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Content warning: This story includes scary birth information, so don't read it if you're pregnant. I repeat, DO. NOT. READ THIS IF YOU ARE PREGNANT. If you're thinking about becoming pregnant, you might want to skip it. And if birth trauma just doesn't sound like a thing you should read about, skip it!
My second kid was born by vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) at home. We planned a home birth, to be attended by a midwife, but she badly estimated how long my labor would be, and missed it. My midwife missed my freaking birth. I delivered the most gorgeous 9 pound 4 ounce baby boy right into my husband's hands in our basement at our house.
It was an insane, incredibly, empowering experience. That said, my little dude came flying out like a cannonball, and instead of his head molding as he was delivered, my vagina...well...expanded so he had room. The midwife stitched me, but I think because I was pretty swollen, it didn't stitch together very well, and so it healed like crap. I was in pain for several months, and the midwife kept saying that the stitches weren't fully dissolved. Everything was painful. Sitting, standing, sometimes even laying. Walking was difficult, and using the bathroom became very painful. Eventually, I got sick of it and made an appointment to go see a different provider.
At that office, I assumed the position (women know the one), and the provider there looked and said, "I'm going to grab the doctor and be right back."
Not quite what I was expecting or hoping to hear. On their return, they laid out a few options. One was a series of cryotherapy treatments in office, and the other was surgery. I ended up opting for surgery. So, two months (and a little bit) after my son's birth, I ended up getting surgery. Essentially, they cut back open where I had torn, and restitched it so it could heal better.
Surgery was terrifying, and I woke up in searing hot pain. On the way home, I had my husband stop at Dunkin for coffee and a sandwich, but I don't think I even ate the sandwich, because my stomach ended up in a twist by the time I actually had it.
My husband later told me that after the surgery was done, when the doctor came to talk to him, the doctor tried to joke that he "put an extra stitch in there for you." In 2012, doctors still making that tired ass joke. And maybe, he actually meant it. Because after healing, my vagina was closed up tight. It was terrible.
It took a little while to heal, and when we eventually tried to have sex, it just didn't work. Nothing would fit into my vagina. I couldn't even comfortably use tampons.
I went back to the doctor who had operated on me, and he said it was fine. He didn't see any issues. I attempted a variety of home treatments over the next year, and had very modest improvements. Eventually, I was able to have sex, but it was terribly painful.
One day, I stumbled across an ad for a urogynecologist. Among the conditions they said they treated was listed "painful sex." I had been to a few different doctors at this point who all told me the same thing: they couldn't see any problem. I called the office to set up an appointment.
From the start, it was different. The doctor sat down with me in an office with my clothes still on to take my history. It was a very different experience than trying to give your health history with a paper blanket wrapped around your legs and butt. Once she got the full story, she had me go to the exam room. She told me my pelvic floor muscles were in spasm, and that advice to do kegels was actually the wrong thing to do, because you can't strengthen a muscle that is just stuck in spasm. Her plan was a series of injections in the vagina (that part wasn't as horrible as it sounds), and pelvic floor physical therapy, plus vaginal suppositories with medication to reduce the inflammation and help my muscles be able to relax.
Pelvic floor PT was a lot less awkward than it sounded. We focused for a while on being able to relax the muscles, massaging out scar tissue, and developing a better connection with my pelvic floor muscles.
Gradually, the combination of treatments improved everything and helped me have no pain.
I'm going to be really frank here: I was extremely ashamed of all of that for a long time. I guess I had just enough of a Catholic upbringing to feel like you don't talk about these kinds of things, or maybe it was some residual shame, feeling like I had brought this on myself by opting for a homebirth. Who knows, but I felt very ashamed and uncomfortable talking about it. This might be my most raw blog post yet, but I think it is important for women to talk about these struggles so that other women who experience the same might know how to fix it. I didn't know where to go, or what to do, and everyone I saw said they didn't see anything wrong until I got to the right place.
This past Wednesday, in Washington DC, a load of Trump-lovin' Americans, under the banner of being "real Patriots" (usually with a capital P) raided the Capitol building. I was at work when it was happening, and had a busy evening planned -- meeting with a personal training client, followed by teaching a class. I can't say I was shocked, but certainly angry and scared as the news was breaking. My reaction was a lot of wtf....WTF....no, really, WHAT THE FUCK. I considered cancelling my appointment and my class, because it just seemed crazy to go about business as usual when all this is happening a few short hours away from me.
But I didn't.
I believe that there is healing to be had in my work. Some people may see what I do as frivolous, or just a fitness class, or unimportant, but I truly believe that my work helps people heal their relationship with their bodies. While this work is certainly work, teaching classes is an element of self-care for me. I know that I'm helping other people to care for themselves, which is rewarding and fulfilling. Moving my body in a way that feels nourishing, empowering, and healthy helps me feel energized and positive, and I enjoy bringing that to others.
