By Jo Cresdee
I will spend my evening tonight discussing how perfectly we are designed to labour and birth with a group of pregnant women. It’s true and I never stop being awestruck by the magic of it – how perfectly the human body does incredible thing – how it just “makes” a baby and then births that baby and nurtures it until our children are ready to walk alone, but increasingly I am becoming aware that the messages out there to women about their bodies post-birth are becoming more negative and are tarnishing this incredible thing that they are doing.
Sue Palmer writes prolifically about how the modern world is toxic to childhood, I am beginning to think it is toxic to motherhood as well.
I will be forty in nine months’ time, I have had three children, my body is capable of incredible things, it has been pregnant and breastfed children for a total of nearly nine years of my life. It has created and nurtured these lives and yet it is still capable of running huge distances. Those of you who know me will know that last summer I decided I would run 63 miles (100K) in a day to raise money for Suffolk Babies and my body enabled me to do that as well. Because women are strong, they are robust, they are designed to birth and they are designed to recover from birth.
One of my greatest bugbears is the increasingly amount of information I am bombarded with about how “I can get my body back”. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that so many women are left unsupported after birth and don’t know what it is safe to do in terms of exercise and what is not, but the emphasis is wrong. I don’t want to “get back” to what I was before I had my children. I am stronger physically, emotionally and mentally now than I was before I was a mother. I have more faith and respect in my body and I can accomplish more now in terms of physical challenges than I was ever capable of doing in my early twenties when I had my first child.
So this is my thing – why are we drawn to this ideal? Why do we ignore what we are designed to do to try and emulate an often unhealthy media image? I wrote last year about Beyonce and her hilarious post birth photo shoot. The reality of the postnatal body is that it is not designed to bounce back to its pre-pregnancy shape. It is designed to hold onto fat reserves so that in a time of famine the mothers of young children are more likely to survive on little food. It is sleep deprived which raises cortisol levels and means you are more likely to retain abdominal fat. Fad diets, intense HIIT style exercise and exhaustion actually contribute to women gaining weight. We know this and yet we still subscribe.
In my mind we are in this situation because in the months and early years after having a baby we are a bit lost. Everything in our lives changes in an unrecognisable way. Babies do not come with manuals and they turn our lives upside down. Being a mother is a constant source of mental dilemma – continually questioning whether we are making the right choices for our children. At a time when our worlds are out of control we focus on something that we can control and something that has always previously given us a sense of pride – our bodies. How they look and how we feel in them. The only thing is we place value on the physical appearance. We are looking for extrinsic rather than intrinsic praise. We base our self-worth on what we see in a mirror not how we feel inside, and when we are at this low point we are snapped up by the million media messages out there from trainers promising that they can “fix” us and that they have the answers, I’ve subscribed to this myself – hoping that the answers lay in losing a couple of lbs and having a flat stomach.
J.R. Tolkien wrote “It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.” He may have written this in relation to a Hobbit about to journey into Middle Earth but he was right. During the months of dilemma and introversion trying to work out what I think on all this I believe that we have a reluctance to confront what frightens us, we spend so long trying to mould ourselves into a perception of what is “right” and when that changes we struggle and look for quick fixes or individuals that promise to solve our problems when actually we have to look inward to do that.
Surround yourself with people who raise you higher, not those who want to “fix” you. You don’t need fixing anyway. Humans are pack animals and we like to be part of a crowd, let’s just ensure that that crowd is a positive one. Katie and I spent a lot of time talking about this the other week and her final words were: “Put positive energy into the world and it will be returned, it is a virtuous circle.” I liked that a lot.
Life is a journey, we are never a finished product. We change, our bodies change and grow with us. I refuse to pine to get my pre-pregnancy body back. I want to be strong and healthy and ready to face my next physical challenge – whether that is running across the Lake District in a day (seriously you can do that) or getting out of bed on a morning when I know the juggle between being a mother of three and working full time is going to test me to the limit.
Humans have a constant need for progress. We are rolling stones, it is when we stay static or look to the past that we gather moss.
One of my favourite quotes that I often think about is by a German Philosopher called Albert Schweitzer – he wrote:
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit”
It is my belief that training the body has far more to do with training the mind than we want to admit – I run well when and feel my fittest when I am at my happiest; the two are interlinked. I have longed for a long time to be able to run our own range of fitness classes and I am delighted that we can now do this thanks to the funding we have received from Suffolk Sport. So many classes miss the point in my opinion, I want all the people who come to us to feel good physically but also mentally and spiritually.
Find out more about our new fitness classes in this week’s newsletter!