Pregnancy, fitness and superhumanity

A couple of weeks ago we watched as Rachael Homan won her grand slam title in curling three weeks after giving birth. This was presaged by her big win when she was eight months pregnant, just a few weeks before.

The media was agog: she was inspirational, a super woman. Homan herself was careful to say her experience was not one every one could replicate. She told CBC Sports: “I want to be clear that every pregnancy, delivery and recovery is different and you can’t compare from person to person. I feel so fortunate to be able to play and I know that wouldn’t be the case for a lot of people.”

I think it is great that we no longer treat pregnancy as a time of fragility. Yes, some pregnancies can be precarious, and luckily, for most conditions, we have options, treatments, and interventions. I also think it’s great that if you are a fit and active person before achieving pregnancy, you are encouraged and supported in being fit and active during pregnancy and after.

There’s been a trend though to treat pregnancy as a time of fatness; to see the weight gained to grow a tiny human as a negative unless you can achieve a perfect basketball shaped bump. And horrors, should you gain weight and change shape in a non-artistic manner, then it would behoove you to eliminate the weight and return your body to its pre-pregnancy shape as quickly as possible once the tiny human arrives.

There are any number of reasons an individual can return to a pre-pregnancy state swiftly. Some are good and some are not. There are also any number of reasons a person could achieve an international curling title before delivery of tiny human and also achieve a record breaking grand slam title after.

The big issue here is there’s a lot we don’t know about pregnancy, athleticism, and post partum recovery. Standard advice today says eat well and be reasonably active, but there’s a lot of safety, caution, and care wrapped up in that package. While it might be reasonable not to pick up running while pregnant if you’ve done neither before, what if you were always training hard for competition? What’s reasonable or safe then?

Go back a few decades and you’ll find moderate to challenging exercise was a non-no during pregnancy. Was this evidence-based? Nope. Pregnancy was a get-out-of-research card and there were, and likely still, biases and assumptions baked into those guidelines.

Here’s a charming piece of advice from The Canadian Mother and Child (1947 edition). Forget being athletic, pregnant women weren’t supposed to even attend athletic events: “Attendance at sport events, such as hockey and football matches, is not suitable during these momentous months because of the excitement, and also at times on account of the prolonged exposure to cold.”

It wasn’t that long ago that female athletes delayed child bearing until after the pinnacle of their athletic career, while others risked injury for returning too soon post partum because they needed the income and to keep their sponsorships. Check out this link for some forward-thinking work that resulted in paid maternity leave for pro athletes.

When I was pregnant, a little more than 20 years ago now, I maintained a level of fitness that was pretty consistent. In fact, I was an active potter and kept working in clay up until my eighth month. I stopped only because the baby bump got in the way of my reaching the wheel. I also moved house part way through that pregnancy and held down a demanding job. I didn’t worry about maternity fashion, I ate well, and I walked a lot. Post delivery, I focused on recovery from a difficult birth and enjoyed achieving my goal — a healthy happy baby.

Homan also had goals and she met them. Yay Homan! Many athletes are training and competing while pregnant, and it shouldn’t be that big a deal when they recover and return to competition after they deliver. They know how to train and they know how to fuel their muscles. What really matters is making room for that kind of recovery and also for the kind that requires more time and care.

So just because Homan did doesn’t mean you have to. Is she super human? Perhaps. She’s very fit, very skilled, and an amazing curler. Is she inspirational? Probably. If you too entertain dreams of winning titles before and after pregnancy, great.

But if you aren’t, that’s okay. You don’t have to accept Homan’s bar of success as your own.

It’s all right to treat yourself kindly while growing a tiny human. It’s hard work. It’s okay to eat well, work out, and feel good about the process. It’s okay to cocoon and nest. Pick a reasonable goal for you; develop a realistic plan to make it happen, and then get to work.

What you can take away is Homan’s own advice: “every pregnancy, delivery, and recovery is different and you can’t compare from person to person.” Or as SamB often says, you do you.

One thought on “Pregnancy, fitness and superhumanity

  1. ALL of this! Every pregnancy is completely different and Homan seems to have gotten lucky – I mean, I’m sure she also did everything right in terms of training and staying fit to be able to do this three weeks postpartum, but she was lucky in the sense that there didn’t seem to be any unforeseen complications for her and her pregnancy allowed her to do these things.

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