Live, Love, Dance

Dance is often overlooked as a valid form of exercise, possibly because when we are dancing we tend to forget that we are exercising.  The inspiration for dance more often than not comes from inside and it’s only after we’ve quelled that urge that we notice how it shapes our bodies on the outside.  I haven’t always felt this way about dance.  When I first started dancing as a child I only ever thought about how it felt and it always felt really good.  Somewhere along the way I got lost in an aesthetic and became more concerned with looking like a dancer than actually being one.  Over the years, and after leaving dance for a while to focus on other forms of movement, I gradually relearned how to enjoy movement for movement’s sake and it has once again become a passion instead of a duty.

Dancing is the ultimate life-affirming expression and this has never been more clear to me than recently when faced with so much death.  After losing Eve in January my husband lost several relatives in quick succession.  His cousin, grandfather, step-grandfather, and grandmother all passed away within a matter of weeks leaving many heavy hearts in their wake.  Expressions of grief have been outnumbered by expressions of love by surviving family members who are moving through this tough time together. 

Yesterday my husband and I attended a service in honor of his grandparents.  There were many beautiful stories to be told by their children and one in particular that they kept coming back to; the memory of their parents at home dancing together.  Though many tears were shed this mention made everyone smile.  In a world where we all have to die dancing is a great confirmation that we have lived.

When I was pregnant with Eve I often imagined teaching her how to dance.  I pictured the two of us dancing around the house, doggie Dee joining in the mix, and my husband laughing at all three of us.  It saddens me to think that this will never be but in more optimistic moments I am able to see that it already was.  I was able to imagine this scene so clearly because I’d participated in it many times before with Eve dancing inside my womb instead of out in the world.  If there is anything I know about Eve it is that she was a mover until the day she died, a great confirmation that she did indeed live.

There was a study in the New England Journal of medicine a while back that among its many positive health benefits dancing lowers the risk of dementia by 76 percent.  Though all exercise positively affects the brain in some way, dancing is the only form with this great an impact.  Maybe it is the fact that it is not repetitive and literally keeps us on our toes.  More likely it is because we remember the times we danced not only with our brain but also our heart.

A favorite memory I have with my husband is dancing around the Chatham bandstand on a trip to Cape Cod.  We had just taken a ballroom dance class at home in Chicago and were excited to put our new found knowledge to good use.  We danced for the entirety of the performance and though I couldn’t tell you how many calories we burned I can tell you how it felt.  It was like we were in a scene from an old time movie: giddy from spinning underneath the stars, hearts filled with love for each other, and, most definitely, alive.

