Making a comeback from injury is hard. It takes patience, persistence, and it makes you question the value of what you’re doing, is it really worth putting in all this effort to be ‘fit’ again?
Estimates vary wildly, but according to the internet and a quick scan of who is having a Strava drought, between 30-50% of runners will get an injury in the next 12 months. That is a lot!
In any group of runners there are always a handful that are coming back from some sort of injury or extended break, and the postpartum runners are often lumped in to this despondent bunch as well.
Not an accident, not an injury, what is it then?
In New Zealand we’re pretty fortunate to have accidental injuries covered by ACC. The majority of my ACC claims follow a very similar script. Something to the effect of… ‘I was running then I… stepped off a curb/ tripped backwards over a bench/ tripped on my own feet/ stepped on a rock/ ran down a hill in the rain through slippery mud wearing worn out Nike pegs and tried taking a selfie on my GoPro Hero 5 as I rounded a corner going full tit gunning for a Strava Segment. AND then I sprained my ankle.’
Running has meant that I have become fairly well acquainted with my physiotherapist.
‘Hello again Amanda. Let me guess, you tripped over again. What did you land on this time?’
It was long and hard but it wasn’t a curb Elaine. Heh.
The most traumatic event to happen to my body was not an accident, and is something that over 50,000 women in New Zealand go through every year. Oh, it’s the most natural thing in the world! Our bodies were designed for it, it’s a miracle! My dog did it too! Exciting times! #blessed! That aside, it is still an incredible physical feat that takes a massive toll on your body.
Technically pregnancy is considered a medical condition, because it can make your health suffer and you can lose some of your ability to function as normal. It also has the potential to kill you.
The baby is OUT! What happens now?
38 weeks deep and feeling like a balloon filled with elbows and wet socks, I was thinking ‘I can’t wait to give birth and for my body to be my own again.’ Spoiler alert!! You might be sole charge of the body again but it’s not going to be the same as the one you started with.
Post-birth I found it pretty unbelievable that there was no defined path to helping your body to recover from such a major event. I thought that there would be a physical exam to check for abdominal separation, maybe something inserted somewhere to check for pelvic floor strength. When I asked my GP about this mysterious ‘Postpartum check up’ she said, ‘What? Why?’. There is no free postpartum check up in New Zealand.
She’ll be right! Our bodies were designed for it! My dog gave birth to six puppies in the wood shed and she was fine! Actually she suffered from arthritis in her hips for years and now she is dead, but totally fine apart from that.
I feel lucky that I know my body well enough to be aware of something feeling a bit off. I also feel lucky that I can afford to go to a personal trainer and get an exercise program designed to help me to recover after having a baby. Not everyone has that luxury, so recovering from birth ends up being a little bit of luck and a lot of guess work.
The recovery for this injury could just be the good old RICE method? Rest, sleep when the baby sleeps (Pro tip, sleep when the baby cleans). Ice your exit wound, compress your insides back into the correct place and elevate everything that hurts. Because literally everything hurts, the only way to elevate it all is to do a handstand. Or float face down in a pool of your own tears.
Rehab for the addict
I got very mixed advice on how long to wait after birth to return to running. Six weeks, eighteen months, and just six days. After chatting to some running mums I decided I would wait for six weeks and see how I felt. Five weeks and four days in I went for a walk/run and just labelled the activity a walk on Strava. Sneaky. Pretty much six weeks!
It’s a year after the event and I have enjoyed a relatively smooth return to exercise. By relatively smooth I mean I am totally killing it fuck yeah go me! And aside from sprained ankle #47 I had a far easier time than I imagined getting back to running fast.
While I have had it easier than some, I’ve also worked very hard. Pelvic floor, and strength and rehab exercises were prioritised and done 2-3 times a week. I spent over 30 hours doing these alongside walking, cycling, screaming while left alone with my thoughts, and getting what I will very loosely refer to as ‘proper rest’.
