Fitness for feminists

I was busy preparing lunch for my twin babies and I when I flicked on the radio, as I normally do during meal times. CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon was accepting calls about a topic close to my heart: women’s fitness at mid-life, and how we often struggle to balance the need to prioritize our health while feeling pressure to achieve the “perfect” body.

I have never grabbed the phone to dial faster in my life. I feel so passionate about this, because as a mom of three young boys, I have learned that the moment I tossed ideals around the number on the scale, clothes sizes and feeling the need to look a certain way out the window, and learned to enjoy fitness and enjoy healthy eating, everything started to fall into place.

LISTEN to the show at 38:20. 

The radio show was hosting Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, authors of “Fit at Mid-Life: a Feminist Fitness Journey.” The women also blog at Fit is a Feminist Issue. In the book and on the blog, Sam and Tracy – academic deans at two Ontario universities – share their journey to reach peak fitness by the age of 50, all while challenging modern fitness culture from a feminist perspective.

I was fortunate enough to share my own personal experience with making fitness an important part of my life as a 35-year-old mom (does that make me middle-aged?!). I wanted to let listeners know that although my life is busy with three young boys, I have managed to return to a healthy lifestyle thanks to the workouts and nutritional guidance from 3rd Degree Training in Saint John.

The host asked if my goals have changed over the years, and since having children. Absolutely, I said. My first goal is so simple: to feel good. Secondly, I want to be in good enough shape to run half-marathons again, and hopefully another (injury-free) marathon one day. If my jeans fit better and I lose a few pounds and inches, I truly regard this as a bonus.

Tending to the needs of young children can be extremely tiring and at times exasperating. Carving out time in a busy week to exercise pays me dividends in so many ways. I have crept out of the fog of the newborn days and I now feel stronger, more energized and my mood is lifted up so I can better take on the daily challenges of motherhood and life in general.

As a woman, and a mother, I have a deep respect for my body and that fact that I have been able to carry and give birth to three beautiful boys. It’s easier to treat my body, which is both beautiful and imperfect, as a temple, when you think of it from that point of view.

Of course it helps that I honestly enjoy working out. I love it. If you can find something you love to do while getting active, it makes all the difference. Throw out the scale and focus on what makes you feel good, and the rest will come.

I have also noticed that once I started back down the healthy path and saw some results – whether it was attempting a full push-up or feeling less-winded after a sprint – it encouraged me to continue eating healthy, whole foods and continue challenging myself during workouts. I have also set myself some running goals for the summer.

It was so fun to share my thoughts on Maritime Noon (even though Callum was making his voice heard!) and lucky me – my name was drawn to win the book! I look forward to reading more about Sam and Tracy’s journey.

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Breastfeeding twins as an active mom

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

When our twins turned six months old, it was supposed to be a joyous milestone. We kept these two little souls fed, happy and thriving for half a year! We made it through the toughest days and nights of our lives! And they have brought so much love and happiness to our home.

Instead, at their six-month appointment, we found out that Leo’s weight had plateaued at about 12.5 lbs. He weighed the same as he did at five months. Leo, who was my biggest twin at birth at 6 lbs, 15 oz, was dropping off his growth curve.

Leo and Callum are 6 months old #twins #twinsofinstagram #sixmonthsold

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A feeling of heat rose through my chest and into my cheeks. Most mothers know it: a wrenching combination of guilt and fear.

I automatically blamed myself and my new quest to clean up my health and my eating. I worried that my workouts at 3rd Degree Training may have depleted my milk supply. At that point I was about halfway through the eight-week boot camp.

My family doctor did not blame me (even though I didn’t mention I had started a new exercise program). She simply suggested increasing the amount of solid foods the twins receive to three times a day. We also talked about giving them a bit of formula at night, something my doctor said was entirely up to me.

I have continued with my nutrition plan and working out four times a week at 3rd Degree throughout the past month, and while I have lost a few pounds and inches, both Leo and Callum have porked it on. All the while, I have continued breastfeeding them, along with increased solid foods and a couple ounces of formula at bedtime (in addition to breastmilk). It was always my goal to make it to six months of breastfeeding, but all three of us enjoy it, and since it has become so ingrained in our routines, I really want to keep going.

