Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: exercise

Week 10: The Baby Weight

You know how you feel when you wake up one morning and you see an enormous zit right in the center of your chin?

You think, Ick. This isn’t how I look.

Maybe you meet someone for the first time on this day that you have this huge zit on your face, you end up thinking, Oh, please don’t think this is the way that I always look. I usually look a lot better than this.

When you’re in the bathroom washing your hands and you look up in the mirror, you think, No… That’s not really me.

That’s how I feel about the baby weight.

fit-belly-and-tape-measures-1483641452sx4

***

At two months postpartum, the uterus is done shrinking. You’ve lost the baby, the placenta, and all the excess fluids. And what remains is officially “the baby weight.”

In this pregnancy, I gained 45 pounds.

Pregnancy books will reassure you not to worry. A lot of women lose up to 25 pounds in the first few weeks!

Ha. Ha.

I’m only down 23 pounds.

Wait… Wait…

Damn it.

Trust me, it doesn’t feel so stupendous when you’re still carrying around another 22 extra pounds.

***

The first pounds are always the easiest.

After the birth, I was already down 12 pounds.

At two weeks postpartum, my body went into flush-the-system-out mode and I started shedding pound after pound. Sure, it was mostly water weight, but God, it felt good every other day to look down and see my weight another pound closer to my pre-pregnancy weight.

This is awesome, I thought. Keep on going!

Then at four weeks postpartum, my weight stabilized. I started walking 30 to 40 minutes every day and I enjoyed that. It improved my mood, for sure, but it didn’t do much for dropping more weight.

Then, at five weeks postpartum, I noticed that most of my maternity pants weren’t fitting very well anymore.  (Okay, one pair of leggings got a huge snag in them and I had to throw those ones away, but nevertheless.)

A good sign, I thought.

So I went to Macy’s and grabbed a few pairs of black stretchy athletic pants. Sweatpants? Perhaps. Yoga pants? Sure. Running pants? I was open to it. Whatever made me feel like I somewhat possessed an inkling of the figure that I had before this pregnancy.

Now, you have to remember, I had no idea what size I was anymore. I hadn’t worn anything but maternity leggings, yoga pants, pajama pants, and dresses for the past six months.

Staring at the sizes, I thought, Okay, be liberal here. Get a size above what you think you are. 

So I did. And I got the size above that one.

I pulled on the smaller size first. When the waistband hit my thighs, I thought, Oh, sweet Jesus…

I should have stopped there, but I thought, Go ahead and see if the second larger size fits.

Another bad idea. I got them up over my hips, but really, who was I kidding? My entire midsection was shaped like a shitake mushroom.

Defeated, I went back out and picked up the next larger size.

At least they’re on clearance. And I’ll be able to use my 20% off coupon that I got in the mail.

“Sorry,” the cashier said, “You can only use that offer on sale and clearance items.”

“Isn’t this a clearance item?” I asked

“Oh, actually this is a Last Chance item.”

“Oh good God,” I said.

“I know, it takes a while to know the different kinds of sales.”

“Yeah, I don’t speak Macy’s.”

“Will you be using your Macy’s card today?”

“Sure.”

After I swipe my card, I see a screen of available offers come up. Oh! There’s the 20% off one!

“Look at that!” I point it out to her.

“Oh, yeah, that won’t work,” she says as she folds my pants and puts them in a bag.

“Why is it being offered to me if it doesn’t work?”

“I mean, you can try, but it won’t work on this item.”

I try. It doesn’t work.

“Well, that’s just cruel,” I say.

“Yeah…” she agrees. “I keep telling them they need to fix that glitch.”

***

I’ve lost the baby weight before.

Okay, all but the last five pounds. But still.

I remember that it took until ten months postpartum for my thyroid to stop going completely bonkers and for all the cardio kickboxing and portion controlling to finally eat away at that stubborn extra layer week after week after week.

I remember telling my husband that I wish I had been kinder to myself at two months postpartum, when it felt like I should just stop caring. The rationale went something like this: You’re not getting much sleep, but at least you can look forward to eating all day.

Another part of me cared tremendously about seizing opportunities to return to my pre-pregnancy physical condition. And when I fell short of my own expectations, I would get upset at myself.

