Mother runner

When I entered the ballot for the 2019 London Marathon I don’t think I really expected to get in. I’ve entered now for a number of years and I assumed that this year, as in previous ones, I’d receive the ‘sorry not this time’ email and, with feelings of disappointment and relief in equal measures, I’d shrug it off and plan to enter again next time around. I suppose at the back of my mind was the thought/fear that the year I gave birth would be the year I also finally made the cut, and of course, that’s what happened.

So I now have a dilemma: on the one hand this is a race I’ve wanted to take part in since becoming a “runner” (of sorts). As a Londoner there is something totally iconic and wonderful about the London Marathon and the atmosphere on the day is incredible. On the other hand I have a sea of doubts and questions over whether I’ll have the time, energy and support to train for a marathon? Do I risk doing damage to my body by running so soon after undergoing major abdominal surgery and while pumped full of relaxin from breastfeeding? Is it fair on my husband for me to spend hours at the weekend out on long runs while he looks after our baby? And am I prepared to take that time away from my daughter who, at the moment, I can barely leave for half an hour at a time?

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I am also aware that I’m not running the same engine as I was pre-pregnancy. I’m heavier now, with a squishy tummy, some abdominal separation and milk-filled breasts! Nor am I getting the same quantity or quality of sleep that I was. 

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Yet while I know I could defer my place for a year, something inside me is reluctant to take this ‘out’. Having a target is such good motivation to get me on the road, and the London Marathon is certainly a good target! Moreover, running makes me happy and I love the sense of satisfaction after a Sunday long run, particularly as I watch my mileage creep up into double figures. At the moment, running is also one of the only times when I’m on my own. I love my daughter more than words can express, but when you can’t go to bed, take a shower or even go to the toilet (sorry for the overshare!) without a set of beady eyes watching you, the value of having some alone time is not to be underestimated! 

My husband is also infinitely supportive. He knows how happy going for a run makes me and how, in turn, that happiness makes me a better wife and mother. 

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So for now I’ve paid my entry fee and have a place guaranteed. My plan is to rebuild my strength and fitness over the next couple of months, gradually increasing my weekly mileage and continuing with a range of activities from swimming and yoga to the Warrior Mums repair and Buggy Belles cardio classes (which I can do together with my daughter), and then reviewing the situation again in December. My target is to be comfortably running 10 miles by the end of the year so I am in a good place to start formal training come January. 

I will keep you updated on my progress and would love to hear your thoughts and advice on postpartum marathon training, running as a mum and managing multiple priorities. Also if you have a place for the 2019 London Marathon do get in touch – if I make it that far it would be great to have some friendly faces on the start line on the day! 

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Mum and baby fitness

This weekend I enjoyed my first session back in the pool since giving birth (full set below). This came at the end of a fun and diverse week of postpartum fitness classes helping me to feel more like myself again. 

Having had our six week check and been signed off by the doctor on Monday, Tuesday saw me and Florence at a restore and repair class with Warrior Mums (http://elizaflynn.co.uk/warriorrr-workouts/warriorrr-mums-babies/) in Highbury. I tend to struggle to put Florence down without her crying so it was great that I could do a lot of the exercises while holding her. We began with core work, followed by a quick cardio warm-up and a circuit of resistance and weighted toning exercises. It was really fun and I felt like I was getting a workout, albeit a suitability gentle one. The GP and trainer at Warrior Mums confirmed that I have approximately 1.5cm separation in my abdominals, which is totally normal and doesn’t classify as fully-blown diastasis recti, although I still need the avoid crunches, planks and anything that engages my six pack until the muscles have come back together again. 

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Wednesday was a bit more sedate with a trip to the cinema for a baby screening of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. We took a brisk walk to the Screen on the Green in Angel, Islington to meet the NCT girls (https://www.everymancinema.com/screen-on-the-green). Here we enjoyed a two-man sofa to ourselves, free tea served to our seat and, of course, a good movie, which Florence slept and fed through – perfect! We followed it up with a trip to Planet Organic for a healthy lunch of vegan sushi and a smoothie and a walk home via a slightly elongated route. 

