What Pregnancy Taught Me About the Female Body

Fitness isn’t a one size fits all fix for women. Some women are better runners, some swimmers, some lifters. Women carry weight differently, respond to carbs differently, and no two women have the same physical make up.

Pregnancy is the same. Some expecting women respond to foods differently, some don’t even tolerate exercise well, and no two bodies handle the growing baby in the same way.

The day we found out vs the day she was born. From week 5 to eek 42, and 56 lbs later!
The day we found out vs the day she was born. From week 5 to week 42, and 56 lbs later!

So ever since I found out back in March of 2016 that I was going to be a mom, I had one concern on my mind: how in the world was my body (and my #fitlife) going to handle nine months of pregnancy?!

This is one of the reasons I’ve been a bit absent from Strongfigure. I learned quickly that my body didn’t want me to do anything except lay on the couch and grow a baby. During the 42 weeks I was pregnant, I was either sick, inundated with birthing books, or completely distracted by nursery decor, tiny onesies, and preggo journaling. I’m sorry for the hiatus! 

But I’m back now, and I’m excited to share that my body successfully conquered pregnancy…

But not without my fair share of difficulties.

I’ll be honest with you: I was a good combination of scared and excited of what pregnancy would do to my body. I couldn’t wait to see what I looked like with a baby bump, but at the same time, I was terrified of gaining too much weight. After all, I started this fitness journey several years ago as an overweight college grad who ate too much late-night pizza and Chinese take-out. I knew how easy it was for me to gain weight and I was scared of that again. Very scared.

But my background in health prepared me for all I needed to know about this new journey I was about to face. Pregnant women could still eat healthy and exercise. There was no need for a huge calorie increase. I knew what I needed to do:

  • Continue to exercise
  • Eat as healthy as possible
  • Drink tons of water
  • Limit stress
  • Don’t eat for two
One of my last "healthy" food choices before the nausea set in.
One of my last “healthy” food choices before the nausea set in.

I got this.

But you see…just as it was for me with food and fitness, I found out quickly that pregnancy was going to be a new challenge to face. I’ve never been the type of person to fit any mold and I learned immediately that pregnancy was going to be the same.

First Trimester

What I expected: I expected to eat all the healthy foods that would help my baby grow. I knew I’d likely get nauseous (my mom was nauseous for her entire pregnancy with me, so I assumed the same could happen). But I knew one thing: no matter what, I would eat well for my baby and my body. I would have crackers by my bed to combat morning sickness and take peppermint drops to work. I would keep my calories in check and not give up on my health and eat cupcakes just for the sake of being pregnant.

preggo 20What really happened: I ate cupcakes and could care less about the calories that I consumed. Ok, ok, maybe not entirely, but here’s what I learned about my body in the first trimester. I had zero control over my nausea–which lasted all day every day for eight weeks–and the only foods I could stomach were processed foods made up of bread, cheese, and potatoes. I ate pizza, mashed potatoes, pancakes, biscuits (I went through an embarrassing biscuits and gravy phase), mac-n-cheese, tons of french fries, and a weird phase of steak and cheese subs.

preggo 21What gets worse is that I was never actually hungry. For the first time in my life, I had ZERO appetite. None. But if I didn’t eat every two hours, I would throw up. What kept me from puking were the carb-rich, calorie-dense foods. At this point, I was so sick that I couldn’t get off the couch. Do you think I cared for a second what I was eating? Hell no! I was in survival mode! I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t stand the smell of food, and the thought of anything healthy would send me face first to the toilet. Water made me puke. Orange juice made me puke. Ginger-ale made me puke. There’s no sense even commenting “Did you try….” because yes I did. I tried it all and nothing worked. I had to eat CRAP food every two hours for eight weeks and just wait it out.

Day after day I grew frustrated in my first trimester because all my new baby apps told me how important it was to exercise, eat healthy, and drink a lot of water. All three made me puke and I felt so horrible, guilty, and ashamed that I couldn’t! Was my baby going to suffer because I ate Stromboli and KFC?? Just like the fitness world can be overwhelming to someone newly trying to get into shape, so can the pregnancy world.

