New Fit 4 Two classes starting next week!

It’s that time of year again: new schools for both my kids (one in high school, one in kindergarten, OMG), and new classes for me to teach.  Next week I’m running two free trials for Fit 4 TwoStroller Fitness on Monday morning and Prenatal Fitness on Tuesday evening.  I love doing the free trials because they’re an opportunity to welcome new folks, show them what Fit 4 Two is all about and hopefully give them some take-home ideas for how to maintain or improve their fitness levels, and also to say “thank you” to repeat customers by giving them a little freebie before the new session begins in earnest.

This session is going to be a lot of fun.  We’ve had a beautiful August, and I’m really hoping the weather stays nice enough to keep Stroller Fitness outside!  In the event it doesn’t, however, we will use the gym at the community centre and do an indoor version of this mobile workout.  With any luck, we may be able to take parts of Prenatal Fitness outside, too, since it’s still light outside well into the evening.  I’m still working with some of the moms and babies who took my prenatal classes last fall.  Now I’m looking forward to seeing some new faces, and being even a small part of such an important time in women’s lives.  One of my favourite things to do as a fitness instructor is the relaxation segment that concludes every Prenatal Fitness class, where we take a few minutes to just be mindful of how we each feel at that moment, to focus without judgment on the transformations taking place in each of the women’s bodies, and to experiencing each moment fully without worrying about what came before or what we have to do next.  I like it because, let’s face it, we can all use some relaxation at the end of a long day, and because there is no better preparation for labour and birth than learning to accept and respect your body for what it is, what it can do, and what it needs in the moment.

In addition to Stroller and Prenatal Fitness, I’m also adding a new class format to the schedule this year, Tummies 4 Mommies, which I’m pretty excited about.  It’s a progressive series of classes that focus specifically on postpartum core rehabilitation. Participants will learn techniques for engaging and strengthening their core muscles from the inside out, and they’ll get handouts to take home so they can practice their technique on their own time (or not).  So many people spend so much time doing a million crunches to no avail (and actually with a potentially negative impact if they experienced diastasis recti during pregnancy or if they haven’t first strengthened their deeper core muscles):  I’m looking forward to working in a very focused way with women to help them activate the muscle groups that are really going to give them an integrated, effective approach to building a stable core, and help protect them from some of the problems that result from weak muscles in this area (can anyone say urinary incontinence? boo…). Core classes are also fun because they offer lots of opportunities to interact with the babies during the workout.  The babies are adorable, plus this takes the pressure off the moms to try and fit their exercise in between moments of fussiness as they can continue to snuggle, play or even nurse throughout a lot of the movements!  If you want to learn more about core conditioning during and after pregnancy, check out this month’s edition of Fit 4 Two’s newsletter, and remember that there are franchises operating all over western Canada, so there are lots of opportunties to join these classes. :)

Prenatal & postpartum weight: giving up and giving in

“All new moms worry about losing the baby weight.”

How’s that for a major generalization? 

True, many new moms worry about this, maybe even most.  But all is a troubling superlative, not only because it’s almost guaranteed to be untrue (find one exception, and the hypothesis crumbles) but more importantly because it reinforces the cultural imperatives for women to be thin no matter what, and to put weight at the top of their list of concerns at all times. Statement:  All new moms worry about losing the baby weight.  Subtext:  If you aren’t worried about this, you should be because everyone else is.

Note that the article linked above, about so-called “mommyrexia” (could there be a more infuriating term?) invites women to share their methods for “stay[ing] slim in pregnancy or los[ing] weight after giving birth.”  I’m all for women sharing their experiences, but I find this formulation troubling. Surely there are better and less sensationalist ways of acknowledging women’s fears about the changes to their bodies during pregnancy.

As a pre and postnatal fitness instructor, obviously I have a vested interest in helping women maintain their health during and after pregnancy. This includes promoting healthy weight gain while growing a baby, and appropriate weight loss in the months following.  But I won’t do it in a way that upholds the paradigm in which weight plays a disproportionate role in determining a woman’s worth or which shames women whose bodies don’t conform to current weight and shape ideals.  Yes, exercise burns calories and can reduce body fat; no, we won’t talk about that in my classes.

