“Sometimes, especially in the world of fitness fanatics, recovery from pregnancy becomes something of a contest. Who can get flat abs faster? Who can PR just one week post-pregnancy? Who can say they’re problem-free? Really, it’s all bullshit. Every woman has a unique experience during and after pregnancy. And every woman should be afforded the dignity and encouragement to carry on at a pace that works for her. Every CrossFit mom has her own struggles, and the gym shouldn’t be a source of stress or frustration during a period of life that should be indulgent and celebratory.” -Abi Reiland
Hey friends. The boys are 7 months old now and I realize that I haven’t posted in a while (thank you Hilary for carrying this blog!). There have been some persistent requests for a ‘Postpartum Post’ and I haven’t felt ready to post until now. So here’s my last 7 months, in a nutshell. I’ll touch on PP recovery, life with new twins, postpartum depression, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, athletic ability and my efforts to regain my fitness. If you’re a pregnant athlete, trying, or have a new hatchling at home, I hope some of my learnings will help you through the rough patches or maybe help you feel understood. So here it is, in raw honesty, from one mother to another.
The Realities of Parenthood
Excelling in a high performance sport requires surprisingly few components. Dedication, drive/willpower, time, adequate rest and recovery, and proper nutrition/caloric intake… okay and maybe a bit of talent. This formula was always simple for me throughout my life: Food + Rest + Time + Passion/Hard Work = Success and Achievement …Simple enough, right?
When I found out that my husband and I were expecting twins, I figured I would just add in ‘+ adorable twins’ somewhere in my equation and it would still be hunky dorey. We’ve all heard of supermoms- they exist, right? Reality hit hard last August. I crossfitted throughout pregnancy until 7months when I was just too large to be proficiently and comfortably mobile. I had had a great pregnancy and felt fantastic.
My sons were born at 34w3d, six weeks early, presumably due to a lack of space. Both were born very healthy with APGARS of 9 and 10, they had to stay in the NICU for 5 weeks until they were big enough to feed on their own.These weeks were challenging to say the least but my husband and I left the hospital with our boys ready to take on the world. Life was easy and thrilling. They fed every 3 hours and slept in between. I could do things. I had time. The newness of parenthood was exhilarating and I started back at the gym when they were 6 weeks old. I would bring the boys in their stroller and while they slept I would work out. I took things slow at first and really enjoyed the Bootcamp classes my gym offered. They are programed in 1 minute stations so I could push myself as hard as I wanted to depending on how I was feeling that day. I was tired, and adjusting to motherhood and sleeping in 2.5 hour intervals, but with the boys sleeping in between their feeds, I was guaranteed this 2.5 hours of rest around the clock. Being a mother was so amazing, and I cherished my new sons immensely but I was also determined not to toss out my passions and interests for the job title of Mother. Don’t get me wrong my kids definitely came first, but I was also determined to be an awesome wife to my husband and also take time to look after myself!
Then they woke up (“It’s aliiiive!”). Hello 4 months! Around month 4 the boys started to spend more time awake during their feedings. They were now awake during the day and during the night. My 2.5 hours of rest between feeds became 2 hours, then 1 hour, then 15 minutes. If one boy was awake, the other was asleep. They seemed to tag team screaming matches, and my husband and I even joked that there seemed to be a buzzer in their nursery that went off if one of our heads hit a pillow. It was constant. I became a breastfeeding zombie. All I thought about was sleep, and my immediate yearning and desperate desire for some of it, just a little bit, anything really, took over my consciousness. My need for sleep became a powerful all consuming obsession. I started to analyze every movement I took. Could I save some energy by only eating while laying down? How could I minimize my walking steps? I read countless books on twins and scheduling. How to keep them on the same schedule, when they would start syncing more, when I could expect the fabled ‘sleeping through the night’. Would or could the demands of breastfeeding actually kill me? I dropped off the map. I turned my phone off. Friends started to comment that I was a ‘hermit’. They didn’t understand. I was in survival mode. I took my earplugs out only to shower and to sleep. The few days that I felt like trying to go out with the boys I went to the grocery store. I quickly came to feel like a walking freak show. It seemed that everyone walking by me while I pushed my double stroller and pulled a cart had something nasty to say: ‘Oh double trouble!’, or ‘You’ve really got your hands full! I don’t envy you!’ or (my favorite) ‘Twins!? My condolences’. I started to hate everybody. It had taken me 2 hours to get the boys ready, loaded and into the grocery store. I felt a bit of accomplishment… I was doing something! Only to be heckled by strangers, stared at or harassed. This all sounds dramatic, but I assure you I’m serious. December and January were months I’d like to forget and I now understand why sleep deprivation is used for torture.
