Seven months postpartum: Competing for a sense of accomplishment

Kristin faces her fears and learns some lessons at her first-ever Crossfit competition, seven months postpartum.

Photo by Kate Webster: http://www.groovephotodesign.com/

I am almost seven months postpartum. I have re-calibrated and my heart has tenderized and expanded in accommodation of my newest son. Just like everyone predicted, there’s more room inside there and a peaceful feeling of completion has grown like a quiet fern forest inside my body. I’m inhaling small moments like air and capturing them, Instagram-style, in the back of my mind: My boys, on the carpet in my oldest son’s room, reading a book, autumn sun slanting through the window. My oldest son dances earnestly and purposefully while my baby boy giggles maniacally, in love. My baby’s fingertips touch my lips, smiling at me like he’s glad I’m his. My big boy shows him what it’s like to scooter down the hill from our house with the smell of suburban barbecue floating behind him, socks deflating around his ankles.

This is the point of postpartum where I forget what it feels like to have breasts made of lead, where I struggle to remember exactly what it felt like to have tiny legs kick me from deep inside my belly. I look at photos from the days immediately following the hour when a skilled surgeon carved out my stomach to enable a tiny human to gasp in his first air. I understand logically that that woman is me, but the elation and tenderness of those initial moments is already fleeting, disappearing like a sweet vapour to make way for the necessary duties of regular life.

I have bounced back because I said I would. My physiotherapist put me on a strict schedule of kegal elevators and core stretches and I did them, faithfully, grudgingly, until my stomach pieced itself back together. My breasts have morphed into two angry little raisins but I mostly forgive them because I’m too old to expect everything to come together after such an epic process. I can run again, I can sprint and do pull-ups and everything else that made me winded for the 10 months I was gestating our new human.

And because I have a magnet on my fridge that insists “Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You” and because I have a beastly, inspirational husband, I’ve decided to enter a Crossfit competition. By myself.

I am going to huck myself under bars and race to finish strenuous workouts as fast as I can, against nubile 20-somethings who have never had a human exit from their bodies, and I am going to do it willingly.

My last attempt at any kind of athletic competition came at the age of 16, when I ran in the 400 metre finals of my city’s high school track meet. My dad paced the space under the bleachers, chain-smoking, banned from heckling/cheering for me at any track meets due to his slightly stressful intensity, but there anyway because he couldn’t stop himself. I came in second in that race and punished myself mentally for years after, because second place in my very intense family wasn’t much better than “didn’t try at all.”

In some capacity, at that time, it mattered.

Now, almost 20 years later it certainly does not. I am a 30-something house-lady, doing timed workouts for fun. But the fun is questionable. Laundry matters more, Twitter parties are more significant than the fact that “Type A Number One” can do handstand pushups better than “Type A Number 2”. Nobody gives a flying rat tail. So why am I such a wreck about this Crossfit competition?

There is something about going toe-to-toe with other people that elevates perception, humbles and inspires. I’m standing in a gym full of a few hundred talented athletes and I’m not sure what I’m doing. But I still have the heart of a competitor, fragmented and dented from all those years of childhood pressure, but strong all the same. My baby boy is here, and my big boy is too, and even if I come in dead last and fail at doing any one of these movements, they’ll still love me. Even if I slink out of a bunch of thrusters in the middle of competition and pop into the pub down the street to drink Caesars at the bar, no one will be pulling their endorsement dollars.

I give it my all. I come close to tears four times. The weights are heavy and the girls competing are fierce: I feel, as I’m swaying on the high bars trying to get my toes up there, like a little bit of a relic.  Corey cheers me on, my coaches are right on the sidelines being awesome, encouraging me to do elevated pushups one at a time. My heart feels like it’s going to burst through my chest and the entire time that I am lifting and struggling and pushing, I’m also wondering why, exactly, I choose to do this in my spare time when I could be mastering apple cinnamon muffin recipes instead.

But there’s something about the end of extreme energy expenditure. When your grit and sweat snakes in a trail behind you on that gym floor, when people you don’t know very well congratulate you for giving it your all, you feel a spark of life and a lightness of being that doesn’t happen when you’re slinging emails on your computer or parking yourself on the sofa for the evening. There is something about the rush of endorphins, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with pushing through the pain. It makes me feel like I can do anything, while gently reminding myself of the areas where I can improve. It makes me feel like I can do almost anything I want to do.

I don’t give it my all often enough in life, and I can’t say enough about the opportunity to just let it rip with a child’s intensity, without fear of ridicule or raised eyebrows. I don’t remember why I stopped racing down the street with friends, or when cartwheels became a part of my past. Doing a Crossfit competition for the first time in my life enabled me to both reconvene with my inner child and inspire the adult that still has things to work on — strength to gain, power to know.

The programming for this particular Crossfit competition focused a lot on heavy shoulder loads, a definite weakness of mine. And I made a mistake in the first workout, thinking I had more time to load the bar than I did. I ended up finishing near the bottom of the pile, but I finished all the workouts and completed at least one of all the movements. I got nowhere near second place, but there will be no regrets or lost sleep. I did it.

There’s no way to go but up, and I’ve registered for my next competition in November in Victoria. I’ll be working on my weaknesses between now and then, and looking forward to the nerves, the pain, the grit, the camaraderie and that indescribable feeling that comes after pushing through fear and boundaries. It makes it all so very worthwhile.