It's 3:40 am with baby Tommy lying next to me a day after he turned 7 months old. I would normally be asleep, but after having been machine-tapped by a no-stripe white belt, I woke up about an hour ago looking for another BJJ mom's blog on what it feels like to be a 44-year old mom with three children.
I didn't find any.
When I was 29-years old and found out I was pregnant with my now 14-year old 8th grader, I informed my husband that I would stop all martial arts training until a year after our second child was born. I'm an only child with zero experience in being with babies. I wanted to give it my all. And I did. I gave birth via emergency c-section at age 30 in 2004. It was not the ideal birth I had, but I had an amazing obstetrician who informed me that although I did not have my natural birth that I could try for a natural birth the second time. In fact, he told me that the following month, his wife was going to give birth vaginally after she had a c-section with their first child (his wife was 10-cm dilated with their first baby, on the verge of giving birth vaginally, but something happened that she had to have a c-section). That little personal story gave me hope.
I gave birth to a beautiful 7 pound 8 ounce baby girl named Angilynn. She started dancing at age 4, training jiu-jitsu at age 6 and started playing violin at age 7. Angilynn started her education in a Waldorf-inspired charter school at age 5 and now exemplifies a student who has multiple talents and an amazing personality. She's about to graduate from middle school and I can't be more proud of her. She dances 10 hours a week, plays the violin and trains BJJ here and there with her dad who started his training in 2006. My husband is a brown belt under Professor Juliano Prado at Total MMA/Brazilian Top Team OC.
Our academy is currently 17 miles from our house. We lived 28 miles away from our academy when he first started training. Only in the last three years have we lived 10 miles closer.
I enjoyed focusing on Angilynn for 6 years until her awesome sister was born in 2010. Anais entered our lives at 8 pounds 8 ounces via another emergency c-section. I labored at home for 21 hours with an attempted home birth after cesarean. I had two amazing midwives, one with many years of practice under her belt with a very low percentage of transfers to a hospital, so I was quite surprised when she advised that I go in to deliver vaginally at a hospital. We asked the doctor if I could be medicated to sleep and rest my body and baby until I awake to deliver vaginally. I requested no Pitocin. He woke me up to tell me that he gave me Pitocin while I was asleep. Upon my arrival, the obstetrician informed me that he was off at 8 am the moment he saw me. Anais's birth record shows that she was delivered at 8:00 am.
I recovered very well. I had now two major abdominal surgeries under my belt and just when I had seven years of being a mom (when Anais was a year old), my husband found Reign Training Center, which was five minutes away from my acupuncture healing center. I trained cardio kickboxing there with intensity. The first month was very hard; I internally cried for about a month because I could not do any sit-ups, wheelbarrows, and my cardio was not up to speed. I was surprised because I did Zumba dance classes when Anais was an infant, so I thought I had pretty decent cardio. NOT.
When Anais turned 2-years old, I started training with the women's jiu-jitsu team at my husband's and daughter's academy. Angilynn was then training once a week consistently on Saturdays. Of course, it was physically challenging on me, but what was more intense was juggling being a mom of two children (8 and 2 years old), really growing my acupuncture practice and keeping my sanity to fit in jiu-jitsu training. I trained at three gyms for awhile: Renaissance Club Sport for my weight training and dance classes (started in 2010 two months after Anais was born, Reign Training Center for my cardio kickboxing that I started in 2012, and Total MMA/BTT OC in 2013). It helped that Renaissance and Reign were very close to my lifestyle. If my husband didn't train at BTT, I would not have committed to such a distance. Fortunately, I fell in love with the women that I trained with, so the place has been like family to us since I started training.
All of that was prelude to why it is now 4:14 am and I felt compelled around 2 am when I woke up to nurse Tommy and go online to look for a blog from another mother of three who trains BJJ. I found none.
I went back to Total MMA when Tommy was 5 weeks old. I took a cardio kickboxing class. He was born via scheduled c-section. Long story short, a certified nurse midwife with a PhD informed me at Kaiser (same hospital for the first two) that even though I was 43 years old, that I was a great candidate to deliver vaginally. She was prepared to do it. However, a month before I planned to finally have a vaginal birth, an obstetrician there told us otherwise. My husband looked at my facial expression to see if I was going to go off on her, but instead I relented. I was 43, extremely busy as a business owner, and finally had come to terms that I was going to be a mommy again. The last thing I wanted to do was fight an institution for my right to deliver vaginally after what they did to me during my second birth. Fortunately, my patient whom I had helped to get pregnant naturally with the POWERS of Chinese medicine and have an amazing birth was a charge nurse of labor and delivery at that hospital. She must have told the entire floor about me because during the third time around, I was treated like royalty.
