At last. The day that I’d been dreaming about for months had arrived. The day that I could finally get back into the water. Considering myself sufficiently healed six weeks after a straightforward delivery, I headed into the garage and roused my slumbering surfboards and wetsuits from hibernation.
Stepping outside suited and booted, bright blue skies and early spring sunshine greeted me. I could sniff freedom as much as the saltiness in the air. Tucking my longboard under my arm, the tropical scent of surf wax drifted into my nostrils, taking the edge off my squashed boobs.
Becoming a mother is incredible, life-affirming even; but it can also be gruelling, and at times overwhelming. Navigating being an exhausted new parent, trying to respond to your baby’s every need, whilst simultaneously dealing with the challenges of an adjusting post-partum body can be full-on. In those early turbulent weeks, emotions were often in flux as my husband and I struggled to adapt to our new roles . It was bewildering at times, feeling like a heavy wipe-out on a massive set, being tumbled round and round under water, not knowing which way was up. Needing to break free from the intensity and restore a sense of clarity, I craved to go surfing again.
Walking down to the beach to the melodies of chirruping birds, the light breeze soothed my stinging eyes and caressed my hair. I felt the brain fog of recent months starting to lift, and my shoulders gradually starting to drop. Standing on the water’s edge, I leashed up, closed my eyes and took a moment to inhale the tangy salty air before picking up my board and skipping into the sea.
Catching my first wave sparked a much-needed surge of energy and I couldn’t help but whoop for joy. With the clock ticking, I was a bit of a maniac for the proceeding 45 minutes– frantically paddling for almost every moving hump of water. Between the sets, I was the chattiest and most annoying person ever, striking up conversations with perplexed strangers, babbling away, compelled to tell them that it was my first surf back after having a baby, how awesome it was to be back in the sea and that I shouldn’t feel guilty because everyone needed some me-time, right?!
My milk-laden boobs soon signalled that it was time to go home. Feeling like Cinderella, I hot-footed it back before my pumpkin-like breasts exploded. Arriving at the house, I felt reborn and refreshed. The lightness had returned and I couldn’t stop grinning . It made me realise how important it was to cut myself some slack and not feel guilty to have some time to myself. In fact, the World Health Organisation backs me up on this, stating that the postnatal period is the most critical but most neglected phase in the lives of mothers, with it often being the end point of regular check-ups received during pregnancy. Although precious newborns can monopolize most of the attention in this time, the mother’s well-being and happiness shouldn’t be overlooked. After all, a mother’s health and happiness has a direct impact on her baby.
Although it was amazing to be back in the water, a few surfs later and the initial grin was turning into a grimace. My body started to hurt like hell and I felt exhausted to the bone. In the water my limbs felt loose, my wrists sore and my pelvis unstable. My boobs felt like they would burst. My confidence was tanking as old habits crept in of paddling for waves and pulling back. After a surf session, my lower back and hips ached. My neck and shoulders ached. I began to need to stop and put my board down on my walk back to the house as I was so exhausted. I would have happily paid someone to carry my board (and me) the 10-minute walk back home.
Everyone’s body and experiences are different, but looking back I shouldn’t have been surprised at my aches and pains given the huge physical event I’d only recently experienced. With lack of sleep, breastfeeding and all the accompanying bodily changes attached to pregnancy and birth, I should really have known better than to jump straight back to it – especially given my athletics background! But with the lure of surf and no longer being pregnant, I threw caution to the wind and dived straight in. And perhaps if I’m honest, a part of me needed to prove to myself that I could still surf after becoming a mother for the first time.
As my uterus shrunk back to its normal size, I also noticed that I had a significant (4 finger) gap above my belly button, due to separation of my abdominal muscles during pregnancy. I was aware of ‘diastasis recti’ having read about the condition in an interview with pro-surfer Holly Beck, and how a lack of stability in the core could contribute to back and body pain. Although medical professionals advised me that the muscles would heal naturally in time, months after giving birth and my gap wasn’t knitting back together. Needing some further advice, I made an appointment with my doctor. After giving me information about the available options , she luckily also knew of a physiotherapy-led ‘mummylates’ class in my area.
With surfing on hold, I headed to class. With an expert on hand to look at my diastasis and to give me guided exercises to strengthen my core and pelvic muscles, I started to re-build strong foundations. Taking a break from surfing and concentrating on pilates, a month later I could feel the strength slowly returning and the gap starting the heal.
With my baby starting on solids and beginning to cut down on the amount of milk she needed from me, I gradually felt more energised and reintroduced swimming and yoga to get a level of conditioning back for surfing. Bit by bit, my body began to feel familiar again. My joints and ligaments felt tighter, my core stronger and my confidence was returning.
So at around 7 months post-birth I got back into the water again. Paddling out once more with a recovered body was a much better experience.
Fast forward another month or so and things are looking up. My diastasis is down to a 1-2 finger gap and body is getting stronger. My balance is no longer that of a new born foal. And crucially, I no longer pee when I sneeze. I’m also learning to take my time in the water, picking my days and waves. I’ve come to realise there’s no rush and I have nothing to prove to myself. Pregnancy and birth have altered my body and I am adapting and working with these new changes.
Slowly, things are coming together. And just in time too. As we turn the seasonal corner I’m frothing for a full winter’s surfing that I missed last year.
For those who want the lowdown on diastasis recti I’ll be publishing a post with my physiotherapist and pilates teacher on this next time!