Yesterday I went for a bike ride. A year ago, that wouldn’t have warranted much comment, unless something unusual happened on the ride. Now, however, it’s an achievement in and of itself.
By any measure, it wasn’t much of a ride: Just under an hour, riding within 3 miles of home the whole time, and avoiding all the hills. But after just over a full month off the bike, between the end of pregnancy and having the baby, it felt wonderful to ride at all. After all, I wasn’t sure I had healed enough externally to even sit on a saddle, let alone spend any time there.
A quick note on pregnancy, for those who haven’t been there. NOTE: Stop reading now if you’re squeamish or uncomfortable talking frankly about female anatomy. Now, onwards!
After you have the baby (assuming a straightforward vaginal birth, which we had), you have two wounds that need to heal before you resume significant exercise. First, the external rips and tears inflicted by the baby as he comes out. Odds are you’re stitched up. You’re massively bruised and swollen in that area immediately after, too, although that subsides relatively quickly. Second, there is a huge wound in the uterus where the placenta attached; when the placenta is expelled, it leaves all these open blood vessels just…leaking. This covers a very sizable percentage of your uterus, and can take a long time to heal. If your heart rate and/or blood pressure get too high, that lightly-scabbed wound comes open and bleeds again.
So, when I think about starting to ride again, I have to consider both external and internal wounds. External progress is easier to judge, as I can clearly sit and walk with greater ease. Internal progress I judge based on how much I bleed, an indicator that lags behind effort. I know after the fact that I did too much, but I don’t get immediate feedback to ease off.
Anyway, I tentatively started my ride and immediately noticed a few things:
1. My center of gravity is radically different from last time I rode! Balancing felt extremely weird. It’ll take a while to adjust to having my body back to itself.
2. I love being able to take a deep breath! It makes riding so much easier.
3. I can bend over with no stomach intruding!
4. Riding up hills feels super easy! Although I did ride slowly, I still noticed that I’m not carrying those extra 20 lbs.
5. I still love riding, and I will be overjoyed when I can start consistently spending time on the bike.
6. I felt so freed from anxiety, not having to worry about riding to protect Benji. I’m never reckless, but I rode on heightened alert while pregnant, being hyper-vigilant to avoid crashes. It felt great to exercise a normal amount of caution and not worry about the effect of my actions on Benji’s wellbeing.
Now, what about physically? Sitting on the saddle wasn’t an issue, so the external injuries have completely or almost completely healed. I’m sure if I go out for any longer, my butt will be sore from too much time off the saddle, but baby exit wounds aren’t a primary concern.
Alas, uterine bleeding was an issue. Not a massive amount of bleeding, but clearly increased from where I had been. This means that even though my Voice of Reason (Mom, who accompanied me) kept it minimal – and I felt like I could easily have done lots more – I still did too much.
Although I ache to get out on two wheels in this last gasp of summer gorgeousness; although I pine for my bikes and biking friends; although my legs and lungs and heart are fit and ready to go, I have to rest. Rest now, I tell myself, translates to resuming riding sooner.
Still the disappointment and impatience threaten to swamp me. It’s been almost a month since he was born! Surely I should be healed by now. Surely it must be soon. Surely I’m not asking too much, for just an hour or two on the bike now and then.