If you chose to skip a planned workout because of your emotions in response to the events, that's cool too. For me, I didn't want to spend time glued powerlessly to a screen (or multiple screens...) for any longer. It felt good to reclaim my day and move my body. I hope you chose, and continue to choose, what feels like self-care for you.
Today, Lizzo posted a video on Instagram promoting a smoothie detox. Unsurprisingly, the comments went WILD. So here's the thing. Lizzo has become this sort of icon or mascot of the body positivity movement. When she sings, "Baby how you feeling? I'm feeling good as hell!", I feel that! We love her, she represents more to us than music: she represents embracing yourself and loving yourself as you are. I cried, legit, when she came on the VMAs and told us, "It's so hard to love yourself in a world that doesn't love you back."
But here's the thing, y'all: we don't own Lizzo. We don't. She is a real person, with real insecurities, real goals, real desires. She posted a few days ago, really emotional about her body and feeling unhappy with it. Obviously there is nothing wrong with her body, the problem is the culture. But she was vulnerable. She doesn't only live in our imaginations. She deserves to make her own choices about her body. I might not like her choice, it may be disappointing to me to see someone I thought was a body positive icon making choices that don't align with that movement, but it is her choice to make.
The IG comments turned, a bit unsurprisingly, into a roast. "You are amazing but this saddens me to my core." I don't disagree, but maybe she deserves to make her own choices. "This ain't it sis. So many people look up to you for body positivity. And this is the opposite." This from a white woman, and honestly, this use of the word "sis" troubles me, but that's a post for a different day. That aside, while I agree with the basic points, it is Lizzo's body. A number of people reported feeling triggered by the post, and I certainly was as well, and probably for some people that is a lot harder than others. I just think that we may have heaped a bit of an unfair amount of expectation.
While I am disappointed and bummed about this, I'm not mad at Lizzo. I feel sad that Lizzo felt like this was a good idea, because the noise around us is just SO.DAMN.LOUD that smaller = healthier, that thinner is prettier, that shrinking makes your life better, you more desirable. It's just this inexorable, inescapable jackhammer in the background all the damn time. She was vulnerable, like any of us can be. Lizzo got called to the noise.
Detoxes are dumb. It's a quick weight loss trick disguised as a way to improve the health of your vital organs. Want to improve the health of your gizzards? Drink a glass of frickin water. Then drink another one after that. And another one. And maybe after all that water, you'll have to pee so much you won't have time to worry about roasting Lizzo for getting called to that diet culture siren song and you sure as hell won't have time for any fake quick fixes.
Yeah, it's a bummer for those of us who have been doing work in antidiet spaces, and I get feeling like "We lost one." But we won't get her (or anyone else) with a barrage of bitching, and we'll be here when she comes back. It makes me think a bit of addiction recovery. When a friend has a relapse, it is triggering. That doesn't mean I go get drunk, and maybe I go through some feels, but I don't roast the person. It's an addiction. It's not their fault. I just need to be there when they come back around.
I'll leave you with this. I know some folks probably needed to comment just so vulnerable folks might see those comments and know that a (weight loss) detox smoothie isn't where it's at, but once there were several...plus several more of those comments, did the dogpile need to continue? Let the woman live her life. Commentary on people's bodies works both ways -- just as it isn't cool to fat-shame or concern-troll, we also don't need to chastise people who shrink themselves. It may be disappointing to me, but it is not my body.
If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably seen my FREAKING AMAZING new home gym set-up! Obviously, not everyone needs/wants a set-up as elaborate as what I have...or maybe you want something more elaborate! A few people asked about where I got some of the components to my gym! I'm going to give a few links to where I got various items and how to get set up without breaking the bank.
When it comes to home gyms, if you have money to burn, the sky is the limit. You can spend a ton of money on a variety of equipment and really go to town. If you're reading this, I assume that is not your scenario! Thus, my first tip is to ask folks if they have any equipment they want to give away or sell for cheap! When I was looking for a squat rack, I jumped on Facebook and posted that I was looking for one, and I found a friend who had one to give away! So if you're looking for specific equipment, ask around. You never know who has gym equipment in their home that they want to get rid of.
If you're just getting started with a home gym, dumbbells are were I would suggest you begin. They are versatile, you can often find good deals (current dumbbell shortage notwithstanding), and they'll last for a long time, so if you want to get rid of them later, you can. I acquired mine slowly over time. Those 3s, 5s, and 8s are probably older than my kids. The rest are more recent. I also have one kettlebell, and I encourage you to look for kettlebells or dumbbells, as a lot of dumbbell exercises can be done with a kettlebell instead. You can buy kettlebells as singles or pairs, and again, there is so much you can do with them!
