Running from Guilt
I became a parent at the right age and the right time to be DEEP into social media. I joined Facebook groups, joined forum pages, and followed all the right blogs. My husband got tired of the ridiculous things I’d share with him everyday; “I can’t believe someone is doing this”, “can you believe someone thought this was true?” I thought I was fully versed in the mommy-wars. I was prepared for all the fights I would see based on the “big” parenting decisions people inevitably disagreed on, and I was convinced I would stay above it all, after all, I didn’t know these people.
I’ll admit, I’ve gotten sucked into more fights than I thought I would, but it’s easy to turn off the computer, put aside the phone and go about my day. No big deal. But I failed to anticipate a more subtle fight, one that I’m dragged into nearly everyday. We’ve all heard of the expectant moms who can’t avoid tummy rubs, and rude doctors and friends shaming pregnant women who want to enjoy a little bit of cake, but I didn’t realize that once the baby was born, people would still feel entitled, even obligated to share every thought about my body and my time that flits through their mind. My exercise routine has somehow become a reflection on my parenting prowess, a statement on how much I love my child, and an indication of how much or little I value time with my family.
I run. A lot. I’m not an athlete though, by any stretch. In marathon lingo, if I were a man, I’d be a “Clydesdale”, a big runner who runs long distance. I’ve never heard a term that applies to bigger women that run, at least not one I care to repeat. This is important because I don’t run to be thin, I run because I like it, not for PR’s (personal records) or to beat anybody else’s time. I do it because it’s fun. Before becoming a mom that seemed to be fine with everyone else. If they had a problem with it, they at least didn’t say anything to me. I was allowed to have fun for ME. That wasn’t selfish, it was therapeutic. The second I got that little plus on a stick though, my athletic endeavors and the apparent time they took seemed to be everyone’s business. From that day on, I was made to feel guilty nearly every day. Either I shouldn’t be exercising, I was exercising too much, not enough, too hard, and on and on.
I gained more than 70 pounds when I was pregnant. A terribly perfect storm of not being allowed to exercise more than walking (I had a sub-chorionic bleed), no morning sickness, and people LOVING to feed a pregnant lady. When I was pregnant no one let me do anything. At work, I wasn’t even allowed to walk to the mailboxes outside, lest I slip and fall. Everyone was protective of my body and my baby, and I let it go, thinking that feeling of ownership would end once I had the baby.
Fast forward to the day my daughter was born, I had to have a c-section because of a high risk of shoulder dystocia. This meant I got 3 months off of work, but most of those 3 months I could only walk for exercise, and I certainly wasn’t losing any baby weight. Women on my various Facebook groups had lost all their baby weight by the time I was getting back to work, doing Zumba and Insanity and pretty much being SuperMoms. They posted “Fitspiration” memes that made me want to stab someone. “What’s Your Excuse” plastered over moms who looked like the front of a Hip Hop Abs video. When I went to my 8 week post c-section check up, the very nice nurse asked why I wasn’t back into my marathon training. (Maybe because I still can’t feel my midsection, but thanks for asking about that). I was told how the longer I waited to start losing the weight, the harder it would be. “Do you have a stroller, a carrier?” Well obviously I had those things, but thanks for making me feel crappy for “only” having lost 20 pounds in 8 weeks.
It only got worse once maternity leave was over. On days I ran at lunch, people said “you know, if you didn’t use your lunch break to run, you could get home to your daughter earlier.” No, actually, I could eat lunch. On days I didn’t run “Oh, aren’t you running today? Don’t you want to get healthy so you can keep up with her when she’s a toddler?” These comments came from the same people. Seriously.
Most insidious was when my runs started getting longer. Another new mom I know said “Is it really worth it to run for that long, wouldn’t it be better to be with the baby?” I’m a much happier and much more energetic person when I can work out, so no actually, it wouldn’t be better for my 5 month old if I sat depressed in the same room as her. I try to exercise during naps, or even better early in the morning before work. If I want to get a workout in before going to work, I need to leave the house at 4am. I’ve had multiple people question that, saying “isn’t it sad to be away from her for that long?” She’s asleep people. I’m lucky enough to have a baby who (like me) LOVES to sleep. So why am I such a bad person for taking advantage of that?
All the above comments came from friends, people who theoretically were “holding back” to preserve my feelings (though sometimes it didn’t feel like that). From random strangers at the gym I’ve heard “I hope your not dropping that baby off in the playroom, she wants her mommy, she doesn’t care if you’re skinny.” And “Don’t bother with those machines, it won’t get rid of your mom-tummy, but it will increase the time your kid cries in daycare.” Uh huh. My happy child who runs away from me to play with the toys. Good to know. But the worst of the random strangers are the at least once a week “oh great job, you’re such an inspiration!” Oh thank you so much, I’m glad my fat sweaty ass can make you feel like if I can do it, anything is attainable! I understand these people are trying to be nice. I really do. But if I can give any well-wishers reading a word of advice, a simple “Great job!” or “Can you show me how you did that, I think I’m doing it funny!” are the best things a self-conscious new mom can hear at the gym.
My daughter is 15 months old now, and I’m training with my husband for the “Dopey” race at Disney World in January. I still get co-workers and random strangers giving me unsolicited advice, as if the fact that I’ve had a child all of a sudden means I can’t think straight anymore, or that I won’t realize the trade-offs I’m having to make. But they don’t bother me (normally) anymore. And most important, I’ve realized they don’t even really believe what they’re saying. People feel like they have to offer advice, and when it’s something they know nothing about, it seems it easier for them to give advice that contradicts what you’re doing. I’m going to keep training for my race, and my daughter is going to keep benefiting from that.
So please, if you feel the need to give a new mom advice on how she should or shouldn’t be taking care of her body, find out what her goals are first, and actually try to be helpful. Offer to watch the baby, cover a long run break at work, or just say nothing. “Have a great run!” would be great to hear, and a much needed respite from the deluge of well meaning, but guilt-inducing advice they’re going to hear the rest of the day.
All photos courtesy Marcy Holland, Featured Image is Travis and I after he ran the Goofy (when I was pregnant and had to bail).