When my oldest daughter was born, everything I knew about myself got turned inside-out and upside-down. You see, I grew up as a competitive swimmer; I swam through college, ran marathons, even did a 7-day bike tour through the Rocky Mountains. When I got pregnant, I kept up with my regular yoga practice and threw in a walk or two here or there. Being athletic my whole life, I sort of developed the mindset of "why walk when I can run?" To me, walking was something older people or non-athletes did. As my pregnancy progressed, I naively planned on bouncing back right after birth because, "I was in shape".
I went into labor with an innocent confidence, and I emerged shaky and unsure of who I was and what I was doing.
Then I gave birth. It was harder than I anything I'd ever done. I give birth like I swim... long and steady. I was a distance swimmer, but no workout or training session could ever come close to what it was like for me to give birth. I went into labor with an innocent confidence, and I emerged shaky and unsure of who I was, and what I was doing. (I've come to understand this is a very common feeling for new moms. In fact, the very act of giving birth must transform you from a maiden to a mother... no small feat. But that's another blog post!) I was sore all over, I couldn't sit down, and every inch of me was swollen from the IV fluids I was given during labor. Suddenly, this body which had seen me through years of swim practice, two marathons, a bike tour, a rigorous yoga practice, and THREE days of labor had had enough. My plan of "bouncing back" was now a distant memory. Whatever idea I had of regaining my old self was gone. I realized that the one thing I'd poo-poo'd for so long, was the one thing I had to do. I needed to move, and the only way I could do that, was to walk.
I remember that first walk at about five days postpartum. We got the baby bundled up in her stroller and headed out. It was a beautiful day and I just wanted to do something that would make me feel like my old self. By the time we slowly made it to the end of the block, I was exhausted and felt like my insides were falling out. It took all I had to make it back home to the waiting couch. The next day, we walked to the end of the block again. I was still tired, but it didn't hurt as much. Slowly, we walked a little further... and a little further. Two blocks. Three. Around the lake. Around the park.
There was something in those daily walks that called to the deepest, most familiar part of me. The part I was afraid I was never going to know again. These walks became my refuge and my meditation.
I began to look forward to my daily walk. Sometimes my husband would join me, but most of the time it was just me and my baby. In those early days, our walk was the biggest outing of our day. By the time she was changed, fed, and changed again, we would head out. Some days it took an hour before we could leave the house. But I kept going. There was something in those daily walks that called to the deepest, most familiar part of me - the part I was afraid I was never going to know again. These walks became my refuge and my meditation.
I began to feel like a mother.
When my husband went back to teaching after his paternity leave was over, I felt lost again. We had taught together for six years, so now that I was home with a newborn, I didn't know what to do. Thankfully, I knew I could get outside and take a walk - every day. It was on these walks that I began to feel more comfortable as a mother. People would see me in the park, and to them I was just a regular mom. They didn't see me the way I saw myself: as a fake, trying to pass myself off as someone I wasn't. They didn't think, "Oh there's that gal who thinks she's a mom, but really doesn't know what she's doing!". Nope, they didn't care. And I gave myself some space to try on my "new mom suit". I got more comfortable when my baby cried and I realized I knew what to do to soothe her. I knew what her rhythms were like, and when she'd be getting hungry. As I began to feel more comfortable as a mother, I began to see my baby as a new little person with a personality. On these postpartum walks I noticed subtle nuances, like what would make her smile. I began to feel like a mother.
Not every day was an easy day to go for a walk. There were plenty of times when I wanted to bag the whole thing. This is where my dear friend Ashley stepped in. I knew Ashley from yoga, and we were neighbors, but not really close friends. She had a baby who was about a year older than my daughter. We realized we had a common need to get outside, and that we also needed each other for motivation. On those hard days, I would call her, or she would call me and say, "I'm heading out." Sometimes, just knowing that there was someone waiting for me at the end of the block, was what I needed to get out the door. Even on those hard days, I always felt better after walking. I never regretted going, or said, "Eh, I should have stayed home today." Not once.
I am a walker and proud of it!
This spring it will be twelve years since those first hard walks with my daughter. I have swum only a handful of laps (and only in the summer when I can do it outside), jogged even less miles, and modified my yoga practice. But one thing that hasn't changed is my appreciation and love for walking. I no longer see it as something that other people do. No. I am a walker and proud of it!