Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Expectation Vs Reality

I can't believe that there are so many pregnant women in my life right now - I have family and friends that are all expecting or have just given birth and it brings back memories of shall we say a rather tumultuous time in my life.

I think that motherhood has got to be one of the most levelling experiences that you'll ever go through - many of your preconceived ideas get completely blown out of the water when you meet your new little person - depending on the child (and nobody seems to focus on this at all pre birth) and the labour (you definitely focus on this pre birth), you may be in for an easy run or you may feel as though your worst nightmare has started.

Which leads me to the emotion of guilt. "Guilt" would have to be the badge of motherhood, once we become mothers we instantly start to harbour feelings of guilt - such as "I'm such an incompetent mother that I can't get my screamer to go to bed at the right time,", "I feel guilty that I'm so exhausted, I no longer look at my hubby as a sex object", "I feel guilty that I'm not doing it right", "am I a bad mother because I feel so resentful this child gets me up 4 times a night" etc etc. Any mother who is reading this right now would probably be thinking, "uh huh".

As they get older the guilt turns into, "am I a bad mother that I would prefer to go to the gym rather than do tuckshop?" (all of these mothers hang out in my classes). "Am I a bad mother that I forgot Johnny's excursion money?"

Guilt seems synonymous with motherhood - and this often spills over into the fitness and health arena. Guilt arises from scenarios as not immediately returning to pre pregnancy weight, having takeaway occasionally (when said mother is about to collapse from exhaustion) and looking sideways at another Mum that's perhaps had an easier baby and been able to start running again and feel hopeless that she's not got her act together "going back to the gym".

It seems painfully obvious that as a sisterhood, we need to do everything we can to help our new mothers and mothers that for whatever reason are doing it tough. Sometimes a mother doesn't want advice, she just wants a bit of empathy. She's not weak or lazy or ill disciplined, she's just learning how to cope with another human whose personality she knew little of until they turned up. She might be coping with recovery from a Caesarean, in the early years, she's probably coping with sleep deprivation and many many repeats of the Teletubbies (I always thought the Purple One with the handbag was very dodgy).

From a fitness perspective, being able to access a great creche at the gym is a lifesaver for many mothers. For me, the hour and a half I had to do a class and have an uninterrupted shower was a godsend. Of course, you may not get this time if your bub is projectile vomiting every five minutes, but it's a good option if it's available. Of course it depends on the child - Miss S was happy to be left in creche, but I had to stop visiting the gym for about six months with Miss G, because dealing with the separation anxiety far outweighed the benefits of the gym.

If you want to encourage a mother to become fitter, there are a few rules that should be followed:

*never ask when the baby is due , especially if the baby is with its mother. I got asked this once when Miss G was 2 weeks old. I had to say in my nicest voice, "G is two weeks old, do the math".
*never give unsolicited fitness advice about how to get back into shape, especially if you're sporting a six pack and have never had a baby. This is the equivalent of an invite to be quartered up by a blunt blade.
*never suggest that having kids should not be an excuse to get out of shape (especially if you haven't had children yourself) This pertains especially to a new mother. My rule of thumb is that it takes nine months to get stretched out of shape so given the stresses of sleepless nights etc it's probably going to take nine months and then some to even feel like you're getting back to normal.

The bottom line is that some babies make it easier for a comeback into the fitness arena and that some pregnancies are more difficult than others and some labours are tougher than others. Sometimes all a mother wants to do after a sleepless night with a projectile vomitter is sit down with a cuppa and the paper and take a nap, not go and work out. And when you have children, you have to realize that you're no longer number one. Yes, it's very important to try and eke out some time for yourself in there, no question - but in these early years, little ones take up your full attention. I've had clients on the phone in tears with mother-stress. My words are always, "well I knew that you'd never always be 100% because you've got someone else to account for "

When I was frustrated that my workouts got so interrupted, my mother used to say to me, "time passes". Of course, I wasn't terribly impressed with such sage words; but it's true. Now those little ones come riding, running and swimming with me - and I've been able to branch out into things that I thought would never be possible, like teaching early morning classes, competing and riding my bike.

