blogging · family

Bettina goes on maternity leave

My maternity leave from work officially begins on Monday, so it’s only fitting that I also start maternity leave from the blog now. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve started to understand why mat leave is a thing, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have a fairly generous policy at work: things do get exhausting as you grow bigger, especially now that it’s also hot. I also find it harder to focus, and pregnancy forgetfulness is definitely real for me.

Taking a break now feels right. I’m not due for another few weeks, but I’m going to start focussing on getting everything ready for our new arrival.

I won’t return to work until February next year, but I hope to be back to blogging earlier than that! I’ll definitely keep you posted on how things go once I can go back to exercising after the birth.

Thanks for reading along, and “see” you soon!

covid19 · yoga

Prenatal yoga: Bettina relaxes, breathes, and is unexpectedly challenged

Thanks to Covid-19, my prenatal yoga experience was off to a rocky start. Early during the lockdown, I could still do “normal” yoga. Mostly, in good tradition of the writers on this blog, I did Yoga with Adriene (YWA), because who doesn’t love a good dose of Benji the dog with their yoga?

I had signed up for a prenatal yoga class that would have started about mid-way through my second trimester, but of course that got cancelled. Once I stopped doing YWA because I was too lazy to think of my own modifications for all the things I would have had to modify, I downloaded the prenatal version of the Downdog yoga app. I continued participating in Zoom classes with a work colleague who is also a yoga-teacher-in-training and who was kind enough to think of modifications for me. Unfortunately her maternity cover contract ended and so did our yoga classes. I enjoyed both the app and my colleague’s classes, but neither felt really “prenatal” to me. They simply felt like modified versions of my usual practice.

Balance: it becomes a new concept towards the later stages of pregnancy. (Picture of carefully stacked stones on the shores of the Lake of Constance – Bettina would definitely fall over if she tried balancing like this these days.)

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was able to register for an in-person prenatal yoga class! As I’ve mentioned before, the case count for Covid-19 infections in our area is currently very low and I am comfortable with going to an in-person class. There are also precautions: there are only six participants in the class, so we have a lot of space. We have to enter and leave separately, wearing masks, although we can take them off during actual practice. It feels safe. It’s also nice to finally meet other pregnant people. So far, pregnancy during Covid has been a bit lonely in the “bonding with other future parents” department, and this is a nice change, even though we’re not interacting all that much because of the distancing restrictions. There’s no huddling together outside the classroom before or after the sessions, no lingering for chats.

Normally, I like to challenge my body during yoga. I try to sink deep into the poses, test the limits of the comfortable. Prenatal yoga is different, of course. There’s a lot more focus on relaxation. But there’s also challenges, some unexpected. After all, the goal is to help us prepare for birth, which is a huge physical challenge! In last week’s class, as we moved further down into a wide-legged squat with each breath, our instructor explained how this was an excellent pose to take while in labour. We all laughed. Our legs were shaking, it was definitely not a comfortable position to be in! How would we do that on top of working through contractions? I suppose we’ll eventually find out…

This class is very different from any yoga I’ve ever done before, but I’m enjoying it. I’m learning to focus on “new” parts of my body, and on “old” parts in different ways. I’m learning new skills, like using sound and tones to relax and deepen my breath (these will definitely come in handy with the contractions). And of course, as my balance changes, my joints relax, and my lung volume decreases, I find challenges in poses that I was able to do with much more ease when I wasn’t pregnant.

There are also parts that I find a bit amusing. We usually have the same instructor every week, but last week she couldn’t make it and was replaced by someone else. Both of them are great teachers, and both are… mildly esoteric. I suppose it comes with the territory. It’s not my jam, but I can deal with it. It doesn’t annoy me like it has with other yoga instructors in the past. I’m there for a different purpose, and I’m able to take on board those parts that work for me.

The long and short of it is: if you’re pregnant and you can get yourself to a prenatal yoga class, I’d recommend it. Have any of you done prenatal yoga? What was your experience?

body image · fitness · gear

Maternity fitness gear – where are the shorts?

I’ve had a good gear rant before (fitness watches for small wrists, cycling gear for women that’s not pink), but alas, it’s time for another one.

