Jelly belly

Hello world, on this amazing day in London town. Yay for summer! It may be that we only have one day of summer, so we’d best savour it eh?

I feel quite lucky it was lovely, as I had to go into town today to do a CPR course at Body Control Pilates in Holborn, so I took the opportunity to bank some vitamin D with the sunshine on my skin, and some well-needed exercise by cycling the 7 miles into central London. It was interesting being part of the cycling pack once more, I used to cycle everywhere every day, and not being part of the throng you forget the mentality somewhat. So as an outsider it was interesting to witness the competitiveness of London cyclists, the refusal to be overtaken, the determination to reach the lights first…a lady on a Paishley feistily and stubbornly taking on a cool racer was particularly amusing.

So…it’s been a while since I’ve been part of the cycling crew, and a long time since i cycled that distance…And wow, I realised what great exercise cycling is, a 7 mile ride used to be a piddly distance but it had me puffing, heart thumping satisfyingly. I’ve been hovering at about 3kg (half a stone) over my pre-pregnancy weight and I have been feeling a little bit blue about it. Some people ping back to their pre-pregnancy shape within weeks, but for me, there has been no pinging to speak of, and cycling today finally made the penny drop as to why. I used to cycle upwards of 15 miles, every day, as part of my daily commute to and from classes or to the publisher I used to work at in north west London. Some days I would traverse the whole of London pretty much, going from south east to west to east and back again, notching up around 30 miles in one day. Couple that with an active job of teaching Pilates, plus practising my own Pilates for a couple of hours a week, then you have a pretty decent amount of physical exercise going on. Because it was incorporated into my daily routine rather than being exercise per se, I hadn’t really made the connection that cycling was the reason I used to be a skinny minnie. Now…please note that neither of the words skinny or minnie would ever have been in my own vocabulary to describe myself, I’ve always been an athletic build…sometimes erring on the “big boned” end of the spectrum, but now I look back, I realise I should have been quite content with the way I looked and proud of my fitness. You live and learn, dontcha. Always try and appreciate yourself in the present rather than looking at photos of yourself from 2 years ago and wondering what the hell you were worrying about at the time…

So. My food intake remains the same, but I have lost about 500 calories worth of exercise a day. No wonder that last 3 kg is stubbornly sticking to my midriff, arms, and bum… Now that I have a little man to entertain, feed and soothe, the opportunities for cycling 30 miles in a day are few and far between. And i am not one for diets. Yes, a healthy diet and filling yourself with good, naturally colourful, delicious and nutritious food, along with the odd treat now and again, but not a diet where you deprive yourself. This would make me a miserable and not joyful Anya, which would be no fun for the people I share my days with. (I don’t agree with whoever it was who said nothing tastes as good as thin feels. Have you not tasted cheesecake woman…?!) Anyway, I digress. So, although I no longer have the pregnancy penchant for Magnums, I am not sure how else I can adjust my eating to help me shift the weight without becoming grouchy. So, I simply need to seamlessly incorporate more movement into my day.

My little man is nearly walking, and generally is a pretty fast mover on all fours. So chasing him around probably adds quite a lot to my movement quota. But clearly not enough. On my cycle home just now I was thinking, how else can I make my daily activities count in order to make myself feel slightly lighter and more nimble. Move about a little more, expend a little more energy every day, giving my metabolism a bit of a jumpstart and not have to reduce how much energy I take in… And I came up with this list, which I intend to do every day. Join me!

1. Plies in the shower. You’re standing in the shower and do it every/most days, it’s 5 minutes of your life and pretty dull really as an activity. So why not spice it up with a bit of Pilates to start the day. Stand tall, bring your legs into Pilates stance: squeeze your thighs and bring the heels together, toes apart, a gap the size of a small pizza slice in between your feet. Lift your bum and draw your tummy in. Lift up tall and float the heels off the ground to rise onto your toes, squeezing the heels together. Stay tall as you lower the heels down, and then bend the knees over the toes. Keep the back upright as you lower, crown of your head reaching up towards the ceiling. Repeat as many times as you like to as your conditioner works its wonder on your hair. Works the tummy, buttocks, inner thighs.