I work to support prenatal and postpartum women’s health, not to help them police the size of their bodies.  Body size and weight are only two variables among many that indicate a person’s level of fitness and capacity for activity, and the jury is still very much out when it comes to conclusions about the relationship between weight gain, weight loss, health and pregnancy. Science and Sensibility’s recent series on maternal obesity demonstrates this beautifully.

Different women gain different amounts of weight during pregnancy for reasons that often have less to do with food intake or exercise than you might think. This can be scary for a lot of women. Larger women have reason to fear being treated as if they’ve done something wrong if their weight continues to increase during pregnancy, and they are likely to be categorized automatically as high risk and subjected to a variety of  prenatal and birth interventions as a result. Smaller women may have their own set of fears, especially if they usually go to herculean efforts to keep their weight at a certain level or maintain a particular shape. It’s hard to drop that mentality and to weather the pressure not to ‘let yourself go’ just because the stick has turned blue. 

But what does ‘letting go’ really mean?  There is some implication that it means giving up, giving in, and that these are inherently bad things to do.  But we could re-frame the concept as giving up our culturally-determined beliefs about how our bodies should look. And rather than giving in to the TV-land stereotype of gluttonous-pregnant-woman-eating-for-two, how about giving in to pregnancy, which is designed to ensure that women gain the fat and fluid they need to carry a baby to term, and have the energy necessary to labour and birth a healthy baby.

In this framework, giving up and giving in are important steps toward good mental and physical health, and they are perfectly congruent with staying active and eating a diet of nutrient-rich foods in amounts that satisfy hunger and thirst.  This framework promotes health for all women, all of the time, without prejudice or judgment about size and shape.

The more we learn to listen to our bodies during pregnancy, to explore how they grow and change and to support their new needs, the more likely they are to respond appropriately to pregnancy’s demands.  And the happier our bodies are during pregnancy, when we’re feeding, moving and resting them well, the more likely they are to recover appropriately in the months that follow.

Mom & Baby Fitness: Beautiful Transitions

Today I taught the first class in my new session of Mom & Baby Fitness, following a demo class that I ran on Friday.  Of course I always love teaching fitness, and especially pre and postnatal—that’s a given.  But it’s particularly rewarding this time because the class is composed almost entirely of women who used to be clients in Prenatal Fitness, and who have now returned with their new babies for a session of postnatal. 

Not only is it awesome to see their babies—newborn babies!  super-high squee factor!—and to hear about their births, but it’s very cool to see how beautifully these women are transitioning from one phase of life to another. After class today, one of them mentioned that amazing thing that I’ll bet others have experienced, where your new baby may be only 5 or 6 weeks old, but you absolutely cannot remember what life was like without her. 

Today was really inspirational to me, reminding me how precious those early months are as you create new reflexes, and new patterns of thought and behaviour in the process of building a relationship with a new child.  Of course the early postpartum period is rife with huge challenges, but some of the challenges are quite wonderful.  One baby today, lying on a mat in the centre of the studio, started fussing during a cardio interval.  I watched in the mirror as her mama kept moving, monitoring baby out of the corner of her eye, listening to the sound of her newborn squawking over the music:  she was clearly observing and attending to her baby even as she kept working out and following the choreography.  This was so far from the panicked new-mom caricature of ‘oh my God my baby’s fussing stop the presses and fix it NOW!’ Instead, in the midst of a sweaty fitness studio, it was a calm, intuitive, almost subconscious moment where a mother waited and felt her baby’s cues before going to her to give her exactly the care she needed.  It was breathtaking.

It’s such a privilege to observe women transforming into mothers, and to help support them along the way.  I know that I have a lot of knowledge and expertise to offer the women who take my classes. I wonder if they know how much they teach me when they attend?

Birth community and a little update

A while back I posted about wanting to generate a birth network here in the Cowichan Valley.  But the crazy few months that followed meant that that wish never got too much further than a blog post and a couple of discussions with friends.  So I was super excited when I was invited to join a circle of women at the new Matraea Centre in Duncan, called together by Sarah Juliusson of Island Mother, Dancing Star Birth, Birth Your Business, and other cool projects. Sarah took the initiative to bring a group of people whose work supports pregnant and birthing families for a Birthing from Within training for professionals and discussion about our local birth community. 