I pretty much need maternity fitness gear now. Some of my workout clothes only just fit me still – below I am in a cycling top and shorts (I folded the top of the shorts down to make room) a good week ago. I highly doubt folding the shorts down would work even now, just 10 days later. I can still wear one pair of my old leggings. But that’s it, everything else will not come over my belly or be very uncomfortable.

Pregnant Bettina in a blue cycling top and black cycling shorts, holding her bike.

Finding nice capri yoga pants was easy. They are the comfiest things ever and everyone should wear them always, pregnant or not. The way they give way at the top is divine. Great for breathing room! For tops, I just bought a couple of long, flowy running tops that will cover my bump (you can see a picture of me wearing one in this post), and finding actual maternity options seems to be easy enough as well.

But I’ve been trying to find maternity fitness shorts and been straight out of luck. It’s mid-May now and summer collections are everywhere (not to mention it’s very warm here already!), but maternity fitness shorts are yet to appear. I’ve found exactly two models but they were sold out in my size. Searching online, I’ve found some (limited) options across the pond in the US and am envious. But not in Europe. Capris and leggings, no issue, but what is a pregnant person who wants to work out in real summer weather to do? I don’t understand. Are we just supposed to stop being active? There is a non-zero chance I actually won’t feel like exercising once it gets really hot, but at least I’d like the option, please.

I also don’t understand why. At first I thought it was because of body image issues. I read so many stories from pregnant people who feel unattractive in pregnancy because of the changes their bodies go through. But there are plenty of other maternity shorts, some of which are short-short, so that can’t really be it? Unless it can, because people aren’t comfortable working out with their changed bodies? I’m worried that that’s what it is after all. Any other ideas? Bonus points for anyone with tips for where to buy maternity workout shorts in Europe – I would be forever grateful!

covid19 · fitness · habits · yoga

Towards a new “routine”?

I don’t know about you, but two months into lockdown I feel like I’m starting to settle into the “new normal”. Getting up in the morning and “going to work” across the hallway doesn’t seem outlandishly strange anymore. People at my workplace are settling into automatically logging their intermittent visits to the office on our online building log without me chasing them, which pleases me no end (I’m responsible for coordinating our Corona measures at work). Even as we ease lockdown measures where I live, at least partially remote work will stay with us for another while, so it’s just as well.

Bettina’s current universe: a red yoga mat and her home office workstation

I’ve also started noticing a few things that are missing and rather than it feeling too much, I’m doing something about it. (I realise that I’m incredibly privileged to be in that headspace right now.) One of these things is a way to work out my arm muscles. In the before time – which to me right now means both before Corona and before pregnancy – I bouldered (stopped first because pregnant) and swam (stopped later because Corona) regularly. Now that I’m not doing either of those things, my poor arms are definitely noticing the lack of a challenge. That’s why I’ve started doing a bit of arms exercise with dumbbells almost daily. It’s not much, just some sets of biceps curls and some shoulder and triceps exercises, but it’s something. I won’t lie, I don’t enjoy it. I find it a bit boring. But I keep telling myself that I’ll have to carry a baby around soon and I’m reliably informed they are heavy, so I’d better prepare!

Last week, I’ve also started doing prenatal yoga every morning, except on the days I have my online Iyenga yoga class. This is more enjoyable than the dumbbells! I like getting into the movements as my body wakes up, and it’s very peaceful and quiet around me. I’m still trying to understand why it’s taken me this long to get into that routine, and my conclusion is it’s a mix of things both pandemic and pregnancy-related that has messed up my day-to-day.

Let’s see how long it lasts. The one thing both the Corona crisis and pregnancy have in common is that they evolve daily. Soon I’ll be too big to cycle, at some point I’ll have to stop running. But for now, I’m pleased I’ve found a groove.

How about you? Have you found a way of settling into things?

covid19 · fitness · online exercise · running · swimming · yoga

Exercising while pregnant: the second trimester (so far)

CW: discusses pregnancy

As I type this, I’m almost 21 weeks along, so this week the little bean and I successfully passed the halfway point of this pregnancy. The second trimester so far has been a steady improvement from the first in terms of how I’m feeling. The extreme tiredness and the not-too-bad-but-niggling nausea have gone away and I actually feel like doing things now. At the moment, I’m really enjoying my pregnancy. The little one is quite active and I get a lot of kicks, which is very cute. And I’m not so big yet that it’s becoming an issue.

