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Back in the Swim
Photo: Tim & Annette
While in fourth grade, I tried to impress my friends by diving off the diving board at our favorite pool. The resulting blast of bubbles nearly sent the bottom half of my purple velour swimming suit to the drains. Fortunately, no one but the lifeguard witnessed my moment of mortification. From then on, I’ve stuck with the security only a one-piece can offer a modest girl who loves to dive.

I’m 38 now and a brand-new mother who spends hours each day nursing, diapering, and playing with my baby. It seems crazy that this memory from 1976 surfaced, but looking acceptable in a bathing suite represents some sort of gold standard of childbirth recovery.  I wondered if I could ever comfortably wear one, even just for privately sunning myself at home on the deck.

First, the facts. During my pregnancy, I gained more than 30 pounds. Though that’s a healthy number for a six-footer like me, going from 150 pounds to more that 180 pounds stretched my muscles and skin like taffy. I considered the transformation absolutely epic when my belly button vanished sometime during the eighth month. By then I could no longer see my toes unless I sat down and propped up my feet.

So even before the birth of our cuddly baby boy, I doubted how—or if—my body would reconstitute. The question brought me to a place where so many Americans find themselves today—a destination I’d never even visited. Thanks to a combination of tall-and-thin genetics and an active, out-doorsy lifestyle, I’d never fretted over my figure.

Now I know firsthand that the refrain spoken at weight-loss support groups rings true. I need to remember that I didn’t gain the weight overnight. It took nine months. So safely losing it may take as long—or longer.

Some pregnancy pounds come off quickly. Little Carl John took his seven pounds 11 ounces with him at birth. Just holding him in my arms versus my belly lightened the extra load. But he left behind much more that he took.

Exercise Would be the Only Way

Since doctors instruct nursing mothers to refrain from dieting (reducing calories can compromise milk production), I knew I had to sweat off the excess. Exercise would be the only way to shed the pounds, firm up the flab and finally fit into my favorite pair of blue jeans.

I started with—if you’ll pardon the expression—baby steps. My husband, David, and I began walking on fairly level ground after dinner most nights. He toted Carl in the baby carrier as I hobbled along beside him still a little sore from the delivery experience.

It felt good to be out; breathing fresh air and stretching my muscles. But as my strength returned, I knew I needed something more to make the difference. That’s when I resorted to the basics: frequency, intensity, and duration. The best recipe for fitness success calls for frequency of three to five workouts a week; intensity that brings heart rate to 60 percent of the maximum heart rate or a little higher; and a duration of 20 minutes or more.
Walking in the evenings with my spouse helped. But recruiting another relatively new mom to hike the mountain trails 15 minutes from my neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado, helped even more. By then my baby weighed almost 12 pounds. While climbing steep trails, my hiking buddy and I joked that climbing hills with sleepyhead kids in tow was tougher than lifeguard training.

Because I’ve been working at it, and because I’m tall, I’m looking a lot more like my former self. I know I’ve got about 10 more pounds to go. But I’m not going to worry or hurry myself. In the midst of this fitness pursuit, God has been giving me a certain peace that I didn’t have before. It goes beyond swimwear or reaching for some ideal body image. It’s about believing that any extra effort for health is effort in the right direction. Exercising patience and perseverance pays off well beyond the scale.

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By Pam Mellskog. Reprinted with permission from Vibrant Life, September/October 2006. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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