Instagrams of six-pack abs, eating for the #gainz and living in a body that is completely their own. These are all things that come to a halt – although it may be temporary – as the trainers and fitness instructors that you love start making babies.
People see what happens to women’s bodies when they start families, especially when that body is dressed in head-to-toe lululemon. But what happens to that woman’s identity when her body changes to accommodate her growing family?
Watching Shama Patel – CEO and founder of AIR Aerial Fitness – powerwalk down the street towards me with a different gait, I had one sudden thought: How did the CEO of a company that markets its technique as beneficial to your core feel when her core has been claimed by two new lives that are camping out?
To find out, I emailed Shama to set up an interview. She replied that she’d been put on bed rest and was living at Prentice Hospital for the foreseeable future. She invited me to interview her there, where she was in bed, but decidedly was not resting. In her lap was her computer on which she was furiously typing as she trained a new employee who started that week and reported for her first day at the hospital.
“It is really just another project if you will,” Shama reasoned. “I know that sounds ridiculous to say but as long as you can manage your businesses and manage your babies and make sure that they have proper care and everything you can keep it going. “
And as she embarked on this new project, Shama set out to do her research.
“I talked with a lot of twin moms beforehand, asked them a lot of questions about how much weight did you gain during pregnancy,” she said. “I ended up in the hospital. No two bodies are the same so there is just no point in comparing yourself to anyone.”
And for Kate Lemere, Barry’s Bootcamp Founding Instructor in Chicago and Nike Master Trainer, comparing is the first thing she did. After scrolling through Instagram for clues to what her body was in for and how she would feel during her nine months, she came up short.
“I quickly became extraordinarily bored and honestly annoyed with what so many women were publishing – which was unmistakably their highlight reel,” Kate said. “While it’s beautiful, it’s not real life.”
Disappointed, she sought inspiration from women who would share the truth when it came to pregnancy, childbirth and healing postpartum, which Kate describes as “hard as shit.”
Kate wanted “the good, the bad and the ugly” so she turned to clients, colleagues and friends for truth.
As she learned more, she started to shift her views on pregnancy.
“I honestly feel more badass than ever,” she said. “I didn’t expect to find pregnancy so empowering. While some of the changes can be a bit unexpected and borderline horrifying, it is a miracle to watch it all unfold.”
And this miracle is complicated – physically and emotionally – presenting itself differently to every woman in every pregnancy. Even at the peak of health, women across the country can have difficulty conceiving for a variety of reasons.
Theresa Coen, ACE certified personal trainer who trains across Chicago at places like ENRGi and CrossTown Fitness, sought help from a specialist to conceive, but not until after heeding some advice she’d come to regret.
“Doctor after doctor told me that I needed to put on more body fat so I needed to work out less and eat more,” she recalled. “I went through a time, like maybe two or three years ago, when I tried that.”
Feeling sluggish and still experiencing difficulty conceiving, Theresa and her husband sought the help of fertility expert Dr. Kaplan at the Fertility Clinic of Illinois who changed her conception plan and unleashed her back into the gym.
“That was probably when I got in the best shape of my life,” Theresa said. “I think it’s part of that is just making sure that you stay in line with like being true to yourself.”
And if you’ve ever said the phrase, “you’ll bounce right back” to a pregnant person, this is where the identity piece is sticky: what if it’s not immediate? What if they experience diastasis recti like two thirds of pregnant women? What if their priorities shift?
What happens after?
For Kate, pregnancy is helping her get used to a few questions that not even Instagram can answer.
“I’ve accepted that I need to reconceptualize how I envision “bouncing back” because my body will never be the same,” she said, but she still has her sights set on big, but achievable goals. “Something tells me it’ll be better than ever.”
Shama will undoubtedly approach her post-baby fitness as a project with a spreadsheet and weekly check-ins, but she’s cutting herself some slack.
“I’m confident with hard work and dedication I can get [my pre-pregnancy body] back, but I also will be in no rush,” she said. “I want to obviously properly give my body time to heal before I push myself.”
Theresa, meanwhile, is actively working on managing her expectations.
“I’m going to be expecting myself to be ready to go right away … I have a feeling that, that it’s not quite going to be like that,” she said. “I read that six months to a year is how long it takes for you to kind of come full circle back to where you were before pregnancy. And, I will give myself that leeway.”
And each woman had her source of inspiration in an industry that can be a mash-up of image-conscious and supportive of a journey.
“Andrea Hassberger,” Theresa named the trainer at SWEAT as her pregnancy role model. “We’ve been through a lot of similar things together. Just watching her go through her entire pregnancy and just killing it, and then bouncing back so quickly afterwards. I was like, I want that to be me.”
Shama looks up to a leader in studio fitness in the founder of Pure Barre, Carrie Rezabek Dorr, who also gave birth to twins while building her business.
And Kate found a network of women who share valuable intel into the world of motherhood, naming women across the country who she’s tapped for information.
“I have 1,000 questions that they answer in detail while I absorb their accounts of their experiences,” she said.
And Kate, like all of the women I spoke with, wants her experience to help others.
Bye bye abs >>>That’s cool though, just, like, growing a tiny human instead! 😉While visible abdominals have disappeared, it’s crucial to continue core strength for a healthy labor/delivery and postpartum body. I’ve ditched traditional ab and rotational exercises, as well as chins, push ups, and planks to avoid uterine pressure on my abdominal wall and any “coning” that results. Instead, I’m engaging deep core muscles through squats, deadlifts, and metabolic conditioning. Not only are the workouts a challenge, but so is getting to know my body in an entirely new way. I’m over halfway through my pregnancy, but it’s just the beginning! 💙 #bébélemere #fitpregnancy #bodybybarrys #22weekspregnant
“I hope to reach a new audience of women that I haven’t been able to connect with yet. I’m continuing to work out at Barry’s, lift heavy and run throughout my pregnancy and it’s been incredible to receive messages from my followers that I’ve inspired them to continue working out or to get in shape for the first time as they try to get pregnant,” Kate said.
Update: since our interview with Shama, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy and girl. Happy birthday, Aviv and Sasha.