At the same time, I’m facing new challenges: I’m definitely showing now, so I’ve had to invest in some maternity yoga pants (so comfy!), looser tops and sports bras in a larger size as my breasts have grown. There are definitely some yoga poses that are no longer comfortable. Running is slower and slower. Last Sunday, I went on the first longer bike ride (that wasn’t a commute) of the season and while my bike shorts still fit, I felt a bit like a sausage in my cycling kit. Unfortunately so far, I haven’t been able to find maternity cycling shorts, at least not from a European vendor (if I were to order something from the US now I’d worry about delivery times). I have, however, found a workaround for now: folding the front of the bike shorts down helps accommodate the bump a bit.

Bettina running down a hill in a blue flowy running top and black capris. You can’t really see the baby bump from the front but trust me, it’s there! (In the background, there’s another runner – she was doing hill reps and it was v impressive.)

And then of course, well, there’s the global pandemic that keeps us all from living our normal lives. I’m very privileged, so I won’t complain. But it’s having an impact. I miss swimming so much! Under different circumstances, I would have purchased a wetsuit and taken up open water swimming: in Germany, we are allowed to exercise outside, and that includes swimming in many lakes. But now that I’m pregnant, I’m not throwing my valuable Euros at a wetsuit that would fit me for all of a few weeks, or problably not at all, seeing as they’re not usually constructed to accommodate pregnant bodies. The first maternity clothing item I bought a couple of months ago – before the pools closed – was a swimsuit, and so far I haven’t used it even once. I really, really hope I’ll be able to return to the pool before the end of August, but I’m also trying not to get my hopes up.

I move a lot less than normal as I work from home, and I’m also finding that it’s really easy to become sedentary. Normally, I often go to my workouts directly from the office or as I’m out and about, so I don’t give myself the chance to sit down and get too cozy to work out. I find it harder to motivate myself these days, though when I do get out, I really enjoy it. So here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Yoga. I have switched from Yoga with Adriene to prenatal yoga videos now. Even better though, I have a colleague who is training to be an Iyengar yoga teacher, and she is giving me and my work mates classes over video conference at lunchtime twice a week. She is very thoughtful and makes modifications for me. The classes are challenging but I really enjoy them. I’ve also started playing with the new Downdog pregnancy yoga app, which is currently free due to the Covid-19 situation, and am enjoying it so far.
  • Running. Slow and steady, I try to get out for my 6k loop a couple of times a week during times when the paths aren’t too busy.
  • Hiking. The weather has been glorious here (though I won’t lie, in my darker moments the fact that it hasn’t rained in three weeks and we are having nearly-25°C temperatures in mid-April gives me major anxiety about bringing a baby into this climate catastrophe). So my husband and I have been doing some hiking, again trying to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, when there is nothing else to do, the sun is shining, and your government allows you to go outside, everyone else does the same thing. The woods are a busy place these days. Still, most people are responsible, keep their distance, and stick to immediate family as hiking partners.
  • Biking. I feel like this is going to be the next thing to go on account of my growing belly, so I’m trying to get as much as possible out of it while I still can. See the aforementioned sausage moment.
  • Other prenatal workouts. I’ve found some that I like on youtube, particularly this list by BodyFit by Amy. They’re varied (there’s a strength one, cardio, TRX…) and I can pick what I feel like on a given day, and they are also challenging. She gives different options depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness level and how far along you are, which is great.

So by and large, it’s going ok and I keep moving. But, have I mentioned how much I miss swimming?

220 in 2020 · climbing · family · swimming · yoga

Bettina has some news: exercising while pregnant

CW: discusses pregnancy

Last month, I blogged about my February slump. It’s true that I always find it harder to motivate myself towards the end of winter than at the beginning, but this year I had an added difficulty that I didn’t mention in my post because it was still early days: I’m currently 16 weeks pregnant, meaning that in February I was in the middle of first trimester fatigue. I. Have. Never. Been. So. Tired. In. My. Life. (Anyone who is tempted to counter this with an “ooooh, it’s going to get so much worse once the baby is here!”, please refrain in the interest of my sanity.)

