Getting Back Into Step

Who does their power walking in an underground garage, playing a kind of real-life game of “Frogger,” weaving up and down the lanes to avoid cars in a not-exactly-scenic round-and-round?

Me, that’s who: a mother working full-time who gets an hour for lunch, half of which is already dedicated to two fifteen minute breastmilk-pumping sessions (eight minutes of efficient pumping plus milk storage and cleanup), leaving only 30 minutes to eat a meal, relax, or, in my case, actually get some exercise – some time for myself. Not what you would call a large workout window.

Why not a gym? Well, I quit the gym while I was still pregnant because it didn’t make fiscal sense to pay for something I didn’t use and, since I live in a place where a “nice” winter day means it’s 15 degrees outside (before the windchill), where to go? Parking garage it is.

And no – it’s not ideal. There’s the dodging cars, and the very thing that makes it appealing in terms of temperature makes it appalling in terms of scenery – unless salted-up cars and ugly cement walls are your thing…so why do it at all?

Because this 20 minute power walk in the middle of the day is crucial to maintaining my sanity. It’s important for me to exercise in order to feel like I have some control over my body again, and perhaps even more importantly, it actually gives me a lot more mental space than the physical constraints of a parking garage might suggest: it gives me some time that is solely for me.

Despite hearing that it gets harder to drop the baby weight with successive pregnancies, I was confident that breastfeeding (though hopefully not in combination with the same postpartum anxiety I suffered the first time around) would be enough. I mean, the first time, the weight came off easily…I thought this meant it would happen this time, too.

Wrong. First of all, there are things nobody bothers to tell you about exercising while breastfeeding. Important things. Things like “hey, it might be really uncomfortable,” or “yeah, there’s a good chance that your boobs aren’t going to fit into a sports bra because they aren’t designed for postpartum women,” or worse still, nobody happened to mention that even if you do manage to squeeze the “girls” into a sports bra, any kind of aerobic exercise is going to result in a lot of painful bouncing, the degree of which may even approach what’s usually reserved for those videos your husband keeps poorly hidden on his laptop…not really the public image you were hoping for.

And then there’s the guilt: even if you feed the baby or pump before you exercise to avoid that extremely uncomfortable feeling of “fullness” throughout your whole aerobic endeavor, you might end up thinking to yourself “shouldn’t I be spending this time interacting with my beautiful baby?” or “oh, man, that work project is looming…I should be working on that,” or even “this time could be better spent sleeping so that maybe I’d be alert for like, five minutes, during the day.”

Don’t let that guilt get to you: prioritizing postpartum exercise is difficult, if not sometimes downright impossible, but it’s also important. And that’s why once a day I find myself “sneaking” in a quick bit of walking during my lunch hour. I don’t have to feel guilty about not being with the baby since I’m at work anyway, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be made to feel guilty about not working through my lunch hour (especially when half of it is already devoted to pumping). It’s not something I would have thought I’d find myself doing, but looking back on my own mother’s example, I can finally understand what, at the time, seemed like almost obsessive behavior.

When I was a kid, my mom took her exercise walk every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Back then, her commitment seemed extreme to me. When she did it while we were on vacation, I wondered why on earth she would choose a mosquito-plagued walk down a country road over an hour relaxing by the lake.

As a mother now myself, I finally get it. She needed that time to herself. It was her “me time,” and that’s what my daily walks allow me now: some space to find my way back to myself; a moment to breathe and clear my mind of all the many to-do lists that occupy my life.

It reminds me that it’s my body, not just the vessel that provides nourishment for my kids. My strong, capable body. Maybe it’s a different body now, with stretch marks to bear witness to the lives I’ve created, but it’s still my body.

Soon, the weather will warm up and I’ll be able to swap the parking garage for a stroll around our State Capitol (a beautiful building, and much nicer scenery). Regardless of the temperature though, or the season, I’m going to keep the commitment to finding time to walk, to feel the power of my legs as they propel me forward; the commitment to get back in step with myself by getting back in step with my body.

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