Today, the rational side of my brain tells me, Your body is amazing. You just sustained another life for three-quarters of a year. You gave birth to a healthy baby (without tearing!) and lost 23 pounds in eight weeks. Give yourself a break. 

***

It is hard to keep this all in perspective, but I try.

I tell myself that people don’t usually stare at the big ol’ zit. While we think they’re looking at all our flaws, they’re usually looking at the whole package of who we are. Smile. Confidence. Congeniality.

In the meantime, I’m doing the daily work of exercise and portion control. It’s hard. Especially when I need to get up at 4:00 a.m. to exercise. And all my exercise clothes are tight. And I’ve gone two weeks without any change in weight or inches.

The truth is, exercise improves my mood. So even if I don’t lose weight, I know I’ll keep doing this.

But I’ll still have to acquire a transitional work wardrobe while I’m dropping the weight.

And that means a lot of time in fitting rooms, learning to love myself through this.

Week 3: Growing and Shrinking

Well, we have another large child.

In one day, Henry logged fourteen feedings. Every hour, on the hour, throughout the morning and in the early evening. Instead of doing a normal full feeding, he would snack. An ounce here. An ounce there. Drift off to sleep just long enough for me to go through the routine of putting him down…

And then he’s awake again. And ravenously hungry. Screaming for food, as if saying, What the hell, Mom!?!?! Where’s the food!?!?!

Repeat. Over and over again. With the occasional crying fits.

Then it dawned on me.

He was going through a growth spurt.

img_3927

3:30 a.m., listening to Stephen Colbert

I had forgotten how exhausting growth spurts can be.

For three days, he did this. Thank God he slept most of the nights, but during the mornings, I felt like I was clinging to the edge of sanity.

When it was all over, his newborn clothes no longer fit.

Just like that.

Good-bye newborn clothes.

And hello very developed baby. We have a three-week-old child that lifts his head, coos, and is starting to bat at things accidentally. Our daughter didn’t start doing these things until she was about two months old.

At his two-week check up, the results were in.

Two weeks ago, at birth, he was 8 pounds, 10 ounces and 21 inches long.

Now, he’s 10 pounds, 3 ounces and 22.5 inches long.

Big boy.

If there’s one thing Doug and I know how to do, it’s make a big child.

img_20170217_095854

10:00 a.m. Newborn, passed out. Coffee, balanced between knees.

***

Quick notes on Postpartum Recovery

I’m completely off the 800 mg of Motrin.

I am walking about two miles a day now in about 45 minutes. It doesn’t feel like too much and it’s a great postpartum workout to start getting my cardio endurance back. My FitBit is registering it as a 450 calorie workout, which in my peak condition is equivalent to a strenuous cardio kickboxing workout.

I am sleeping about five to six hours per day on the weekdays. About seven and a half hours on the weekend when Doug does the night feedings.

I’m down 17 pounds now. 28 pounds to go.

When I look at my body in the mirror, I feel like I’m one of those hybrid animals in Greek mythology. The top half of me resembles my pre-pregnancy self. The bottom half… not so much.

I am pear-shaped. And I’m never pear-shaped. (I tend to put on weight in my waist.) I have a distinct desire to find the invisible zipper where I can unzip and step out of this bottom-heavy suit.

img_3938

Week 3 postpartum

 

My appetite is much lower this week. I’m no longer eating two breakfasts and having huge snacks between meals. My only concern is that I hope that my thyroid isn’t swinging underactive.

My new mom hormones are calming down. I’m now able to fall back asleep pretty quickly after the night feedings. Yesterday, I was even able to be okay with Henry sleeping in his crib in his room while I slept in my own room. (Sorry American Academy of Pediatrics. We’ll do the back sleeping on a firm surface and we won’t do bed-sharing. But there’s no way we’ll make it six months or a year with a baby sleeping in our room.)

I would love to be wearing normal pants, but I think I have at least two more weeks of maternity pants.

Nearly all of my swelling from the pushing phase is gone.

I got my hair cut and dyed. Win.

***

Pictures from the Week 3

img_3934

img_3933

Early morning coffee mishap

img_3928

Birth announcements

image-20170222_145134

Morning awake period: 8:00 a.m. to noon (short dozing sessions in between)

img_20170221_091657

Batting lessons

img_20170221_111524

Five hours of sleep = 50% energy

img_20170223_145838

The hands we hold on to

I Wore a FitBit During Pregnancy and Childbirth: Here’s What I Learned

Disclosure: I’m a bit of a data nerd.

