I gained at least 100 pounds during my first pregnancy. I stopped looking at the numbers on the scale at that point, so I’m not exactly sure of the final tally. Sadly, this isn’t an exaggeration. As one friend kindly pointed out somewhere in my eight month, I looked “distorted”, like a terrible caricature of my former, non-pregnant self. I couldn’t get my Fred Flintstone feet into shoes. My nose got fat. My A cup boobs grew to a shocking (to me) DD. Walking was an ugly effort.
To cut myself a little bit of slack, I was pregnant with twins (although they only weighed a cumulative 9.5 pounds), I had insulin-dependent gestational diabetes and I was on bedrest which meant no exercise whatsoever – including sex. My job was to keep those babies growing by expending as few calories as possible and consuming as many as possible. This was good for my babies, but not so good for my ass.
I delivered a healthy daughter and son by c-section at 37 weeks. I was elated, proud that I carried my twins to term, emotional and super itchy. Lying in the recovery room, I felt like there were ants crawling all over my body. Within an hour the skin started peeling off my face. Turns out I’m allergic to morphine. I was a sight to behold; crazy swollen, post-birth jelly belly, fire-engine red face. My fantasies of leaving the hospital in the non-maternity clothes I’d packed in my bag were promptly dashed. I was quite certain I’d never look normal again. How exactly does one go about losing nose weight? I asked myself. Also, how can I make sure that no one ever sees the pictures that were taken in the hospital, until I decide to publish them in a blog in 14 years?
I was determined to lose the weight. I was single-minded in my goal to be “skinny” again. I cut out carbs, cardio’ed my head off, obsessively weighed myself. I would drag my babies in their buckets to my parents’ house where I could use their eliptical trainer while they babysat. I carefully watched the calorie count and made my food choices based on how many I’d burned. I was a woman on a furious mission to fit back into her skinny jeans.
And I did, eventually. At the 6 month mark I was happy to be back in my pre-pregnancy clothes. My body
wasn’t the same though. Things had kind of shifted. My hips seemed to have permanently spread and silvery stretch marks were a reminder of the rapid expansion of my ass and boobs. I was back at my before-baby weight, but I didn’t quite look the same. And I didn’t like my new shape. I was cautious when I got pregnant with my third. I had gestational diabetes again, and was urged by my dietician to keep my blood sugar levels stable by eating throughout the day. Truth be told, I was pretty terrified of repeating that huge weight gain and quickly learned how to play with insulin to keep my levels stable without eating around the clock. I exercised too, until I had to go on bed rest.
In the end, I’d gained 24 pounds the second time around and delivered a healthy 5 lb. 11 oz. baby girl. This time, I was sure the weight would come off in no time, and it did, but only because I suffered terribly from postpartum depression and was plagued by crippling anxiety. I couldn’t eat. When my daughter was three months old, I was thinner than I’d ever been in my life and I didn’t look healthy. I stopped obsessing about my weight because I desperately wanted to feel better.
Medication and therapy helped me get over that hurdle, and before long the focus shifted back to my body again. I hated the pooch that hovered right above my c-section scar, exactly where the flattest part of my stomach had once been. My boobs were smaller than ever. My once boyish figure now flaunted rounder hips and a significantly more generous ass. I was grateful for my healthy babies, but I missed my old body badly.
When my little one was a baby, I took up running. I loved how it made me feel, but I also loved how, as my distance increased, my weight decreased. I was afraid of gaining weight and long distances didn’t let that happen. Eventually, though, my physiotherapist warned me that running alone, without doing any weight bearing exercises, was a recipe for disaster. A running spaghetti noodle, she called me. My heart was in good shape but I needed muscle mass to support the distances I was covering. So I started weight training and boxing and noticed a huge change within months. I’d bulked up. My arms got cut. My shirts were tight on my shoulders. I loved how strong I felt, but didn’t recognize myself. I’d spent so much of my life focused on skinny, I wasn’t quite sure how to process this muscular version of me.
Exercise is a huge part of my life. I crave the endorphins of a good workout. It’s crucial for my mental health. But I’d be lying if I said that was my only motivation. I’ve also always been driven by a nagging insecurity. By the pressure I put on myself to be thin. To keep fitting into my skinny jeans.
Last summer, I had my annual check-up which, much to my dismay, always involves a weigh-in. As my
doctor watched the scale balance he announced, “Wow, I don’t think you’ve ever weighed this much!” And then went to my chart to confirm that I had, in fact, gained ten pounds since my last appointment.
My first reaction was panic. How was I going to lose that weight? And then I remembered that in the previous year, I’d trained harder than I ever had. I felt stronger, at 42, than I’d ever felt in my life. That some of those ten pounds had to be muscle. And hard-earned muscle was something to be proud of.
Something clicked that day, last August. I may have gained ten pounds, but nothing catastrophic had happened. No one looked at me funny. My husband still found me attractive. My kids didn’t love me any less. I felt kind of free, released from the self-imposed struggle for thin.
I suddenly started to look at my body differently too. That c-section pooch, those stretch marks, the wider hips and the smaller boobs – those are something to be proud of: the battle scars of having carried 3 babies through difficult pregnancies. Eleven years after last giving birth, I finally felt appreciative of my body and what it had endured to bring my children into the world. It had stretched and grown and nourished three healthy, thriving people who make me smile every single day.
Exercise took on a different focus. Skinny isn’t my goal anymore. I want to be strong and athletic so I can play basketball with my daughter and throw my kids around in the pool. I want to do spinning classes with my grandchildren. I want to be a role model for being healthy and fit, not for being a size two.
Last weekend I completed my first Spartan race, and as my kids watched me cross the finish line, I felt super proud of the message that gave to them: If we push ourselves, we can overcome, always. Age is only a number. Set your goal and fight like fuck to make it happen.
That’s a hell of a lot more important than showing them I can deny myself ice cream to make sure last year’s jeans still fit.
It took me 42 years to realize that my body isn’t my enemy. I’m sorry that I wasted so much time trying to fight it. So have that glass of wine. Enjoy some chocolate. Stop feeling guilty for everything you put in your mouth. Exercise and play – and model a healthy lifestyle for your kids.