Picture of a pregnant woman (not me) holding her belly. She’s much further along than I am, but I am definitely starting to show.

As a result, I’m now so far behind on the 220 in 2020 challenge that even if I kick things up more than a notch, I likely still won’t make it to 220 this year. Because come the end of August (due date: 30 August) and probably even before that, I probably won’t be doing much exercising for quite some time. I’ll keep reassessing what exercise means to me as I get further along and of course after I give birth, and I firmly plan on doing things, but I’m also not going to push myself beyond my limits. If I need a night on the sofa rather than in the pool, I’m going to give myself that.

While exercising has been tough, it also hasn’t been non-existent. I stopped bouldering essentially as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I went once in early January only to find that I was scared of falling the entire time I was on the wall. A lot of people boulder at least through their first trimester and possibly longer, but not me. I don’t want to climb in constant fear. But I am still swimming with my team, albeit a little slower than before. I’ve been running as well (much slower than before), and I’ve been doing yoga. I’ll report a little more on how these have been going in my post next Wednesday! In April, I’m starting a prenatal yoga class. I want to keep all of that up for as long as I possibly can. As I move into the second trimester, I’m hoping to get some of my energy back and also still be able to do most movements. So far, so good!

Also, I’m ridiculously thrilled and terrified in equal measure to become a parent. We are having a son, and we plan to raise a strong, fit feminist.

I would be excited to hear about your experience with working out while pregnant! Feel free to share in the comments.

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

Guest Post

Guest Post: Fitness Policing and Pregnancy – Please Don’t Tell Me What is “Too Hardcore”

“Training to do Pull ups?! You shouldn’t do that – you’re pregnant!”

“That sounds tough! Maybe you should tone it down a bit?”

Well-meaning comments, yet so irritating. The worst part is they almost never come from “fitness folk” – i.e. fellow exercisers, athletes, or sports/medical professionals. It’s mostly from people who have seen one too many dramas where pregnant women are on the couch eating nothing but Doritos and doing virtually nothing. Sigh.

***

Hi all. I’m Jenna. I’m 27, and 23 weeks pregnant with my first child. I have a master’s in history and was in the USMC Reserve for 6 years. You could say I’ve got a pinch of experience with nutrition, exercise, and knowing how to look stuff up. Along with years of the emotional baggage typical for someone who grew up overweight, I have learned what not to do and I know what works for me.

You’d think that people who know my back story will trust that I can make informed decisions regarding fitness during my pregnancy. Further, you’d certainly HOPE that a random stranger would keep their opinions to themselves, but nope! Pregnant women are a sounding board for unsolicited advice – especially regarding how we take care of ourselves.

When it comes to the idiotic comments pregnant women get, I have encountered absurd amounts of concern-trolling; it varies, but it’s primarily about me potentially “overdoing it” since I do something more than walking around the block for 20 minutes a day. Not everybody has this experience, thankfully, but it’s happened to me enough times to write about it!

Strength Training Is Not Too Hardcore For Me

I go about pregnancy fitness slightly different; specifically, I focus on strength training. I don’t do Crossfit, and due to fabulous injuries resulting in permanent joint problems from the Marines, I don’t run or do any kinds of high-impact cardio.

I work out twice a week, and I do a form of the “SuperSlow” method. My exercises consist of chin-up negatives, bodyweight squats, push-ups, bodyweight rows, side leg-raises and the like. On my workout and off days, I walk or go hiking for at least 45 minutes in order to incorporate some low-intensity cardiovascular exercise to aid muscle recovery. My personal trainer, Steve Maxwell, is an established professional in the field. We communicate only through email (never met him in person yet!) and I send him training logs where I track my weight, resting heart rate, energy levels, sleep, stress levels, and more.

 Believe it or not, this *is* my relaxed face
Believe it or not, this *is* my relaxed face

Agency

Steve has trained many pregnant women in his extensive career (almost forty years – he’s 61!), so he knows what’s safe and what isn’t, and he understands that “each person is unique with unique issues.” Above all, he encourages and trusts me to pay attention to what my body is telling me. For instance, *I* decided when to stop doing sit-ups, and I simply told him. He adjusted my workout accordingly – no lectures, no fuss. He knows that I know what to look out for. The simple act of being treated like an adult and allowed agency over my physical fitness, instead of barraged with messages of “you don’t know what’s good for you” (which is something pregnant women hear regularly) is empowering. Because my thoughts/concerns are acknowledged, I trust Steve’s advice about my physical fitness.