Not in the sense that I like to design studies and collect data. Just in the sense that I like to look at charts and graphs and timelines and other visuals.

Call it “data-nerd-light.”

I began wearing a FitBit Charge HR last February, shortly after I started running as a regular form of exercise.

At first, it was useful for keeping track of my exercise. Having information about my sleep patterns and steps was just fun information to use to challenge myself.

Then, in early May 2016, I got pregnant.

Over the course of my pregnancy, I regularly wore my FitBit and amassed loads of interesting data about how my body changed and responded differently to exercise over the course of my pregnancy.

The FitBit Charge HR will monitor your heart rate and calories burned, as well as your number of steps, floors climbed, and miles traveled. Then, it spits out all of this data into usable and easy-to-read charts.

fitbit

I started this pregnancy at 147 pounds (at 5′ 7.5″) and my ending weight was 192 pounds, which is a 45-pound weight gain. My pre-pregnancy condition was quite good. I was running about two miles in the morning every day and lifting weights once or twice per week. I was maintaining my weight. I had good energy. I could climb several flights of stairs without getting winded.

So what does pregnancy do to a healthy body? Let’s take a look.

Resting Heart Rate

screenshot_20170213-064729

My pre-pregnancy resting heart rate was about 56 beats per minute, a sign of a fairly athletic lifestyle. You can see my heart rate climb steeply in the second trimester when I have my first major growth spurt, and then again in the last trimester during the last month of growth. Both time periods correspond to an increase in blood volume in my body.

Fun fact: at the end of pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases 40-50% throughout pregnancy.

Weight Gained

screenshot_20170213-064412

I put on most of my weight during the second and third trimester growth spurts, and just a few pounds gained in the first trimester. This is a healthy weight gain curve, although, I assure you, it didn’t feel healthy at the time. I remember that I kept thinking, No! Four pounds in a week! This baby is going to be twelve pounds by the end of this!

Daily Calories Burned: Pre-Pregnancy

On the left is a typical day of exercise on a pre-pregnancy day, which includes a two-mile run in the morning and regular movement at work.

On the right is a day that I’m proud of: the day that I ran six miles around the National Mall in Washington D.C. Included in this number are the other calories that I burned throughout the day, just by existing. See the number of calories burned? Keep that in mind as I show you how many calories during the late third trimester.

Daily Calories Burned: First Trimester

screenshot_20170213-065329

In my first trimester, I continued to run whenever I felt well enough. (Weeks 7-11 were Nausea City, so I limited my exercise to walks during this time.) But I took it easy. I didn’t exercise in the peak heart rate zone if I could help it. I monitored my run pretty closely so I stayed in the lower heart rate zones.

Daily Calories Burned: Second Trimester

screenshot_20170215-165950

I continued to run in the second trimester. In the early second trimester, I incorporated more indoor aerobic exercise because it was so damn hot outside in late July to August. In this screenshot, you see the end of October, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, right at the end of my second trimester growth spurt.

The important difference is my resting heart rate, which has jumped to 70 beats per minute. Because of that elevated resting heart rate at this point, I was more likely to reach a fat-burning heart rate for daily activities, beyond the time when I was intentionally exercising.

Daily Calories Burned: Early Third Trimester

screenshot_20170213-065100

I continued to incorporate running in my exercise all the way to 32 weeks of pregnancy, but over time, I slowly decreased my running in favor of walking. By 33 weeks of pregnancy, I was done running. This screenshot is from Week 30. It’s not terribly different from my second trimester stats. Notice that my resting heart rate continues to rise.

Daily Calories Burned: Mid-Third Trimester

screenshot_20170213-064949

This is when pregnancy becomes an outright test of endurance. This screenshot is from Week 36 (which, for my 41.5-week pregnancy, was mid-third trimester). On this day, I walked for 30 minutes. And I existed. End of story.

I mean, it’s the day after Christmas, for goodness sake. What could I possibly have done? I’m sure I was doing things like eating my fifth sugar cookie and picking up bits of wrapping paper and rogue pine needles. Along with a rousing game of “Ketchup or Mustard?” with our three-year-old. (What? You’ve never heard of that game? You just ask the person if they want ketchup or mustard over and over and over again. That’s it. Fun, huh?)

