A few weeks after I started running again after giving birth to my daughter, a few people I know shared this video by a vlogger named Tova Leigh. The TL;DW version is that women are under ridiculous pressure to get their pre-baby body back within an instant of giving birth. I never heard of her before, but after browsing her posts I really liked her style. She’s a no-nonsense straight shooter about things and that appealed to me.
After a little while, though, this particular video about bouncing back got me thinking. While I generally liked the message, it didn’t sit completely right to me. It was like a pair of running shorts that fit great, made my butt look good, but sat a hair too short on my hips and caused some chafing.
Yes, Tova’s so right that there is a lot of societal pressure on women to “bounce back” soon after a kid. I agree that this pressure is complete and utter bullshit. Our bodies go through a lot to get pregnant, stay pregnant, make a human, and then of course, labor and delivery itself. We’re expected to look like Victoria’s Secret models, cook like Rachel Ray, keep house like Martha Stewart and be super mom, all before we even get through those first few black tarry diapers that make you wonder what kind of animal you actually gave birth to.
But from another perspective, I don’t think that it’s wrong to try and put some effort into yourself after having a baby. I don’t mean for other people, or to satisfy some silly expectation, but truly for yourself. I made a point to take a shower every day during maternity leave, not because I felt I needed to look or smell good for other people. I took a shower every day because it was a few minutes of time to myself, to freshen up, and because when nursing, I felt I probably shouldn’t drink 18 cups of coffee a day.
I didn’t vacuum a few times a week or try and stay on top of laundry because I cared what visitors thought when they came over. I did those things because it made me feel like I had some control and productivity in my life besides being a milk maid for my tiny human. Also, I hate when our dogs shed all over and it looks like a farm in the house. Sue me. I didn’t have to cook for a few weeks because our friends and family are super helpful amazing people to whom I owe more than a $2 thank you card. But when I did start cooking, I *gasp* went on Pinterest for recipes. We also had nights where we ate cheese and crackers or cereal for dinner as we laughed about our baby who sneezed and farted while scaring the literal crap out of herself. Parents of the year? I felt like we struck a good balance pretty early on.
Everyone has different reasons for things they do. I made the choices I did for me, and my family. When it came to running and working out again, that decision was no different.
So why did that video bother me? Why do I feel like I have been shamed for running or working out after having my kid? Because everyone thinks they know my reasons. People see a video like that and think that I’m that dumb girl letting societal pressure push me into trying to “bounce my body back” super fast. Isn’t this saying that the right way to be a new mom is to say FU to all the pressure and do the exact opposite of getting bikini body ready within days of birth? Well isn’t that an FU to the other women who — heaven forbid — do something different from that too?
People who assume they know why I do what I do, why I didn’t run much during pregnancy, why I waited to run again after, why I run now, irrirate me beyond anything. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach here. I thought we had settled that?
Why am I running again? Why do I make working out a priority? Why am I proud of myself?
I’m running because it makes me FEEL good. My body was not my own for a long period of time and in some ways it still isn’t. I hook myself up to a machine four to eight times a day to provide meals for my child. Running allows me to use my body for a way that helps me feel good and do something that isn’t sustaining the life of someone else. It’s not to re-chisel my abs.
I’m running because I want to feel strong. Getting off the couch, lifting my kid as she grows by the day, hauling boxes of diapers from the basement, or hell, even sneezing without pain is super helpful and running is helping me do those things better too. Daily movements get taken for granted when all of a sudden things are ten-times harder-feeling than they ever were. Strength, balance and coordination make doing things one handed and sleep deprived much easier. It’s not just about getting back to running certain times or looking a certain way.
I’m running because getting outside by myself, with Brian or with Hannah is important to me. Fresh air, sunlight, and taking advantage of the few months out of the year when we can consistently be outside — Upstate New Yorkers unite! We all breathe and sleep a little better after some fresh air, and Hannah learns at a young age to embrace the outdoors, and — BONUS! — get accustomed to the stroller.
I’m running because postpartum hormones and emotions are hard to cope with. When all of a sudden you’re having panic attacks, insane fears, obsessions and compulsions, you do whatever the hell you need to in order to control it. So you know what? I pop my Zoloft every night before bed, I talk to people I can trust, and I go outside and run where I can feel more calm, collected, and center myself so when I wake up or come home, I’m an even-keeled person who is more capable of being a mom, spouse, and human being. Running helped me battle emotional struggles most of my life, and I was happy as hell to find that it still helps me even as a new mom. I will never feel guilty about that.
So yeah, I get a little defensive when people assume my reasons for something. Especially when it implies I’m less because of it.
Why do you run? Do the non-runners in your life make assumptions about your reasons?