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On Thursday we attended a mum and baby yoga class at Yoga Home in Stoke Newington (http://yogahome.com/). This was our second attempt at the class and for a second time Florence cried for most of it. The crèche worker helped, as did the ‘tummy time’ toy I took along, but overall it was a struggle and the amount of yoga I actually got done was questionable! On the one hand, it is good practice for me to put Florence down, for her to see other babies and for us to do an activity together, on the other, it’s not an inexpensive class and if she really doesn’t like it, is it worth persisting? I’m still unsure. 

On Thursday evening, I enjoyed a run while Florence had some daddy time. It was my third run back and felt great. I’m taking it really slow and steady at the moment (10 minute miles for 3 1/2 miles); I’m being mindful to take care of my body and enjoy being out rather than pushing myself, but it feels so great all the same. 

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On Friday we enjoyed a workout in Clissold Park with the Buggy Belles (http://www.buggy-belles.com/). Florence slept in the sling for the whole class and was good for ‘weighting’ my step-ups, squats and lunges! It was a really fun class on a beautiful sunny morning and we will definitely be going back next week!

Today I had a visit from a women’s health physio from My French Physio (http://myfrenchphysio.london/). She checked my section scar, abdominal separation and pelvic floor. She gave me some exercises to strengthen my transverse abdominal muscles and to help me to fully relax my pelvic floor. We also discussed my return to exercise and it was good to be able to ask about my decision to start running again and for her to let me know what to look out for in terms of discomfort, pain and symptoms of pushing myself too hard too soon. It was good to feel supported by an expert in this area and I made another appointment for further checks and exercises in three weeks. 

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On the whole it’s been a great week for exercise; now I just need to cut back on my Brazil and cashew nut snacking!!

My swimming session from Sunday is below, enjoy.

7 weeks postpartum, swim:

Warm up:

200m front crawl

Main set:

200m backstroke 

200m breaststroke 

200m front crawl

200m front crawl kick 

200m front crawl pull 

200m front crawl full stroke

200m backstroke kick 

100m alternating 25m breaststroke kick, 25m front crawl kick 

100m front crawl pull 

Cool down:

200m front crawl 

Total: 2,000m, 45 minutes 

A postpartum comeback?

I am acutely aware that for a blog ostensibly about exercise I haven’t written much on this subject in a little while. The various changes over the past ten months to my life, lifestyle and body as a result of pregnancy and childbirth have resulted in a shift in my fitness routine, with a significant decrease in the frequency and intensity of my workouts. While I continued to exercise throughout my pregnancy, yoga, weights, walking and swimming took the spotlight, while running played more of a supporting role. 

On 10 August my baby was born by caesarean section. It may be quite telling that while in the operating theatre one of my first questions to the obstetrician was when can I exercise again? I was told I could do a ‘gentle cycle on a stationary bike’ from four weeks, but no running or swimming until after six weeks. At the time six weeks seemed like a lifetime away, yet now, with the six week mark fast approaching, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone! Florence has occupied so much of my headspace and my physical and emotional energy, the thought of going for a run has been so low down in my list of priorities as not even to register, that is, until now. 

Over the past week or so I’ve started to feel more like myself again and I’m eager to start getting back into shape. I’m adapting to the new sleep pattern, walking further and faster and my milk supply and appetite seem to have regulated, meaning that Florence is more satisfied and I’m no longer filled with the desire to guzzle Vego and peanut butter! My ability to multitask is returning (I’m feeding Florence as I write this) and this week I ordered a stack of books to read, treated myself to a manicure, got back on my yoga mat and ventured to the gym. 

While I’m taking it really easy, I was pleasantly surprised by my strength and fitness both on the mat and the bike. It’s amazing how much easier it is to chaturanga without an enormous stomach weighing you down and I can easily reach the handlebars of the bike again! My tummy does still leave a lot to be desired – I have a distinctive paunch now and it’s pretty squishy, as is my bum! But I hope once I can get back into a proper routine they will begin to firm up again.

