Exercise during pregnancy is important. It can shorten labor, improve circulation, reduce insomnia and stress, and help pregnant women, like me, to “get our bodies back.” Which is why, as a onetime spin-class enthusiast who just entered my eighth month, I was hoping to be inspired by these recent New York Times videos, featuring elite distance runner and currently with-child Clara Horowitz Peterson showing “some of her techniques for staying fit while pregnant” to the rest of us. But as I watched, and considered implementing her tips, my admiration for this spectacular athlete got sucked, along with all of my other feelings, into a swirling vortex of terror, self-doubt, and shame. If you are going to post a video series on pregnancy fitness, New York Times, how about throwing in a few that most pregnant women can actually do?
My husband and I are awaiting the arrival of our first child with a joy as boundless as my anxiety, especially given that—out of devotion to an academic career that never materialized—I put off having a family until I was 37, and suffered a miscarriage on my first go. Any way this child ravages my body on her way to existence will be worth it.
However. I wanted to have a fit pregnancy worthy of FitPregnancy. I am ashamed to admit that I once secretly judged all of the festively plump (and beautiful) pregnant ladies around me: “I’ll have some self-discipline. I’ll never let myself go,” I thought. And yet here I am, at 29 weeks, already well over the recommended full-term weight gain for a woman of “average” BMI. And I will be the first to admit that it is most certainly not all water and new organs and “blood volume.” Nope: I’ve chunked up.
My posterior—never petite—has, in what I am pretty sure is a miracle of medical science, kept protrusion-pace with my belly in such direct proportion that I am not so much upset as impressed. My “bump” is more of a Jabba-the-Hut-esque event, rivaled on my front only by my breasts, each of which is now the spitting image of Lord Voldemort’s head. And don’t get me started on my “glow.” Like many pregnant women, I’ve become anemic, so between the purple under-eye circles and the impressive array of graphic track marks from all the blood draws, I look like a cross between Gareth Keenan from the British Office and the cast of Trainspotting—except, you know, fat.
I am large, and very much not in charge of my body, which has taken off on its own, in what it wants to eat, do, and look like. One of my pregnancy books smugly suggested I “read a book or call a friend” instead of heeding my food cravings, and I was like: Has this person ever been pregnant? In the great Schuman Parasite vs. Host Standoff of 2014, the host never had a chance.
If this kid wants me to spend the entire first trimester prostrate on the floor, wondering if it is humanly possible to die of nausea, she’ll do it (meanwhile, Clara Peterson’s just ending her first trimester now, doing Spider-Man planks with a toddler on her back). If, during the two-hour window each day in which food is a possibility, this kid demands I eat 40 Saltines and take a nap, woe unto me if I attempt to disobey. (Clara Peterson, on the other hand, bemoans watching her body’s “conditioning” deteriorate as she “jogs” up a hill faster than I could sprint.) If, today, this child demands I rival Lorelai Gilmore in pizza consumption while binge-watching the Girls nonstop, then off to Stars Hollow I go (and yes, 10 years later Logan Huntsberger is still the worst).
Elite athletes of the world, please know that there is nothing I support more than you distance-running while in labor (as Peterson did with her third—it was an easy run and a slow labor, she jokes). But I really don’t want your workouts broadcast on the New York Times as if any old preggo could actually complete them. As much as I would like to, I physically cannot make my body do a single one of the exercises Peterson suggests. Pike planks? I don’t even know where my abs are anymore, much less how to flex them. Step ups? A few weeks ago, my ligaments loosened to such an extent that my hips all but detached from my body, and I’m pretty sure that if I tried to step up onto a bench I would break in half.
Also, seriously, forget running: For me and (dear God I hope) millions of others, a vigorous prenatal workout involves waddling the six blocks to the gym, heaving myself onto the recumbent bike, and then pedaling on resistance “4” for half an episode of the Duggars. Please, New York Times; please, CrossFit enthusiasts; please, mom, who never misses an opportunity to remind me that she went jogging the day before I came out; please, husband dearest, who just not-so-subtly asked me how my exercises were going: Let this be OK. I’m already worried about enough—I just finished Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and it sent me spiraling about my substandard attitude toward the orgasmic ecstasy of contractions.
I’d like to think, in the end, that all pregnant women—from the ultra runners to the sedentary (I prefer “cerebral,” by the way), have one thing in common: We are all living in simultaneous joy and trepidation as we wait and hope that our babies come out healthy, and don’t end up someday as viral sensations. I will continue to attempt to exercise for the duration of this pregnancy, but if my labor is long and difficult, and my husband or anyone else even insinuates that I’m to blame for not doing enough “dynamic planks,” I may just lose it. In the meantime, I suppose I’ll stick to the New York Times’ other video specialty: “easy” recipes I could never make.