Maintaining my regular running regimen – which ideally involves going on 2.5 to 4 mile runs a few times a week – since having Lily has been challenging enough; but since becoming pregnant, it’s become damn near impossible. (Shoving a bunch of doctor’s appointments and tests and screenings into already-overstuffed days? Please.) But I’m trying my best.
It was much easier the first time around, of course. While pregnant with Lily, I “ran” quite regularly until 10 days before my due date, adapting as my belly grew so that by the end, I alternated stretches of slow jogging with walking.
And during that first running-while-pregnant experience, the responses of those around me varied widely. There was the woman who stood in her yard and drily asked me, “Are you trying to induce yourself?”
And there were naturally lots of double-takes and stares at the gym when I ran on the treadmill. (I got the distinct impression that the employees were secretly terrified that I’d spontaneously give birth during their shift.)
But then, there was also the woman who, while I stretched with Joe after a gym workout one evening, approached to say that she and her husband were thinking about having a child; but because she’d previously been quite heavy in the past, she was nervous about putting a lot of weight back on during and after pregnancy.
She asked how far along I was (about 7 months, if I remember correctly); if I felt any discomfort while running; what my doctor had to say about it; and how long I planned/hoped to keep running.
I was more thrilled to answer her questions, to say the least. This was partly because I sincerely believed that my exercise regimen (jogging, a weekly yoga class, and occasional, light weightlifting) had helped make my pregnancy a breeze, relatively speaking. I never once suffered back pain, or any other pain; I slept well; my weight gain stayed within the normal range; and even at the end, I never got to a point where walking was a burden. (The day I finally went into labor, one week after my due date, I’d felt some strange discomfort at work, so I came home and went for a walk. Later, I arrived at the hospital, dilated 9 cm., and Lily was born five hours later.)
So by emphasizing that it was wholly possible maintain a fairly rigorous exercise regimen throughout pregnancy, my hope was that this woman would have a healthy, happy pregnancy of her own.
But I’ll confess that another, more selfish reason for my pep talk was that I didn’t want to feel like such an oddball freak anymore. Even after I had my child, I wanted to know there was yet another preggo out there, working out in the gym or running in a subdivision, getting people more and more used to the sight.
Because you can’t help but get the sense that the bodies of pregnant women, whether in motion or at rest, generally make people uncomfortable. Yet now, perhaps more than any previous generation, women have opportunities to re-make pregnancy in their own image, so to speak, and not pursue it in one societally prescribed way.
Naturally, these two truths clash, leading to the double takes and stares. But I like to think that each pregnant woman who publicly bucks traditional expectations makes it easier for the next one.
All this having been said, I’ll admit that I had a sobering experience while running last week, when I hit the five month mark of my current pregnancy. Midway through my route, I felt sharp pains in my abdomen. I didn’t panic, but I did start walking, because I’d read that the key to running during pregnancy was listening closely to the signs your body may send.
As it happened, I had a doctor’s appointment the next day, at which point I asked about this. The doctor told me that running is trickier after the first pregnancy because of the strain and stress that the muscles around your abdomen experienced the first time around. So there was definitely a physiological reason for the problem.
I re-calibrated my expectations, thinking I’d now combine jogging and walking during the remainder of my pregnancy. But then, a few days later, when I ventured out again, I felt fine throughout the entire run. So I’m playing it by ear, and slowing down when my body tells me to.
Running has been a regular part of my life for about 15 years now. It’s not just about physical health and discipline; it’s also meditative – a time when I can literally hear myself think – and now it’s simply part of my identity. I’m not a fast runner, and I never will be, but it’s not about that. It’s a small pocket of time that makes me feel better about just about everything.
So if I can keep even a semblance of this in my life while preparing to bring another child into the world, and to face all the stresses that come with a new baby, I’ll put up with all the stares I have to.