Do Your Research

A pregnant woman can and definitely should research and consult with care providers and fitness professionals to decide what is right for her and her baby without some buttinsky trying to police her decisions. I’ll post some links that I’ve found useful below, but I’ve actually avoided a lot of baby books. Information changes and so it’s important to pay attention to publishing dates, and check the source’s sources. Where are they getting their information from? Some red flags of 10 years ago have been tested and OK’d by now.

Listen to Your Body

When it comes to strength training, it is perfectly reasonable to continue with it throughout pregnancy and beyond. With that said, at certain points I have had to make concessions; I stopped laying on my stomach at 8 weeks and stopped on-my-back exercises at 20 weeks, because I followed my body’s cues. If something doesn’t feel right, I stop. I stopped cycling because I’m afraid of getting hit by a car. This isn’t what everybody does, but it’s what works for me – I’m all about telling people “you do you!”

Why Do People Hassle?

There is a prevalence of individuals thinking they “know better” and using myths (UGGH GREY’S ANATOMY) to argue with pregnant women if they’re doing something this one person considers outside the norm for their idea of pregnancy. It’s akin to the sexist dual narrative that women face; nothing we do is correct. We’re either doing too much or not enough, we’re gaining too much weight or not enough, and so on. Why isn’t my belly huge yet? Am I eating enough fish? But wait, you gotta lay off swordfish and anything with too much mercury! The list goes on. I’m hesitant to dwell on pregnancy in conversation because the topic always inevitably turns into a lecture about “WELL MY SISTER DID THIS AND IT WORKED GREAT SO YOU SHOULD DO IT TOO.”

***

What’s reflective of the systemic policing of pregnant women is that these people don’t even realize they overstepped a boundary. Perhaps this is due to a societal green-light to ask personal questions of pregnant women. These conversations, to me, present views about pregnant women on a grander scale. A friend of mine made an observation on twitter that is so true: “Pregnant bodies are public bodies.” We’re painted as hormonal, waddling whiners who are constantly crying or raging after an ice cream cone. Yes, hormones are a-raging during pregnancy, but I have not lost my senses.

To get to the heart of it, I ask them what they know about pregnancy fitness and what they’ve read up on. I try to use it as a means to create a positive discussion with the individual about what messages are being sent in society about pregnancy and pregnant women.

I’ve also found that equipping myself with sarcastic retorts helps too: “Oh my gosh, thank you, I had no idea I was pregnant!” is a staple, and usually only reserved for someone who’s gone too far. I usually say something like “Thank you for your concern, but I know what I’m doing.” You’d be surprised how many times people just pause and either get defensive, or embarrassed and apologize.

Infuriating, yet so terribly common. What say you, readers? Have you experienced this? What is it about pregnant women that destroys normal boundaries with friends and strangers alike?

Pregnancy Websites I Consult and Interesting Reads:

http://www.babycenter.com/

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-and-baby-care.aspx#close

http://www.thebump.com/

http://vitals.lifehacker.com/the-truth-about-exercising-while-pregnant-its-okay-to-1682602976

http://maxwellsc.com/articles.cfm

 

Jenna Lång is a historian and serial expat who blogs about her research and adventures abroad at The Expat Historian. This blog post is not meant to replace the advice of any healthcare or fitness professional and only reflects the views and experiences of the author.

Crossfit · family

CrossFit, pregnancy, and working out

bellyThe internet went wild this week over photos of a CrossFitting mother to be lifting weights.

Shock, horror, but what about the babies! That’s a bad thing to do while pregnant.

Yes, but what about the obese pregnant women who sit around all day eating chocolates and doing nothing? Surely that’s worse.

Judgments about other people’s bodies and their lifestyle choices were flying fast and furious from both sides.

If you live under a rock and missed the whole thing either count yourself lucky or have a look here: Pregnant CrossFit Mom Posts Weightlifting Pics to Facebook, Gets Totally Hated On and Pregnant weightlifter training just two weeks before due date provokes controversy.

