An open letter to the essayist who wrote an open letter to the mother who ran a half-marathon weeks after giving birth

photo-278Dear Mommyish essayist: It seemed like a good idea at the time. You wanted to write an essay about society’s expectations that women lose their pregnancy weight immediately after giving birth. You wanted to lampoon those tabloid cover stories on “how she got her pre-baby body back!” You wanted to make a point that new motherhood is often hard, and it doesn’t help when women set unrealistic goals for themselves.

But the essay you chose to write, “On open letter to the woman who ran a half marathon weeks after giving birth,” just landed wrong. Here’s why.

For starters, your letter was whiny. If you’re fine with wearing maternity pants 7 months after giving birth, why make a big deal of it? Your fashion choices have nothing to do with me or anyone else, which brings us to the second point: most people don’t train for long distance races with the goal of making random strangers feel bad about themselves.

This gazelle-like woman with the newborn who you are gazing upon with envy is not thinking about you. She’s probably thinking about her pace, or not tripping, or her baby, or how much she loves running, or the scenery, or whether there’s a bathroom nearby. But I’d wager she is not thinking “I trained my butt off for this half-marathon in order to make another woman feel fat and out of shape.” If she wanted to make other people feel bad, she might write an open letter about how awesome she is and how anyone who doesn’t sign up for a half-marathon postpartum is lazy. But she didn’t. She just signed up for a race and ran it. Live and let live.

But what makes this all even stranger is that you didn’t stop with the observation that pregnancy treats some people differently than others. This is true. Some people are incapacitated. Others aren’t. Most likely, this woman ran through her pregnancy and so was able to resume distance running shortly thereafter. Heck, for all we know, she’s a professional ultra-runner, and running 13.1 miles is the equivalent of most of us doing 6 sit-ups.

No, you kept going and projected a host of your other insecurities onto this woman’s life. She must be having more sex than you are! (Really, you can tell that by how someone runs?) She makes you look like a liar since you told your husband you’re not that into it right now!

If we are happy with our own lives, then other people’s personal decisions don’t make us burn with envy. If people ask for advice, that’s one thing. Indeed, a majority of blog posts may be based on this phenomenon! But this runner didn’t stop mid-race and come over and say “Listen, I don’t want to be running a half-marathon, but I feel powerless to stand up to the people in my life who think I should look different than I do!” If she’d done that, then one would be justified in pointing out that the postpartum period is a great time for doing whatever is necessary to stay sane. If that’s sitting on the couch watching episodes of My 600-lb Life while drinking Guinness, great.

But it’s also possible that running soon after giving birth is what makes some mothers feel more like themselves, and not just like someone’s milk supply. I know that the 23 minutes I spent on my treadmill yesterday were some of my most Zen moments of the day. It’s not a half-marathon, but if someone wants to run one a few months postpartum, I don’t think she deserves anything but a thumbs up. Sincerely, Laura

In other news: Once I scanned the 180 comments on the essay, I was happy to see that many agreed with me.

Photo: Mommy… are you running a half-marathon?

22 thoughts on “An open letter to the essayist who wrote an open letter to the mother who ran a half-marathon weeks after giving birth

  1. Hear, hear! Can we just stop all these open letter blog posts in general? They all seem to be so judgey. Why do people take other people’s actions so personally?
    Haters gonna hate, I guess. =)

    1. @Sarah – this is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the comments. People were very reasoned, and pointed out that they generally read Mommyish to avoid the judgey-ish nature of other places.

  2. Wow. That’s a lot of vitriol towards someone who seems to be simply resuming her fitness goals after giving birth. I find it pretty puzzling that more and more lately it is like someone making a personal choice must be a direct criticism of our personal choices, especially when it comes to parenting. If I run a marathon postpartum and you do not, it simply is what it is!

  3. I think it was Glennon (Cannot Remember Her Last Name Right Now) from Momastery who said she had to get over thinking that people are doing things at her. Running half marathons at her. Losing postpartum weight at her. Having good sex lives at her.

    Am I slightly in awe of her half marathon AND your 23 minutes? Yup. But hey- good for you both!

    1. @Katherine – I’ll have to check out Momastery. But yes, I imagine that generally people have sex to make themselves feel good, rather than making other people feel bad.

      1. Every single “open letter” I’ve read has been SO judgemental and attacking of others’ life choices (“dear mom on the iphone” etc…) I pretty much know its going to enrage me before I even read further. Running a half-marathon weeks after giving birth? That’s AWESOME. and inspiring. It’s not about you. (you being the writer of the open letter)

  4. I really appreciate this post and the thoughtful comments as well. I have fallen into the trap myself of thinking that someone was succeeding at something just to spite me, especially after my first child was born. I really struggled to recover. . . but now I find stories like this mom’s half-marathon inspiring. Thank you again. I really enjoy your blog for so many reasons.

