Pregnancy is NOT a Disability
“There was someone in the race who had a heart attack,” said a woman seeing me at the finish line with a fourth of a bagel in my mouth and a cup of lemonade in hand. “Oh, really?!? That’s horrible!”, I said, still chewing my bagel and looking really interested in what she could possibly say next. “Yeah,” she said, “with you being pregnant, everyone thought it was you!”
This kind of response from strangers, usually elderly women, is to be expected when you attempt a 5k at 32 weeks pregnant. I knew when I registered for the race six months earlier that along with hearing variations of “You go, girl!” and references to me being a “mama” as I walked among other racers, I’d also feel the glare of concerned onlookers, onlookers concerned mostly for the baby, of course, but also for me.
I knew all this since I know that to most, pregnant women don’t do these types of things. Pregnant women eat, yes, and sit, yes, and squeeze their feet into strappy sandals, but walk or do anything that requires sweating? Oh, no. And this is because most, unfortunately, have an outdated view of pregnancy as some kind of life-threatening disability. And it’s from this thinking that a pregnancy comes to be defined and celebrated as a time in a woman’s life when it’s okay, even recommended for the sake of the baby, to eat anything and do nothing. During this time, her heart rate shouldn’t rise above 140, her feet should stay mostly elevated, and her waist line ignored because doing anything else could be, well, dangerous.
Pregnant moms are never really told why it’s dangerous that they never so much as walk a staircase or be mindful of their caloric intakes during their pregnancies, but usually they can imagine through the often colorful anecdotes told about such-and-such pregnant mom who didn’t follow the unstated rules of the “indulged” pregnancy, that whatever it is it would involve scary buzz words like “over-exertion,” “stress,” and “lack of oxygen.”
I bought these myths into my first pregnancy. It was the idea of my pregnancy being like a disability that I used as my very good excuse to be mostly inactive, barring the three stints of walking at a slug like pace on the treadmill a week before my daughter’s birth, for nine months of my life. It was this idea that was also my excuse to eat whatever I wanted and to feel threatened by anyone who came in between my unborn child and her blatant “request” for 20 TGIFridays hot wings every night after work.
Pregnancy was my disability then. It was a time defined by all I couldn’t do and my need to be dealt with gently, delicately. But, what I learned in my second and third pregnancies is that I was wrong. I learned, by virtue of toddlers who required that I do anything but sit down, that the pregnant body is quite amazing. Sure, there are modifications that must be made and extra considerations to be had, but during a healthy pregnancy, you can do amazing things. You can dance and walk and cook and not eat 20 hot wings and still be okay. And for doing these things, you’ll be happier; your baby will be happier.
So now, and again by virtue of the fact that I now have toddlers who demand that I stay active, instead of viewing my pregnancies as disabilities, I’ve learned to see them as moments in my life as a woman. Instead of focusing on all I can’t do and imagining myself as a delicate flower that can easily be damaged, I focus on all I can do and see myself as the same woman I was and will be outside of my pregnancies. And in doing this, you know what has happened? I’ve actually learned to love my pregnancies even more. I mean eating hot wings and sitting on my couch to watch salacious Lifetime movies seemed fun at the time, but in the end of my first pregnancy, I got over my “nine month disability break” and realized I wanted my real life back.
Now, pregnancy is not a break. It’s a part of my life. By changing my attitude about what it means to be pregnant, I’ve learned to embrace the nine months of a pregnancy more easily as valuable time for me to continue being me, to continue growing and staying healthy and walking in 5k races.
So, during my third pregnancy, I feel confident in proclaiming to pregnant moms everywhere that pregnancy is not a disability. During your pregnancy, you can do almost everything that you did when you weren’t pregnant. This includes everything from being mindful of the foods you put in your body to walking in 5k races and completing in under an hour.
That’s why I just smiled when I learned of many of the racers’ concerns that it was me, the pregnant woman, who had had a heart attack in the race. “No. I’m just fine. Thank you!” I bit into my bagel with the pride and gusto of a pregnant woman who was and is able.