Once upon a time, there was a woman who exercised regularly during her pregnancy. When her baby was born, she took Mommy and Me Pilates classes and logged miles with her jogging stroller. During naptime, she did squats while folding freshly laundered onesies.
This woman is not me. I read about her in magazines, so apparently she exists.
I’ve got nothing against exercise. I signed my first gym membership when I was in high school and stepped, spun, kickboxed, and grapevined my way through college, two jobs, and three cities.
But it all came to a screeching halt when I got pregnant and fell into the black hole of morning sickness, then the black hole of being a new mom and generally running on fumes. I canceled my membership and put fitness on the shelf. I figured making time to shower regularly should be a higher priority anyway.
But a funny thing happened: I missed it. I thought I only worked out to keep off weight. Yet as my thirties ticked by, I felt a physical and mental void I knew exercise would fill. I had stiffness in my joints, felt sluggish long after everyone was finally sleeping the night, and was wound tighter than the springs in my toddler’s crib mattress. But the thought of yet another commitment was overwhelming.
Then about a year ago, a friend of mine announced on Facebook that she was doing a workout DVD every day for 30 days (Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred) and would post her daily progress. For the month, her friends cheered her on via Facebook comments—then she invited us to join in the next month. And something clicked for me.
I’d never liked exercise DVDs. I owned exactly one, a body sculpt workout with bad lighting and even worse music. But something had to give. I had no time (or funds) for a gym membership, my knees couldn’t handle running, and I’d ditched my basement treadmill after realizing how much I hated power walking next to the litterbox. The real selling point: The 30 Day Shred was just 25 minutes long. I’m a card-carrying run-ragged mom, but if I couldn’t locate a spare 25 minutes, I deserved my flabby upper arms.
So I dusted off some old hand weights and set my 30-day goal, the first exercise-related goal I’d made in years. On day one, I thought my ankles would snap during the warm-up jumping jacks. By the second week I was far less winded, and by day 20 I could push both kids uphill in the double stroller without feeling nauseous. By the end, I felt like a new person. I had reclaimed a piece of my pre-baby self: I was, once again, Someone Who Exercised.
I don’t work out every day anymore (though now I know that I can, if I set my mind to it). I try to do something 3 to 5 days a week, rotating through a whole library of workout DVDs, going to a strength training class once a week, and walking with a neighbor when the weather is warm.
But the biggest change was a shift in my thinking. Being active does not have to mean 90 minutes at the gym. It could mean the 25 minutes between bus stop drop-off and work. I also adjusted my expectations: There would be weeks that work deadlines and sick kids would eclipse everything else—but that did not make me a failure.
And I’m no longer in it just to keep the scale happy. I do it because feeling my stronger muscles at work, whether doing a push up or carrying a two-year-old and three grocery bags up the back steps, is deeply satisfying. And because when the waistband of my jeans is not digging into my flesh, I snap at my kids much, much less.
But I still don’t do squats while folding laundry. I mean seriously, who does that?