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I’m really looking forward to returning to the pool once I’ve had the all clear from the doctor and I can’t wait to get Florence in too (she already has three swimming cossies just waiting!). I’m also looking forward to eventually lacing up my trainers again for a run, although at the moment, with my scar still tender and my ligaments still quite loose, I’m conscious not to race back into it and risk damage or injury.

While I’ve earmarked some mother and baby yoga, Pilates and buggy workout classes, to make sure my reintroduction to exercise is safe and properly paced, I’ve booked an appointment with a women’s health physio for the six week mark. This was something that other sporty mums recommended and will make sure that I’ve had a full MOT before embarking on a full comeback. 

I will be keeping you up to date on how I progress and the workouts I’m doing. If you are getting your fitness back after childbirth or injury, or if you have been through a similar experience do share any tips and advice with me, I always love to hear from you. 

Labour of love

A little word of warning before I start: this is a post about my experience of labour and childbirth and may not be for everyone. Please feel free to skip it if you’re squeamish or if this content just isn’t for you. For the morbidly curious, on the other hand, read on!

It’s now just over two weeks since our beautiful baby girl, Florence was born, and what a two weeks! In that time I’ve had chance to process the experience of child birth, I’m starting to get used to my new body and it’s role as sole nutrition provider for our baby girl, and we are all getting to grips with our new life as a family of three. I was going to write here about both my labour and the process of adapting to the various postpartum changes to my body, but once I started writing I realised that the labour took up plenty of space on its own (!!) so the post on the physical impact of pregnancy and birth will have to follow. 

Ahead of the birth we had tried to steer ourselves away from a specific ‘birth plan’, knowing that some things just can’t be planned for. In the event, this open minded approach served us well as we certainly couldn’t have predicted the course that my labour took.

My contractions started at 8am the day after my due date. Following advice from our midwife, who we had seen the previous day, we continued our morning as usual and I sent R off to work. Throughout the course of the morning the contractions got progressively longer and closer together, but they were still no more than uncomfortable and I was able to do some weights, eat lunch and have some time on my yoga mat and birthing ball before deciding to go for a little walk in the park. Not far into the park it became apparent that the contractions were getting much stronger, so instead of forging on I turned around to walk the 3/4 mile home, a walk which became increasingly difficult. 

On my return I messaged R to tell him to make sure he had tied up any loose ends at work by the end of the day as I was sure today was the day and ran myself a bath. With the contractions getting stronger I tried to get into the bath, only for my waters to break before I’d even lowered myself in. From this point on the pain increased rapidly and I struggled to get dry and to dress and to get the final things together for my hospital bag (luckily I’d had the majority of things packed for some weeks and only needed to throw in final essentials). I have to admit to feeling pretty scared and very vulnerable in those moments alone. There were some tears and then, when my more practical side kicked in, there was some crawling on the kitchen floor to try to sort out food for the cat for fear of him being left overnight and going hungry. I also messaged R to get back asap – a request thwarted by his having a puncture en route home! 

I was so relieved when R finally arrived. I was in such pain by that stage and the TENs machine given to me by my sister was doing absolutely nothing to take the edge off. 

The taxi ride to the hospital seemed to take a lifetime and by the time we reached the waiting room it was all I could do to get onto all fours in the corner of the room and try not to be sick while we waited to be seen. 

All of the beds were full and there were no midwives available so when we did eventually get seen it was by a doctor who told us that two women had already given birth in the stuffy, sterile assessment room we were now in. This was not what I needed to hear. We were left there for 4 hours while my waters continued to break, my contractions – which were basically on top of each other – got increasingly painful and I was sick into a nappy bag. Not pretty. In the background we could hear another woman screaming in pain as she gave birth. This was a particularly low moment and I wasn’t sure I could go on. 

I just remember saying to R over and over again, ‘there are no gaps between the contractions. Everyone told me there would be gaps!’ I was also begging for any kind of pain relief, and about 4 hours after our arrival I was finally given some codine by a midwife who told me that I needed to move back into the waiting room until I was in ‘proper labour’. With my waters breaking everywhere and writhing in pain we told her that this wasn’t going to happen. Not long after the urge to push came and on second inspection it became apparent that I had reached 8cm dilated – I’d call that pretty ‘proper labour’ thank you very much! 