Since I got my dumbbells at different times, I don't have a pretty matched set, but I got some free from friends, bought the 20s from Facebook market, and had some previously. My Wreckbag is also back there. I was using that a bit at the start of the pandemic, but not as much currently. It's a great training tool if you're in the market for something like that!
Bench, Rack & Barbell/Plates
This bench is so amazing and it is a complete fluke that I snagged it. I found it at an auction from a gym that was going out of business. It is a Hammer Strength adjustable bench. Should you come across one and have the opportunity to get it, I love it. If not, there are a lot of options to take the place of a proper bench. I've used an aerobic step, my plyo box, or the floor for most things that need a bench. For bench press, the problem with the floor is you won't get full range-of-motion, but it works in a pinch.
My squat rack came free from a friend; I don't know a brand or anything on it. It isn't anything fancy, but it holds a bar, and that's all I need!
My barbell and plates came from York Barbell. They're located in York, PA, and we stopped in while we were (sort of) driving in the area. They were sold out of a lot of stuff, so I pretty much just got what I was able. It is a "women's bar" so it is a little shorter and lighter than a regular 45 lb bar. The plates are just standard iron, nothing fancy. When I bought them, they didn't have many options, and the guy working at the store thanked me so much for being nice about it. I was a bit surprised because that obviously means that people had been going in there and being turds because they were sold out on stuff. My friends. Please, be freaking nice to the people working in stores. It is not his fault that everybody suddenly decided to go buy barbells all at the same time. There is no need to be a dick to the guy in the shop.
I would add bands like this to my list near dumbbells for versatility. I know everybody wants booty bands, but you can do so much with these bad boys! I originally bought them several years ago to use for pullup assist, but now they do lat pull downs, seated rows, face pulls, and so much more! These came from WODFitters, and they are great, but you can get bands like this many places.
Okay, you may not think your gym needs a heavybag, but you're pretty much wrong. This is another item I got from the gym going out of business auction, and I love it! I've been working on some boxing in my training, and my kids also like working the bag a bit to get out some big feels (and who isn't having big feels at this point in the pandemic).
Finally, the piece de resistance, the floor. This is a soft interlocking tile floor with two sides. One side is softer, and the other a little more firm. It is great for all my different workouts. If you've been in my classes, you may have heard me share my fear of slipping in my sweat on our regular tile floor. This just lays right on top of the tile, and it gives a great surface for floor work, and good traction for HIIT. The firm side is tough enough for the bench and rack to sit on. We got it at Home Depot.
If you have other questions or ideas on home gym setup, drop them in the comments!
I wrote a post a few months ago about how working out helped me in my trauma recovery journey, and I got a few questions asking how specifically to maximize your workout to heal from trauma. One of the specific ways in which working out has helped me in trauma recovery is that I was able to connect to my body better.
Many trauma survivors have the experience of feeling disconnected from their bodies. This ranges from severe dissociative episodes, to, at the less severe end of the spectrum, lacking in kinesthetic awareness - that's big words for awareness of how your body moves and being able to control it. Movement, particularly strength training, has helped with this. Here are my top three tips on how to tune in to your body during your workout, and as you apply these skills in movement sessions, you'll find they come more easily at other times.
Trauma recovery is a long journey, not a single destination. The cool thing about that is that we can all keep practicing these skills all along the way. If you use any of these tips, or have some to add, I'd love to hear from you!
I talk a bunch on here and my social media about body positive fitness. Body posi fitness has become a bit of a buzzword, and it's super cool to hear folks talking about it, yet this also means that body posi fitness starts to mean a lot of different things. I wanted to clarify a bit about what body positive fitness means to me.
I'm so happy to see more people talking about body positive fitness, and I hope that people catch on to the idea that working out doesn't have to be tied to weight goals. What are some benefits you have experienced from working out that are unrelated to weight or size?
My ten-year-old and I were in the pool and he asked if I was sensitive about my size. I told him, no not particularly, and went on to clarify...
Me: If I say my hair is brown, nobody is upset about that, right? And if someone else says to me, "Your hair is brown!", that isn't an insult, right?
Me: But what about if they say, "Ewwwwww, your hair is brown!" Is that insulting?
10: Yeah, that sounds mean.
Me: So I think the same way about saying I'm fat. It isn't a bad thing, so it literally doesn't matter.
10: But you aren't fat, you're, like, muscley.
Me (Doesn't want to get into the weeds about it): But I have a bigger body. But it literally doesn't matter. My size isn't good or bad.
