Becoming a mom is hard, finding yourself again post-baby is equally hard. This is my first Mother’s Day as a mom myself (I'm officially a mom of 18 weeks now), so this piece is near and dear to my heart.
I was not one of those glowing, insta-perfect pregnant ladies. Amidst counting my many blessings, pregnancy and new mom-hood is the biggest mental and physical challenge I’ve ever faced.
I have been utterly exhausted since day one of pregnancy in May 2019. I was barely able to exercise during those nine months. It took me weeks to so much as walk around the block postpartum. I skied groomers at six weeks, but at every little bump, I felt like my insides might just fall out. That’s some of the real-talk of my journey I believe we miss in this internet-perfect world we’re living in…
And yet, my broken-feeling body created a whole and healthy child. I’ve never felt more like a superhero (even a super-tired, haggard one that traded sweatpants for a cape). As time has passed, I, like all women, have made baby steps. It feels like two steps forward, one step back many days, but slowly and surely we all start to get our groove back. When the time was right (about 3.5 months postpartum for me), getting back on my MTB for the first time was the biggest step toward becoming myself again.
Anyhow enough about me! As an ode to all you mothers and soon-to-be mothers out there, we sought advice, experiences and struggles felt by members of our community. Some overarching themes rose to the top: Give yourself some grace (okay, a LOT of grace), set reasonable expectations and just try to get on that bike (when approved by your doctor and when it feels right)—even if the ride isn’t pretty, fast or long! Once you get back on your bike, and your kids are old enough to play outside with you, there’s a whole different set of challenges and adventures ahead.
Hear from six bad-ass moms with experience ranging from 8 weeks to 21 years.
Happy Mothers Day!
xo Cassie (& Krista)
PS: Since each woman’s words were shared so uniquely with so much realness, we wanted you to hear from them, unedited.
PPS: We want to hear from you—any advice, struggles, experiences, please drop them in the comments section below.
I had this glorious vision of pregnancy and postpartum, mostly based on women I saw on social media. Obviously I’d practically ski into labor, ripping off my skins in between contractions, an avalanche beacon awkward around my belly but still fitting. I’d run at least one marathon while gestating, and I’d be back to running and biking and hiking days after birth. I’d meditate in the mornings, a blissful, calm new mother who knew exactly what to do to make her blessed offspring stop screaming.
What really happened was my first walk a few days post-birth was only a few blocks, and it took about ten days before I felt up to a short mile-and-half hike at a local park in Portland. I didn’t run for six weeks, and even now at twelve weeks post I’m only going for slow, short runs. It took longer than I expected to get back on a bike outside. Part of that was COVID, part of that was feeling like a train had run repeatedly over my bottom. That was a part of birth I hadn’t expected, because it’s not talked about as openly as other aspects of motherhood (The glow! The joy! The heavenly scent of baby!).
But time heals and my first day back on a bike was a blissful taste of freedom that helped bring me back to myself. I get tired if I try too hard, though, and so I’m easing into this new normal with more restraint than I’ve showed in the past for even my worst injuries. I let go of my grandiose plans for movement when I had enough preterm labor signs at 32 weeks for the doc to restrict my movement from anything that caused contractions (which at that point was triggered just by walking upstairs).
It took some time to get used to the idea that things were not going to look the way I imagined, and I still struggle with feeling like I’m not doing enough, like I’m not hardcore enough. And so I remind myself every day that my journey is just that—mine. And it’s ok if it doesn’t look like anyone's else’s, because growing and birthing Wolfie into this world was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and however long it takes to heal from that is not only ok, it’s exactly the way it should be.
And that’s a huge part of this journey of parenthood, I’m realizing. Learning to abandon the plan with grace (or better yet not make one at all) and let what is happening...happen. Not fighting it, not feeling bad or remorseful that things didn’t go as planned. I think the sooner I lean fully into this new way of being, the more fun it’ll be. And that’s really the point of all this, right? And everytime I snuggle our beautiful boy I’m reminded that this slow journey into the new normal, and all the slowly fading aches and pains, are worth it, and I deserve all the time I need to find my way.
