Bump-bump-bump…

This one is for the ladies with body issues; pregnancy wreaks havoc on your ability to accept your body both during and after baby.

I don’t have a pretty bump.  I didn’t the first time and I don’t the second.  Sure, it’s round and somewhat little – at 26 weeks people are just noticing that I’m pregnant at work – but man is it ugly in the wrong clothes.  And what makes it ugly?  To me, it’s that my belly button didn’t turn into an outie the first time and doesn’t look to be any closer to doing that the second time around.  The result: an unsightly jiggly flat and hollow spot at the belly button underneath stretchier shirts that makes you look more fat than pregnant.

I don’t know why I happen to have this particular shape bump and so many others don’t.  But it makes me look at other pregnant women with envy at the their perfectly shaped bumps, that kind without any flat spots.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with your fitness level, the amount of jelly already on your belly, how stretchy your skin is, the kind of cocoa butter or oil you use on your belly, or even genetics.  I don’t know if it’s because people have bigger than average babies versus those of us struggling to put on literal baby weight.  At the end of the second trimester (when the belly button is supposed to have popped) it’s not like I can do anything about it anyway.  I guess I’d just like for there to be an honest discussion about different bump shapes… like how shorter women’s bumps tend to go out further because of a short torso, versus taller women with more room to stretch.  Or how one bump can be low and the other can be high and it means absolutely nothing at all.  Or how it’s okay that your bump isn’t a perfect half-circle.

Nevermind the fact that your bump tends to be a little bit bigger earlier with subsequent pregnancies.  So here I am feeling like a beached whale with three more months to go, bumping into things, hitting my bump with the car door, and starting to get uncomfortable bending over to paint my toenails and put on shoes.  I don’t seem to remember this happening so early, but maybe the mind is forgetful.  Someone I know told me the “pregnancy brain” forgetting effect is there to help you forget how uncomfortable you are during pregnancy so that, to ensure survival of the species, you’ll willingly do it again.  I’m beginning to think he was right.  He’s got a flat gut that sticks out, too.

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The UU factor in weight gain

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a petite person, so any child that I have unfortunately has the bad luck of not only being harbored in a short torso but also in a super-tiny uterus.  It’s not a surprise that the baby would be a little smaller than average.  But it is apparently a surprise to most people that I look as tiny as I do – and for having gained as much weight as I have.

35-ish weeks in, I have now gained over 30 pounds (although I am usually weighed in the late afternoon).  That’s apparently normal, and apparently as long as I keep working as an incubator, the weight gain isn’t over.  But that weight gain really means nothing in the eyes of the on-lookers, the strangers, and the watchers, all of whom have come to the same three conclusions about my pregnancy experience:

“You’re due when?  That soon?”

“You’re so cute!!!!”

and “Wow!  Good for you!”

Just by looking at the size of my belly.

That pretty much sums up the reactions I’m getting at this point in my pregnancy, which still surprises me that people would see me this way.  Because first of all, my weight gain has been within what they want you to gain (25-35 pounds).  Second of all, I have a huge ass belly – or at least I think so.  And third, what they don’t realize – and what I don’t tell most of them – is that not looking like I have a big baby has actually been a bad, somewhat scary thing – and they don’t realize I fight the urge to grimace when they congratulate me on my little belly. 

With UU, you are at an increased risk for intrauterine growth restriction, which basically means, your baby has a tough time growing.  You don’t need to have a UU for IUGR to happen – you could be malnourished, you could have some autoimmune disease, there could be something wrong with the baby, etc.  But let’s face it – UU’ers are at risk for smaller babies; regardless if they make it to full term or not, they’re likely to be on the smaller side.  When my MFM specialist started asking me how much I had gained, it wasn’t because she was curious – it’s because the baby was small.  Growing, but small.  And I’ve done everything I could since we realized it was going to be that much of a problem to overcome to get him to grow, and grow he has been doing for the last month – thankfully.

That doesn’t make me feel any better about having a small belly, though.  I know people are being polite.  They may even be in awe of what they perceive to be my self-control or even my fitness level (which has sunk to zilch in the last six months).  And I don’t let them know their perception is wrong, that it isn’t any of those wonderful, aspirational reasons why I look the way I do – it’s something totally out of my control and something which I wish I didn’t have to deal with.  I sat in those childbirthing classes still feeling like the left-out infertilite – still yearning for the big belly, because a big belly means a big baby (well, not always), but at least someone with a chance of being bigger than mine.  Then I wouldn’t have to worry about conserving every calorie so that my little one can grow big and strong, that he would have a fighting chance if he was premature, and that he would be just as healthy as any other baby born from a normal, fully functional reproductive system.  The burdens of infertility do not abandon you even when you are fertile.

Musings from the treadmill

Since the miscarriage and the end of multiple cycles of clomiphene citrate, I’ve dedicated myself to getting back into shape and trying to identify as more of an athlete.  One of the things I was always curious about using was a heart rate monitor, which in so many fitness magazines and websites seems to be a better way to estimate calories burned and exertion than a random website’s guess.  And, when I had a little visitor for a few days, I began to worry how I could possibly continue running to stay in shape – they say it is so critically important for your health, controlling weight gain during, and returning to your regular body after pregnancy to keep active –  without putting myself in danger. A few websites suggested using a heart rate monitor to make sure that you weren’t working too hard. After weeks of researching different body monitors (like BodyMedia’s, the one used on the Biggest Loser) and heart rate monitors, I decided on a heart rate monitor.

