Renee Heintze (35) and Cordelia (4)
Moreno Valley, CA | Denver, CO
Renee shares -
“Body image has always been a struggle for me, just like I know it has been for many. When I was younger I was always underweight and wanted to be “normal” or “womanly.” In my mid-20’s, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease and struggled with suddenly gaining weight and having to change my lifestyle to maintain my health. I also knew it could potentially impact my ability get pregnancy and I felt betrayed by my own body.
Pregnancy was a completely new and different experience for me. I watched my growing belly with pride and love, I never loved my body more than when I was growing life inside of it. Suddenly, I had no reason to feel insecure or pick anything apart in the mirror, my body was doing it’s amazing job. It gave me so much confidence. After giving birth I surprised myself by not really caring about “getting my body back.” I would sometimes feel like I should be losing weight quicker, but I accepted the fact that I was nursing another human being and tried to be gentle with myself.
Having a daughter has changed the way I see body imagine immensely. I am so careful to see and speak about my body in terms of its beauty and strength, and appreciation for what it does for me. I had been a causal runner for a few years, but when I got pregnant I injured my foot and didn’t run again until she was 2 years old. When I turned 34 (and Cordelia was almost 3) I made a promise to myself that by the time I turned 35, I would complete the sprint distance triathlon at an annual event where I ran a 5k every year.
I made a point to carve out time to take care of myself mentally and physically by swimming, biking, and running. I spent 15 weeks fighting my anxiety disorder to move daily out of my comfort zone and train for my first triathlon and on June 25th 2017, I completed it. The entire time I raced, I thought about how strong I was; how my body had grown, carried, and birthed a human life – it could take on this challenge as well. I bonded with another woman on the course about how strong we were because we were mothers.
I continue to race triathlons, half marathons and other running distances as a way to build and celebrated my inner strength and confidence. I love setting an example for my daughter of being strong and confident as a woman, celebrating our beautiful bodies, and all the amazing things they do for us. I am often aware that I don’t have the chiseled physique of many women who race at these events, but I am strong and beautiful, and I absolutely love that the sport of triathlon is full of people with all different body types and abilities getting out there and giving it their all.
My postpartum journey was a dark and difficult one. When I was 33 weeks pregnant, my father passed away suddenly from complications of H1N1 Influenza (the Swine Flu). He was one of the most important people in my life and I was beyond devastated by his loss. The loss was further complicated by the fact that I was unable to visit him in the hospital due to the nature of his illness and my pregnancy. I wasn’t able to see or speak to him or say a final goodbye. Cordelia was born 2 weeks early and it was a time of such bittersweet feelings. I was overjoyed to meet my baby and to know that she was safe and healthy, but I was still reeling from my dad’s death and was heart broken that she and my father would never have a relationship.
I pulled myself through every day with a strength that welled up from deep inside somewhere. I expected breast feeding to be simple and easy, but Cordelia and I struggled immensely for nearly 3 months to figure it out. I have inverted nipples and she had a low birth weight, and those factors combined to make a really difficult situation. I was desperate for control over something in my life and felt like I had to make this *one thing* work. I would try to feed her on each breast for 20 minutes, then I would give her pumped breast milk from a bottle, then I’d pump while she napped for about 20 minutes, and then we’d start the cycle over again. Over and over. I began to develop extreme postpartum anxiety that was triggered by the sun setting. Sunset meant another night of a colicky baby screaming for hours and another sleepless night of cycling through painful and fruitless attempts to nurse, bottle feeding, then pumping. I felt like a failure, but stubbornly kept going at the expense of my own mental health. The day Cordelia was able to nurse on her own was one of the best days of my life and we continued until she was a little over 1 year old.
Nursing became a huge bond between us. I went back to work full time when she was 4 months old, I decided I would pump during the day. I ended up pumping 4 times a day every day for 9 months – it become so taxing and I wasn’t making much milk, but I felt like I was failing if I didn’t. Finally, I had to admit to myself that I just wasn’t producing enough milk and that I was sacrificing my well-being to meet an unrealistic standard I was holding myself to. I feel like my journey through nursing and my postpartum experience has been one giant exercise in learning to be gentle and kind to myself. I’m learning to let go of control, to not push myself to the brink of a breakdown just to meet some “should” I’ve placed on my own shoulders. I’ve learned to look at all the struggles I went through in the first year of Cordelia’s life and what an incredible job I did of stepping up and being the best mother possible, as a lens to see how incredibly strong I am and the pure driving force of parental love.
I love the mission of empowerment and openness about the joys and struggles of the postpartum experience, as well body-positivity. We don't talk enough about the realities of parenthood and what happens in the 4th trimester, and I want to share my experiences as well as share a message of love, acceptance, and support. I want to do this for my daughter and all the other women out there who say, "I could never do that." You are beautiful and enough just as you are.”