During this time I obviously did not go to the gym. I vividly remember my last visit around month 3.5. I had been ‘back’ for about a month and a half and I was desperately trying to do a set of thrusters during a WOD when I simply had to stop and basically collapsed on the floor. The realization that my body was not physically able to exert any more energy was crushing for my psyche. I had slept 3 hours total the night before and I felt that I had sacrificed so much becoming a mother that all I wanted was one hour away from the house, doing something for me and now it seemed impossible. I craved that endorphin rush after a great WOD, and the alertness I once felt at the gym. I needed something positive to motivate me and was truly crushed with the inconvenient truth of what was to come. My husband and I were running on all cylinders and there was no time or energy left for anything other than breastfeeding and caring for our two babies.
I think it was late December when I started to loose my milk. Looking back, I realize it was because I was eating so poorly and in such a sleep deprived state that I had completely lost my appetite. At the time I felt like it must have been some sort of cruel joke. I didn’t care about eating, I didn’t care about bathing, or changing my clothes or anything other than making it through the day and feeding my precious little boys. When my milk supply started to go, I truly hit an all time low. I was trying my very best, and now I couldn’t even feed my hungry babies. I went to see the doctor. My husband was concerned I was suffering from Postpartum depression and we needed some advice. I actually started to believe that my sleep deprivation would kill me. There were times that my husband would have to hold me up because I was too weak to stand. I constantly walked into doorways and felt like I was drifting. I dreaded when he went to work for his 24 hour shifts because it meant I was alone. Alone with two demanding boys without a second to sit down. If they did sleep I was busy resetting the house for their next wake. His parents helped out as much as possible, but I still had to feed every 3 hours. I was determined to breastfeed and really did not want to resort to formula. ‘I could do it!’, I thought. Even if it killed me, I wanted to keep trying.
The doctor explained that sometimes PPD leads to the sleep deprivation, and sometimes its the sleep deprivation that leads to PPD. I explained my feelings and symptoms and he felt that I had started down the later path. We agreed to meet weekly to discuss how I was doing, and I reluctantly agreed to try supplementing formula for one night feed. My husband and I made a more concrete plan with his parents and we all took turns for the next 4 weeks during the days to reduce the workload. My husband also started pre-cooking hearty meals that we froze so that I could just pop them in the microwave and eat when I had time. I became proficient at breastfeeding and eating. Actually, I became proficient with breastfeeding while doing anything. Walking, cleaning, laundry, peeing, brushing my teeth. The formula helped me regain a bit of my milk supply, and I was pumping in between feedings to try and stimulate more production. In the end my milk came back, but it was extremely tough. Looking back, I’m so glad I stuck with it.
Nearing the end of January, my husband and I were on a serious schedule with the boys. Every minute was analyzed and planned. With twins, you truly don’t have the luxury of ‘on demand’ feeding or sleeping. If there’s no schedule, there’s no predictability. The boys started to sync and were sleeping and eating at the same times. We had it down to a very fine art. We started to sleep more. FOUR HOURS! What a glorious thing. I remember sleeping for four hours in a row one day and feeling like a million bucks.
Fast forward to today. Mid-March and although the boys don’t sleep through the night (I’ve yet to actually meet these fabled children who do by the way), they do sleep long stretches at night. They go to bed around 8pm, wake at 2am to feed, and then 6:30am to feed and wake up for the day. They nap for one hour at 10:00am, and two hours between 1:00-3:00pm. We have an awesome schedule and we are enjoying life again. I’ve heard and read that with twins, people say that ‘the clouds part at around 6-7 months’. I think 7 months was our lucky number, and I’m so glad for it. My family is happy and healthy and I look forward to each new day.
