There have been some awesome articles lately about pregnancy and elite athletes. Serena Williams is pregnant with her first, and won a Grand-Slam title while 8 weeks pregnant. Track athlete Alysia Montanio was just in the news as she competed in the 800-meters at 5 months pregnant. There are also countless numbers of female athletes who have competed in their athletic career at the highest levels while pregnant.
Coming from a place where our society often dubs pregnancy and women as fragile, meek, and burdened, this narrative turns these adjectives on their head. We are finally showing that women can sustain all that comes with pregnancy, and still do amazing things with their bodies. There has been so much more research done on pregnancy and remaining active. Throughout history, pregnant women would often be treated as if they had an illness; being prescribed unnecessary bed rest and diet pills to control weight gain. Hard pass on those.
Today, we can see the focus turn towards well rounded health for expecting mothers, as well as higher expectations of what a woman can do while pregnant. Along with more opportunities to be high level athletes and career women, we are getting our voices heard that pregnancy and starting a family doesn't mean we have to limit our choices.
It is the age-old question for women who have chosen career over family –– when do I need to stop and start a family? And for athletes: do I compete another 4-year cycle and prioritize my goals, or do I prioritize family? Can I have both? We need to continue to have strong female voices saying, "yes, you have a choice!"
The Olympic Channel has just come out with a video on fellow wrestler Isabelle Sambou about her decision between continuing on to compete at the Tokyo 2020 games, or make the decision to have a family. She has the choice, but it will be a tough decision to make. Watch below as she advocates for both being a strong athlete and woman during this time in her life.
At the same time, these strong voices need to advocate and appreciate every woman's path and how it best fits them. No condemning women for deciding to end their careers and stay at home, or having a baby and traveling the world to compete against the best. To each their own and to the freedom of choice for women!
And choice may be the most important thing afforded. It doesn't make it easy or convenient, as committing to family and to sport/career are equally time-driven. I have been extremely fortunate in my path with pregnancy thus far. I have been able to stay involved with wrestling through the nonprofit Wrestle Like a Girl, coaching youths, being an advocate, and working on LuchaFIT. I have had professionals who take my training and my rehab seriously, and the support around me to pursue my goals.
However, that still doesn't make the transition easy. Having the identity of athlete as my career of choice has conditioned me to think in athlete mode, constantly. From the way I interact with people in my day to day life, to the way I eat and sleep. It is difficult to turn off the "faster, higher, stronger" mode.
I have been intrigued and surprised at the phases I have gone through. First trimester proved difficult to even think about doing a workout as morning sickness, fatigue, and emotions were the name of the game. I desperately wanted to continue to eat my healthy regimen I had conditioned myself to, as so much written on pregnancy stresses the importance of a healthy diet. However, I had to focus during first trimester on whatever I could get down, as strange as it would be. Saltine crackers, ice cream, and Pho were more often on the menu than vegetables and proteins, which were hard to digest and increased how sick I felt. Talking with my sports psychologist, we worked on how I could apply the techniques of mindfulness towards this part of my life. We worked on letting go of the stresses to do things perfect. That it was okay to give myself a break to do whatever it was that I needed, even if it felt counter intuitive to my athlete mind.
It can be tempting to want to show a happy, glowing, perfect image of what pregnancy "should be," and it was difficult to only want to portray myself as a tough athlete. I certainly didn't feel like one at the time, and didn't anticipate the intense emotions that would be present. It was tough to figure out the best way to represent myself to others. How can they see me as an athlete and pregnant? Wouldn't I be written off as done and moved on if those within my community saw me pregnant? I had a lot of fears and hesitations towards telling others. It felt as if the pregnancy did the talking for me, and that others wouldn't listen to what I could want for my life.
I have since worked on embracing this phase of life for exactly what it is: messy, complicated, and absolutely beautiful. To devote your life to sport where you are constantly learning about your body, it is a whole new experience to trust my body in a new way. Just like the ups and downs in sport, I am adjusting and learning about my body during the ups and downs of pregnancy. And I am absolutely enthralled with the process of watching my body change and adjust with every new chapter.
Creating normalcy around struggles and empowerment for pregnant women helps give an image that it doesn't even need to look one way. My second trimester has proven much more comfortable for me to remain active, as I have taken more opportunities to coach, teach wrestling, and resume a more normal lifting schedule.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling less than when you see Serena Williams winning a grand slam at 8 weeks pregnant, when I know I was mostly sick on the couch at 8 weeks. This doesn’t mean that these women aren't dealing with many of the same symptoms that most women deal with. As athletes, we are used to creating a space where training, eating, and napping are regular routine. I believe none of these athletes are an exception to the consistent fatigue from growing a new human. Being used to a certain level of training and fatigue certainly helps with your conditioning for pregnancy.
I am proud to show other women around me that you can be an amazing intense athlete, and still embrace the beauty of pregnancy. You certainly don't have to look a certain way to be strong and pregnant, and you don't have to compete with what everyone else is doing.
Check out the article from Team USA on pregnant athletes here
Check out the article on Alysia Montano and her recent competition while 5 months pregnant here