It’s a warm day, the kind which asks you to be outside for as long as possible. Birds fly over our heads while the kids and I walk around the block. My thoughts are in the clouds when my youngest daughter runs, runs, past me at full speed to catch up with her siblings; head raised, arms pumping, legs lifting off the ground. I stop. Stare. My mind grasps what I’m seeing; my mouth opens slightly by the shock of it.
She’s been a part of our family for just 10 months.
When did this tiny child become strong enough to run?
I gained 10 pounds before I ever got pregnant … for all three of my pregnancies. It was as if my mind and body underwent some subconscious preparation so I’d be soft and welcoming for a fertilized egg—a gestational pre-gaming of sorts.
Once pregnant, I gained exactly the same number of pounds with each baby.
With the first child, I walked two miles a day. Thirty-two pounds. With my second, I did next to nothing due to a subchorionic bleed, for which they thought I would miscarry. Thirty-two pounds. Baby number three? I gave up on running the second I saw two little lines and ate tuna salad sandwiches twice a week; I did whatever I wanted. Thirty-two pounds.
Some women say they drop weight without thinking about it while breastfeeding, but I didn’t. My baby weight moved in; no longer a houseguest, it unpacked its mesh panties and put them in a drawer for good. I tried not to worry; if it took (at least) nine months to put on, it might take that long (or more) to take off.
Yet I couldn’t help but worry: Is it possible I’ll carry this weight forever?
We adopted our fourth child from China when she was nearly three. She was small for her age, light as a feather. We quickly realized she tired easily while walking and preferred to be carried—whether out of habit or a cultural norm.
Once home, because of her lack of core and large muscle strength, she struggled to keep up, to lift her legs to go up stairs, climb even the smallest of steps. She couldn’t get into a chair by herself. She didn’t jump—something my other children did at half her age.
It wasn’t a physical impairment, she just didn’t have the strength.
“Does she need physical therapy?” I asked our pediatrician during her first month home with us.
“No,” she said. “Just let her play like your other children. Give her plenty of opportunities to run and jump and climb. She’ll need some time, but just wait—she’ll get stronger.”
Three months later, our daughter still couldn’t keep her balance or walk around the block without holding onto a hand. Going up and down the stairs in our house was painfully slow. But we kept at it.
At six months home, she’d fall over with laughter while playing on our trampoline every afternoon. And even though she’d end up a lap behind, she’d toddle along, throwing her hands in the air and screaming with delight, while her older brothers and sister ran laps around the yard after dinner on warm summer nights.
After being home for 10 months, a complete gestational length, I no longer carry her. She is active and strong and heavy. She doesn’t want to be held anymore; she wants to run down sidewalks to catch up with the other kids.
I read that Gal Gadot trained for eight months, close to the length of a full-term pregnancy, before ever starting to film Wonder Woman. Eight months. She didn’t train to lose weight, bless her heart; most likely, with all the muscle she put on during that time, she probably gained weight. But she trained like that because she didn’t just want to act strong—she wanted to be strong. It took the better part of a year, but she wasn’t satisfied to simply look the part—she wanted to be the part.
It took me well over nine months to lose the weight I’d gained during my pregnancies. (Translation: I reached pre-baby weight a split second before I started pre-gaming again.) And it took me just as long, if not more, to adjust to the emotional weight of new motherhood.
As I carried a fully stocked diaper bag and a slumbering baby in a lumbering car seat, all while thinking about pacifiers and nap times and where I could nurse when she woke, my body and heart and mind—slowly, slowly, with each passing day—strengthened. From the hesitant insecurity of those first weeks and months, given time and plenty of opportunities (for what choice did I have?), I didn’t just look the part of mother, I became the part.
There was the weight of two children, then three—and learning how to manage, balance, juggle their needs—and steel myself against the inevitability that on any given day (moment?) someone would end up crying longer than any of us wanted.
At one point, I struggled to adjust to the heaviness of a diagnosis, one which brought me to tears for weeks over the fear of what it would require: surgery? A lifetime of therapy and equipment? The weight of anything new feels extra heavy; but what else could I do, besides keep moving forward? And now, when I make the appointment for the yearly check-in with the specialist, while I understand the weight of this issue, I also appreciate how graciously light it feels now.
I’ve managed to carry the weight from a miscarriage, a move, and how children have affected our marriage. It seems like with every new phase, whether it be a job change or a new sports schedule, I’m heavy again—until, given time, I get stronger.
After our walk around the block, the kids play in the front yard, soaking up every last bit of sparkling sunshine. Our neighbor walks over and we start to chat. The older kids kick a soccer ball and Viv climbs up the low branches of our small dogwood tree.
“My goodness! She’s changed so much since she first came home!” my neighbor says.
“I know,” I say. “She was actually running earlier.”
“I believe it.”
I think back to those first days and weeks at home; how small, light, and often unsure both of us were. I think about how, after these many months, I can measure the weight she’s gained on a scale, count the number of times I’ve switched to bigger clothing sizes in her drawers, and see the strength in her legs and arms and mind while she climbs with confidence and independence. And I think of Gal, patron saint of all of us, and how (when given time and opportunity) we do get stronger.
We all carry weight brought to us from our children. We all are stronger than we ever imagined we could be.
Viv overhears my neighbor and me talking about her, climbs down, and walks over. “Hi, Mommy,” she says, flashing a dimpled smile.
“Hey sweetie, we were just talking about how big and strong you are,” I say, while looking at her filled-out body. Loving the attention, Viv immediately poses—arms up in front of her face making “big muscles” and her solid legs out wide in an inverse V.
In my heart, I make the same pose. Yes, I’m proud of her weight. And I’m proud of the weight I’m able to carry, too.
We’re all a little Wonder Woman, aren’t we?