In fairness, I did share it with Erik.
In fairness, I did share it with Erik.

The result: I gained 12 pounds in trimester one. My fitness-spirit was crushed. And honestly, I was too sick to care.

Second Trimester

Does anyone want this tank? I clearly jinxed myself by buying it. #SheCameInDecember
Does anyone want this tank? I clearly jinxed myself by buying it. #SheCameInDecember

What I expected: To feel awesome during this “golden stage,” exercise, eat healthy, drop some of the first trimester weight I gained. (I mean, that was carb weight, not baby weight, right?!)

What really happened: To my surprise, I did feel awesome most days and was able to get back into exercising–some. I tried to do something each day–whether that was yoga, kettlebell swings, a crossfit workout, or a workout with my morning fitness class that I taught. But what I didn’t expect to happen was the intense back pain. Some days the workouts helped my back and other days it made it worse. Some nights I cried myself to sleep. Pre-pregnant Steph thought “If I can deadlift over 300 pounds, I can carry a freakin’ baby for a few months.” Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it?

I will say that I did get back into healthy eating this trimester. Though I lost my taste for ground turkey, I got right back to veggie making, protein packed, clean-carb meals. Yeah, we went out for ice cream and Mexican at least once a week (I did have cravings after all), but I did well this trimester and I was proud.

Look at that food prep!
Look at that food prep!

The result: I still gained a ton of weight. A ton. WTF?! This is where I started realizing that maybe I wasn’t the one in control of my body anymore. On one of the best, healthiest, fittest weeks of my life, my weight shot up 10 pounds. And in total this trimester? I gained 26 pounds. (You do realize that this is typically the total pregnancy weight most women “are supposed” to gain in the entire pregnancy, right?)

Third Trimester

preggo 25What I expected: I thought things were going to continue to flow like they had been during the second trimester. I mean, I was exercising, I felt fit, I was eating healthy,and besides my back pain, I felt fine. I passed the nausea stage and I knew nothing could be worse than that, right?

preggo steph3
This was actually very light swelling compared to the end of pregnancy.

What really happened: The fatigue. OMG the fatigue came back in full force–almost as bad as it had been in the first trimester. I had no more energy for exercise or meal prep. My baby was getting closer to making her appearance, and I had this intense fear of never being able to rest, binge on Netflix, or sleep ever again. So I rested–a lot. I sent Erik out for take-out many nights. My back hurt, but my hips also hurt, and my feet…oh Lord my feet. I tried…I really did try…to get up and walk as much as possible. I knew it was good for me and the baby but my feet were SO swollen. I outgrew every pair of shoes I had. I could only wear Erik’s sweatpants and sweatshirts. I had 15 pillows in our bed and still couldn’t sleep. I was miserable. Just miserable. My entire body was swollen with fluid, and it knocked me right off my ass.

The result: I gained another 14 pounds and could not WAIT to get my body back to feeling “somewhat normal” again.

Fourth Trimester (Post delivery)

I spend a lot of time on the couch and not much time getting anything else done.
I spend a lot of time on the couch and not much time getting anything else done.

What I expected: Life to be a breeze. Don’t laugh…I really did think that once we brought our baby girl home that I could get right back to food prep, walking, yoga, and getting my “body back.” I wouldn’t lose all my weight, but I would lose some. Recovery would be quick because I’m tough, and life would resume in a new kind of wonderful. After all, I read the stories, knew what to do, and was more excited than ever to jump back into my old world of fitness…this time with the new hashtag, #fitmom.

What really happened: You’re laughing, aren’t you? Yeah…me too. Life with a newborn isn’t exactly easy. Each day, Erik has come home to hear me say things like, “All I accomplished was baths for both of us, and I put some clothes away during one of her naps.” Thank God he’s amazing and always replies,

Accuracy: A sleeping baby who wakes up when I put her down so I let her sleep on me while I sit around in nursing sportsbras filled with overflowing milk-soaked pads.
Accuracy: A sleeping baby who wakes up when I put her down so I let her sleep on me while I sit around in nursing sports bras filled with overflowing milk-soaked pads.