I'll take this moment to go back to March 2, 2018. This was the day I had found out that I was pregnant with my third child. Angilynn was 13, two months away from her birthday. Anais was 6. I thought I planned my life "correctly." I had been a blue belt for a couple of years now. It was less of a juggle keeping my sanity together, but I figured it out. Angilynn was intense in her dance schedule, including her dance teams. Anais was dancing quite a bit and playing violin. She was obviously following her sister's footsteps, but putting her own flavor into her passions. We were a busy family, but very happy in our little world. To find out that I was 43 years old and pregnant was beyond surprising. We were shocked. I had nursed Angilynn for two years and four months. I nursed Anais for four years. I was done being a mommy of a baby. I put in my time. I lost my baby weight. I gained my strength back. My life was in working order.
Andrew lovingly gave me the option to choose my direction. I did have a moment on March 3 to look up online "I am pregnant at age 43; should I have an abortion?" I read one woman's horrible tale of depression about her story (I'll spare the details here), sought counsel from my mentor and decided that I would do whatever I had to do to raise another amazing human being.
Don't ask me how, but after a scheduled c-section in October, I've managed to grow my business even more (I've been practicing Chinese medicine since 1999), I have people joining my practice now, Angilynn dances 10 hours a week, Anais dances 6 hours a week, they both take violin lessons and Anais trains BJJ twice a week. I LOVE my academy. I really do. Unfortunately, after having had her gi since age 5, I have not been able to schedule BJJ for Anais at our home academy. The school is too far, she dances and plays music. There really is only so many hours in a day. So now at age 7, God has made my life easier by putting Professor Ely Leon at Renaissance. He created a kids' program two years ago and I managed to get her into this academy that is five minutes away from Anais's school. If people want to call me a traitor, so be it, but I'm a mother before anything else. If I can't drive her to BJJ at Total, then I can't drive her. That's it. She puts on a gi twice a week, I get to put Tommy in kids' world, I get to work out and save my own sanity for a couple of hours in the day, so it's a win-win situation. She's 7 years old and is training to defend herself. For that, I defend my right to enroll her in a jiu-jitsu academy five minutes away from her school. I should not even have to explain that, but in this culture, it's expected to.
I do 90% of the driving them to their activities and I do all school drop offs and pick ups. I attend acupuncture seminars, I am starting to teach marketing to acupuncturists, I see 100+ patients a week and I'm nursing a baby. I have so much to be grateful for and I should be more proud of myself than I am AT THIS MOMENT.
Which leads me to WHY I am up at 4:36 am writing this long-ass blog. I'm a 4-stripe blue belt. I've been training since age 38. I'm 44 years old now. I got machine-gun tapped by a younger, stronger, faster and more powerful no-stripe white belt last night. I felt after the first tournament tap that I should not even resist for the next 5 taps. He felt incredibly strong. Something people don't realize is that after giving birth, a mommy loses immense strength. I do yoga 1-2 times a week. I take cardio boxing classes, Hip Hop cardio class and other types of cardio classes at Renaissance. I need to up my strength training classes, of course. On top of all my training, I still have a belly. It took awhile for my last pregnancy weight to shed, so I must stay patient with myself. Patience is a virtue RIGHT NOW especially. At least, I had the cardio to last. Did I feel embarrassed? I felt sad for myself. The techniques aren't there. I feel like I lost my basics. The synapses weren't quick on the draw. I lost muscle memory. I felt like I lost strength. All that I had trained to gain for five years went out the window last night. I thought I had been making some stride since I went back to train here and there on the mat when Tommy turned 10-weeks old. It didn't help that he had no stripes on his belt. What I'm reading on the BJJ mommy blogs is that what I'm going through is common. Does it make me feel any better? No.
I feel like I'm trailblazing my own path as a 44-year old BJJ mommy with 19-years of acupuncture practice who has these grand ideas in my head about being an incredible jiu-jitsu practitioner. After I left the academy I had moments like I did when I was a white belt. Who am I to want to pursue jiu-jitsu? I had my time. I started martial arts training under my dad's tutelage at age 7. I did Wu Shu in high school. I competed forms nationally and won some trophies in Hung Sing Choy Lay Fut at Tat Mau Wong Academy in San Francisco. I trained with all men in a little not known academy in Kajukenbo in my 20s. In those days, I could take the hits, the knockdowns, the throws and I toughened up and I felt confident in my fighting skill set (it helps to get your ass beat and feel defeated because somehow it makes you feel like you can handle yourself in the real world). But now, especially after last night, I feel a different type of defeated; like should I even do this defeated.