My reaction to the pics? They made me smile. I thought she looked strong and terrific. In a longer, more thoughtful post, I’d have lots to say but here I just want to share a few thoughts.

I’m working out with a pregnant woman at CrossFit these days. I’m getting to know her better because she’s lifting less weight and so we’re closer to each other at the gym.  Relevant point: You can still be lifting a lot of weight and have that be a lot less than you usually lift. You just don’t know.

It’s also worth noting about media frenzy CrossFit mum that it’s her third child. Probably by now she’s got a pretty good idea how pregnancy feels to her and what she can and can’t do. Probably she’s the best expert on her own body.

I did the most exercise with my third pregnancy too. Yes, by the end of the thing I’d moved to water aerobics for my cardio but for the first six months I kept riding my bike. I asked my doctor about bike riding and she said to stick with it until balance became an issue. As it turned out my belly getting in the way was the bigger issue. But I recall the very judgmental looks I got from people for riding my bike and that hurt.

The judgment should just end. Now.

Oh, and I got none of that from health care professionals. The doctors and nurses all said nice things to me about staying active. After all, I felt good during my pregnancies. I had none of the many complaints that are associated with pregnancy.

But not all pregnancies are fine for physical activity. Sometimes things get in the way of our very best plans.

Alice MacLachlan blogged here about finding herself, a very active, fit person, not able to exercise much in pregnancy. That was incredibly stressful. She wrote, “All the advice I’d found so liberating, in theory (Be active! Keep running!) now felt like just another norm governing women’s bodies, telling me I couldn’t measure up.”

Individual circumstances vary and you don’t know what’s going on with someone else’s body. There’s a fun flow chart circulating about the ethics and etiquette of advice giving that’s relevant. I can’t find it but if you’ve seen it please let me know where to find it. “Should I give someone advice about what they’re about to eat, or what exercise they’re about to do or not do?” “Has that person asked for advice or are you that person’s parent?” “If yes, yes. If no, then no.”

Advice on exercise in pregnancy changes often. Not too many generations ago women were told not to lift anything and to take it easy. My generation got different advice. We were told not to start a new program of exercise but that anything you already did you could keep doing. Now, the Exercise and Pregnancy Lab at my university says you can even start a program of exercise while pregnant. Further they even say that we don’t know how much is too much. At about 3 minutes in the researcher says pregnancy isn’t a time to train for athletic competition and that that’s because they aren’t sure at what point in pregnancy how much exercise is too much.

I think it’s up to you. Find out what facts there are to find out, do your research, do what feels right for you, and everybody else, keep quiet. Please. You’re annoying me.

Guest Post

Pregnancy, Postpartum and the (Somewhat) Fit Feminist (Guest Post)

Before I got pregnant, I was pretty active. In college I rowed and in grad school I boxed. More recently, I trained successfully for a marathon. I also swam regularly and loved playing soccer with friends and colleagues (being a vicious defender works out my aggression nicely). So when we started trying for a baby, I felt confident that I would keep moving.

There is a lot of information available about the benefits of an active pregnancy. Pregnant women are told that an active lifestyle will help keep their energy up, ease the aches and pains of a changing body, improve the experience of labour and make it easier to give birth – not to mention making it much easier to ‘bounce back’ to one’s pre-pregnancy body afterwards. Every pregnancy book and website includes a section on fitness and exercise. They do caution against starting new exercise programs, but you can definitely maintain your activity level. Many go so far as to suggest that not exercising is linked to a host of issues, from labour complications to fetal conditions like gestational diabetes.

For the most part, I think this is great. It’s a vast improvement on advice given to previous generations, when pregnant women were sequestered away and prevented from doing just about anything. The idea that pregnant women are weak is silly; making a human and carrying it around while eating, drinking, and breathing for it – not to mention pushing it out of your body – is a fairly impressive feat.

But it does create one more thing pregnant women have to monitor, besides alcohol, smoking, food, air quality, water temperature, etc. And it’s another way we can fail at being pregnant (as I would discover).