2. Brush your teeth standing on one leg. Great for your core strength and balance. As you brush your teeth, engage your tummy to hover one leg off the ground, lifting the knee to about hip height. Stand strong into the ground through the supporting foot. Make sure your shoulders stay level and the waist is long. Brush your teeth and stay still and stable, no wobbling. Engage your tummy more to keep you balanced. Alternate legs either halfway through, or change morning and evening (which involves remembering which one you did last…)

3. Do the dusting/hoovering/change the bedclothes/clean the bathroom…Ok, I’m not going to do this EVERY day, clearly. But I will now see it in a different light. This has a bonus by-product of a clean house…but rather than seeing it as chore bore annoying housework, see it as an opportunity to burn a few extra calories, it’s actually the equivalent of a short yoga session or swimming. Keep your tummy engaged throughout and make sure you’re putting some elbow grease into it.

4. Baby bicep curls…this is an added bonus for those of you who have babies in your lives, lift them up high and feel the arm muscles strengthening! Great for bingo wings, but also if you make sure you engage your abdominals as you do it, you’ll tone up there too.

Stand tall and connect to your centre: lift your pelvic floor and scoop your belly as if you’re tightening a corset around your waist, whenever you remember. Check your posture, soften the shoulders into the back and lengthen your spine. Just being a bit more aware of your posture and the way you carry yourself will make your shape leaner and more poised.

Right, I’m off to bath baby. Have a lovely evening!

addendum…

Hello again

I had quite a lot of response yesterday to my post, which was humbling and in parts emotional, and it made me want to add an addendum today to say that I do realise of course that ALL birth comes with its drama and ride on an emotional roller coaster. I wasn’t intending to suggest that c-section births are per se more traumatic and that all natural birth is “perfect and ideal”, I know that it’s not! A friend commented that “neither method has much to recommend it”, which will evoke a knowing smile among all mothers, however they brought their babies into this world. I also am aware that a c-section birth under the right circumstances can be a positive experience so I wasn’t suggesting that everyone would encounter the emotional negative journey that I and others may have found themselves on. However there is an external judgment placed on caesareans, the “too posh to push” school of thought, which boggles the mind and ignores the very real, personal and serious reasons that inform someone’s decision to elect to have a caesarean birth. My sister astutely pointed out to me that in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macduff is referred to as “not of woman born” because he came into this world by caesarean, and this highlights the multitude of different judgments that are implicitly heaped upon a non-natural birth and make it apparently a non-authentic birth experience for a woman. Frankly, Maurice wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the emergency caesarean, and I realise this and am thankful everyday.

This was my personal birth story and the physical and emotional fall out from it, and specifically related to the caesarean I feel that we’re rather left at sea as to how to rebuild ourselves physically after the operation, there is simply no advice offered about recovery and what you can expect or should attempt, you are just sent home with a packet of pain relief (oh, and a new baby to look after…) and that’s about it. Not to mention the emotional aspect that we may (or may not) be left with.

I am very interested in exploring this further, having spoken to and taught many c-section mummies now with all of our different birth stories and reasons behind the operation, we all seem to share one thing (along with the overhang), that is a sense of vague confusion about how we should have gone about mending ourselves physically, and whether all the various aches and pains that we’re occasionally still left with in our bellies are normal.

I’m moved to try and gather together more information, experience, advice, and compile it into a coherent and useable form (a book, perhaps…) for new mums to use, to help build themselves a step by step day by day programme for rebirth and rejuvenation post-caesarean.

Rebirth post-caesarean

Hello world

So…little Mo is fast approaching his FIRST birthday! How the last year has flown, looking back… yet been held in stasis at some points, with days that felt like years as you were aware of every hour of the 24, and seasons that seem to have melded into one (possibly due in part to the topsy turvy weather we’ve experienced, summer in spring and winter in summer), and let’s face it, everything slightly obscured by the bleary sleepless veil that comes with having a baby who still belligerently refuses to sleep for longer than 3 hours at a pop.

As the date looms speedily on the horizon, thoughts turn to commemorating it with cake, bunting, presents, baby get-togethers and all the regular 1st birthday shenanigans you might expect. And my thoughts are also wandering over the events of a year ago, the preparation for having a baby, the imagined eperience and the reality that usurps it.