So that’s why pregnant women say, “God, I’m so tired” at the end of the day. Not only are they carrying around a lot of extra weight, but their resting heart rates are elevated, causing them to be burning loads of calories for hours.

But wait. It gets harder.

Daily Calories Burned: Late-Third Trimester

screenshot_20170213-064859

Okay. So here I was at five days past my due date. At this point, I was desperate to get this kid out of me. So I decided to go for two thirty-minute walks, which you can clearly see on the graph. My pace was much, much slower than normal because my hips were so gelatinous and my gait was off. But pace isn’t important. It’s getting the heart rate up there that counts.

With just two thirty-minute walks and existing for 24 hours, I burned as many calories as I did when I ran six miles and existed for 24 hours. Courtesy of an elevated resting heart rate and additional body weight.

In addition, my body’s center of gravity was off, it was difficult to move, and I had an assortment of new aches and pains to deal with just to get through the day (and night).

What were your calories burned on the day you gave birth?

screenshot_20170207-165547

So glad you asked.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That peak heart rate must have happened during my pushing phase.

Nope.

That was when I started hemorrhaging after the birth. Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan and it isn’t a typical part of the birthing process for most women (thank God). Only about 4% of women will experience a postpartum hemorrhage. (The most likely cause of my PPH was an “overdistended uterus” due to my baby being over 8.8 pounds.)

As a result, my heart rate soared in the peak heart rate zone for close to an hour. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped loads of fresh blood to the affected tissues and organs. All of this put my body into metabolic overload and it was the main reason I ate like a crazy person for the first five days post-birth.

Most of my labor raised my heart rate into a low fat-burning zone rate, so it was still important that I ate and drank during labor. This is what I will never understand about typical hospital policies regarding labor. Is it really worth it to deny women the right to eat during labor simply because of the minuscule possibility that 1) she’ll have a C-section and 2) during that C-section she aspirates?

Labor burns a lot of calories. And if you’re restricted to clear fluids, you’re pretty much relying on the sugar in Sierra Mist to pull you through. I think that if you have the urge to eat, you should be allowed to eat. The risk of eating harming a woman in labor is just far too small.

I mean, really… When you are awake for days and laboring for hours and hours, you burn a lot of calories.

screenshot_20170213-073429

 

So there you have it. An inside look at one slice of what a woman goes through when she carries a child and gives birth. It is a test of strength and endurance simply to carry a child to term and give birth.

The fact that women give birth so often might make the process seem ordinary, but it is truly an extraordinary feat for both mother and child to come out on the other side, whole and alive.

Week 32: On the Feeling of Splitting Open

Every two weeks for the past six weeks, I have a moment of panic at the end of the day.

Under the increasing growth and pressure of this baby, I feel like my belly is on the cusp of splitting wide open.

Right. Down. The middle.

Spliiiiit!

crack-in-earth

Imagine that a balloon is slowly inflating inside your belly over seven months. Week by week, you gradually grow and adjust. And then at eight months, someone opens the helium valve on full blast. Every day, the pressure increases and you feel quite certain that this is going to be the day that your muscles, your skin, everything, splits wide open.

From weeks 30 until the end of this pregnancy, this baby will increase one-half of a pound every week.

Right now, the baby is about 4 pounds.

And I’m feeling it.

This is my pregnancy wall. This is the point when the physical reality of being pregnancy never escapes my mind. I can’t sit comfortably. I can’t stand comfortably. I can’t sleep comfortably.

If I have to lean over to pick something up or put something away, I stop to think about how I’m going to do it.

I think about how I’m going to manage to tie my shoes.

I perform new acrobatics to shave my legs.

I look down at the scale, imagining that I’ve certainly gained at least 50 pounds. Maybe 80 pounds. Every part of me has expanded and grown. And for how much pressure I feel and how hard it is to move at this point, it has to be at least 50 pounds.

Right?

But it’s only 34 pounds.

I can almost hear this baby laughing at me.

Haha! This is my turf now, sucker! Move out of my way!

***

I turned 35 years old on Thanksgiving Day this year. I had my first child when I was 31 years old. That was just a few years ago, but there is a stark difference in how my body is handling this pregnancy. This time, I tire much more easily and earlier in the day. The whole thing is really wearing me out.

