You’re on the mend, they say, as they send you home with babe in arms. And they’ll see you in six weeks, they say. After all you’ve been through, one would think the doctor should want to see you the very next day, to insure that all the crazy things happening in your body are par for the course. Because they weren’t par for any course you ever navigated before.
But in general, it will be six weeks before you see the doctor again. In that six weeks, your body will heal in miraculous ways, and your life will change even more miraculously. In that six weeks, you will begin to get to know this little human who you have brought into the world. You will know her at midnight, at noon, and in the wee small hours of morning. Your whole existence will become devoted to getting to know her, to loving her, to keeping her alive. So where, how and when are you supposed to care for yourself?
Reclaiming your body after giving birth is a powerful process, and it is no small feat.
This is not simply a matter of undoing the past nine months of massive weight gain, strange food cravings, and at least somewhat modified physical activity. (Although that’s a part of it.) In addition, it’s incorporating a time for yourself somewhere in the folds of the long days and nights dominated by your new baby. This child doesn’t take a break so you can run to the gym for an hour. And your body, frankly, is not what it used to be. Whether you can get back to pre-baby shape is a matter of determination and genetics. But now, here, with infant in arms and belly distended, you have to work to carve out a time for yourself, to reclaim the body AND the mind that you sacrificed for her.
The first rule is twofold: start slow and be kind to yourself. The smallest indulgences can go a long way in the post-partum days. When someone asks to hold your baby, let them. Then hop into a hot shower and let the steam fill your lungs. Begin to breathe deeply, all the way down into your belly. Let fresh oxygen rejuvenate you from the inside out. Then, right there in the shower, start stretching. In those first achy days, stretching at room temperature can feel like straining. But in the heat of the shower, your ligaments will be more limber, and you can begin to stretch out those overworked muscles.
After a few weeks, you may begin to notice that when you’re not holding your baby in your arms, you actually feel lighter on your feet than you have in, say, nine months. So lay the baby down in her stroller and go for a walk. Start off small – just a spin around the block can get your blood pumping. The fresh air is great for both you and your baby. Take at least one of these walks every day, and increase the distance. Set attainable goals that are fun to reach. Remember that coffee shop you used to frequent in your pre-baby days? Make it there, smile at the girl behind the counter as she coos at your new bundle of joy, and remind yourself that having a baby does not have to ostricize you from society. Quite the opposite, once you start getting back out into your community, you’ll find people are much more open and friendly with a mother (or father) and child.
Okay, so now you are back on your feet and back in the community.
The next step is really getting back into your body and mind. Yoga is a healing practice. And while you may have been an ace at power yoga before your body was run over by the proverbial train, now you need to employ yoga’s ability to restore. When starting out, you may need to bring your baby along for the ride. Luckily, in Park Slope, you are not alone. Bend and Bloom Yoga on Sackett Ave (www.bendandbloom.com) has an impressive array of offerings for new moms. In postnatal Baby and Me classes, the physical changes of pregnancy and childbirth are addressed, as well as the emotional needs of post-partum women. In addition to yoga classes, Bend and Bloom also has weekly mothers’ meetings Tuesdays between 12:30 and 2:30. This is a great opportunity to meet other new moms and talk about the challenges of life with a newborn. Lara Apor, one of their postpartum teachers, says this is a great time to “feel your body and not just the baby’s body.” Lara leads workshops specifically designed for postpartum women, like Reinhabiting Ourselves, in which Apor says “We focus on moving forward with the body we have, not trying to get our bodies back as they were.” Another workshop, devoted to the Pelvic Floor, uses visualization and exercise techniques to help strengthen this area that is so compromised by childbirth. Ms. Apor also works with moms one on one in their homes to help them incorporate healthy, healing practices into their daily lives. Learn more about her and her partner Beth at www.essentialyogabrooklyn.com.
Once your body is beginning to limber up, it’s time to focus the attention on a couple of areas that took the greatest hit in this pregnancy/birthing process: the belly and the hips. What better way to reclaim those areas than by returning to a beloved childhood pastime – hula hooping! If you haven’t seen them yet, you will soon enough. Hoop troops are spreading throughout the country with this fabulous, fun way to get your midriff back. These grown-up hoops are different from the ones you may remember from fourth grade birthday parties. They’re heavier, which means they rotate more slowly around your body. Hoops were brought back into popular culture by The String Cheese Incident, a jam band that was known to throw hula hoops into the crowd to spice up the dancing. There are hooping workout videos like “The Hoop Dance Workout,” available at www.hoopgirl.com. But the best way to hoop is to join a group. You can find a group of professional hoopers this summer at Coney Island, or just head into Prospect Park with a few extra hoops and see who joins you. With your stroller parked beside a stack of hoops, you’re sure to make some fun new friends while you get your workout in.
Another way to shake off those extra pounds is by belly dancing. And by discovering that sexy swivel in the hips, you can reclaim your body and your confidence. Dancing is a powerful form of self-expression, and it’s deeply liberating. Many new moms find that these two things – self-expression and freedom – are things of the past. But they are not. The Brooklyn Dance Project, on 3rd Ave and 11th Street, offers beginning belly dancing classes on Tuesdays at 7:30. Check out www.brooklyndanceproject.com for more information.
When it comes down to it, you were a fabulous woman on your own, and you will be a fabulous woman with your child. You just need to figure out how to reclaim the things that make you you in the midst of teaching your baby how to be him or herself. When you begin to wonder if it’s possible to achieve both, go back to Rule One: be kind to yourself. You are doing the most difficult, and most important, job in the world: mothering a human being. And in the quest to reclaim yourself, don’t forget to savor these early days of motherhood. Because the days when she wants to have you all to herself won’t last forever.
By Emily Weitz