I am not someone who deals with things not going as planned. Going on bedrest for the final weeks of my pregnancy was one of the last things I had hoped to experience in my tumultuous pregnancy read part 2, here). However, I was REALLY thrown for a loop when my son was born 6 1/2 weeks early and I became the mom of a preemie.
It was the night of February 15th. Still sick from anti-seizure medications and lying in my hospital room, numb to pretty much everything except the continuous sound of the alarm from my IV that the nurse could not quite figure out how to stop, I remember trying to get out of the hospital bed. As a PT, I knew getting up and walking was very important. I sat on the edge of the bed, dizzy as could be (WOW, those medications were strong!), stood up for about a second, and fell right back on the bed. There was no way I was going to stand up, let alone walk down the hall. I stayed in my bed the rest of the night. I never even saw my newborn son until the next afternoon.
The best words to describe my feelings at the time were: deflated, confused, emotionally exhausted.
Luckily the effects of the medication were short-lived and I was able to get up the next day and go home a few days after that. But, something was wrong – my baby was not going home with me! There I was, all my best intentions and plans destroyed - I never even made it to my scheduled childbirth class! I had a baby in the NICU, I was de-conditioned from 3 weeks of bedrest, I wanted to breastfeed and wasn’t sure how I was going to pump so much while he was fed through a tube and was not strong enough yet to latch on.
I spent the next month pumping every 3 hours around the clock. Each day my husband or a friend would drive me to the hospital until I was able to drive myself so I could spend the day with my son. It was a surreal experience: sitting in the NICU surrounded by incubators, cribs and machines. I would hold him, sing songs, put him down and just watch him sleep. I couldn’t help but blame myself and my failing body for putting him in that situation.
Talk about mom guilt!
Meanwhile, I was trying my best to recover from surgery and the bedrest that preceded it. I had little energy and my only physical activity was walking to and from the hospital parking lot. I wasn’t sure how I was going to return to exercise. I had been working out pretty much daily my whole life and even through my pregnancy. I wasn’t sure how my C-Section was going to affect my abdominal strength or whether my small diastasis recti was going to heal.
THANK GOODNESS I WAS A TRAINED PROFESSIONAL IN WOMEN’S HEALTH PHYSICAL THERAPY!
After my experience with low back pain during my pregnancy (see Part 1, here) I knew my physician was not going to refer me to another PT. I logically knew what to do but I felt alone. I felt guilty thinking about healing myself when I had a baby in the NICU. Surely everyone would think I was selfish! I can’t imagine how it would have felt if I didn’t know what to do, or who to ask when it came to exercise after baby. Would I have thought all these fears were normal, and I would just have to go it alone without help? Would I be able to recover? Even then, despite all my knowledge, I was still pretty surprised by how long it took to recover after childbirth.
Recovery from a C-Section is typically 6 weeks. It is a major abdominal surgery. I knew there were certain exercises I could do but I did not want to push it. I was still pretty weak from bedrest. I started with basic exercises to address mobility and basic motor control in my low back, hips and pelvis. I started to build up my upper body strength and address my pelvic floor function (just because you have a C-Section does not mean you are not at risk for pelvic floor dysfunction). Focusing on basic exercises until I was ready to walk and do more activity helped get me ready to participate in higher level exercise. I was grateful for my PT brain that helped me stay slow and steady when I wanted to push ahead.
I set a lofty goal for myself after my son was born. I think having hope that life would one day get back to “normal” got me through that crazy time while my son was in the NICU. Instead of focusing non-stop on my mom guilt and fear of the unknown, I was able to think about what life was going to be like when I had my baby at home. 13 months later, I ran my first half marathon. I recognize that this is not a goal that everyone wants to or is able to achieve. However, it was MY goal. It kept me motivated and consistent with my exercise. It gave me a plan to progress slowly over time and let me feel like I accomplished something. Goals do not need to be so big that they are unattainable but should be challenging enough that they help you remain focused, get help when needed, and reach them in a good amount of time. While life often takes you someplace unexpected, having goals to fall back on keep you striving for something, no matter what that goal may be. And the ultimate happy ending: I became pregnant again not long after running that race, and my second pregnancy was luckily with much less trauma.
Can you relate to this story – either the struggle or the triumph? I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a fitness goal after having a baby? Are you not sure where to start? Please connect with us to set up a postnatal evaluation at email@example.com
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