My postpartum CrossFit journey has not been anything near what I expected. I worked out my entire pregnancy, still setting PRs (like my 135# snatch, oh how I miss you!) and managing to RX many WODs along the way. In fact, I RX’d the WOD on Cole’s due date. Not bragging – just setting the stage to make it all that much easier to understand how my reality and expectations for postpartum CrossFit life were quickly shattered.
When I got pregnant, I was the fittest I had ever been in my life. I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, a Regionals-caliber CrossFitter, but I could confidently say I was the “world’s most okay-est CrossFitter.” 😉 Since I was able to continue working out during my pregnancy “pretty easily,” making modifications and scaling as appropriate, I thought that after the standard 8-week postpartum recovery period, I’d be able to get back at it and return to my old CrossFit self in no time. Even those around me were confident that I’d “bounce back – give it three months, no problem!” However, time would prove that wouldn’t be my reality.
But before I get to what CrossFit has been like for me postpartum, let’s address how labor and birth affected my postpartum journey. Being that I was so active during my pregnancy, I am stubborn by nature, I am very flexible and have good mobility, and have a high tolerance for pain, I was confident that I was ready for the intensity of labor. I knew labor was going to be VERY HARD, VERY PAINFUL, and EXHAUSTING, but I was ready. I welcomed it as a challenge to overcome. Being a “California hippy” at heart, I wanted to have an unmedicated birth. (Everyone’s birth plan is a very PERSONAL CHOICE and there is no right or wrong way to do it. I chose my birth plan because it’s what my husband and I felt was the best choice for us, and I respect the choices that everyone else makes with their birth plan, no matter how much it may or may not resemble our own. Seriously, when it comes to birth – to each their own!) Anyways, to make a long story short, when it came time for Cole to arrive, NOTHING went according to plan. I labored for nearly 15 hours without an epidural. He went into distress, his heart rate was plummeting, and I was sent off to the O.R. for an emergency C-section. Since I hadn’t had an epidural and they had to get him out IMMEDIATELY, I had to be put completely under.
As in, I wasn’t awake when he was born.
Let that sink in for a minute…
You can probably imagine, to this day, the heartache I feel for not having been “present” for the birth of my son.
Since my birth experience took a dramatically different course than I expected, my recovery and return to CrossFit couldn’t have been any further from my expectations. Y’all a C-section is NO JOKE. It baffles me to think there are actually people who believe it’s the “easy way out.” IT’S NOT. It’s major abdominal surgery with the potential for serious and fatal complications and sometimes a not-so-pleasant recovery. To this day, almost a year postpartum, I STILL have tenderness and occasional pain in my lower abdomen.
After having Cole, returning to CrossFit has been a very long and slow-moving journey. There have been many times where I felt like I was moving backwards. When I was given clearance to start working out, I still believed that despite the physical toll the C-section had taken on my body, I could “bounce back in three months, no problem.” I just had to focus, right? Go to the gym 5-6 times a week like I used to? Meal prep like I once did? Get plenty of sleep every night? The reality is that my baby and family are now my number one priority. I’d LOVE to focus on my fitness, meal prepping, and working out as much as I used to – it’s just not realistic at this point in my life. Those things have taken a backseat to being a mom and caring for my baby.
With a very physically traumatic birth (I can’t even begin to describe the physical pain I was in for months, the amount of bruising I had, the numbness in my midsection that lasted well over half a year, the tenderness I still experience on a regular basis), CrossFit postpartum has been very PHYSICALLY challenging. I remember the first time I tried to do toes-to-bar after returning to the gym – my lower abdomen felt like it was being ripped in half. Sit ups, same thing. I was quickly hit with the harsh reality that my body PHYSICALLY wasn’t going to be returning to normal anytime soon, if ever.
In addition to physical setbacks, I’ve been an EMOTIONAL wreck. With a birth that, in my eyes, went so terribly wrong, I felt like a failure (and still do). I felt like I had failed my son, my husband, and myself. And while the doctor and nurses did everything right and I was well taken care of, the actual experience of an emergency C-section was beyond traumatizing and has seriously screwed me up. It took me a long time to realize that I was suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum PTSD (yes, that’s a real thing). Here’s the thing about postpartum depression and PTSD – they are not “one size fits all.” They manifest themselves in all sorts of ways: anxiety, depression, crying, worrying, lack of motivation, self-harm, obsessive behaviors, eating disorders, reclusiveness, social anxieties, and so on. I had someone ask me at one point if I thought I had postpartum depression (at the time, I didn’t realize I did) and when I said no, they said “Yeah, you don’t look depressed.” Y’all - just because I washed my hair and put eyeliner on, doesn’t mean I didn’t also spend over an hour crying on the shower floor, full of self-hating thoughts. Depression doesn’t LOOK like anything in particular.
Now, you’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with my CrossFit journey…. imagine that you’re dealing with all this emotional turmoil and then the ONE THING that once made you feel REALLY good about yourself (CrossFit, for me in this case) now makes you feel like a failure too. THAT SUCKS. THAT REALLY, REALLY SUCKS. I found myself crying after every workout (sometimes at the gym; sometimes I was able to keep it together long enough until the car ride home). “I suck at birth. I suck as a mother. I suck as a wife. And now I suck at CrossFit too.” There have LITERALLY been days where I’ve said to my husband, “I’m done with CrossFit! DONE! What’s the point?” I know, dramatic, right? But this is real life! This is what it feels like to try to live in the shadow of your former CrossFit self.
In addition to all this, sleep deprivation has played a major role in how difficult my “comeback” has been. My sweet boy was once a good sleeper. Then, that first sleep regression hit and nothing has been the same since. I have gone probably over eight months on very, very, very, VERY little sleep. On the rare occasion where I do manage to get some sleep the night before, the difference in how I feel and my performance in the gym is unbelievable. Ryan’s recent post on the importance of sleep couldn’t be any more accurate. And I didn’t truly appreciate the value of getting enough sleep, until it wasn’t an option for me anymore.
Now, I know some of you might be thinking, “Could she complain anymore? Shouldn’t she just be grateful to have a healthy baby?” I am beyond grateful. My son is the most incredible blessing in the world and I’d give my life for him, HANDS DOWN. Here’s the thing - as women and mothers, there are so many expectations of us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. So many things are still considered “too taboo” to discuss in our society, but it’s important that we try and talk about it because sooooo many women and mothers deal with these sorts of things on a regular basis. I am sharing my story in hopes that other moms will know they aren’t alone. That our stories of struggle are the NORM, not the exception - they just aren’t talked about nearly enough. When you read all three blogs from Morgan, Becka and myself in this “3-part CrossFit Mom" series, you’ll notice that despite each of us having very different stories, there are some very similar underlying themes throughout our journeys.
It's taken almost a year for me a slowly forgive myself for not being the athlete I once was and expected to be postpartum. These days, instead of getting upset with myself, I am very grateful if I'm able to make it to the gym more than twice a week and I am ELATED if I manage to get within 20lbs of any previous PRs. Land a top 5 stop on the leaderboard for that day’s WOD? MY MONTH HAS BEEN MADE!
For me now, it's about showing up and having a good time with my friends and staying active enough to set a healthy example for my son. I hope that with time, as he gets older and life maybe becomes a little less crazy, I will be able to work out a little more regularly and focus on my fitness a bit more. In the meantime, I will try to forgive myself for not being the athlete I once was and instead indulge in all these sweet baby snuggles and kisses while I still can because those too, like my current lack of fitness, will one day be a distant memory.