Wild Rye Ambassador - Co-founder of Escapod Trailers, podcast host, iFit trainer, goal coach, former world champion skier
Mom of 2 months
Mom to: Hudson
Favorite Wild Rye piece: Freel Women's MTB Shorts
In summary: Have zero expectations. Take things slowly. Listen to your body. Don't compare.
First, sometimes no plan is the best plan, and that's coming from someone who is an inherent planner! But here's why: there is so much that can happen during childbirth and the way your body responds is often outside of your control. No matter how well you prepare for your birth it is a physical undertaking that leaves a LASTING toll. You can make a plan for how & when you'll get back on your bike, but you run the risk of feeling disappointed if things don't go accordingly.
If possible, try to ride indoors on a trainer or stationary bike before you ride outside. I got on a stationary bike about 5 weeks postpartum. I was relieved to know that I could sit on the seat and I could stop any time if I wasn't feeling great. This also gave me an opportunity to see how I would recover so that I would be less likely to overdo it once I got outside.
Finally, make sure you don't compare yourself to anyone else. I had a 31-hour labor and pushed for five hours. Ultimately, my baby was delivered by vacuum assist and I had an episiotomy. I have no idea how my body healed as quickly as it did. Prior to getting back on the bike I was eating a very high-carb diet, drinking shit tons of water, resting as much as I could, walking about 3-5 times a week and doing occasional (not religious) pelvic floor exercises. That formula worked for me, but it might not for you.
Listen to what other women have gone through, but take everything with a grain of salt. Let the good outcomes give you hope for what's possible and the bad ones prepare you to have patience. Your journey is yours alone, and you will get there in time. And when it comes to comparison, PLEASE don't compare the 'you now,' with the 'you before;' they are two entirely different women both equally worthy.
Like pregnancy, labor and, as it turns out, parenting, I’ve found that getting back on the bike postpartum has been anything but linear. There are ups, downs, setbacks and small gains, and none of it goes in a straight line.
Everyone is different, and some women are back on the bike days after birth, but I felt comfortable waiting until my doctor cleared me to exercise to return to the dirt. This meant eight weeks postpartum due to an unplanned C-section very late in the very long labor game that added two weeks of recovery time. By the time I did get back on the dirt, I was ready—I’d ridden my ‘maternity’ bike, an Electra E-Townie, around town a bit, but hadn’t pedaled my mountain bike since my last ride at about seven months pregnant.
And that first ride bike was glorious! It was such a feeling of freedom after rarely leaving the couch the previous two months, anchored by a constantly suckling mini-human attachment. But it also came with a side helping of anxieties like: “Will I ever be fit again? And “I’m so exhausted all the time, how will I ever find time and energy to ride?”
Thankfully, a friend who has two young daughters gave me a good piece of advice, which was not to pressure myself, something I could already feel starting to happen. I kept thinking, I gotta get a race or a big endurance ride on the books, I gotta have something to train for so I’m motivated, but how am I going to find the time, especially after maternity leave ends? She wisely advised, “Don’t do it. Give yourself a year.” So that’s been my mantra. No pressure in year one. I ride whenever I feel like it’s good for my body, and especially for my mental health, to be on the trail. I ride (rode) with friends who are patient, or I ride with my partner who knows how important it is for both of us to get time on the trail, regardless of the molasses pace.
Things started to click again when my son was around five months old. He was sleeping longer stretches at night so I was able to start clawing back the effects of sleep deprivation, and we’d found a few trustworthy sitters and felt OK about leaving Arlo for a few hours over the weekend to get out on longer rides. I was actually feeling pretty decent, and had even been on a press trip with three days of back-to-back riding, which felt like a massive accomplishment. Then the world turned upside down, and it’s felt like back to square one with trying to ride, work and balance baby care during the pandemic. But I’m continuing to take it one day, and one ride, at a time, granting myself plenty of grace along the way.
You just built a human!
This incredible fact is so easily forgotten the first time your tires hit the dirt after having a baby.
As you begin to turn the pedals over, you wonder what the hell happened to all of the power that used to reside in your legs. A once easy climb, a small loop…now feels big. Too much.
Your lungs burn.
Your smart watch and your even smarter brain tell you that your heart rate is maxing out.
Your core… your poor, poor core. It tries so hard to be the foundation that you need it to be between your upper and lower body but it just can’t quite pull it off.
