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Tennis Balls in Tube Socks: The Gravitas of Motherhood

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Dear Marjo,

I have a simple question that I’m hoping you can answer: Where the fuck did my body go? I used to be a runner, loved the intensity of spinning, and rebounded on the weekends with hot yoga. Then I had a baby.

I know you gain weight when you have a baby, and I keep hearing the “nine months up, nine months down” mantra. So I’m not shocked that I have some work to do to lose the baby weight (even though Kim Kardashian did it in five minutes). But for me it’s not about losing weight. It’s about gaining fitness. I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be, I’m short of breath, and everything is sagging. I know what I have to do to get back in shape, but just thinking about working as hard as I used to makes me feel exhausted.

Meanwhile I’m surrounded by fit moms pushing strollers and drinking bottled water, looking cute and bouncy. Is it really that easy for them? Do they all have personal trainers or something? IS IT JUST ME?


Jello Mom


Dear Jello Mom,

First, let us have a moment of silence for the breasts that once were. They were so perky! So full of life! They will be missed, but never forgotten.

When I was a teenager, my mom said that women were saggy beyond repair if they could tuck a pencil under their breasts without it falling out. To which I say, How about a deck of cards, people? My breasts are like tennis balls in tube socks. And the sad thing is that it’s normal. Even the great Maya Angelou once said that her breasts were in a race to see which would reach her waist first.

As for the rest of your body, just think about what you’ve been through: Pregnancy. Childbirth (not the same thing). You don’t say how old your child is, but you may also be nursing. And if you had a c-section, you can add major abdominal surgery to the list. Step back and think about the amazing journey your body has been through, and how much strength it took to grow and produce another human being. That’s something to celebrate.

Okay, you can put down the party hats and noisemakers now. I get it. Like you, I was also a runner before I got pregnant. Unlike you, spinning nearly killed me. (It’s true—I actually blacked out and fell off the bike. But that’s another story.) The point is, unless you entered pregnancy while growing roots into the couch, you’re going to lose some of what you had. And you may not get it back, at least in the same way.

I tried to return to running when my baby started sleeping through the night, which meant I could actually get more rest myself. It was very exciting. I bought new running clothes, shoes for “heavy runners” (love that euphemism), and a baseball hat that said “Shape Shifter.” I lasted one week. Running wasn’t torture—it didn’t hurt as much as I expected—but I couldn’t keep my balance and I sure as heck wasn’t going fast. I felt like someone had strapped a giant water balloon to my torso and it was sloshing back and forth, up and down, as I ran. So I downshifted to a fast walk, then down to a walk, and now I sort of walk my ancient dog.

All of this was made worse by the same fit moms you’ve seen, pushing strollers and drinking something that surely had no fat. Every time one of those Wonder Moms passed me I felt envious and judgmental at the same time. Why was I such a slug? Look at those flat stomachs and thin legs! How had they bounced back so quickly?

Then—a full year later—I had a lightning-bolt epiphany. They were nannies. They were not the human equivalent of a Photoshopped Kim Kardashian, they didn’t have miraculous DNA, and they hadn’t exercised rigorously throughout their pregnancies. They were nice young women, paid to take care of children, each one taking the baby out for a walk (and sometimes a run) in the sunshine. Okay fine, maybe a couple of them were moms, and I admire their dedication and commitment. But most of them were hired helpers, and their perky breasts and short shorts were something they had, not something they earned.

I still can’t run the way I used to. My body has changed, and so has my mindset. I no longer want to spend an hour a day changing, running, and showering. I want to spend that time with my family. I do wear a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day. I’ve also purchased a mini-trampoline that my kid and I can take turns bouncing on, preferably not with the video he insists on taking. And I swim and ski and ride bikes with him. None of it has put me in the kind of shape I once enjoyed. But we do have fun together, and someday when he moves on I’ll have time to be intense about fitness again.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me. It’s okay to be a soft mother. As your child grows older he or she will be more active, and so will you if you want to keep up with them. And if you can’t relax into softness or wait that long to exercise, at least give yourself a break. Your body has been through a lot and so have your emotions. Don’t berate yourself or whip yourself into shape. Find something fun and active to do, with or without your family. And if the only thing bouncing is the jello you’re made of, it’s okay.



Do you have a question about the joys, complexities, or challenges of being a mother? Email askmarjo AT and I’ll do my best to answer it. Please do not bend, fold, mutilate, or otherwise contort this column into anything it's not meant to be: friendly advice from one mom to another. My opinions and thoughts, no matter how heartfelt, are not a substitute for professional counseling or medical care.

Marjorie Osterhout is a writer, editor, and storyteller. Her essays and articles have appeared in anthologies like It’s A Boy (Seal Press) and magazines including Parents, Parenting, and ePregnancy. She also spent a whirlwind three years travel writing for Disney. She is a former managing editor, columns editor, and columnist (“Dear Marjo”) for Literary Mama.

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