Pressure and the New Running Mom

I knew well before getting pregnant that I’d surely be confronted with mom-shaming, mommy wars, and unsolicited advice after I became a mother. Even making the decision to (or not to) have kids comes with a good amount of judgement. I don’t have the thickest skin in the world, but most of the time I’m pretty good at letting things roll off my shoulder. I felt somewhat prepared for this kind of stuff when we found out we were expecting, but I also knew that being an unmarried couple, having a child, and also being an athlete would open me up to some extra judgment and pressure.

Even so, I was surprised by the judgment about my decisions to run or not run in pregnancy and after.

To Run or Not to Run During Pregnancy

As an avid and competitive runner before pregnancy, I mostly stepped away from the sport after becoming pregnant. After running a half marathon six weeks pregnant, I knew pregnant training wasn’t something that was going to be in the cards for me. I just didn’t have that drive to pursue running goals, and I was very much okay with it. By then, I’d been training hard for years, running 14 marathons and heaven knows how many other races. I was due for a break and growing a human was a wonderful reason for me to do that.

I expected questions about my running during pregnancy. I expected to get flack if I did run, but I didn’t quite expect flack for not running. Sometimes I felt like I was less of a runner because I wasn’t logging tons of miles, but rather intentionally taking time away and enjoying it no less.

I also found annoying the sighs of relief from people who felt it was so good of me to stop training during pregnancy. I’m pretty sure many people thought I was so obsessed with running that I’d never be able to step back from it. But that’s not why I backed off. I just wanted a break.

Bracing for the Mommy Wars

I was aware that once our little girl came, we would open ourselves up to a whole new realm of opinions and judgement for our choices — breast or bottle feeding, sleep arrangements, going back to work, childcare options — all seemingly controversial. As someone who does lots of research and is not afraid to ask questions, I felt comfortable in our decisions. I also knew that not everything is within our control and if we encountered something we didn’t plan for, them we would educate ourselves and make the best decision possible.

Hannah was born via emergency Cesarean five weeks early. Our world changed in an instant, as we knew it would. We were suddenly responsible for another human being. It’s amazing and scary and overwhelming all at the same time. I’m still trying to figure out how this incredible, little, tiny human is mine, how I got so lucky.

After she was born, as expected, some things went back to normal quickly and other things took time. I had a major surgery and a baby who spent a week in the hospital, and we went home with a whole new set of schedules and challenges. Running was one of the furthest things from my mind.

A few weeks into maternity leave, I started taking Hannah for walks in the stroller. It wasn’t about a calorie burn, it was about getting out of the house, getting fresh air, and also helping my body adjust to its new normal. As days went by, the itch to run started to return, but I was adamant about waiting until my seven-week postpartum checkup. I wanted confirmation my recovery was progressing normally, and I wanted to make sure when I started to run again that my body was ready. I also wanted to give myself that time to adjust to everything else in life and enjoy my new life with Hannah.

At that seven-week check-up, I got the A-OK to start running. I didn’t even run that night. I ran the next day, while Hannah was napping and loved coming home and seeing her when she woke up.

From the moment I returned to running, I consciously gave myself time to ease back at whatever pace felt right, and now several months later, I’m still gradually building back my strength and taking things a day at a time. But I’ve started talking about running progressively more, posting pictures on Instagram, and finding my own personal balance for myself of being a woman, a mom, a spouse, an employee, a friend and a runner. No one is perfect, but I’ve been pretty proud of how I have been managing the transitions and finding balance. I’m proud because I have done it on my terms, but that pride also makes me defensive about it. Maybe I was naive, but I never expected to get so much “feedback”.

Whenever we would see friends, family, or run into people at the grocery store I braced myself for all the questions. We gladly talked about Hannah and how she was doing, admitted that it was hard, but we loved being parents. We gladly talked about how going back to work was going to be a challenge but was the best thing for our family. Then came the questions about running. Are you running yet? Sometimes it felt like whatever answer I gave was the wrong one.

Hurry! Get That Post-Baby Body Back!

“Are you running yet?”

“When is your next marathon?”

“You didn’t run home from the doctor’s office?”

“What’s your excuse?”

