athletes · Guest Post · health

On Squats and Snowflakes: How weight lifting was better preparation for childbirth than any Lamaze class (Guest Post)

Left: Black and white photo of pregnant torso with monitoring equipment Right: Black and photo photo of the author in the gym standing in front of the bar

by Nanette Ryan

On July 20 of this year I gave birth to my beautiful, healthy baby boys, James and Alec.  My pregnancy was not easy.  The first three months saw lots of queasiness, naps, and trial and error with foods that I could stomach.  In the second trimester I was hit by a cyclist while walking and rushed to hospital, and in the third contractions started too early and so I was back in hospital for monitoring, bed rest, and treatment.  For 20 days I was almost constantly on an IV of anti-contraction medication, I had 5 blood tests a day, injections, CTGs sometimes three times a day, and frequent invasive exams.

After 20 days in hospital I was briefly taken off my current anti-contraction medication to make time to prepare for the next round.  My boys wasted no time, and in half an hour I was in full labour.  As I was wheeled into the delivery room, exhausted and in horrible pain, I said to the midwives ‘I need something! Any thing!’  ‘What do you mean ‘you need something’?’ they said.  (I want a freakin’ stroll in the park, what do you think I mean!?).  ‘Something for the pain!’ I said.  ‘Drugs! I want the drugs!’  But there was no time, the babies were coming and I had to push.  And so I did.

As it was my first pregnancy I did a lot of reading and research leading up to the birth.  I practised breathing, did my kegels, and (naively) talked to other mums about what kind of birth I should ‘go for’.  The thing that prepared me most for giving birth, however, was something that none of the birthing books, conversations, or women’s health resources talked about.  It was weight training, and in particular, barbell squats and deadlifts.  Before I became pregnant weight training dominated my workouts, and I continued to weight train for as long as it was safe and comfortable when pregnant.

These exercises helped me in a number of ways.  Despite my extended stay in hospital, it gave me the physical strength to do what I needed to do.  It allowed me to trust my body, and it gave me the confidence to do it.  I had pushed my body, and so I was confident that I could push these kids out, like when you walk up to a squat rack with a higher weight than you’ve lifted before and think, ‘I’m going to fucking do this!’

Like so many things for women, the focus on women’s health and birth preparation is on the gentler side of things; focused breathing, gentle stretching, and light cardio.  Don’t get me wrong, these things have their virtues, including distracting women from what can be the horrors to come.  But birth, however you do it, is not gentle.  Women are not snowflakes, and the sooner we start emphasizing this the better.

Nanette Ryan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is primarily interested ethics, moral psychology, and feminist philosophy.

Image description: black and white photo of baby twin feet in rompers
Image description: black and white photo of baby twin feet in rompers

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