I had a crazy realization yesterday. In June, I will celebrate being married to my husband for eight years. Next week, I will celebrate being a member of FIT4MOM Grand Rapids for four years. Did you catch that?? I have been part of this amazing community for just over half of my marriage. That is just nuts. I remember when Marissa was the only instructor, didn’t have any children yet, and pushed around an empty stroller with a flat tire that she refused to fix. I remember when we had to sign in on a clipboard at the start of each class and all classes were at 9:30am. I remember when this whole deal was called Stroller Strides, not FIT4MOM. I’ve seen many people come and go during the years. Every time someone new joins, I always have a little flashback to what my life (and emotional state) looked like when I joined four years ago and - goodness - both of those things are quite different these days. I feel like I have shared a very brief synopsis of why I joined Stroller Strides in a few of my blog posts and wanted to dedicate a post to sharing the full story.
If you have been around FIT4MOM Grand Rapids for at least the last six months or so, you may have read some of the other posts I have written. Well, I’m very excited to share that I will be writing posts on a much more regular basis now as well as working on assorted behind-the-scenes things for FIT4MOM GR. I feel incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity to use what I have learned during my years with this group and hopefully encourage you all while doing so. And that leads me back to this post. As I enter into a new phase of my involvement with FIT4MOM GR, I thought there was no better time to share my FIT4MOM story and my “why”. I hope that it offers hope, encouragement and an even greater appreciation for this gem of an organization.
Without further ado---my story...
I have always loved music. I often associate events in life with what music was playing in the background. I remember the first CD I bought ('NSync, of course) and I remember the day my parents bought their first CD sound system for our house along with the CD they purchased (The Andy Williams Christmas Album). I remember hearing Goo Goo Dolls’ “Acoustic #3” for the first time while organizing shoes with Jake (my now-husband) in the warehouse at the shoe store where we met. Music evokes emotions in me that few other things can. I took piano lessons from fifth grade until I graduated from high school and was also a member of my school’s band program during that same time. During my junior and senior years, I was co-drum major and pep band director with one of my best friends. The community and support that I received from the other members of the band played a huge role in my high school experience. My closest friends were members of the band. The entire marching band would get together before Friday night football games for pizza and a movie. I look back on those years as some of the best years of my life.
Something that was NOT a part of my life during that time was fitness. This lack of desire to be active continued on through college and the first couple years of my marriage. I loved being outside and going for walks and exploring but running (well, let’s be honest, I STILL don’t love that…) or cardio or any other workouts did not appeal to me. My husband and I decided to start trying to get pregnant a couple months after I graduated from college and it ended up taking longer than we had expected. After a few months of hopes being crushed, I decided that I needed to try something new, something to give my mind a break from constantly thinking about how desperately I wanted a baby. A dear friend of mine agreed to try Zumba with me (I love music, I love to dance, it wasn’t ACTUALLY working out, right?) and we had an amazing time attending classes for a couple months. Lo and behold, during that time, I ended up getting pregnant with our oldest son and after almost passing out at a class, I decided to stop. I searched around for prenatal workout options but all that was available at the time was prenatal yoga. Nothing against prenatal yoga - I simply was looking for something different. (Take advantage of Fit4Baby, all you pregnant ladies!) So aside from going on walks, my level of activity was pretty low during my pregnancy.
Fast forward a few months---time for our firstborn to arrive! I was induced five days after his due date. Labor ended up being about what I expected it to be (thank you, epidural!) but thanks to an epidural issue (boo, epidural!), delivery and the aftermath was quite painful and traumatic for me. For me, the delivery is really the start of a few incredibly hard weeks and a few very lonely months. I remember being so exhausted and depleted and in pain that as soon as I got to our post partum room, I literally passed out on the bed. I’m not even sure if I was even all the way on the bed yet. The last memory I have is seeing Jake holding our three hour old baby boy and feeling so terrible that I wasn’t able to hold myself together so we could be in that moment together. The rest of the hospital stay was a bit of a blur, as I’m sure some/all of you remember. So many vital checks (So.many.vital.checks…) and medicine disbursement and new ice diapers (the things you never knew you needed before having children) and visits from various hospital employees. In the midst of all this, we were trying to learn what to do with this tiny little baby. And those babies test you! I mean, even their first poop is the most challenging poop of all to clean up--it’s literally like tar stuck to their delicate little newborn bum and somehow you’re supposed to scrape it off without them screaming like a banshee. It’s tough work! Heading home was definitely bittersweet---on one hand, I was excited to get back to my comfortable house and my dog and my own bed but on the other hand, as much as we wanted to be parents, they were now expecting us to be able to keep this baby alive all by ourselves?!? Holy moly. Well, no turning back now!
