Flashback to four years ago: I was at a Pilates class, and it was my first workout postpartum. I’d been so busy at home with my newborn, delighting in baby cuddles (and dealing with life as a new mom) that hitting the gym was last on my list. As I struggled with simple exercises, the instructor asked how old my infant was. "Three months," I replied. The truth is, she was actually 9 months old.
I lied to the teacher and everyone else in that class about the age of my baby. And I lived in that neighborhood! What were they to think if they saw me pushing around a 9-month-old? "What a HUGE baby! Or does she have two babies? So close in age?"
Of course, what they might have thought wasn’t the real problem—it was my thinking that was messed up. Why did I assume the instructor was judging me for being out of shape as opposed to just making conversation? What had I told myself that made me so self-conscious about my post-baby body? And by lying about my baby’s age, was I in fact perpetuating the skewed expectations society sets up for new moms?
It was a wake-up call. I realized that, regardless of how fit society expected me to be at that point postpartum, if I was uncomfortable about my “condition” (or lack thereof), I either needed to embrace it or do something about it—on my own terms, at my own pace. That’s when I decided to join a gym that had a kids’ club and went most days just for the affordable childcare. Even if I didn't feel like working out, I'd put on the gear, bundle up my babe and walk there, if only to get a break from my new 24/7 job as a mom. Most days, I figured I was already at the gym, so I might as well work out. Other days, I'd simply sit at the cafe and read or write. (I can’t tell you enough how good that was for my mental health.) We went on good days and bad days, in the sunshine, snow or rain. No matter what was happening outside, we went to the gym.
I wound up getting into the best shape of my life, which resulted in more energy, better sleep and happier moods—turns out, all the benefits of exercise that people talk about are true. Looking back, though, I'm glad I allowed myself some time to be at home and cuddle with my baby, to worry less about the mirror and more about the shared moments. I just wish I hadn't sold myself short at that first Pilates class.
Fast forward four years: I was at a Pilates class I organized for social influencers a few weeks ago. It was my first workout after having Oliver, my second child, who is 3 months old (I swear, he really is!)
Thing is, I've definitely lost that “best shape of my life” status. After a miscarriage, a second birth, an appendicitis, emergency stomach surgery, a thrown-out back and plenty of emotional eating, I was worried I was back where I began after having my first child. I allowed that fear to keep me from getting back on the Soul Cycle saddle, to justify indulging in just one more ice cream sandwich, one more day of wine. So as I prepared for this event, I sarcastically said on Instagram Stories that after everything I’ve been through, clearly I was the ideal candidate to hold an exercise class. It was another attempt to discredit myself, to make rationalizations for perceived and premeditated shortcomings in class.
But you know what happened? I surprised myself. I hung in with the rest of the seasoned, in-shape bloggers. Was I rusty? Sure. Did my form need adjustment? Absolutely. Could I move the next day? Barely. But I didn't lie, and I didn't make broad generalizations about where I should be or excuses for why I wasn't. I put all that aside and just did the work. And God it felt good.
But I'm in no rush to lose the remaining pounds. It'll come off and I’ll eventually get my body back. What I won't get back? These early months with my new family of four. So I'm savoring and celebrating every last cuddle—and carb!
Natalie Thomas is a lifestyle blogger at Nat's Next Adventure, an Emmy-nominated TV producer, contributor to Huffington Post, Today Show, CafeMom, heymama and Womanista, and former editor and spokesperson of Us Weekly. She's addicted to Instagram and seltzer water, lives in New York with her tolerant husband, Zach, 4-(going on 14!)-year-old daughter Lilly and newborn son, Oliver. She's always in search of her sanity and, more importantly, the next adventure.
Published October 2017