My friend, Cate, sent me a link to Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about fertility and aging. In her post, she talks about the trend of women freezing their eggs, so they can have kids in their 40s.

Which sounds like a good idea… Until you realize, oh yeah, you’re having a baby when you’re 40.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to poo-poo advances in medical science or the choice to wait longer to have kids. I’m just being realistic about how grueling pregnancy can be on a healthy 30-year-old body, not to mention a healthy 40-year-old body.

***

But there is good news.

Relief from pregnancy discomfort has come from a tried-and-true source this time.

Exercise.

Believe it or not, I’m still walking/jogging in the morning. (Everything’s good at the beginning of the day. It’s at the end of the day that I’m really struggling.) If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever be jogging while eight months pregnant, I’m sure I would have laughed in your face.

But it feels cleansing, being outside early in the morning, the world still quiet. Even if it’s cold. It’s a good time to press reset on life. Before work. Before the news.

And bonus: pregnancy turns you into a calorie-burning machine.

I can burn 350 calories just by walking 2 miles in the morning.

Not that any of this leads to weight loss…

Or a decreasing of pressure…

But, still, there’s a psychological satisfaction in seeing those numbers…

Right?

Uh…

I’m so tight. Just. Tight. Everywhere.

How to Run

 

running

A Saturday, January, 1:00 p.m.

First, you’ll need gloves.

An insulated running jacket.

Headphones that double as earmuffs.

Turn on Pandora, channel Hozier.

(Because “Work Song” goes well with tiny, white puffs of air.)

Tissues in your pocket.

Runner’s lunge. Down dog. Streeeetch.

Go.

Remember that you won’t stay cold forever

Warmth comes when the blood flows

Fix your eyes on the next mailbox, then the next

When your heart soars too far, slow to a walk

Feel the earth against your feet

Find your footing, your roots

Then, rise again.

 

A Sunday, March, 1:00 p.m.

First, plan your route.

Preferably with a park along the way.

Dress for fair weather, one layer only.

Drive to the park. Park.

Slide your key off the ring

Put it in the tiny pocket by your hip

Turn on Pandora, channel MGMT.

Runner’s lunge. Down dog. Streeeetch.

Go.

Lose track of time as the songs carry you forward

As your feet pound the concrete

As your breath picks up and your body finds its rhythm

And when a new song catches you off guard

And you find yourself throwing front jabs to its beat,

Say a prayer of thanks for this world’s endless creativity

For the depth and breadth of expression that keeps your hope alive

That keeps you believing that there will always be something new to appreciate

As long as you keep your heart open

Check how far you’ve run.

Be amazed in yourself.

 

A Tuesday, April, 5:00 a.m.

First, you’ll need to wake up.

Water on your face, if you need it.

Dress in two layers. Make the outer one bright.

(Remove one on the way back.)

Turn on Pandora, channel Richard Marx.

(Because “Hold On to the Night” goes well with the stars.)

Runner’s lunge. Down dog. Streeeetch.

Go.

Remember that the first five minutes are the hardest.

As you pass under streetlights, watch your shadow creep up beside you

And then go before you.

Remember that you’ve always found the most power in difference

In the moments when you did the opposite

Remember that there is strength at the end of fatigue

And satisfaction at the end of trying and failing and trying again

Keep going.

Be amazed in yourself.

Keep going.

Still Running

I didn’t intend to continue to run this long.

I thought I’d just run a few times to help me climb out of the rut of miscarriage. Maybe I would keep it up for two weeks. Maximum.

But, oh my God, I’m still running.

running

 

I don’t do it every day. I’ve found that running every day aggravates my left knee. So I run once per week. On the other days, I do my usual weightlifting, cardio kickboxing, or yoga.

I’ve noticed that now I’m looking on the sides of the road as I drive, scoping out decent, long stretches of sidewalk where it might be fun to run in the future.

I’m running longer stretches.

I’m not getting tired as easily.

And when I’m done… Oh… The feeling.

And a close second? Reviewing my heart rate charts.

February_28_run

I love seeing the peaks and valleys. Up and down. Over and over again.

I love seeing how far this heart and this body are carrying me. It’s one more reminder that, yes, I’m moving forward.

Yes, I can do this again.

Beautiful, The Bitch

When I was a teenage girl, I had very little in common with Beautiful.

