Getting back to me
I was raised in the mountains of Southern California. I had a father who instilled a love of nature and a passion for hiking into my soul. Both are a part of me. They’re my therapy for recovering from a tough week.
The thought of simply being out in the woods, by a stream, on a mountaintop or just any beautiful spot outdoors, is what’s always gotten me going each morning.
Then came April 2014 when my OBGYN told me I would have to remain on bed rest for the remaining four months of my pregnancy. It was like someone had taken a part of me, torn up the pieces and thrown them out the window.
Four months in a bed, only being able to get up to pee — I even had to sit in the shower — felt like death warmed up.
I realize many women have difficult pregnancies, and some of those pregnancies are far worse than mine was. Still, that didn’t change the fact that mine was terrible, for me. As an outdoor enthusiast who craves any and all things outdoors for mind, body and soul rejuvenation, I felt completely lost.
Fast-forward a few months to August 2014: I gave birth at 39 weeks via scheduled C-section to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. Due to the typical surgery recovery period, plus the need for monitoring my pre-birth complications, my doctor thought it best that we stay in the hospital for a while before we headed home.
A while turned out to be a week — not an ideal situation, but my husband and I were both just glad that the past nine terrifying months were over.
And clichéd as it may sound, all of the pain, the inside turmoil, the months in bed, were all well worth it. We had a perfect little being we had created, and he was unbelievable.
And then — depression
Fast-forward a few more weeks to mid-September: My body had been ravaged by the pregnancy and the C-section. For two weeks after finally returning home, I found that every move I made caused me pain — breastfeeding, trying to run over to my crying baby without my uterus feeling like it would fall out of my body, sleeping, everything. During this time I was consumed with many dreadful thoughts, the worst being, Would I ever be able to hit the trails again?
With a little time, the physical healing came, but there was another challenge: All of the mayhem going on in my head and heart during the pregnancy and birth — and the shock of how hard it was being a new mother — took its toll.
More often than not, I felt sad when I knew I should be feeling joy that my child was alive and healthy, and that my body was on the path to recovery. But finding the will to simply get out of the house, let alone go hiking, seemed an impossibly daunting task.
I began seeing a therapist who specialized in pregnancy and postpartum depression, which helped. I was able to say things to her that I was even scared to voice to myself, and in the end we concluded that the largest issue was the fact that I was staying indoors, all the time — and had been since I was put on bed rest nearly a year earlier.
For a person who thrived on finding balance outdoors, my homework assignment from her was to find a way to get back, no matter how unbearable the task seemed.
Finding my way back
I knew she was right. I felt my beloved outdoors drifting further away from my heart with each passing day. And I knew it was time to find “me” again. So, my husband and I went to find the best baby-hiking-backpack we could find and planned a hike the following weekend.
That first hike postpartum changed everything.
I remember waking up that morning and telling my husband that, no matter how many excuses I came up with, to remind me this was my path back to myself and to not let me quit.
We got to the trailhead — and that was it. I was home. I was free. And to make everything even better, I had the beautiful human being I’d created sleeping peacefully on my back as I walked through the woods, my loving and supportive husband at my side.
I won’t lie: It was hard. My body was nowhere NEAR where it had once been. The muscles that had turned to jelly during those four months of bed rest were screaming at me to stop.
I didn’t listen. I kept going.
Many months later, I’m still going — and my boy is much bigger!
I make it a point to hit the trails at least twice a week, rain or shine, snow or wind. Sometimes I hike solo, but most of the time I have my son, which is a gift in itself. I joined a local group of other like-minded parents called Hike It Baby.
It’s been a lifesaver just being able to see all of these little beings outside in the wilderness. I also became a member of Adventure Mamas Initiative, for whom I write articles and organize and participate in outdoor excursions.
With each breath of fresh air, each sweat drop that drips down my face, each babbling brook and each gorgeous vista, I’m 100 percent back to my old self. I smile all the time. I laugh. I have energy for myself AND my child and husband.
If I could share one bit of unsolicited advice with those mothers and fathers who could be feeling the way I did, it would be to GET OUTDOORS.
Even if you’re not a rugged hiking type, just get your sweet little ones in a stroller and go for a walk. Let the sun shine down that magical vitamin D onto your face. Let the wind make a mess of your hair. There is something about the outdoors that I can’t explain, but what I can say is this: I believe it heals far better than any pill.
Mary Beth Burgstahler resides in Forest Lake with her husband, Jacob, and their son, Jackson. She works as a real estate agent and writes inspirational outdoor articles in her spare time. This article originally appeared on hikeitbaby.com, an organization dedicated to getting families outside with children from birth to school age.