Let me preface this next section of my story by stating that I was not at all prepared for how overwhelmingly suffocating post-pregnancy hormones can be. While the first month was undoubtedly the hardest for me, on the timeline of my life that’s in my head, I visualize the first six months of Eli’s life as “pre-Stroller Strides”. I also remember them as being incredibly confusing and lonely. None of the books or websites I had read while preparing to become a parent had talked about the possible emotional lows of the days following childbirth. I read about post partum depression, of course, but beyond that, I don’t remember reading anything about possible emotional states that fall between the two extremes. Perhaps I simply was reading things written by mothers who hadn’t experienced these lows. Perhaps they were just hesitant to share those lows for fear of “scaring off” other women or for fear of not receiving support or understanding from others. Perhaps it was simply to hard to put into it all into words. I was hesitant for a very long time about talking to people other than my husband and family members about my true emotional state after having Eli. As I have mentioned many times in my other blog posts, I was the first of my friends to have a baby. While they were/are my dearest of friends and I knew that sharing what was happening would not create judgement from them, there was a level of understanding that I desperately needed that I knew could not be met and also a fear of scaring them away from having children. I wanted my friends to still want to have children! How do I explain that, no, I am NOT feeling that euphoric feeling of love and joy that seemingly every other new mom except for me feels? I certainly loved my child (well, children because I had the same emotional/hormonal experience after having Aaron that I did when I had Eli) and would do anything to protect him but as far as being “in love” with him and not being able to imagine my life without him….those feelings took a bit of time to develop. Eli was probably almost a month old before I truly felt like I was bonding with him and you know what? That’s ok. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him or that he wasn’t feeling safe and protected. It simply took time for us to find a rhythm that worked for us. Some of these are hard feelings to admit. But I feel like it is important that I share them because I know that I am not the only new mom who has felt these feelings and it’s essential for others to know that they are not alone. My heart physically aches when I remember specific moments of sadness and loneliness and hopelessness, especially during those first couple weeks. Thankfully it improved over time (I remember the day when I told Jake, “I had a moment of happiness and hope yesterday and today I had a couple more of those moments.”) but there were some very dark days at the beginning. It was such a challenging time in life because I am entering a new stage of life, I have a tiny baby to take care of, and I’m attempting to do this while I am not at my best. I like to think of myself as a fairly sane, logical, and level-headed individual and dealing with the transition into motherhood coupled with these crazy post-partum hormones made finding level ground a challenge.
After awhile, I did finally feel like we were adjusting to our new normal and life didn’t feel as foggy. I knew that I needed to find a community of moms to connect with and while I found a few options, nothing seemed to be what I was looking for. Our church offers a couple programs but they either didn’t meet as regularly as I wanted or it involved me putting Eli in childcare, something I really wasn’t excited about doing in general but especially during the winter time (aka cold/flu season). I went to one meeting of a local moms group that met on a pretty regular basis but as an individual who is not naturally inclined to initiate conversations with people I don’t know, I left the meeting feeling overwhelmed and a bit disheartened. I’m not sure what I expected would happen. Maybe I just hoped that someone would start talking to me and I would feel this immediate kinship with them and just know that I belonged with this group. Whatever it was (or wasn’t), it didn’t feel like a good fit for me.
A couple weeks after this visit, I received an email from one of my best friends who knew I was in search of a mom group to join and it was a link to info about the Grand Rapids Stroller Strides grand opening. I looked over the info--Met regularly: check. Could bring my baby with me: check. Would help me take care of this extra baby weight: check. And, well, it was free. And promised giveaways. And snacks. And activities. How could this frugal, lonely mom say no?? I sent an email to the owner (my now dear friend Marissa) to sign up for the event and, unbeknownst to me at the time, started my FIT4MOM journey - not knowing how much it would change my life.
Stay tuned next week for the rest of my story and to find out how that first class has greatly impacted the last four years of my life!