The Inconvenient Truth
I started back seriously at the gym about a month ago. 3-4 days a week was my goal; Get out and move. It’s been a whole new experience returning as a mother. I’ve learned a lot about my body and the demands of crossfit. Hopefully some of my hard won battles can save you some toil…
It was obvious after my twins were born that my equation was now drastically altered and needed some serious revisions. Food + Rest + Time + Passion/Hard Work = Success. If I wanted to Crossfit, I’d have to increase my food intake, ensure I was resting (ha), and set aside enough time to warm up, WOD and cool down properly. All these things were basics, but seemed a feat of strength in themselves! Throw the demands of breastfeeding in the mix and I seriously had to reconsider what I was doing. Breastfeeding requires an exorbitant amount of energy. Breastfeeding twins requires an outrageous amount of energy, especially because I’m naturally a lean person. I’m talking requirements of more than 3000- 4000 calories daily while working out. I’ve had to do some research on the feasibility of building muscle mass while breastfeeding. Are these two activities just incompatible? If going to the gym was going to reduce my milk supply, I knew I wouldn’t chance it. Feeding my kids is obviously more important than my fitness goals.
New Body, Old Tricks (and it ain’t like riding a bike)
It has taken me a while to accept that I’ve returned to the gym in a different body than I left. A different body with different abilities and capabilities. I’ve had to learn some serious self compassion, patience and hardest of all, I’ve learned to toss out old PRs, and expectations and replace them for new and more realistic goals (and not secretly still yearn for my old PRs). I guess I somehow expected to walk back into the gym and take off where I left off. The thing is, pregnancy changes your body- a lot. Everyone’s body changes differently and I’m no biologist by any means, so all I can tell you for sure is how it changed mine. I’m not quite sure where to start because it literally feels like I’m in a completely different shell, but I suppose I could start with my skeleton. Everything stretched wider, splayed and stayed wider after birth. My hips are two inches wider to be exact (totally killing my once fab summer wardrobe btw), and my ribs are almost three inches wider. I’ve read that this is because the ligaments that hold everything together, especially the pelvis stretch and relax to prepare for childbirth due to the hormone relaxin. During the later months in pregnancy, my abdominal tendons stretched and separated, this is called Diastasis Recti and is very common. If I do a crunch, I can stick two fingers in between my abdominal muscles- yeah, it’s weird. Basically it feels as though the ligaments and muscles in my abdominal wall that used to hold in my guts don’t do their job anymore. My guts feel ‘loose’ if that makes any sense. With my coaches guidance, I’ve been working on strengthening my core and regaining much of the stability that I lost… although I can tell you I still have a ways to go to rocking a six pack… I’ve got a two-pack at the moment. If you’re interested, there’s a great article on abdominal health postpartum here: http://www.befitmom.com/postnatal.php . In addition to my muscular and skeletal changes, I’ve also started to sprout grey hair (…I’m 26), I’ve noticed wrinkles starting to form (gah!), and I just generally feel ‘older’. It’s hard to describe but I truly feel that pregnancy ages you. You have to give a bit of yourself up to receive the most beautiful gift of all! (All wrinkles in the world are totally worth it for my boys 🙂 ).
So what do these changes mean? Well, they mean that my ‘old tricks’ don’t come as easy as they used to. I have to work harder to achieve goals. My body doesn’t tone as quickly, recovery is much slower and that building muscle is more challenging than before. It means that I’m back to basics. I have an extremely weak core, and even weaker noodle legs. Luckily carrying around two growing boys has helped my wrist, grip and forearm strength bounce back which is awesome. I figure at this rate, I’ll basically look like Popeye in a year if nothing else changes. Whatever I’ll take it.
Oh right, boobs. I have those now. Although I’m now proficient at C2B pullups (hey, an extra couple of inches does wonders), all that milk production is really making it difficult for me to make serious gains. Yeah, we are back to that old conundrum of the incompatibility of gaining muscle mass while breastfeeding. Turns out you can build muscle, it’s just very difficult to do and you have to eat A LOT. My twins feed every three hours, and so do I. I am constantly eating. I wake up at 5am to eat, and then go back to sleep for an hour before the boys wake up. I eat dinner with my husband, fill my plate with more food than he does, and STILL COOK AND EAT A FULL MEAT LASAGNA TO MYSELF afterwards. I drink (get this) 12+ litres of chocolate milk a week. Not. Even. Joking. Costco is a magical place for me. So much meat and milk. Even with all this intake, it’s still difficult for me to build mass. I weigh about 6 lbs more than I did before I got pregnant, but I realize that my body needs this bodyfat store for nursing. I will add that I’m fairly certain that if I got more sleep, I wouldn’t have to eat as much. My husband and I have a tendency to replace missed sleep with food. Tired? Go drink a litre of chocolate milk. That’ll keep ya goin’ for at least another two hours.
