“9 months on, 9 months off” they say. Well, some of them say, anyway. I’ve found with each subsequent bebe those goalposts creep back a month or two, so let’s just say as Zelie rounds the bases to month 9 ex utero, I’m still looking and feeling much of the effort it took to bring Zelie earthside.
However, some vast improvements have been made. I want to record them here for posterity’s sake, and because in many ways I felt like I was charting my own course for recovery and healing, belonging as I do now to a rather exclusive club of moms of many.
Even my doctor, a nice pro-life guy who delivers plenty of babies a year and is comfortable around an NFP chart, was relatively clueless about what I could do to speed the healing process, to correct hormone imbalances, and to restore my body to a state of reasonable functionality.
What I’m about to share with you is my experience alone, and I’m not a doctor or any kind of medical professional, so grain of pink himalayan salt and all, okay?
First things first. I’ve had a contentious relationship with food since forever. If I could turn back the clock, I would have sworn off the Chic-fil-a milkshakes and the bags and bags of white cheddar popcorn I consumed this time around. I think Zelie is at least 30% popcorn cheese on a cellular level. Her pregnancy was a rough ride emotionally. We were living in a friend’s house for the first 6 months of it and commuting an hour each way to school. In my spare time I enjoyed meeting up with our realtor after a 55 mile drive with a carful of kids and looking at dozens and dozens of houses which for various reasons did not work out. 70, to be precise. So yes, I did a bit – a lot – of stress eating.
Having always gained massively with each baby, I figured weight was weight, whether or not I was working out and eating well. This premise proved faulty, as I would discover in the harsh hospital lighting on day one post delivery. I was at my all time highest weight, and had delivered a modest 7 pound peanut to show for it.
I waited the requisite 6 weeks postpartum and then started watching my calories, cutting back on sugar (more on this later), and began a swimming regimen that had me accumulating 400-500 laps a week. I kept this up until about 5 months postpartum at which point I had lost an additional (wait for it) … 3 pounds.
If you do the math you’ll realize that 7 pounds plus 3 pounds is 10, and having racked up something north of 60, I was…not doing great. I brought my concerns to one doctor who suggested that perhaps I was eating more than 1200 calories and just didn’t realize it, because “apps aren’t all that accurate” and suggested I could up my gym regimen to 7 days a week instead of 5.
Long story short, but I eventually ended up at a women’s health care clinic that specializes in whole woman care. They did some targeted hormone testing and identified a deficiency that was making it almost impossible to lose weight, and which also contributed to anxiety and depression.
I also found an incredible physical therapist who specializes in postpartum recovery and pelvic floor injuries, just from reaching out to my circle of local friends. As frustrating as it was to have to hunt and peck for the right doctors and the right diagnoses, I feel exceptionally blessed to live in a big city with a wide array of healthcare options, and to have good health insurance to be able to defray some of the cost. I do wish some of the less “mainstream” therapies were covered, but I’d be remiss to not acknowledge my privilege. Do I wish postpartum PT and hormone assessments were standard of care for new moms? You betcha. But for now I’m just glad to have found some good help!
The last piece of the puzzle for me has been diet. A lifelong yo-yo dieter, I’ve tried all the things. Atkins. South Beach. Weight Watchers. Whole 30. LightWeigh. Plant based. Low fat. You name it, I’ve done it. I had a pretty good handle on things by my mid 20s. I was exercising regularly, eating moderately, and had, well, the metabolism of a twentysomething who’d never been pregnant. I could kinda eat whatever I wanted, and I did. After spending ages 15-23 deep in the throes of an eating disorder, it was a relief to have a less fractious relationship with food.
Once we got married and the babies started coming fast and furious, I remember being shocked by how swiftly and with what vengence the eating-disordered thinking returned once the scale started moving north as I grew our babies.
Nobody had warned me how triggering it would be to see my weight skyrocket over those 9 months of pregnancy, and my provider at the time kind of waved my fears aside and encouraged me that eating intuitively and moderately was good for me and good for baby. If I could do things over again, I’d escort my 27 year-old-self straight to therapy as soon as that second pink line appeared, but hindsight is 20/20, and as it turns out, I’ve learned and grown tremendously not in spite of motherhood, but through it.
I can honestly say that today, at age 35, and still significantly heavier than I’d like to be, I am more at peace with my body than I have been since childhood.
I can see the goodness of my childrens’ existence, acknowledging the sacrificial love that motherhood requires (in whatever form it may take for each particular woman), and the devastating unhappiness so many women feel when confronted with the disparity between their actual bodies and the idealized image the culture projects on us.
For some of us, the sacrifice is excess weight we never wanted to gain and struggle mightily to lose. For others it might be a flaring autoimmune disease, an injury, a tragic loss, the burden of infertility. Motherhood is costly, at any rate, and none of us can predict the cost ahead of time.
But it’s so worth it. And as I’m discovering after this magical fifth baby, God heals on His timeline, not ours. As I find myself making peace with my body at long last and in spite of its many imperfections, I marvel at the worldly illogic of it, that having a larger than usual family would result in better body image and deep healing. In God’s economy, the numbers work differently.
But back to the recovery process. If you follow me on Instagram you know that the biggest win for me the past few months has been discovering and implementing the Keto diet. Again with the disclaimers, but I’m not a healthcare professional, so do your own research, etc.
In a nutshell, Keto is almost an inversion of the FDA food pyramid. It’s fat focused with moderate protein and low carbs. Under 20 grams per day is my goal, and most days I end up around there. It’s no grains, no sugar, and no starchy veggies or sugary fruits. It is lots of eggs, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, avocados, bacon, sausage, steak, chicken, fish, shrimp, full fat dairy, and a little bit of nuts. If that sounds restrictive, I suppose it was for the first week, but when I looked at the scale and found 4 pounds missing after months of stubborn inactivity, I was hooked.
The best part for me has been the weight loss (22 pounds in 9 weeks so far) but the surprisingly close second has been a radical reorientation of my relationship with food. I no longer crave specific foods, nor do I struggle much resisting “off limits” foods. For a girl who loves to eat, this feels like a miracle.
And I do still enjoy food! But now I enjoy food that makes me feel good before, during, and after eating it. I have seen a 180 degree turnaround in my energy levels between meals. Hanger is gone. I feel satiated and content for long stretches between eating, and have even been able to incorporate a little bit of intermittent fasting for the last month. For someone who used to be faint and weak from hunger on Ash Wednesdays and Good Fridays, this feels huge.
Do I think everyone should eat this way? I really don’t know. I think it is a healthy and helpful way to eat for people who struggle with hormone issues and blood sugar and certain mental health conditions, but I also know people who feel great on the Whole 30, which is decidedly higher carb.
I have a working theory that perhaps there is no one “right” way to eat, and that there are all kinds of makes and models of human beings out there. Some run on gas and others on diesel. I feel like I’ve found my perfect fuel, and that makes me feel great. I don’t force my kids to eat this way – I’ll often make rice or beans or gf pasta to serve alongside whatever fat + protein + veggie we’re having for dinner, but overall it has tremendously cut sugar from our diets. And we’re seeing some great immune system benefits to that.
If you are interested in anything I’ve shared here today, feel free to message me privately over at IG or drop a comment or an email. I’m an open e-book, as always. And if you’re a mama trying to get your groove back after baby, give yourself plenty of time and grace. You’re doing God’s work, and He will not abandon you in it.