Different Kinds of Strength

After my first positive pregnancy test, I had a panicked thought. How should I exercise now? I wondered. I was used to long grueling runs and lifting heavy weights and I had zero idea where to turn for guidance. The internet wasn’t much help. So, I took it easy. I noticed myself shying away from the things my body loved. And then I miscarried and scrutinized every way I had moved in the past eight weeks, trying to pinpoint something I could have possibly done wrong to cause this inexplicable turn of events.

After my second positive pregnancy test, I was armed with more knowledge. I understood that movement when pregnant was largely seen as a positive thing, that most medical professionals gave the following advice – if you were doing it before you got pregnant, it’s probably safe to continue. But even then, I shied away from lifting. Too many people were quick to say that pregnant women shouldn’t even carry a heavy bag – what if there was some truth to this prohibition? I modified things and practiced deep breathing to calm my ever-present nerves and then I learned that my son’s once beating heart had just stopped. This time at twelve weeks. I returned to moving my body in the ways it loved to move with a new fervor, resentful of the way other people had progressed in the time I stayed on the sidelines for seemingly no reason. After all, I wasn’t any closer to having a baby than if I had never been pregnant at all.

This picture is from February 2015. My dad was hospitalized during this moment. My losses were still heavy on my heart. I wasn’t yet pregnant again and I was unsure if I’d ever have the emotional strength to endure the nine month gestation that human babies required. But I had just won a clean eating challenge. I was fast and physically strong. And I deadlifted 200 pounds exactly once.

Within a month, I got pregnant again. Life got busy and while I’d tell myself I wasn’t going to let fear hold me back physically this time, I also tried to believe in the wisdom of my body. “Heavy” lifts felt fine, but attempting a new one rep max while my body was already so hard at work felt silly. And this time, my body was in it for the long haul. This time I gave birth, getting the gift of a delicious baby and the burden of a somewhat broken body. Birth is a physically traumatic process even when everything goes right. And while I tried to be deliberate about healing what felt tender, I was also impatient.

When I got pregnant again, I was determined to treat the postpartum period with more respect and reverence. The knowledge that I found with a few keyboard clicks seemed exhaustive compared to what was out there back in 2013. Pregnant women were honoring their bodies and staying active. As an antidote to all the “get your body back quick” propaganda, I found Birthfit which saw postpartum as what it is. Forever.

I connected with the coach at Birthfit NJ. I focused on functional movement. I listened to my body in motion in order to decide what I was and was not ready for. And I started to heal layers of wounds – those on the surface from two subsequent precipitous births and those much deeper from loss and uncertainty and the self doubt that stemmed every unarticulated fear that I had brought my initial losses on myself somehow by something I did or something I failed to do right.

Today, I lifted 200 pounds for the second time in my life. 205 pounds to be exact. Then 210 pounds. I tapped into a physical strength that I trusted to be there because for the past eight weeks I had been training this lift. And I felt tears in my eyes even as my body broke into a spontaneous dance because this body is my one and only. It’s let me down but it’s also given me so much more than I have any right to ask for. And listening to it and celebrating what it can do feels so much better than a relationship built on fear and mistrust.