Philly Fit Pro Larkin Silverman Talks Setting Boundaries as a New Mom
We chatted with Larkin Silverman, formerly of Lumos Yoga & Barre, about navigating motherhood, setting boundaries, and practicing self-care.
When it comes to setting boundaries, many people — women, women-identifying, and mothers, especially — can find it difficult to say yes to their own wants and needs. That’s because women often bear the brunt of emotional labor both at home and at work, making it pretty tough to stop pouring our energy into what others need and fill our own cups instead.
When Philly fitness pro Larkin Silverman became a parent for the first time in February, she was acutely reminded that boundaries are a form of self-care. On top of navigating the ins and outs of motherhood, she also had to process how her teaching might change amid coronavirus restrictions, resulting in her recent decision to leave Lumos Yoga & Barre — the Fairmount fitness studio she co-founded in 2018.
With all these new transitions, Silverman opens up about her experience with childbirth, how the pandemic has impacted her motherhood journey, and the importance of creating boundaries and prioritizing self-care during such an emotionally-taxing time.
Philly in Motion: Your sweet Alma is nearly seven months old. What are your first impressions of motherhood?
Silverman: Honestly, the first word is bewildering. [What I mean is that] being a mom for the first time has been both challenging and humbling in ways that I’ve never imagined. This new stage of adulthood often feels like trial by fire — you don’t know what motherhood is really like until it becomes your reality. From the way Alma’s birth happened to COVID-19, everything about motherhood has felt very intense so far. Postpartum mental health and anxiety are REAL things, and should be discussed a whole lot more than they are. Alma’s birth was traumatic, and I have PTSD and postpartum OCD, which I didn’t even know existed prior to giving birth.
Could you talk more about what labor and delivery were like for you?
To put it simply: I was in labor for three days straight, and then underwent an emergency C-section. I labored for a LONG time without progress — I didn’t sleep, was so exhausted, and truly didn’t have the energy to deliver my baby. I even refused induction twice, which I deeply regret. I eventually got the epidural and underwent the C-section, but then Alma’s heart rate dropped, which was terrifying! I had about 30 seconds to meet her before she had to be examined by doctors. It was hard to be in the same room as my baby, but not be able to hold her or touch her. In the moments when a mother is supposed to make and create contact for the first time with their newborn, I wasn’t able to, and that was mentally and emotionally difficult to process.
With that said, I think I was very naive to the birthing process. I’m very much into movement as sensation — that’s what my fitness approach is founded upon. I had these beautiful mantra cards ready to get me into a calm, empowering mindset prior to labor, and was modifying my movement to “prepare” my body for birth, telling myself things like, “If I keep strengthening my arms, I’ll be stronger and better able to hold myself up during labor” and “If I stabilize myself on the [stability] ball, my pelvis will be stronger.” But the vision you have for your labor and delivery often doesn’t happen because things out of your control can and do happen. You have to mentally prepare for your plans to not go the way you think they will. For example, I was scared to even think about the possibility of having a C-section, not only because I was shocked and horrified by that method of delivery, but because I had this preconceived notion that anything except spontaneous labor was a failure. But my baby and my body needed that. I’ve learned the word ‘natural’ can be very detrimental [especially when it’s compared to a C-section]. Like, what could be more natural than meeting your baby in whatever capacity you can?
Wow! Yes, I was just discussing the concept of planning for the unplanned with a friend. That’s kind of how this entire year has felt because of COVID-19. I’m sure the pandemic has amplified so many things for you as a new mom.
Totally. There were no restrictions when Alma was born [at the end of February]. My husband was freely able to get me a coffee after she was born, and my parents were able to come down from Maine. We thought we were going to leave the hospital, emerge into the world, and do fun newborn things, but we weren’t able to. [Like so many others are experiencing,] there’s a grieving for your previous life. I thought we’d go to baby and me yoga classes, play spaces, and swim lessons. And none of that feels safe [to us] right now. Even taking Alma to our pediatrician feels like gearing up for war.
The pandemic has also been super isolating, and I’ve experienced such debilitating anxiety because of it. Oftentimes with anxiety, you’re supposed to ask yourself if the fears you’re grappling with are evidence-based, or if they’re rooted in an imagined narrative? But with the pandemic, so many of the fears are true and real. That’s why therapy has been absolutely essential for me. As the hill [of this year] feels like it keeps rising and getting harder, therapy helps me understand what’s going on in my brain and discover what I actually can control and confront. I’m learning that parents can protect their children to a certain extent. Falling in love is a dangerous act because you can get your heart broken, but we all still do it, especially parents. Even though we can’t protect Alma from everything, we are navigating and setting our boundaries, in terms of where we go and who we see. Even as businesses reopen and update their air purification and sanitizing systems, the stakes still feel too high, especially for infants. I’ve learned that a baby is a boundary — a very important one, especially now.
For sure. 2020 feels like a constant game of chess, except we’re being gaslit the whole time. Where do you find silver linings?
