Pregnant Athlete: postpartum
As an athlete I consistently hold unrealistically high expectations for myself. I am often guilty of goading myself, not feeling good enough, or chiming the word 'failure' into my own ears. After the experience of birthing Rumi at home and recovering ridiculously fast, I can for once say my body has exceeded my expectations.
Near the end of my pregnancy I expected my recovery to be fast and to leave me stronger than I was before pregnancy. What I did not expect was for that process to take place in a span of less than a week.
Here's how it went down:
After the birth: After laboring for twenty-two hours and pushing for three and a half, one might expect that I experienced tearing or needed stitches. None of the sort! My tissues were entirely intact thanks to my excellent partnership with my midwife team, level of hydration, and general good health.
Blood loss: My midwives remarked with surprise that, during and after birth, I lost a sixth of the blood they normally see their clients lose. Aiding in this feat was a quickly-involuting uterus: mine shrunk from even with my ribs to just above my pubic bone before Rumi was cut free of the placenta.
Recovery snack: Yet another plus to giving birth at home was the gin and tonic Ryan brought me in bed after showering. After I'd downed that, he brought me my first placenta smoothie. Yum!
Abdominal separation: Curious after hearing many gloomy tales of diastasis recti I checked my abs for separation at about one hour postpartum. There was not even a finger's width between my rectus abdominus. Being mindful of engaging my transverse abdominus throughout pregnancy paid off.
Placental processing: Knowing all the benefits of ingesting one's placenta, I learned how to process my own placenta and for months looked forward to it as a closing ceremony to the rites of pregnancy and birth. A day after Rumi was born I set a ritual tone to my kitchen, examined, cleaned, trimmed, steamed, dehydrated, ground, and encapsulated my/our placenta. I've enjoyed putting to use the organ that I worked so hard to create - seems silly to throw it away.
Contrast therapy: After big events in the mountains, I've benefitted considerably from full body contrast therapy. By alternating a minute in ice water and three minutes in hot epsom water the body flushes taxxed tissues of their waste products permitting the organs to more quickly process them out of the body thus aiding in a speedy recovery. Why not apply this athletic trick to postpartum? Dang it felt good.
Postpartum box: In the weeks before birth I did everything I could to make myself feel cared for knowing that charging up my tank of yin would aid in an efficient recovery. To that end, I prepared a postpartum box for myself. In a beautiful round tin I placed my favorite lace underwear, arnica gel, postpartum spray, my favorite menstrual pads (screw those crappy generic brand ones that come with birthing kits!), a fortifying smoky quartz wand, my favorite trail mix, rose face lotion, nipple butter, and a dose of immediate postpartum supplements to kick off the healing process. In the first few days postpartum I adapted the contents of this box to contain all the items I need to keep my busybody self in one place for a few hours (journal, snacks, breast pad, pump parts, headphones, lip balm).
Supplements: In collaboration with my ND, acupuncturist/massage therapist, and an herbalist/nutritionist friend I compiled a postpartum supplement pack that worked well. In it were curcumin, arnica homeopathics, a high dose of iron, prenatal vitamins, and high-quality fish oil.
The practice of rest: As I've mentioned before, I'm not only an expert at movement I also spend a lot of time and energy developing the crucial skills of rest. Intentional rest skills are super handy in the postpartum period. Among them are meditation, yoga, and everything else discussed here.
My first walk: The morning after Rumi's birth Ryan, Rumi, Nason, and I took a walk around the block. It took ten minutes and I was tired at the end of it. A movement session this trivial in duration may seem worthless to most athletes. Au contraire! Movement in recovery is what stimulates the body to heal. This experience made me recall the first two days' walks around my neighborhood after I ran the Wonderland Trail, my legs felt like mush and my lungs heaved. I spent the entire postpartum walk focusing on consciously aligning my hips with my legs and stacking my spine tall like a cairn.
My first run: Two days after my first walk, and feeling much more energetic, I took my first run. Despite being a mountain runner who loathes the treadmill and pavement I ran on the treadmill - just in case. When that run felt great the next day I went outside and returned to the trails the day after that. A progression, even a quick progression, is a prudent recovery strategy whether postpartum or just coming off a big climb or run. On these first few slow runs I took great care to be conscious of my form, telling twangy muscles and fascia to release and thanking myself for continuing my practices the last ten months.
My first climb: was pure joy. At three days old, Rumi headed to the bouldering gym with me. We climbed five problems in the V1-V2 range, stopping when I still had plenty of energy and felt no pain. The following day I returned to the other climbing gym to take my first lead falls in six months. In the weeks leading up to birth I spent a few minutes at the end of each tedious top rope session visualizing clipping bolts and freefalling again. I knew that, after 36 weeks, it could be less than four days between a pregnant climbing session to a postpartum lead session and I wanted to be prepared.
At one week postpartum I felt like a fraud calling my experiences 'postpartum' anymore - I felt totally normal again and my midwives agreed I'd already managed a full recovery. Thanks be to hard, consistent work, self knowledge, and attention to meaningful rest!
Next up is a download on how Rumi came out ahead (physiologically speaking) as a result of our athletic feats during pregnancy.