Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

March 19, 2001

Back in the saddle again

Not too long ago, I was nearing the end of a five-mile run when I realized something: I wasn’t tired. In fact, I thought, I can speed up a bit.

And so I did, marveling at my strength, my form and the incredible day it was turning out to be.

Not long after that, I heard a woman huffing hard behind me. Though I would rather the person passing me be a strapping young man, preferably with winged heels, I didn’t mind being beaten by a woman. Well, I didn’t mind much. And I figured this young goddess was lean and fit. A modern Atalanta. Probably a college athlete, preparing for an important competition. Good for her.

Then I heard a rapid little thwap-thwap accompanying the heavy breathing. Thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap, it went. Thwap-thwap.

Curious, I turned around to see the source of this strange noise. That was a mistake. I saw a pair of tiny dogs pulling not a college athlete, but a woman easily 10 years older than I am. The dogs’ little gnome faces looked like they were laughing at me, the bastards. And soon, they were over the horizon.

Thus ended my fantasy of being completely back in top shape. It was only a fantasy, after all. You don’t get in Baywatch form by only running and lifting weights a few times a week.

Doing more with Lucy has proved to be very tough. There are so many things to fold into the day: household chores, writing deadlines, doctor’s appointments, dog walks, grocery-store trips. And this does not begin to take into account all the extra invitations I get to do fun things because I’m no longer “working.”

Before Lucy, I could take care of the business of living whenever I wanted, which created the illusion of more time. (Really, it was just that I had more control.)

Life after Lucy, on the other hand, is a balancing act. There are the unscheduled inevitabilities that have to get taken care of right away — things like wet diapers, and heart-felt meltdowns when she’s really tired. And then there are the things I want to do, or need to do to preserve my sanity. If I don’t do them when I have a free five minutes, they’ll never get done.

Perpetual motion is the key, even if directed physical activity — like a nice, leisurely run — is a luxury.

Given that, I decided to be very happy I could power through a five-mile run. So what if I was slower than a pair of bedroom slippers on legs? I was running once again. I had taken on the challenge of pregnancy, and I survived.

Lots of women wonder what having a baby will do to their bodies. Though it varies from woman to woman, pregnancy will almost certainly never become a fad beauty treatment.

It can be the fast track to Dumpytown, what with all the puking, the stretch marks, the water retention and the good old-fashioned fat (euphemistically called “maternal reserves”). The few people who actually do look and feel good during pregnancy perpetuate it as the ultimate physical experience for women.

I will be polite and say they’re full of crackers. Being pregnant is really hard, even without complications like gestational diabetes or bed rest.

But before I had Lucy, I was counting on living the myth. And I rounded it out with some extra fantasies of the most vain nature.

For example, I read that nursing burned so much fat, many mothers actually emerged from the experience thinner than when they started. Because I knew I would be having children at some point in the near future, I let myself invest in some maternal reserves before actually conceiving. Lots of people prepare for childbirth by readying the nursery, or creating a will. I ate my way to the starting line. Those extra pounds would come right off, right?

The way I was planning it, my two-liter bottle abs would shrink into a six-pack within, oh, four weeks. What’s more, I was certain I would finally get that pair of sculpted arms I’d always wanted. I’d be carrying the baby around all day. What else could be the result? Linda Hamilton from The Terminator was my role model here. In T1, she was a little doughy. Just like me. In T2, after she had her baby, she was totally buff. (Never mind the fact she was also locked in an insane asylum and dodging a liquid metal robot bent on killing her. She had really, really great arms.)

What actually happened was that I was left with both maternal and paternal reserves. In addition to this, I had canine and feline reserves, lodged in my neck and stomach as though they had signed a long-term lease on the space. Because of this, I deeply regret my decision to wear a horizontally striped stretch top to a party the week after Lucy was born. The pictures will live on forever, and my stomach and arms are stretching those stripes so I look like I’m wearing a topographic map of the Rockies.

Six months and a few weeks later, I am finally able to wear an acceptable size of pants again. Note that I did not say my regular size. I am not there yet, and not certain that I ever will be. Evicting maternal reserves is harder than they say.

But I don’t really care. I have Lucy. I am back in shape. And I’ve learned a thing or two about what it means to have a baby.

A lot of people say it’s the ultimate physical experience for a woman. This is hooey, because it sends the message that once you’ve had a child, you’ve already done the best thing you can do with your body.

And that’s not really true. Yes, it’s a miracle that we can give birth. But the real miracle is the life that emerges, not the experience of being pregnant. If you’re lucky, like me, you get to experience it. But once you’ve conceived a child, it’s not a daily challenge to transform the cells into another human being. It just happens. It’s tiring, to be sure. And you have a responsibility to eat the right foods and avoid unhealthy things. Whether you like it or not, though, that baby is going to be born. You can’t skip a day of pregnancy like you can skip a workout.

And this is why there are lots of other physical experiences that can have just as much meaning as having a baby. They’re the experiences that require the courage and self-love to dream, and the discipline to make the right daily choices.

In this way, it’s amazing to be able to run a marathon. After my first one, I cried, and not because of the pain. When you experience something like this, your spirit feels bigger than what your body can contain. It is pure joy to have a body that does what you want it to do. The miracle is finding the discipline and strength to do it every day, or at least every chance you get. These are the moments that remind you you’re alive.

If there is a secret to living well, and to being the person you want to be, it is in realizing that you have power, and you have choices. It takes courage to do things that are difficult. It’s easy to find reasons why you can’t. But if you look at every moment as an opportunity, you’re halfway there.

One of my favorite quotes, by Goethe, is “Do not hurry; do not rest.”

And this pretty much sums up the way you balance having a child with having a life.

When you have a baby, you trade your nice, controlled life for one that is chaos and kisses. You can’t hurry, because babies have schedules of their own. You can’t rest, for the very same reason. If you’re ever going to be the person you dream of being, you learn to seize the moments you’re given. You don’t plan for the life you want to have. You live it, as best as you can.

It’s awfully hard. But it’s the most joyous misery there is.


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