Dee Dee and Me

You’ve probably heard that owning a dog is good for your health. Those who own dogs tend to lead longer and more active DeeDeelives, have lower blood pressure, and and are happier with life in general. They are also less lonely. Life as a grieving mother is lonely.  You walk around with another human being inside you for nine months and then they are suddenly gone.  You’re left with some pictures, a set of footprints, and a huge unfillable void.  Your body doesn’t catch on nearly as quickly as you wish it would. It takes a while for it to realize there is no baby to feed or hold or wake up for.  The milk still gets produced, your arms ache from time to time, and the cries you wake to at 3:00 in the morning are your own, not your baby’s. I know this sounds melodramatic. I wish it was just that and not the truth.
The night my husband and I left for the hospital thinking we’d be back in an hour and ended up not returning for four days our dog Dee was left alone. Upon admittance to the hospital we let my parents who were driving down from Connecticut know that she was home alone and we’d need someone to go to the house and take care of her. When they got to our house she was lying on the couch in typical Dee fashion, not a thing out of place or an accident to be found. She greeted them tail wagging and went outside before enjoying some breakfast. Dee is a very good girl.
When we arrived home from the hospital with a memento box instead of a baby in our arms our families, along with Dee, were there to greet us. Usually when we enter the house (or the room for that matter) Dee wiggles around excitedly making strange noises that sound less like a bark and more like she is giving you a piece of her mind. As we entered the house in tears this particular afternoon she greeted us by rubbing against our legs before resuming her position back on the sofa. She held her post there for much of the next week. Dee was there when I needed something to hold. Fortunately I had my husband but at 6’2″ and 195 lbs he tends to be better at holding me than I am at holding him. Weighing in at 48 pounds of pure muscle Dee is by no means a lap dog but that doesn’t stop her from nuzzling close and curling herself up in my lap (pitbulls are vicious that way.)
When I was ready for short walks Dee came with. When I was ready for longer walks Dee came with. I walked with Dee for hours at a time while trying to figure out what a woman on maternity leave was supposed to do when her baby has died. Once I was physically healed enough to run (and much to her chagrin) Dee came along.
You may remember from a previous post that Dee is not exactly running’s biggest fan. I’ve spent years peeling her off the couch to join me and this trend continues today. Once she is out the door she can hold her own but like most of us when it comes to exercise getting started is half the battle. During pregnancy we were a perfect match, as I became bigger and slower Dee became stronger and faster and we kind of met in the middle. Post-pregnancy, and ever since running became synonymous with grief for me, Dee has been along for the ride. We run together most every morning and sometimes in the afternoon. on really difficult days we might do both. I am happy to report that Dee is up to 5 miles at a time. This may not seem like any big accomplishment but considering she used to grab her leash and pull into someone’s yard to lie down after 5 minutes I think it’s pretty good.
I am grateful to have Dee by my side through the healing process. Not only is she a great companion, she also gives me something to take care of. I don’t know if it’s possible to feel more useless than a postpartum woman with no baby. No matter what the activity every cell of your being is screaming “you should be doing something else with your time”. I’ve heard that petting a dog releases feel-good hormones in both the dog and the person petting it. I wonder if the same is true for movement. I hope Dee feels some of the peace that I do when we are out on our little journeys together. I hope that I’m making her a healthier, happier little girl. I wish I could have done the same for Eve.
I’m so glad we saved Dee’s life because she saves ours in little ways everyday. She’s our comic relief at a time when laughs are rare and so precious. When I am sitting in the nursery lost in what could have been she is right beside me. When we hang out on the couch she nuzzles her head into my belly and I’m reminded of the one who used to live there, the one I couldn’t save.

If you’re interested in learning more about the health benefits of owning a dog there is a great article here. I’d continue to write but I need to get Dee out for her run before the rain comes in (and if Dee hates anything more than leaving the couch, it’s leaving the couch to go out in the rain).

Move Along

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you may be wondering is this still a fitness blog or a blog about grief?  My answer to you is yes and yes.  Over the past few months I’ve been learning that the two are not mutually exclusive.  I’ve always equated happiness with fitness and fitness with happiness.  Look at any issue of Women’s Health and the woman running down the street rocking a six pack and $90 sports bra does not have tears streaming down her face.  She isn’t even grimacing.  She is beaming, beautiful, and happy.  When I was pregnant with Eve I read as many fit pregnancy blogs as I could.  My favorite were the ones that documented the pregnancy week by week.  I loved scrolling to the week I was in and seeing what other moms had experienced, what types of workouts they did, even what they ate.  Later in the pregnancy I had another habit of clicking on the “week 40″ post which usually led to the birth story.  I loved looking at the pictures of these proud moms holding their adorable babies.  Staying fit throughout pregnancy had the most wonderful incentive: a healthy daughter.  It was what drove me to get up early every morning for a workout even when I was huge (third trimester) and exhausted (first and third trimester…and some of the second if I’m being truly honest).  It’s what made me, like a crazy person, reject a second glucose test and instead prick my finger four times a day to monitor my blood sugar so I wouldn’t have to ingest the sugary artificially colored beverage the test entailed.  It’s what made me memorize the “dirty dozen” so I wouldn’t run the risk of poisoning my baby with insecticides from non-organic produce.  It’s what kept me running up until the day I went into the hospital, swollen ankles and all.  There is no greater motivation for eating healthy and staying active than having a tiny human growing inside your body, or so I thought.

As it turns out, grief can be a pretty incredible motivator albeit not nearly as pleasant.  I was very worried that after losing Eve I would lose my motivation to carry on with the things that interested me in my old life like health and fitness.  I had a super-healthy pregnancy, took good care of my body and Eve while she lived inside it, and now she is dead.  I won’t lie and say I always feel like getting up and moving through another day, in fact most of the time I don’t.  I will say after all I’ve been through these last few months I honestly believe in the healing power of movement.  Fitness isn’t just for shiny happy people who always get eight hours of sleep.  If that was the case there would be far fewer gyms and fitness studios in the world.  Everyone has their s%*t.  Exercise helps people deal with their s%*t.  There is a little voice inside of my head that says “what good is being healthy in a world where crack heads and chain smokers go on to have living babies and mine lies dead in the ground?”.  There is a louder voice that says “move”.

