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I Tried Postpartum Skateboarding — And Broke My Ankle

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

By Cate Stern

Something about our isolation last year must have encouraged a misguided confidence in our athletic abilities.

Just a few months after my third C-section, for reasons still unknown, I hopped onto a skateboard at a friend’s house. The prospect of socializing in person after a long period of isolation with family must have altered my risk-reward analysis. I fell off the board just as quickly as my debut began, and when I landed, I knew immediately that something was wrong.

The surge of adrenaline moved up my leg and into my core like an express elevator, and even though my friend pleaded with me to get up and shake it off, the most I could do was roll to the side and take a few deep breaths. Later, an X-ray confirmed that I’d broken my left fibula.

“You’re lucky,” my doctor said. “A few millimeters more and you’d need surgery.”

I tried to keep the doctor’s words in mind. “I’m lucky, I’m lucky,” I’d say as I hauled myself around our house on crutches, asking my husband for help with nearly everything. Right before my accident, things were finally starting to get easier: we settled into a routine with the baby, the big kids were back in school after a spring of remote learning, and since recovering from abdominal surgery, I had started jogging again, a practice I’ve always clung to for the mental health benefits. Now, my husband had to help me get the baby in and out of the car, a shower felt like a Herculean effort, and every cuddle with my older children started with “be careful with mom’s leg.”

Despite my husband’s best after-work efforts, the laundry piled up, the dishes languished in the sink, and food debris collected on the floors in quantities that could feed an ant colony. We were both exhausted from adapting to the “fluid situation” unfolding around us, and my husband, who had just taken excellent care of me after surgery while trying to keep up with work and the kids’ remote learning, was dealing with caregiver burnout. My own mood dipped lower and lower without my usual coping mechanisms: movement and rest. In short, I wasn’t feeling very lucky.

After an initial period of wallowing, I mastered pushing the stroller with the aid of one crutch to move the baby from room to room. We set up diaper stations in multiple locations, and yes, I wore a fanny pack full of supplies. Putting the dishes away in their respective cabinets was too much, but I could at least unload them onto the counter. Netflix and a seat on the couch made folding laundry more efficient than ever before. Despite these adaptations, I still longed to move my body reflexively, to jog until I felt good.

“The mental part is often the hardest thing about this type of injury,” my doctor said.

Desperate, I turned to the internet and found Caroline Jordan’s Chair Cardio. Punching and kicking from the comfort of a chair at the kitchen table never quite felt natural, but I’d finally found something to raise my heart rate and my mood.

Ten long weeks later, my doctor cleared me to walk longer distances and ride a bike, which I eased back into gladly. I never went to physical therapy as prescribed, though, because it was winter and I was busy with the kids and the holidays. Most laughably, I figured I’d research therapy and do it on my own.

Three months later, still in pain and with restricted range of motion in my ankle, I took my kids to a playground where I met physical therapist Angela Park-Sheldon. We talked about my injury, and she offered to come to my home to help me. Within two sessions, I noticed improvement, and by six sessions, I felt dramatic changes. Best of all, Angela encouraged me to jog, at first in several minute sets with a period of walking between.

Recently, my friend’s husband strapped on his rollerblades for the first time in decades, and after a glorious downhill acceleration, he fell and broke his wrist so badly he needed multiple surgeries. Something about the last year must have encouraged a misguided confidence in our athletic abilities. Or maybe it’s that skateboards and rollerblades are inherently dangerous. Either way, injuring myself while still nursing an infant who doesn’t sleep well and caring for two other children during a pandemic proved that I really didn’t have any reserves to draw from. Without my usual coping mechanisms, I needed to dig much deeper than I thought was possible.

Finding a physical outlet that accommodated my injury and finally getting into physical therapy were crucial to my recovery. The other day I jogged three miles straight for the first time in over a year.

Also for the first time, I actually believed it when I told myself that I was lucky.


Cate Stern is an attorney and mother of three in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her writing has appeared on the blogs Motherhood Untitled and Not Safe For Mom Group. She is currently working on her first novel.

A version of this story originally appeared in Scary Mommy.