Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Stechyson
It was a family outing. My husband effortlessly pushed our 11-month-old son in a sleek jogging stroller, the two of them the picture of wholesome, balanced post-baby life. Then there was me, chugging along a few metres behind them, wobbling unsteadily and sweating through my sportiest nursing top, my spiky tufts of hair regrowth poking out around my helmet and my knees as creaky as the gears on my purple lowrider.
I’ve never been what you’d call “athletic”—unless creating and consuming elaborate cheese plates is a sport, in which case I’m a medalled athlete. After years of battling body image insecurities and one early miscarriage, pregnancy was a welcome chance for me to enjoy my healthy, growing body. At first, I hadn’t cared much about getting my figure back after the birth of my son. But at 11 months postpartum, with my mat leave running out and my return to society imminent, I suddenly felt pressured to look like the type of person who could wear pants other than grocery store leggings—you know, if she wanted to. Plus, a year of saying “Of course I want fries with that—I’m breastfeeding” was finally starting to take its toll.
So I asked my husband to take my bike down from the rafters. It was a fine, sunny day and I was so pleased with my successful foray into fitness that I made my husband stop to take several photos as Insta-proof (#healthyfamily) before we turned onto a gravel trail through the woods. Then, as my husband (an avid runner) sprinted around a corner with my baby and the bag containing my phone, I hit a groove in the path, flew off my bike, arced through the air and crashed on the gravel road like a humpback breaching in the Atlantic—but with slightly less grace and slightly more swearing.
I never even had the chance to post my inspirational photos (#crashtestmummy).
I had plenty of time to survey the damage in the 10 minutes it took my husband to realize I was no longer huffing and puffing behind him and come back for me. I’d landed on my right side. My knee was completely ripped open—bloody and filled with gravel. My shoulder and boob were covered in deep scrapes and what would soon become purple and yellow bruises. My temple and cheek were tender but unscathed under the layers of dirt I dabbed away with the baby wipes I seem to always have on my person.
Later, I’d discover that my left side hadn’t escaped unharmed: My inner thigh had jammed into my bike seat during my flight, leaving a bruise so large and dark that, even weeks later, my husband was afraid to go out with me when I wore shorts in case people thought he’d beaten me with a baseball bat. This wasn’t the new and improved look I’d been going for.
Getting back on a bike was meant to be a confidence booster after nearly two years of thinking of myself solely as a life-sustaining, milk-supplying host vessel. While I knew that my body would change after having a baby, I assumed I’d just get a little softer, curvier and maybe even a little saggier.
What I hadn’t expected were boobs so uneven from breastfeeding that I’d nickname the right one “Megaboob” and the left one “Flappy flap.” I hadn’t expected a butt so flat that the mystery of mom jeans would finally be revealed to me (it’s not the jeans but the butt itself. Now all my pants are mom jeans). I hadn’t expected a Quasimodo posture, wrinkles on my legs and a drape of underarm flesh that my baby loved to pinch while screaming “Mama!”
Top all that off with the shards of sadness that used to be my hair, wrap it up in too-sheer leggings and $12 Walmart nursing bras and allow me to present you my mom bod.
I reflected on all this during the world’s slowest bike ride back home. Why did I care so much about how I looked now? How was I going to chase after my son while he bombed across the floor when I could barely bend my knee? What if I’d crashed with him hitched to me in a bike trailer?
Eventually, the cuts healed and the bruises faded, but my embarrassment and mom bod remain. Will I exercise again? Maybe. But this time I’ll stick to something safer, like artfully arranging crackers beside a round of Brie.