I’m 38 years old and 28 weeks pregnant. After my last two pregnancies, I swore I would never get pregnant again, much less endure the postpartum experience, much less raise more little people. That was partly because of how motherhood had felt to my body and to my nervous system. In one word, it felt: Harrowing. Overwhelming. Painful. Stunting. Paralyzing. Overstimulating.
Ok, that was more than one word.
That was my reality though. I spent both pregnancies in states of panic, convinced that everything around me was harming my baby and that my anxiety about everything harming my baby was going to cause more to harm to my baby. I dipped out of life as much as I could, obsessed over tiny little things, and just agreed to get through the nine (ten) months alive. Every time I went to the doctor - which, hello, when you’re pregnant is like allllll the time - I have a full blown panic attack and then my blood pressure would read incredibly high, to the point that they thought I had pre-eclampsia and other scary conditions (I didn’t). Along with that, physically, I had endless back pain and remained entirely immobile except for the necessary obligations I had to perform in life.
And then the postpartum period … holy moly. We don’t even need to discuss that. It was ten times worse than the pregnancies, which was a bummer considering I had assumed that minute I saw a healthy baby emerge from my body, all that anxiety and all the pain would just go away. However, it all got worse. Add in depression. Add in life on life’s terms. I’ll sadly admit that I wasn’t able to be present with my sweet babes, although I faked it as best I could. I did all the right things … homemade baby food, attachment parenting and babywearing, book reading and walks, and no screen time and lots of wooden blocks. But, I wasn’t really there. And that is the important part of what I am describing. I may have been “there” on paper and in the ways that checked off all the boxes of a “good mom,” but the deeper ways that our children truly need us, like nonverbal expressions and safety and security, those were not there.
How could they have been? What resources did I have, other than my insidious monkey mind?
I didn’t have any, at least any that worked. And I certainly didn’t have the reserves to pick up the phone and ask for help or make a case for that fact that I even needed help. How can a mom who is so lost in physical and emotional overwhelm do that, when our entire job is to love and nurture a tiny human? I’ll let you know, in case you are suffering, that the answer to that is that she can’t. It is not the natural reaction to such conditions. So, like many others, I just hid it and endured it and normalized my pain and my anxiety.
Now, here’s the hope: Never ever would I have thought that the most simple solution to my entire problem was going to be exercise. But, it was. It started with tiny blips of movement, which I only started doing because it was part of my job and I had to pay the bills. And those tiny blips of exercise almost 7 years ago are what has entirely changed my life today. Sure, there was lots of outside help and lots of intense self-work to be done, but I’ll be honest and say that the grease and the gumption that lit the initial flame under that work came from getting back into my body and doing some basic movement. It was the flicker that I needed to head into the hard stuff. And it still is today, every single day.
And so, as I think about my pregnancy this go-around, I fall over in awe of how exercise has made this experience truly and 100% deservedly delightful. I have had ZERO pain and ZERO days of panic attacks. Zero. My blood pressure is on-point, my sleep is good enough, my fears of the baby being harmed by the world are surrendered to something bigger than me, my back has not hurt once (insane), and when I do feel depression or anxiety sneak in, I immediately use my tools and get help. Sure, the emotional work I had to do in my life and the physical healing I had to undergo has helped all that, but the essence of it is that, as I will repeat over and over, the flicker that started the work was a willingness to show up for small blips of movement every day.
This brings me to the point of this post, which is to declare as loudly as I can that exercise is not a luxury in the female experience, but rather a right. Unfortunately, up until now, exercise has been relegated to the notion of improving appearance and basic health parameters. Ever since we were kids, we were led to believe that anyone who was exercising was trying to do something to be thinner, more toned, super shiny healthy, and more fit.
This means that instead of it being a part of our day like eating and breathing, it has become a thing that only some of us do, sometimes. It has become something most moms can only do if and when they have time and resources. And then, when they do find those invaluable and rare things, guess what? The exercise they do only hurts them more or makes them feel farther away from themselves. And this happens because the focus of movement has been on how we look, rather than how we function.
After my experience this pregnancy, I would like to flip this reality and begin to help all women I know hear this message loud and clear. And I would also like MommaStrong to be a place where you can claim that right without having to give more than you have to give. This is why we keep the price low at $5 a month. This is why we offer 5-minute hacks. This is why we have different workouts every day. This is why we focus on pain resolution rather than sculpted bodies. This is why I film in my pajamas and rarely in a good mood. This is what it looks like to claim exercise as a right.
And because I know it is not easy to get started, I’ve made a list of what worked for me and what has worked for thousands of others. Follow these tips for the next month with us, in our April Challenge, and see where you come out in just 30 days. I promise, you will be writing us emails about how this has changed your life. I promise.
Join us. Starts April 8th. Share with your friends. Help us reclaim what was hijacked by the fitness industry and reset the qualifications for what it looks like to be a woman who is well.