My lifts are slowly recovering and I’m taking lifting very slowly. I’m not chasing any numbers, I’m just working on regaining my overall strength and stability. My main focus is bodyweight movements. My goals include: getting my strict pullups back, a 4:45 Baseline WOD (I’m at about 6:00 right now… damn push ups), and a muscle up by July 1. I’m currently competing in the Open for fun and have a competition lined up for this summer. 🙂 Going back to basics has been a blessing as I’ve been able to work on my technique and concentrate on form. Learned skills like HSPU are coming back now, but my strength and overall cardio/conditioning still needs a bit of work!
A Change in Perspective
The biggest change postpartum by far has been mentally and emotionally. The competitive aspect of Crossfit has taken a back seat to my desire to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. The sport has shifted from my passion, to a rung in the ladder of my wellbeing. My children and husband take the front seat in my life now, but Crossfit is still an investment in myself- for my continued health. I want to stay healthy and fit for my children and my husband. Plus being active feels pretty great. I’ve learned not to compare myself to others at the gym. They don’t necessarily have the same commitments that I do and can afford to maybe spend a bit more time at the gym and take on more demanding goals. My priorities have changed and so have my motivations. I’ve been really lucky to find Crossfit, and become a mother to two little dudes. I hope to continue to enjoy my time at the gym and reap the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle. xo Jess
Special Thanks: I wanted to give a special shout out to my amazing husband (who doesn’t even read this blog I’m pretty sure). You are the most incredible person I know.
Also special thanks to my friends at the gym, Alchemy Crossfit and the coaches there that have helped me through some of the most challenging months of my life. Sport is my therapy and you guys are my therapists. Thanks to Duncan, Broder, Craig and Janet for always making me feel empowered, motivated and making Crossfit seem possible again. Without you I would still have a one-pack. 😉
I am constantly blown away by the incredible people in my life that I’ve met through Crossfit. The community at our gym is made up of extremely talented, unique and successful people who are exceedingly supportive of one another. It’s a common sight to see everyone in the gym stop what they are working on to cheer on a new comer or someone struggling through the last 15 reps of a WOD. It’s this community, and sense of unity that makes me feel so included and supported while perusing my goals at the gym. I am so thankful for all the friendships I’ve made since joining Alchemy Crossfit.
This past weekend, Hilary threw me the most adorable baby shower and many of our wonderful Crossfitting friends attended. The day reinforced for me how fortunate I am to have such solid people in my life and friendships that now transcend the gym atmosphere. The funny thing about Crossfit is that it unites those with the will to work hard, even though we all come from different occupations, are different ages, and come from different backgrounds. In one small space we have accountants, pilots, doctors, firefighters, lawyers, teachers, stay at home moms and students all working towards common challenging goals. It’s incredible how Crossfit attracts a certain personality; one that values perseverance, honesty and integrity.
Okay, okay enough about how much I love my Crossfit friends… let me tell you about the fantastic baby shower Hilary threw for the boys! Two words: Tea. Party.
Hilary likes purple, oh, and pink, and generally anything that’s frilly or could be described as ‘adorable’ (which is why she is so fond of my little men!) ;). So throwing a tea party/bridal shower is totally her jam and let me tell you- she did such a fantastic job! The food was incredible (especially the date squares), the games were fun (really, shower games, fun!), the tea was fantastic as were the 28 assorted teacups available for filling :). My two little guys were passed around like hot potatoes while I was able to enjoy the afternoon chatting with friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you Hilary for the wonderful day and memories. Your hard work and creativity were so appreciated. And thank you to all my wonderful friends who came to support Chris, Dawson, Corbin and myself. We are so grateful for you all.
So last Tuesday (September 8) was a big day in the life of both of the two babes: Hilary went back to school after the summer off (I know, I know – NO sympathy for the teacher life) and Jess went back to CrossFit for the first time since becoming Mom to Corbin and Dawson – that’s right folks – only one month and 4 days post-delivery (but we already knew she was a rockstar).
To mark the occasion, we’re doing something we haven’t done in a while: co-authoring a
post! I (Hilary) will tackle the first part of the post, which is tips for fitting CrossFit into a jampacked life, and Jess will share with us what it’s been like to be back at the gym as a new mom.
