The nights are a series of nameless hours of dripping milk and adjustments made in the moonlight to a miniature human to my breast. I blearily position the sweaty pillow, football-hold the baby, scroll through Facebook on my iPad while I wait for him to suction my nipple with that piercing, sharp inhalation that I can never get used to. The only updates at 1:46 a.m. on the Internet are from fellow baby mamas or boys I met in Europe 15 years ago: Boys that are now men with receding hairlines and miniature sleep disturbers of their own.
In the morning, I creep out of bed early and gulp water before I allow myself a coffee — tempered with chocolate almond milk because dairy seems to upset the baby. Everything upsets the baby, the Baby Whisperer calls him Spirited, but everyone else would just call him challenging.
I lie on the floor in the kitchen as my husband sleeps next to our baby, as my older son sprawls alarmingly teenage-limbed in his own bed. I do my hold ’ems first: Tight kegels for 10 seconds, relax for five. Then I move onto speed ’ems, and then tightening the little-used muscle by my hips, moving my legs side to side for 30, and then sliding them slowly, one foot at a time. The whole exercise takes about 10 minutes, and I do this routine three times a day. I hold my shattered mid-section while I concentrate on strengthening my core. Belief is everything, and I visualize my torso firm and strong and capable once again.
My body in the bathroom mirror is unfamiliar: A still-puffy stomach, a jagged scar at my midline and a convex pooch that still protrudes below the belly button. Though I’ve closed my Diastasis gap significantly in the last several weeks, there is still a hole in the centre of my body. I feel like it’s a tangible weakness there, a vulnerability created in my core at the same moment my baby boy was pulled out.
My phone rings at 8 a.m., the first of five back-to-back calls. I chop peppers for a breakfast scramble while I negotiate some business terms, and then I pump my breast while the eggs cook, the phone still pressed to my ear. Our caregiver needs expressed milk for the baby in case I am on a call when he needs to be fed later today. Only drops are coming out, despite the discomfort and effort. I start counting pumps: 56, 57, 58. Not enough for a bottle, and he’s going to wake up at any moment. I keep pumping, listening, responding, checking. A few more drops emerge.
The baby cries, Nolan has no matching socks and my work needs my full attention. Corey is exhausted again. I open email while latching the baby. Our hydro bill is late — how do people who have five kids manage to make all these frazzled ends meet? I feel like I’m juggling seven balls and they have razors and fire coming out of them and I want to drop them and have a seven-hour nap but I can’t, or I’ll set our home on fire and cut up my career, relationship, competent motherhood.
I jangle and fumble my way through the day, hoping no one will notice that I haven’t washed my hair in three days and that my voice sounds a little bit drunk because of the sleeplessness.
But at 5:30 p.m. everything changes.
It’s then that I put another sports bra on top of the one I’m wearing. I slide a tank top over my head and tie a bandana around my hair. I minimize my mail program and hand off the baby and wave at the bouncing blond boy on the trampoline.
I feel the weight leave me as I pull into the parking lot at my CrossFit gym. By the time I am inside, squatting and running and wall-balling and cleaning heavy weight, I am a different person. I’m a strong woman, a human with unfathomable potential, someone who can do anything she sets her mind to.
I forget about the hole in my centre and the flags in my email box and I just breathe hard. My “second family” exerts and sweats and struggles around me and they don’t expect me to make them sandwiches or create presentations for them: They just expect me to exist fully in the moment, giving it my all. So that’s what I do.
When I’m exercising my body at full capacity, something good happens to me. Health is a privilege and I can feel it flow through me and I want to move harder and faster. I want to be stronger than I was yesterday.
Exercise makes me a better mom: I want to be healthy for my boys, I want them to know by example that their bodies are capable of miracles at any age in life. I want them to know it’s OK to take time for themselves, that it’s a necessity, actually.
Hard physical work clears my head and allows me to exist in my own moment. When I am sprinting and jumping and so tired I am sure I need to quit, that’s when I most need to keep going. That moment of the decision to keep going despite the pain is when strength and gumption and determination develop — all of which carry over into every daily facet of my life.
CrossFit is a privileged respite from the daily duties that I know I’m lucky to have. By the time I’m done doing all kinds of things I never thought I’d be able to do, I’m more equipped to go home and handle a little sleeplessness, a bit of juggling, the demands of my three adorable boys.
My juggling act might be precarious, but exercise makes it possible. I’m going to keep on running and jumping and exerting for as long as I possibly can.