Now I can say with confidence that I know I did nothing wrong. Exercise should not negatively impact the quantity or quality of supply (unless there is a serious calorie deficit or dehydration). Exercise is good for both mom and baby, in so many ways.

I have taken great care to ensure I am consuming plenty of calories (1,000 more than the average woman!) and three litres of water. I am eating whole, real food, and I eat six times a day. I still eat bread (whole grains) and dairy, and eat plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as yogurt, nuts and avocado.

I know Leo and Callum are thriving, happy babies. They are content, they don’t fuss while nursing, they sleep relatively well and they love to eat. After searching some mom forums, I have discovered that many babies go through a weight plateau just before starting solids. And I remember Silas going through something similar as well. I started running regularly when he was about five months old.

I want other breastfeeding moms to know that it is fine to exercise, so go ahead and do it. Don’t feel guilty. It is so good for you (improved cardiovascular health, feelings of well-being and reduced stress, to name a few) and your baby.

That being said, I think it is also good to take your time and ease back into an active lifestyle slowly after childbirth. Kellymom.com recommends waiting until your baby is two months old and you have established a good milk supply before embarking on a weight-loss program. Through both of my experiences nursing newborns, I always feel we have hit our stride by the 3-4 month mark.

After a few days of wallowing in guilt after that five-month appointment, I even started feeling as though breastfeeding our twins was a mistake and that I was holding them back from growing into healthy little babies.

Now I know that is foolishness, and that I continue to give them the very best start I can offer. For me, being an active, healthy mom is a part of the equation.

For more information on postpartum fitness, check out this previous q&a I did with Caroline MacKay, who offers mom/baby fitness classes.

Defeating mom guilt: exercising with kids

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Leo & Callum

Mom guilt: it’s one of the issues I often grapple with when I’m training for a race or trying to make fitness a priority in my life.

Now with twin babies, almost six months old, and a 3.5-year-old, there is scarcely a moment when I am not in demand. Even if I have someone else to care for my children when I leave the house to get in some exercise, I always feel rushed to get back home, or I worry about the babies crying, needing me… or I feel bad for not spending more time with Silas, my oldest.

Enter Baby & Me at 3rd Degree Training Saint John. Offered three mornings a week, I no longer have an excuse to miss my workouts. Not only can I bring the babies along to watch me flail around on the mats, but Silas can come too!

This past week, which was March Break in New Brunswick, I was able to bring Silas along for two of the three classes since he didn’t have preschool. He was in heaven.

He made friends with another boy and tossed around a football, rolled, laughed, ran and screamed in delight while the rest of us planked, burpeed, squatted and super-manned. The class flew by, and by the end, Silas, wearing a Superman cape, was just as breathless and red-faced as I.

“Do think I did a good job during my workout?” I asked him afterward.

“Not really,” Silas said, adding he thought our “Superman” moves should have involved more running, flying and rolling. That made me laugh.

After a quick pit stop at Sobeys, we returned home to find the twins still napping (of course they do when I’m not home) and Silas, typically a ball of energy, was ready for a nap too. I’d call that a win.

The struggle is real: getting out the door to our first workout

I swear, it takes me 10 years to get out the door to do anything these days. And even if I budget myself tons of extra time, I’m always late.

So getting out the door with twins to our first Baby & Me class at 3rd Degree Training was no different. After a fairly good night with the babies and Silas, who was fighting a cold and fever, I managed to eat a healthy breakfast of eggs, toast with peanut butter, an orange and a coffee. I got the babies fed, dressed and threw on some gym clothes. The class starts at 10:30 and at 10 a.m. I thought I would start assembling the diaper bag, getting on snowsuits and loading into car seats, a task that always seems to take forever. My husband got the van out of the garage for me.

But that’s when Callum started making his “I’m hungry” sound. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because they had both slept so well that night. I quickly fed both babies again (which wasn’t easy since I was already in my tight gym clothes), and got them packed away and out the door. They were crying. I was already out of breath. “I don’t know how you’re going to do this,” Mark said.

