In the hospital, postpartum, the hours smeared together in a haze of blurry light. There was broth on a tray and a balloon floating to the ceiling and my husband on a flowered pullout couch, rocking our baby in his arms. Everything felt like a mildly surreal dream state: there was a catheter attached to me on the right side of the bed, an IV drip on my left and a tiny human being in a see-through bassinet, close by at all times. Even though I knew my heart would leap out of my body once again, as it had before, I was surprised by the tears that kept burning my eyes in waves: the overwhelming love, fatigue and emotion that comes after childbirth.
I had never loved my husband more. I had never been so exhausted and so elated — and certainly not simultaneously.
I coerced the nurses into releasing me from my catheter early and started hobbling around the room within 12 hours of my surgery. I felt amped up on possibilities, certain that my Crossfit training and careful eating throughout my pregnancy had resulted in some kind of miraculous super-mama strength. I was dismayed when I limped past the sink in my room and caught a glimpse of my reflection.
“I still look six months pregnant!” I gasped to Corey.
“You just gave birth. You’re still totally swollen and you need to give yourself time.”
I got into the bathroom and closed the door and looked down and I couldn’t see my toes. Baby Jude, of course, was entirely worth a still-giant abdomen. But I couldn’t see my toes and, with the hormones and the exhaustion, tears sparked up. I’d expected that a few days postpartum, with all the work I’d done, my belly would recede uber-quickly. I expected the cellulite to whoosh out sometime immediately following the C-section and I’d hoped for an immediate departure of the varicose veins.
My mom said it took me awhile for my stomach to recede after Nolan, but a quick glance through old pictures negates that story. I bounced back fairly quickly after my firstborn, likely because it was my first C-section and I was seven years younger. This time, though, I thought my fitness level would translate into a boomerang stomach. Not so.
I took the photo above three days postpartum after Jude and then again after one week. I’m going to keep taking photos to mark that, indeed, I’m making progress and that it’s work to get in shape after baby, even though I was in good shape pre-conception — I exercised four to five days per week throughout my pregnancy. It’s a reminder that the Victoria Beckham and Beyonce Knowles Hollywood pregnancy recoveries only exist in smoke, mirrors and photoshopped pictures. Real pregnancy bounce-backs take time and commitment and my expectations of a lean body two weeks postpartum was actually totally insane.
I’ve made a promise to myself to get back into shape quickly, but I realize now that means months — not days, or even weeks.
It makes me happy to feel strong and I love having a lean, powerful body. I do believe my pre-pregnancy fitness level and my pregnancy workouts have helped me to recover quickly: I am 10 days postpartum and able to jog a little bit — and though my stomach still looks about three months pregnant — I can fit into most of my pre-pregnancy jeans.
But I’m a big fan of goals and an ardent believer in the notion that writing things down helps them come to fruition and so here is what I am going to do to whittle my stomach back to it’s pre-pregnancy shape by June.
- Start gentle cardio at three weeks postpartum: Walking uphill and jogging slowly in small, 20 minute spurts
- Avoid carbs: No dieting permitted, due to breastfeeding, but I will stick to a robust, whole food diet including lean protein, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts only. Occasional dairy is permissible, but breads are totally out and salt is to be avoided whenever possible
- By six weeks postpartum, my stomach will no longer look pregnant. By four months postpartum, I’ll have my abs back and will be able to do most of the Crossfit exercises I was able to do before I got pregnant
Here’s to goals and bouncing back — 3, 2, 1 go!
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.