I was sure of it.

Here is what Beautiful and I shared:

  • I was white.
  • I had long hair.
  • I had pretty good skin.

That was it.

I met Beautiful for the first time in the public library, where I spent Saturdays paging through crinkled copies of Teen. And if I was being really adventurous, it was Seventeen.

Beautiful was white, tall, and thin. She had straight, white teeth. Thin legs, small hips, flat stomach. A flat, flat stomach. I cannot overemphasize flat. She had boobs, although I had no idea what size they were. I just knew they were bigger than mine. She usually had long, straight hair, and it was usually light brown or blond. She could spin in place, her hair perfectly fanning against the wind. She wore short dresses and high heels. Her skin was flawless and her eyes were dark and drew you into her stare.

Seventeen_magazine_1994

It only took me 2 minutes to find a picture of Beautiful.

Real women were like Beautiful. Other women existed, yes, but you didn’t want to look like them because their lives were sad. They never really got what they wanted.

But not Beautiful.

Beautiful always got what she wanted. Simply because she was Beautiful. Beautiful could make a man forget everything that he valued. She could change his mind. She could consume him.

This unspoken narrative was parroted everywhere I looked.

Teen_magazine_1993

This is how I first learned that women achieve their goals through manipulating men. By using their bodies.

And let’s be clear about what the chief goal was: to be loved by a man. Being the recipient of a man’s love was the pinnacle of female existence.

My male readers (I know I have a few) might be thinking at this point, Who cares! Why are women so hell-bent on being like Beautiful? Can’t they recognize that these are advertisements? Don’t they realize that guys don’t really care about all of that?

Well, no, girls don’t really know that. Especially young girls.

Young girls gaze out at the world and see that the women who are happy in every known form of media look at least a little like Beautiful. And the ones that don’t look like Beautiful are constantly cut down to size, derided, and Internet-shamed (see Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, etc.) to remind them that they are breaking the rules.

***

I was 10 years old when I first started gazing out at the world and noticing what made women happy and how. It was all so clear to me–the women who were happy and had great lives were Beautiful. They were married and had great jobs.

This was also when I first realized how different I was from Beautiful.

I tried a lot of horrifyingly awkward ways of shaping and changing my hair and my body so that I resembled Beautiful. I put my faith in Cover Girl and Pantene and Gillette.

Being like Beautiful required that I stop being free and start learning the rules.

It’s when I started caring about leg hair and body odor and matching my clothes. It’s when I learned where I should buy my clothes. And because I was too poor to buy my clothes from those stores, I quickly learned where I could buy cheap imitations, hoping that no one would notice.

I learned how to pee in a public bathroom without farting and if–God forbid–I had to actually poop, I learned how to do it as quietly and discreetly as possible, for fear that another girl would know that I was currently pooping.

I learned how to hide.

How to suck it in.

How to button it up.

Which clothes would cover my rolls.

Which ones would give me the appearance of boobs.

I learned which masks to put on. The aw-so-sweet-I’m-gonna-cry one. The I’m-so-surprised one. The I’m-so-angry-with-you-until-you-apologize one.

I learned all of these rules through shame–either directed at me or at another girl. I quickly learned the reasons that you could be worthy of teasing. And I made it my ultimate goal to never, ever be singled out.

It was the reason that I preferred to be silent much of the time at school. Most people never make fun of the girl who never talks. She’s not an obvious target. I tried to blend in as much as possible. I opened up only to my close friends, many of whom also shared the same fears.

Although I wanted desperately to look like Beautiful, I didn’t.

I was Overweight. Shy. Weak. Spineless. Powerless. Voiceless.

But I was also Pure. Good. Obedient. Trustworthy. Godly.

Over the course of my teenage years the pounds kept coming and coming until I was 50 pounds overweight in my junior year of high school.

I clung to the promise of the Ugly-Duckling narrative that was played out in countless teen movies like She’s All That. I told myself that someone, somewhere out there would someday see how beautiful I was on the inside. Because, ultimately, the world is a place of justice and fairness.

***

But when I was 17 years old, I starved my way from 195 pounds to 155 pounds in four months.

Yeah.

Why?

A boy, of course.

Even though we clicked on all other levels, he told me that he couldn’t be with someone that he didn’t find attractive.

Well, that’s it. I thought. I’m done believing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Fuck. That.