I was tired and rushed last night, and had had one of those days where it’s lucky I work mostly from home because other humans would not have appreciated my mood.  But I made it to Matraea nonetheless, and am so glad I did.  I already knew some of the women there including the midwives, and a postpartum doula (aka goddess) who founded the New Mom Centre, and I met some others whose services include pre and postnatal yoga, and prenatal dance and art.  It was amazing to be sitting in a room full of so much excitement–excitement about Matraea, excitement about building connections in this community, excitement about sharing a common enthusiasm for supporting women and families. 

It was exciting and also educational.  Sarah took us through an exercise designed to help us examine the way we listen and respond to women when they talk about pregnancy and birth.  We worked in pairs to practice not only reflective listening but also body language that shows our clients that we are ready to ‘meet them where they are.’  I took away the message that we need to really hear what women are saying, recognize the validity of their position, and work with them so that the choice they make is truly theirs and not an empty reflection of our values.  This process focuses not on the outcome–not on what a woman ultimately chooses to do–but on how she gets there.  Does she feel supported?  Does she feel confident?  Does she believe that she is the most important person in the equation?  Does she own her own pregnancy, birth, and body? 

Tomorrow I’m going to start going to one of Sarah’s Mama Renew groups.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the whole session; I may have a scheduling conflict, but I won’t know for a while.  So, in the meantime, I’m going and I’m really curious about what it’s going to be like.  I have pretty much no idea what to expect!  But I hear it’s an awesome group of women (8 or 10, I think), so I figure it can only be good. 

Tonight is the first ICAN meeting here at my house for the Cowichan Valley chapter.  I’m nervous, which is funny because there’s really nothing to be nervous about.  I’ve wanted to do this for such a long time, as I think a group like this can really make a huge difference in a woman’s life, if it’s there for her at the right moment.  So, even if no one comes, just spreading the word and waiting so that ICAN is available for any person who may need it at any point in the future is good enough.

Healthy Beginnings

I had the pleasure this week of being a guest speaker at a couple of Healthy Beginnings meetings, which are drop-in groups for young children, babies and their caregivers sponsored by the local health unit.  I spoke to one group in Duncan earlier in September, and two groups on Thursday in Shawnigan Lake.  I did a little demo of core work with the women (all moms except for one nanny), and checked a few for diastasis recti (everyone was good to go!).  But aside from encouraging more people to strengthen their pelvic floors, I really wanted to get two points across:  a) let them know that I’m here as a resource for them in the community; and b) emphasize the notion that fitness is holistic, and that postpartum fitness, especially, has little to do with fitting into pre-pregnancy jeans.

Let’s talk about the second point first.  I’ve written about this before here so I won’t repeat those points now.  But I was struck at the drop-ins by how much women focus on changing their size after pregnancy.  Of course I already knew this was the case, but every time I see signs of it, the red light starts to flash in my head: teachable moment!  teachable moment!  There are practical reasons to want to get back to pre-pregnancy size–the most significant of which is probably financial, as buying an entirely new postpartum wardrobe right after buying a new maternity wardrobe is an onerous expense.  But there is nothing wrong with taking time to get there, and moreover, a healthy lifestyle + time is the best formula for healthy and lasting post-pregnancy weight loss.  Anything extreme–extreme exercising, or even not-so-extreme dieting–is dangerous, plain and simple (and most likely ineffective).  

The thing is, we all know this, and beating people over the head with such information doesn’t work.  So instead, I tried to focus on the positive:  rather than telling people what not to do, I suggested what they can do to improve their health and wellbeing after baby, and to strengthen their bodies so that they can move with freedom, and with the knowledge that they are protecting their bodies from injury. Even more importantly, I tried to emphasize that they can do that without having to be away from their babies.  (Although there is nothing wrong with working out solo either–the point is, women have lots of options and they can pick and choose what is right for them at any given time.)  And I’ll tell you–it felt very good to look around the room at women’s faces and feel like they were soaking these messages in.  I know the relief I often feel when someone in a position of some authority/expertise gives me permission to be kind to myself and to follow my instincts about what is right or wrong for me as a parent, and I hope I was able to do that for some of the women there.