Our bodies are wired for movement especially in times of stress.  We secrete hormones that are meant to help us fight or flee even when the stress we experience isn’t anything we can kick or run from.  Exercise isn’t a magic elixir than can take away all bad feelings and fix all problems.  Depending on how low you are feeling when you start it may not even make you any happier.  What it can do is give you something to do during a tough time that simultaneously burns off stress hormones and strengthens your body so you can deal with the next stressor that comes your way.  It may not make you happy today, it may not even make you happy tomorrow, but it can help you navigate through sadness to a time when happiness is possible again. 

Maybe one day I’ll be one of those beaming, beautiful running women like those in the pages of Women’s Health (minus the six pack and $90 sports bra knowing my genetics and finances…) but for now I’ll settle for what I am: a grieving mama just trying to carry on.

My Body, Herself

I remember feeling the need to blow off some steam during pregnancy and since soothing myself with a glass of wine was not an option I turned mostly to exercise.  When I was worried about not knowing enough about childbirth or childcare I would turn on a pregnancy or mom-based podcast and run or walk around the neighborhood.  Fear of not being strong enough to get through labor was soothed by strength training.  When I needed to figure out how exactly to move about and get comfortable in my ever changing body I turned to yoga.
Once I learned we were having a daughter I imagined how lovely it would be to teach her how to be comfortable in her own skin since I spent majority of the first three decades of my life uncomfortable in my own. I wanted her to learn to move because it feels good, not because it burns calories. I looked forward to teaching her about nourishing and taking care of her body because it took me so long to be able to do that for myself.
I’ll admit I started down the path of exercise and nutrition not because I wanted to be healthier but because I wanted to be skinnier. Growing up as a dancer with short legs and a naturally curvy body I was never the skinniest girl in the room. In college I envied the handful of girls in my program who were able to maintain a slim physique while eating burgers and drinking beer. I found it easiest to maintain a weight I could live with by existing on microwaved egg whites, saltines, lots of coffee, and consuming Splenda like it was its own food group. I went to the gym every day not because I enjoyed how it felt but because I wanted to look good in a leotard. Weight loss was the main goal, stress relief and strength building were just consolation prizes. Life continued much in the same way when I moved to New York after college but somewhere along the way I had a paradigm shift. I began focusing on exercising to be strong and healthy rather than skinny. I began eating in ways that gave me energy and nourished my body rather than starved it. This continued in Chicago as I dove further into my career in the fitness industry and in many ways still continues today.
When I became pregnant the worry that I wouldn’t be able to handle the physical changes that came along with it was always in the back of my mind. What worried me most was the loss of control. No matter how healthy I ate or how much activity I performed my weight would still be on an upward trend for nine months. At the beginning of the first trimester I read a book called “Does this Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat” to come to terms with these changes but after a while I became less concerned about my weight. The awe for what was happening inside my body took over and knowing that I was nourishing my growing daughter with every bite I took made eating more satisfying (at least after the first trimester when most things made me want to throw up). My appreciation for what exercise could accomplish grew once weight loss was completely taken out of the equation. It became another way of taking care of and connecting with my daughter and also offered a release when stress got the best of me.
In yoga the asanas exist to burn off energy and make the body strong and flexible so one can sit comfortably in meditation for longer periods of time. In a larger sense movement of any kind allows us to burn off stress and tension to be able to sit more comfortably with whatever is going on. Never have I experienced this more strongly than in the weeks since Eve’s death. The particular pain of a losing a baby has left me with an astonishing variety of emotions to work through, burn off, and eventually learn to sit with. My fight or flight response has been so strong and constant that without exercise I think I would internally combust and turn into a giant puddle of cortisol. My relationship with my body has become infinitely more complex. On one hand I am amazed at its ability to grow a baby and bounce back from a strange and painful labor and delivery process. On the other hand I am angry because the umbilical cord that my body created to lovingly nourish my daughter and give her life killed her in the end. The illusion I had of complete control over this body I inhabit has increasingly diminished. The most I can hope for is to be at peace with it.
At first I thought it an unbelievably cruel twist of fate to be left with a postpartum body and no baby. Was it punishment for the years I spent obsessing over every calorie and movement of the scale? Though I still find it difficult I now view it as a challenge instead of a punishment. It is the ultimate test of being comfortable in my own skin. It is forcing me to relinquish control. It is exactly what I wanted to teach Eve had she been able to inhabit her body outside of the space of my womb. It is what she is now teaching me instead.
When we returned home from the hospital, amidst all the painful planning that involved funeral homes and cemeteries and in the ultimate act of love, my husband found time to plan an anniversary trip to the island where we honeymooned. It was a strange juxtaposition, my postpartum body against the Caribbean beach, but as I glanced down at my belly I was surprised to find the usual shame was replaced by a strange sense of pride. My not yet faded vena cava was like a sign reading “Eve Was Here” and for that moment I was at peace with my imperfections.
I think about who Eve would have grown up to be every single day. I look to the memory of her little body for clues. There are so few things I know…she had a lot of curly dark hair, was on the bigger side and tall for infant standards, and had exceptionally large feet. Would she have wished for her dark curly hair to be straight and blonde? Would she have preferred to be shorter or have a smaller shoe size? I hope she would have seen herself through the eyes of her mom and dad; a perfect, heart-achingly beautiful little girl. I wish I could have had the chance to teach her how to love her body but the roles have been reversed. Every deep yogic breath, every delicious stretch, every powerful leap and bound is infused with the essence of Eve. This body I inhabit was her home and out of respect for her I will take care of it, aching empty arms and all.