I purchased the Polar FT60 monitor in pink from Amazon – I’ve enjoyed it and I recommend it for any beginner. It had great reviews, it wasn’t too expensive, and I figured if this made me more motivated to run, train, and exercise, I could splurge on this and not a gym membership. I’ve only had it for three weeks but I have learned a lot about myself in those three weeks. Although I was training steadily to be able to run a 3.5mile race comfortably, I wore the watch at every chance I got – during a weeknight walk with my dog, a pick-up volleyball game during lunch at work – and was shocked at what I learned pretty quickly.  I can’t wait to wear it with a Jillian Michaels video. It turns out that most of the time I’ve been working too hard – in the maximum heart rate zone, far longer than I should be especially if my goal is to lose weight and improve fitness. No wonder I was always exhausted from running – I was going far too hard. One thing you don’t ever factor in into your race performance is the boost you get of adrenaline that protects your body from the stress you put on it in the maximum heart rate zone. You simply don’t have that adrenaline when it’s just you out on the road, or worse, on a treadmill.

I ran for an hour for the first time in my life. I was just at the border of my maximum heart rate, trying desperately to run slow enough to keep my heart in the “aerobic” zone but fast enough to still feel like I was getting somewhere. On a treadmill I did 4 miles in about 55 minutes. As I never really put any analysis into training/running before, this felt like a huge defeat for me. But, after doing this twice in a week and having nothing else to do in that hour but think, I thought about every little adaptation I could make to my exercise and see how it would impact my heart rate.

I tried breathing deeply, as deep as I could as quickly as I could (about the length of two paces), and exhaling.  My heart rate slowed a beat or two.

I took great big strides and my heart rate shot up. Short, tiny ones and it slowed.

When someone got on the treadmill next to me, my heart rate picked up though my technical pace didn’t. A little competition, maybe?

Some songs on my iPod made me lose my concentration faster than others.

And when my heart rate got up higher than I really wanted it to be, especially if it was early in the exercise – I was going to hit 4 miles no matter what – I had to make peace with the fact that I had to go slower, not faster. I had to tell myself that it was okay. I still felt like I was cheating.

What was the end result of all of this mundane knowledge? For the first time ever I was able to run the full length of the 3.5 mile race without stopping, walking, or side stitches. I hit a personal PR (for this particular race). And I wasn’t exhausted.

I was happy and all it took was a little forgiveness… maybe even a little loving kindness to accept myself and all the amazing things my body can do, even when there is one thing it can’t.

Exercising while TTC: A monthly plan

While I was in the middle of my clomiphene citrate treatment, resulting in some unsightly and unwanted weight gain, I decided to finally get back into a regular exercise routine – partially to help prevent more weight gain, partially to help me get my sanity back.  Exercise has long helped me alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as help cure the occasional bout of insomnia.  During treatment, I would spend the two weeks after ovulation petrified of doing any exercise, thinking I might “shake things loose” or that I might rupture an over-stimulating ovary (as a result of the clomiphene).  After all, experts like Dr. Alice Domar suggest taking a whole three months off of exercise just to rule it out as a factor in your infertility.  Unless you’re training for a marathon I really don’t think that’s practical advice; did she ever bloat up to the point that even your “fat” pants become uncomfortable?  Right.

That’s where I started to put together my own plan that I thought might help kill two birds with one stone: integrate more body-mind awareness practices as well as take some time to fight flab.  This included making more of an effort to relax through meditation, both using podcasts at night and making the time at work to join in a weekly 20-minute meditation group.  I mixed this with a monthly exercise plan broken into two parts, and it seemed to satisfy both my need for vigorous exercise and my desire to keep my activity light during the critical days.

I should note that I am not an expert in health and fitness, and I have no training in this area whatsoever.  If you are TTC and want to put together an exercise plan, you should probably discuss your own limitations with your doctor.  And always do what’s right for you, so tweak it as needed.

My plan was extremely simple: 2 weeks of vigorous exercise, starting day 1 of my cycle (first day of menstruation) and lasting through about the time for ovulation; at that point, I would switch to yoga for two weeks, until the start of my next cycle.  With this routine I didn’t feel guilty for not exercising and I didn’t feel guilty for exercising.

I really like challenging workouts, so during my 2-week vigorous time I would do circuit training like with Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred (or, really, any of her other videos), or jogging.  For the 2-week restful-exercise time, I would do power yoga or pilates.  I like JM’s Yoga Meltdown video, as well as the MTV Pilates, Pilates Mix, and Power Yoga videos.  I exercised about every other day, or however my schedule allowed for it.  I was doing yoga so much more than I had ever done that I would get excited for sun salutations, waiting to slide into upward dog – a pose I never had much respect for until I became strong and flexible enough to do it correctly and feel an awesome stretch in both my back and my core.  It’s as comforting to me as chocolate…  but I’ll save the “yogasm” talk for another post.  😉