On the second topic: although part of my reason for going to the drop-ins was to let women know about Fit 4 Two, I had a bigger purpose in mind, and that was to let them know that there is a place they can go if they have questions about things to do with health and fitness during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery.  I got involved with Fit 4 Two because I wanted to reach out to women as someone who is not a clinician of any sort, but has other kinds of information to share, and is happy to be a source of support.  Sometimes people hesitate to call on professionals when they have questions they feel are minor, or they have questions that professionals may not be equipped to answer (even the best birthy clinicians may know little about exercise physiology, for instance).  I wanted to introduce myself to the women as a fitness professional, but more importantly as their peer:  I know a lot about pre and postnatal fitness, but I’m also someone who has struggled through the pre and postnatal phases  and can lend an empathetic ear if they too are facing challenges.  So I was so glad to have the chance to go into these groups and let the women there know that they can email or call me any time with questions; if they are within my scope of practice, I’ll answer, and if they are outside it, I can help connect them with appropriate resources.  The point is that they aren’t alone, and they don’t have to pay a penny to be supported at this time in their lives, when so many women end up feeling isolated, inadequate, and often (sadly) at war with their own bodies.  Of course I’d love for them to take my classes, but it’s not about that; it’s about creating genuine relationships, and meeting women where they are, whether they are ready for and interested in a group workout or just need some basic information about how to work with their pregnant or postpartum bodies.

Oh, and I got to cuddle a newborn.  That was probably the highlight of the whole thing for me, personally.  There is nothing better than holding someone else’s newborn baby…  ;)

Fit 4 Two is back in session in the Cowichan Valley!

Well, Fit 4 Two Mid Vancouver Island is now officially back in business!  Friday and Saturday I taught two trial sessions of Stroller Fitness, one in Shawnigan Lake and the other in Duncan, to introduce the class to a new group of moms.  It was so much fun! 

First of all, the babies–the babies!  Who doesn’t love a cute baby?  It’s awesome to look out at the class and see these adorable little faces.  It’s also a really interesting challenge to learn not to be distracted by their sweetness while teaching the class. 

And the moms…I’m impressed!  There were moms ranging from 2 months to a couple of years postpartum, and all of them rocked it!  Some were more accustomed to exercising than others, but each one gave it her all, and it was exciting to get to introduce people to a new kind of work out.  My hope is that everyone came away with some new knowledge and ideas about ways of moving their bodies, which they can carry on into their lives whether or not they choose to take more classes with me. 

My goal for the next classes I teach is to do more to emphasize building and/or re-building mind-body connections.  This is such an important skill to have for everyone, but all the more so for pregnant and postpartum women–it’s crucial during labour and birth, and while trying to figure out how to move and live in a body that has just had a baby.  Our bodies change so much during pregnancy; they literally feel different to inhabit, and it takes some pretty big adjustments to work with new proportions, appreciate new capabilities, and manage new stresses and strains.  I believe really strongly in mindful, conscious movement, and pregnancy and the postpartum phase–when everything feels different, and every day is a new experience–are exciting opportunities to discover exactly what that means.  

This week I’ll be continuing with Stroller Fitness, and teaching the first classes in the Mom & Baby, and Prenatal Fitness series.  These are both studio-based classes, whereas Stroller Fitness is outdoors and mobile, combining intervals of strength training with power walking and/or cardio drills.  The studio classes this week will also use intervals, including aerobic-style cardio and work with resistance bands, hand weights, and body balls.  I’m hoping to see some of the Stroller Fitness moms at the Mom & Baby class on Tuesday, and looking forward to seeing a new group at Prenatal. 

Getting into the fall session is confirming what I already knew, which is that teaching these classes is absolutely a labour of love for me.  It is really exhilarating to work with these women, to provide an environment where they can make connections with each other, and to know that people are leaving the classes feeling better than when they came in (even if better means a little sore, lol).   I’m looking forward to another great week!