Run, Laura, Run

Seven weeks ago today I delivered Eve.  It was the first and last time I held my daughter and the most physically and emotionally challenging day of my life.  It has surprised me in the weeks since how much my emotions have had an effect on my body and vice versa.  I’ve always believed that the mind-body connection is strong but wasn’t sure if it would somehow be severed during the recent upheaval that has brought me to this current place in my life. The fact that I have found movement to be healing at a time when there is so much healing to do is comforting. It is good to know that what I have preached for so long still holds true when so many other beliefs have been severely altered.
During the first week after delivery I started with some gentle stretching and short walks which quickly turned into full yoga practices and long walks. Soon after I returned to running.
Though I run just about every day I have never really considered myself a runner. I rarely keep track of speed or distance and more often than not don’t really know where I am going to run to when I step out the door.
I used to worry if running was doing more harm than good. I’ve done the research and am well aware of the risks of constant repetitive impact on muscles and joints. I’m in the middle of reading “Born to Run” in which the author studies why some people can run safely while others are destined for injury. After weighing the risks I’ve come to the conclusion to acknowledge the risks and do it anyway.
The release I get from running trumps concern about potential injury right now. After my first run postpartum I told my husband I might just “Forrest Gump” it and run until I couldn’t anymore. All of the separate emotions that make up the larger entity of my grief fuel this desire to run. Fueled by anger my run is fast and furious. Out of despair it is slow and steady, complimented by sad music and sunglasses to camouflage the tears. Sometimes they are short, other times they are long. Sometimes I go with my dog, other times I go alone. When I am running I don’t have to make small talk with the neighborhood moms wearing their infants in a baby bjorn or pushing them in a stroller. I can speed up to a sprint when passing the playground where I’ll never get to push my little girl in a swing. When I am out running the clouds part for a bit and upon returning home the present seems more bearable and the future less daunting. What I’ve found most healing about running or any type of movement is that it makes me feel alive when most of the time I feel like a large part of me has died along with Eve.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past seven weeks is that being careful only gets you so far. At one point I was sure that if I went above and beyond to have the healthiest pregnancy possible everything would turn out well in the end when in reality there were still many factors beyond my control. As much as running may be risky for my joints it is therapy for my mind and like Forrest Gump if my body says it’s time to turn around and go home I will do just that. For now I will keep on running and though I will never be pushing Eve in the jogging stroller we had purchased for her arrival I’ll forever be holding her in my heart.

A Tribute to Eve

As I lie here in my hospital bed several hours from being discharged with the hard knowledge I will be leaving here having gone through labor but will not be bringing home a baby I wonder what the next 24 hours, or for that matter all my days here on out, will bring. I started out the year 2013 pregnant, miscarried early on with my first, and after a D and E and one cycle got pregnant again with my second. As I mentioned in my last post this second pregnancy has been almost flawless. I kept working, teaching, and training until less than a week before my due date. I stayed strong and relieved stress by practicing yoga each day, strength training many days a week, and going on daily run/walks to keep my endurance up. Although I went past my due date I felt strong up until the very end. Unfortunately the end looked very different from what I had imagined.

