I sat frozen as my doctor told me the truth. The cold. Hard. Truth. I was not O.K. Heart issues, mobility issues, medications for management, in extreme cases ... amputation?! I was clinically obese. What?! How this had happened to me?
I stared down at my feet, but then I could felt my breasts resting on my stomach and tried to sit up straight. They remained stubbornly connected.
I had been pregnant or nursing for four and a half years straight. That's more than 1,600 days of having given my body over to growing new people. And over the course of those days, like the misplaced pacifier you find years later behind the china cabinet, I had lost myself. And now here I was, covered in dust and dirt and kid snot and looking my lost self right in the eye.
Exasperated, I told my doctor that I didn't know where to start, and he told me to change my diet and exercise. Ouch.
I saw those moms darting across the preschool parking lot in their tight spandex on their way to the gym. Um, no, thank you very much. I wasn't going to use the few precious moments of freedom I had by going to the gym with a bunch of (sorry, ugh) MILFs. Gross. That was sooooo not me. I sighed, went home, parented until bedtime, and sobbed.
About a week later, a letter from my doctor revealed that I had a genetic mutation making me four times more likely than my friends to have a stroke. The only risk factor I could control was my weight. After watching my active grandfather spend seven years in a wheelchair and able to only say the letter "G," I was terrified.
And so, with no choice, I stopped rationalizing why my health was not as high a priority as the needs of my children, my spouse, my home, my family and my friends.
Looking back, I can see that I did motherhood all wrong, and it could have cost me my life. In those four and a half years I gave motherhood 100 percent. I left my career for quality time with a colicky baby. I took sign language classes, spent hours at library story times, breastfed each child well beyond a year and focused myself on their development. The problem with this system, for me, was that it left no room for me or my development. My whole existence revolved around my role as mother.
I started my change with exercise because, well, it is a lot easier to exercise once a day than to eat right all day long. It wasn't easy though.
If you've never been clinically obese and walked into a fitness class, then it is hard to describe the courage and fortitude it takes to turn 180 degrees and literally move your titanic self towards health. You are out of place in the most obvious way. It feels like that dream where you suddenly realize you're naked and everyone else is dressed and staring at you. Only it is happening and instead of actually being naked, you are dressed in some ratty old sweats that you found that kinda sorta fit and cover each of your belly rolls and hopefully most of your derriere. You feel judged by all the fit people who barely make eye contact with you or give you that pity smile. It is enough to make you cringe and everything inside is screaming to flee. And yet, you tell yourself no. There is no choice. Health is your only option and you simply must endure.
And so I went and kept going for 10 months, yes, 10 MONTHS, gritting it out, until one day, I finally didn't hate it. And when my legs screamed as I lowered myself to the library floor for story hour, it was my reminder that I had existed that day, that I had done something for myself.
I began making meals for myself and not just for my children. Apparently, I was not meant to survive on the crusts of the boys' sandwiches. I had always supplemented my scrappy meals later, of course, because I was hungry and tired and "deserved" a treat after taking care of kids all day. The truth is, though, what I truly deserved was a plate and a place to sit at the table, even if it was right next to the highchair.
As my weight came down, I could DO more. I'll always remember the day I carried both my boys down a steep driveway to the car and my knees didn't hurt or give out. My life was getting easier to live.
Then, strikingly, I started to realize that those fit people who I thought were judging me, began to see me as one of them. It was not because I was a normal weight. I wasn't. No, IT WASN'T ABOUT MY WEIGHT at all. I had become part of the community just because I showed up and made my health and myself, a priority.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with National Women's Health Week, May 11-17. Read all posts in the series here. To learn more, please visit WomensHealth.gov.