My 4-year-old, let’s call her “E”, asked me some time ago if I was a “big mama.” I had just picked her up from daycare, which she attends maybe once a week. Once a week and for a few hours is more than enough for kids to pick up all sorts of things. One thing all kids seem to do is compare parents. I already imagined the scenario, another kid, seeing me dropping E off and picking her up again, saw my size and was curious. This kid must have said something.
In fairness, I do tend to make an impression on others. It’s not unusual that I get second looks when I’m out. First, I’m a 5’9 female with wide shoulders and long arms. I’ve also developed a modest muscular presentation in my arms and legs from years of running and weight lifting. But what the kid was most likely referring to when they asked E if I was her “big mama” was my overall size.
I have hypothyroid (hypoT) disease. It’s pretty severe in that the gland, for me, is non-functioning. The thing about the thyroid gland is that it can be temperamental. Some days it works, other days it doesn’t. I have always been on the side of overweight. Gaining weight was always easy for me and I never understood why. I was overweight since childhood. My weight was always assumed by others to be a fault in myself.
For years, my thyroid functioned erratically. Unfortunately, unless you’re working with a thyroid specialist straight out of the gate, most medical professionals will dismiss hypothyroidism as the problem as soon as your blood work comes back fine. LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING: I’ve had 3 thyroid tests in my lifetime and only ONE came back as being defective. My thyroid had to completely cease function before I was given the diagnosis of hypothyroid. By then, I had nearly lapsed into a coma. A MOTHERFUCKING COMA.
I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH – WHEN YOU HAVE A TEMPERAMENTAL THYROID [SOMETIMES THE GLAND WORKS, SOMETIMES IT DOESN’T] YOUR BLOOD RESULTS COMING BACK AS DEFICIENT BECOMES LESS LIKELY EVEN IF YOU MATCH THE SYMPTOMS PERFECTLY. Before that 3rd test, I had to deal with years of inexplicable weight gain, sensitivity to temperature, and generally just feeling like shit. The best advice I can give you if you suspect hypoT in yourself, get blood work done on a BAD day, that is when the deficiency is more likely to show up in your blood work. A bad day with hypoT, and I’ve had a lot of them, feels a lot like: lethargy or tiredness with little to no exertion to explain it, a feeling of internal coldness (feeling cold regardless of environmental temperature), a general achiness (again, without cause for the feeling), no appetite, recent weight gain, reduced or no bowel movement. And this kind of bad day, by the way, seems to happen every now and again when you have an on-and-off thyroid. By the time my thyroid completely broke (post-pregnancy), I felt the above everyday, all day. I was putting on as much as 7 pounds a week. My body was shutting down as it was no longer shifting liquids and solids as it was meant too.
I didn’t realize my weight problems, my temperature problems, my on-and-off again lethargy all came down to a temperamental thyroid gland that eventually gave out under the demands of pregnancy. My doctor once told me that roughly 7% of women with a tricky gland, their thyroid completely shuts down during or immediately after pregnancy. Pregnancy is a demanding process and it’s taxing on the thyroid. Many medical professionals told me I was just experiencing the baby blues, a mild form of postpartum depression. I hated them for that. Post-pregnancy finds a new mom at her most vulnerable and now I had guilt instead of joy. Baby blues, like postpartum, is completely faultless in the mom, but it still had me feeling that my natural reaction to pregnancy was a sense of incapability. I’ve only ever known myself to be a capable person.
I survived my parents and their bullshit (drugs, alcohol, neglect, abuse), I survived lifelong, borderline crushing anxiety. I put myself through school, twice, on my own financially and in every other regard. I launched my career. I became a professional whose opinion was trusted and respected. I had a successful adult relationship and marriage. I didn’t trust this idea of “baby blues” but what could I do? I kept at trying to break through this bad, horrid everyday feeling, thinking that any day I would begin to enjoy, at last, my newborn daughter and experience all the joys new moms are meant too.
Some time after E’s first birthday, I found myself huddled on the couch in two sweatshirts, two sweatpants, two pairs of socks, shivering, incapable of being warm while it raged 104 degrees outside in the hot Texas sun. I recall drifting out of conscience and coming-to a few hours later, E screaming for her bottle.
I made an appointment with a nearby internist and made it clear over the phone that I wanted thorough blood work done, and if the doctor I saw mentioned “baby blues” once, or any variation thereof, I would walk out and refuse to pay the bill. I recall the look of express concern on the doctor’s face when she got my blood results back…
Since my diagnosis, I switched from an internist to a women’s health / hormone specialist (I wanted the cross-cover). Unfortunately, hypothyroid treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all. I did not react well on the initial medication Levothyroxine, also called Synthroid. The internist I was seeing either didn’t want to try anything else or didn’t know too so I got a second opinion – ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. My new specialist changed up my Rx and now I am on the effective medication called Nature-Thyroid. Love that stuff.
Three years later, my meds have been slowly but surely upped to a high dosage and I feel great. It’s the kind of great I remember when I was my most athletic self during college. I ran, I swam, I did yoga and weightlifting.
No mater my size throughout my life, I always kept up with my running and exercising – always. It didn’t matter what size I was, I always put the work in, even on my bad days, especially on my bad days. Perhaps that was foolish, but I really thought that I could “shake” this thing I understood to be the baby blues. I could never explain my weight gains in the past, swift and easy as they were. I think I just assumed I put on weight easily as I had nothing else to go on. Now I know, I’ve always had a shitty thyroid. When I put on weight in the past, I also knew I had to work twice as hard to take it off. Where most people either cut back their calories a bit or exercise a little more, I had to do both and in extreme measures to get results.
I’m so thankful for my discipline, that same discipline that got me through the hardest years of my life, got me through this too. I knew my body, strange as it was in it’s expression, I still knew it. I knew something was wrong despite what the medical world was telling me. And I’m thankful I kept up with my exercising. The weight is pretty much flying off now, and the muscles I took pains to develop and maintain for years are showing through once more. But there was enough weight around my middle that one of E’s daycare friends asked her if I was E’s “big mama.”
So when E’s little upturned face looked into mine, not sure if she should be concerned or not about some other kid’s potential judgement of me, I said, “Heck yes I’m your Big Mama. I’m the biggest and strongest mama there is,” and playfully flexed my muscular arm. E lights up, understanding my size is a good thing, and that the other kid who asked her was admiring me and not dissing her mama. That other kid and their observation, whether it was admiring, neutral or a negative, doesn’t matter. I took control of the question and its meaning, because I am the big mama. I wouldn’t be any other kind of mama, I told E.
That was about 6 months ago. Since then, E likes to run up to me and squeeze my ever shrinking middle and say, “I love my big mama! I have the strongest mama!”
Kid, you’re damn right you do.
My aim in these pics are to show what muscular development looks like in a plus-size body; I’m currently hovering at size 12. The more weight I lose, the more I “unearth” my muscles. I’ve been athletic since college, regardless of my weight. Also, I want to impress upon people size AND athletic competence are not mutually exclusive. I can hold my own very well compared to someone half my size, and all because I never lost my discipline for exercise. Currently, I exercise 4 days a week at 60-70 minutes per session. I practice a combination of cardio, weights, and endurance.
PS – I can’t keep a straight face when flexing, I’m physically incapable of it.
Runner’s legs. When I flex, my calf muscles bunch and define. Sorry, the lighting’s crap.