When I first became a yoga teacher, I worked hard to cultivate inner and outer balance. Inspired by my very first yoga instructor, I practiced a lot. Started eating clean. Meditated. Studied yoga philosophy. Learned to breathe through life’s daily difficulties and let things go. Eventually I could even hold chaturangas and fold my torso to my legs.
I was happier and more at peace with my body and mind than I’d ever been. For awhile, anyway. Because things changed when pregnancy and motherhood rocked my foundations. My carefully calibrated physical/mental/spiritual equilibrium went out the window the moment I brought a baby into the world, and suddenly, little in my life felt under my control. Even though I thought yoga had taught me all about self-acceptance, when having kids challenged my feelings about my body, I embarked — yet again–on a meandering path. Here are the scenic points along the way.
Pre-Pregnancy – My Life as a 20-Something
I teach 17 yoga classes a week. It’s draining at times, but I love it. For me, yoga isn’t primarily about fitness, though that’s a wonderful fringe benefit. It’s a practice of self-discovery. I feel confident in my body’s capabilities, and in all that yoga gives me and my students.
Trying to Conceive
My husband and I start trying for a baby while on vacation in Mexico for my 30th birthday. By the time we get home, I am really excited because I “feel pregnant,” and then crushed when my period starts. So what if I gained five pounds by just thinking I was pregnant? The way I see it, my body is gathering resources, summoning the softer shapes of pregnancy. I can’t wait for what’s ahead.
After three months of trying, I’m ecstatic to be pregnant and feel very lucky it happened so quickly. But the nausea—oh mama, it’s bad. I feel like I need to vomit from the moment I get out of bed to the second I fall asleep, and sometimes in the middle of the night, too.
One thing relieves my nausea, though, and that’s eating. Eating bagels, toast, crackers, pasta, and apple pie à la mode to be precise. None of this salmon with a side of kale BS that I used to love. I need carbs and sugar, and the whiter the flour, the better. Which all leaves me with the dubious distinction of being the most nauseous person who is also gaining the most weight in my prenatal yoga class.
I cut down about a third of my teaching schedule because it feels too strenuous; it also interferes annoyingly with afternoon naps. Now, in my classes, I talk more, move less, and munch on Ritz crackers while teaching, modeling a somewhat strange — but necessary — form of self-care for my students.
Despite gaining a lot of weight and enduring nausea that doesn’t go away in the second trimester like everyone promises me it will, I’m not too upset by my physical state. I tell myself this is what my body needs to do in order to grow a human being. My midwife isn’t concerned about my weight gain, either. And my husband likes curves, so there’s that.
By the time I go into labor at 39 weeks and three days, I’ve gained 60 pounds.
6 Months Postpartum
Maybe it’s the breastfeeding, maybe the exhaustion that comes with being a new mom, but I. Am. Hungry. Like my-body-is-a-black-hole hungry.
It was easy to say all those things about yoga—that it’s not about fitness, that it’s really about acceptance—when I had a “yoga body.” But right now I really don’t.
I’d thought the weight would automatically melt away post-pregnancy, and I’m finding it more of a struggle to love this different body. “I just had a baby,” I make sure to tell all my new yoga students. My disclaimer. But I didn’t just have a baby; it was six months ago now and I’m hoping people won’t judge me for being heavier than most other instructors they know.
18 Months Postpartum
I still don’t sleep, but now I hardly ever eat anymore, either. That is, I hardly manage a balanced meal, a real meal—the kind you use a fork to eat, whilst sitting down and actually tasting it. Also, meditation and basically any form of self-care are long gone from my routine. Who has time for all that? Instead, I take care of my son, who I’m still nursing at this point. I’m also busy playing with him, working, cooking, doing laundry, walking the dog, cleaning, paying the bills, and trying to maintain friendships, all while straining to remember what’s next on my to-do list. I’m worn out and pallid—burning the candle at both ends. But my frenetic pace plus breastfeeding is peeling the weight off.
My friend Emily sees me in a swimsuit and says I look thinner than pre-baby. I guess it’s true. While I haven’t actively been trying to lose weight, I’m constantly on the go, stressed, and running behind. I admit to feeling a sliver of pride when she says this, though I have so many other things vying for my attention that it’s hard to fully appreciate the moment. By the way, my loose skin and small tummy pooch remains – but ask me if I care ’cause right now, I have like ten minutes before my son wakes up from his nap and I’m using every second to obsessively wipe down the toys. I notice that cleaning provides some kind of order to a frenetic, unpredictable–wait, I hear my son crying. Hold that thought.