On New Year’s Eve I was 40 weeks and two days pregnant and my husband and I celebrated the day by running some last-minute errands for the nursery and making last-minute preparations. My husband made my favorite half spinach pesto half spinach sauce and cheese pizza with a whole wheat crust (our newly nicknamed “Christmas Pizza”) and the baby went wild for it inside my belly as I ate. We joked about her Herculean strength and about how the pizza would surely induce labor later that evening.

The next morning started out like any other, I took my dog out for a run/walk. After breakfast we all cuddled on the couch for the Rose Bowl parade and I noticed the baby seemed quiet. I prodded my belly for a bit and did feel slight movement. I thought she might be engaging her head in the birth canal and ready to come out since at our last appointment the nurse assured us movement would slow with time.

A few hours later I was still concerned so my husband encouraged me to call the emergency obgyn number to get in touch with a doctor. I did and the doctor recommended lying still and drinking something with glucose. If we felt any movement within that hour we could relax. I did this and felt a few small kicks. Though still less than usual movement was movement and we could wait and see if things picked up. I took a warm bath and did some prenatal yoga to calm myself down hoping this would relax me enough to go into labor and meet my baby girl that night.

After no movement during dinner we tried the rest and glucose test again and felt nothing. At this point I called the doctor again and he told me to come to the hospital to get hooked up to a fetal monitor.

Shaking, I anxiously got in the car and my husband drove me over. We were taken to a triage room and they checked the baby for a heartbeat. For the first time since that fateful day during our first pregnancy the nurse couldn’t pick one up. Different nurses came with different devices but none worked. The doctor was called in to make the final and terminal announcement: there was no longer a heartbeat to be found, our baby was dead.

I was totally in shock as we discussed what needed to be done. For some reason I had assumed there was a way to quickly and surgically remove the baby. This is typically not the case, it became clear that to avoid unsafe complications I needed to go into labor soon and birth my daughter vaginally.

I began the medical induction process late that night and was hooked up to an IV. I spent that night awake even though the nurses worked on easing pain and inducing sleep with morphine.

Family from both sides arrived the next day as the labor process continued. The forced labor advanced and contractions became more intense. Food was out of the question during the process as I vomited out whatever was put in me. A saving grace to get me through these harder contractions were yoga poses. The handful I tried with the help of my husband allowed me to get some release and I was thankful that daily practice made them possible even when my body was not working optimally. The breathing I had been practicing certainly came in handy for handling the pain throughout.

Over the next night the real contractions began and I could tell labor was progressing faster. Again, yoga poses and breath got me through the toughest part and even helped me to hold still when receiving the epidural.

As labor further progressed there was the slow realization that as the induction medication was being increased the pain relief medication was not working. My husband helped me through many painful hours of constant contracting with barely a break. It was at this time I became most grateful for the strength in my upper body. With the epidural numbing me in some areas but not the ones that saved me from feeling the intense medically induced contractions my arms were essential in changing positions which helped get me through this difficult period of labor. Thankfully it was agreed the epidural needed to be reset and afterwards things got much more bearable and labor progressed as it should have.

The final stage made me so grateful that I had kept up with my strength, endurance, and flexibility training. All three were needed for the final pushing phase. Though my body was tired from days of medically forced labor, no sleep, a fever of 103, and no food save for many cups of ice with water and Gatorade, I was able to gather all my strength to finish what needed to be done. It took 30 minutes or so of pushing to get my 8lb 8oz 23 inch long little girl into the world. The mental toughness from my endurance training allowed me to push knowing that there would be no happy ending on the other side, the breathing and relaxation techniques I learned in yoga helped me to work efficiently within the moment, and the strength I had in my abdominals and legs made each push more productive and the whole process faster. I attribute flexibility for not needing a single stitch postpartum, even after Eve’s shoulders got stuck.

My daughter Eve looked healthy, strong, and beautiful in her “sleeping” state. As I held her sobbing I wished more than anything that my actions during pregnancy could have had more control over a favorable outcome. The doctors have assured me that there was nothing more I could have done to prevent this senseless tragedy. Like any mother in my situation I am finding it extremely hard to not blame myself for what happened. The most I can hope for is that little Eve enjoyed her time inside me, the bonding we did each evening doing prenatal yoga in the nursery, the long walks and jogs where she got to react to the sounds of Dee our family dog, the classes I taught where she danced to the music along with me, and the quiet times we meditated together imagining what her life would be like once she was here. Never did I imagine what happened but what mother could?