(Resumed at 8:44 am after falling asleep nursing Tommy when he woke up at 5:00.)
Don't get me wrong. If I learned anything in Kajukenbo it was to give it my all and never give up. I'll stick it out. Training with my master then was far more intense than what I have endured in BJJ. It was THAT kind of training, the kind that I won't even post on this blog because I made an oath back in the mid-90s. I still respect my master and the brothers I trained with, so I remain silent, happy with the person I grew to become due to that training. However, this is a different type of challenge. It's a challenge no other person could ever understand except a woman who has faced the adversities that goes along with growing large during pregnancy, having to be cut open against her better judgment in order to bring babies into this world, resume life as if nothing ever happened for nine months, and take on an incredible amount of physical and mental pressure on the mat. I make it sound harder than it is, but I think it is this hard right now. My third baby is seven months old and I'm going through something that I designed myself to NOT do. I meticulously planned out my martial arts training in my 30s to resume only after my second and "last" child was to be 1-year old. And I find it tremendously sad that I had to go online to find ONE person on this entire planet who has given birth in her 40s and wants to go back to learning jiu-jitsu.
He's the light of my life. Tommy is the 9 lb 2 oz baby blessing that I did not ask for, but the one gift that God gave us to make our life totally complete. His amazing sisters dote on him and his daddy who has been taking care of baby girls since age 10 finally has his baby boy. I could not be more happy for Andrew. The Dolopo name was going to die out with my husband, but the legacy lives on with our children, especially with Thomas Teh-Fu Andrew Navida Dolopo. I named him Teh-Fu after the late Grandmaster Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. I studied directly under him beginning March 6, 2006. My heart is replete with gratitude that our family has this miracle in our lives and that we are bestowed the honor to raise such a handsome boy who will definitely begin BJJ at age 4. There are few things that my husband loves more than jiu-jitsu and he has really not talked about anything else he wants Tommy to train in. The girls love dance, but they train BJJ for their wellbeing and their safety. Our intentions for Tommy will be different. We would love for him to compete and have the same if not greater passion for an art that has been in our lives since 2006. If he decides to do something else, I'll accept that, but I'm pretty sure that if his sisters train, he will learn to love it, too.
In writing this all out, perhaps I realize now why I was chosen to bring life to Tommy. It's a little bit of a sacrifice right now, not being slim, having to lose the weight again, juggling more human beings along with my practice, staying up to nurse, buying more diapers, doing all the stuff that Ali Wong eloquently states, "...<this mom> shit is relentless!" Yeah, so what I can't be the intense BJJ fighter I want to be right now. So what that I tapped way early against a new spazzy white belt who will always say that he took me out as a 4-stripe blue SO EASILY OVER AND OVER. One thing I will say is that I took that whoopin' without any excuses. I did not once say that I haven't trained in awhile. I did not once say that I have an infant sitting there with his sisters who I forced to go with me to the gym in Friday traffic from Aliso Viejo after school and had to nap in the car for 10 minutes because I was extremely tired from LIFE. I did not once say to take it easy on me because I don't have my core strength 100% because my surgery has left me with scar tissue and just a few months ago I have not been able to do back rolls (I haven't tried since then because I am a little shy to not want to hurt myself again). Perhaps maybe NOT making any excuses and being a grown woman on the mat to take my beating and say, "Thank you," and handle the embarrassment in front of my teammates is my level of "win" right now. If this is the worst it gets, but I have healthy elbows from tapping early and I can type all of this and hold my baby, then whatever I have to go through until Tommy is in Kindergarten will all be worth it.
I'm sure the basics I need to know on the mat will come back to me in time and lots of training. My body will get smaller. I'll get stronger. Eventually, I'll have the confidence and skill set to be where I need to be in order to deserve my purple. The recipe for success will require the same ingredients it took to get my blue, to get 205+ Yelps and a ton of testimonials, what I needed to finally sign my own office lease after 10 years of subletting from other doctors, and, above all, the same foundation it takes to raise strong girls who stand up for themselves: patience, passion, determination, a relentless drive to overcome all adversities, and trusting my own intuition along my own personal journey of being a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, mom, business owner and acupuncturist who is going to start the doctorate program after I take my GIN Level V 5-7 hour exam this summer.
If there is a super power, now is my time to discover and unleash it. My experience last night was a wake up call, so let's see what I'm made of.