On September 4th, 2016, I gave birth to my son Benjamin, my first child. The nine months of pregnancy were surprisingly easy and allowed me to kayak up until 10 days before birth. More of a surprise was the fact that I felt comfortable with trail biking and paragliding up until month seven. Furthermore, in the 8th month I went hiking for seven hours in the vicinity of Svartisen glacier, and in general was feeling very good as the little man grew happily inside.
I felt blessed and stoked that I could keep up my activity level, and the future seemed bright. But as I was soon to find out, not everybody liked the fact that a woman still goes down a hill on a bike or jumps in the kayak to paddle class IV as soon as the belly can be seen.
Before pregnancy I repeatedly heard comments such as, “Women have to decide for themselves when to slow down and put on the brakes,” and “Pregnancy is not an illness—it is really good to keep staying active.” “Your body will tell you when to slow down,” was also one I heard a lot.
So what happened when my body and mind actually did not tell me to stop until ten days before birth? People got angry. Annoyed. Negative.
I guess I should not have been so surprised to realize that whitewater kayaking and trail biking is not really looked upon as “normal activity” for pregnant women. However, to be able to stay so active made the mental aspect of my pregnancy extremely easy – I was happy and active, which I think made my baby boy happy.
One of the main points here is that I am not pointing my finger at other women that find it hard to be active while being pregnant – it is truly their body and mind – and I trust everybody to do whatever is best for them. Here are some facts to consider before you start judging:
- When I got pregnant I was not just normally fit. I was as fit as I have ever been in my entire life – coming straight from high-end athlete performances at World Cups and World Championships the months before, and a hard training regime leading up to those competitions.
- My mind did not play tricks on me —I still trusted myself to make the smart decisions on the water and on the biking trails. Why would I suddenly start screwing up just because I was pregnant?
- Kayaking is like walking—I have close to 15,000 hours on the water. That is 625 days (24/7) or 1.71 years.
But what really has surprised me is that it is not just strangers remarking on my activity level during pregnancy months. Some of my closer friends have also found it appropriate to point the finger at times. It seems like the tolerance for so called “extreme sports” while being pregnant is quite low – and lower than I actually thought up front.
That brings me to the key topic of this text: TOLERANCE
Perception is the key to it all. I do believe that many of the negative remarks come from not truly understanding the world an extreme sport athlete walks in. One of my friends commented “But what if you get the paddle in the stomach when you run this?” The section in question is one I consider very easy, and one I have done hundreds of times without anything happening. Ever. I just replied: “Why would something happen now?” It is all in the mind. And to be able to control your mind, trust yourself and your abilities. In a way, pregnancy is not unlike running class V rapids. Go figure.
Saether competing at the Sickline World Championships four-and-a-half weeks after giving birth.
I furthermore have been blessed with a man who trusted me 100 percent while carrying his child. He never once told me to not get on the river, to not run a rapid or to not go biking. He even once or twice suggested I should rather run a rapid than walking around with my big belly! He did however tell me that I might be wise to not paraglide during the last two months – something I agreed with as soon as I gave it a second thought. His trust in me has been the biggest sign of love ever, and I am forever grateful for his support.
Being pregnant has been a wonderful journey. As I have explored new depths of my own being and ability to love, I have also learned more about the people around me and the world I live in. It only encourages me to walk my own steps, making myself and thus my little family happy.
Here is some advice for the pregnant extreme sport athlete:
- Try to follow your gut instinct – not just your brain. The brain will tell you to slow down or to keep going – but it is really the body that will tell you how active you should be while being pregnant. I stopped kayaking when I was too uncomfortable in the kayak – easy as that.
- Try your best to not listen to anybody telling you what to do or not – be your own being. This is truly difficult, but very empowering when you manage to.
- If you are happy, the child will also be happy. You will never cause him or her any harm or risk – it is your child after all, and you should trust yourself and the power of your love.
- Kayaking safely while becoming heavily pregnant really comes down to having good balance, good edge control in the boat and a good back-deck roll! I had all three and thus enjoyed endless trips on easy whitewater the last month of waiting.
- I thought being fit would help me in delivering the child – but I was partially wrong (thank god I did not know up front!) Strong core muscles sometimes can cause a hard delivery because the muscles tend to cramp and hinder the cervix getting dilated enough to start pushing. I spent 30-plus hours of labor before the mid-wife told me I could push. Then it only took 20 minutes, and the mid-wife said she had never seen a first born being pushed out that fast or so determinedly before. Especially not after 30 hours of labour. So in the end my strength was helping me. Also, the fitness level put me back on the bike four days after birth, and in my kayak seven days after birth, so I dare say the benefit of being active is huge after all.
Mariann Saether is a whitewater kayaker from Norway and the 2015 World Champion in extreme kayaking. Learn more about her here.