Exercise has always been a really big part of my life since I started ballet at the age of 2. Every weekend growing up was filled with my parents ferrying me from sports match to dance recital to then running for an hour every night when I was a teenager in order to keep in shape. I’ve never known anything different.
As I’ve got older exercise became even more important to me as it was ‘my’ time. Living in the hustle and bustle of London there was always something going on and if I didn’t make time to exercise I felt that I was missing out and couldn’t relax. Then with becoming engaged I stepped up my exercise regime to a new level and introduced walking to/from work every day (1 hour each way) on top of my already rammed routine. I was a bride on a mission! It was how I really came to find Frame, my now mecca and addiction of choice. I was doing classes first thing in the morning and last thing at night, from relaxing pilates to sweat busting box fit. I’ve always liked to think I was in shape and fit but the classes totally transformed my figure and gave me so much more definition and confidence in myself.
I became pregnant 2 years after our wedding and as delighted as I was, there was a selfish part of me that was scared I would pile on the weight and never lose it. I didn’t know you could really do exercise and be pregnant, and as my diet wasn’t let’s say the type you brag about I was dependent on exercise to keep me the way I was. I hired a PT for a few weeks (a really inspiring woman who had taught all throughout her 2 pregnancies) to help me learn how to train now i was pregnant and make sure that I didn’t completely balloon! I thought this way I would be doing everything correctly and could ignore all the contradictory advice online. Unfortunately this pregnancy wasn’t meant to be and I sadly lost my baby.
Fortunately and much to my surprise I was lucky enough to get pregnant fairly soon after. This time I was so scared of even moving out of bed that for the whole of my first trimester I pretty much just ate everything in site and did no exercise. However that actually made me feel a lot worse and knocked my confidence. Luckily for me, my local gym Frame offered a great range of pre-natal classes which I started going to religiously. The instructors were amazing and gave me the confidence to return to the classes I used to go to and just request modifications for my growing baby bump. Week by week as I could see my bump grow and kick I felt more confident that I was doing the right thing for me and my baby and trusted my body to tell me when enough was enough.
Being fit during my pregnancy made me feel as though I was back in control of my body as let’s face it during those 9 months your baby is in control of you. It takes what it needs when it needs it and your once nice and compact tummy is rapidly expanding to make sure your little prince or princess has plenty of room. I just have to apologise for my ribs being in her way, especially during the last 8 weeks – nothing that a few swift kicks every night to remind me!!
Being pregnant takes a huge toll on your body and I do believe that without taking part in the special pre natal fitness classes I would’ve done more harm to myself. Making sure that I was stretching out enough to alleviate my back pain, building up my arm muscles to ensure I could physically cope with lifting a baby all the time. We’re talking lifting 2kg weights – my little girl came out at 4.1kg and by 5 months has now pretty much doubled her weight. I dread to think how I’d have coped without these classes! There was an exercise we used to do in class that I absolutely hated, see here – trying to do this whilst heavily pregnant is next to impossible but then trying to do it with a heavier wiggly weight you have no choice but to manage it! As basic as it sounds, but these classes taught me and reminded me how to do this correctly without then causing my stress to my back and injuring myself further. As a mum I soon learnt that you don’t get ‘sick’ days from your new job!
Being a first time mum and finally getting to meet my little girl was the most beautiful yet daunting experience of my life. They’re so utterly helpless and this makes you feel helpless as you constantly worry that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Nature sure did surpass themselves when they designed your baby’s cry to hit you like nothing else. The guilt you feel over every little cry, even if it’s just a wake up cry. ‘Sleep when they sleep’ was the advice everyone told you over and over but I’m yet to find a first timer that managed it. You’re so in awe of them that you want to watch and savour every breath and then when you’re not doing that you’re googling what a baby’s breathing should sound like. Is that congestion or are they just snorers like their dads?! Whatever the subject I’m pretty sure I’ve googled the whole internet and read every forum out there. But the danger is, you can find whatever answer you want on the Internet. There is always something to support your worst fears and also something that just says ‘100% normal’ but why it’s always easier to believe the worst I don’t know!
