Why should we all look the same? The appalling body shaming of pregnant women

I'm writing about this because it has come up repeatedly in the past week. A woman who came to our prenatal workout upset and telling me how a woman congratulated her on her pregnancy, then proceeded to ask if she was carrying twins since she was so big for as far along as she was. Another woman was asked by a homeless person if she was due soon and when she said 'no', was told "whoa, you're big!". 

I on the other hand don't have much of a bump. I have more of a bump when my bladder is full or my bowels (sorry), after a big meal, towards the end of the day. But when you see me during a workout mid morning, it's safe to say that I look at best like I had a big meal and in most instances people wouldn't notice anything different about me. 

Some days I feel ok about it and even feel like it makes my life a lot easier. I don't have much to worry about while running, my center of gravity hasn't shifted, all my clothes fit and I'm super moveable in my job. Other days I worry... about my energy being back up, not feeling the baby yet and not looking much different. 

Then there's social media which has been celebrating and highlighting women who are extremely fit and who still boast tight six-packs at up to 20 weeks along. I look at those physiques and some remind me of my lifestyle, while some are what can best be described as extreme. The notoriety of those women comes from the collective voices in their comments. People applauding and envying them and a much larger group bashing them and shaming them. 

Ultimately it's every woman's personal choice how she goes about her prenatal care. There will always be extremes in the thin and in the big direction. What gets me is how so many people have an opinion on how women's bodies should be changing and how quickly. 

The most extreme case that I heard personally was a person wondering if I was still pregnant. The examples above are pointing in the opposite direction telling women that they are big. Either one of these comments isn't ok. It is rude, it invades the woman's privacy, it causes anxiety in the pregnant woman and it extends an unhealthy habit that we all have to face when we're not pregnant and exposed to physical comparison in society. 

But pregnancy should be different. The most important thing is the health of our baby and our own health. Each woman has a different first trimester. Some of the fittest women get struck down with morning sickness and fatigue and have to pause their physical fitness programs. Other women are luckier but crave more comfort foods and may gain more weight. Some of us retain more water and others face complications that force us to be more sedentary. 

What we all have in common is the unconditional love for our unborn and hopefully gynecological care with doctors that help us navigate this new chapter in our lives. Ultimately this little bundle that we carry is the same. A human that we care for and that we will do our best for during the 40 weeks that they are solely reliant on us. 

 

12 is the loneliest number - my first trimester

It’s true. I’m pregnant. Some women guessed, some women knew. Some people detected changes in my body and I told them. I’m looking at you, boob inspector :) 

Most of the interactions have been very positive with a few falling under the ‘lecture’ category. Given that a first trimester is ripe with anxiety in this day and age of online fora, early detection pregnancy tests and iPhone apps that claim to be able to detect a heartbeat as early as 8 weeks, I pushed back on the lectures and lapped up all the positive support I could get.

One thing that struck me as I was counting down the weeks was how long 3 months can be when counted in days. How long that week was until my period was due… (yes, I found out that early). How un-enjoyable the good days are when one is void of pregnancy symptoms and doubting that there is anything going on. Just to rejoice in dry heaving and extreme dizziness, midnight pee breaks and fatigue worse than in the height of marathon training.

I am generally an ‘early to bed – early to rise’ kind of person and as such, could get away with a quick disco nap when the physical demands of my job became overwhelming. I was utterly unprepared for the drooling mess I would become, waking from a 90 minute ‘nap’ and unable to function properly for at least one hour, wishing 9pm to come around so I could go back to bed.

I had stated to Chris beforehand that the worst that could happen to me would be nausea. Not quite vomiting but just ongoing, day-long, nausea. That’s exactly what happened. Didn’t eat quickly enough: nausea, ate too much: nausea, ate too greasy: nausea. My second favourite symptom: crippling dizziness. I am generally prone to low blood pressure, which was always celebrated as a great problem to have. But the doctor’s office commented on my blood pressure with “oh, oh, give me your other arm”. Not very calming and it did result in quite the spike in the following reading.

Within these three months, the 7 weeks and 2 days mark couldn’t come fast enough to confirm the pregnancy with an ultrasound. Seeing the blueberry’s heartbeat and hearing it, along with the OB’s words “everything looks perfect” elicited sobs, sweaty palms, joy, more sobs, telling the doctor that my due date is within a month of my father’s 20th death anniversary and the ensuing long hug from the doctor “he’s sending you your biggest gift”. I’m tearing up writing this.

Since then I have had two more appointments which still brought on some sweaty palms and relief when everything turned out to be great and we are on our way to the size of an avocado, i.e. the second trimester is underway. 

From a fitness perspective, coming back from my Spring injury and then trying to get fit pregnant wasn’t going to work. Initially it was a hard pill to swallow but conceiving quickly was a huge blessing so I ran some races in which I felt awful and fought hard to keep my ego in check until I got to a level where I run for as long and as fast/ slow as I feel and am ok with it. My OB told me that pregnancy can exacerbate existing asthma and it has already so my body has been putting the brakes on any of my attempts to be a hero. I will write a separate blog post on how I'm dealing with asthma before and during pregnancy.