An epidural is not the only way to protect your pelvic floor

There has been a lot of discussion this week about press coverage given to a new study suggesting that epidurals may prevent trauma to the pelvic floor during delivery. Basically, the idea is that an epidural relaxes the muscles such that they don’t tear. I don’t know whether or not that is true. I haven’t read the study itself, only representations of the story in various places. I know that Amy Romano at Science and Sensibility is sceptical, and I think she is a pretty trustworthy source of information. It has been interesting to follow the discussion between her and the study’s authors in the comments section of her blog. (And ire-provoking to see the known ideologue Dr. Amy Tuteur’s $.02 popped in there, too—but I digress…) Whether or not the study’s conclusions have merit, the coverage of the study, particularly in the Globe and Mail, has been quite atrocious.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with epidurals. They have an appropriate time and place, and the only person who can really say for certain whether or not an epidural is indicated is the woman with the baby descending through her pelvis. I’ll trust her to be the judge of how she wants to manage those sensations. So, this is not an anti-epidural rant. Hell, I was practically desperate for one with my first baby—got to the hospital in transition and begged for one. I was too far gone, at 8 cm, to qualify—and in retrospect I’m glad that was the case, as it was a very cool experience to give birth without drugs—but at the time, if someone had tried to suggest that I was wrong to ask, I’m sure I would have wrung his or her neck with my own bare hands. That said, there are definitely risks involved with an epidural, just as there are risks with any invasive medical procedure. Risks v. benefits. That’s the name of the game.

So, there may be benefits to epidurals that we didn’t know about before. That’s awesome. It’s always good to learn new ways of preventing women from lasting harm to their bodies. Women want good options when it comes to health care. But a) this study isn’t saying epidurals prevent tears—it’s saying epidurals may play a role in preventing some kinds of pelvic floor damage; and b) the uncritical coverage of this study has not explained that there are also many other steps women can take to safeguard the health of their pelvic floors. The point is: there is nowhere near enough data to say that epidurals are necessarily the best approach, and they certainly aren’t the only one, either.

What else can women do? There are the often-cited birthing strategies that include not giving birth on one’s back, but instead choosing a position that is more in synch with physiological processes occurring and can benefit from gravity; avoiding fundal pressure; and pushing spontaneously, rather than following directions for pushing. But there are other things women can do as well, before they get to the moment when they are actually in labour—a moment when they may or may not want/be able to think about those strategies.

Women who perform simple pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and after delivery can greatly reduce their chance of pelvic floor trauma and the speed of postpartum healing. The stronger the pelvic floor, the more flexible; the more flexible, the more likely those muscles will get up and out of the way and not tear while a baby passes through. A strong pelvic floor can also prevent/reduce the significance of other common pregnancy- and birth-related concerns, such as hemorrhoids, prolapse, and urinary incontinence. And as a bonus, contracting the pelvic floor automatically gets the transverse abdominus to co-contract, helping to tone the abdominal muscles. These are seriously awesome exercises that can be done anywhere, at any time of day, with no special equipment.

 So, what do you do? Basically, you want to do a modified Kegel, which can then be performed in various series, at various speeds, and in various patterns. If you’ve never done a Kegel before, the idea is to draw the muscles of the pelvic floor (PF) up and into the body, as if you’re stopping yourself from going pee. Draw them in, breathe, hold for a few counts, breathe, relax. Once you get the hang of that, you can move on to combine PF work with other core strengthening exercises such as curls (unless you have diastasis recti), superwoman, and cat-cow. You can do them sitting on a chair or an exercise ball, standing, lying on your side, on your hands and knees, in child’s pose—there are many positions that work, all of which have a slightly different benefit.

The bottom line (pardon the pun) is: strengthen your pelvic floor. Pregnant or not, this is a good thing to do. But if you’re pregnant or contemplating giving birth at some point, strengthening your pelvic floor is a noninvasive, key step in minimizing the risk of tearing and other significant trauma to the perineal region.

Failure of Progress

I have real issues with the notion of “progress.” I first started thinking critically about the term while studying history during my undergrad degree.  Thinking about history—the process of change over time—you start to realize just how few things in life go steadily upward or get steadily, unproblematically better.  Rather, things happen in contradictory, often unpredictable, and always contingent ways.  We don’t get smarter with the passage of time or more clever, or stop repeating the same mistakes or necessarily do anything better; in the present and the future we are just as flawed as we were in the past, only in an ever-changing context.

