by Brooke Smith
It’s been five months since I gave birth to little Grace. She was a miracle I was told wasn’t possible. And she was a complete surprise—as in I was packing my bags for the 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga when I found out I was pregnant. I called Coach Alyssa, incoherent and rambling, crying out all my fears and laying out a new race plan.
Next, it a new kind of training plan. Pregnancy was not easy on my body; if it wasn’t migraines, then it was morning sickness. I trained as I could and Coach Alyssa helped me scale workouts. Throughout the pregnancy, I “moved” more for my sanity than to control my weight or to keep up my endurance. I swam until 32 weeks, when I had some prenatal complications.
After all that, her delivery was quick. Thinking my baby would come late, I was unprepared for Grace’s arrival. Seven hours of labor, just over an hour of pushing, and we had a 5lb. 8oz little girl.
After that, though, it wasn’t quick to get back to training or to triathlon. Actually, I still have a ways to go on the postpartum comeback, but I plan on racing Indian Wells 70.3 at the end of year. I love the camaraderie and being out there with my Smash-Dimond teammates. Along the way, here are a few of the mistakes I made (so you don’t make the same mistakes) and things I learned on the recovery road.
The Mental and Emotional Postpartum Comeback
I had a fabulous plan for my postpartum comeback. It was idealistic and took no account of where my body was physically, what my emotions were doing, or where my family was at. My first mistake was not letting go of my own expectations, following what was right for someone else and not for me. I was so filled with enthusiasm that decided I was ready to train—even if I wasn’t. I tried to start back to running too soon for my body. In reality, I needed more time to heal and rebuild so every step didn’t feel like my insides were falling out. The key was getting out of my head and letting go of the desire to “conquer postpartum.” Instead, we approached things from the angle of recovery.
Apart from my physical state, I had to look at the other areas that were holding me back from training: my anxiety about leaving the baby and her being OK while I was gone; my worry over the adjustment of my five-year-old, who we adopted at birth, to a baby sister and to Kindergarten; and the sudden lack of confidence in myself as a strong woman.
I am blessed to have a good support network at home. My husband was completely behind my return to triathlon and was actually instrumental in finding a way to make everything work. When we listed these things out we could separate what was holding me back physically from what was holding me back mentally.
Mentally and emotionally, I learned to listen to my family and to a few close friends and to hear what they said and what my emotions were saying. I had to trust that others were capable and cared for me and my daughters. There were a few times my husband sent me to the pool, while he stood there with a crying baby, because he knew the training session would help. We went around the mountain a few times trying to find a schedule for some sort of structured training. Ultimately, though, a large part of our plan is being flexible—what works this week may need to change next week. That means Sunday night there is be a list of workouts and rehab sessions that need to happen and we start plugging them in around his work schedule and our daughter’s needs.
Coming Back Physically After Birth
The other big part of the postpartum comeback was the physical part. It was an interesting process. My discharge doctor said “let pain be your guide.” Bad advice for a triathlete. And if you follow the archaic view of most HMOs, after six weeks you’re all good. Of course, that ends up leaving you sorting through a pile of online opinions and Google research. After shelling out money for this or that program, physical therapist or trainer, I learned 1. Get yourself to a knowledgable person who can see you and who can see how your core is recovering and now functioning, and 2. Keep your exercises specific to your needs—wasted time with a newborn will only lead to frustration.
For me, building back my pelvic floor was key and an obvious place to start. My trainer and I had previously been working on pelvic floor stability for running, so going back to modified versions of the dead bug and hollow (or diaphragmatic) breathing was comforting to me. I liked that both exercises allowed me to be mindful about re-establishing different movement patterns, locking this into both my mind and muscles at the same time. In the process, I found new core muscles that didn’t seem to want to wake up after 37 weeks of carrying and then labor. I wasn’t after new muscles so I could sport a six-pack. I just needed strength to play with my daughters and to not pee when I ran.
I also experienced pain in my hands, shoulders, and feet. My hands started tingling, which progressed into pins and needles that never seemed to go away. With the help of my trainer, who is also a biomechanics specialist, we realized that nursing in a position where my shoulders were hunched over, combined with swimming and cycling, was causing so much tightness in my shoulders and pecs that the nerves were being pinched. We used two exercise—the dynamic chest stretch and the foam roller pec stretch—to address those problems. And as for my feet, we decided now was a good time to strengthen them and to work on a previous weakness; the exercises gave me something to do while bouncing my baby. I would stretch my big toe against the door jam or work on my toe splay or try to move each of my toes independent of the others.
While I hate missing any time with my family, I know I want to be back out racing, to enjoy the fun with my teammates and friends, and to be an example for my girls of a strong woman who works hard and goes after life!
Brooke Smith is a SMASH-Dimond team member, ironwoman, and mom of two who lives with her family in northern California.