Stuck In Bed, Thoughts Running Through My Head

I have no idea what is going on with my body right now.  Yes, this is an odd start to a imageimagepost on a fitness blog but it’s the truth. As I lie here in bed where I’ve held my position since Tuesday evening with a stomach virus I vaguely recall a woman who rarely had to use a sick day, never mind two in a row.  I type with one finger on my iPad in an attempt to be somewhat productive during this very unproductive time.  I am frustrated but remember a time when I would have been more frustrated.  When I would have expected to have much more control over this body of mine.  Before January 1st, before Eve.

The pictures above were taken on Eve’s last day.  It was New Year’s Day morning.  I put on my running gear and waddled downstairs to the guest room where my husband had retired to the night before (we found it was best for the both of us if we slept apart once I hit 40 weeks and my belly took up most of the bed).  I wanted him to take pictures to send to a few friends of me telling Eve to come out.  She was 3 days overdue and I was getting impatient.  Sometimes I look at those pictures and get angry at the woman in them. Why was I in such a hurry, why didn’t I relish those last moments with my baby girl?  I then think of a quote by the recently deceased Maya Angelou “I did what I knew how to do, now that I know better, I do better”.  Maybe being open to the lessons life is teaching us is all we can do.  The rest is doing the best we can with the knowledge we have.
I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out the healthiest way to cope with Eve’s death but have also realized there is no panacea for the pain. I’ve found many things that help but still nothing that cures. And that is ok. Instead of telling my body what it should do I am thinking it’s about time to let my body tell me what it needs and if sometimes that is to lie here and let it heal so be it. When faced with the fragility of life it doesn’t make sense to compromise health for the sake of what we think we should be doing, how we think we should feel, or what we think we should look like. The bottom line of any health and fitness program is to allow one to lead a happier and more productive life. There will be ups and downs but healthful habits can help us negotiate our way through them.
Yes it is frustrating that all the super foods I’ve been consuming have not turned me into superwoman and sticking to my workout routine did not protect me from picking up a virus I can only assume was waiting for me on one of the four planes I was on this weekend. At the same time it doesn’t frustrate me as much as it would have before that fatal day of January 1st. Maybe that is the gift that Eve has given me, to place more emphasis on what is than what should be. To take what comes and be able to work from there. To recognize that true health goes way beyond the physical. To appreciate that even when things are far from perfect just lying here breathing, something Eve never got to do, is a gift.

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.

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.