I’m not terribly proud of this. It shows how much I hated myself. It shows that I derived my own self-worth through the eyes of someone else. That I thought that I was so ugly and fat that I didn’t deserve food. That I thought that the only way I would ever be happy would be if a man loved me. And I couldn’t be loved unless I stopped looking like myself and started looking like Beautiful.

So I starved myself.

And what happened?

He started to like me.

And it wasn’t just him. One of the security guards during my night shift at Target started to blush whenever I talked to him. One of the stock guys said, “You losing weight? It looks nice.” (It. Not you.) I got hit on by male customers while cashiering. One guy even had the balls to ask for my phone number, his wingman digging his elbow into his ribs to urge him on.

Holy shit, I thought, completely flushed as I clumsily declined his offer and turned away. I have to learn how to turn guys down now.

It was the power that I dreamed of.

But it made me feel like everything that I had reassured myself–that true beauty was on the inside–was nothing but bullshit.

It made me feel like Beautiful had been right.

What a smug Bitch.

***

But being like Beautiful left me feeling empty.

Now that I was like Beautiful, now that I could turn heads, is that really wanted I wanted for myself? Did I really enjoy being objectified and positively judged simply because of how I looked? Is that really the way that I wanted to spend my life? Achieving what I wanted by using men?

And if my answer to these question was yes, what kind of a person was I? I would lead a self-centered, egotistical existence, caring nothing for the hearts that I would trample on along the way. And weren’t women supposed to be nurturing? Caring? Loving?

Can you see the conundrum that I faced?

Now that I had this power, I didn’t want it. I wanted the universe to take it back.

***

But perhaps the biggest problem of all was this: Beautiful was a Bitch.

I didn’t like the idea of becoming Beautiful the Bitch.

I wanted to be better than her. I wanted to be Beautiful + 1. I wanted to have the waist, the hips, and the boobs of Beautiful because it would give me power.

But I wouldn’t use that power.

I wanted to be Beautiful because it was an implicit, persuasive argument–even if it was irrational and unfair. I knew that Beautiful was powerful. And I had seen enough to know that everyone listened to Beautiful when she talked.

But I would be different. I would be like the right-handed knight that fights with his left hand for a challenge. Even though I could use my looks, I would use my wit instead. I would surprise people. They might not say it, but they would think, Damn, she’s smart. Not what I expected. Or maybe they would think, She could be so full of herself, but she’s really down-to-earth. Wow.

I would turn Beautiful on her head. I would make people rethink Beautiful to the point that it would kill her.

***

Of course, none of that happened.

Beautiful is still alive and well.

And while I am starting to see the last ten years creep into the corners of my face, Beautiful is still that ageless, flawless wonder.

My desire to be like Beautiful has become more lukewarm these days. I have thankfully moved past those days of extreme self-denial when I believed I was undeserving. It took a relationship built on discovering and celebrating what made each of us Amazing. We redefined Beautiful to include intelligence, drive, compassion, openness, and even forgiveness.

It has changed how I feel about Beautiful.

I realized that I wanted more than what Beautiful could get by herself. Beautiful got lust, but not love. Envy, but not friendship. Pride, but not acceptance.

When I see Beautiful now, I see that she is that smug, bitchy friend who was terrified of someone realizing that she was nothing special. She never bothered to explore who she could really be because being what everyone else wanted was enough. It made her one-dimensional. If you turned her to the side, she would completely disappear, leaving not even a trace.

And that is not how I want to live my life. I want to be remembered. I want to leave not just trace, but a trail.

***

When I look in the mirror today, I see a version of Beautiful.

Sharon_2015

But I also see that 17-year-old girl, who was desperate for someone to love her because she thought it was the only way she could ever be happy. I still feel her broken heart. I still hear her vicious thoughts, full of self-loathing and shame.

Ugly. Fat. Uncool. Poor. 

Sharon_1998

1998: Tenth grade

Ugly thoughts. Truly, ugly thoughts.

I wish I could go back in time and give her a hug. I wish I could tell her to open her eyes and her heart so that she can see that Beautiful is just another way to control women and mold them into being lifelong consumers of products that will never solve all of their “problems.” I wish I could tell her that Beautiful is a Bitch and that if a guy only wants Beautiful, let him go. Because Beautiful is a myth.