I’m not going to write more here about the source of our collective faith in the notion of progress—that’s another essay for another time.  But I am going to say something about what our faith in progress does to our bodies in the context of both fitness and birth, two situations where the word “progress” gets used all the time, uncritically, and with damaging results.

In both fitness and birth, “progress” is an effort to impose objective values on the most subjective thing of all, individual bodies.  It maligns our bodily integrity by suggesting that we should gauge the work our bodies do from an outside perspective:  somehow, we won’t know that our bodies are working well unless we take the extra step of measuring, stacking ourselves up against an external set of values that most of us really don’t understand.  In fitness circles you’ll often hear things like, “Track your progress!  Get measureable results!” as if fitness should be measured in inches or six packs, and as if there are some magical measurements that guarantee we’ve done something right. 

In birth, tracking “progress” during labour—the rate of dilation and effacement, combined with a baby’s descent through the pelvis—holds a woman’s body to the rules of statistical averages at a time that we know is quite unpredictable.  And that makes me angry because it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  We persist in making assumptions about labour progress, insisting that “normal” dilation is 1.2 cm per hour and holding women to that standard even though we know that birthing bodies frequently don’t follow those rules

Well, taken by the thousands, parsed into all sorts of ideal numerical values, added together and divided appropriately, they do.  But yours doesn’t.  Neither does mine.  Statistics are numerical abstractions reflecting large-scale trends; but they aren’t illustrations of any one human being.  You and me:  we are individuals who are likely to follow a typical curve, but who may not, and may still be perfectly fine.  In fact, interfering with a body during birth to try and compel it to get in line with numerical averages can cause problems where none would otherwise have existed.  How many times does a perfectly healthy woman with a perfectly healthy baby end up in the OR because of “failure to progress,” when that “failure” was in fact no failure at all, but rather a body that simply needed longer than the charts said it should to give birth, and as a result longer than people—birth attendants, family members, the woman herself—were willing to wait?  

The critique I offer here is not new.  Emily Martin, a cultural anthropologist, wrote years ago about the damage done to women by superimposing the schedule of industrial capitalism on to our bodies.  Anything irregular—anything challenging the pace of the mechanical clock and the expectations of the schedule-setters—has been termed a failure or a problem, when it could have been recognized positively, as an adaptive response to a particular set of physiological cues.  This has set women up to be at war with ourselves because while we may wish to follow the schedule—who doesn’t want to have her baby on that magical due date, her period on the very day it’s expected, her labour to end after a predicted number of hours?—these are things that, without herculean effort, we simply can’t control.  Instead of accepting that unpredictability, we fight against it in what is, overall, a losing battle.  Because no matter how much we try, our bodies are not machines.  Our bodies don’t respect the clock (or the measuring tape or the scale) and they probably never will.

We can’t make our bodies meet the metrics of progress without doing things that put us at risk.  Inducing or augmenting labour without medical necessity, for example—something I admit I’ve done myself—is risky behaviour that multiple studies have shown invites complication.  Following exercise plans that focus solely on measureable “results”—again, something I have definitely done in the past—is risky, too.  It interferes with our internal sense of our own fitness and health, and instead makes our visual cues, mediated by cultural ideals of beauty and strength, paramount, often leading to injury, illness or frustration.

The good news is that there is a way out.  It is possible to improve your fitness level, challenge yourself physically, and to move through a major life event such as birth without the judgment that “progress” implies.  Your body need not always be in competition with itself.  Imagine what it might feel like to let your body be as it is on its own schedule (or lack thereof), aware of and embracing a kind of movement through time that is completely different from the time on the clock, and existing in shapes and forms that have no relationship to the number on the label of your pants.  Imagine what fitness might mean if it was mainly about how you felt, instead of how you looked.  Imagine what labour might mean if there were no “right” due date or number of hours or centimetres.   

How would acknowledging the failures of progress change your fitness goals?  How would it change the way you treat your body not only in signal moments like labour and birth, but in everyday life?

