Post-Partum Recovery - The Mum Bod
Mothers already lose so much ourselves in child-rearing. Many of us lose careers, as the cost of childcare can render returning to work difficult. We lose our bodies to a pregnancy that shifts and changes us. We can lose our body shape, our fitness, some of us can lose our vitality. Some of us battle pelvic girdle pain, weight gain or weight loss, stretch marks, vomiting and mental illness as our bodies literally pour the best of us in to growing and birthing a little human.
Then there's the matter of the birth, whether that was empowering or disempowering, traumatic or beautiful, and the way this shapes our perception of motherhood. Did it leave you with incontinence or prolapse, or just feeling different and you can't explain how? With so much that happens, I'm not here to sell you the art of embracing all that is thrown at you. I'm really keen to meet you where you are at. Do you love your stretch marks? Great. Do you hate the way your tummy looks and wish Medicare hadn't removed abdominoplasty off the PBS? I'm with you there too.
If I were to boil down my philosophy of approaching Motherhood it would be this: to empower every Mum, every step of the way, to give them a sense of choice and control in the place they are at. I'm not going to shame you if you hate parts of what you have been left with. I will try and give you perspective and help you meet the goals you're aiming for. I will support you where you are at.
So bearing all that in mind, here's my story.
I had my first Bub at 24. I was fairly fit, kept running until about 22 weeks pregnant. I was walking about 3-6kms most days until the final few weeks.
I had a vaginal birth with an avulsion tear, though I didn't know it at the time. I experienced Vulvodynia and incontinence after.
Being so fit beforehand, it shocked me that it took until 9 months before I could confidently run again. When my bub was a year old I returned to full time placements and juggling three jobs to finish my Physio degree. My body was tired, but eventually I could run 5km, swim 4 km and do weights with minimal problems. I loved high-intensity exercise. It made me feel amazing and energised. Recovering from my next pregnancy was another story.
When I was 28, I became pregnant with twins and was physically absolutely smashed by that pregnancy. I developed pelvic girdle pain and was bed-ridden by about 28 weeks. I had hyperemesis gravidarum the whole way through pregnancy. I couldn't eat without severe reflux and vomiting for much of the pregnancy. Then it ended in a caesarean. I was depleted in so many nutrients, and had major abdominal surgery to finish it off!
After the birth of my twins, my mental health was in the most horrendous state I had ever lived through. I was so desperate to feel some part of my previous self. At 12 weeks, I decided to start trying to run. I would not have let a patient do that in the state I was in! My running, strength and control were absolutely awful. Eventually I admitted defeat and stopped after about a month, as my poor pelvis had so little strength and control that the running was flaring up my old points of pain from pregnancy. My Physio at the time finally got through to me by saying: "Just because you're doing what you used to do before the pregnancy, doesn't mean you are going to feel like you did last time you were running. Your body is exhausted, not sleeping, depleted." I finally gave up trying to beat my poor body in to being what it was before, and accepted that I was exhausted, depleted and not sleeping, as well as recovering from growing and breastfeeding two massive babies at once. So exercise for me had to be gentle walks and pilates, rather than the 5k run and 4k swim I used to do back-to-back before the twins. That was hard for my type-A personality to accept, but I finally did.
The other annoying habit of my body is that although immediately after birth I tend to be a healthy weight, this quickly balloons in the 6 to 9 months after birth. I haven't quite nutted out a solution, and still battle with a body that has PCOS and Hypothyroid, which make losing weight incredibly hard. After the twins, exercise left me more exhausted than I was before, and post-exercise malaise and fatigue became a big problem. Even now, 2 years after my 4th bub, I still can't lose the weight I've found since birthing her, and if I exercise too hard I'm exhausted. No amount of dieting or exercise shifts the weight. I was muddling through return to running again when the twins were 14 months old, only to discover that surprise baby number 4 was on the way.
I had to more or less give up on exercise as I used to do it in that pregnancy. Hyperemesis knocked me down again, and I had two one year old babies to care for and a child in Prep. I returned to close to full time work, being on my feet all day walking the wards of a nursing home, and extra exercise outside of that was out of the question. Aside from a few pilates classes here and there, I knew that an exercise regime like I had before had to be put up on the shelf.
Having three babies in 2 years absolutely sucked the life out of me. I spent my last pregnancy on a cocktail of anti-nausea medications to keep myself going, medications I unfortunately knew nothing about in my twin pregnancy but would have helped enormously if I had.
My sweet little number 4 was born via VBAC smack bang on 40 weeks. Then I began the long recovery of pelvic rehab, dealing with a prolapse and weakness around my pelvis. I was far more realistic this time and made no silly early returns to running!
I also discovered some of the effects of post-natal depletion. Three babies in short succession absolutely sapped me of Iron, B12, Folate and zinc. I didn't know that the off-the shelf supplements I was taking were doing nothing to assist me because they were in forms I couldn't absorb. When I discovered Methylated B vitamins, my energy and mental health recovered faster than I could have imagined. Who would have known that low folate could lead to anxiety?! Entering in to our first lockdown, I dabbled in return to running. A few months in to this process I rolled my ankle, which greatly hampered my return to running. This occurred shortly after my Hubby had an ankle reconstruction for what I would eventually discover was the same injury as mine! I finally got to getting the surgery in March this year, and it took many months to return to running.
I still consider my self in post-partum recovery. It takes so long for the body to adjust to birthing babies, and all the more so if you happen to have multiples or babies in quick succession. It is likely to be the most mammoth physical task your body will ever undertake and it is so unrealistic to think we can bounce back within months. Lockdowns make my choice of exercise difficult, and I'm still in the rehab stage of my ankle reconstruction and slow return to running.
We get asked a lot: "When can I run again? When can I deadlift again?". It's absolutely wonderful that some of us are keen to be exercising again, but sometimes personalities like mine need to be reminded to slow down and respect recovery.
My take home message for all the mums in post-natal recovery is to see someone who can help guide you. It's so hard to know what we're ready for, and a post-natal pelvic physiotherapy appointment is so critical to gauge where you are at and guide your recovery and exercise. I definitely need to be told what to do, and make no attempts to Physio my self! I am my own worst patient, and I rely on my colleagues to guide me in rehab.