It’s Monday morning. I’m getting set to take my favorite strength-training class and trying not to wake my baby as I push him in his stroller into the gym’s childcare center. Like most days, my schedule is set, and today is already in motion: I’ve packed lunch for us to eat after class, then I’m hoping he’ll fall back asleep on the drive home so I can hop on a work call at 1:30. Later in the afternoon, I’ll have a narrow window to cook dinner before picking up my 4-year-old daughter from preschool.
Right now, though, I really could just use a nap.
I am like millions of women who sacrifice their bodies — lovingly, begrudgingly — to the ordinary miracle of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. We all face the difficult choice of how to spend our limited time; for me, this includes running a consulting business while raising two children with my husband. With our busy lives, carving out time for oneself seems unthinkable. The pressure just to keep things going is immense.
After my first pregnancy in 2009, I ultimately felt I did everything “right”: I had a healthy baby girl and learned to eat well, rest, and exercise. When my son arrived in 2013, I expected things to go even more smoothly.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will.
Supporting My Pregnancy
In the years before my daughter was born, I was running on empty at a full-time job, squeezing in uninspired workouts at a gym. I got married, and we wanted to start a family. I dreaded commuting while pregnant and being exhausted, as I’d seen happen to friends. Those friends and I spoke about how our harried culture didn’t feel supportive to mothers, so when I became pregnant for the first time in 2009, I intentionally set up a healthier lifestyle.
I worked with a life coach to start my own consulting practice focused on improving schools. With my part-time business, I felt better prepared to juggle the roles of mom and worker. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband who championed my lifestyle adjustments: He had encouraged me to complete a half-marathon with him just months into dating, so I knew I had a partner when it came to living a healthy life.
I immersed myself in reading about a healthy pregnancy, hoping to avoid the use of medication during delivery. I took an intensive, multiweek natural-childbirth class with my husband and learned about nutrition. We hired a doula to help us. I did yoga, swam, walked, slept. I ate loads of vegetables and drank lots of water. The big day arrived, and I was fortunate to have a textbook-healthy pregnancy and delivery to welcome our daughter.
Those first few months of motherhood were a blur. I tried to eat healthy and take walks, but by the time my daughter was 8 months old, I was at 203 pounds. I had lost 12 pounds since delivery, but I was 23 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight of 180. I needed a plan if I was to lose the remaining baby weight, so I joined Life Time Fitness along with three women in my moms group.
I wrote three or four weekly classes into my calendar as a date with myself and the gym — a commitment to my health. Those classes were hard. But through each one I kept thinking, “Make this time count. You are already here; commit to this workout.” I pushed as hard as I could, and I was seeing results. At my best, I did 50 pushups in one class — unthinkable!
I also changed my eating habits, eating frequently and adding superfoods like flaxseed, wheat germ, whey protein, and ground nuts. I ate fewer grains, and meals were often mostly protein and vegetables. When I enjoyed a treat like dark chocolate or frozen yogurt, I found that a little went a long way.
When I saw an ad for a Life Time indoor triathlon, it felt poetic to complete my first-ever tri on the momentous one-year anniversary of delivering my daughter. I fared well in the race, which I completed with a friend, and felt amazingly accomplished. In true mother-hood-multitasking style, I came home from the tri and hosted my daughter’s first birthday party with my husband.
While my initial goal was to lose 23 pounds, I lost 45 pounds and three clothing sizes in 18 months. I was in the best shape of my adult life.
And Then There Were Two
In summer 2012, I became pregnant with my second child. So much of what I learned during the first pregnancy had been a revelation, so I expanded my healthy habits, eating more kale and greens, and included weekly strength-training classes, yoga, and swimming. I used a heart-rate monitor to be sure the baby was safe, and consulted my class instructors and midwife for advice on physical activity. One day in spring 2013, I was taking a yoga class; the next day I delivered a healthy baby boy.
Being pregnant with my son did a number on my joints. While I had increasing hip pain toward the end of pregnancy, I didn’t expect that pain to radiate through my entire leg and foot afterward — so much so that I needed physical therapy to rebuild my leg strength. Scheduling time and showing up to PT seemed daunting while caring for a newborn and 3-year-old, all while keeping my own business going.
I just wanted to wear my old clothes and be fit. But postpartum workouts were hard to manage with two kids; I’d make it to the gym once or twice a week, and I was winded throughout. I also had to reconfigure my approach to eating, since I no longer needed the extra calories I’d required while pregnant: I almost had to relearn how to eat.
Accepting My New Reality
I’m still working to get back to the best shape I’ve ever been in, but I’m realizing that things are different this time around. I now have two kids’ schedules to juggle, I’m more tired from caring for them both, and I’m older. I’m not giving up — just shifting the paradigm to set goals that I can achieve while feeling good about myself. This past fall, four months postpartum, I felt awesome after finishing a 5K obstacle-course run with my doula and other friends. I walked a lot, but I was there.
On days when I haven’t slept more than six hours, I opt to skip the gym in favor of sleep to repair my body. I never skipped the gym before, and I can get down on myself if I don’t exercise. I try to be gentle on myself and remember that this is only temporary.
With this honest approach, I’m still committed to a healthy life. I’ve refocused my work in organizational management and communications on changing schools for the healthier through environmental, nutritional, and physical education. I also author a blog (www.soveryvienna.com) about raising a healthy family near the nation’s capital.
For my husband and me, educating our children about eating has been fulfilling. I beamed upon learning that our daughter was the only preschooler in her class to not only try but also eat all of the roasted beets at school lunch.
Looking back at where I was four years ago, before kids, I’ve learned I can’t control everything and have an environment of perfect health for us all. But I can try my best every day to make wise choices, and share my knowledge and passion for healthy living with teachers, students, fellow parents, and, most importantly, my children.
Meet: Melanie Kadlic Meren, 36, married with two children (ages 4 and 1); owner at MKMStrategies.com, which works with organizations and schools to support healthy kids.
Big Achievements: Transforming her body after childbirth; adopting healthy habits for herself and her family.
Big Inspiration: Wanting to be fit and have energy for her family and work.
What Worked: Honoring her commitments to exercise and learning about where food comes from and what it does for the body.
What Didn’t Work: Worrying about a timeline to get back in shape after having a baby.
Words of Wisdom: “Make informed choices. Learn about food — where it comes from and how it can accelerate or hinder your health. Understand the tradeoffs you make when you choose to be inactive. Use a calendar to plan time to be healthy.”