This article is written with love by our She Flies Affiliate, Clare Barnard. Thank you Clare for your beautiful story.
"If you type “pregnancy extreme” into Google, it helpfully offers to complete your search with “…fatigue”, “…nausea”, “…sickness”, “…itching”, “…thirst”, “…back pain” and “…bloating”. If you’re in the early stages of your first pregnancy, enjoy extreme sports and want to find out what awaits you in the months ahead, Google’s response doesn’t look promising. There is little out there for pregnant women who genuinely want to understand what pregnancy might do to their relationship with their sport(s). With that in mind, I wanted to share my experience in the hope it might be useful for other women.
I became pregnant in the summer of 2020. I do a range of sports on a fairly regular basis: windsurfing, kitesurfing, mountain biking, road cycling, running, swimming and a bit of climbing every now and then, plus yoga. I am not particularly advanced in any of them; I enjoy the journey and rarely have fixed goals. That being said, the 12 months from summer 2019 – summer 2020 happened to be my best year yet across a number of sports: in windsurfing, I finally moved down a size to an 85L wave board, in kitesurfing I transitioned to a directional board and found a lot more love for the sport, I tried some local triathlon and duathlon events and ended up on the podium in each, and I completed a 10km sea swim in my first season of openwater swimming. By the summer of 2020 I felt that I was, physically, where I had always hoped to be.
On becoming pregnant, I instantly looked to understand how much of this recent physical gain I might lose. There were obviously no quick answers. The answer, 30 weeks in, is a lot of it. But I am in no way despairing at this. I feel hugely grateful for the changes in my body. They have a clear greater purpose. And to me this indicates the most valuable thing that pregnancy has given me: a number of unforeseeable changes in my mindset. Here’s what I have learnt on my pregnancy journey so far:
1. Day 1 of pregnancy is day 1 of motherhood.
The early stages of pregnancy are largely medically defined. This can seem odd to someone who has not had much if any interaction with the medical world before. There are tests and measurements and the administering of a list of do’s and don’ts. This all seemed very alien to me. But when I thought of it through the lens of beginning motherhood, it all made a lot more sense to me. The choices that I was making were no longer just for me, they were for me and my soon to be baby. And early on I decided that wanted to share my sports with my baby from the start.
2. Women’s superpowers are strengthened from the very start of pregnancy.
I went wakeboarding at about 8 weeks pregnant after consulting with a She Flies friend who is a midwife (more on that below). We agreed that it wouldn’t be a bad idea, provided I avoided any mega wipeouts. It was only my third time on a cable and I’ve always had a few significant faceplants at previous visits to the park. I decided to ride but not try anything fancy. Result: I had a solid 2 hour session with not a single fall. I didn’t feel nervous, in fact I felt a very unusual level of confidence. My mind was set: I was absolutely not going to fall. And I didn’t. Usually I would doubt myself, think about falling and inevitably stack it shortly after. This session was totally different. My trust in myself was uncharacteristically solid. As I have come to learn, women rely on their intuition a lot during pregnancy and birth; you are caring for another human being who you haven’t yet met, and you alone are responsible for bringing them into the world. Your intuition and sense of trust in yourself is heightened from the very start of pregnancy, before any physical changes show.
3. The changes to my body are mind blowing. In a good way.
Pre-pregnancy, I had more or less the same body since I was about 14. I’ve never had any curves, and that includes boobs. I have always eaten intuitively and my body has remained boringly the same, including being reluctant to put on muscle. This is the first time I have ever seen any change in my body and I find the way it has transformed itself from a boyish figure to that of a curvy pregnant woman quite amazing! The extent of the transformation assures me that the only physical certainty of pregnancy is how much a women’s body can change when it needs to. I put on weight early on in pregnancy, but I was guided by my hunger and cravings (which were for anything calorific, even for foods that I didn’t really like), and I feel confident that I responded to what my body needed. Having seen this incredible transformation in one direction, I look forward to the change in the other direction and the opportunity I will have to retune my body from a different starting point. I have always found training plans hard as I often was half-hearted about goals and failed to see significant change. I will have very clear goals at the point when I reclaim my body and I look forward to committing fully, and seeing the change that I now know my body is capable of.
So what has all this meant for my relationship with my sports?
During pregnancy, I have come to enjoy my sports in a way that I could never have imagined.
I have enjoyed a range of sports while pregnant, including windsurfing, kitesurfing, wakeboarding and mountain biking. Ordinarily I would usually ride long and hard to get all the enjoyment I could out of each session. That was what I had always done, and it was all I had ever known. All of a sudden that changed. I was able to enjoy a session without going full power. I felt great contentment with whatever level I selected to ride at.
In windsurfing and kitesurfing sessions during the first trimester my focus was simply to get out on the water for any period of time, overcome the initial feeling of nausea (rolling swell did not feel good to start with!), relax and simply have a break from feeling like a fatigued pregnant women (which can be all-consuming in the first trimester). Once I had got used to the waves, my nausea subsided and I felt the freedom of just being myself on the water. That was enough for me, and I returned to the beach happy, whenever I felt tired, with no sense of guilt or missing out.
With every sport I did while pregnant, the satisfaction was far more meditative, in the moment and grounded in my own control. Previously I would have been frustrated by any session where I didn’t ride my hardest or didn’t have the longest session I could. I hated to feel that I had wasted good conditions. After a lifetime of feeling trapped in the need to push myself every session and feeling guilty if I didn’t, I am so grateful for the opening up of a new perspective. I look forward to seeing perhaps more changes post-birth, when there will be a little person on the beach, which might change my purpose and my viewpoint further.
I want to end with a practical tip for any active woman that finds themselves on the journey to motherhood: connect with those who can support you in making decisions about staying active and continuing to enjoy your sports during pregnancy.
Don’t use Google. I am so grateful for my She Flies midwife friend who I could Whatsapp to ask whether wakeboarding at 8 weeks pregnant would be such a bad idea. Both me and my partner have gone to our networks of friends across a range of sports. The advice I am following is, as a result, from mothers, pregnant women and midwives who understand these sports, and therefore can provide meaningful insight. Ultimately, your own body, intuition and trust will be your guide, as each pregnancy is unique, but in all phases of motherhood it helps to have support from others. She Flies exists because women love to support one another. Don’t hesitate to use that collective superpower whenever you need it in your motherhood journey.
I leave you with a beautiful illustration of women’s collective superpowers in an inspiring short film (13 minutes) called “Motherload” which came to me via a She Flies group recently. Enjoy."
If you have questions yourself of motherhood, stepping into pregnancy and working out how you balance your need for sport, join She Flies for free (www.she-flies.com/join) and connect with us on our WhatsApp Group, especially for Pregnancy & Extreme Sports.