I very much wanted a “beautiful”, calm birth, where the baby arrived when it chose to, following the natural order of things, where my body smoothly wended along the intricate hormonal domino-effect path of events it was designed to, baby emerging with a hearty wail as it took its first breath and was delivered straight to mummy’s breast. Doesn’t everyone…? Also while we’re dreaming, it would have been great to have looked healthy and glamorous to pose for pictures, with shining yet slightly sweaty hair and clear bright eyes…

My reality was slightly different. I will spare you the details, but my body just didn’t go into labour naturally. Maurice didn’t seem to want to come out, he was quite happy slumbering inside…which doesn’t suit his go-getting personality in the outside world! Induction was followed by a 2-day labour, where Maurice became distressed. Emergency caesarean was the only option to save his life, and when he came out he was silent as he wasn’t breathing. Once resuscitated, he was very tiny and in need of lots of help in his first 24 hours. I was also very ill, and couldn’t hold him for the first 8 hours of his life. Needless to say, the clinical telling of those events belies the life-shaking emotional drama as it unfurled, but all is well, Mo is a feisty happy nearly-one year old, so we can to a certain extent lay it to rest.

But…a caesarean. It was the last thing that I had wanted, if only purely from a professional standpoint, my career is in my abs, if you like. To teach Pilates you must understand the nuances of the anatomy supporting the pelvis and spine, and know how to recruit your muscles correctly. My abdominals were very strong, I felt immensely proud of what I could achieve in my practice because of years of dedication, and advanced Pilates exercises were a breeze for me. I used to relish challenging myself and setting myself goals with the classical work, and felt such a sense of power and strength in my ability to perform it well.

I will never forget a few days after Mo’s birth when we finally got home from hospital, I shuffled into the bathroom and chose to look at myself in the mirror. I looked at my post-birth belly, the caesarean “overhang” as us C-section-club members refer to it. I tried to engage into my pelvic floor and lift my abdominals…and felt nothing, saw nothing happen. The baby bump was still there, in its entirety. I remember my heart sagging as much as my lower belly.

Quite apart from the physical, there is a huge mountain of emotional issues that confront you after a caesarean, particularly if it’s been an emergency and you have not even really allowed yourself to contemplate it as an option prior to the event. You sort of feel that, although you have a baby, you didn’t actually give birth to him. You might feel like your body has let you down completely, and that you’re a bit of a failure. Particularly if you allow yourself to feel jealous/envious of other friends who can recount “perfect” birth stories involving steady progression and dilation, birth pools and no drugs (albeit also a lot of screaming, swearing and threatening to jump out the window no doubt…), where the natural order is preserved and things are as they should be.

I did all the pre-birth prep. Yoga, Pilates, hypnotherapy birthing DVDs…I meditated, I bounced on balls, I visualised my body being ready and willing to bring this little squirming being into the world. I had read all the natural birth books and connected daily with my pelvic floor to ask it to help me out on this little matter. And to no avail.

So in the immediate aftermath of having Maurice (and in my mind I still place inverted commas around “having”, as I don’t entirely feel like the having of him was particularly to do with me rather than the surgeon’s knife), I was left with the most extraordinary bizarre pains that you can’t really imagine, as if the dr had absent-mindedly left a knife sitting in my belly… the inability to stand up tall in case I wrenched my stitches apart (which wouldn’t happen, I know, but you just feel that way), shuffling around like an old woman and a shadow of my former physical self.

I remember trying to perform a basic, basic Pilates exercise 8 weeks after Maurice’s birth, and I couldn’t do it, I simply didn’t have the abdominal strength.

So alongside grappling with the new little person you have in your life, post-caesarean, particularly emergency caesarean, you’re also left sitting in a pool of other malaise which you can’t quite deal with right now through the sleeplessness and other matters to attend to. *caveat: I’m not suggesting it’s a relentlessly bleak situation: you have a baby, this is awesome and wondrous, and takes up all of your emotional and physical space in a positive way…but with a colicky baby who cries a lot and doesn’t sleep at all, coupled with the hormonal watershed a few days after birth, there are potential dangers of feeling a wee bit blue in this time. And it’s entirely normal.

I personally decided to take it day by day, to try and soothe the emotional wound as the physical was also gradually healing. Physically, nearly a year later I have still not recovered at the abdominal strength that I had, and this makes me sad. I do however entirely believe in the restorative wonder of Pilates, and know that if I had dedicated myself to practising every day for even 15 minutes, this wouldn’t be the case. I have unfortunately allowed other things to get in the way, and lack of sleep doesn’t always lead to the desire to exercise every day.