“You kept our daughter alive and were the best mom ever today.” As I’m writing this almost six weeks post delivery, I’ve taken one “real” walk for exercise. And my recovery has been NOTHING like what I imagined. Some of my stitches fell out while I was in the hospital still so that means that parts of me are taking four times longer to heal. And that’s been painful. A lot of sitting, resting, and asking people to get me things. I don’t like that one bit. Grocery shopping, meal prepping–

all of that takes a back seat to caring for an infant and trying to get your own lady parts to heal. Traveling for the holidays regressed my healing, brought upon new pains, and to this day I’m still working on figuring out how to get back into some sort of fitness again. I thought I would find my normal again, but the truth is, my body needs a lot more time and care before I can jump back into the world again. And I did lose 30 pounds from giving birth and breastfeeding, but I still have over 20 to tackle.

The result: There is no more “normal” anymore. Not for my body, not for my routine, not for my #fitlife. There may be a new normal, but it’s not the same one, nor will it ever be the same one again. And I’m 1000% ok with that.

What This Experience Has Taught Me

preggo steph 6Women’s bodies are amazing and Mother Nature freakin’ knows exactly what she’s doing.

Your needs are different from the girl in your spin class, and those needs are different from mine. My body knew what it needed–despite what I thought, anticipated, expected, or tried to do. My body grew a perfect human being. And that means it sat me on my ass when I needed to rest. It fueled itself with carbs when it needed them. It allowed me to exercise on the days it gave me energy to do so. It also showed me kindness and gave me a little peace from the health-obsessed bubble I had created and it let me eat cupcakes and cheesesteaks.

My body gave me the break I never knew I needed, and in return? It granted me the most beautiful gift I have ever been lucky enough to receive: a perfectly healthy baby girl.

And now? Now I can teach my daughter how to love her body and the bodies of all women. How to work hard and take pride in her accomplishments. How to choose healthy foods and pack smart lunches…but how to have a cupcake and splurge on Stromboli too. I can show her confidence and appreciation for what the female body can do. I can teach her strength and watch as she grows into the amazing woman that she will become.

Pregnancy has done wonders for me. It was nothing that I expected, all that I feared, and everything that I accomplished. And in the end? I’ve never felt better and more confident about ME. My body, my role as a mother, my confidence as a woman.

I havent showered in a couple days but we are out and taking a walk with friends!
I may not have showered in a couple days but we are out and taking a walk with friends!

Where is My Fitness Headed Now?

The fitness-obsessed Steph you always knew is still the same me. I can’t wait to get into the gym. I want to do CrossFit wods, see how much I can still back squat, and try every new lifting program I read about while pregnant. I want to do abs and abs and abs and abs (I’ve got about one centimeter of separation in my ab muscles) and I even want to do sprints and burpees and wall-balls!

I also have no clue how or when I’m going to do any of this. Pre-baby Steph would have squeezed in a gym sesh after work and wouldn’t have cared if it took two hours to accomplish. Now, I’ve got to figure out what time of day is best for my schedule, baby girl’s schedule, if childcare is available or if Erik needs to watch her while I’m working out. No more several-hour gym sessions or dropping in spur of the moment. I’m going to have to plan every workout and be flexible with my baby’s schedule.preggo steph 9

Currently, I’ve been cleared from the doc to take short walks and do some yoga and pilates. I’m headed out for a walk in the next hour. I own yoga and pilates DVDs. I can do this. I will do this. Eventually, I’ll start back to CrossFit a couple times a week, and maybe sometime in the future I’ll even get back to specialized lifting. I may not have the same competitive fitness goals as I used to, but I still want to be a fit and strong role model not just for women, but now, for new moms, and even more so for my little girl.

My body will probably never be the same again and I’m surprisingly ok with this. Every time I look at it I can’t help but think, my perfect, beautiful little angel grew inside this body. I will lose this baby weight through good nutrition–just as you always hear in the fitness world, “you can’t out-train a bad diet” accompanied by whatever exercise my body needs. Whether that’s a long walk with my baby strapped to my chest or good CrossFit workout, I’ll get it done. My motivation has never been stronger and my inspiration never so beautiful. <3