  5. I agree – great response! Personally, it took me about a week before I felt comfortable going for a long walk, and then another week before walking 1+ miles felt normal again — and I couldn’t imagine running a mile, let alone a half marathon that soon after birth. That said, I worked out intensely during my pregnancy, and worked to get back to this level of intensity as soon as I felt like I could, which meant getting back to it after about 4 weeks. Took me about 3 months to start feeling really comfortable (and get through the exhaustion/insanity of the newborn stage), 6 months to almost feel normal, and 9 months to be stronger/fitter than ever. If anything, these experiences showcase how different pregnancy and birth are for different woman. I think I did REALLY well (was up and walking immediately post-delivery), but I still had some pelvic issues during pregnancy which made it really hard to walk for about a month halfway through and then I feel like I had a lot of lingering relaxin in my body post-birth (not pre-birth though) which made my joints feel really loose for quite some time. Based on how I felt post-birth (very responsive to what I was and was not capable of), I KNOW that if this woman ran a marathon, or if Laura is running on her treadmill, then they must be feeling pretty darn good, which is awesome for them!

  6. I recently broke my arm while on a kick scooter…it was a squirrel avoidance issue. A broken arm isn’t that remarkable at all. It’s a blip in my life, nothing more. What has been truly remarkable has been people’s reaction to it. Someone should have told me I’m not supposed to be on a kick scooter at 51 years old. I had no idea that was a rule. I’m still astounded at the people who are irritated with me for getting hurt. They took it personally much like the open letter writer. Why do they care? I’m relatively fit and active and I’ve been on kick scooters my entire life. When does it get to be wrong? At what age does it get to be wrong? Why was it wrong to want to do the half marathon? Just because she had just had a baby it’s somehow wrong? Evidently neither one of us, me or the new mom, knows our place.

  7. As a slight counterargument, I read this post first and then read the original column. While I agree with your points completely (e.g., no need to feel envious or project if we’re happy with our own lives), I’m not sure I read the judgy tone in the original post.

    It seemed to me more like she was, in fact, admitting that she was jealous of the ‘gazelle-like’ moms who appear to have everything together all the time, and was attempting to express that jealousy in a self-deprecating way.

    I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to see that her essay didn’t really succeed, but we don’t really know what’s in her head. A couple more rounds of edits might have helped her convey it to her audience in a funnier, more effective way.

    I do agree with the inherently annoying nature of the “open letter to…” genre, and yes, the ‘mom w/iphone’ letter has judgment in every sentence.

  8. This tendency in people is so puzzling.
    I have an acquaintance who keeps telling me she’s jealous that I have a baby and she wants to have one too. Constantly. As if I got pregnant to rub it in her face that she’s been with a partner she doesn’t plan to marry and therefore cannot have children with (all her decisions). I shrug it off but there really isn’t any polite response that I can think of that makes sense to “I’m so jealous of you! I want a baby too!”
    Such an odd thing to say to someone. I’m certainly not going to apologize for having something she wants when she doesn’t even want it now, or to “get fat” as she so tactfully put it, and I’ve got plenty of hurdles to negotiate because of the pregnancy.
    I’d like to put a moratorium on having to hear it even if we can’t stop people thinking this way! 🙂

    1. @Revanche – I don’t think there is a good response. And yes, given how much work a pregnancy and baby can be, it’s hard to believe someone would get pregnant just to spite someone else!

  9. Hmm, missed that one.

    This last pregnancy messed me up a bit because of the Dr recommended bed rest after my water broke at 21 weeks, but I always get back into my pre-pregnancy clothing by 6-9 months.

    I think a lot of women blame their babies for gaining weight, which isn’t fair to them. I haven’t met a baby yet who didn’t love to go for walks strapped to mom’s front or back or in a jogging stroller.

    I don’t run, but doing ordinary household chores and going for walks with a baby in a sling makes for nice mommy biceps and burns a lot of calories. (Also, breastfeeding.)

    1. @Carrie – You didn’t miss much 🙂

      On the weight loss thing, I think it also depends how much people put on. Losing 25 lbs isn’t too hard. Losing 50 lbs (or 80) is a lot harder and will just take more time. I think we have some control over how much goes on, but not infinite control, and there are people who stay active and still put on more than the 25-35 recommended. I’m sure that just adds to the frustration some experience…

  10. To me the issue is that the woman running the marathon didn’t actually say anything. She just ran the marathon. I don’t see any interviews or statements about recently having had a baby. Given that background, the tone in the letter seemed off.

    Tone matters a lot. Sometimes people really are bragging and trying to outdo everyone. The trick is to figure out how to let it roll off your back and live your own best life.

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