So, physically: I think i’ll get there, eventually. My midwife once said, pre-birth at a routine scan, with a voice of doom “your abdominals are very strong…well, they’ll never be the same after baby!”. I entirely disagree with her and feel sad that she might have been willy nilly bandying this pessimistic comment around to mums-to-be. Certainly with a natural birth your tummy muscles are not compromised in the same way and can spring back as they should, with work and attention. And after caesarean, well, with perseverance and Pilates, my tummy muscles are getting there.

it’s the emotional healing that is the challenge in the long term, as this kind of experience tends to be locked down into your fibres and lead to tensions even if you no longer acknowledge it as a current influence. If not addressed, it gets packed down under many layers, but distantly constantly remembered in your muscular and emotional tissue. Accepting the birth story that you had is essential, and reconciling yourself to the way it turned out, not comparing it to other “better” experiences and embracing it as the birth of your bouncing wonderful baby, a legitimate birth as any other. Letting go of any fear, anger and disappointment that might have unfurled from the experience, and living in the present, the success.

It’s partly why I started a post-caesarean Pilates class. Not only because I powerfully believe in the physically remedial powers of Pilates for strengthening after this particular operation, but I also believe in the emotional power of reconnecting to your body and rediscovering a faith in it which may have been lost.

This was quite a long essay…I hadn’t intended it to be quite so long! I’d love to hear other people’s experience of post-caeasarean, what advice you were given re: exercise and recovery. I am brewing an idea for the future and your input would help me!

Until the next time….stay well and happy and healthy!

Juggling balls

Hello world!

Breathing a deep sigh of weary relief, the boy is napping and I’ve met my deadline for the book so it’s time to take a breather and a sit on the sofa with a cup of green tea.

The last few weeks have been a tumbling jumble of sleepless nights due to poorly teething (and generally sleepless as we know…) baby, trying to organise work schedule around the sleeplessness and getting my brain ready and raring to approach a completely different demand on its day to day skills with writing a book.

The book writing has been an interesting journey for two reasons. Firstly, writing and exploring Pilates on the page has definitely tickled the brain cells and made me approach teaching from a different angle, and illuminated different areas of Pilates technique that I hadn’t thought about for a while. It has also refreshed my general awe about the greatness of Pilates movement and how everyone should do it, every day! It just makes sense. Yes it gives you a wonderful physique when practised regularly and diligently, but also it simply balances the body and brings harmony to your muscles and joints where there might be discordance brought about by daily life.

Secondly…it’s been a challenge and an advancement in Mo and my travels. In order to have the time to commit to writing, there was a small issue of the small person I share my days with. So I had to find some childcare. where do you begin? I felt like a bit of a fish out of water trying to tackle this problem. As with lots of things in life, serendipity stepped in and through a Pilates client I heard about a childminder who happened to be free for two months on the two days that I might need some help. I met her, thought she was lovely, but more importantly Maurice instantly took to her in a seamless and joyous way which was slightly inexplicable. He is a sociable little chap, but he doesn’t throw himself into people’s arms the way he seemed to with Leena.

So now, when I’m working in my Pilates studio in the basement of our home, Leena is upstairs with Momo, playing and chatting and reading him books. And he LOVES her. It’s a bitter sweet sensation…you want your baby to be content and confident and happy to stride forward outside the reach of your arms…but you’d also secretly like it if there were a backward woeful glance rather than a jaunty wave of happiness as you walked out the door.

It’s reminiscent of His Dark Materials, the feeling of having a Daemon…Mo was my daemon and a few months ago it would have seemed utterly unthinkable to be parted from him for more than half an hour, 15 minutes even (!)…but gradually as his little personality burgeons (is that a word..?), and he is ready to roam slightly more independently and form his own relationships in this world, the invisible belt that links us becomes wider and wider in its reach. As I see and hear him frolicking with Leena, I feel a sense of relief, pride, happiness…and maybe a variation on disappointment, that I’m not the only one who can meet his needs and make him gleeful. But I know that this is life, this is modern motherhood, and that I am incredibly lucky to have a job where I can have childcare upstairs while I work in the basement. And be able to rely on a London-based close family who are always happy to help and hang out with the little man if I need them to.

He is, thankfully, always happy to see me when I come back into the room after a few hours, and instantly waves at Leena as if to say “thanks for that, you can go now…”

So, thanks to the coordinated efforts of grandparents and Leena, the book is now in its final stages of production and I’m very proud that i nearly have two books under my belt now. With Pilates I have found that the more you learn, the more you feel there is to learn. it’s just such an inspiring body conditioning ethos.

And now while the Momeister is napping I should snatch the opportunity to do some Pilates myself to unfurl my body which has been scrunched up at a computer for the last two days!!

Until the next time, hope you’re all well and flourishing