So, I was all set to have a fit pregnancy. The day we found out, I made a chart of nutrients to keep on the fridge, and bought The Runner’s World Guide to Running and Pregnancy. No problem, I thought; I’m already active, so this will be easy.

The problem was, my body had its own plans. I was hit almost immediately with searing hip, leg and lower back pain, eventually diagnosed as sciatica. By my sixth week, I had quit running. By my twelfth week, I could only walk a few blocks before I’d be in the kind of pain that left me gasping. By the fifth month, I was avoiding walking at all costs. I could still swim, but only a few lengths at a time – and walking to the pool on campus hurt too much! I’d plan my days to minimize movement and eventually stopped going out at all. I caught myself dreading stairs, long periods of standing, or any situation that made me bump into things or people.

Hoping to stretch out the tightness, I tried prenatal yoga at a downtown studio, but it didn’t work for me. The poses often made it worse, I felt restless and frustrated all at once, and after a fellow class member commented that, given my body type, no one could even tell I was pregnant, I quit.

It started to seem like I was going to have a very unfit pregnancy. This was demoralizing, and also made me feel vulnerable. I felt like I was failing at pregnancy, worried non-stop about how it might affect the fetus, and got frustrated at everyone’s warnings about what this would mean for my labour and their well-meaning advice about how such-and-such exercise would fix my sciatica – I just had to try harder.

All the advice I’d found so liberating, in theory (Be active! Keep running!) now felt like just another norm governing women’s bodies, telling me I couldn’t measure up.

(By the way, don’t feel too much pity for my sob story. I still had a great pregnancy! My partner was amazing, my workplace was accommodating, and my morning sickness was pretty limited. Lucky, lucky me! But I inhabit my body comfortably when I feel strong and capable, when it can live up to my expectations. This was a tough lesson in my own limits, and how to live in a body that couldn’t do what I expected it to. It was humbling.)

Then, around 30 weeks, I found the solution (for me): I tried a prenatal aquafit class (http://babyandmefitness.com/classes/aqua-bellies/). I was pretty skeptical at first. In fact, I realize now I was an unconscious exercise snob. I thought of myself as someone who did sports (rowing, boxing, running, soccer) not classes.

I think there was a gendered component to my snobbery, too: on some level, I’d decided classes were for ‘girls’. I feel pretty sheepish about that, as a woman and a feminist – and especially now that I know how hard aquafit can be!

I’d come home after each class with shaking arms and legs, a happy ache, and that particular euphoria I associate with a long run. As long as I was really careful about how I moved my hips and groin in the water, I could avoid exacerbating my sciatica, and in the meantime my abs, back, legs, and arms were getting a serious workout, using water and my now considerable weight as resistance.

I also met other pregnant women of all backgrounds, shapes, and sizes (way more diversity than in the downtown yoga class). We set up an email list and planned post-partum stroller walks.

I don’t know whether my unfit pregnancy OR my (aqua)fit third trimester made a difference, in the end, but after a really long labour (ahem – 60 hours) I had a big, strong, perfectly beautiful baby.

And I’ve learned my lesson about exercise snobbery, too. I’m not back at aquafit yet, but I’m taking all the Baby and Me (http://babyandmefitness.com/) fitness classes I can. Two or three times a week you’ll find me squatting and lunging my way through the park while pushing a stroller (http://babyandmefitness.com/classes/stroller-h-i-i-t/) or lifting weights while my baby snoozes in a carrier on my chest, then trying to rediscover my abs by doing planks and making faces at her on the mat (http://babyandmefitness.com/classes/carrier-fit-fusion/).

(By the way, if you like the idea but not the budget for postpartum fitness classes, I’ve noticed people arranging stroller fit dates on MeetUp.com and there are online suggestions for how to structure them).

I didn’t ‘bounce back’ to my pre-pregnancy body, but my sciatica vanished like magic, and I’ve even started running short-distances again. In the meantime, these classes get my daughter and me out of the apartment, structure our week, and have helped me meet some really cool women. But mostly, they’re teaching me that my conception of fitness – prenatal or postpartum – needed just about as much adjustment as my hips.

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Alice MacLachlan lives in Toronto with her wife, Amy, and their daughter, Emmylou. When not taking aquafit classes or running around the park with a stroller, she teaches philosophy at York University.