I'm An Athlete. Here's What Giving Birth & Healing Was Really Like For Me
As the cliché goes, "Your body is your temple." My temple grew for a while, and then it got a little vandalized—temporarily. This was all for the best reason, to give birth to my son, Mak. But here's the thing about my temple: It's also my career. As an athlete, fitness and a healthy diet are a way of life if I want to compete at the highest level in the sport of triathlon.
As women who have given birth know all too well, having a baby wreaks havoc on the body, both pre- and postpartum. As debilitating as the physical changes are, though, the mental struggles that come with this cycle are just as challenging, if not more.
Looking in the mirror and seeing an image of yourself that you never thought could exist is shocking. As I mentioned, training and eating the right foods is as habitual as brushing my teeth: It is what I practiced on a daily basis. My primary goal in pregnancy was to produce a healthy baby, and because my doctor deemed it safe, I continued running, indoor cycling, strength training, swimming, and a healthy diet routine throughout my term. Yes, there would be the occasional odd craving for food that all pregnant women succumb to, but the way I saw it, I was working out and feeding two life forms. If the goal was a healthy child, then nothing in my routine would change.
Gaining weight and losing energy.
My weight gain up until birth was about 25 pounds. Part of me was happy that I could train throughout pregnancy, and yet it was still mentally confusing to witness this enormous growth on my frame. I felt pain in unusual places, and having my training slowly deteriorate to a crawl wasn't exactly easy. Eight months prior, my body had just completed an Ironman. Now, it took all I could muster to walk on the treadmill.
The due date was slowly approaching (pregnancy went along at a snail's pace for me personally), but I still had one eye on competing in triathlons at an elite level at Ironman New Zealand four months after giving birth. So I worked out up until the day I gave birth. After 20 hours of labor, the doctors determined that my uterus could not provide a natural birth, so the decision was made to have an emergency C-section. This was terrible news to receive, yet my primary concern was to hold a happy, healthy boy in my arms, and this was achieved—so I was grateful. Ridiculously grateful, in fact.
New motherhood as an athlete.
Balancing caring for your newborn child with getting back into race shape was more difficult than I imagined, and the C-section understandably did not help the process. Sleep was sporadic, but that was expected. I first began to swim and then cycle on the indoor trainer a couple of weeks postpartum. Running was a whole different story: My pelvic floor was severely damaged after having major surgery, and this fact kept running through my mind as I worked my way back into shape. I treated this procedure like an injury, and you have to listen to your body on the road to recovery.
The extra pounds of weight came off quite quickly, but I was not prepared for the enormous engorging of milk in my breasts, which made most physical activity uncomfortable. It became apparent that my goal for Ironman New Zealand, which was in March after giving birth in November, was a tad unrealistic since I was not running at any competent capacity a couple of months after the birth.
I had to seek out a physical therapist who would be able to massage the scar tissue around my C-section scar to speed up this healing process. This sense of urgency occurred after I went for a run, got 3 miles into it, and had to walk home in severe pain. I had to keep telling myself, "Listen to your body" and "Do not come back too soon to only get injured again." It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.
Acknowledging the slow and steady resilience of my body.
The body is resilient when we allow it to be and always continues to amaze me. There were baby steps such as not feeling a sharp pain after heavy running, as it, over time, reduced to a dull murmur. This added a little pep to my step as I was thankful that all the hard work during and after pregnancy was paying off in a slow but steady recovery. My body went back to the shape I remembered, and the unusual pains in unusual spots began to dissipate.
I have completed one Ironman event and two half-Ironman events since giving birth to Mak. I'm working my way back into race shape by just getting out there and doing it. It would have been crazy for me to envision myself breastfeeding my child in my wetsuit 10 minutes before the swim start of an Ironman, but this is what the situation calls for: to care for my child and perform my job.
I'm still a little self-conscious when I cross the finish line with breasts that are three times as big as they once were, but I've made peace with the fact that this is fuel for my child. I hope, going forward, that I can be a model for other fitness-minded moms to work their way back into shape after having a child. The truth is, women have been giving birth to children for as long as I've been around, and your body was designed to take on this dramatic event, both physically and mentally. You can do it!
Inspired by Meredith's story? Here are seven things she wants you to know before your first Ironman.
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