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The Pregnant Athlete

By Jessica Bellofatto | Posted on October 4, 2013

About seven months ago, three months prior to my 40th birthday, I started asking around to my slightly older female friends, “What doctors do you use for female issues? Where do I go to get my hormones checked? When you turn 40, do you feel more tired than usual? Start gaining weight?”

Jessica Bellofatto Headstand SUPThese questions and more were swirling around in my head as I had just returned from teaching my annual yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico. I had felt fantastic while I was there, meditating every morning at 6am., running on the beach, SUP’ing in the ocean with my 11-year-old son riding on my board (adding 70 extra pounds of weight to my efforts), and teaching two hour yoga classes twice a day. It is what I generally thrive on.

Then, just a few short weeks later, there I was, barely able to drag myself out of bed in the morning, subbing out yoga classes left and right, and wondering naively, “Is my age finally catching up to me? Is this what 40 feels like?” The thought of being pregnant did not occur to me at all. After all, I had an IUD in, and they are said to be 99 percent effective. A couple of weeks into this strange new reality, it did dawn on me. I lay awake throughout the night, in shock, but knowing that it was true. I was pregnant. My son would be turning twelve in October, and my daughter eight in September. For all intents and purposes, I was WAY out of the woods. And here I was, about to turn around and head back into them.

I have been divorced for about four years, and am deeply in love with my live in boyfriend. It HAD occurred to me that he would make an amazing father, I just didn’t think I was necessarily ready and/or equipped to go it again. But, as my yoga practice has taught me over the past 20 years, anything is possible, nothing is impossible, and the only constant is change. Thus, we made the decision to embrace this unexpected gift and embark, all over again, on the craziness that is pregnancy, labor, and infanthood!

As I enter into my 33rd week, the home stretch, it has been, once again, movement that has kept me energized, happy, strong, and emotionally stable! Be it yoga, running, paddling, surfing, or swimming. A day after turning 40 at 18 weeks pregnant, I ran six miles at an average of an 8:30 pace (a bit slower than pre-pregnancy pace) and then took my seven-year-old daughter on an awesome downwind paddle with my friends with the wind at 20 knots. At 28 weeks, I placed fifth in a six mile SUP race, just a minute or two behind the lead women. And at 30 weeks, I placed first in my age group in a local 5k (this time at a 9 min/mile pace!) Throughout the summer I have kept up a demanding schedule of yoga classes on land, SUP Yoga classes on the water, taking care of my two older children and, oh yeah, packing to move! I say all of this not from my ego, but to attempt to dispel the myth that pregnant women, especially pregnant women of a certain age, are weak, or in some way handicapped.

In this quest, I am not alone. Recently, a 35-year-old woman who was 38 weeks pregnant with her third child, got harshly judged and criticized all over the internet when the folks over at CrossFit posted a photo of her, looking gorgeous I might add, lifting weights. The comments that followed ranged from being naive to being downright cruel, telling her that she was a horrible mother, would lose her child, and was stupid for staying physically fit and strong through the course of her pregnancy. I am not saying that all pregnant women should lift weights or go out and run six miles. But I have come across too many people that are shocked by the fact that I continue to run, surf, paddle, move, and revel in my body, that I feel the need to set the record straight. Pregnancy is not an illness. Pregnancy is a normal, natural condition (as is birth, by the way).

Jessica BellofattoYes, all pregnancies are highly individual, and yes, under certain circumstances women must follow certain guidelines to ensure that they are not putting themselves or their babies at risk. But, for the most part, we women can continue to enjoy most of what we enjoyed pre-pregnancy, while allowing for the inevitable fact that the body is changing rapidly every single day, and to honor that, to cultivate the ability to listen to what feels good and what doesn’t, each day. In my last pregnancies, beyond 14 weeks it no longer felt ok to lie flat on my belly. But this time around, I was able to lie flat on my belly (and therefore surf) up until 20 weeks. I am most grateful this pregnancy for stand up paddling. I only started paddling about six years ago, so had not had this sport to enjoy my first two pregnancies. It has been amazing to be on the water, whether it be teaching SUP Yoga classes, going on a downwinder, or just taking a leisurely paddle in the bay.

We, as women, are so much stronger and more capable than we often give ourselves credit for. Instead of criticizing and judging the pregnant weight lifter, can we instead honor her? Can we honor and support ALL women and empower each other to live our best lives with less doubt, less fear, and more joy? Can we embrace all of the stages of a woman’s life and create the space for each of us to find our own unique expression and path?

These last seven weeks of my pregnancy I hope to be able to run, paddle, swim, do headstands, and enjoy this sacred time in a way that speaks to me. When we as women are happy and fulfilled, we can then serve others from that place. I already know that my baby understands this; after all, he or she chose me as its mother and made it quite clear that it was meant to come into this world at this point in time. I am honored and ecstatic to be of service to this being and can not wait to meet her!

This blog was originally posted on Athleta.com

The Pregnant Athlete // JB Yoga