At this point a bed on the labour ward became available and I was hoisted into a wheelchair to get me upstairs. I couldn’t sit down in the chair, so I lodged myself in sideways and was sick down the corridor as they wheeled me to the ward. Another particularly low moment!

Once on the labour ward our experience totally changed. We had the most wonderful midwife who looked after me so well. I was immediately given gas and air, which made me feel like I was having an out of body experience, making the pain more bearable, and I was hooked up to a monitor for the baby. I tried to stop pushing when the contractions came but I couldn’t and as Florence was in distress they advised that I have an epidural. I had been in so much pain with contractions on top of each other for 7 hours by this point that I would have said yes to anything. I’d always hoped I wouldn’t have to have an epidural, but in the event I was happy with the decision. I’d had my eyes screwed up in pain and body contorted for so long, with the epidural I was able to open my eyes and relax my limbs. With the epidural came a catheter (again something I’d hoped to avoid!) and a cannula with an IV drip. The natural, mobile birth I’d had in the back of my mind had suddenly become very medicalised, but, as long as my baby’s heart rate remained constant, I didn’t care. They also ran a series of blood tests on Floss to check her oxygen. This involved scratching the top of her head to take the blood while she was still in the uterus. Apparently the device used for this didn’t look particularly mummy-friendly, but again I was more concerned about her than me and also chose not to look at what was going on below my waistline! 

I was given 2 hours from that point to dilate to the full 10cm. The epidural dramatically reduced the progress of the labour and by 1am I had only reached 9cm. I was given a further hour to see how it progressed and was put on a hormone drip to help things along. Just after 2am I had reached 10cm and was allowed to push (finally!). But pushing having had an epidural is pretty difficult and Florence was so high that after an hour of trying we hadn’t made enough progress to continue. The doctor, who was also amazing, advised attempting a forceps delivery and failing that an emergency c section. We agreed to follow her advice and I was taken to theatre. R dressed in scrubs so he could come with me.

Because Floss was so high, because her head was tilted to one side and because she was in distress the doctor felt that, after trying with the forceps, an emergency section was necessary. I was given further anaesthetic so that I was numb from the chests down and a screen went up so I couldn’t see beyond my chest.

The anaesthetist did a great job of distracting me during the procedure and it seemed that no sooner had the screen gone up that Floss was in the world crying. I will never forget that sound or the look on R’s face when we heard it! He cut the cord and she was put on my chest while they removed the placenta and sewed me back together. The feeling of being put back together after a c section is so bizarre; the anaesthetist described it as like ‘rummaging in a handbag’! I can’t say that it’s a sensation I ever want to feel again (although I expect many women say that about a vaginal delivery!). 

The epidural left me without any sensation in the lower part of my body for some hours afterwards and even once I had sensation back the c section meant that I couldn’t sit up by myself for several days. I’ve never felt as helpless and vulnerable as in those first hours when everything from the waist down was paralysed and I was catheterised and hooked up to an IV drip and unable to reach over into the cot next to my bed to pick Florence up. There was an awful moment when I was alone with her and she was being sick and because of the cannula in my hand hooked up to the drip I couldn’t reach her and when I pressed the buzzer for help no one came. Likewise, when I was on my own on the postnatal ward overnight, still attached to a drip and unable to lift myself and Floss out of bed after a feed, we ended up just laying there together until a midwife came in at 4am, to find me awake terrified I might fall asleep and let her roll off me. 

Since coming home the experience of giving birth seems more distant and surreal. I was reassured to discover that because I had become fully dilated, Floss had received all of the hormones from me as if she had been born vaginally. Similarly, my milk came in without any issues, which can sometimes fail to happen after a c section. And there has certainly been no question about our bonding; I don’t think I could love a little squidge any more than I love her!

A couple of days after giving birth R asked me if I’d do it again. My answer two weeks on remains as it was then, let’s just wait and see!