I would often think about how much effort I would put in to rehab an ankle sprain to be able to run efficiently and without any pain or niggles. Having a human make an exit through my pelvis was a bit more serious than a little ankle sprain, so it was treated as such and I was very regimented about doing the right things to recover properly.
Hours were spent on the wind trainer while the baby slept. Solo laps run around the neighbourhood in the dark when parent #2 got home. Last minute rehab exercises at 10pm, or sometimes at 3am because I couldn’t sleep after night feed #4. Looking back I can’t believe how committed I was to getting my body back in to working order.
Did it actually feel worse than an ankle sprain tho, like a really bad one?
Straight after having a baby it hurt to stand on one leg and put pants on. It hurt to walk, it also hurt to sit thanks to an episiotomy. EVERYTHING hurt and taking painkillers religiously every six hours would keep me from being a sobbing mess. My exercise consisted of walking around the house and lifting a 3.36kg weight all day. AND ALL NIGHT and oh my god it kept getting heavier.
I was waking up at night thinking that I had hip pain, was this another injury? Was it early onset arthritis?! It was just my undies cutting in to my skin because my ass got bigger. This expansion also explained another symptom that Google misdiagnosed. I was feeling like my bits were still swollen post episiotomy because it felt all weird when I sat down, like there was extra padding. No medical complications, no swelling, just the extra padding that comes with a fatter bum.
When the pain faded I started walking wearing the baby in a wrap, and for the first few walks everything felt quite wonky. I was still sore and if I walked for too long or on difficult terrain I would feel a bit crap. I was also exhausted and hormonal and slightly effing crazy but getting fresh air was very necessary.
Would I rather recover from a sprain or childbirth? I pick sprain for the ACC benefits, and a taped ankle says ‘serious athlete’ more than a maternity pad ever could.
Youuuu just wait until [insert random age of child or #of months pregnant] then you’ll see how HARD it is!
Everyone has such a different experience, some find pregnancy really tough, others find it easy. You have this fear of complaining about anything, or admitting to how you feel because you are going to get judged for every single thing you say. It’s easier not to say anything.
I hated being pregnant. At least you can get pregnant!
It’s hard adjusting to work while parenting and trying to run. I stopped exercising when I had kids, prioritise!
I’m so tired, I wish the baby would sleep past 5am. My three kids don’t sleep and I am up at 4 every day! *proceeds to piss so high that my eyes roll back in my head trying to follow the stream*
Years ago I got a stress fracture in my pelvis. I was in tears because I had to use crutches for two months, I couldn’t run, and I was worried that I would get depressed again without being able to exercise. Someone thought to console me by saying ‘Well it’s not like you have cancer.’ Ingrid, you’re a dick.
No matter what your situation, there will always be someone worse off than you. Does that mean that you shouldn’t get to have feelings because you’re not THE most tired, you don’t have the worst stretch marks, or didn’t have the most trouble breastfeeding?
Your feelings are always valid, because they’re yours. Your story is your own, so own it. Talk about your experiences because they’re yours. It might not mean much to most people but to someone it might mean everything, even if the only person it means something to is you.
Coming back to fitness from any sort of injury or medical condition is hard. Giving birth is a big deal and it’s amazing how little professional guidance there is for the average joe like me. I’m not a pro athlete, but exercise is a big priority for me. I’m not going to be scared off it because someone with a different lifestyle has a different opinion (shock horror) and thinks you shouldn’t run for 18 months after birth.
If it wasn’t for the honesty of many of the mums I have sent panicked messages to asking for advice and reassurance I think I would have given up. So thank you Emily and Emily, Sophie, Steph, Christina, Amanda, Hannah, Tamara, Megan, Anna, Ange, Jess, Claire Phaedra, Lisa, Sierra, Arpita, Jenna, Laura, Becky, Vera, Amy, all the Kates, Cassie, Shelley, Sarah and Michelle for being such amazing role models. You’re pretty cool!