I’ve learned the hard truth that a fit pregnancy does not guarantee a perfect outcome in the end. It can however keep you strong to deal with whatever changes come your way, both the good and the bad. I thought I’d need strength to have the ability to bounce back physically in order to take the best care of my baby and get back to my job. As it turns out I will need more strength than I ever thought possible when I am released today and in the days ahead and though I am heartbroken down to my core I am grateful for having the coping mechanisms I do to deal with things in a healthy way.

I hope Eve knew how much her mommy loved her and tried her best to keep her happy, healthy, and safe during the short time she was here. She’ll be in my heart forever and always, a humbling reminder that even though a healthy lifestyle will not make us invincible or immune to life’s tragedies it is helpful for giving us the strength to get through them, however long that road may be.

40 Weeks of Fitness

This blog has been dormant for some time.   Preparations for imagebaby and maternity leave have left me with little time to write which explains this post today, December 29th, my due date. The feeling I have today kind of reminds me of a Saturday spent rushing around preparing for dinner guests. You spend the day cooking and cleaning, hop in the shower, and have just enough time to dry your hair before their E.T.A. Just as you hurry downstairs ready to greet them you receive a call that they are running behind and won’t be arriving for another hour. Suddenly you have all this time you didn’t expect to have and it is both freeing and disconcerting at the same time. That is how I feel today except my little dinner guest probably won’t be arriving in an hour, the only food she’ll require is my breast milk, and instead of spending the extra time rearranging a tray of hors d’oeuvres I’m writing a new post.

Months ago I expressed my desire to have a “fit pregnancy”. I am happy to report that through a mixture of perseverance and good luck I think I’ve done it. It’s been 40 weeks and I am still running, lifting weights, practicing yoga, and feeling pretty decent overall for a big ol’ pregnant lady.

I’d been teaching fitness classes and training clients in much the same capacity until I started maternity leave on Wednesday and am pleased to report that all 7 doctors and the one nurse/midwife I’ve seen have been very happy with my progress and the progress of my yet to be born little girl. I am hoping all the hard work pays off in labor but if not it’s definitely paid off in pregnancy. I’ve spent way too much time looking at blog posts of active pregnant women for ideas on how to maintain fitness during pregnancy so on the off chance you stumble across this post while scouring the internet for inspiration here are some things I did to help me survive (and sometimes even thrive) during the past 9 months:

-Surf (the internet):  The ability to google any pregnancy related question that pops into your head is both a blessing and a curse.  However, on those mornings when I doubted myself and wondered if it’s really safe to run or stand on my head being x amount of weeks along doing a little internet research and finding numerous studies regarding the benefits of exercise during pregnancy helped calm my fears.  (Of course I also checked with my doctor at every appointment to obtain their blessing to continue with my desired level of activity.)

-Multitask:  There are numerous podcasts available on the topic of pregnancy and motherhood and best of all they are free!  Putting a few on my Ipod or phone to listen to while going on a run or walk proved much more enjoyable and beneficial than hunkering down on the couch with What to Expect When Your Expecting.  If there is a specific book you are interested in consider downloading an audio version so you can get a workout in and gain some knowledge at the same time.

-Submit to your inner stalker: There are many blogs out there devoted to the topic of having a healthy pregnancy and many bloggers that post week to week updates documenting their exercise, diet, pictures of their bump, and other interesting tidbits of their journey. Though this “blogger” spent much more time reading than writing this pregnancy I tip my hat to those ladies who put themselves out there for the rest of us. Google “fit pregnancy blog” followed by your current week whenever you want to get some inspiration and fulfill your social media stalker tendencies. I did this at least once a day (well, maybe actually multiple times a day….)

