Giving a lift to new mothers

Fitness: GBMC class provides exercise and an emotional boost for moms and their babies

May 21, 2000|By Christine Demkowych | Christine Demkowych,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Rocking slowly to the soothing rhythms of Amy Grant's "Baby, Baby," the new moms begin to shake off some of their stress by taking in deep breaths, stretching their legs and raising their arms overhead. Once the exercise routine begins, some moms drop out of the circle to breast feed, others to change diapers. No one feels inhibited since everyone in the room is going through the same thing.

This is not the typical morning routine for these mothers. It's a fitness class for moms and babies being offered at GBMC's Alternative and Complementary Health Center. Programs like these are rare since most hospitals and athletic clubs focus on caring for pregnant women, with pre-natal or combined pre/post-natal classes.

Karen Linder-Staubs, a 39-year-old mom from Northeast Baltimore, gave birth to her son Jacob in November. She took the class recently so that she could learn exercises that would help her lose weight and prevent injuries to her body. "For me, exercise has to be scheduled. I'm not disciplined enough to do it on my own," she says, noting that she gained 37 pounds while she was pregnant. Thanks to the class, she has only five more pounds to lose.

Called Mother Rhythms, the $120, eight-week class focuses on the need that new moms have to exercise and discuss the emotional ups and downs of child care. "It's easy to feel loneliness. ... You can come and be with other moms and listen to their stories and know you have something to offer them," says Amy Rakusin, the class instructor.

Bel Air's Judith Bollinger, who just turned 41, jumped at the opportunity to take Rakusin's class with her nearly 5-month-old son Christopher. "There are some moms in my neighborhood with kids, but I'm the only one with a newborn. Their lives are so different from mine," she says. "It is so helpful to be with other moms going through the same thing. I just didn't want to be alone. I don't have to say much to them. They can just fill in my sentences." Dr. Kim Solberg, assistant chair of psychiatry at GBMC, says, "The post-natal period is a wonderful time, but it can also be very stressful. The class at GBMC not only promotes positive attachment to the baby, but provides mothers with more comfort with child-rearing."

Rakusin, a licensed clinical professional counselor and dance movement therapist, puts a heavy emphasis on nurturing the new mothers. After an hour of stretching, low-impact aerobics and strengthening of the abdomen, pectorals, arms and back, the talking begins. The women openly share their concerns about crying (the baby's and their own), sleep deprivation and sex (or lack thereof), and discuss their changing identities as a lover, career person and mom.

Finding camaraderie

Mary Miklochik, a Mother Rhythms alumnus who got pregnant after eight years of trying, says she desperately wanted to meet new mothers in a confidential environment where she could share her thoughts on some of the unexpected physical and psychological stresses associated with childbirth. "I'm turning 40 in July. Everyone else I knew had kids who were already in high school. I needed contact with other people with whom I had something in common," Miklochik says. During the class, Rakusin repeatedly urges the moms to be kind to themselves and their bodies. "Lower your expectations. Give yourself time. You can't expect your body to jump back immediately. It took nine months to make this miracle and it will take as many months to heal your body," she tells them.

To promote bonding, Rakusin shows class members how to dance with their babies in movements choreographed to music. As the mothers and babies get their rhythms in sync, Rakusin counsels that "life will no longer be the same. It's not just about you anymore."

Toward the end of the class session, Rakusin helps the moms organize a play group. The goal is for the moms to form a support group that will continue after the program ends.

While Miklochik has returned to work and does not have time to meet with the other mothers who took the class, she says they make a point of either calling or e-mailing her on a regular basis. Former classmate Karen Linder-Staubs says that everyone else in the group meets every Wednesday at the same time Rakusin's class was held. Sometimes they have a theme, other times they just vent.

Patty Bond, 37, is currently taking the course with her 6-month-old son Piper. She says meeting with the other moms is her favorite part of the class. "Talking to them validates what I'm going through. It's so easy to feel isolated because you're so focused on the baby's needs," she says.

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