Cool: people understand how much I love running and it’s a part of my life.

Not cool: running is now being used as a barometer for everything else in my life.

Why Are You In Such a Rush?!

Maybe this was the kind of postpartum pressure I expected, but even so, it’s not always easy to take. People implied that I do not love my kid or my family because I take time out of my day to workout.

OMG I leave my kid alone with her father to go run sometimes! He’s learning to “babysit” all by himself for an entire hour! What if he puts her diaper on backwards?!

Some implied that I started running too soon.

I probably should wait until Hannah is in college before I do anything for myself again. Even that could be too soon. 

Some implied that by running again “so early”, I’m harming myself, and not respecting how much the changes pregnancy, surgery and new motherhood have had on my body.

Somehow I forgot that I had a baby and major surgery. The giant scar, my weak core muscles, and the baby haven’t been enough of a reminder, necessitating this intervention. Thanks?

Some implied that I am harming my daughter by taking her outside and running with her in the stroller.

Clearly Hannah’s pediatrician doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he gave me the OK with certain guidelines, which I follow to a T.

I swear I’ve heard it all. Some days have been easier than others to let things roll off the shoulder. I’ll admit that it’s a bit harder to do depending on the source of the judgement though. But, for the most part I stand firm in my decision and am still proud of where I am and where I’m headed with running and motherhood.

Next week, I’ll be back to share more about my philosophy about running after baby.

Did you feel pressure to hurry back to running after baby? How did you handle it?

A new mom and Upstate, NY resident who loves the marathon, a good beer, and all of the numbers/nerdy things. I write about my journey to a sub-3:00 marathon, training tweaks for improvement, and finding that “running/life balance” unicorn. On tap Next: Maneuvering through motherhood and postpartum running!

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21 comments

  1. Background- I live in a city in the middle of farm country. Everyone has kids here. More than two is the norm. Result- every mom in the area is on the lookout for sanctimommy behavior. No unwanted opinions are tolerated. I was kind of surprised by how afraid people are to even talk about things like breast feeding, sleep training, or exercising without adding a caveat- “it’s your choice, you know best, people need to stop judging.” It feels like the FBI warning for movies exists on every mom conversation

    Personally, my pressure for running was internal. I had been restricted for so long I missed it. Also, I keep wanting to get closer to the old runner me. I also think some of the pressure I put on myself comes from gazing at Instagram and Facebook- this is a totally unforced error. If I were smart, I’d just stop looking at other people’s times if I can’t just take it in without comparison.

    1. I totally understand the notion of the internal pressure Kathy! I think (for me) I didn’t truly struggle with that during and after pregnancy because I knew that I needed and wanted a break from training hard for years. It was like a welcome relief…I had a “reason” to back off and in my head that made all the difference. But everyone is so different and has kids at different times of life and has different pressures and struggles. Social media definitely increases the pressure, there are some days it’s easy to just scroll through and use it as motivation and not pressure…and other days I find myself comparing and that is when I say okay, time to step back and go spend 5 minutes to myself. Usually I find that the comparing happens when I’m more tired, haven’t taken a minute for myself, and really just need to collect my thoughts and work through anything that might be going through my head.

  2. Honestly with my first few kids I was so overwhelmed and in my own world that I didn’t even think about it. With my last one I put pressure on myself. Fortunately I wasn’t on social media much so I didn’t feel the need to compare myself to other new moms. It’s great to have goals but those baby days go by fast so enjoy them! 😊

    1. Yes! I’m working on finding a balance between goals but also ones that still allow me to be present physically and emotionally with everything in my life….hard to do but I know myself well enough that I tend to have all or nothing attitude and don’t want that!

    2. Ha! What’s that they say? The days are long but the years are short? :) (it’s true, kid is 2 and I’m like…where did the last two years just go?!)

  3. I didn’t start running until my second (and last) child was 18 months old so I missed this part of the mommy wars, but there are plenty of battle fronts, as everyone notes. After being more vulnerable to this sort of nonsense after baby #1, I found I was too tired and too busy after baby #2 to care very much. The more I was able to laugh about anything, the better I felt. I will say, becoming a mother made me a more committed feminist (and I was pretty committed already….) because so much of this bullshit is just about trying to control women’s behavior. F the mommy wars, all right.

