The return trip

Since giving birth 10 weeks ago, I’ve moved through several phases of trying to get back into shape—including spending time at the gym acting like a hamster.

In the first week, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. Even though I didn’t have a baby inside me, I still had a tendency to waddle when I walked and to rise from a chair belly-first. I kept forgetting that my stomach muscles were mine again and that I could move from my core, instead of watching it bump into furniture.

Coming home from the hospital was a relief. I was glad to be away from the paranoid nurse who, while she wouldn’t bring me pain medicine, was very strict about how I got up from the bed, leaving me with the impression that a wrong move would cause my uterus to explode, or my C-section incision to split open and spill intestines on the floor.

Thank goodness for the next nurse, who encouraged me to walk. With the increase in circulation, the fluids moved out of my body and my surgery-shocked guts began to work again. The first 13 pounds disappeared quickly, leaving the next 12 to simmer on my butt and thighs—preventing me, still, from sliding into my pre-pregnancy jeans.

I was dying to get back on my bike, even though I knew it was going to hurt—and not just from a cardiovascular point of view. I wasn’t looking forward to the pain of pedaling those extra 12 pounds up the hills with weak legs. To get back in shape, I started out with long, slow hikes, which evolved into fast walks, both through the neighborhood and along my favorite mountain-biking trails.

It was great getting out of the house with the baby and into a peaceful environment, with no germy strangers squealing over him and touching him. I carried him in a sling, since he was too small for a front pack. A stroller was out: Putting a 4-pound baby into one felt like strapping a flea to a surfboard. Besides, I wasn’t ready for him to be that far away.

Once I got on the trail, though, the panic began. Could he breathe buried in the sling? I checked 27 times and then ended up holding it open as I walked—which caused my shoulder to cramp. When a bee began buzzing around my head, I freaked out about how I would feel of the baby got stung, or whether he was allergic to bees, berating myself for not being more sensible with a newborn. Once the bee was gone, I started thinking about how slick the rocks were, and what if I fell on top of the baby? This drove me to stare down at the trail looking out for possible foot traps—which gave me a cramp in my neck.

By now I was certain that the baby couldn’t breathe, so I took him out and carried him in my arms (talk about an excellent biceps workout). Then I began thinking that if I were to trip and fall I would either land on the baby or separate my shoulder (if I managed to tuck and roll while clutching the little guy to my chest).

Eight weeks after the birth, I summoned the courage to go for my first ride. I decided to go with a couple of women who are in great shape but new to mountain biking, figuring it was a perfect way to treat my ego while also pushing myself physically.

My lungs felt as though their alveoli were on fire. My legs were hurting so badly that I thought I would have to do the unthinkable—stop and rest before reaching the peak. The only thing that kept me from doing so was realizing that if I were to lie down, I would immediately fall into a deep slumber, having been averaging three hours a night of sleep.

Much to my surprise, the downhill run was fast and smooth, despite my having been off my bike for so long. It was a splendid way to end my first ride, notwithstanding the bruised sit bones, which continued to ache a week later.

It was an encouraging start, but the struggle is far from over. There’s more work to be done—and pain to endure—before the real fun returns.

[Bettina Freese lives in Asheville.]

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