I arrived at the gym just as the workout had begun. Of course, I thought, I’m always the late one. I was frustrated with myself for being that person, again. I grumbled as I laid the babies on a blanket with some toys, slid on my running shoes and joined in.

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We made it

We did squats, lunges, sprinted on the spot, did push-ups (modified for me), jumping jacks (modified again, because… childbirth), supermans, and even burpees. The exercises were done 2-3 at a time for various lengths of time (ie 10-20 seconds) for a few sets. The workout just flew by! And the babies loved it, watching all the activity from their vantage point. My heart was racing, my face was red, and I was no longer grumpy. It was a mental and physical pick-me-up, just what any mom needs.

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Sure, why not another squat.

The great thing about this program is there are multiple class times every day open to members. The 10:30 a.m. Baby & Me class on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays works great for us, and I hope to bring Silas along at some point too. I’m hoping to try a 6 a.m. workout another day, because I have always aspired to be more of a morning person and love the idea of sneaking out when everyone is still sleeping (ideally!).

It feels so great to be making my health and fitness a priority again. If I see visual results from the healthier eating and exercise, it will only be a bonus because I already feel so good. I love the feeling of restful sleep after working out, and waking up with sore muscles. I am always inspired to eat better when I am exercising, and while the thought of eating “clean” for eight weeks is daunting, I know I can do it with some accountability. Keep following along as I share more about my nutrition plan and how I’m actually finding it hard to eat so… much… protein!

This is my ‘before’

The past few months, I have barely had enough time to look in the mirror, let alone think about my own health and fitness. And to be honest, I haven’t even cared that much. I haven’t run a single step since the twins were born five months ago. I take my babies out for walks, and we joined a mother/baby yoga class, but I certainly haven’t been in any rush to lose weight.

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

After giving birth the first time, I was anxious to get back in shape and find my running legs again. This time, I decided to give myself some grace. I am so grateful for my body and what it went through to bring my baby boys into the world. I don’t feel pressured to look perfect or thin, and I know I will return to running eventually.  I also need to make sure I have enough calories to nurse the twins.

It’s clear by the scale that I have been eating more than enough to feed those babies, and then some. I have rekindled my love affair with baked goods. Oh how I love the combination of butter, sugar and flour. Coffee with rich cream. Heavy home-cooked meals, pies, cake and brownies. And yes, fast food: pizza, McDonald’s, ice cream, you name it. There is something so comforting about eating fattening food when you’re tired and stressed. But this kind of eating isn’t helping anybody.

Now that the babies are five months old, I am declaring my free ride “over.”

It’s time to truly do my body a favour and eat better, get some exercise and get back some of that precious me time in the process.

My friends at 3rd Degree Training Saint John have offered me the opportunity to partner with them to try an eight-week fitness camp along with their Actual Nutrition program. I agreed, and I’m all in. That means before and after photos, measurements and aiming for at least four high intensity interval training sessions a week.

My main goal here is to get back to healthy, not necessarily lose weight. It’s about feeling good again, without the sugar, salt and fat. It’s about being a good role model for my family and preparing my body to run marathons again — without injury.

So here we go, I’m nervous to share this, but this is my “before” in all my postpartum glory. Help keep me accountable and follow along. Classes start Monday. Eek!

 

 

It takes a village

For many days and nights, the thought haunted me: I could not handle taking care of my three children on my own.

Holding one tender newborn in your arms can feel daunting, let alone two. But I had to figure out how to do it, while tending to our three-year-old, Silas — who was not only needy but, predictably, acting out now that the twins were home.

After the babies no longer needed top-ups at about 2.5 weeks old, I was on my own with breastfeeding. This meant my body was regulating exactly how much our twins needed. It also meant cluster-feeding. Translation: I was on the couch with those babes almost non-stop. If they fell asleep on my nursing pillow, I could rarely manage to transition them to a bassinet or crib without waking them. So I spent most of my time either holding or nursing babies.

Catching some 💤 #momlife #twins #callumandleo

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It was both beautiful and exhausting. Simultaneously joyful and dreadful.