Birth Networks

It has been a while since my last post. A 2-week road trip in early August ended with me coming back to piles–literally!–of work.  That’s what happens when someone who is primarily self-employed takes a holiday…  On the bright side, however, all this time away has given me lots of opportunities to think about things to explore here.  Today’s post is relatively short because I’m still swamped with taking care of the backlog, but there will be more coming shortly!  In the meantime, a short musing on sharing, collaboration, and building a collective.

I’ve been thinking this week about birth networks, and in particular, about working with other people to start a local network here in the Cowichan Valley.  (Although the link is to the Lamaze site, the network I have in mind would be independent of any philosophy, open to as much diversity as possible.) I’ve been working this summer on spreading the word about my Fit 4 Two classes, and trying to build relationships with birth and postpartum professionals already working in the area.  And this process has made me dream of helping to form a collaborative group that would enable all the awesome childbirth educators, health care providers, pre and postnatal yoga and fitness instructors, and others who care for women during and after pregnancy to pool and share our collective wisdom–not only with each other, but with the community at large.  I can see the group providing mutual support, particularly for the smaller-scale businesses such as individual doulas and educators, but also organizing events that would be open to the community (hopefully free!) and informative.  I would love to do some free seminars on health and fitness, for instance.  I would love to work with other providers to demonstrate to people how all of these services complement one another, and hopefully offer opportunities for people who can’t afford to take private classes or hire private professionals to engage with us in another environment, and find alternative ways to access the resources we can provide.

Of course, organizing a network and events takes time and effort, and the trick will be to get enough folks on board that the burden is not too onerous for any one individual.  I have already had fantastic discussions with a couple of people, and hope to have more.  This is slightly uncharted territory for me, but I’m optimistic.  I think there are others out there who share my commitment to collaboration and collective engagement, and I think strength in numbers could go a long way in terms of building a stronger base for birth professionals in my area.  We’ll see what happens next…

Do you have experience with starting a network like this, either to do with birth or another topic? If so, please share your experience!

Group pre and postnatal fitness

Okay, so, a disclaimer first:  I’ve always loved aerobics classes.  It comes from having been a dancer for most of my life (I quit when I was around 26 or so).  I love following along with the choreography, I even love the stupid versions of bad Top 40 music (okay, with the exception of aerobicized versions of Celine Dion, to whom my sister and I like to refer as Sea Lion—she’s never good, even all jazzed up at 150 beats per minute).  I just love aerobics classes.  I love them enough that I was compelled to become a group fitness instructor myself back when my first child was about 18 months old.  (I admit I also liked the idea of getting a free gym membership as part of my teaching job, and the accountability of being an instructor—if you’re teaching the class, you kind of have to show up at the gym, no excuses.) 

Working out solo can be great:  there’s something awesome about plugging in the headphones, turning up your iPod, and zoning out while running or lifting weights.  But there’s something particularly inspiring about getting in a room with a group of other people, zoning in, feeding off each other’s energy, and moving together.  I found that group exercise was especially important for me when I was pregnant and caring for a newborn.

Ironically, considering my work now with Fit 4 Two, I didn’t exercise a lot during either of my pregnancies.  I had hyperemesis twice (lucky me!) so most of the time I was just happy to be able to get from my bedroom to the living room, or on a really good day to work and back, without falling over from nausea and exhaustion.  I certainly wasn’t able to keep up my pre-pregnancy exercise routines, which consisted before my first of going to the gym for aerobics and weights, and before my second of running 10k five or six times a week.  Of course that added insult to injury:  not only did I feel terribly sick and disappointed that my pregnancies were so crappy, I also felt shut in and isolated, unable to do the things I loved to do and cut off from people who might have had a clear sense of what I was going through. 

The one activity I was able to join in both cases was prenatal yoga, from early in the second trimester, when the worst of the vomiting had stopped, through to the end.  I only went once a week, but it was a godsend.  It didn’t get rid of my nausea, by any means, but it gave me a sense of calm about it, however temporary.  My usual Gumby-like flexibility plus all the relaxin flowing through my body made the stretching feel awesome, and in both cases I learned amazing visualization, breathing and vocalization techniques that were invaluable in labour.  (I can still hear my second teacher Lillian’s captivating Spanish-accented voice intoning with gently rolling Rs, “Relax your pink rrrrrrrrose!”) 