Right after my son turns two, I get pregnant with my daughter. Like clockwork, my second pregnancy ushers in the very same symptoms as the first: extreme nausea relieved only by carbs (preferably white, sugary ones). And the weight gain. I’m up another 60ish pounds with the second pregnancy—OK, more like 70 if you want to get really technical about it.
Postpartum, Take Two
I have a baby and a demanding almost-three-year-old. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, much less remember to exercise. That’s a lie: I had two scrambled eggs with cheese, toast, a big bowl of oatmeal, fruit and tea. I’m breastfeeding, dammit.
The point is, I don’t have time or energy to care much about what I look like. I’m consumed with other things: we moved across the country to California in order to live closer to my husband’s family. I’m staying home with the kids. Who. Always. Want. My. Attention.
No yoga teaching = no need to apologize for post-baby flab. New city and no friends = same. I don’t feel great about my body, but neither do I hold much resentment. It did—and does—wonderful things: conceiving and carrying and birthing and nursing my beautiful babies.
If only they’d let me think my own thoughts once in a while, or sleep in on the weekends.
Two Years After Second Pregnancy
Both kids are in preschool a couple of days per week. I’m making new friends and teaching again. It feels ah-mazing to have some kid-free time in my life, even though it’s not a lot. There’s time to meditate, practice yoga, and get back to the idea of self care. It takes me a while to adjust to being an independent being. Someone whose body and time belongs to herself. How strange… and wonderful.
I get way into the Paleo diet, consuming massive quantities of vegetables and a good deal of meat. I cut out dairy, gluten, grains, and sugar while regularly swallowing tablespoonfuls of coconut oil. A high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet works extremely well: the baby weight melts away. Each day the scale dips lower, my jeans hang more tantalizingly from my hips. It becomes a game: how drastically can I reshape myself? I do HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts. Sprints. Weights. Hula Hooping. This is my new normal, I decide. And I’m never going back.
But even though I’m fit, I’m … irritable. Like really irritable. And preoccupied. Food, cooking, and working out consume me. Between my five-year-old’s hotdog phase, my two-year-old’s obsession with all things fruit, my husband’s affinity for pizza, and my limited diet, I never share a meal with my family. All the extra shopping and food prep —not to mention the never-ending parade of roasting pans to scrub—starts to wear me down. And without carbs in my diet, I lose patience quicker, especially at my kids– even though they’re just being kids. I snap at my husband for failing to read my mind. I’m not writing much, either.
I feel good about my body, but not so good as a human.
And guess what? Tummy pooch shrank but did not disappear. What the hell?
Now – The Present Day
My kids are eight and five, and I’ve arrived at what I’d call a new, new normal. New, new normal means there are ten to fifteen pounds more of me than there were before kids. Twenty pounds more than during my I’m-so-frazzled-I-barely-eat phase and my Paleo phase. But I’ve also got a strong, flexible body that meets every requirement of my job and my life. And I’ve still got the loyal company of my friend, the tummy pooch.
For the record, I’m OK with all of this.
I exercise every day. Sometimes that simply means walking the mile to school with my kids and dog. I do yoga, and still teach it, but mostly to special populations like pregnant women and seniors. I like to hike, dance, and occasionally run around the playground with my kids. A good headstand is definitely back in my repertoire.
And as far as eating goes, I’m flexible. That means hot dogs on hot dog night, pizza on pizza night. I love my salmon with kale, like in the old days. But I’m flexible.
If I’m being honest, though I always idealize my pre-kids figure, I was never completely comfortable in my body then, either. My pre-kids body was more awesome in retrospect, its flaws nearly erased by years of intervening time and nostalgia. Like when I look back at pictures of myself as a teenager, I think, I was so lithe and fresh then—knowing full well that I didn’t feel that way at the time. Why, I wonder, am I never enough? After going to extremes a couple of times, I realize that the younger body I thought I would kill for—the one without the belly pooch or the looser skin or the different boobs—was only another version of imperfect, so I may as well accept the version I have.
I think I could lose ten or fifteen pounds in a couple of months if I really wanted to. I’ve done it before; I know the drills of workouts and meal-planning and declining dinner invitations. But it would suck up so much of my attention and energy that I simply can’t do that and be the mother I want to be. I can’t do that and get the writing done. Plainly and simply, I can’t do that and be me.
So, I’ve given up. Not on health. Not on exercise or mostly eating clean. But on striving for a particular form, or size, or outcome. Instead, I’ve embraced loving myself and my family, and … real life. Imperfection. Today I look like a mother who cares about a lot of things—health and fitness included, but not exclusively.
And, like I said, I’m OK with that.