But, each ride gets a little easier. You pump through the familiar dips and flows of the trail, your hips swing into your favorite corner. Your tired and over-stretched muscles slowly start to fire again the way they used to. Pop here, jump there, eyes up. Eyes up! Muscle memory is kicking in, and your body, ever so slowly, is starting to act like it’s old self again. Your long lost friends; adrenaline and endorphins, finally show up for the party.
The thrill of being in nature, breathing fresh air and feeling the wind in your hair. It re-energizes you. While gasping for breaths between swearing at burning legs you begin to smile... and you can’t stop.
The pure joy of being back on the bike, of being a mother, of the realization that you are right now at this very moment being your old self and your new self all at once. Of getting home a little tired, a little sweaty, and a lot elated. Hugging your baby. That feeling is unbeatable.
*Written bleary eyed in the middle of the night one handed on my iPhone.
Through that baby stage and starting to think about passing on your love of bikes and adventure to your kids? Hear from two very seasoned moms on how they’ve approached it with their now, almost, adult kids.
Advice to moms-to-be and moms-coming-back: Get on your bike, stay on your bike, modify your bike and your rides AND lower your expectations. The double bonus is that the "more pregnant" you become, the less effort it takes to get a workout. Above all else, lower your expectations of what it means to go on a ride. Try a bike trailer to log some miles, hop on a stationary bike during those last miserable months, turn that trip to the grocery store into a quick ride. Just keep riding, even if it's significantly less.
On passing down the love of bikes to your kids: Ride, just ride with your kids. It won't always be easy and they won't always love it. In fact, sometimes they'll hate it. But stick with it and you'll be giving them a gift that'll last a lifetime. And remember, when mountain biking with kids, end on a downhill and net descents are always more fun.
My daughters watched me discover mountain biking. I brought them with me on that journey, and in that way mountain biking actually shaped the lessons they learned about the world, about their mom, and about themselves. I have always been far less concerned about whether or not I could instill mountain biking passion in my daughters, and far more concerned about showing them how to be an explorer. It's one thing to tell your child not to be afraid to try new things, and it's entirely another to invite them into the experience alongside you. So Emily and Caroline are not expert mountain bikers nor did they participate in their high school leagues. But they aren't afraid to explore their world Skiing, climbing, sea kayaking, water polo, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, deep sea fishing: they've tried it all.
Caroline was premature. She was born at three pounds and change in 2002. "Tiny and mighty" seems to have been her destiny. Around age 15 she reached her full, mature adult height of 4'10". In her early adolescence self-esteem was hard won, and she always thought of her size. When she's on skis or a mountain bike, she quietly explores her own strength, and that serves her on deeper levels in her life. I let her put the longest travel XS bike I could find on a chair lift for the first time last summer, and she was beyond stoked. She descends like her hair is on fire! She's definitely discovered strength-to-weight ratio.
When Emily was 13, we took a mommy-daughter cycling trip to Croatia. She was so mad at me the first day on the bike, and over the course of ten days we reconciled the hard work of riding with the extracurricular glamour of the Aegean islands. She really wanted to figure it out on her own terms. Emily studies at a design school now. The work she shows me is so brave...and so is her hair color. She doesn't feel any internal conflict about bouncing between outdoor adventure and fashion, at an age where most young women are hyper-image conscious. She is fully fierce, in Jimmy Choo boots and the latest mascara trend. Every time I see her doing things on her own terms, I think of that cycling trip in Croatia.
Today my girls are 19 and 17 respectively. My world truly changed course when I started mountain biking, and I believe my motherhood did too. The former is often the metaphor I need for the latter; because the trail gets rough for your teenage daughters...real rough. The test of my endurance now is letting Emily and Caroline pick their own lines. If there is an equivalent to "endo-ing" as a mom, I've done it. And I've bonked, too. Because Emily and Caroline sometimes join me on the bike, I get asked advice about how to raise girls who mountain bike. In truth, I don't know how to raise mountain bikers. But mountain biking showed me how to raise strong, beautiful women who will discover their own passions in life.
Thanks for tuning in and we would love to hear from you! How did you overcome the "fifth trimester" and/or pass your love of two wheels (or two planks) along to the next generation? Let us know in the comments below!
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