I have been thinking about this moms-kicking-ass thing for awhile. You'd THINK that after having a baby a woman's athletic prowess would decline. She's not only physically busted up and out of shape after having a baby, but she now has to take care of a wee one. She is no longer the epi-center of her own life. Baby is. So she should suck now, right? Out of the game, finito, done.
But it does not happen this way. Often said mommy gets better after giving birth.
This has been a source of interest among elite women athletes of late. It has been observed that killer runners like Paula Radcliffe have continued to kick ass after bearing bambinos. Some of the best women pro and amateur triathletes are mommies--like say, Heather Gollnick, Bree Wee, Brooke Davison or Rachel Ross. Kara Goucher recently announced her intention of having a baby following her Boston debut in an interview for Runner's World. She appears confident that having a baby will absolutely not have a negative effect on her racing.
Why is this?
I have a theory.
Women who have children improve their athletic performances after giving birth because having a baby(ies) makes one:
1. tougher than fucking nails.
2. appreciate being athletic in a way non-moms will never understand.
3. more disciplined, focused and yet flexible about her training than ever before.
4. rested. You must take about six months off from serious training when you're preggers.
Let's start with number one.
These paragraphs will be very boring to those of you who haven't given birth. I apologize. Feel free to skip ahead to my summation.
Having a baby makes you tougher than nails.
There is no endurance event that tops the endurance necessary to get from giving birth to the end of a baby's third month. I repeat, there is no. endurance. event. that. even. compares. Double this fact if a woman has twins. Case in point--Heather Gollnick has twins. So does Jenny Harrison. Can you think of women tougher than those two? I struggle to...And if you have triplets? I bow down to you. I really do.
Childbirth itself is a major endurance event. It often lasts longer than an Ironman. I realize some women opt to get an epidural, but lest you think for a moment that means they have escaped the endurance event this is giving birth, you are wrong.
I won't get graphic about childbirth and what it's actually like. Suffice to say it is--umm--painful. Even with an epidural. Hell, just getting the freaking epidural is painful, although it doesn't compare to the pain of contractions which are so painful there is not a word to describe them.
About 40% of women actually don't get birth vaginally, of course. The c-section is a special treat. Oh, it sounds pretty good. Your epidural is turned all the way up and you just feel "pressure" as they cut you open to extract the baby--unless for some reason the epidural is blocked, which it was on my left side when giving birth to my second child. Then it feels like someone is slicing into your abdomen, which, of course, someone is.
Good-bye gorgeous abs! Baby has ripped them apart while growing inside you and the knife has cut them in half during surgery.
The c-section is major, and I mean MAJOR abdominal surgery. Recovering from it alone takes women weeks--some months. Even just getting out of bed 24 hours after the surgery is an incredible feat--and extremely painful. Your abs are sliced--all the muscle fibers have been cut in two--and so rising from bed, which requires abdominal strength, is like--impossible.
The incision is held together by staples. Your newborn can rest right on those staples as you attempt to nurse in the first few days. It's comfy. As you nurse your uterus contracts, because it is getting smaller, and that feels a bit like the contractions of childbirth. They feel great throbbing against the incision and often have one doubled over in pain. Add to this that if you are having your first child and are not yet shall we say--broken in--, nursing fucking kills. Your nipples are being bitten, sucked, cracked open, bleeding and mutilated with each session. Your breasts fill so full in the first few days that they are hard as rocks and a size triple DD and they hurt like fucking hell. And did I mention that your baby will turn totally yellow (jaundiced) if you are not disciplined enough in your nursing--waking your baby to nurse at least once every 1.5 hours or so around the clock???
This is the reality: IV still in, hungry little guy, daughter wants attention. 28 hours post-op.
Okay. Enough. Although I could go on and on and on.
After the baby is born and you bring the tyke home, you must rest. You need rest. Your body has been through a train wreck.
But you can't rest.
You must go on.
If you don't then your baby will die.
For the next three months you don't sleep--like ever--especially if your baby has colic and cries from 4-10 pm each day (that was my first). You nurse around the clock. You nipples become like little hard rocks, calloused and completely un-sexy. Your breasts are udders. You are a cow. You can't leave the baby for longer than 3 hours because you are the baby's only food source.
Oh, and did I mention that you are supposed to be glowing, and happy and grateful and fucking high on life?
(Most of us actually contemplate driving ourselves into a tree. Most of us cried almost incessantly for three months straight. Most of us end up on anti-depressants.)
And did I mention that you, as you knew yourself, are gone--like forever? Your purpose is now unilateral.
Take care of baby.
#2 and #3: Mothers
- appreciate the privilege of training in a way non-moms will never understand.
- more disciplined, focused and yet flexible about her training than ever before.
If you were "active" before giving birth then during these three delirious months you begin to fantasize.
Running, biking, swimming.
They have been taken from you.
And you want them back.
You want them bad.
You really haven't done any of them seriously since about three months into your pregnancy--so it's been, like, almost a year.
Formerly active moms are hungry. They want it back and they want it now and they are willing to do anything to get it.
They run on the treadmill for the half hour the baby sleeps. They nurse, race to the pool race home, and nurse again. They take advantage of every free moment (which are very few) to exercise. They become ultra-disciplined about taking this time when they have it. Gone are the days when they don't go running right now because they just don't feel like it right now--maybe later in the day.
Likewise, if the baby needs to nurse or be changed or whatever--moms adjust to the fact that their exercise comes second to baby. always. And that is just the way it is. Having to be this way makes moms appreciate exercise in a way that is somewhat hard to fathom.
Moms had to rest, as I said, for like a year. I'm convinced that this is partially what allows them to excel after childbirth. Every last little tear has been healed in that time. The body is ripe to be torn apart and built back up again. I really think there's something to this. People who love to train and don't have children never take this kind of extended break, and therefore never heal to the extent that moms do.
After a woman goes through the act of having a baby she views the world differently.
- Pain is relative. If you can survive the pain of childbirth and the subsequent three months of sleep deprivation, the constant crying, the loss of self and becoming a cow, you can survive anything.
- Training is no longer a right; it's a gift. It is to be absolutely treasured.
- If you have time, you must take it. If you don't, it's your own fault, and you won't get it back. Discipline-- or denied.