As much as the twins needed me, Silas needed me too.

His world had just been turned upside down. His mom, dad, even his beloved Nanny became engrossed in tending to those babies. He was left trying to make sense of this new reality. All while be urged to “hurry up,” “eat your breakfast,” “get in the bath,” “go watch your videos,” “go to sleep” and “DON’T WAKE THE BABIES.” No wonder he decided to fight back once in awhile.

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I used to be the one who would read Silas several stories at bedtime followed by a discussion about “our day,” and cuddling until he fell asleep. Now, with Mark back to work in the evenings, I could no longer do this without babies literally strapped to me in a twin baby carrier — a back-breaking thing that brought some semblance of sanity to our evenings for almost three months.

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Survival mode.

I felt sad that I could no longer provide the same level of attention to Silas. I wanted to hold him close but I also needed others to step in to care for him so I could focus on my newborns. It was hard for Silas to adjust to all these new realities but I had to hope that eventually, he would be better for it.

I am not sure how we would have survived the period from early October until Christmas without the steady stream of loved ones who arrived on our doorsteps: my mom and dad, my sister and my aunt, all from Ontario, all staying one week at a time. My mother-in-law, who would come evenings when Mark went to work to help get Silas to bed, even taking him trick-or-treating on Halloween and putting food in my mouth when my hands were full. Friends who made us freezer meals and friends who took Silas for the afternoon. Our child-care provider and our community preschool.

My mother, the twin whisperer. #thankgodformothers #callumandleo

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Holding and rocking babies, making nutritious food and giving us love and support went a long way. But late at night, it was all me. All three kids needed me, and I was having trouble figuring out how to handle it.

The problem was that since I couldn’t manage to peel the babies off me at night, I found the easiest way to sleep was to just lean back on the couch and close my eyes. It wasn’t good quality sleep but it was enough to get by. Silas knew I was out in the living room and he kept waking in the night, crying for me. I was stuck and if I tried to move, I would either wake the babies or disrupt their feeding. Even though Mark tried to escort Silas back to bed, he would fight it, cry, tantrum. Exhausted, we gave up, and let Silas pass out next to me on the couch. The next morning would be rough because we would all be tired, and barely make it through the day. I would put Silas to bed praying for a better night.

I was a human pacifier for all three kids. Silas needed to hold my hand to fall asleep and if he woke up, he needed it again. I knew I needed to teach Silas to fall asleep on his own, but the thought of going through “sleep training” with a 3.5-year-old sounded like hell on wheels.

I remember dropping Silas off at his child care provider one morning and asking her, with tears in my eyes, if she ever dealt with these problems with her boys. I was just trying to hold it together, but it was still so hard.

Eventually we did figure it out, using a series of sticker charts, a timer on my phone for cuddles, weekly donut rewards and lots of praise, but Silas is still a finicky sleeper and I think it’s just the way he is. I try not to beat myself up for not laying the groundwork for better sleep habits before the twins were born, because I believe Silas was going through so many changes that all this may have happened anyway.

Thank goodness for grandparents who take our little guy for sleepovers every once in a while, allowing us a little extra shut eye and fewer renditions of musical beds.

Early days with twins

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Leo and Callum

One of the things that seemed most daunting during my twin pregnancy was breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to at least attempt to nurse both of my babies. I had spoken to enough brave, strong women who had done so and encouraged me. I had been through the wringer with Silas, but I had learned a thing or two since then, so I knew I wanted to give it a go.

Breastfeeding two newborns is not for the faint of heart. The first night in hospital was fine because I was still on a high. The second night, the babies wanted to cluster feed — eat non-stop. That is difficult with one baby, but with two, for lack of a better word, it’s hell. I didn’t sleep, and although the babies were latching pretty well, I was in a lot of discomfort.

Sometime in the middle of that second night, nurses weighed the babies and found they had each lost nearly 10 per cent of their body weight. While this is quite common, it was enough that I needed to consider supplementing them with formula.

The nurse asked me if I had anything against using formula. I said no, so she brought some in the room and showed me how to get started. She also arranged for a lactation nurse to come visit us to help us figure out a new system.

