Before I even became pregnant, I envisioned myself as one of those healthy, fit pregnant ladies. You know the type — you see them jogging around in cute exercise clothes looking like it wouldn’t even occur to them that they were nine months pregnant until they looked down and saw their huge tummies and went, “Oops! Ha-ha. Well, one more mile, why not?” They look like they barely stop exercising long enough to even get pregnant, let alone get slowed down by any sort of inconvenient gestation. To be a pregnant jogger, to me, meant that you were in total control of your body, inside and out.
I still remember the jog I went on the morning I first found out I was pregnant. I bounced along to Robyn’s “Stars 4-Ever” thinking to myself and the little zygote within, “You and I are going to go on a lot of runs like this!” It was happening! I was going to be one of those cute, fit, pregnant jogging ladies!
And actually, I was — up until a point. Certain health goals that I had early in my pregnancy went by the wayside when real life stepped in — it’s hard to eat salad for lunch every day, for instance, when you’re going through a massive veggie aversion. However, I did keep up my running by signing up for one short-distance race a month. Just like Katie Benzel over at the Washington Post did in “How I kept running while I was pregnant,” I paid close attention to my heart rate and exertion level to avoid overdoing it.
I wasn’t always successful. During one race when I was about five months pregnant, I felt a competitive rage toward a guy ahead of me who would repeatedly jog, slow down to walk, then glance over his shoulder at me, who was slow and steady like the proverbial pregnant tortoise. I envisioned him thinking “You’re not going to get beaten by a pregnant woman, are you?” So I kicked it up to a sprint for the last quarter mile and beat the guy. I felt an alarming cramping afterward.
In my seventh month, I ran my last 5K during a laid-back neighborhood charity race. It felt like it took forever, even with numerous walk breaks. Where I had earlier felt joy and pride in my physical achievements, I was now only tiresome slog. I decided my days of being a cute, pregnant running lady were over.
By the time I got pregnant a second time, I was over trying to be the cute, pregnant anything. Especially when it came to running — the idea of chugging along carried little to no appeal to me. Instead, I purchased a waterproof iPad case and spent the majority of my pregnancy exercise time in the pool, doing laps and listening to books by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. In the pool, I was weightless, invisible, uncompetitive with myself or with anybody else. I didn’t have to be cute or fast when I was just underwater.
I’m grateful that I was able to exercise during both my pregnancies — I wanted to make sure I could return to exercise after giving birth without taking too much time off, and it was helpful for managing stress and back pain. Some mother-runners worry about keeping pace with their pre-pregnancy selves once they’re with child or once they’re officially mothers, but learning how to mesh your fitness routine with your pregnancy is a microcosm of parenthood itself. You do the best you can with what you’ve got and be ready to adapt if things don’t work out the way you want them to. Either you run slower or you just find a new pool to jump into.