And you can never become a myth when you’re Real.

I wish I could undo all the damaging messages that Beautiful has whispered into her ears. I wish I could help her be as carefree and wholehearted as this little girl.

Sharon_1991

1991: Fourth grade

This girl cared more about learning about the planets and stars and her multiplication tables than matching her clothes. She loved a good book, especially Goosebumps and The Babysitter’s Club. She looked forward to reading all Saturday afternoon at the library. When she had a question, she asked and didn’t feel stupid.

She played on the playground like it was no one’s business. She ran and sweated and got dirty. She sang out loud with abandon. She never thought twice about saying exactly what she thought because she believed wholeheartedly that people would always be kind and accepting. Because God made people. And God is love.

This girl didn’t realize that she lived in a working class family–or even that this was something that people found shameful.

This girl made decisions based on what she thought was interesting and fun, not based on what she thought other people might not tease her about.

Like all mothers, I want a better world for my own daughter. A world of diversity and openness rather than selectivity and judgment. Where the goal is to seek to understand ourselves and each other better, rather than trying to reshape ourselves so that they fit into acceptable boxes that make it easier for us to determine whose voice should be valued and respected.

I wish that there were some magical way of doing this.

I wish the hands of a Just God would reach down into our nations and instill in our cultures an equal respect for both genders. Perhaps then, women would be more equally represented in the upper echelons of our government and corporations and institutions.

There’s a saying that I hear a lot in my church. I’m not sure if it’s a Lutheran thing or not, but I like it.

They say, God’s work. Our hands.

I know that this is how real social change happens. By each of us putting our hands into the messy work of change. And every day, I am doing that. Every day, I’m showing my daughter what it means to be a woman who loves herself.

Valentine_picure

Working the Heart

When I first started running a few weeks ago, I made it a mile.

Then, it was two miles.

This past weekend, it was three miles.

Hands and heart

Photo by Rachel Kay Albers: http://www.rkaink.com

 

Okay, really, it’s a mix of jogging and walking. But the stretches of jogging have been getting longer and longer. I fix my eyes on a point ahead of me and say, That far. Make it that far and that’s enough for now.

But then I get there and I feel that I can go on. Just a little farther.

And then I get there, and I feel that I can still go on.

This is how I’ve been running farther and farther.

I don’t tell myself that I’m going to run three miles. I break it up into small chunks. I go at a reasonable pace.

Normally, my thoughts are directed externally. Driving, writing, teaching, talking, fixing dinner, cleaning. My thoughts go ahead of me and my body follows. But when I run, my thoughts turn inward. My body goes first and my thoughts follow. It’s a different way of occupying myself. I think about right now, the pavement, what’s coming up ahead, how I’m feeling. Is it soreness? Is it fatigue? Or is it pain?

If it’s soreness–move on.

If it’s fatigue–slow down.

If it’s pain–stop.

What has always bothered me about running is the breathing. If I run too quickly and can’t get my breath, what kind of a workout is that? I don’t want to burn out before I really have a chance to run. As long as I can breathe, I reason, I can keep going.

So I settle on a slower pace.

And it still works my heart.

It’s kind of poetic, maybe even romantic–this notion of working your heart.

Because that’s how I would describe love: It works your heart. It stretches it. It breaks it. It mends it and makes it.

But none of that happens unless you’re willing to see how far your heart takes you. Maybe it keeps pace as you go down the long path. Maybe it cries out in pain and your journey is cut short. Maybe it brings you back to a path you abandoned long ago, once you have the strength to travel it.

But no matter how far you’ve run, you’ve still moved forward.

As I run, my heart works. And works. It works overtime. It beats and beats beyond what I thought it could handle.

And this is good.

As I slow to a walk, I feel the endorphins surge, a warm wave washing over me. I pull off my gloves and let my fingers cool against the winter air. I unzip my jacket and the wind rushes in. My breathing slows. My heart slows and slows until it’s beating as softly as it would if I were asleep.

But it has not stopped.

This is the feeling I long for–the feeling of a warm river flowing through me. A pillar of warmth, of energy, reaching down into my heart before pouring out of me like a fountain.

This is that light feeling, as if I am helium rising, tethered to the physical world only by this body.

This is spiritual, a kind of alive that no word approaches.

But it only comes if you work the heart.

%d bloggers like this: