"Can you please sing more quietly? You're going to wake your brother up."
If I fold these clothes really quick and start a load of dishes before we go, we should be fine.
"We're going to go to the gym as soon as I finish this. Will you please put your shoes on?" My five-year-old daughter bounds up the stairs, presumably to find and put on her shoes. The baby snoozes next to me as I finish folding the basket of clothes.
I'll need to change his diaper before we go. I'll do that. Then do the dishes.
I grab the baby and start climbing the stairs to change his diaper. When I get up there, I put him in his bassinet while I try to find a clean diaper cover.
Didn't I just fold like ten of these? Where are they?
Then I catch a glimpse of my daughter out of the corner of my eye. She has gone in her room, gotten completely undressed, and is now dancing around in nothing but a tutu and a string of Mardi Gras beads. She is definitely not wearing shoes. "Please put your clothes back on and find your shoes. I really want to go to the gym today, and if we don't hurry, we won't have time."
I find a clean diaper cover and carefully pull the now-stirring baby from the bassinet. As I slip on the new diaper, he pees all over the bed and his clothes.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I get his clothes off of him and turn to grab new ones. That's when I realize that the only clean clothes left in his drawer are the newborn sizes he grew out of two weeks ago. I put him back in the bassinet, now screaming, and run downstairs to the laundry I just folded to find a clean onesie.
When I come back upstairs and rush to scoop up the screaming baby, I peek into my daughter's room and see that she has put on her shirt but no pants and has dumped every Crayon in the house onto her floor as she searches for the perfect shade of "primrose" (not pink) to color the picture of her imaginary friend. "Please put your clothes on. You can finish your picture when we get back, but I really, really want to go to the gym, and we're going to run out of time." I rhythmically bounce the baby up and down and hum to him until his screams fade to punctuated chirps with a clear message: he's hungry.
I'll just put his clothes on him real quick, feed him, and then we're out the door. I can still make this work. All I need is half an hour to lift weights. I wonder if that's really a good idea. I haven't lifted in so long. What weight should I start at? Should I do my whole body or just legs? Will I be too sore tomorrow if I . . .
The chirps have turned back into screams as I try to pull the onesie over his head. I pick him back up, navigate onto the bed, position the Boppy, and start to nurse.
I forgot that I put on the new sports bra that I bought yesterday even though it makes me self conscious to look at the size XXL tag. I hold up the face-sized cups and cannot for the life of me make it match the image I have of my body, the body that could not squeeze into the pre-pregnancy sports bras. There's no way I can nurse in this monstrosity.
Maybe I should just skip the gym today. . . . No! I really want to go. I'll just take this off, feed him, get dressed again, and then we're out the door.
As I'm nursing, I can't see into my daughter's room, but the sounds of singing and dancing suggest that all might not be going smoothly. "Are you dressed? Did you put your shoes on?" She says she did, but I am skeptical. "Come in here." She comes bounding in with a propelled bear crawl. Shirt. Pants. Shoes on the wrong feet.
"Good work! But your shoes are on the wrong feet. Can you switch them real quick?" She leaps back out as quickly as she appeared.
The baby's done nursing. I burp him and then scramble to get my gym clothes back on. I carry him down the steps and strap him into the car seat, which he hates, so he immediately starts screaming. I call upstairs. "Come on! Let's go! I want to get him in the car so he stops crying." My daughter comes down the stairs. Shoeless.
"Go put your shoes on! What are you doing?" She disappears again.
Shit! The dishes!
I try rocking the car seat back and forth a few times and them give him a pacifier. He glares at me over the top of it but stops screaming.
I could go to the gym tomorrow. But I have that doctor's appointment, and then she needs to be ready for roller skating class by 5 so I would have to . . . NO! I'm going to the gym! Just skip the dishes.
I start checking to make sure I have everything I need. Diapers in the diaper bag. Phone. Headphones. Wallet.
You can't skip the dishes. You don't have any clean bowls, and dinner tonight is soup.
I rush into the kitchen and start tossing the dishes in. The baby starts screaming.
"Shh. Shh. Shh," I rhythmically shush and rock, trying to get him to tolerate just a few more minutes in the car seat. Finally I take him out, finish loading the dishwasher with one hand while I hold him with the other and then realize my daughter never came back downstairs.
"Come on, please! We really need to go!"
"I'm finishing my picture!"
"You can finish it when we get back. I need you to come here now."
I strap the baby back in the car seat and my daughter comes down, shoes on the right feet, pouting about her picture.
"Please, please, just go to the car." I glance at my watch. Thirty-five minutes have passed.
Is this even worth it? You're spending more time getting to the gym than you're going to spend at the gym.
We get to the car. I snap the car seat in, buckle my daughter up, and finally start to drive. The baby starts screaming. My hushing, humming, and one twisted hand rocking attempts are futile.
Ten minutes later, we're at the gym. The baby's asleep, and I carefully lift the car seat out to try to keep it that way. My daughter is picking flowers.
"Please, please stay with me! I want to finish before he wakes up."
"Look! It's a bee. Bees make honey. Do you know how they make honey? Did you know that bees live in hives? Did you know they have a queen? But she doesn't wear a crown. Did you know . . ."
"Baby, I want to hear all about the bees, but right now I need to get into the gym. Please come on."
We're through the door. I check them both in to the childcare room and step out. Free. Fifty-five minutes have passed since I said I was going to the gym. Fifty-five minutes for a thirty minute workout.
Ah! I didn't ever figure out what I was going to do once I got here. I have no idea how much weight to use. I don't remember what weight I started with when I first started lifting, but surely I haven't lost all of it. Ugh. I hope I don't try to lift too much and hurt myself. How bad would that suck? First time back and out with an injury.
I'm in the weight room now, and I'm feeling remnants of all those insecurities that I thought I had long ago put to bed.
There are no other women in this entire room. Look at that guy. He's bench pressing as much as I weigh! They're going to laugh at me when I go over there and start squatting just the bar. This is silly. Maybe I should come back at a time when it's not so busy. Maybe I should just go walk the track.
I was thinking these things, but my feet were still moving. Inside, I was on the verge of backing out, but my body had fallen back into its old groove. It was confidently adjusting the squat rack for my short frame.
And then my hands were on the bar. I felt the ridges against my palms and ducked my head under the bar, and I smiled at my reflection squatting the empty bar in the mirror.
A week ago, I had my postpartum check-up with my OB. I had been instructed by my son's pediatrician to tell her I had scored high on the postpartum depression screening they had given me in their office. I had tried to ask questions: What was "high"? Did the screening account for the fact that I had a preexisting anxiety disorder? What warning signs should I be looking for?
The nurse who had called to tell me about the results seemed a little embarrassed. She was hushed and rushed. I'm really glad that they do these screenings in the pediatrician's office (where new mothers are typically seen earlier and more frequently than their own OB's office), but I also sensed that they were a little uncomfortable with handling results that suggested a problem. "Just be sure to talk it over with your OB."
So I did. As we talked through what symptoms I might be exhibiting, my OB assured me that she didn't think I had postpartum depression. Closer inspection revealed that my symptoms were much more aligned with anxiety than depression, and it turns out that postpartum anxiety is even more common than postpartum depression.
As we talked over treatment options, it was clear to me that I couldn't really figure out how much of this was a newfound anxiety rooted in my postpartum hormones and how much it was my same old lifelong anxiety that was particularly unruly because of the stress of parenting an infant, being home all day with my precocious five-year-old, and not really getting much sleep at a time.
My doctor suggested that I get back to my exercise routine (which has always helped my anxiety before) now that I was physically cleared for it and see if my symptoms improved in two weeks.
I made a goal to work out (which I'm using as a loose term that can mean anything from a thirty-minute walk, to running as part of the couch-to-5k program, to weightlifting) every day this month, and I've stuck to it so far. I already feel so, so much better. It's not just the exercise itself but also the act of carving out some space that's solely my own in a day that is otherwise dedicated entirely to childrearing. I'm completely convinced that it's making a positive difference.
However, as my first attempt at going to the gym (rather than walking in place while carrying three-pound hand weights around my living room and dodging my daughter's dance moves while pausing every two minutes to replace a rolling pacifier) showed me just how much this necessary self-care practice is going to require diligence and commitment. I need to make sure that I remember that this time is not a luxury but a necessity. It is necessary for me to be a present, functioning, and caring parent, and I have to find a way to stop relegating it to the "maybe" pile on the day's activities.