My personal journey over 8 years and 2 pregnancies, as featured on www.jessiemundell.com
Eight years ago, my life changed forever.
I gave birth to my first child.
I don’t need to tell any other mums out there – this is an emotionally charged time.
There’s the tiredness – towards the end of your pregnancy you’re carrying a fair amount of extra weight, just rolling over in bed requires a gargantuan effort, let alone being mobile on your feet.
There’s the excitement of meeting your baby. There’s the nervousness and, let’s be honest, there is a whole lot of fear at the thought of what’s in store.
Your body’s own systems kick in and endorphins flow to help you cope with the actual labour and birthing process. Then your baby arrives and there’s pure relief – you did it!
Euphoria at what you have created, carried, and borne.
Then comes that slight trepidation – especially with your first – suddenly you have this new life to look after, nurture, support, be responsible for… it can be quite daunting, to say the least.
I remember being left with my first son on my own for the first time and it was panic! There was no instruction manual (clearly a hiccup in procedures at the hospital… I mean surely something that important should come with an instruction manual?!) and I just looked at him, wondering where to start.
But you muddle through, find your feet, gain confidence.
It’s a learning curve like no other and one that you crawl up on hands and knees due to sheer tiredness. There’s a constant sense of wonderment though, as you watch your baby grow before your eyes.
Yet through all this emotional turmoil, women are under increasing pressure to instantly return their figures to pre-pregnancy state, in record time.
Pictures of immaculate looking celebrities, days and weeks after they’ve given birth add to this stress.
I must admit that it did not enter my head during the first year of my eldest son’s life. I was busy clinging onto my sanity by my fingernails!
Following the birth of my second son and another bout of pelvic dysfunction, I was keen to get back to activity. Not from the point of aesthetics and vanity, but from the point of view of rehabilitating my hips – I wanted to be able to chase after my two little monkeys into the future.
The burden of achieving that ideal figure did come to bear though.
I found it incredibly difficult. Not having been blessed with children that sleep well, and with my second son exhibiting similar health issues to the first, my focus was on surviving and doing my best for them.
That said, I became increasingly conscious of my “mummy tummy”, what remained of my chest, and other bulges that I started to see as unsightly.
I went to the gym when time permitted and was concentrated in my efforts. Making every attempt to improve my nutrition yielded improvements in energy and helped me resist the seemingly endless bouts of viruses that my boys succumbed to.
The mummy tummy though, I didn’t want to know, so I just learned to live with it – by which I mean cover it up, stood in postures that helped make it appear better.
Outwardly I looked fine, happy even, but my self-confidence took a battering in those early years.
I look back now and wonder – for what? Did any of these body bulges affect the way I loved my sons? Affect my ability to cuddle them and play with them?
Now I realise that I am a different person to the “me” of 8 years ago.
I’ve learnt the power of unconditional love, how to cope with very little sleep, the joy of laughing so hard you cry at my little monsters’ antics and the frustrations of them not listening to a blinking word I say.
The old me wouldn’t have coped well with any of this.
My personality has evolved, grown and developed – so why shouldn’t my body?
My youngest is now 5 and I’m finally getting more consistent sleep. My body has continued to change throughout that period.
As an Exercise Coach, people often presume I train for hours every day. The reality is that I only train 2-3 times per week, for 45-60 minutes each session. This is what my schedule as a working mum allows for.
I eat consciously but still have chocolate and cake within a normal week (some weeks more than others!). I live in moderation.
I am a different shape.
I am not the same person in attitude, knowledge, or structure since creating, growing and birthing my two boys – so why should I strive for the same “body”.
Yes, I want to be the best version of me I can be. Yes, I want to have enough energy and mobility to chase after my children for many years to come (and they most definitely keep me on my toes). And yes, undoubtedly I strive to feel happy within my own skin.
We can do all of those things without resorting to extreme diets and drastic forms of fitness.
You’ve probably read a number of articles in this vein already – urging you to consider the beauty and strength in your post-natal body rather than chasing a media driven, often photo-shopped ideal.
In your heart of hearts, you know everything you’ve read like this, and been told, is true….but it doesn’t change how you feel.
