kid to. Perfect, I thought. In fact, the class turned out to be better than perfect; it became my lifeline. I not only got a heart-healthy workout, I experienced camaraderie with other parents, and my daughter got a regular play-date. It also felt good knowing I was setting a good example for her.
Three years later, I’m still exercising regularly. I am below my pre-baby weight and have come to accept my “mom” body. I have also come to learn that being fit is about being healthy. It's not about looking like the runway model, it's about looking like you- a combination of genetics and environmental factors. There are some things you can change and some that you cannot (saggy boobs and those stretch marks for instance). I have more energy, strength, a better attitude, and learned that with patience and perseverance the weight does comes off.
I also had finally found my calling in life. I love being active and sharing that enthusiasm for fitness with others, so I decided to become a fitness professional. I have certification through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), Baby Boot Camp pre and post natal certification and have completed and passed the American Red Cross CPR/AED/First Aide training for both adults and children.
It’s remarkable how having children can change one's perspective and habits for the better. At least that’s my story. I hope it to be yours too. Habitual exercise, along with good eating habits, regular check-ups with your doctor, and surrounding yourself with like-minded people can set you on the path of healthy living. If this mama can achieve and maintain good fitness, you can too.
I am happy to report that with regular exercise and a healthy diet, I am back within the healthy total cholesterol range. I plan to keep it that way. I also want to remind you to always consult with your doctor before starting a pre or postnatal exercise program.