In the meantime what can we do to support our mothers? It's the things like offering to watch the kids for an hour whilst she ducks off to Pilates class. Or having the older sibling over for a playdate so she can take the little one for a walk in the pram.

However, I would like to take a leaf out of my beautiful Earth Mother type gynaecologist and say - "enjoy that baby - that's your main priority. Doesn't matter if everything else takes a back seat for awhile". How true.


Cherub said...

So true Liz. I have friends at the moment struggling with their first child and trying to be on the same page as each other and other friends struggling to manage their 4 children, one born profoundly deaf and another this week diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, their 5th is due next month.

All I can do is listen and listen and be grateful when we can get an hour for a coffee together, partying is over.

I have also just started a free walking group in our local park available to everyone but aimed at mothers with prams or mothers returning to fitness after their last child has started school.

It provides them with a social walk, a little exercise, free advice from a PT for an hour and support of other mums.

It's not much but I will do what I can to pay it forward. I had some wonderful people help me when my 3 were tiny.

ss2306 said...

Anyone who has never had a baby has NFI.

Your writing lately is outstanding girly.

Thought any more about seeing Jena?

LizN said...

Hey Claire, I thought of "pay it forward" as soon as I read your comment. You go girl, We mothers are so much better for it. Thank you.

Thanks Shelley. You've been in my thoughts today. I think I'll wait till this move is settled and then I'll see Jena..


Hilary said...

Oh yeah, definitely reading that nodding my head!! I dont think I could ever have been prepared for what its like, no matter how many books I read, I always thought the labour was going to be the hard bit - little did I know!

I had big plans this week to throw some weights around, but the little one has been a horror for sleeping this week, so when she finally does sleep all I do is eat something and collapse!

Just gotta take it one day at a time I guess! Great post!

Hilary xx

Anonymous said...

People who don't have kids have no right to an opinion in relation to anything about motherhood.

They don't get it and they never will so who gives a shit what they think? Definately not this little Mummy ;)

Anonymous said...

"A mum who cares about her kids and can get a workout in too…imagine that!"


"A life so full of the endless love and joy that having a child provides." I don't have to IMAGINE THAT sweetheart, I LIVE IT!

You can have your endless workouts!

LizN said...

Hey Hils, I've been reading about your wakeful nights on Facebook :) You sound like you're doing a wonderful job, despite the lack of sleep. Don't worry those weights will be there when you are ready for them :)

Hey Rene,
I had all sorts of crazy ideas that I'd be running 10k shortly after and that at my 1 year old's birthday the kids would play quietly on a mat in the middle of the room whilst we parents had a quiet cuppa. Boy was I wrong.
I agree, you really have to live motherhood to understand it :)


Lyndsay said...

Liz you do not know how much I needed to hear this today. (Well, actually I think you'd have an idea!)


LizN said...

((((Lynds)))) - I do know, and seeing little ones brings it all back - something I never want to forget xoxox

Leanne said...

Hey Liz, Great post, I can definately relate to everything you wrote, I know I planned how I though everything was going to be after i had each of my babies & none of it went to plan!! It can be such an emotional, overwhelming time (especially the first 2 years), where there is so much self doubting & until you are in the moment you just dont know how you are going to feel, react, etc.
Going through it many times myself has definately taught me to be more understanding & supportive to others, we gotta stick together us mums!!

Flea said...

I find and think women who are mothers are also so much more wiser than those who aren't yet.
Great post Liz!

LizN said...

Hey Leanne and Flea :) (good to see you back!) - yes motherhood does make us wiser. Rock on sisterhood!

Michelle said...

Another great post Liz! I was sitting nodding through the whole thing.

wrt Rule #1, my mother patted my belly after I had Moo and commented on the fact it hadn't gone back yet ... Moo was 2 days old FFS. Nothing like crushing a girl's spirit.