I’ve started swimming again and worked my way up to a good 2500 yards, really enjoying being in an outdoor pool. I have emphasized cross training until my leg was healed and added in strength to make sure I have the best possible foundation for the next months. And, yes I’m doing 9+1 this year to receive guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon 2017 because a girl needs goals.

For those who have criticized my running, I have said it in person and will repeat it on here. My fitness level is high compared to the average person and as such I have no reason or recommendations from my doctor to not exercise or dramatically cut it back. I am highly in tune with my body and exercise as I see fit, when I feel up for it. It seems ridiculous to me that I’ve had to defend myself to women nonetheless, for doing something I’ve been doing since the age of 5 and that I love. If anything it is my calm time and helped ease some anxiety during the first weeks. I won’t even go into the benefits of prenatal fitness for both mother and child. It also happens to be my job…

So this brings me back full circle: 

I have never understood how a couple is supposed to keep things mum for 12 weeks and not burst. How women are supposed to keep their mouths shut during a time when they need so many answers. Why the fear of a miscarriage means celebrating and potentially mourning in isolation. I know that the people who knew would have uplifted me in any given scenario and am incredibly grateful to the many times when they talked me off a ledge or out of the spiraling thoughts. Sometimes firmly, sometimes pointing out that locking my bike helmet to a pole but not my bike was the best indicator that my pregnancy was going well.

Less than 25 weeks to go and I’m happy to share my experiences with everyone. More importantly I want to learn from all of you. How was your first trimester? Leave me a note in the comments. 

Body Image and Health

Body-Image.jpg

Regarding the title, Body Image and Health, you'll probably wonder what I'm doing in the picture above? I'm pulling up my pants. They are low-rise and therefore sitting in them without a belt, means that I have to adjust them before I sit down for a photo opp. Body image is a topic that everybody can relate to, everybody in a different way though. For me personally it came as a big surprise when my 15 year old lanky frame suddenly started developing curves. There were areas that took a little while longer, but not my hips and bottom. Suddenly what felt like overnight, I had a butt. And I didn't like it.

In today's society we are fed pictures of Victoria's Secret models strutting their stuff down the runway looking curvy to us, however they are really only curvy in relation to their otherwise very slim frame. Fashion models are preferably androgynous with narrow shoulders and no hips. So it is now wonder that we women strive to maintain a slim frame from the moment our body changes in adolescence. We own skinny jeans and keep them "in case we will fit into them again", we are joyous at the thought of wearing a size 4 (which is manufactured to make us feel smaller), we compare, we follow trends, we play with colours and shapes and we work out to get slimmer.

As a professional athlete I was huge by society's standards, I had broad shoulders, strong legs (one leg was so much bigger from fencing than the other, that I had to buy jeans one size up), I had big guns and I had a runner's butt. My body was my job, I was eternally grateful for all it could take, it was my tool, and I was incredibly proud of what it stood for: strength in swimming, steadfastness in shooting, a deep seat on horseback, explosiveness in the fencing and a graceful stride in the running. When I quit competing, my body placed fat on top of my muscles, courtesy of me continuing to eat like I was training 25 hours a week. And somehow at the time I didn't notice.

I look back at those photos now (no, I won't share them) I cringe slightly at how unaware I was, not just of how I looked but how unhealthy I was. I had left a very controlled lifestyle for the first time and I was consuming a lot more than was necessary or good for me.

And then a beautiful thing happened: because I was so unaware of my heavier frame I didn't do anything about it. I started eating less as my body recognized my lower output, I incorporated some exercise into my life again and my body naturally "shrunk" back to my healthy size (mind you, over the course of almost 2 years!). I have been at my size and weight for 8 years now and as people who know me will attest, I eat a lot and then some.

Working with people now, my priority is not teaching them how to lose weight quickly and I personally don't measure success by watching people shrink. What makes me happiest is seeing both men and women embrace strength, develop skills, grace in situations in which they were convinced they would never be, change their perception of food and gratification and most importantly make movement an integral part of their lives. If there is an obsession that I support then it's feeling the urge to move to experience health in body and mind.

I embrace my body and my butt now. I'm a woman so I have fat days, bloated days, feeling ugly days, sad days and envious days. But overall whenever I do, I try to think back to the pride I used to feel over a healthy body that allowed me to do so much. I dare you to think of a night out in which all you did was have fun and thought of nothing else. Not your outfit, not who you wanted to impress, or what anyone else was wearing... Right there, that's the feeling that exudes a quiet confidence that is so irresistible...

Stay tuned for the letter C tomorrow! And make sure to hop on over to my Facebook page for the rest of the alphabet.

xxR