-Find a new release: You can’t counteract the stresses of working during pregnancy at happy hour (at least without garnering a lot of unwanted attention from bar patrons and co-workers) so why not explore a new form of release through yoga and meditation? You’ll feel better physically, learn some breathing exercises you can take with you into the delivery room, and relieve stress to benefit both you and baby. I’ve been retreating to the nursery (formerly my yoga room) whenever I feel the crankiness of pregnancy hormones, am looking to alleviate some pregnancy discomfort, have trouble sleeping, or find myself worrying about labor and beyond. Basically I’ve spent the majority of the last 9 months in the nursery doing yoga and meditating……

-Don’t be afraid to kick some ass (if you are feeling it): Every pregnancy is different but personally I needed a little Yang to go along with my Yin. I love long walks, yoga, and meditation but still felt like keeping up with some more intense forms of exercise in the form of heavy lifting, interval training, and running. That said I firmly believe in listening to your body. After getting the go ahead from your doctor only you can decide what feels right and if you can’t quite decipher what you body is trying to tell you consult a fitness professional.

I would go on but this little girl in my stomach is telling me to get up and move. In my experience one of the biggest benefits to maintaining an active pregnancy is that you grow your very own little personal trainer inside your body. This little one won’t let me be lazy for very long and shows her discontent with a few swift kicks to the ribs and forceful punches to the bladder. I am curious to see if this trend continues after her debut but until then I am off to celebrate this due date with a nice long (and hopefully labor inducing?!?!) walk. Wish me luck!

The Fabulous Truth About Fat

Remember when fat-free=healthy?  Unless you were living under a rock throughout the 90’s you probably recall the popularity of fat-free Snackwell’s cookies, fat-free Entenmann’s cakes, and fat free Kraft cheese singles.  Once under the assumption that fat would make us fat most Americans shunned it in the name of health and fitness.  Nowadays we realize that fat is an important component of a healthy diet and not only fine in moderation but necessary for overall wellness, as long as we are consuming the unsaturated kind.  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do the body a world of good, some of which starts before we even leave the womb!  Healthy fats are vital for brain and retinal development particularly in the third trimester.  Throughout the rest of life they help us absorb essential vitamins that promote nervous system health and reduce our risk of heart disease.  The easiest way to consume healthy fat is by eating fatty fish but for those of you who are not fish-fans fear not.  The following are some unlikely foods that will help you reach your daily allowance:

-Chia Seeds: Chia seeds contain nearly 5,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per ounce, making them one of the most concentrated sources.  Though more research needs to be done on their benefits it is becoming clear that they are a worthy addition to a healthy diet.  You can read more about Chia here.

-Spinach: Thanks to Popeye, we’ve all know since the age of four that spinach is a healthy food.  What you might not know is that it is a good source of omega-3.  Spinach, along with its close cousins kale and collard greens, contain about 100 milligrams in each half cup serving.

-Tofu: With its health halo this hippie food and vegetarian staple is another food most of us would label as healthy but did you know it was a source of omega-3.?   Research has shown that soy isoflavones and proteins lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, making it beneficial for reducing heart disease risk.

And should you be looking to replace your Snackwell’s or Entemann’s dessert:

Make some healthy oatmeal cookies!  Oatmeal has been shown helpful in lowering LDL levels.

Indulge in some dark chocolate!  Dark chocolate has been shown to boost HDL levels.

Or combine oatmeal and dark chocolate with this recipe for maximum benefit.

And if you get nostalgic for the 90’s do your body a favor and bust a move to this song rather than reverting back to your fat-free ways.

 

Humble Pie: The New Superfood

About a month ago my husband and I attended the wedding of a a couple of friends.  It was a beautiful summer day at a ranchImage high up in the mountains of Colorado.  We had started out in Denver and had been enjoying exploring the city, tasting healthy food, running, hiking, practicing yoga, and (pregnant, sober) bar-hopping.  Being over a month into my second trimester I was especially enjoying a resurgence of energy and feeling pretty much like myself again aside from my Buddha-esque profile.  As we drove two hours into the mountains to the wedding destination I was looking forward to celebrating the marriage of my husband’s best friend and being a part of the classy New York Time’s covered event.  After a lovely ceremony the time came for cocktail hour.  We chatted with friends as my husband sipped his bourbon and I my water.  As I boasted relayed to another guest how wonderful I’d been feeling despite being pregnant my eyes started to gray out and moments later I crashed to the ground, narrowly avoiding the metal heat lamp behind me.  I came to surrounded by three nurses, my very concerned husband, and about 98 other wedding guests.  Needless to say I was mortified and more than a little freaked out.  As I hid in my hotel room I was comforted by the movement I felt in my belly, especially since my husband was able to feel it for the first time.  It was good to have some reassurance that things were ok in there despite recent events.