Before having my little girl I was worried that I would fail miserably and not have any friends nearby and become too scared to ever leave the house for fear of judgement. Everyone said ‘your mother’s instinct will kick in, it’s fine’. I felt that there was a lot relying on this instinct, I’d never really been around kids before and would never have described myself as overly maternal. I knew I wanted kids and loved my little bump but once they were here would I be enough?!
This is where I found exercise really helped me in a different way than it has before. It gave me a goal to aim for each morning in the early days when everything was still quite a blur. The idea that I would be able to get my little girl fed, clothed and yeah of course throw some clothes on myself was a really daunting task. But we managed it, and every time we did it felt like a real accomplishment. Forget what happened once you arrive (tantrums, feeding frenzy, dreaded poo-nami and subsequent outfit change) as when you looked up out of your bubble you saw that every other mum was having their own battle. The babies that were lying there like angels, their mums would tell you that you didn’t see the morning encounter they just had. With everyone sharing their stories and tips, the gym class became less about being there to lose baby weight and more about being there to cleanse your mind and put things into perspective ‘sh*t literally happens (all the time in baby land) and you’re doing a great job’. Every baby is different so the best thing I did was to throw away all the books – ok well not throw away but hide whilst I was feeling brave, and think my little girl isn’t the average baby in any stretch of the imagination. She is her own little person and we are working out how to get through this together and you know what I think we’re doing a pretty good job as she is truly remarkable and my ray of sunshine.
The classes and network I made at Frame really helped me in more ways than one. As much as the social side of things help you through each week it was the actual exercise for me that was a real eye opener. I’ve mentioned that I was a bit of an exercise junkie pre pregnancy and so once I had her I was determined and couldn’t wait to just start the hard core cardio that my massive bump denied me. I was doing the popular 20 min hiit workouts each morning with my own little cheerleader and was thinking smugly to myself wow I’ve got this! However, the weight luckily started to fall off (mostly credit to breastfeeding) but my tummy which was once my favourite part of my body just didn’t seem to go back the way it was. There was a slight mound and not to mention my belly button now resembling a crater big enough to give Roswell a run for it’s money! I spoke with the instructors at Frame and they were horrified with the exercise’s I had been doing. Apparently everything you shouldn’t do I was doing! I thought it was just if you had a c-section that you needed to take it easy. What was totally missed at my 6 week GP check up was that I had severe abdominal separation (3.5 fingers!!). I had no knowledge of what this was, what it meant and how to solve it. Once the instructors diagnosed this they gave me strict instructions to put myself in a physical rehab. If I wanted to get my tummy back to its old self then I needed to put in the prep work and not just the cardio. Part of me felt so frustrated as I just wanted to get back to sweating it out but even when I tried I was physically incapable of doing that.
I’m now 5 months post partum and my ab-separation is down to around 1.5/2 fingers. So still some work to go. I’m looking to ramp up my exercise again but will be taking it slowly and still requesting modifications until I am 100% confident that my body has healed. The great thing is that even though I haven’t been able to get back to my old routine I’ve started to enjoy exercise from a different perspective by introducing my daughter to it. I’ve been taking her to swimming lessons and baby yoga classes which have not only been fun for me but also for her. I want to be a positive role model and show her that exercise is an important part of life but doesn’t need to be a chore and is a great way to socialise whilst looking after yourself.
Being part of the collective at Frame Mumhood I was very fortunate to be able to get involved with the This Girl Can campaign and spread the good word about exercise during and after pregnancy. I’ve had a real eye opener and it’s been a real saviour for me so want other mums out there to know about it. There isn’t the same fear about going to the gym and being judged for your size, at this gym you’re all in the same boat and all routing for one another. Whatever shape, size you were before or after pregnancy doesn’t matter. It’s not about getting back into your old jeans but healing yourself from within and ensuring you’re the best physical state you can be to look after yourself and your rapidly growing child as they’re the best and most relentless workout you’ll ever have! Plus if you managed labour, getting prodded and poked by a team of strangers without blinking an eye, then what’s a few squats and lunges?!
For anyone worried about their pelvic floor please do go and speak to your doctor and do not suffer in silence! I can totally recommend this device called ‘Elvie’ which makes doing your pelvic floor muscles a little more fun and the best thing is it tracks your progress so you can see how you’re improving – great for the competitive streak in you!