Working out with a baby

Post-race cuddles
Post-race cuddles

You know how some people like to go for therapy? Or paint? Or stare at the horizon as if searching for answers?

I like to work out.

That probably comes as no surprise to those of you who have spent any time on this blog or with me in person, but I have to say, I didn’t truly realize how important physical activity was to me until after Vivi was born.

I wasn’t always this way. I started exercising in high school when I went through that tumultuous phase many teen girls go through of thinking I was fat. (Vivi, I know I probably can’t keep you from having those feelings, but let’s hope I’m able to help you handle them better than I handled them on my own!) Going to the gym was a punishing experience that I didn’t really look forward to except in that it would help abate my own guilt and self-loathing.

FUN, RIGHT?

As I got older and started to let go of some of the adolescent nonsense, I started running and even signed up for a few races. In running, I found a solace I had never experienced before. Yes, I was burning calories, but I also found that my mind was a littler calmer, a little quieter with every footfall and every quickened breath.

By the time I worked up the courage to sign up for my first half marathon, I knew I was on to something much more important than my jeans size.

A couple of years ago, a series of injuries pushed me to expand my workout horizons, and I started delving into fitness classes ranging from spin to pilates to boot camps. Where I had previously shied away from such public displays of fitness (one of the best parts of running is the quiet time you get with yourself), I found that the group environment had its own slew of benefits, from an accelerated atmosphere to extra motivation in the way of competition. Plus, classes offered variety, which is arguably the number one thing running tends to lack.

By the time I was ready to start trying for a baby, I was in the best shape of my life. I felt strong physically but also emotionally. I wasn’t the lightest I had ever been as an adult, but I didn’t even care about that anymore as long as I was able to crank out a dozen burpees and demonstrate a reasonable amount of flexibility.

As I’ve mentioned before, my then-doctor recommended I cut back on workouts when we started trying to get pregnant. I down-shifted to less strenuous options, but I knew I couldn’t stop completely. After all, exercise was sometimes the only thing I felt was keeping me sane. I was thrilled when I got pregnant fairly quickly and was able to return to more regular workouts.

And, as you know, I worked out my entire pregnancy. I feel very fortunate that I was able and felt up to working out right up until my 39th week (yeah, that last week? not happening), and I went into labor feeling strong and capable of handling whatever this little baby threw at me.

And then…I had a baby.

Suddenly, my life revolved around the needs of this tiny, desperate creature, and, honestly, I didn’t even think about workouts the first few weeks. I was exhausted, often starving (thanks a lot, breastfeeding), and, quite frankly, had some bigger things on my mind. I’m sure it helped that, because I hadn’t gained a lot of excess weight during pregnancy, I lost the baby weight in the first week or two. I know myself, and I know this whole experience would have been more mentally difficult if I was also dealing with my insecurity demons.

But as the weeks went on (and the flush of happy hormones started to level out), the insecurities did come creeping back. And while I was ironically lighter than I had ever been as an adult, I started to crave that feeling of strength and capability I had come to count on.

By the time I hit my 6-week mark and got the okay to exercise from my midwife, I was itching to do something active. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I had agreed to run a 10K with a girlfriend months prior. That experience was…difficult. (Running six miles after not running for almost a year? Sure…let’s do that…) But it also felt good to hit the road again.

After that, I was determined to keep up my momentum. The problem? It’s really hard to find time to exercise with a 7-week-old baby. I decided to start small, which, honestly, was probably a smarter move since my body was still in healing mode. Since I was mostly looking to tone up and regain strength, I started scouring YouTube for exercise videos. I had to keep the workouts short (between 20-30 minutes) to fit them into Viv’s nap time, but you would be surprised how many options are out there. (Jillian Michaels and GymRa are my two favorites.)

As Vivi got older and started being able to entertain herself, I was able to workout while she was still awake. I would even incorporate her into the workout as a weight if she started to fuss, which satisfied us both. Working out with the baby also freed up her nap times for my freelance work, cleaning house, cooking, etc.

And I’m happy to report that it has only gotten easier to fit in fitness as Vivi has gotten older. Not only am I now able to leave her with Joey for the occasional spin class, she’s also big enough to ride in my jogging stroller for jaunts around the park. (I call her my personal trainer because she starts to fuss if I slow down to walk. It’s very motivational.)

Now I’m even training for another 10K in June — and Vivi will be pounding out every training mile with me.

The biggest difference between now and then, though? Now, I’m not just keeping fit for me. I want to be healthy so I can keep up with my daughter as she grows. I want to set an example of health and fitness for her now, and maybe even have the opportunity to run with her when she’s older. I look forward to our runs as bonding time because we always take a break to sit in the sunshine in the park. And I love to think that by setting a pattern of health now, I’m maybe saving her from some of those negative adolescent feelings later.

Let’s hit the road, baby doll.

I think it's pronounced "yogging"
I think it’s pronounced “yogging”
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