One thing I’ve learned about health and fitness in general is that although it does wonders for your confidence, it’s best to check your ego at the door.  Though I never pegged myself as a “fainter” I for sure would thought if such a thing were to happen I’d be squatting with a heavy barbell on my back, not standing with a glass of water in my hand.  Go figure.  As much as I hate to admit it, humbling experiences are not only beneficial but crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  The following are some positives to remember when you experience one on your fitness path:

-They remind us to be mindful of our body: encountering an accident or injury often shifts focus internally, forcing us to become more aware of our deeper physical state.  It’s easy in fitness to get caught up in external goals (lifting heavier, running faster, still being able to kick ass with a baby in your belly) but not always as easy to recognize what’s driving us internally to accomplish these things.  No one ever embarks on a fitness plan in an attempt to feel worse but if we are not in tune with what’s going on internally that might be the end result.  Look at an injury or accident as a wake up call, a chance to refine your skills and accomplish your goals in a healthier and more productive way.

-They reignite our desire to keep continue with our goals: the upside of being an underdog once in a while is the desire to come back even stronger, and who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

-They make us better teachers: the tough thing about never encountering a setback is that you don’t know how to help others to overcome them.  Humbling experiences make us more compassionate and helpful human beings.

-They make us more resilient: The more times you fall down the better you become at getting back up.  Sooner or later falling down doesn’t phase you any more because you realize it is just part of the process.

-They make for good stories: If nothing else you can use your humbling experience to entertain friends at a dinner party or as material for a blog post…..

Enjoy the days when a great workout makes you feel on top of the world but when something happens that stops you in your tracks remember: A.) Failing is good for your health and B.) Humble pie is part of a healthy diet.

The Glass Woman

I found out I was pregnant for the first time right before New Year’s.  On New Year’s Day  my husband and I went to the book store and bought What to Expect While Your Expecting and a few other literary gems.  I spent the day pouring over these books and after a few hours was amazed at how many things could go wrong.  Consequently, I wondered if the best course of action might be to stay on that couch surrounded by pillows for the next 9 months to keep anything from jeopardizing the pregnancy.  Since my job requires constant motion this was a precarious situation.  I grew nervous about my own exercise routine as well as the classes I needed to teach that week.  Would I cook the embryo by raising my body temperature or shake it loose by standing on my head?  Did my run that morning already dislodge it?  A need for control and the fear of doing something wrong was overriding my professional knowledge, common sense, and intuition.  It took losing the first pregnancy after being extremely careful to realize that no matter what actions I take there are many forces beyond my control.  It is unlikely to lose a pregnancy by moving the wrong way.  Flash forward 6 months later to 23 weeks into my second pregnancy and I am pretty much keeping to my normal routine with a few modifications.  This time around I let listening to my body and good common sense guide me and (knock on wood) both the baby and I are healthy and right on track.  Here is what I’ve learned first hand about exercise and pregnancy so far:

1.) Do it!: Even on the days I felt pretty gross during the first trimester a little movement went a long way.  It was one of the few things that made me feel human again (that and TONS of sleep).

2.) First trimester=green light for activity: You can’t “shake the baby loose” “squish it” or in other words harm the baby with a reasonable amount exercise.  Most pregnant women aren’t up to killing it at the gym during this time but if you feel well enough to keep moving through your normal routine don’t feel like you have to downshift right away.  Rest when you need it , check in with your body more frequently, but don’t stop completely unless it’s a medical recommendation.

3.) Your body will tell you when it’s time to modify: I’ve learned this one the hard way a few times and lived to tell the story.  Your body will tell you when something doesn’t feel right.  There may come a point when you physically cannot lie face down on your stomach or exercising on your back starts making you feel faint.  You will eventually need to change the way you move to accommodate your changing body.  Your body will let you know when that time comes.

4.) Train in the second trimester for the third: Though you may not be training for the Olympics you are indeed training for one of the greatest endurance events of all time: giving birth!  Look at the second trimester as a chance to get prepared for it.  Strengthening your entire body while you have the energy and ability during the second trimester will only help when things get tougher in the third.

If you need further motivation check out this article.  You may want to print it out the next time you are working out and some ill-informed individual asks if you “really should be doing that”.   Yes, you really should.