Celebrity women like Serena Williams, Beyonce, Chrissy Teigen, Cardi B and Tia Mowry are finally keeping it real about how hard pregnancy and postpartum life can be for a lot of women. Imagine being in control of yourself your entire life then suddenly, nothing is how you had expected. You don’t feel like yourself or think like yourself. It’s like an out-of-body experience. Add the fact that you are responsible for another little life, and that is a recipe for a breakdown. Why didn’t our mother’s warn us?
I identify with Serena Williams the most because she has always been a friend in my head plus, I’m also an athlete. I ran track as a child, grew up dancing with a performance troupe, danced all the way to adulthood, and also picked up pole dancing and aerial hoop habits. It’s obviously not tennis and I’m definitely no Serena Williams, but I was fit and dexterous before pregnancy, and I thought bouncing back would be a breeze because I had a smooth pregnancy through which I still worked out without complications. I seriously thought I’d be able to get back to my regularly scheduled program in terms of work, my body bouncing back, and balancing the new life I was responsible for with everything else in 6-weeks post birth because I was good at planning and executing my goals. It worked with my career and it worked with my hobbies, so why not my life as a working mom? That was extremely naive, but in a world where overachieving is the thing to do to the point where we sometimes get unrealistic and don’t allow room for going with the flow, I just didn’t create space in my brain for anything less than optimal results right away.
My ego was dealt a devastating blow after attempting to work out following my 6-week doctor clearance was struggle city. My abdomen still felt like jelly and my joints were freakishly unstable. How could I not do my usual HIIT workout? It was all I knew. What about muscle memory? How could my body betray me like this? But it did and I was furious. I couldn’t resume working out the way I wanted to and developed back pain serious enough to have to visit a chiropractor multiple times. I was forced to take my time easing back into it, which was depressing. I started with lightweight workouts geared toward postpartum women, but it wasn’t until 6 months postpartum that I finally felt comfortable enough to get back into the dance classes, pilates, and HIIT that I loved and I still had to modify certain moves at times. In addition to all of the above, I still had career goals that I planned to accomplish but it took me months to mentally get back into a space where I wanted to think about work, and actually figured out a new rhythm with my baby.
I’m two years postpartum, and while I am psychologically okay most of the time, my body is just now starting to feel like it can do the things that it used to. I’m at 90% and I don’t know that the extra 10% will ever come. I’m still getting used to my new normal. I still feel guilty about having ambitions outside of family, but at the same time, while I love my daughter, I understand that I also need to cultivate my career and personal interests in order to feel sane.
In hindsight, I beat myself up for things I couldn’t control during a time when it’s important to take it easy. Sure, women have been having babies since forever, which is why people downplay the severity of giving birth and take the healing process for granted, but it’s always a big deal. Your body has gone through a major shift that can be traumatic in some cases (broken pelvis, weak pelvic floor, etc), and healing time varies. A lot of us try to do the most too fast like it’s a competition to see who can bounce back the fastest and we really just need to sit down, relax and nourish our bodies and spirits as much as we can because anything else does more harm than good.
Postpartum life has a way of humbling you and Serena Williams is proof. We noticed that she hadn’t been playing tennis as fiercely as we knew she could and she eventually pulled out of the Rogers Cup, which wasn’t a surprise. If you read her now blown up Instagram post about how she has been feeling, then you understand what she’s going through. It’s hard for ambitious moms to take a break, but what matters most is that she listened to her body, her intuition, and her mom tribe, and did what was best for herself and family. She’ll be back when she’s really ready and there’s no time that anyone can put on it. The body knows and communicates what it needs, and patience is all that is necessary.
A rare sect of women may actually be able to get back to business in a week or two, some women have no choice but to jump back into the fray immediately (because maternity leave in the United States is trash), but most women aren’t ready to resume daily activities and unfortunately, that’s something that we don’t talk about enough or lie about too often. It’s okay to not feel okay as long as you’re working toward healing (I still need to take my own advice on that) and it’s okay if it doesn’t happen right away. Everyone’s postpartum journey is different, but it’s time for all of us overachievers to surrender to the process as individuals and stop trying to live up to ridiculous standards.
Starrene Rhett Rocque is a Brooklyn based author, wife, and mother to a rambunctious two-year-old. Keep up with her work on Hello Beautiful with recaps of the Love and Hip-Hop franchise, How to Get Away With Murder, Power, and mommy blogs. Follower her on Instagram @Starr_Rocque.