I glared at the target and stretched my aching back. As much as I adored my beautiful new daughter, I took a personal offense at the destruction of my shooting skills. I could handle all of the physical changes from giving birth– the bleeding, stitches, headaches, sleeplessness, loose skin, painful personal places, loss of muscle tone – but I could not like its effect on my shooting. More than that, I could not allow it to continue.
Every day of my maternity leave I had a clock ticking in the back of my head, telling me that my time to get back into shape was running out. As a Deputy Sheriff, when I go back to work I have no idea what situations I might be called to face. As a mother, I am determined to face them and get back home to my children alive. Ever since the 2015 murder of Officer Kerrie Orozco, who was slaughtered when her daughter was just two months old, I was very aware that being a new mother does not mean I got a free pass on safety.
So nine days after giving birth, I was back at the local indoor range, shooting a course of fire that I shot on a regular basis pre-pregnancy. The grip on my gun felt awkward and foreign. My hands trembled as my back muscles tried to make up for my absent abs. I started going through the litany I use when I coach other shooters: web of the thumb high on the tang, strong hand pushing, weak hand pulling, hands rolled inward to make a vice-like grip, sights aligned, focus on the front sight, thumbs pointing forward and slowly press through the trigger. When my gun fired I was shocked at the smack of the kick. Had it always been that forceful? I squinted downrange at the piece of paper flying 72 feet away. Where was my bullet hole? My second shot left my slide locked to the rear. Seriously? I hadn’t limp-wristed badly enough to cause that in years!
Over the next grueling hour I shot just 60 rounds, setting my gun down between shots to rest my body. I tried to focus on the fundamentals of shooting since my body couldn’t handle anything harder. My targets were disappointing. I was shooting on a lower level than I used to and my body was pooped. I went home, showered, breastfed my daughter, and slept as much as she let me.
Over the next few days, in sleep-fogged moments, I tried to assess the problem and formulate a plan of attack. My combination of no abs and a debilitated back made holding a gun out for a course of fire impossible. My grip was weak which allowed my gun to jump around in my hands. My arms felt frail and flimsy instead of forceful.
Throughout the following days I worked on little things here and there. I walked up and down steep hills, holding my daughter’s stroller only one hand at a time to strengthen my grip, arms, and back. As I held the stroller I moved my trigger finger up and down, mimicking a trigger press while keeping the other fingers still. When I pumped gas I held the handle the whole time instead of setting it up and letting it be. Holding a new baby with one arm and doing things one-handed with the other, like pouring the boiling mac’n’cheese into a strainer, quickly boosted my lackluster arm muscles. I start doing Pilates DVDs and at-home exercises, using my baby as the weight.
When I went back to the indoor range the next week my scores and stamina had improved markedly. That week I walked my son and daughter to the park several times and hung on the monkey bars to strengthen my grip. While hanging I tried to bring my knees up to my chest to start working on those abs. I tried a push-up, backed off to trying a push-up on my knees and then made it easier by doing it on an incline. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. During nap times I dry fired, practicing my draws, magazine changes, and sight picture acquisition.
My fourth week after giving birth I got back on the open range with my work partners who made up the Ladies’ Trigger Team, our department’s all-women competitive shooting team. Shooting run-and-gun style helped me remember why I enjoyed shooting so much. Shooting while standing still was much more painful than shooting on the move! Watching my partners helped me remember how my shot cadences should sound and I picked up speed on my double taps. In between stages I pumped and dumped because I didn’t want to bring home breast milk that might have lead or other contaminants in it.
This last week I contacted my trainer and got permission to come back to the gym and gently ease back in to a real workout routine. Weight lifting is the stuff of life when it comes to getting my body into good shooting shape and nothing clears brain fog like eating healthily. The first competition of our law enforcement shooting season arrived on February 15th and I showed up with my gear and gun to greet it. My Ladies’ Trigger Team put forth three squads: Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Before my pregnancy I had been one of the top shooters. . After my performance the previous week, our coach put me back on the Alpha squad.
It was a beautiful clear day with temperatures in the low 90s and the match went smoothly enough. I loved being back outdoors with my team and I couldn’t help but smile even as sweat made my sunglasses slide down my nose. I am not quite up to where I was in my shooting abilities pre-pregnancy, but my postpartum shooting effort still helped my team win second 4-man team overall and highest ladies’ team at the match. With three more weeks of maternity leave left, I am looking forward to going back to work ready to serve our community and I feel comfortable betting that my skill sets, only one of which is shooting, will keep me coming safely home to my children.