The advice for exercise in pregnancy is to be able to maintain a conversation mid exercise. This isn’t much exertion at all. It’s certainly not sweating it out, pushing yourself, or using your muscles the way they were intended. I’m no gym bunny but I miss exercise more than I could’ve imagined. I miss feeling the pleasurable ache of my body working, getting stronger and fitter. I miss the self-satisfied tiredness after I’ve achieved something. From the yoga stretch that makes me feel like my thigh muscles are elongating inside my skin to the whack of a tennis ball that I feel through my shoulder, arm, torso and legs. I miss the adrenaline, the afterglow of pride, the feeling that I’m improving.
When I say I miss exercise people try and console me by saying I’ve an excuse not to exercise, an excuse to overeat. But I don’t want the excuse to feel rubbish in the long run. Plus a friend warned me that after her first baby she needed to lose 2.5 stone to get to a weight which made her feel happy and comfortable. When the majority of women face some form of immediate post-birth depression (patronisingly called ‘baby blues’), feeling miserable in my body is not another element I want to add. I imagine a newborn baby, being a first time mum, raging and ricocheting hormones and no sleep is hard enough.
I got into weight training before I was pregnant but it worked so effectively (along with an insanely strict no fun diet of pretty much eggs, chicken and green vegetables) that my periods stopped from weight loss. So I had to stop if I really wanted a baby. However, I dream of that feeling of exertion, of lifting a weight so heavy (for me) I can’t help but roar as I move. I tried battle ropes and thought my lungs were on fire. I frequently had to lie down after workouts because my legs wouldn’t hold me but I fucking LOVED it. I watched my body get into shape, felt the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been. My mind felt cleansed, I was permanently joyful. I’m getting straight back into that when my scar heals and my abs find their way back to the centre. Currently, my abs are like open curtains, outlining the sides of my stomach. If I try to use them my tummy cones and forms a tent shape. It’s horrendous and can cause permanent damage, so I mostly roll around like a seal when I need to get up. I cried when I first saw it, around four months pregnant.
I kept up tennis until I was five months pregnant but stopped as it didn’t seem worth the risk of being hit by a ball or slipping. Plus my tennis was getting pretty abominable. I’m not yet good enough at positioning myself so I need to run around the court like a chicken, chasing the ball. As my mobility was limited to a tippy toe poo-in-my-pants run, it wasn’t fun for anyone.
When I was in London I eagerly Boris biked, feeling the wind in my hair and freedom beneath my feet as I travelled across the city without tube or bus. But that too, went at around five months after a friend made me realise a fall might mean scrapes to me but a miscarriage to my baby. I’ll have to wave goodbye to Boris biking for a while, unless I’m on my own in town without Runner Bean, as it’s not baby friendly, either.
Walking has been a godsend. I still walk my dog, and walked as part of my commute, though now I have to go slower. In the past two months Braxton Hicks have made me feel like I’ve swallowed a bowling bowl and I’m going to piss myself throughout the walk.
I thought preggers yoga would be my exercise answer but the available classes clashed with my timetable and when I did make it I discovered ‘yoga’ is a generous name. It’s ace for relaxing and the inner peace side of yoga, but you don’t really use your muscles. It’s probably the only yoga class where I can actually do the moves and don’t sweat. Plus, I’m having an elective c-section. I don’t want to practise labour breathing, and I certainly don’t want to open any passages. I want it nicely, tightly sealed down there.
But there’s one exercise that’s repeatedly recommended for us preggos. I only got into it at 7 months but wish I did sooner, and that’s swimming. If we’re lucky enough to have a second child I’ll swim from the start.
Normally I’d walk straight past the cold pool on my way to the steam room. But I’ve discovered the freedom in swimming. I wear goggles and focus on the waterline as I reach through it, thinking of nothing but the water and my freedom within it. My pregnant body is light, free of aches and pains. I feel my limbs fully stretch. I move underwater with an ease and mobility I lack on land. I do breast stroke in full, slow strokes, and I stop every few lengths to make sure I’m not out of breath. I like to feel for kicks from Runner Bean when I stop, too. Mid swim is the only time I’m not permanently aware that I have a 6lb baby taking priority in my tummy.
I can’t wait to take Runner Bean swimming at the first opportunity. Again, I’ll have to wait for my scar to heal but hopefully we’ll both be getting wet after a month or so.