“Kayaking While Pregnant.”
“Pregnant Women Take on Extreme Sports.”
“Climbing 5.11 at 9 months.”
I’m noticing a trend these days, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. And something that complicates the matter is that, in the past, I have contributed to advancing this trend. But my personal experience has shed more light on the matter, and now I feel inspired to start a dialogue.
Before I get into things I need to say what this post isn’t about because it’s bound to have some backlash otherwise. It’s not about questioning a woman’s choice to engage in strenuous or even risky activities while pregnant. It’s not meant to dictate what women should or shouldn’t aspire to when they are expecting a baby. And finally, it’s not directed at particular media sources who choose to publish these stories (heck, one of the examples I gave is from my own website, and I think Erica Lineberry is amazing).
But, here’s why I’m writing this. For a year now I have been watching a trend emerging from outdoor and adventure media sources, and that is stories that focus on women doing extraordinary things while they are pregnant. I found myself starting to get tired of it, and wanted to pinpoint why.
In my own quest to continue pursuing my passion for the outdoors as a pregnant woman I put a lot of pressure on myself to do just that. It felt good to keep my body moving and to get fresh air on a regular basis. It was important to push myself because what I really felt like doing was lying on the couch eating toast, and that wouldn’t have helped me either. I did my best and enjoyed hiking and cross-country skiing during the first two trimesters, then cut way back after a longer cross-country ski at the seven-month mark left me excruciatingly sore for a week. While I was content with my activity level through my pregnancy, focusing mostly on yoga until the very end, I couldn’t help but compare myself to women who were still running and skiing very late into pregnancy. I mostly wondered how their bodies even allowed them to do that. I felt like a whale.
Through the beginning stages of this project, I interviewed a variety of women about how active they were during their pregnancies, and which of their more adventurous sports they maintained. And while I’m still impressed by what some women achieved (I know it takes a lot of mental power and a strong will to keep pushing your limits when you’re growing a baby!), I now question my original motivations. I suppose you could say that my research has proven that women don’t need to settle for the status quo. But, what I think I’m realizing now is that whether or not a woman can continue engaging in strenuous activities no longer matters to me. If that is what she needs to do to remain happy and feel good, and it feels good doing it, then power to her. But for most of us, pregnancy is only a short ‘break’ from our usual regiment, with the exception of women like me who suffer from a longer postpartum recovery.
Plus, isn’t the goal a healthy baby in the end?
My concern is how these articles and videos about women pushing the limits while pregnant have the potential to create unattainable standards for others – like runway models who represent 2% of the female population. These women are certainly impressive, but I believe they really are the exception. When we give these stories too much attention – and by that I mean put these women on a pedestal – I think we send the wrong message to expectant mothers.
Pregnancy is an incredible transformation, and it is hard on the body. Some women have an easier time than others, but for most it is a time to treat ourselves with gentleness and kindness. That may mean cutting back from more strenuous activities during pregnancy, and that’s OK. For some women, it may even mean bedrest.
I often talk with women who are determined to stay active during pregnancy. I was one of these women. But if I was to go back and do it again, I would know to keep my expectations in check and to focus on what is really important. Any woman who carries and delivers a baby is a superstar. She has done something incredible with her body. And if she skied, kayaked, climbed or surfed her way to the delivery room, then she’ll have some great stories to tell.
What are your thoughts? Are these women who push themselves in pregnancy exemplary or exceptional?
Don’t miss this list of Resources about Being Active During Pregnancy.