I let myself wallow. If I need to cry, I cry. I also bought myself a beautiful journal prior to the pandemic, and I’ve been writing in it every now and then to commit something to paper. That has been incredibly helpful for both documenting this new journey and relieving anxious thoughts. Something incredible, too, is that I’ve been home to share every moment with Alma. I haven’t missed a single one of her milestones — I was there when she sat for the first time, gave me a social smile, and laughed. It’s why I’ve been using the app, 1 Second Everyday, which lets me and others see how she’s growing in a visual timeline form. That, along with FaceTime, has been super helpful for my parents, whom we haven’t seen since February. (Alma knows the sound of a FaceTime call coming in, which is pretty awesome!)
Recently on Instagram, you posted about being under the “Momfluence.” What does that term mean to you, and how has it impacted your own experience with motherhood?
All of my support is virtual right now, and I love my group chats and DM threads. But all that digital interaction has impacted the kinds of ads and sponsored content I’m receiving. I just birthed a human and now I’m being targeted with toxic messages like “Get your body back!” Sure, being in a postpartum body is baffling, uncomfortable, and icky, but that doesn’t mean I want, need, or should be expected to do anything I don’t want to with my own body. I work really hard to make my body a neutral thing, which seems impossible now. Even though what I did with my body was AMAZING, sometimes my body is hard to navigate, like lactating at any given moment or needing to pee (or actually peeing) in the middle of exercising. I’m just trying to figure it out in ways that work best for me and Alma, and connect with others/interact with accounts that don’t capitalize on the anxieties, fears, and vulnerabilities that can come with being a first-time parent.
On top of that, I have a hard boundary when it comes to unsound advice, and I’m strict when it comes to reputable evidence. For instance, infant safety is probably the thing I care most about having this postpartum OCD. Because of my previous miscarriage and traumatic birth, I sometimes think I am going to lose Alma. Some content I’ve seen on social media and have heard in new mom circles have this overarching theme of “You do you, mama! You have these primal motherly instincts.” And yet, there is a real threat of danger and unsafety when it comes to babies! Whether you’re trying to find a baby swing, crib, bath seat, swaddle, or whatever, you have to do. your. research. (!) to make sure it’s actually safe, not just something that has a cute name or is sponsored by an influencer.
You’ve mentioned how important it is to establish boundaries. Why do you think it’s difficult for folks, especially women/women-identifying and mothers, to set them?
I absolutely think it’s socio-cultural. Reductive assumptions about gender exist [in American culture] that say masculinity is a certain kind of stoicism and withholding, and womanhood is about giving giving giving above all else, so women are conditioned, and therefore, expected to constantly do more for others. Being presumed nurturers definitely complicates boundaries for women and moms, as we’re often called upon to tend to others’ emotions. There’s also this harmful perspective that tells women to “be careful” at being too assertive because they could come off as bossy or bitchy, which makes it difficult to establish our own wants and needs. In the workplace, women might ask themselves, “If I dare to offer an opinion counter to what leadership [which is often male-dominated] is saying, am I going to be seen as contrarian? Is that push-back worth my mental and emotional energy?” I feel similarly when it comes to the street harassment here in Philly. Whenever I dared to speak out, I was always met with some sort of violence, including physical threats and verbal assaults. It’s just like...when are we [women] ever going to be able to refuse other people’s impositions without feeling bad, ashamed, or unsafe?
As a parent, setting boundaries becomes even more difficult. I think in our society, the mom is often looked at as the “default” parent — the one who is the assumed caretaker, the one who wakes up first when the baby cries, the one who doesn’t go back to work right away (or ever) to be with the baby. When my husband and I made a conscious decision to reroute our lives from a couple to parents, we discussed boundaries together and defined the contours of the life we wanted to live. For me, that looks like checking in with myself (Is my bladder full? Do I need to stretch?) and making sure my most basic needs are met, especially after Alma wakes up from a nap. I’ve put one of her little chairs in the bathroom, so if I have to pee or shower, she’s coming with me!
You also recently established a new boundary in leaving Lumos. Can you talk through that decision?
It’s painful, to be honest. I’m extremely proud of the community we [the Lumos team] created, but working in group fitness in the era of pandemic means everything runs very differently. If you pivot to teaching online, it means the nature of your teaching is very different. You need to demo everything in advance, there’s no organic progression really, and the technological demands can be incredibly rigorous. Your teaching might even end up adhering to a “one size fits all” approach in the Brady Bunch squares of Zoom, and I’ve never been into that! If your studio is offering indoor classes, you’re assuming a [health] risk, and I can’t not be there for my daughter. [Falling ill] would be an unfathomable crisis for us, which is why I ultimately decided I needed to close that chapter of my life.
And now you’re relaunching Vinyasa Vixen to shift your empowering and inclusive movement online. What has that process been like?
I’m doing this a bit reluctantly, as I feel like I’m being dragged into the pandemic era. Whenever I am able to log on for an online class, I’m reminded why I love teaching and moving my body. I’m intending to start slow with Vinyasa Vixen because I need to be mindful of the limitations of my physical body and respect the physical therapy I’m receiving. Once I’m able, though, my plan is to host body-neutral and inclusive classes, as well as create webinars and PDFs to help other fitness pros make their teaching more accessible. While the pandemic has definitely fostered virtual communities, it has also exacerbated the inequalities that exist when it comes to access, both digital and economic. Everyone should be able to move their bodies freely, without feeling intimidated or held back. My hope is that Vinyasa Vixen can be a space for affirmation, self-care, and opportunity.