About halfway through my body pump weightlifting class earlier this week, the instructor chirped that we had just finished what was voted "most challenging squats track of the year." Yay, us! But I was also reminded, for about the millionth time, that I'm still pissed off at Vicki Iovine, author of "Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy."
I discovered this book years ago in the waiting room of my OB/GYN office. I'd often pick it up and thumb through a few pages, feeling sorta guilty for peeking ahead but being unable to resist reading about this most mysterious topic. So when I became pregnant myself, I was excited to have an legitimate reason to read it.
The book claims to explain what REALLY happens during pregnancy, stuff your doctor won't tell you but your girlfriends will. A lot of it is fine, I suppose, but when I got to the chapter on exercise, the entire book was pretty much ruined for me. In this chapter, Vicki offers up eight reasons pregnant women shouldn't bother to exercise. And now I am going to share that list with you, along with my own personal opinion about why each and every item is total bullshit.
1. You will be too tired.
During my first trimester, the exhaustion was absolutely crippling, and it was indeed tougher to drag my ass out of bed in the morning. And nausea kept me off the elliptical a few times. But even during those morning (...noon, night...) sickness weeks, I tried to get out for a walk or two. And when I got back to regular workouts, I realized I had far more energy (aka fewer midafternoon naps at my desk) when I was getting regular exercise. For me, activity = energy.
2. You won’t like yourself in harsh gym mirrors.
Oh, right. I forgot how the most important thing at the gym is to look gorgeous! I seriously can't believe a woman wrote this. Vicki says she would prefer to "sulk and stop exercising" before becoming one of those "die-hard" pregnant exercisers who wear their husband's T-shirts "to camouflage things." She also warns that regular gym clothes "take on a whole new identity when stuffed with pregnant bellies, pregnant thighs and pregnant knees, and topped off by pregnant arms." I guess I am supposed to be ashamed of this? Well, I'm not. Look, I'm quite aware that the giant-T-shirt-over-a-beach-ball look isn't sexy, and that I'm likely plumping out all over right now. But I still feel a little proud when I look in the gym mirror. Watching my body doing lunges or shoulder presses is cool, like I'm still a strong and motivated person despite the increasing physical limitations of pregnancy. And guess what? If I wasn't at the gym, I'd probably be staring in the mirror at home, feeling depressed about the weight gain Vicki thinks I should do nothing to control. Fun!
3. You will get fat anyway.
No shit. Hey, Vicki, nobody thinks you can exercise away a pregnant belly. But just because weight gain is inevitable doesn't mean I should let the flab just wash over me. My doctor said I should gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, and so far I'm within the ballpark. If I wasn't working out several times per week - especially considering the volumes of food I'm eating - I don't think I'd stand a chance at achieving this perfectly reasonable goal.
4. Exercise will not help you during labor and delivery in any way.
I am going to go out on a limb here, since this is an area in which I have no experience. But I'm pretty sure I'm right that LABOR IS HARD. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Vicki explains that exercise won't make your vagina more delivery-friendly or your contractions less painful or more productive (did anybody really think that anyway?) But I believe the mental endurance and focus I have learned through exercise - particularly with running, yoga and weight training - may indeed come in handy one day in October. Another book I read suggested that you get lots of sleep as your due date nears, since you never know when you'll have to get up and perform the gynecological equivalent of running a marathon. For 18 hours. So to me, it seems that, in the months leading up to this feat, a little activity for the ol' ticker and the rest of your muscles MIGHT not be such a bad idea.
5. You might endanger the pregnancy.
I know there are situations in which exercise is a bad idea for pregnant ladies. But those ladies have received those instructions from their doctor, and it's just silly of this writer to alarm the pregnant population at large. This might be a good time to mention the benefits exercise can bring to your pregnancy, including alleviating constipation, making your back feel better, and helping you sleep at night.
6. Even if you don’t, and something goes wrong, you will forever wonder if your exercising caused it.
Well, I wasn't GOING to wonder that, but maybe I will now. Thanks a lot, "girlfriend."
7. It’s nine months up and nine down no matter what you do.
It's stupid to make a blanket decree like this. Some women drop the weight in a couple of months. Others take a year or more. In fact, pretty much all advice about pregnancy can in some ways seem worthless, since every complaint, every body change, every labor and delivery story, is different for every single woman.
8. Our compulsion to exercise when we are pregnant is a reflection of our inability to surrender and let nature run its course.
This is when I had to put the book down and laugh. Guess what. I surrendered the moment I saw that positive pregnancy test in February. And nature? Well, from the look and feel of things, it's running its course just fine, not hindered whatsoever - and perhaps even helped - by my dedication to working out.
And let me share my favorite part about working out while pregnant: When I go to the gym these days, I am heaped in admiration. My locker-room pals marvel at the fact that I'm still working out at nearly 6 months. They pat me on the back. They tell me I look great. And believe me, when a person is getting fatter, zittier, crankier, sweatier, and ever more uncomfortable living in their own skin, there is no quicker way to feel like a million bucks.