Happy hump day, readers,
I've been blessed of late to meet women doing meaningful work in the space of pregnant athleticism - and Colleen is one of them.
Colleen Flaherty, CSCS and Postpartum Doula, works from the woman-positive CrossFit community to train preggos, new mothers, and their trainers via her platform Prokreate. Colleen's take on strength training while pregnant is emboldening, scientific, and irreverent.
In the illuminating guest post she has so kindly provided, Colleen breaks down our culture's fear of the female body as it mutates into our broken medical system and the mom-shaming pregnant athletes experience. I love that she gets a little pissed in this piece.
Hope this post spurs you off your ass and into the gym! The kettlebell, TRX, and Airdyne are waiting... I'm signing off and going to the gym now.
Birth is a business. As soon as it entered hospitals and OBGYNs became the primary care givers, birth turned into a medical event that was to be timed and cured. It’s lucrative because women lost their sense of power, submitting to interventions or the lies the medical staff tout. Most partners are uneducated about normal birth and they trust the staff to have their best interests at heart.
This is a recipe for birth being completely out of the mother's control. The way to ensure the business continues is to hide and omit information, very important information, from women and partners. Very often women get no answers to questions or are hurried out of appointments before they can even ask. Doctors do not want you to be empowered, even healthy, because it’s bad for business.
In the birth world, women come face to face with our fear-based culture. Fear of nature. Fear of the unknown forces. Fear of emotion. Fear of mother. Fear of a feminine power. Fear of the mind/body/spirit connection. It's bullshit and happening all the time:
- Women going through fertility treatments not encouraged to strength train even though research shows lifting weights helps balance hormones. They just have to sit back and be poked, prodded, and sedentary if they want a baby. Don’t do anything to actually feel confident, capable, strong, or stress-free.
- Pregnant women only being told to walk or do yoga even though research shows the benefits of lifting weights prevents pregnancy aches and injuries, improves women’s birth experiences, lowers interventions, and positively influences the baby’s health.
- Women not being told about the weird/gross parts of pregnancy by their mom-friends or doctors. “What the hell is this?! Nobody told me about THIS!”
- Pregnant women being told all the negative things about pregnancy, labor, and motherhood by everyone they meet, even strangers. Add fear to an already fearful woman, good job society. Is this our way of talking about the dark side of parenthood only presented in a wrong/inappropriate way?
- Moms being held to ‘joyful’ standards to the point where they don’t talk about their struggles, how they’re feeling, how others can help them. They don’t want to be seen as weak or unable. And most of society doesn’t care to hear their darker feelings, the death of independent life and birth of becoming a mother, extreme fatigue, emotional roller coasters, leaking out of all orifices.
The simple truth? We're unhealthy. But you already knew that and it's completely fucking up motherhood, parenthood, childhood. It's making doctors and the healthcare system wealthy. C-sections bring in more money than a natural delivery. Epidurals cost over $300. Hospitals need to pay the full-time anesthesiologist so there better be women getting drugged up or going under so they can pay his/her salary.
Our sedentary lifestyle puts money in the health care system’s pocket. It has also created a vicious cycle of discontentment, shame, and guilt on top of all the physical health problems.
The most ridiculous part? WE CHOOSE IT. Like we choose which socks to put on our feet or the music we listen to, we choose to make the healthy or unhealthy choices every day. We choose to remain powerless. We choose to be blindly led astray. The solution? Get educated! Build your birth/parenthood team! Get support!
Birth workers who rally for hospitals to have more family-centered practices and a more caring, non-invasive protocol are freakin' fantastic! They’re fighting the machine and making small steps of positive change. As amazing as that is, and needed, birth workers are missing a huge component. Women are not healthy enough to birth. Over half of the population is overweight and many women have never done anything as physical as labor in their entire life.
How do we expect a woman to trust the power of her body in labor when she’s NEVER done anything to prove to herself she can? It’s like putting a woman who has never run a marathon at the starting line and saying, “Run! If you believe you can finish, you can! I’ll be cheering you on all along the way! Your body is strong and can complete the 26.1 miles! Go you!” What do you think that woman is thinking?! (a note from MN: on the other side of this normative expression is an experienced athlete knowing who she is, how she responds to stress, pain, and commitment. she knows she cannot fail and lives in her power during birth and all other athletic events.)
One time a twenty-four week pregnant client told me a co-worker scolded her for standing on the first step of a stool to reach a high cabinet. She looked at her and said, “I swung a kettle bell 500 times yesterday! Don’t tell me I can’t stand on this stool!” Yes, we did a max kettle bell swing challenge. And yes, she felt overwhelmingly confident in her body’s ability to warrior through hard work.
“Your body is just doing what it’s used to doing.” – Olympic athlete talking about competition. Just like an athlete’s game, birth is a pregnant woman’s main event that she, just like any other athlete, needs to practice for. Birth is squatting, breathing hard, walking, lunging, rocking, hanging, why wouldn’t you encourage her to practice these movements ahead of time?
Are you encouraging women to functional strength train or partake in exercise where they build strength and endurance? Zumba, yoga, and casual swimming don’t count. They’re good and have their place but I’m talking activities that challenge the muscular, nervous, and cardiovascular systems like birth does; full body movement patterns that can give the greatest carry-over to other things, especially birth and moving around as a mother. Movements like lunge, squat, running, crawling, and climbing the monkey bars.
As a community of health and birth professionals, we need to keep taking steps to help parents feel powerful. We can’t do it by the continuation of naïvety. We must acknowledge both the dark realities that plague our unhealthy society and the light needed to bring us out of this pit we’ve dug.