Although this made perfect sense at the time, emotionally, I was crestfallen. As soon as the nurse left the room, I fell into a mess of tears. I tried to explain it to Mark as though it was like someone told me I wasn’t able to care for my babies on my own. Of course that wasn’t true, but it’s how I felt.

Of course, at that moment, I was going through the typical low feelings many mothers feel during the days after childbirth, known as the baby blues. You go from riding the wave of bringing a new life into the world, to feeling like the worst mother on earth, all in the matter of hours. Or at least that’s how I felt. Times two.

My family doctor, Dr. Ross, who is wonderful, came to visit me and the babies around the same time as my OB, Dr. Patterson. I was crying and couldn’t control it, and I felt so embarrassed. I felt disappointed that I, an experienced mother, could not produce enough on my own to feed my babies. While it’s true that there wasn’t enough for those little baby boys in the early hours, I didn’t realize that with help, I could produce enough — and I would! All I thought was my hopes of feeding the boys on my own had been quashed.

I know this all may seem silly. Just give them a bottle already! But it’s hard to explain how important this was to me. It almost felt primal.

Luckily, we had Rayma from the Saint John Regional Hospital’s Mother/Baby Clinic. She came to my room and noticed tears were at the surface. “This is your sad day,” she said. She allowed me to have it. Then I would be on my way to bringing two healthy baby boys home!

Rayma showed us a way to nurse and bottle feed each baby followed by a pumping session for me. It was rigorous and needed to be done every three hours. But with another person, it could all be done under an hour. And the best part was, with formula filling their tummies, that babies would sleep well between feedings.

Formula was all new to me, but my husband and mother-in-law actually loved being a part of their early feedings. For weeks, we meticulously kept track of how much they ate, how long they nursed, what time and what was in their diapers. We returned to the mother/baby clinic every day for a week following the twins’ births. While it was annoying to pack up the babies and go to the hospital every day, it was so much better than staying there. Rayma patiently answered all my questions about the pump, which intimidated me. We adjusted the babies’ top-ups daily based on how much they were gaining and taking from me.

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One day I remember leaving the clinic and Rayma was on the phone providing updates to Dr. Ross. My doctor must have asked Rayma if we handling everything OK as parents. Rayma, “They’re rocking this thing, being twin parents.” It made me smile, even though I was still scared as hell, and I think Mark was too.

Eventually we were allowed to bring a scale home, so we could continue daily weigh-ins without having to trek to the hospital. It became a numbers game. We could figured out exactly how much a baby took in breastmilk by weighing them before and after a feeding, then determine exactly how much they needed in formula. Then, I would pump to continue to build supply. Every time I pumped, I would set aside that milk for the next feeding.

Rayma was my lifeline. She called to check in every day, even on Thanksgiving weekend. I looked forward to her call. She made me feel secure in what we were doing, and that my babies were going to be OK.

Eventually the top-ups were all breast-milk instead of formula. That’s when we knew we didn’t need the formula anymore.

“Go home and feed your babies,” Rayma said. It was music to my ears. Especially the idea of not having to be hooked up to a machine every three hours. But I was cautious. I knew it meant we would be off our three-hour schedule, and back to “on-demand” since we would no longer know exactly how much they getting during a nursing. That also meant cluster-feeding would likely be back in the picture (so exhausting!).

Through the same period, Rayma was encouraging me to tandem feed whenever possible. This means feeding the babies at the same time, holding one under each arm like a football, resting on a big pillow surrounding my body. It was intense, but the most efficient way to go. Tandem feeding on demand meant I was back to taking on feeding my babies on my own, which was great, but also exhausting.

So our breastfeeding journey was over the first hump. The babies were gaining well, healthy and at home. While it was surely a beautiful thing, my stress didn’t waver. We still had a three-year-old to entertain and care for, and I still wasn’t sleeping much. I knew it would get better, but it was still so hard. Especially when I couldn’t get the babies to sleep other than on my chest, and Silas starting waking in the night demanding my attention, refusing to settle down with his father.

Yes, we were in the thick of it, still. Parenting 2.0.