The other reason I went to prenatal yoga, and then again to postnatal yoga after my kids were born, was because it was a way to meet other pregnant women/moms.  In my first pregnancy, I was young (23) and knew pretty much no one else with kids.  In my second I was less young, but I still didn’t know many people with babies, and in fact we were relatively new in town so I didn’t know many people, period. 

Going to yoga classes was good for me physically and it was also good for me personally.  I didn’t make forever-friends in any of the classes, but I made connections that worked for me at the time, that reduced the sense of isolation that is common for women with new babies, and that gave me a network of people with whom I could commiserate about the ups and downs of pregnancy, birth and the early days of parenting.  Once a week, I got to check in with a group of women whose pregnancies and/or babies interested me, and who expressed both empathy and excitement about mine.  Those weekly 90-minute stretches were invaluable.

I look back at both my pregnancies and wish I’d been able to find more resources like the pre/postnatal yoga I did.  I wish I’d felt well enough to seek out information about other kinds of pre and postnatal fitness classes.  Again, I don’t imagine they would have cured my hyperemesis, but I suspect they might have made it easier to endure, as research has shown without a doubt that exercise can do wonders for relieving many of the discomforts of pregnancy. 

After my first baby was born, I resumed my pre-pregnancy activities quickly—I had an easy birth, and I went back to ballet class 13 days postpartum.  But it wasn’t always fun, and in fact it was downright stressful worrying about whether or not my baby needed to nurse while trying to get through the barre, or hoping that she’d be content in the childminding room at the gym long enough for me to do a full cardio routine.  With my second, and following a c-section, it took longer to get back into fitness, and when I did it tended to be a grim experience where I’d nurse, then race to layer on my winter running gear, bundle the baby into the stroller, and then hope hope hope that I could actually get out for the run before she needed to nurse again or have her diaper changed.  Not exactly baby- or mom-friendly! I restored my muscle tone and my cardiovascular capacity, but at what price?  (And let’s not even discuss the fact that running with the baby in the stroller so early totally ignored Safe Kids Canada’s guidelines for stroller safety.  Yikes.)

I remember wishing at the time that there was a better way, and I’m thrilled to say that thanks to discovering Fit 4 Two, I’ve found that there is.  I know this sounds like an infomercial, but I swear it is not—it’s more, to use an Oprah-ism, me sharing one of my own ‘a-ha!’ moments.  I found out about Fit 4 Two on the advice of a local doula and childbirth educator, who suggested it to me when I mentioned I was interested in combining my interests in childbirth education with my fitness and teaching background.  And as soon as I learned about the company’s values and approaches, I was hooked.  One thing that we stress is the idea of building relationships:  fitness is not just about exercise, it’s about increasing our health in multiple different ways, and that includes building networks of people who can offer friendship, guidance and support.

When I was student-teaching a Stroller Fitness class in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how frequently during the power walking segments the women would fall into groups of two or three and start chatting about things they were experiencing with their babies.  Sometimes we had to remind them to focus on their walking, but sometimes we also let them be, knowing that the social benefit at that stage of life can have as much value as the physical benefit—knowing, in other words, that fitness is about a lot more than raising your heart rate or strengthening your muscles.  True fitness is holistic, encompassing many different aspects of a person’s life.  (Of course we also knew that it would only be a few more minutes before the chatting would end and we’d get them into another set of more focused activity—they’d paid for an exercise class, and they definitely got one!)

I’m excited to start teaching my own pre and postnatal fitness classes this fall.  I love group fitness, I love teaching, I’m kind of obsessed with all things birth-y, and I can’t wait to provide opportunities for women during a unique time in their lives to find comfort for themselves, to keep their bodies feeling as strong and healthy as possible, to develop the physical confidence and techniques that can lead to a more satisfying labour and birth and an easier postpartum recovery, and to link with other women.  I love the idea of teaching classes where women can get a great workout and, in the postpartum classes, still be able to be with their babies and tend to their needs.  (Big shout out to the women who nursed while doing plie squats at Stroller Bootcamp:  WOW!)  It’s no exaggeration to say that getting involved with Fit 4 Two is for me a real labour of love.  I can’t wait to get started.

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