Family health

5 tips to help you balance motherhood and fitness

In her farewell post for Today's Parent, Kristin shares the best tips she's learned along the way in her journey toward motherhood and optimal fitness.

Kristin’s son Jude, eight months.

After the stick turned blue, I swayed in the bathroom for a few minutes by myself, heart racing.

I still held on, in the corner of my mind, to that deeply ingrained expectation that I was destined to be a single mom of one. That I was a bit too old for new beginnings; that my baby days were over.

Logically, I knew that I was no longer single, of course. I knew that my new husband sat outside the closed door, madly typing code into his computer. I understood that we’d made a commitment to be a family, but I think a large part of me expected that our family would include the two of us and my six-year-old son. That was enough. It was so much more than enough. I was rich, provided inexplicably with another shot at unity even after I had failed so miserably the first time. I didn’t really believe that I deserved a second chance.

But the stick was in my hand, and it was blue, and I was going to call Corey in a moment to tell him. But I needed a minute to panic first. I loved our life, the way it was. I loved our party of three, our easy family holidays, our laughter and weekends spent at the gym, running together and skipping and lifting weights. I loved that my son Nolan was my special minion, and that we had a rare and unbreakable connection. I loved that, at the age of 35, I could see my ab muscles clearly for the first time in my life, and that I had more energy and raw, available physical prowess than I’d ever had before. I didn’t know whether I wanted that to change.

I opened the bathroom door, craned my head towards my husband’s desk and said, “I think I might have a faulty pregnancy test. We need to get another one.”

***
Jude Austin was born 10 months later, of course, and I started crying the moment the nurse placed him on my chest. He reached out his miniature hands to grab my face and fiercely stared into my eyes to tell me very clearly that my heart was complete now. At the time, it didn’t matter that my previously fit body was surrounded in a layer of baby padding, that my six-year-old son was no longer my only star. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t expected to be in this position, it only mattered that I was here. By awkwardly navigating our broken and tangled paths, my husband and I managed to find each other to create this insanely perfect new life, and have the family that we were meant to have.

I started a diary after Jude was born, to splice together the pieces of critical monotony and raw, heartstring moments that merge together after a baby is born. I wrote what I was doing and what I wanted to do and, on the side, I wrote here at Today’s Parent about getting back in shape and the quest to regain my fitness.

Truthfully, my fitness represents my mental health, because I’m one of those people who need hard and fast physical release in order to function highly at both professional and emotional levels. I set a goal of bouncing back after four months postpartum, without knowing exactly what that would mean.

I did bounce back physically after that time period as planned and, although I was sideswiped temporarily by abdominal separation, I could see my stomach muscles by four months postpartum. I could deadlift 250 pounds and fling myself around various pull-up bars at the gym. And it felt really good. Getting back into shape quickly required the help of my husband and my family and, though it was feasible and rewarding, that six-pack didn’t seem to matter as much as it used to.

That’s the thing about having a baby: Everyone tells you that your life will change and that you will never be the same but they fail to go into details. The thing is that a baby’s raw, innocent love hurtles into your life on the day you first meet, and nothing else matters — no matter how much you want it to, or how much it mattered before.

I understood that my previous priorities needed to take a backseat for awhile and that was OK, I wanted them to. Down the road, I’d have ample opportunity to work on my weaknesses, to re-emerge into the world where miracles aren’t shooting clearly out of every moment.

***
I have a full-time career, and it’s not an easy one. I have a seven-year-old boy and I need to reassure him that he is still a giant in my life. I have a spirited eight-month-old, and I have my pre-pregnancy body back. By all counts, I have bounced back. It’s time for me to leave this space and figure out what’s next, but I wanted to at least leave you with something practical. I believe fully that exercise must be fun and rewarding in order to be consistent and, as my last post for Today’s Parent, I wanted to pass along every spare piece of wisdom that I have, keeping in mind, of course, that I know no more than the next person.

1) Just do it
There are a million reasons you can’t get down to the gym today: You have meetings, you are exhausted from being up all night with the baby. You’re too old, you want to be able to enjoy your life and eat donuts whenever you want. You are fine if you can’t run a fast mile, there are more important things in life to worry about.

Those things are all true. But there is also truth in the fact that there is nothing better than feeling strong, fit and capable. You will never squeeze out a lunchtime run in the park and regret it afterward. You children will not suffer if you hire a high school babysitter for an hour, and you will not die if you get up an hour early, even if you are exhausted (in fact the early morning exercise will probably make you feel much more alert afterward.) Tell yourself that you are just going to do it. Give yourself permission to stop 10 minutes into it if you really want to. I bet you won’t want to.

2) Turn your diet into a lifestyle
I’ve experimented with diets extensively over the last five years and found that the only one that works is the one where I don’t feel hungry. I like the Paleo diet because it allows for whole unprocessed foods and doesn’t place any emphasis on portion control, measuring food, cheat days, etc. The food is delicious and hearty. Corey and I have landed on a mostly Paleo diet, though we do use cheese here and there and I have recently cut out red meat and pork again. It’s a diet that works to keep us both lean, fuelled and energetic for the kids and I would endorse it fully. If Paleo seems too restrictive, try just cutting out gluten. That made an insane difference to me.

3) Record what you’re doing
There is nothing more gratifying than witnessing your body gain power and efficiency as you get older. We’re told by glossy magazines and on TV that we’re supposed to slow down and fade a bit as we get older.

So when you move, record it. Prove to yourself that it’s totally possible and awesome to get faster and better as you ripen. Run a 5K with everything you’ve got and then, six months later, run the same route and compare your time. It’s amazing how motivating it is to see how we can improve. I record all of my Crossfit workouts, as improvement is an integral part of the sport, but I encourage it for all kinds of fitness: Running, skiing, swimming, whatever. Improving and getting better — and knowing it — is a key part of sticking with it.

4) Know that guilt is useless
If you miss a workout or inhale a cheesecake while watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, brush off the graham cracker crumbs and get back to it tomorrow. If you need to go on a business trip to help provide the kind of lifestyle that will allow your family to flourish, don’t feel bad about enjoying that time. An hour of kickboxing will not irreparably harm your new baby. Never allow guilt to prevent you from forging ahead, and remember that now is the only time that matters.

5) Understand that you do not fade to black once you have kids
Often, the Internet will have us believe that we are lesser moms for taking time for ourselves. If we exercise too much, we’re depriving our children. If we don’t breastfeed till XYZ age, our children will suffer. Women spend a lot of time criticizing each other’s choices, and I know I’ve spent a lot of wasted time wondering if some of the judgment was valid.

The thing is, we don’t fade to black once we have children. Many of us are in our late-twenties and thirties — in the prime sweet spot of our lives. We have flourishing careers and deep interests, a passion for our family and for outside interests. We are still beautiful, thriving people and taking the time to follow our own dreams and passions will not detract from our abilities as totally loving mothers. Too much of what I’ve read has suggested that women must give up all of their own pleasures to attend to their kids: My view is that tending to my own happiness makes me a better mom and, in turn, makes my kids happier too.

So I am going to work hard, Crossfit passionately, eat when I want to and enjoy the strength and pride that comes from all of that. I am going to love my boys fiercely and be the best mom I can be by choosing to be the best physical me. I hope you will too.

Thank you so much for following my journey here, and best of luck in your own journeys.

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