  4. As long as you’re doing what you feel is best for yourself and your family, then don’t worry about what others think/say! You’re right- people give so much unsolicited advice that you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

  5. This is one of the most annoying, and difficult, things about being a mom. Honestly, is everyone is happy and healthy, nothing else really matters :) My return to running after each child was different. My approach to running while pregnant with them was also different each time. Even though I’m done having kids, there are things I’ve learned since then, and if I ever had more kids, my approach to running during pregnancy and after the baby is born, would most certainly be different again also.

  6. This is so annoying! And obnoxious. I haven’t had the same amount of pressure, though I do sometimes get the feeling people automatically expect me to be running 10 miles at a time, no problem. There’s so much that goes into a healthy return to running. I am so happy you are running again, and doing it in your own way! Hannah is beautiful, and what an awesome role model for her to look up to! I would have to say I agree with Mango, F mommy wars! I’ve had a lot of issues with breast feeding, and that is where I have felt the most pressure… like Mango said, if your baby is fed, happy, loved, and taken care of, then everyone can go fly a kite! :) Love you guys!

    1. The breastfeeding pressure is nuts. Absolutely nuts. I remember telling you about the LC that made me feel horrible in the hospital for supplementing Hannah with formula because she was preemie. The when Hannah developed reflux and I had to buy special bottles and start exclusively pumping….oh man did the pressure to “resolve” the issue ramp up. I make sure Hannah is fed and that means she gets medicine twice a day, she gets fed a bottle from whoever is taking care of her, and I pump as much as I can. she’s growing, she’s well fed, and she’s happy- so therefore I am. You are doing a wonderful job with William, not that I expected any less!!! i know it’s hard, but we have each other and a huge crew for support!

  7. I’m seconding the above comments. One of my favorite pieces on the mommy wars basically said- “Hey. We’re all winging it. If somebody acts like they KNOW what is right, they’re really just insecure and trying to get you to follow their plan because it validates them.” Hang in there, Barley. I had no pressure to start running again except from myself, because it’s my therapy and parenthood is one of the most wonderful/stressful challenges I’ve faced. It sounds like you’ve got a really healthy, positive attitude. Just keep brushin’ that dirt off ya shoulder…

    1. Thanks Colleen! I love that whole notion about everyone is winging it- so true. I remember something my sister said to me when I was pregnant that stuck with me…”you just figure it out” (when I was anxious over not knowing what to do as a parent etc.)

  8. Back in my day … (didn’t I just type this on another comment recently?) it was the “Don’t Be Selfish!” pressure that seemed the most oppressive and running helped me flip it the bird, but now it’s so commonplace to run during pregnancy and soon after delivery, that it’s almost expected. It’s like you should be back to running sub-8 easy runs and training for a marathon within days of delivery or else you’re making some serious excuses. It’s really annoying all around. It’s such a stressful time in your life as it is, that all of this is just ridiculous and just some extra distractions keeping new mothers from savoring this time. All of it is so fleeting. Why can’t everyone just lay off and relax a little?

    1. It’s interesting how the pressures have shifted…I mean I’m sure there were always pressures from both camps but I believe social media really changed everything.

  9. Welcome to the mommy wars, where you basically can’t do anything right, and it’s not moms tearing other moms down – it’s everyone else, whether they had a child 30 years ago or last week or never, who think *they* know what’s right for *you*!

    Nah. Is the baby healthy and fed and loved? Are you healthy and happy and managing to retain some shreds of your intersecting identities alongside ‘mom’? Awesome! F mommy wars.

    1. FT working mom of 2 here (and marathoner on the side). Whenever I encounter the Mommy Wars here in Brooklyn, I just remind myself that, more often than not, the battle is being waged by the person who is trying to justify her/his own choices and actually has very little to do with me. And I do my best to opt out when the temptation strikes to subject a poor unassuming mom to my own (insecurity-driven) judgments.

    2. The identity thing. THAT. Yes, that. Working on finding that whole balance of it all.

      Can we just start the F mommy wars club or would that create a mommy war?