Like all neurotic Jewish pregnant women, my pregnancy has been a delightfully noxious flotilla of anxiety, elation, depression, and superstition. My first pregnancy with my daughter Lila (who is now 2-and-a-half going on 37) was sunshine and lollipops. I was that rosy-cheeked, glorious pregnant woman glowing in the fountain of her own luscious fertility. I basked in the growing belly, the interactions with curious strangers, the bizarre, nearly-pornographic fluctuations of breast size. Rest of the world be damned, I was the happiest I had ever been.
Let me tell you, if I saw that woman today, I would likely punch her.
Maybe in the gut.
Then I’d call her fat and probably say something rude like, “You must be having a girl because your ass is the size of China and your nose takes up 80% of your face.” I probably wouldn’t be happy until she cried in spite of her beatific self. And even then, I’d likely still be pissed for no real reason. At this point, I’d probably try on a pair of pants that wouldn’t fit, eat a handful of Doritos, and promptly cry—snapping at anyone who tried to cheer me up.
Suffice it to say, this was NOT what I signed up for with pregnancy #2. Where the hell were those feel-good hormones?! The emotional insanity of it all this time around is near constant: tears in the parking lot of the OBGYN for no reason? Check. Irrational emails sent on a whim? Check. Uncertainty that I can pull this thing off with a SECOND child?! Check.
Are there solutions? Of course. As any OBGYN or cloying preggo book will tell you, “Every pregnancy is different, and what’s most important for the baby’s health is a happy mother.” (Subtext: no one really ever talks about it, but thousands of women are in therapy throughout their pregnancies and/or taking Zoloft and Lexapro while pregnant so they can keep it together.) Another good solution: “Exercise can be just as effective as an antidepressant.” (Subtext: try this first before doing the other stuff.)
So was it true? Could exercise be as effective? Well, damn it, I was going to try. And so began my six-week challenge: to radically transform myself from psychotic, emotional neurotic couch-potato pregnant woman to normal, calm, neurotic gym nut. Endorphins, show me the money, baby!
My first day at the JCC gym was a bit like showing up at some sort of weird reunion where you feel like you should know people but you really don’t. After dropping off my daughter on one of the rare, glorious days when the school where I teach was canceled but Lila’s wasn’t, I ventured outside the nursery school wing to the gym downstairs. There were people of all categories in that foreign den of vanity: the nursery school moms who were buffer than Jill from Biggest Loser, the sun-spotted grandpas rowing one stroke a minute, the unemployed looking to fill their time, and the elderly chicks who I dismissed immediately for no real reason, other than the fact that I am a crabby jerk right now and this is the sort of judgmental meanie I’ve become.
With my really-I’m-pregnant-not-just-fat 16-week belly, I sauntered over to the stationary bike, where I proceeded to read for the next half hour while pedaling with minimal effort. After a week of such “training,” I always left feeling like I had “been at the gym” in description only, and nope, not any happier.
It was time to take things to a professional, so I signed up for my free comp personal trainer session at the JCC. “Allison” promptly told me that “sitting on the bike doesn’t do sh*t.” Well, THAT certainly didn’t make me any happier. She then showed me how to use some cardio machines that are semi-torturous—particularly for gym virgins like me who would prefer watching exercise shows while snacking on a variety of artificially-flavored cheese chips than doing said exercises. The machines, I soon realized, were bearable because everyone at the gym knows The Secret Gym Credo, which is that when you are the gym, you are allowed and invited to let your brain rot entirely as you watch atrocious reality TV shows on Bravo with reckless abandon.
Let me tell you, since starting my insane cardio routine of 40 minutes a day, 150 BPM, fivr days a week, I am well-versed in all versions of The Real Housewives. I’m about 15% more fit, but 85% dumber than I was when I started. But dumber, I’m a bit happier, I’ve learned. Maybe it isn’t that ignorance is bliss, but vapidity is.
The real magic, though, happened at the gym classes. Seeing a bunch of lipsticked grannies march into a Zumba class in their (I kid you not) matching leopard leotards and dance shoes, I thought to myself, “If these ladies can do it, why not me?” As we shimmied together like we were drunks in Havana, 1951, I couldn’t help but find myself laughing as I stared at myself in the mirror, my lunch-lady arms flailing, my legs wobbling, three beats behind our impossibly happy instructor who encouraged us to “shake what our mamas gave us.” I was shakin’ it all right, and I had not been happier!
There they were—those magical endorphins, surging through my body like lightning!
Admittedly, I am only on week three of the exercise experiment, but also, for the first time in my pregnancy, I’m starting to feel like a normal person again—like maybe it actually IS possible for me to be happy again. Are the endorphins to thank, or is it just the fact that I’m doing something to pull myself up? Or maybe it’s just the second trimester? Who knows. All I can say is, adieu, Evil Pregnant Mommy, and bonjour, Gym Rat.