Sarah Piampiano is a pro triathlete and new mom to the adorable Harrison. She was gracious enough to offer insight into life as a mother and athlete in the midst of training. Enjoy Sarah's vulnerable, authentic and oh-so-helpful realities and tips for striking a balance of caring for yourself, your child, and your athletic pursuits. Follow along with Sarah's journey on Instagram!
As my first Mother's Day approaches I think back over the past 10 weeks since Harrison was born and, honestly, so much of it feels like a blur! Time has both stood still and flown by all at once. It has been hard and incredible at the same time. But most importantly I cannot imagine my life without this little boy.
Despite actually loving being a mom, I felt wholly unprepared for the postpartum period. There is so much information available about pregnancy and labor, yet nobody really talks about the postpartum period. In all honesty, I kind of expected it to be like recovering from an Ironman race, but maybe a little bit worse. I figured I'd be sore for a few days, tired, and then fine. NOPE. That was definitely not the case.
Although I am 10 weeks along, I thought I would share with you my postpartum experience for the first 6 weeks as well as offer up a few tips for 1st time moms and athletes. I'm mostly sharing the things I wasn't prepared for so that other first-time moms can feel a little more informed. But I can say, despite all the hard parts of being a mom, the joy of it all far far FAR outweighs any of the harder parts of the experience.
Everyone tells you how traumatic labor is for your body: you birth a 6-10 lb human followed by a dinner plate-sized organ (placenta). In the weeks that follow, your body goes through a radical hormone shift, your organs begin to move back into place, and you go through all of this while be more sleep deprived than you have ever been in your life. It is a lot.
I knew all of this before I had Harrison, yet until you are in it, it is hard to imagine that it all applies to you, particularly as a high-performing athlete. I kept thinking "I have such a high pain tolerance and I love REALLY hard things - I've got this". From the moment Harrison was born everything I experienced was nothing like I had expected
- The First Moment with Your Child - I truly thought that when Harrison arrived I would feel that "heart exploding, never felt love like this before" moment. In actuality it felt so surreal to me that I almost felt disconnected from it all. It was almost like I was having an out-of-body experience where I was watching myself have a baby, and I knew I was now a mom, but I couldn't quite get my head around it all. I continued to feel that way for a few weeks after Harrison arrived. I felt like I was taking care of someone else's baby! I felt a little guilty about that, but when I thought about it objectively, it IS a crazy thing - one day you don't have a baby and the next you do. It can take a little getting used to. And I can attest that as the weeks went on, I felt more and more bonded to Harrison, and soon really began to feel like I was truly his mother. The love grew.
- Postpartum Swelling - Nobody prepares you for what postpartum is going to feel like…down there. I mean CRAZY! I remember being in the hospital and taking my first shower and yelling out to my husband "Did you know I was THIS swollen?!?!?" I was in total shock. The front of me, the back of me - everything down there was way more swollen than I could have possibly imagined it might be. It really shocked me. Note to moms: Make SURE to accept the stool softener - you are going to need it! And the SITS bath is amazing!
- Recovery - The recovery is long and slow and has all kinds of crazy side effects. I knew, for example, that my body would undergo a massive hormone shift postpartum, but I didn't think about what that would mean for my body. Every woman, of course, is different. Some women experience PP depression. Some women cry uncontrollably, even if they are fully happy. For me - I experienced this hormonal shift in the form of night sweats. CRAZY night sweats! Every night I would put a towel down on my side of the bed, and then put another towel on top of me, and would still then get up 4-5x per night to change what I was wearing as everything was completely drenched through. We washed our sheets every day. My husband called my side of the bed "the swamp". It was gross. And it lasted for 4-5 weeks, becoming increasingly better over time.
- Along with that was the physical recovery. Again - every woman is different, but for me, walking around the block - a seemingly very easy thing to do - was incredibly challenging for at least a week, if not two. After being in a hospital room for 3 straight days I wanted desperately to get outside ASAP, but walking was a challenge. Like the night sweats it also got better, but it takes time.
- Returning to exercise - I had committed myself to taking 4 full weeks off of exercise in order to heal, but also primarily to be able to be fully present with Harrison and my family. Despite knowing I would be taking this time away, I still expected my body to rebound quickly and feel ready to go after those 4 weeks. That wasn't the case for me. Despite continuing to exercise for 12-15 hours per week right up until my due date, I found that my body felt pretty ravaged from labor and weak when I initially got out the door. The process of ramping back up has been slow, and although I am swimming and biking, I still am not yet at a place to run. It has been a process.
- Postpartum body changes - I didn't gain a ton of weight during my pregnancy and truly expected that I would return to within 5 lbs of my pre-pregnancy weight quite quickly. But as athletes, I think we fail to remember that we likely lose a decent amount of muscle mass. I lost some of the initial post-delivery weight, but then gained back 5 pounds, which I hadn't expected and I largely attribute to breastfeeding. My hips are also significantly wider, and my belly button may never be the same. Net net - your body doesn't bounce back right away, and be kind to and patient with yourself in the process.
- Hunger and thirst - I have been way more hungry and WAY more thirsty than I ever was during pregnancy, and I have been diligent about eating and drinking plenty. The weight will eventually come off, but my main focus right now is on making sure I am producing enough high quality breast milk. Hydration plays a key role in breastmilk production. I find some nights I drink as much as 1.5 liters of water over the course of the night - I just can't drink enough!
- Productivity - I remember at my (Zoom) baby shower one of my friends gave me the advice to "only try to get one thing done per day". It stuck with me. I am someone who tries to pack way too much into each day. I like to feel and be productive. One of the hardest things I struggled with when Harrison was born was feeling like I did nothing with my days. I felt like I would feed him, change his diaper and then do it all over again. Be prepared to have days when you don't get much done.
As for tips - here is what I would offer to help get you through the first 4 weeks:
- Really take some down time to allow your body to heal. I didn't give enough credit to just how traumatic delivering a baby is, and it is critical for long term health to let yourself heal properly. I'm an advocate for movement, but remember to go slow and cautiously. Walking was my go to for the first 3-4 weeks.
- Pamper yourself - take baths, use the SITS bath, get sleep when you can.
- Keep a HUGE bottle of water and snacks with you at all times - I'm always hungry and always very thirsty. As you ramp up your activity remember to drink even more (although you will likely find you are exceptionally thirsty in the hours after a workout).
- Get someone to cook meals for you. My husband and I found that we had breakfast and lunch covered, but by the end of the day we were exhausted and couldn't even think about making dinner. Luckily we had our parents here to help us, and they cooked dinner for us every single night for 2 months. But, if you don't have help, I'd highly recommend asking friends to make you freezer dinners and/or sign up for a meal delivery service. It may be a splurge, but I promise it will save your sanity.
- Try to take 15-20 minutes each day to check in with your partner. Ask how he/she is doing and what is going on, or what is on their mind. Mike and I tried to do this (we didn't do it every day, but we tried) and it was nice to talk through what we were each experiencing in the process. It made us both feel more supported.
Being a mom is one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I feel blessed and and learning so much about myself in the process. But I also think that there are realities to what having a baby means. Women are afraid to talk about the hard parts of being a parent because they fear it will downplay all the amazing parts, or they may seem unhappy or ungrateful. The truth is that these experiences are very real and very much part of the postpartum period, and having a place to read about and reference other women's experiences is an important part of feeling supported through that period. I'm trying to have a voice to share not just the best parts of being a new mom, but also the hardest parts of what being a postpartum female means.