"Congratulations!” I was sprawled out on a massage bed at a hotel spa in Istanbul, Turkey, when my bodywork therapist exclaimed this praise as she rolled her hands over my calves.
“For what?” I muttered, fatigued from a few days of touring the city on foot.
“You’re having a baby, pregnant, yes?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said.
“Are you sure?” she replied.
“Yep, I’m sure,” I answered, reflecting on all the yummy cheese I’d enjoyed during my European holiday.
“Well… how do you say? Something like, if God wills it,” she commented, wrapping up my massage. Waves of nausea and annoyance rippled through my chest and into my throat.
Not a week went by in Singapore without someone mentioning the “P” word to me, and now, on my vacation, I was confronted once again by my perceived “defectiveness”, my ambivalence, my fickle confusion.
“Yes, if God wills it, “ I replied weakly, eyeing the exit door.
As a 38 year old woman with endometriosis and a thyroid disorder who had been told that a natural pregnancy was probably not in the cards for me, I’d already lived for years with the idea that conceiving was the domain of other women- women with a healthy reproductive system, a big extended and intact family, or a sole mission to have a child. And, while my husband Ryan and I had talked many times about the prospect of adopting or seeing a fertility specialist, I’d reached a point of my life where I’d come to accept that what was meant to be would be. I had seen firsthand the incredible emotional pain some of my friends had gone through on their fertility journeys, as well as the havoc it created in their bodies and while I'm strong, I did not think I would be strong enough for that. With my existing health issues, Ryan and I decided that the turkey baster or IVF were not going to be a part of our future.
A week after we returned home from Istanbul, when I began experiencing relentless cramping and vomiting, I thought little of that awkward conversation with the masseuse, chalking up my body’s rebellion to more reproductive system troubles, the stomach flu, food poisoning… until anonymous infants began appearing in my dreams. Finally, I caved in and bought a pregnancy test- just in case. The next morning, two bright pink lines surfaced in less than the second it took to set that little plastic stick on the bathroom sink.
Frantic, I woke Ryan from his slumber, shrieking, “you’re going to be a Dad, I can’t believe it!” as I paced through the house. At that moment, we became two of the happiest yet most perplexed people in the world- our decision to become parents had been made for us and ever since then, it’s felt like the most “right” path we’ve ever come across in our nearly forty years on Earth.
At the time, I’d already started training again with my eyes on a figure competition, and had also hired a powerlifting coach. After a year of dealing with the energy-draining effects of hypothyroidism, my health was finally turning a corner and I’d reached a place where I felt confident about living as an athlete again. At around 17% body fat, I was lifting 4 to 5 days a week while employing a high fat Paleo-style diet recommended to me by my functional medical doctor for both endometriosis and thyroid issues. I’d also taken up yoga and cut back on my hours at work, as well as reducing my stress load significantly. I partially attribute these changes in my diet and stress levels as well as treatment adjustments for endometriosis and hypothyroidism to being able to fall pregnant naturally.
One of the first things I learned as a mama-to-be was that 17% body fat is not a healthy scenario for a little growing bean, so I immediately increased my carbohydrate intake while allowing myself to eat whatever I craved, which was surprisingly limited to pickles, beans, brown rice, peanut butter, coffee ice cream, and eggs. Meat made- and still makes- my stomach turn; the very sight of a steak was enough to send me bolting to the toilet.
Simultaneous to this, I was so focused on having a “fit” pregnancy, feeling both the pressure to be the best mom I possibly could well before our baby emerged into the world while being acutely aware that in the wellness field, women are often held to a somewhat ridiculous standard in terms of physical appearance- one that has perhaps fueled a trend of pregnant trainers and coaches with noticeable six packs, still lifting nearly twice their body weight into their third trimester. How do I know about this burgeoning “Pregspo” movement? Simple- I’d searched out every single “pregnant weightlifter” video available on YouTube and Instagram, trying to make sense of the space between the life I lived prior to conception and the new life I was going to have to build as a woman with a geriatric, high risk pregnancy. However, just as the decision to become a parent had been made for me, my “fit pregnancy” journey has been largely dictated by circumstances beyond my control, as the past six weeks have been organized around vomiting, migraines and incredible food aversions which have turned this Paleo-fueled athlete into a near-Vegan with a newfound love for caramel-coated popcorn.
Which brings me to the point of this post: it’s time to throw away these ridiculous expectations we place on women on account of their possession of a womb- that they MUST have children in order to feel happy and fulfilled, that if they do have babies they MUST eat a whole and natural diet throughout pregnancy, that they MUST- or MUST NOT- exercise regularly through each trimester, and that they MUST follow any sort of blueprint to "prove their worth." Let us each discover what is right for us as individuals- there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” diet or exercise plan or lifestyle choice or definition of wellness.
I’m just entering my second trimester and am feeling much stronger than I have in a while. I go to the gym when I feel like it now, and I lift about 40 to 60 percent of what I was lifting prior to that positive pregnancy test, although I hope to gradually increase the load, doctor approved. I can no longer run outdoors, and while a part of me envies those expectant women who continue to pound the pavement, I know that my own body doesn’t welcome it and that therefore, it’s probably no good for my baby and me. Alongside my daily morning egg whites and avocado is a tub of caramel-coated popcorn, which I enjoy as I please throughout the day. I haven’t weighed myself in weeks, and I’m guessing my body fat is around 20% now- the abs are disappearing and the shoulder caps are completely gone.
And, just because I’m elated to become a mom despite being scared shitless about commencing this journey just shy of age 40, doesn’t mean that I suddenly feel it’s the right road for every woman, or that my new reality "completes me." I was already complete well before this angel showed up in my belly.
Fit pregnancy, healthy body, fulfilled life- at the end of the day, it means something different to everyone, and that's A-ok.