You look around and see the figures of your friends who haven’t yet had children. Of those at work. Women in the coffee shop and on the school run with “perfect physiques”. You can’t help the twinges of jealousy, resentment and self-deprecation you feel.
The thing is though, if you spoke to those people, I bet a substantial amount of money that they yearn for some of the things you have.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
When we just take a quick look at an external appearance, we choose what we want to see. Invariably we look at the areas that we’re not so happy with on ourselves. The person you are looking at will do the same when they look at you.
They will see a new mum, glowing with pride at what you’ve brought into the world. They will look past the dishevelled hair, tired gaze and mummy tummy. They see you, the person you are. They see what you have achieved – your beautiful baby. They may actually be envious of all of that.
Enjoy time with your little one. Trust me, it goes so fast. Everyone will tell you that, but it really does. Treasure your time with them so that as they grow older you can look back with fond memories rather than wishing you’d done more with them.
Remember, you are creating their memories too.
My boys really brought this home to me just under 2 years ago.
I’d put huge pressure on myself to reduce my body fat – I wanted to get really lean. Looking back now, I realise I’d swapped an historic fixation with weight on the scales for one of body fat percentage.
Yearning to change my physique in part was a way for me to regain some control over my body after what it had been through with 2 pregnancies, but I also felt the need to live up to the traditional fitness industry image of female physique models.
I called on the services of a nutritional coach, worked hard on my training and stuck to it all religiously. I even gave up chocolate – completely. My friends were quite shocked by this fact alone! (I even dream in chocolate!).
It worked – I got to my lowest body fat figure and went on holiday feeling delighted in my accomplishments.
I even stuck to the nutrition plan strictly during the holiday – turning down Cornwall’s finest ice cream and cream teas for boiled eggs and broccoli.
Half way through the holiday, my sons asked me why I was grumpy and wouldn’t eat ice cream. “What was wrong with ice cream, Mummy?” they probed.
This really made me think. What kind of message was I giving my sons? That being lean is more important than anything else in life? That it was worth being miserable on holiday for the sake of visible abs and toned triceps?
That ice cream is bad for you? That mummy is paranoid about the way she looks?
None of these questions sat happy with me. Comparing photos I realised something else.
My holiday photo had made me feel like I’d achieved something but was fearful of ‘losing it’. It reminds me that there is more to life than my physique.
Funnily enough, almost 2 years later my weight has varied up and down, I eat healthy foods in moderation most of the time, but I enjoy chocolate, cake and the like every now and then.
No extreme dieting. No pressure to conform. I use the mirror and the fit of my clothes to gauge my progress.
I’ve relaxed into motherhood more (let’s face it, it may be the most rewarding job in the world but it can also be the hardest!) and my boys understand the concept of moderation and see that their Mummy practices what she preaches.
So, what can you do?
You can take steady steps to improve your energy, figure and health that will assist you in looking after your little one(s) too.
1). Look at your hydration.
I know for myself, I’m on it with making sure my boys are drinking enough through the day but I have to make a concerted effort to apply it to myself too.
This can help with energy levels, digestive comfort, skin health and a whole host of other wellbeing benefits.
This factor is especially important if you are breastfeeding – 90% of breastmilk is water!
2). Keep an eye on your nutrition.
Are you eating unprocessed foods most of the time? Are you eating to suit your routine rather than skipping meals? Are you finishing off the children’s snacks and meals without thinking about it?
3). What about your activity level?
You don’t necessarily have to get to the gym or a class. Put your baby in the pram/buggy and get out walking more. Stride out and walk tall. Use an exercise plan you can do right at home.
There are many little additions that are easy to fit into your (and your baby’s) routine that will make positive changes to how you feel and look.
Rather than obsessing over restoring your figure, focus on healthy eating to boost your energy levels, support your hair and skin. This approach will get you not just looking good, but feeling amazing too.
Having a baby changes you emotionally, mentally and physically – embrace those differences and make a fresh start as the New You rather than wasting time yearning for the old you.
Lisa Gimenez-Codd is a Female Health & Exercise Coach, supporting clients in their journey to wellness with experience, empathy and enthusiasm. I aim to reconnect clients with their bodies, empowering them to build their confidence and strength – health from the inside-out. Further information is available at Lisa’s website and on her Facebook page.