We went on to talk a little about his body, and also how people will sometimes say mean things even to smaller bodied people about being "too skinny" or other things. We agreed that bodies are all different, and that's cool. When you can approach your body size with the kind of indifference that you view something else, like the size of your feet, or your height, you begin to approach body neutrality. I'm not all the way there, but I get glimpses.
(For the uninitiated, ELI5 is often used for Explain it Like I'm 5. So this is the ELI10 version. I think this explanation might also work for a five-year-old, and if I get the opportunity to test it, I will follow up.)
Hey friends! I am so excited to share that I just passed the exam to become an ACE Certified Personal Trainer! What does this mean? I will now be adding personal training services along with the group fitness classes I already offer. I am working to develop these packages, and would be interested to hear any specific requests of what people might be interested in. For example, do you prefer to have a plan you can just follow on your own time, or prefer virtual training sessions where I watch your workout and can provide real time feedback?
I also wanted to speak about my decision to pursue a personal training certification. To be very honest, it was hard for me to dive into this certification. As a woman in a larger body, I struggled with self doubt about who would want to hire a personal trainer who looks like I do? Among personal trainers, people often say that your body is your business card. This is honestly pretty cringe-worthy, but we can dive deeper into that another day. I also struggled with the idea that I was starting over in a new career path despite being at the pinnacle of credentials in my current field in mental health. It felt a bit silly, to be honest.
Despite struggling with all that self doubt, I signed up for the ACE CPT course. It took me about nine months to work through. Prior to this, I didn't have a very strong background in anatomy, so that took me a while to learn. If anyone reading this is looking for tips on how to learn anatomy, I can recommend a few great YouTube channels that helped me a lot!
How and why did I overcome all those doubts and dive into this certification? To be honest, I didn't overcome them per se; I just did it anyway. I have been passionate about fitness for a lot of years, and I am passionate about creating fitness spaces focused on inclusivity, diversity, and with an emphasis on body positivity. To me, body positive fitness spaces don't focus on weight loss, and instead focus on moving your body in ways that feel challenging, but good and functional for your body. My longer term goal is to be able to offer intuitive eating coaching together with workout plans and training. By connecting to my values and what is important to me, I was able to "feel the fear and do it anyway."
Workout to live, or live to workout?
I'll be honest, I often live to workout. With this pandemic shutting down all the trail and road races I was training for, and also closing the gym, things have changed. I'm still running and working out, but it is definitely different. And honestly, in some ways, it is better. When I'm training for big goals, a lot of my time is spent...well, training. For a big goal. Sometimes, it is painful, exhausting, etc.
My kids and their cousins wanted me to jump on the trampoline with them. Often, I would be too tired or sore to do that, but on this particular day, I went for it. We jumped around like crazy, and while I was with them, the idea of "working out to live" kind of smacked me upside the head. I was fit enough to jump and not feel all winded after 30 seconds, but not so fatigued or sore from training that I couldn't play with them.
Will I go back to running twenty miles on a Saturday, or maxing out my deadlift and being sore and tired? Probably, because I love it. But I also love jumping on a trampoline with the kids. Possibly this is a message to myself to remind myself to prioritize. I usually am always in a training cycle for something, and go right from one to the next, but it's okay to take breaks. Still workout, but workout to live.
I'm sure if you've done "bootcamp" style classes, you've done so-called "suicides." You know, where you sprint a short distance, then back, then further, and back, and so on. These are also called shuttle runs, but somewhere along the way, calling them suicides became the common nomenclature.
It never sat right with me. Suicide affects millions of people per year. There are people who are suicide attempt survivors (folks who made an attempt to end their own life and lived). And there are suicide loss survivors (folks who know a person who died by suicide). It is estimated that for each person who dies by suicide, there are 135 people impacted by that death. My sister survived the loss of two of her friends by suicide when they were all in high school. Her graduating class was huge, over 800 people. That is over 800 young people who, during their formative high school years, experienced a loss by suicide. People who lose a loved one by suicide are at greater risk for future suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and also death by suicide. This is a huge problem, and one that impacts many people in various ways.
Losing a loved one by suicide is painful in complicated ways. People who survive a loss by suicide may struggle with guilt and shame. People may say insensitive things to them about their loved one. Grief from suicide loss is a complex journey. I say this to clarify the scope and impact of suicide on people.
It is for these reasons that calling an exercise "suicides" has never sat right with me. When I first became certified in group fitness, I researched other names for that move, and learned that they are also called shuttle runs. Which, I may add, is a perfectly descriptive name for what you're doing!
It may seem insignificant to some people, but when you are struggling with suicidal thoughts yourself, and your fitness instructor says, "Now we're going to do suicides!", it really is significant. If you've been calling this exercise "suicides", I ask you to consider whether you could make the shift in your language to calling them shuttle runs instead. It really is about being a kind human.