So, to start things off, it’s safe to say I like CrossFit A LOT. In addition to classes, I also have my own lifting program (strength and skills) I work on 4 days a week, so I spend a lot of time at the gym. But it’s not the only thing I do. There’s church and the commitments that go with it (playing cello, events, community dinners, small group), my two nieces who live just around the corner (and their parents) who I like to see/babysit for free on occasion, trying to maintain some sort of a social life, keeping Jess fed so she can feed those two boys of hers (trust me, it’s almost a full time job ;)), oh, yeah, and that full time job thing I have.
So I may not have kids of my own to chase around but, suffice it to say, I’m not bored. The gym could easily take a back seat without prioritizing, planning, and organization. But somehow I manage to make it happen. Top Tips:
Lay out your clothes. Whether that means the night before if you’re an early morning gym goer, or packing up your gym bag in your car before you go to work so you can hit the gym on the way home (I do both), get yourself organized ahead of time. If your gear is ready to go, that’s one excuse you no longer have for not making it.
Plan your meals. Food is a HUGE part of the equation to any avid CrossFitter. Try to WOD or lift on an empty stomach and you’ll end up seriously hangry. I cook a lot on the weekends (see this post for more) so I can quickly throw together suppers and pack a healthy lunch when I’m home late from the gym. I try to go into each week with some form of protein, carb and veggies prepped so I can easily mix and match. I also like to make my own homemade protein bars that I cut into mini portions for a pre-6 AM WOD or to eat on my way from work if I’m headed to the gym in the afternoon. (Follow me on Pinterest if you’d like to check out some recipes).
Be on top of breakfast too. I try to have healthy muffins made in the freezer, as well as slices of my go-to recipe for baked oatmeal (also on Pinterest). Or there’s Jess’s great oatmeal post, an my ode to oats has some oat-standing (sorry, I had to) ideas too. If you’ve got even 5 minutes at night, you can cut up some fruit, take out a muffin, or put some yogurt in a container. A few extra steps ahead of time help streamline your morning in a big way, which sets you up for success when it comes to making healthy choices to fuel your day, and your workouts.
Remember why you do this. This is just to say that when you’re busy, on the go, and involved in different things, it’s easy for the gym to just feel like “one more thing you have to do.” Always remember the why. Remember how you feel after a workout. Remember that this is something you do for YOU. Sure, it takes extra effort and planning. But I wouldn’t trade CrossFit for the world. The value to my physical and mental health is immeasurable. Plus, I find that all that extra organization required to fit in gym time helps me stay on top of all the different things I’m trying to juggle.
Hey, it’s Jess. As mentioned, this past week I pulled up my socks and went back to Alchemy Crossfit. Back to the barbell… this time with two babes of my own. After spending the past two months basically indoors with very little activity (other than that whole ‘birth’ thing), I feel more than ready to get back to the gym.
Postpartum my cardio is shot, my abs are stretched beyond belief, my arms resemble noodles and I just generally feel ‘slow’. Since getting home with the boys I’ve been trying to get active again by going for walks, hikes, squatting, handstand holds against my walnut tree in the backyard, grocery shopping (a newfound WOD if twins are in tow). The other day my husband walked in the bathroom to find me naked on the floor doing pushups… it was clear it was time to go back.
I’m a goal oriented person. Always have been. It was important to me that I set clear boundaries and realistic objectives. After all, I am still technically healing from childbirth and want to stay safe and make smart choices that make me stronger, not set me back. So, the first objective for me was to clearly define what, when, and how I should approach workouts. I decided to mainly focus on three basic movements that I felt would enable me to regain a good base as I eased back into a routine: Handstands, Pullups and Rowing. Handstands because my core is basically non-existent and I want to regain all my stabilizer muscles that I’ve lost. Handstands will enable me to ease back into overhead lifts once I feel strong again. Pullups because I have so little upper body strength. I am focusing on strict pullups, deadhangs and other slow and deliberate accessory work. Rowing is an awesome low impact movement that will really help my cardio. With endless variations on full body intensity, and power output I truly believe that rowing is one of the best movements to focus on in Crossfit.
So I’ve just finished Day Two of my return. How was it? Oh I can barely hold a handstand for 30 seconds, my hands are raw from the bar, my wrists are burning and my arms feel a bit stiff, but on the whole it feels pretty darn awesome. Yes, it’s hard to look at the barbell and only see 10’s on either side, and it’s hard to remember how effortless strict pullups or pushups used to feel. When I feel down, I remind myself of what I am capable of and how lucky I am to have had my twins. I realize that it won’t come back quickly, and that it’s going to take a lot of work and dedication. But I’m always up for a challenge, and nothing worth having comes easy.